War Is Hell: A World War II Tank Operator Remembers His Fight Against Germany

May 22, 2020 Topic: History Region: Europe Blog Brand: The Reboot Tags: World War IITanksM4ShermanHitlerNazisMilitaryTechnology

War Is Hell: A World War II Tank Operator Remembers His Fight Against Germany

Not a happy story.

Bromberg let his guard down with replacements once. When he could not find anyone to sit next to after getting chow, he plopped down next to a replacement from Pennsylvania. They struck up a conversation and became friends. His new friend kept asking, “When are we going to go in and get some Jerries?” Bromberg kept reassuring him the time would come.

Finally, the unit moved out. The replacement fought in a different tank, so when the unit finally pulled back after a few days of fighting, Bromberg went to his gung-ho friend’s tank to ask him how he liked it. He asked the crew where the replacement was, and one of the soldiers said, “On the first day he went berserk, and we had to pull him out.”

Besides his attitude toward replacements, Bromberg changed some of his usual battlefield practices. Usually, after a three- or five-day fight, the unit would pull back, and Bromberg would run to the company headquarters to see who had returned. “I stopped doing that.” He also stopped smiling. “It got to me,” he recalled. “I wasn’t so cheerful.” One day after some particularly hard fighting when the entire company was shot up, he turned to his driver and said, “We were knocking on the door.”

The intense fighting also took a toll on Bromberg’s fellow soldiers. “A lot of men shot themselves,” said Bromberg about self-inflicted wounds. Army discipline was harsh to anyone suspected of deliberately shooting themselves to get out of combat. If anyone claimed they had shot themselves while cleaning their weapon, an officer would pass around an affidavit attesting to the accident for the men to sign. “I never saw anyone do it, but I signed it,” said Bromberg.

He also pointed out that medics would sometimes take mercy on the victims. “Combat medics told me if they ever saw powder burns on a man’s uniform from shooting himself, they would cut off the parts with burn marks before sending him to an aid station.”

The Rhine River stood as the last natural boundary into Germany. The Ninth Army crossed on March 23, 1945, but by the time Bromberg’s tank reached the river there was already a pontoon bridge in place. He did not explicitly remember crossing the Rhine. He and his crewmen had crossed so many rivers that the Rhine was just another one. Bromberg did not like crossing rivers. “Every time I was driving and we came to a river, I’d switch,” he recalled. “That’s why they didn’t make me a tank driver.”

In early April, the unit received heavy M26 Pershing tanks. Bromberg was not impressed with the new weapon. “It was all computerized,” he said. “No way could I have functioned in that tank.” He preferred the simplicity of the Sherman. In fact, he fought the whole war in a Sherman with the 75mm cannon and never upgraded to the thicker armored M4A3E8 Sherman, the “Easy Eight,” which carried a much more powerful 76mm cannon.

One day in April, Bromberg’s tank took a hit, and he jumped out. While running back to the American lines, he came upon a German in a foxhole gripping an MP40 machine gun, which the Americans called a grease gun. “I stood there paralyzed,” he recalled. But the German held still too, so Bromberg took off running again.

As he reached a group of infantrymen, he turned around to discover the German running right behind him with his hands behind his neck. A scared and angry Bromberg grabbed one of the infantrymen’s rifles to shoot the German, but the men restrained him, saying, “Don’t do that!” They told Bromberg that they recognized the German by his helmet and were going to shoot him but he was running too close to Bromberg.

A combat medic showed up and took Bromberg to a first aid station. “I was a physical wreck,” he admitted. Suffering from combat shock, everything became a blur. All he could remember about the station was picking up a cigarette butt off the floor. “The next thing I knew I was in a field hospital,” he said.

German border. The last line of defense included tank traps, pillboxes, and bunkers. Fighting became more intense east of the border.

Doctors checked on him daily and asked him how he was, but Bromberg, still suffering from his trauma, could not speak. The soldier in the cot next to him had been wounded and spoke easily with the doctors and nurses. Bromberg thought to himself, “I wish I could do that.” The doctors sent Bromberg back to another hospital and sent the wounded man to the front.

When Bromberg disrobed at the new hospital he was shocked. He was even skinnier than he had been in Holland back in November. Doctors gave him shots to increase his appetite and fed him heartily. He eventually began to put on weight. Once well enough, he was transferred to a hospital in England.

Bromberg reached England on May 9, 1945. A doctor called him into his office and told him that because he had fought in North Africa, Sicily, and Europe he would give him a choice: He could either stay in England or go home. Concerned about war rationing, a lack of alcohol, and nothing to do back home, Bromberg told him, “I’d just as soon stay in England.” The officer agreed to his request.

Later, a soldier who knew Bromberg’s family visited him and told him none of those things were true about the United States, that his superiors only told the men those things to prevent them from feeling homesick. Bromberg immediately changed his mind and went back to the doctor to plead his case. The doctor tore up his stay order and signed a new order, allowing Bromberg to board a troopship bound for home.

A war-weary Bromberg returned to Columbus, Ohio, weighing only 116 pounds, having lost 44 pounds while overseas (not counting the weight he had put back on in the hospital). As soon as he was discharged he took off his uniform and never again put it on.

He had a hard time adjusting to civilian life, drinking too much and picking fights with anyone who looked at him the wrong way. He suffered nightmares of German dive bombers roaring down on him. He refused to see war movies. Even driving was difficult. Every time he braked for a red light, he would double clutch, infuriating his father, who would yell, “What are you doing?” For an entire year he would pinch himself when he woke up to make sure he was sleeping in a real bed.

Eventually, Bromberg’s nightmares faded, he cut down on the drinking, and relearned how to drive a vehicle that lacked a cannon and tracks. His girlfriend, Betty Farrell, eventually dragged him to see the movie Mister Roberts, breaking his ban on war movies. Bromberg married Betty in 1955, and they had two boys: Scott in 1957 and Craig in 1960. For work, he opened up a plumbing business and, as of 2015, was still at it. Looking back on the war, he reflected, “I was scared all the time but got used to it.” The war made him the man he is today. “Nothing bothers me,” he declared. “I sleep good, and nothing gets me excited.”

He only regrets that he never spoke to his family about his war experiences. “After I got home I never talked to my father about the war,” he said. “I never told my brother. I wish I would have told them about it.”

When asked if he would change anything about his war experience, he said, “If I had to do it all over again––I would have kept whiskey in my canteen.”

This article by Kevin M. Hymel originally appeared on Warfare History Network.

Image: Wikimedia.