World War II
During World War II, Rose initially served in North Africa as chief of staff to General Harmon, commander of the Second Armored Division. After distinguishing himself in Tunisia, Rose was promoted to Brigadier General and given command of Combat Command A of the Second Armored Division. Success in Sicily preceded brutal fighting in France following D-Day. In 1944, Rose was again promoted to major general and given command of the Third Armored Division. Under Rose’s effective leadership, the Third Armored spearheaded American action in France and became the first American unit to cross the German border. Following the successful capture of Cologne, Rose and his men headed towards Berlin and accomplished what would be the longest one-day march into enemy territory in World War II. However, before reaching Berlin, tragedy struck: on March 30, 1945, Rose was killed by enemy fire near Paderborn, Germany.
Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States formally entered World War II in December 1941. At the time, Colonel Maurice Rose was stationed at Fort Benning, Georgia, where he served as chief of staff to General Ernest “Old Gravel Voice” Harmon. When Harmon was appointed commander of the 2nd Armored Division, he chose to keep Rose as his chief of staff, a sign of his respect for Rose’s abilities. On November 8, 1943, Harmon and the 2AD landed in North Africa. Their mission: gain control of French Morocco in what was known as “Operation Torch.” The Operation was a resounding success– three days later, French Morocco was controlled by the Allies. Only one final Axis stronghold remained in North Africa: Tunisia.
Allied operations in North Africa were heavily reliant on armored forces. American Major General Lloyd Fredenhall, commander of the American II Corps, and British Lieutenant General Keith Anderson led the fight against German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, known as “The Desert Fox.” Losses at Faid Pass, Sidi Bou Zid, and an especially costly Allied loss at Kassarine Pass had all but destroyed the 1st Armored Division.25 This string of decisive victories for Rommel and the German-Italian forces over the Allies in late 1943 led General Eisenhower to appoint Harmon deputy commander of the American II Corps. This placed him in a position to investigate Fredenhall and Anderson. Harmon found both Fredenhall and Anderson to be incompetent, particularly Frendenhall, who gave his orders from a bunker 70 miles from the front lines.26 Conflicts came to a head on February 22, 1943, when, despite orders from Anderson to retreat from Sbiba and Thalia, Harmon ordered the men running from the battlefield to stay and fight. In the face of increased Allied resistance, Rommel realized he must back down, and another Allied loss was averted. With Rose’s assistance, Harmon filed a report labeling both Fredenhall and Anderson incompetent. With great fanfare from their men, Harmon and Rose returned to Morocco, only to return to Tunisia in March 1943 when Harmon was appointed head of the 1AD. In a style Rose would later adopt, Harmon led his men from the front, always exuding confidence and rarely choosing to retreat.27
While in Tunisia, Rose received his first and second Silver Stars for valor in combat. On May 19, 1943, the Allies captured the coastal city of Bizerte and effectively drove the Axis powers out of North Africa. Eisenhower had taken notice of Rose’s competence, and on June 2, 1943, Rose was promoted to Brigadier General, taking charge of Combat Command A of the 2AD.28 Stationed in Bizerte, Rose and the CCA trained for the invasion of Sicily. Code named Operation Husky, the July operation allowed Rose to distinguish himself as a competent commander, capable of making split-second decisions that supported successful operations. Thirty-eight days after their landings, the Allies had successfully liberated Sicily. For his role in the capture of Naro, Canicatti, and the capital city of Palermo, Rose received his third Silver Star.29
By November 1943, fighting in mainland Italy had come to a standstill, and the 2AD was withdrawn to England in preparation for the invasion of Normandy. When General Rose set foot on French soil on the evening of June 7, 1944, the day after D-Day, he was almost certainly inspired by the incredible sacrifices required to secure the beach. Now, Rose’s mission was to link the five beachheads secured in the D-Day landings before the Germans could launch a successful counterattack.30 To do so, Rose used intelligence from the Ultra code breaking intelligence project, one of the first Allied commanders to effectively do so. On July 22, 1944, the CCA recaptured Carentan, France, where the brave men of the American 101st Airborne Division had been holding out against German forces for almost five days. In the battle, Rose not only demonstrated his tactical prowess, but also his fearsome ethic and drive. As always, Rose was a driving force, initiating an attack by shouting to a beleaguered captain of the 101st Airborne. “Captain, lets get your men out of their holes and moving forward! We are going on the attack– and I mean right now!”31
Later in the year, General Rose and his CCA also played an important role in Operation Cobra, the Allied operation that pushed into France and permanently penetrated the Germans’ defenses. During the operation, Rose and his men pushed forward for over 48 hours straight, rapidly breaking through the German defenses in what General Charles Corlett would later call “one of the fastest and most successful tactical operations during the war.”32 Despite a brutal and costly fight through the hedgerows of the French countryside, the offensive was successful and is widely considered a turning point of the war. Germany had lost its strategic position in northwestern France, and the Allies now set their sights on Germany.
