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Fighting at the Moselle

Tanks and Tank Destroyers

Learning a Lesson


Richard Duchossois was born in October of 1921 in Chicago. His whole family lived, and still lives, in Chicago. Duchossois went to high school at Morgan Park Military Academy, then went to Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia. He was only there for 18 months before being called up for active duty in the army midway through his sophomore year. Duchossois had a certificate of eligibility since he had attended a military academy and had been in ROTC [Annotators Note: Reserve Officers' Training Corps] and had done summer training with the regular army. The certificate made him eligible for a commission as a second lieutenant. He was 19 years old when he was commissioned in the infantry. After being called up, Duchossois was sent to the replacement center at Camp Robinson in Little Rock, Arkansas. He was only there for two days before being sent to the new tank destroyer school at Camp Hood, Texas. The tank destroyer units were relatively new at the time. Camp Hood was the headquarters for the tank destroyers and that is where most of the tank destroyer units trained during the war. Duchossois was sent to Camp Hood in 1942. Duchossois was at Washington and Lee University when he learned of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He was on his way to the library to study for mid-semester exams when another student told him about it. Duchossois did not even know where Pearl Harbor was at the time but learned about it fast that afternoon. While he was in college he did not think much about the war and foreign policy. When Duchossois was sent to Camp Hood nobody there really knew what tank destroyers were at first or what was expected of them. They had a cadre of men in the 610th Tank Destroyer Battalion responsible for building the battalion. At the time tank destroyers ranged from half tracks with 75 millimeter guns mounted on them to the 57 millimeter gun. It took some time to get the unit filled out. Many of the troops came from the 90th Infantry Division and there were a lot of draftees in the unit. Since there was no clear picture of what the unit was they conducted various types of training. They conducted physical training, basic infantry training, reconnaissance training, and cavalry training. They did not have a complete set of rules or a training schedule. They just had to get ready to go to war. Duchossois trained with half-tracks with 75 millimeter guns mounted on them but there were only a few of them so only a few groups could train on them at a time. At the time there was no defined table of organization. The group was notified that a captain was going to be the new communications officer and asked for a volunteer to go to communication school at Fort Knox. Duchossois volunteered and was sent to Kentucky. Training was a challenge. Duchossois was 19 years old and new to the army and he was trying to train civilians who had never been in the army. Duchossois and the other men in the 610th Tank Destroyer Battalion were in the US for a while before shipping out. They spent time at Camp Hood and Camp Bowie in Texas then at Camp Atterbury, Indiana and several other places. They moved around some and every time they moved they picked up more people. At Camp Bowie the battalion received a full complement of draftees who were mostly from New York and New Jersey. The new men were turned into soldiers. To Duchossois it was easy because everyone knew that there was a war on and knew that they had to do their duty. Duchossois also credits his battalion commander with turning the men into soldiers. A lot of the draftees were not happy about being in the army but Duchossois and the other officers and men got them going good.


