Saturday, November 23, 2013

Handlebar Hank

Dale Albee in 1995
   Coming soon: "From the Cavalry to Czechoslovakia: A 712th Tank Battalion Interview with Dale Albee"
   I visited Dale in Prospect, Oregon, in December of 1995. He was a platoon leader in the 712th, with which my father served. Dale was a sergeant in the third platoon of Company D, the battalion's "light" tank company. He eventually received one of the 14 battlefield commissions.
   The audio of Dale's interview is in my original audiobook, "The Tanker Tapes." I decided to make an edited transcript of the interview available as the next installment of my series of 712th Tank Battalion Interviews.
   Here's an excerpt. Please watch for the release of the full interview at and for Kindle, and check out "Big Andy," my interview with tank driver Bob Anderson of A Company in the 712th.

  Handlebar Hank

From "From the Cavalry to Czechoslovakia" (c) 2013 Aaron Elson

 Aaron Elson: Now, what exactly happened in Binscheid?

Dale Albee: All right. It was in February, after the Bulge. We had been sent out, and I was working with Mike. I may be wrong, but I think the 4th Armored was going down the main road, and we were going off to the side to clear villages like we normally do, keep everything clear on the flank. And we came up to this little hill and stopped. Old Mike motioned to me to come forward, so I dismounted and went up, and we looked out. Binscheid was over here, the town. The road came down around this way and came into the town. And in this field out here there’s a creek, right here down below this little bluff. In this field out here is Germans all over the place, with their holes dug and everything just walking around. They didn’t even know we were there.
So we figured, well shoot, this is like most of the other towns, they’ve got them out to protect the town. We called back for infantry, and waited for about an hour and a half, and they sent the infantry up. They sent 15 green infantry. Handlebar Hank, I’ll never know his name and I wish I knew it because bless his soul, but old Handlebar Hank, the sergeant, was the only oldtimer. He had a big handlebar mustache and his name was Hank, that’s the reason we just called him Handlebar Hank. So Mike said, “If I send jeeps, anything can knock them out. How about if you lead out and go down the road, I’ll fire for support here and then I’ll get the support down to you right away, and then we’ll fan out and go on into the town.”
Okay, fine. So we got all set, and I took off in my tanks and went over the hill and we opened up on these guys here and we gave the infantry  time to get around and get in position so they could sweep around this way and then protect me as I came over the hill.
We sailed over the hill and went around, and opened fire. I went down this little dip and just went up, and oh, just topped the rise, and I was planning on stopping just beyond that rise and opening up. Well, right there is where I set off the mine. And it knocked our tank out. So we dismounted and got behind the tank. There’s a damn machine gun right straight ahead of us firing on us but we all got behind the tank, and I hollered, “Send up my second tank!” The second tank came up right in my tracks. And they got up maybe twice as far as from here to that bush from me, and they rolled across and all of a sudden there’s the damnedest explosion.
Later on we learned that what it was was the Italian box mine, and what it does, it’s a big box that goes across the road, and then it’s got two cutters. And when you roll across that it cuts a wire and sets off the thing.
Evidently, the light tank wasn’t heavy enough to cut it completely, so when they rolled over they cut it. When that exploded, it blew the whole bottom of the tank in, and of course stopped the tank right away. So I ran over, and the hatch was blown loose, threw it up. Slick was the driver, I knew he was dead because he was just kind of slumped forward, and the whole back end of his head was gone. And his back was just shredded. And the little assistant driver, he couldn’t stand up. So I grabbed him under the arms and pulled him up, and just threw him over, and then ran up.
Murphy was crawling out of the turret by that time, and I just helped him out, and Holt was trying to get out. And then like a goddamn fool...

Aaron Elson: That was Holt in that tank, too?

Dale Albee: I think it was. I have to check, but it just seems to me that poor old Holt, that was the third time he was wounded. But I know Murphy was in there.

Aaron Elson: Now how did you go into the tank?

Dale Albee: I didn’t go in. I just ran up on the front slope plate, and stood right there, like this is a hatch right here, and this is the driver, I knew he was dead, so I just stepped over here and here’s the bow gunner. I grabbed him, and where you get the strength I don’t know, but I pulled him up, and his legs were broken I don’t know how many times below the knees, and that’s the reason he couldn’t stand up to get out. And then I just ran up here, and right here is Murphy, and helped him over, and then I saw Holt was getting out, and I’m pretty sure it was Holt. And then instead of jumping behind that tank, I turned around and ran back to my own tank, behind it.
Handlebar Hank was laying in the road. That explosion of the second tank knocked the living daylights out of him and he just kind of jumped up and then fell, and this damn machine gun opened up, and you saw the tracers come by here like that that missed him. And then the second time he came back it walked right up over his shoulder.
I ran back, got Handlebar Hank, pulled him over and got him into the ditch between me and my tank. And then we called for artillery support because I knew we couldn’t do a damn thing, and there’s two Germans right in here, we knew they were there, so, you know, the old “Kommen Sie Hier Macht Schnell Mit der Hande Ho Oder Ich Schiessen.” We captured those two Germans. They came running over. So we called for artillery.
In the meantime, the Germans started throwing artillery in on us. So I called back and said, “Send us help,” for support, to get the wounded out. And the fences there were these little, kind of like a pole fence, so what we did we’d reach up and grab those poles, put two down like that and we took our coats off and our tanker's jackets and run the sleeves through it, we made stretchers. And I had to call back and had Pat [Shortall] just start backing up, and I think Holmes was the one behind him. I had them back up and open fire to pin anything down here and then we got everybody out of there that was wounded. We made the two PWs help us carry them. And the last time I saw Handlebar Hank, we radioed back and they sent a medic jeep up, and old Handlebar Hank was laying on a litter on this medic jeep, he had a cigarette, his hands all bloody and blood all over, puffing, and he looked over at me and I said, “How are you, Handlebar?”
He said, “I got me a million dollar wound. I’m going back to the States.”

- - - 
 Now available
Kindle               Paperback

Read the full transcript of my interview with Dale Albee in the interview section of Full audio of the interview is included in The Tanker Tapes, available on eBay

Paperback          Kindle

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