Delbert K. Sandt

Corporal Delbert K. Sandt

Seventy three years ago on this day, Mount Ephraim resident, Corporal Delbert Kirk Sandt perished while serving his country during World War II. He was born on June 2, 1922 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to parents Luther and Agnes Sandt. Delbert's family originally lived in Reading, Pennsylvania.  After their infant son Howard passed away at the age of 5 months in January 1907, Luther and Agnes moved to 2133 N. Dover Street in the Strawberry Mansion section of Philadelphia. In November 1910, Russell Calvin Sandt was born and in December 1915, a daughter, Thelma Elaine was born in Camden, NJ. The family was living at 328 Warren Avenue in Camden.  Tragically, Thelma died at only 2 months of age from pneumonia.  By 1920 the Sandts had moved back to Philadelphia at 2526 N. Bancroft Street in Philadelphia.  Delbert's younger brother, Walter Elmer was born in December 1923.  Some time before 1928, the Sandts had moved to 2502 43rd Street in Pennsauken, NJ.   Luther had suffered for decades from Myocarditis (inflammation of heart muscle) and passed away on April 4, 1928 after complications from a week-long case of Atrial Fibrillation.  He was a long time tooth mold engraver for the S.S. White Dental Company.  This business is still in operation to this day.  Agnes and her boys later resided at 819 Grant Street in Pennsauken.

Gladys Bradford
On October 18, 1941, Delbert married Gladys Pearl Bradford in the Mt. Ephraim Baptist Church.  The event was officiated by Reverend Charles A. Bechter.  William Grasmick (husband of Gladys's sister, Thelma) of Camden and Mary (Bradford) Oxley of Collingswood were witnesses to the signing of the marriage certificate.  Delbert had to have a consent to marriage of a minor paperwork signed by his mother and Gladys’s father as Gladys was considered a minor (under age of 21).  Sandt’s occupation at this time was listed as being an operator of a flexible grinder.  On July 30, 1942, Delbert and Gladys welcomed the birth of a daughter, Shirley.

Just 2 days before Christmas of 1942, Delbert was selected by the Camden County Draft Board #3 in Gloucester City.  A brief ceremony was held in front of the municipal building at Broadway and Monmouth Street, where he and the rest of the group of selectees were sworn in.   At the time Delbert, Gladys and Shirley were living in an apartment at the corner of Kings Highway and North Oak Street in Mount Ephraim.  Sandt was officially inducted into the U.S. Army at 9:15am on New Year’s Day, 1943 at Fort Dix, NJ.  

He was assigned to the 747th Tank Battalion, an independent outfit used to support infantry units. The battalion had 54 tanks and several hundred men, that "seemed comprised almost exclusively of men from New Jersey and New York” as fellow 747th member Hy Wagner stated in the Jewish Standard article: “It’s About the Mission.” They trained at Camp Bowie and Camp Hood (now Ft. Hood) in Texas.  By the end of September 1943, the battalion moved to Camp Polk (now Ft. Polk) in Louisiana for about 8 weeks of maneuvers. At the completion of these maneuvers, the 747th returned to Texas at Camp Swift.  By the beginning of February 1944, the tanks were loaded onto railcars and transported to New York City in preparation for deployment overseas.  The battalion arrived in New York by February 10th and were housed overnight at Camp Shanks.  The next day, they loaded onto the USS Charles Carrol (APA-28) and shipped over to the United Kingdom.  The Carrol arrived at Gourock, a port just west of Glasgow, Scotland on February 23rd.  The crews disembarked and boarded a train bound for England.  

By February 26th, the battalion arrived and settled in at the Palmer Estate in Fairford. The enlisted men slept on straw mattresses in Quonset Huts that were set up in the park, while the officers were quartered in the more comfortable manor house.  When the men weren’t training, they passed the time playing poker, going on hikes in the countryside and spending their passes by traveling to London and other nearby areas to sample the fish n’ chips as well as the local pubs. On April 5th, the battalion moved to an artillery range at Okehampton, where tank crews spent 2 weeks on maneuvers and live fire training.  They then headed to the H.M.S. Raleigh Training facility in Torpoint.  

Sherman Tank with deep wading gear
Tank crews were instructed to make their tanks waterproof.  This process involved connecting 2 tall ducts that rose above the turret.  The forward duct extended from the air intake for the engine and crew compartment while the rear duct was used to vent exhaust.  A waterproofing material was then applied onto the tank and then tested for leaks by driving into a deep pit filled with water.  This equipment was called deep wading gear.   It allowed tanks to drive partially or sometimes fully submerged instead of landing straight onto the beach.  Once ashore, the intake duct had to be removed so the turret could fully turn 360 degrees.

Delbert was assigned as the driver of a M4 “Sherman" tank commanded by Corporal Theodore J. Surowiec, a native of Newark, NJ. Private Peter P. “The Greek” Zanis, of Philadelphia, was the assistant driver and Private Frank J. Switka, of Woodbine, NJ was the gunner and loader. They drove their tank through the English roadways until reaching the initial station on April 25th at Antony Park, located near Plymouth, England. Ted Surowiec recalled, "Those steel tracks really tore up the English highways. I remember the inlet and surrounding shore at Plymouth was like a park. We erected Quonset huts and tents and slept on straw mattresses. Away from home, not knowing what lay ahead for us, we were nervous and uneasy”.
Corporal Theodore J. Surowiec

Each tank crew was ordered to give a name to their tank to use as a quick field identification. The first letter in the name was required to be the same as the company, which for the Surowiec crew was to use “H” for Headquarters Company. They agreed to use the name “Hellzapoppin'” and stenciled this name on both sides of the tank turret. This was the name of a Broadway play performing in New York at the time.