On August 7, 1944 Rose took command of the 3rd Armored Division, and received a promotion to Major General. Under Rose’s command, the 3AD acquired the nickname “Spearhead,” famed for bravely spearheading many battles during the liberation of France and the push into Germany.33
“The division’s splendid performance... is a lasting tribute to the leadership and devotion to duty of the officers and men. The wonderful fighting spirit... of the “Spearhead” Division has carried all before it.”
- Lieutenant General J Lawton Collins
"Call me Spearhead"
the Third Armored Division
Activated in 1941, the Third Armored joined the war in the weeks following the invasion of Normandy. In 231 days of combat, the division suffered over 9000 casualties, more than any other American armored division. They captured over 75000 German prisoners and inflicted an unknown number of casualties. Under General Rose's command, the division often found itself leading the Allied charge across Europe,
earning their enduring
Based on information from the Association of 3rd Armored Division Veterans, https://sites.nextcompanies.com/bizSites/3AD/index.cfm.
Rose lead his new division, full of battle-tested veterans and competent commanders, northeast with the intention of closing the Falaise Pocket.34 The 3AD faced violent resistance from the German 7th Army and multiple Panzer divisions, but by August 25, 1944, the German divisions that had not been encircled retreated across the Seine River, and the Battle of the Falaise Pocket was brought to an end.35
The conclusion of Operation Overlord saw Rose and the 3AD move North into Belgium. An unexpectedly brutal clash with the Germans at Mons, Belgium resulted in an Allied victory but inflicted major casualties on the 3AD. For their valor, the division received a Presidential Unit Citation, and for his exceptional and effective leadership, General Rose received a Bronze Star.36 The 3AD continued towards Germany, bruised and battered but continuing to live up to their name, with Rose always at the helm.
On September 12, under Rose’s leadership, the 3AD’s Combat Command B became the first American unit to cross a border into Germany.37 The following day, the remainder of the 3AD followed and the unit breached the Siegfried defensive line near the town of Roetgen. Rose’s division became the first American unit to capture a German town when they took Stolberg on September 21, 1944.38 A lack of supplies and reinforcements forced Rose and his men to rest in Stolberg, halting their rapid march East. While in the city, the 3AD accomplished yet another impressive but perhaps less flashy American military “first”: constructing and implementing the first military rule of a German town.39
After several failed Allied offensives, the Germans launched what would become their final offensive of the war in the west: the Battle of the Bulge. This brutal fighting was characterized by miscommunication, supply shortages, and chaos on the American side. The 3AD experienced heavy losses, but thanks in part to Rose’s leadership and willingness to take risks, they also destroyed 98 German tanks and played a key role in stalling German forces.40 By January 25, 1945, the Allies managed to push the Germans back and bring the offensive to an end. Though the Battle of the Bulge was incredibly costly for both sides, the Germans never recovered their offensive momentum. After a brief rest in Stolberg, Rose led his men into Germany to finish the war.
On March 2, 1944, the 3AD began attacking Cologne, the “Queen City of Germany.” Heavy fighting ensued, and the city was largely destroyed, its gothic cathedral one of the only buildings that remained standing when the fighting was through. By March 7th, the city was taken by Allied troops, and on March 11, the American flag was raised over the city.
Major General Maurice Rose was known for his hands-on and aggressive leadership style, pushing his officers to get maximum results from their men and pushing forward despite high risks and high casualties.41 A strict disciplinarian, he was known to fine his men for disorderly conduct and appearance (collected fines supported the Red Cross). Despite his demanding and taciturn nature, Rose’s courage inspired loyalty and respect from his men. One sergeant under Rose’s command stopped to talk to correspondents during action in Western Germany. Despite being grievously wounded, the sergeant remained optimistic, expressing his confidence in General Rose: “We’ll get through all right. The general’s right here to see that we do. It ain’t so bad taking it for a guy who’s willing to take it from himself.”42 Unfortunately, that same confident attitude and habit of leading from the front that drew the admiration of his men would also be Rose’s ultimate downfall.