Richard Duchossois knew his unit was going to be a tank destroyer unit. None of the men in the battalion had ever even seen a tank but they knew they had a special mission and knew that they had to be the best at whatever they were going to do. They trained hard. At the time they did not even know what a bazooka was. Later they got the M-10 in both variations; the gas powered and diesel powered. After receiving the M-10, the men in the battalion wore orange scarves to separate themselves from everybody else. The battalion trained with a number of anti-tank weapons. They trained on halftracks mounted with 75 millimeter guns, weapons carriers with the 37 millimeter guns, M-10s, towed three-inch guns, then back to the M-10s. When they deployed overseas they had M-10s until they got to England. There the English took their M-10s and the battalion went into combat with three-inch towed guns. Later, when the battalion was on the Moselle at Nancy the battalion was reequipped with M-36s and finished the war with the M-36. Prior to deploying overseas Duchossois took part in maneuvers in Tennessee. At the time of the maneuvers he was in command of a Headquarters Company. The first time they went out, none of the men in his company was sure of what a headquarters company was supposed to do. Duchossois had a great battalion commander who would gave him suggestions, and the second time his company went out they did what they were supposed to do perfectly. Things were the same when Duchossois took command of one of the battalion’s gun companies, Company C. The first time they went out they flopped, but the second time they won an award and everyone got a three day pass. The battalion was sent to Camp Kilmer for deployment but there was a problem with their overseas transport. They were sent to Fort Dix for a while then back to Camp Kilmer. While they were at Camp Kilmer they got a notice that they would be a 30 day delay before they shipped out and orders went out to give everyone a 30 day leave. At noon they started sending out the guys who lived the farthest away. By five o'clock that evening they were trying to call everyone back. They got back all but six. That night they had their company picture taken then boarded the ship that would take them to Europe. They shipped over aboard the converted cruise ship New Amsterdam. Duchossois took a cruise on the New Amsterdam in the 1950s and it was completely different than when he deployed aboard it. The battalion arrived in Scotland, then moved to a place between Coventry and Birmingham where they conducted more training. Duchossois and the others in the battalion did not have much contact with the English locals; they trained constantly. They did close order drill and conducted simulated vehicle operations. They were learning to take care of each other and came together as a very close unit. The 610th Tank Destroyer Battalion became a model of what tank destroyers were supposed to be. Other tank destroyer battalions would send their people to train with the 610th. The 610th would keep the best of the men sent to train with them, so by the time they deployed they were a hot unit. When the 610th arrived in England they thought they still had M-10s. When they arrived they were informed that the M-10s that had been assigned to them were being given to the British. They were then issued three-inch towed guns making it necessary to start training all over again and learn a different way of doing business. The experience of other tank destroyer battalions was a mystery to the men in the 610th. They did not even know how many tank destroyer battalions there were. They only knew what they were supposed to do. Duchossois was told that the 610th Tank Destroyer Battalion was to take part in the Normandy invasion and that it would be attached to the 4th Infantry Division. Before the invasion they were pushed aside and did not end up going to Normandy until the middle of July [Annotators Note: July 1944]. Duchossois believes that the reason was that they had lost their M-10s. The 610th did some fighting in Normandy but really got into the fighting when the 3rd Army started its operations. The battalion moved down to Avranches, where it was counterattacked. After the fighting there they moved to Argentan and helped seal the Falaise Gap. The battalion had initially been assigned to the US 1st Army, then were moved the US 3rd Army, then to the 1st Provisional Corps, and from there back to the 1st Army for the fighting at Argentan and the Falaise Gap. At Argentan, the Canadian Army was supposed to move down and meet the 1st Army, but was delayed. The 610th Tank Destroyer Battalion saw some heavy fighting at Argentan.


Richard Duchossois and the 610th Tank Destroyer Battalion were attached to the 80th Infantry Division at the time of the fighting at Argentan. At Argentan everything changed for the battalion, when it lost almost all of the battalion staff officers, including the colonel. The reconnaissance company was broken up and each company commander got a platoon from the reconnaissance company. From that time on they fought as separate companies. Sometimes Duchossois reported to a battalion’s commander, sometimes a regimental commander, and sometimes a divisional commander. They maintained their identity as a battalion but did not fight that way. They had to learn how to operate in a new way but the best place to learn is in combat. Operating a towed three-inch gun in combat was a challenge. The towed guns had a ten man crew and were not as maneuverable as a tank. Duchossois felt that when they had towed three-inch guns they were more of a defensive unit; when they were reequipped with the M-36s they became an offensive unit. The battalion had trained with both so there was not much of a problem switching from one to another. The 610th Tank Destroyer Battalion received the M-36s when it was at Nancy on the Moselle. At the time Duchossois was in a hospital in Paris. When the battalion got the M-36s they operated them just like they had the M-10s back in the United States. Duchossois did not like the towed guns. They had a hungry outfit and always wanted to attack but the towed guns held them up. At the Moselle River they still had the towed guns. They crossed the Moselle but they were called back. The 3rd Army had been stopped. Duchossois had some good supply sergeants. When they found German tanks they would drain the gas out of them and use it in the company vehicles. Duchossois was told to send a platoon into Nancy to see what was there. The platoon found that the Germans had completely pulled back from the Moselle. The Allied units held up at the Moselle and that hold up was expensive. Duchossois' company did not do much firing like artillery. They did practice ricochet firing. They would fire a high explosive shell with a time delay fuse on a flat trajectory and let it skip off the ground and detonate in the air. This was very effective. Although some tanks and tank destroyers were mounted with a device to cut through hedgerows Duchossois did not. His unit was not very active in Normandy; they were mostly in a defensive position. They were attached to the 80th Infantry Division and acted as an anti-tank unit and not a tank destroyer unit. Since they could not maneuver the guns they had to wait for the enemy tanks to come to them. Even though Duchossois' men got very fast at getting their guns in position and set up it still was not like a tank. After getting out of Normandy they moved rapidly to the Moselle. Sometimes they would move 40 or 50 miles a day. When they reached the Moselle there were no Germans there. After crossing the Moselle they put their towed guns in position. The Germans on that side were uncoordinated at first but by the third day they had gotten their act together and launched well planned attack with infantry and tanks. Duchossois was in a defensive position. His position was shelled and then attacked by infantry and tanks. During the fighting on the first day Duchossois was shot and wounded. His guns were in place and some tanks hit his left flank. Duchossois and his driver went to see what was happening when some enemy tanks and infantry showed up. There was a skirmish and Duchossois was hit. When word of where he was got back to his company headquarters a number of his men went to get him. The German tank had stopped right next to Duchossois. His men were able to get to him because he was so close to the tank that it could not depress its guns low enough to fire at them. The men pulled him out and Duchossois ended up in a hospital in Paris. Duchossois' platoon stopped the German attack. He thinks that the Germans did not realize how strong his force was so they backed out. Duchossois believes that they were the best troops he had come up against to that point but he was not impressed with the enemy leadership. Duchossois was hit by a German infantryman with a sub machinegun. Duchossois saw the enemy soldier out of the corner of his eye and tried to spin around to face him but the German fired hitting him in the side and back.