On June 2nd 1944, Sandt turned 22.  There was no celebration however, as the crew spent the day preparing equipment and loading their tank and onto an English barge.  Four tanks total were put on board the craft with one on each corner, making it ride dangerously low in the water.  Surowiec said, "It was so low we could stand along the inside of the barge and touch the water.  I was concerned we might sink with all that weight."  The tank crews then sat and awaited the cross-channel trip out in the bay until June 4th, when they were moved into the English Channel. The weather however was not conducive for the operation and ordered to return to the bay.

In the early morning of June 6th, the barge shipped back out into the Channel and sailed towards Dover. There, the invasion fleet came together and headed towards France. The 29th Infantry went in with the first wave on Omaha Beach while HQ Company of the 747th Tank Battalion was held in reserve for 3 days waiting out in the channel. The designated landing area, Omaha Beach was so congested with broken and burning equipment and strewn with the bodies of those who never made it off the beach; their tanks had nowhere to disembark. 

Hellzapoppin’ was notified by a passing navy cruiser on June 9th to go ashore at to support the 29th Infantry Division. After navigating precariously through a cleared portion of the heavily mined beachhead, the crew had orders to take a technician to the front to repair a radio and then stay there until needed. They dropped off their passenger and spent the rest of the day searching for and taking out suspected German positions with machine-gun fire.  The following day, they picked up a reconnaissance officer from Battery "A" of the 111th Field Artillery Battalion named 2nd Lieutenant Louis E. Linsley Jr.  Their job was to take the Lieutenant to forward observation points along the front were he could direct artillery fire.  

2nd Lt. Louis E. Linsley Jr.
Linsley’s battalion lost every artillery piece they had while coming ashore on D-Day.  Each howitzer was loaded onto a DUKW (duck boat) and consequently either sunk due to high seas or enemy fire while heading to the landing zone.  Having no field pieces to operate, he and his battalion took up arms and joined the infantry until replacement guns could be procured by June 11-12.

Near the French village of Isigny, Sandt drove the Sherman tank through several orchards so Lieutenant Linsley and Corporal Surowiec could scout enemy positions and radio coordinates back to awaiting artillery batteries.  Surowiec said, "Lieutenant Lindsey called for an artillery strike over the tank radio and within a minute or two we could hear the shells crackling overhead. We then moved to another position and repeated the drill."

On June 16, the weather was said to be “moderate, partly cloudy and with unlimited visibility.”  Hellzapoppin' lumbered down a small dirt road through hedgerows in a wooded area just south of Couvains, France.  Suddenly, Linsley yelled to Sandt to back up and get off the road.  Surowiec took a peek through the periscope to see what was happening when he saw a white flash at the end of the road.  Linsley yelled to Sandt to use the left steering lever and the tank backed off the road and directly up into an oak tree, exposing the vulnerable side to the enemy.  The tank was then struck by a German Panzerfaust (bazooka), causing the interior to quickly erupted into an inferno.  Ted Surowiec recalled, "I remember that I didn’t hear anything, but felt the explosion and the heat as the inside of the tank became engulfed in flames. I realized that I was on fire and knew I had to get out. I can’t remember any of the boys screaming. I couldn’t hear anything.  I do remember Switka swatting the flames on his body.  Lieutenant Lindsey was dead or unconscious and slumped in his seat, so I pulled myself out.”  

Despite a severe injury to his left leg and burns all over his body, Corporal Surowiec mustered enough strength to crawl out and slide down the front of the burning tank on his belly.  Private Zanis had also exited via an escape hatch and assisted Surowiec, pulling him away from the tank and propping him against a nearby tree. Zanis then went to go find help for his commander.  Lt. Linsley, Private Switka and Corporal Sandt sadly did not survive this attack.  Hellzapoppin' was found 3 hours later by advancing American G.I’s and Surowiec was promptly evacuated back to the beachhead for medical treatment.  His leg was so badly injured that medics had to amputate it.  Linsley and Switka’s remains were never officially identified as they were burned beyond recognition but their possible remains were found and buried at a cemetery in Marigny, France.  They are listed on the Tablets of the Missing at Normandy American Cemetery.

Sandt's headstone at Locustwood Cemetery
Sandt’s remains were removed from the burnt tank and originally buried near Covains.  He was later moved to the U.S. Military Cemetery in La Cambe, France.  After the war, the military began moving all the U.S military servicemen out of this cemetery and the option was made to either return them to the United States or the Normandy American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer.  Sandt’s remains were returned home in the spring of 1948 and laid to rest at Locustwood Memorial Park in Cherry Hill, NJ. He was survived by his wife Gladys, daughter Shirley, mother Agnes, and 2 brothers, Russell (who was also a WWII veteran) & Walter. 

Delbert was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart, and Croix de Guerre with Palm from French President Bidault.  It was awarded to the 29th Division and every attached unit from heroic actions on D-Day.

Last year, I had the pleasure to speak with Mr. Joe Surowiec, who is the son of the Hellzapoppin's commander, Theodore Surowiec. I truly can not thank him enough for his assistance and for sharing details about his father. I am so glad his story was able to be told. This has been instrumental in telling part of Delbert Sandt’s story. 

If you wish to read Mr. Surowiec’s story, please visit: http://www.billcopeland.net/Hellzapoppin.html


May their sacrifice never be forgotten.



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