The 761st Tank Battalion was the first African American tank battalion to see combat in the Second World War. The battalion was led by a white man, Lt. Colonel Paul L. Bates, who pushed the 761st in its quest for excellence.
The 761st was broken up and assigned to infantry divisions for support roles. In 1944, the 761st was assigned to General George S. Patton’s Third Army in France. Patton was generally skeptical of the abilities of black soldiers, but the men of the 761st proved him wrong. In the autumn of 1944, the 761st left from England, where it was held in reserve training and arrived in France to fight.
The 761st consisted of 760 black men and white officers primarily operating the M-4 Sherman battle tank. The 761st Tank Battalion became the first black armored soldiers to see battle on Omaha Beach in Normandy.
Before the war was over, the 761st had participated in four major campaigns throughout a half dozen countries. The soldiers earned seven Silver Stars for Valor, 246 Purple Hearts and one Congressional Medal of Honor.
Among the men serving in the 761st was baseball legend Jackie Robinson. Lt. Colonel Bates was so impressed with Robinson that he appointed Robinson as the official morale officer of the 761st. Robinson was court-martialed in August, 1944 after refusing to go to the back of a bus driven by a civilian on the Fort Hood military base in Texas. He was acquitted of all charges and three years later began playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Source: 761st Tank Battalion (1942–45)
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