After being wounded and recovered by his men, Richard Duchossois was put on the first train out of Verdun and taken to a hospital in Paris. He was in the hospital until almost Thanksgiving [Annotators Note: Thanksgiving 1944]. He was shot on 15 September 1944. Some of his men went to Paris and picked him up and brought him back to his unit. When Duchossois got back to his unit the battalion surgeon would not let him sleep on the ground so he had a litter set up for him. While in Paris, Duchossois was bunked in an officers’ ward. There was a British pilot in the same room who had lost a leg. Duchossois and the British pilot would sneak out of the hospital through a window and take the subway to go into town. Duchossois did not spend much time in Paris until after the war. Duchossois was a combat soldier and did not feel like he fit in with the administrative troops in Paris. By the time Duchossois got back to his outfit it had been reequipped with the M-36 tank destroyers. At the time, his unit had been in contact with the enemy for some time and his men were tired. He put out a security detail and told his men to shut off their radios and get some rest. A motorcycle rode up and asked where he had been. Fifteen minutes later, Duchossois had his men packed up and they were on their way to Belgium. They did not get any sleep for days. When they were heading north into Belgium they did not know much. They knew that there had been a breakthrough, but that was it. Fighting through the Siegfried Line, and in other areas, Duchossois' unit really came together as a team. Duchossois' company was attached to the 318th Infantry Regiment of the 80th Infantry Division when they passed through the Siegfried Line. While passing through, their advance was held up by a large pillbox with tank traps about ten feet deep and 20 feet wide, about 30 or 40 yards in front of it. The infantry was stopped there so the commanding officer of the 318th Infantry, Col. McVicker, called Duchossois and told him to get his tank destroyers across and knock out the pill box. There was no way to get the tank destroyers across the tank traps so Duchossois jumped on the back of one and they made their way around behind the position. They were able to fire several rounds from their 90 millimeter guns at the position after which 80 or 90 Germans came out. When Duchossois and his men worked with the infantry they were very successful. When they were sent off on their own they never knew what their mission was. They worked best with other people around them. Sometimes they worked with tanks. The Sherman tanks had a 76 millimeter gun which bounced off the side of the German tanks. The Shermans would do their job, and if a big enemy tank came along Duchossois' tank destroyers had the job of getting rid of it. Sometimes Duchossois unit had the job of blasting through walls. The tank destroyers were better at doing that because they had a heavier gun than the tanks did. The tanks had thicker armor, but the tank destroyers were more maneuverable. When a tank was hit by a shell the round turned into molten steel and would scatter around through the tank. When a tank destroyer got hit the round just passed right through it. Someone in the vehicle might be injured or killed but the vehicle would usually not be destroyed.


