Gentlemen, meet Pvt. Charlie Rattler from Jefferson, TX.
It was purely by happenstance that I came across “Yank – The Army Weekly,” dated Feb 23, 1945 (Vol.3 # 36), with this photo illustrating an article entitled “Negroes in Combat” on pages 6-7. The caption read, “Pvt. Charlie Rattler of Jefferson, Texas, a fighter on the Western Front, strikes a pose with his bazooka.” The article divided into sections on France and Italy. The “France” section was written by Sgt. Ralph Martin of the Seventh Army. It mentioned the battle of Climbach, where the 103rd Infantry Division faced 88s, Mark IVs, artillery, snipers, etc. So they created Task Force Blackshear, consisting of a platoon of Engineers, a company of infantry from the 411th Regiment, seven medium tanks and a platoon [four guns] of towed three-inch TDs from the 614th to take Climbach. The 614th lost 3 or 4 guns immediately but won several Bronze Stars and one Silver Star for accomplishments during the battle.
A full account of the battle can be found in an article entitled, “Climb to Climbach,” by Sgt. Ralph G. Martin, on page 3 of the Feb. 4, 1945 (Vol.1 # 28) (Continental Edition) of “Yank.”
It turns out Pvt. Rattler was a member of the 614th (colored) Tank Destroyer Bn, a towed 3″ AT Gun unit attached to the 103rd Infantry Division all the way from October 1944 till the end of hostilities. More specifically, he was in the ill-fated third platoon of “C” Company. Third platoon won a unit citation for their action in Climbach, France, on 14 Dec 44, when they were almost completely wiped out, losing an M20 Armored Car, several jeeps, several half-tracks, 3 out of 4 of their 3″ guns, and most of the four 10-man gun crews.
From the unit history:
On the 25th of January Company C suffered again, and again it was the third platoon. This platoon was stationed in Schillersdorf in support of the 411th Infantry. Suddenly about 450 German SS troops attacked. It was later discovered that the German soldiers had been given schnapps and ether to get them into a state of mind to advance down the main road leading into the town. All the TD soldiers succeeded in getting out with the exception of Lt. George Mitchell and 11 enlisted men, who were captured and held by the Germans until the end of the war in Europe. All were liberated and returned to the states then. [Pvt. Rattler and ten other enlisted men were listed as MIA on 27 Jan 45. Lt. Mitchell was no doubt one of the white officers sprinkled throughout this segregated battalion.]
Charlie didn’t get his photo in PW18, mainly because he wasn’t standing in front of a knocked-out German tank, but, if anyone out there can come up with a photo of a Panzer lost to the 614th, I’m sure he’ll have his day in a future volume of Panzerwrecks. In the meantime, figure modelers now have three mud-splattered bazookamen to choose from.