On March 25, 1945, American generals met to discuss their next moves in Germany. General Lawton Collins and General Elwood “Pete” Quesada needled Rose with news about other units’ heroism and accomplishments on the battlefield. In response, Rose stated that the 3AD would be in Paderborn (100 miles from their encampment in Marburg) within 24 hours to assist with the encirclement of the Ruhr Pocket.43 On March 29, the 3AD headed towards Cologne, General Rose in a jeep at the head of one a taskforce.44
At approximately 8am on March 30, Rose’s convoy of Jeeps encountered four German tanks. Trapped between a tank and a plum tree, Rose, Major Bellinger, and Rose’s driver Sergeant Shaunce exited their vehicle and surrendered as prisoners of war. There is confusion over the exact circumstances of his death, but as Rose reached to surrender his weapon, the German tank commander aimed his submachine gun and fired 14 rounds.45 Though Shaunce and Bellinger manage to escape, Rose was killed instantly, the highest ranking American officer killed in the European theater of the war.46
The Battle of the Ruhr Pocket concluded on April 18, 1945, and the Ruhr Pocket was renamed the Rose Pocket in honor of the fallen General Rose. The 3AD continued East, liberating the Dessau concentration camp on April 23.47 On May 7th, the German High Command surrendered, and May 8th was declared Victory Day in Europe. Three months later, on August 15, 1945, Japan also surrendered and World War II came to a close. The war had taken nearly 50 million lives, among them an estimated 418,500 Americans, including Major General Maurice Rose.48
25. Marshall Fogel. Major General Maurice Rose: The Most Decorated Battle Tank Commander in U.S. Military History, (2018), 65.
26. Ibid, 63.
27. Ibid, 59-62.
28. Ibid, 62-72.
29. Ibid, 77.
30. George F. Howe. “Chapter 11: The Offensive in South Central Tunisia,” in The Battle History of the First Armored Division. (Washington, Combat Forces Press, 1954), 216.
31. Stephen L Ossad and Don R Marsh. Major General Maurice Rose: World War II’s Greatest Forgotten General (Taylor Trade Publishing, 2006), 156.
32. Marshall Fogel. Major General Maurice Rose: The Most Decorated Battle Tank Commander in U.S. Military History, (2018), 161.
33. Third Armored Division. Spearhead in the West: 1941-1945. (US Army, 1951), 75.
34. Marshall Fogel. Major General Maurice Rose: The Most Decorated Battle Tank Commander in U.S. Military History, (2018), 165.
35. Maurice Rose. “Rose’s Own Story of How He Trapped Huns.” Intermountain Jewish News. May 24, 1945.
36. Third Armored Division. Spearhead in the West: 1941-1945. (US Army, 1951), 87.
37. Spearhead Staff, “3rd Armored Division History Traced Back Twenty-one Years.” Spearhead 8, no 15, (April 1962), 2-3.
38.Marshall Fogel. Major General Maurice Rose: The Most Decorated Battle Tank Commander in U.S. Military History, (2018), 183.
39. Ibid, 190.
40. Ibid, 197.
41. Max Goldberg. “Aide Says General Rose Bravest Leader.” Intermountain Jewish News, April 5, 1945.
42. Robert Gamzey. “Rose Became Great General By Taking Personal Risks.” Intermountain Jewish News, April 12, 1945.
43. Thomas R Henry. “Masters of Slash and Surprise: Third Armored Division,” in The Saturday Evening Post, Oct 19, 1946.
44. Marshall Fogel. Major General Maurice Rose: The Most Decorated Battle Tank Commander in U.S. Military History, (2018), 218.
45. “Nazi Killed Rose, Trapped, Giving Up.” New York Times, April 4, 1945.
46. Paul Leopold. “The Death of Maj. Gen. Maurice Rose,” accessed August 18, 2022, https://www.3ad.com/history/wwll/rose.section/leopold.article.htm
47. Marshall Fogel. Major General Maurice Rose: The Most Decorated Battle Tank Commander in U.S. Military History, (2018), 225.
48. National WW2 Museum. “Worldwide Deaths in World War II,” accessed August 25, 2022, https://www.nationalww2museum.org/students-teachers/student-resources/research-starters/research-starters-worldwide-deaths-world-war.