“We could have succeeded if it had not been for an American colonel named Smythe.”

Those were the words of a German colonel named Rossberger, who was chief operations officer for Field Marshall Gerd Von Rundstedt.  He told American journalist Thomas Henry about his experiences at the Battle of the Bulge in 1946.  The “Smythe” he’s talking about is George W. Smythe, a son of Montgomery County.

Born in Norristown in 1899, Smythe was the thirteenth and last child born in his family.  He was a Boy Scout, sang in a local choir, and attended Norristown High School, graduating in 1917.  He went on to West Point where he distinguished himself on the football field.  He graduated in 1924.

boy scout

Smythe was living in Honolulu with his wife, Susan, and their two sons George, Jr. and John when the Japanese attacked.

During the war, Smythe served with the 47th Infantry, which captured Cherbourg (an important Atlantic port and major Allied goal) on June 26, 1944.  Colonel Smythe accepted the German commander’s pistol as a symbolic gesture of surrender.

A few months later at the Battle of Bulge, Smythe organized retreating soldiers into his own regiment, increasing its size to the extent that the men jokingly called it the “47th Division.”  Smythe soon learned that German paratroopers had be dropped behind him.  At the same time he was out of communication with his own general, Louis A. Craig, due to a radio glitch.  Smythe figured that the Germans would try to capture the main road through the area, so he organized the men to keep the enemy from reaching it.  Henry writes, “The slaughter in the swirling snow was such as never before had been known in battle.”  The Germans never reached that road. (You can read all of Henry’s article here.)

Too smart

On the night March 6, 1945, the 47th crossed the Rhine with the rest of 9th Division at the unguarded Remagen railroad bridge, in the rain.  They moved quietly into the village of Erpel without the benefit of maps or flashlights.  The next day they came under heavy fire as the Germans tried to expel them, but the 47th held while other regiments crossed the river to join them.

After the war, Smythe remained in the army and served in the Korean War and as an advisor to Chaing Kai-shek in Taiwan.  He retired from active service in 1957, having been awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the Silver Star, the Legion of Merit, the Croix de Guerre, the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, and the Taejuk Distinguished Service Medal of Korea among others.

Memorial Day is a day to honor those who have given their lives in the service of their country.  Smythe died peacefully on January 16, 1969, but I thought this week he was fitting topic for our blog, which celebrates and people and places of Montgomery County.

We’ll leave Major General Smythe with the prediction for his future that appeared in Norristown High School’s Spice in 1917:

spice

Sources:

Thomas Henry, “The Avenging Ghosts of the Ninth.” https://9thinfantrydivision.net/the-avenging-ghosts-of-the-ninth/

Ronald E. Heaton, “Major General George Winfred Smythe: A Tribute from His Classmates of the 1917 Summer Class, Norristown High School” The Bulletin of the Historical Society of Montgomery County, vol. XVIII, no. 1, Fall, 1971