When Richard Duchossois and his unit got up into the Bulge [Annotators Note: the Battle of the Bulge] it was very cold. His company was holding part of the line in the south eastern corner of the Bulge. They were involved in some tough fighting there. As the Germans started coming out they put in the Hermann Goering Division. At this time Duchossois' company knocked out a Tiger tank [Annotators Note: German Mark VI heavy tank, known as the Tiger]. He climbed up onto the tank to look inside and saw that the crew was made up of both men and women. [Annotators Note: Duchossois relates a story about an event that happened to Company B.] As the Company B tank destroyers were moving through a village in Normandy they came across a young girl of 12 to 15 years old. The girl’s home had been destroyed and her family killed. The crew of one of the tank destroyers picked the girl up and took her aboard their vehicle. They clothed her in their uniforms and took care of her and she stayed with them for the duration of the war. Later on, the commander of the tank destroyer married her. Duchossois did not hear the story until he met her at a reunion at his farm years later. Duchossois feels that the men in his outfit were some of the best in the world. He tried to never tell his men how to do a job. He would tell them what needed to be done and would leave it up to them as to how to do it. After the Moselle, Duchossois started staying to himself; he had lost some of his closest friends on the Moselle. That taught him that if he got too close to his officers he would make emotional decisions and he could not do that. He separated himself from some of the things they were doing. Duchossois ran things somewhat different than in other companies. He made sure that his men had a hot meal for breakfast and dinner, and they would eat rations during the day. All of Duchossois' men went to the front; he did not let anyone linger in the rear. Duchossois feels that most of the soldiers over in Europe had one mission in mind and what their job was. After being in the line for two or three days it was easy to see that. Duchossois had a sergeant who he thought for sure would be very quiet once they entered combat and the man turned out to be one of the best sergeants Duchossois had when the shooting started. He had another sergeant who he thought would be a great sergeant in combat who ended up cracking when the fighting started and having to be replaced so he did not hurt himself or someone else. The toughest weapon Duchossois faced was the 88s [Annotators Note: German 88 millimeter antiaircraft gun which was also used as an antitank gun]. An 88 millimeter gun crew outsmarted Duchossois one time. The Germans sent a small tank out into the open where Duchossois and his other tank destroyer crews could see it. One of Duchossois' tank destroyer crews shot it and knocked it out but as soon as the tank destroyer fired it was seen by the German 88 millimeter gun crew who then shot and knocked the tank destroyer out. They learned a lesson that day. Duchossois' driver who had been with him down on the Moselle wanted to drive a tank. He was driving the tank destroyer that was hit by the German 88 millimeter gun. Duchossois saw the man’s headless body lift up out of the driver’s seat then slump back down into it. The platoon sergeant who was also in that tank destroyer lost his leg. Had they been in an actual tank instead of a tank destroyer the entire crew would have been killed by the molten steel created when a tank his hit. Duchossois could not let his emotions make decisions when in command. Duchossois never doubted that they would win the war or feel that the Germans would be able to stop them. He knew that his mission was to win the war and every step closer to Berlin was a step closer to home. Duchossois feels that he was luckier than the men under his command because he always had so much on his mind that he did not have time to thinks about the battle going on around him. Duchossois admired his men.


Richard Duchossois and his company were set up on the south eastern tip of the Bulge [Annotators Note: during the The Battle of the Bulge]. They were primarily in defensive position so they could engage the German forces streaming out of the Bulge. The Germans knew where Duchossois' positions were and bombarded them with Screaming Minnies [Annotators Note: German Nebelwerfer rocket launcher which was nicknamed the Screaming Minnie, or Screaming MiMi, because of the loud whistling sound it made]. Some of the tank destroyers in Duchossois' company had their tracks damaged so they were dug in and used as fixed guns. Duchossois and his men had trained with, and used, the towed three-inch antitank guns so they knew how and where to dig in their damaged tanks. The most exciting part at the end of the Bulge was the opportunity to go out on patrol to locate the German forces. Duchossois could smell the Germans because of the Turkish tobacco they smoked. Toward the end some of the Germans started getting careless. After the Battle of the Bulge, Duchossois and his unit were sent to an area north of Prüm then were sent down to the 7th Army. Duchossois saw American medics patching up wounded German soldiers. During the run across France they were attached to the 2nd Armored Division. When they passed through a town they would be showered with flowers by the locals. There was not much resistance when they moved through France. The biggest problem they faced was at Worms. They came across a cave full of wine and his men got into it. Duchossois did not notice a difference in the resistance put up by the Germans after crossing into Germany. In Germany they encountered bicycle brigades. These were made up of mostly old men who were not well trained. They did encounter pockets of resistance. The Germans had better trained in France. The Home Guard they faced in Germany was not as well trained. Duchossois and his men had more confidence going into combat in the M-36 because they knew that they could take out almost anything. They would try to hit the German tanks in the sponsons to take out the tracks. Their 90 millimeter guns would sometimes bounce off of the heavy German tanks, like the Tiger. On Christmas Day some packages made their way to the front. Duchossois had his headquarters set up in a bombed out house. On Christmas morning he received a package from his mother containing shoe polish and little tins of dried shrimp and other little delicacies. They men in his headquarters had a little feast. When Duchossois entered Germany he knew that there were Germans out in front of him but did not know where they were. He went up in a Piper Cub flown by an artillery spotter and was able to spot and mark the German positions.


