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|66th Infantry Division|
66th Infantry Division shoulder sleeve insignia
|Branch||United States Army|
|Nickname(s)||"Black Panther Division"|
|April 1943 -August 1945||Maj. Gen. Herman F. Kramer|
|August 1945 – November 1945||Maj. Gen. Walter F. Lauer|
|Red bordered circle, containing black panther's head against an orange background|
The 66th Infantry Division was a unit of the United States Army during World War II. Activated April 15, 1943, the division trained at Camp Blanding, Florida, and was later transferred to Camp Robinson, Arkansas and then later to Camp Rucker, Alabama before being shipped overseas to England on November 26, 1944. Commanded by Maj. Gen. H. F. Kramer, the 66th Infantry Division’s main role in World War II was containing and eliminating the remaining pockets of German soldiers in Northern France.
Three regiments of the 66th Infantry Division arrived in Dorchester, England on November 26, 1944, and the rest of the Division joined them on December 12, 1944. They trained and prepared for deployment until December 24, 1944, then transferred to Southampton before crossing the English Channel to Cherbourg, France. Two Belgian transport vessels, the Cheshire and Leopoldville carried the 66th across the English Channel. However, only 5 miles from the port of Cherbourg, the Leopoldville was torpedoed by a German U-Boat and sunk, taking the lives of 14 officers and 748 enlisted soldiers. The U.S. Navy later announced the sinking of the Leopoldville to be the second-largest loss of life from the sinking of a troop transport ship in the entire European Theater.
Primarily involved with destroying the Nazi troops left behind by the retreat from Northern France, the 66th Infantry Division relieved the 94th Infantry Division of control of the Brittany-Loire area on December 29, 1944, and collaborated with French forces as well. The 66th carried out its objective by harassing German installations, limited objective attacks, and running reconnaissance missions to gather intelligence. The use of artillery shelling many German positions also played a major part in the advancement of the 66th through the region. In total, there were about 100,000 German soldiers that remained in the ports of Lorient, St. Nazaire, Bordeaux and La Rochelle. Notably, a heavy German attack near La Croix was repulsed on April 16, 1945 and several strongly fortified enemy positions were taken from April 19 to 29 1945 in a series of counterattacks. These battles played a pivotal role in ending the Nazi occupation of Northern France. The remaining Nazi soldiers surrendered to 66th Infantry Division Officers and French officials in a small cafe near Cordemais on May 8, 1945.
Ordered to change to an occupational-oriented mission May 14, 1945, the 66th made a 700-mile trek into Germany where the Black Panthers occupied 2400 square miles of territory and the city of Koblenz. As a security force, the division was charged with establishment of a military government and control of all German affairs. Tasks included the dischargement of prisoners of war, inventorying of ammunition and supplies, and organizing civilians. After spending time in Germany, the 66th returned to the French coast to aid with the allied withdrawal from the European Theater. During this time, the division was changed by the beginning of the inactivation process, until it returned to the U.S. and formally inactivated, sailing for home October 27, 1945
The division consisted of these units:
The 422d and 423d Infantry Regiments (from the 106th Infantry Division) were attached to the division from 15 April to 15 May 1945.
The logo of the Black Panthers’ shoulder sleeve comes from Nicolas Viscardi, the comic book artist who was enlisted in the 66th Infantry Division. He died on November 3, 2013, served in the United States Army in World War II from 1943 to 1945, and notably earned two Purple Hearts for wounds suffered as a tank driver in the armored cavalry. Viscardi won a competition to design the patch, and subsequently created the iconic logo.