[Annotators Note: There is dead air at the beginning of this segment. The segment actually begins at 1:04:45:500.] For Richard Duchossois, the end of the war was sort of a letdown. They were about halfway between Munich and the Alps. During the last week of the war they encountered prison camps and saw the inmates in their striped coveralls skinny as a rail. Most of the guards from the concentration camps Duchossois encountered had gone. He did not see any guards. The Germans would leave the camps and make their way to American lines to avoid being captured by the Russians. The last week of the war just kind of fizzled out. It was in May and it was snowing. At around ten o'clock in the morning they were told to stop. After the war ended, Duchossois and his men moved up to Nuremberg. The civilians still had their windows covered fearing that the Russians were coming. Duchossois believes that it took the German people longer to acclimate themselves to the war being over than it did for the soldiers. Duchossois does not recall any cheering when the war ended. Duchossois entered a concentration camp Neu-Ulm near Dachau. The smell of the camps was horrible and kept them from wanting to go into the camps. After the war was over, Duchossois' battalion was sent to Nuremburg and the companies were divided up. Duchossois' new mission was to rebuild the Grand Hotel. A bomb had fallen through the roof of the Grand Hotel so Duchossois had to get a bomb disposal team to remove it. After getting the bomb out they rebuilt the hotel and had a nice officer's billet and mess for about a week until the war crimes commission came along and chased them out. One of Duchossois' platoons was at Garmisch Park and another was at Soldiers Field where the big gatherings had been held. Duchossois had his headquarters set up in the Grand Hotel near the old city. After returning home, Duchossois was with a close friend who had been a tanker who landed on D-Day and had been captured on D plus one [Annotators Note: 7 June 1944]. His friend told him how the Germans would put prisoners in rail cars, and leave them in the railroad yard in Nuremburg to keep the Americans from bombing the rail yards. The rail yards got bombed anyway. Duchossois cannot imagine the terror those prisoners of war felt being cooped up in the train cars with bombs falling all around them. After Nuremberg, Duchossois was sent to another area of Germany where he became a kreisleiter [Annotators Note: a district or county leader] because the military government troops had not caught up to them yet. He was in charge of everything in that area. He had three or four officers, and three to five enlisted men. Duchossois believes that the German civilians in his area did not know about the concentration camps. When they showed pictures of the camps from Life Magazine they did not believe it. Duchossois thinks that some of the people may have known about them but the majority did not. The civilians would go to Duchossois just to get permission to go to the next town. That was one of his responsibilities. After the war, Patton [Annotators Note: General George Smith Patton] said that the only people who could command were Nazis [Annotators Note: Patton was referring to people needed for places of leadership in the new post war Germany]. Duchossois understands what Patton was saying. When the military government troops showed up to relieve Duchossois there were 21 officers and a bunch of enlisted men. None of these troops had ever seen combat and had their minds filled with what they had learned back in the United States about how to run the military over in Germany. Duchossois believes that this was not a well thought out plan. There are certain compassions they had for human beings. He knew that the average citizen in Germany knew that they were at war, but did not know about the concentration camps, but he could be wrong. The German civilians wanted to help. He recalls an incident where the Papal Embassy was moved and a unit planned to set up a hospital in its place. Duchossois gave the commanding officer of the unit permission to set up there, but learned the following day that the US military in Washington DC had forbidden it because it was sacred property and could not be used for troops.


Richard Duchossois did not witness any outbursts of anger by American servicemen. Their job was to win the war. They had fought so hard that they were tempered, and a little more forgiving than those who came to Germany after the war who had been taught that the German people were bad. Duchossois was not able to go back to college after the war. He had a son who was 18 months old before Duchossois saw him for the first time, and had a family to feed. He lived with his inlaws for a short time before buying his first house. While overseas he sent most of his pay home. Duchossois learned as a company commander what responsibility was. He was in his very early 20s at the time. He learned that his job was 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. He had to do his job because there were a lot of men depending on him. His pride would not let him let those men down, particularly when he was in such a hard-hitting outfit. Patton [Annotators Note: General George Smith Patton] said that he did not want to buy the same real estate twice. Duchossois took that with him. He did not like to make the same mistake twice.

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