Maps

The planned positions of the 1st Airborne Task Force

1st Airborne Task Force, 15th August 1944

 

Photos

Men of the 517th Parachute Infantry Regiment near La Motte

American paratroopers moving through woodland

American paratroopers moving through woodland

A patrol from the 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion near Le Muy

American Airborne troops on a patrol

 

The majority of the 2nd Parachute Brigade had been dropped more or less on target thanks to the beacons set up by the 1st Independent Parachute Platoon. The rest of the 1st Airborne Task Force were denied this luxury, as the pathfinders heading for DZ-C were dropped near Frejus, 10 miles to the East, while those bound for DZ-A jumped two minutes early and came down to the East of Le Muy. As a consequence, there were no navigational aids of any kind to guide the main force across the fog-obscured landscape.

 

The 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion

 

The 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion were to drop on DZ-C, directly on top of their objective; the rocky, wooded and hilly terrain to the South-East of Le Muy. The zone was far from ideal, but it had been reluctantly chosen as the only means of quickly establishing a force on top of this important feature, overlooking the Le Muy - Frejus road. At 04:25, the Battalion arrived over the zone and against all the odds the drop went surprisingly well, thanks to an incredible feat of navigation on the part of the 442nd Troop Carrier Group, who had carefully studied the local topography and were able to identify the hills protruding above the fog. As a result, "A" and Headquarters Companies of the 509th and two batteries of the 463rd Field Artillery Battalion landed on or within an easy distance of the zone. Even more remarkably in view of the hazardous terrain, only about 20 men of the 600 who had jumped over DZ-C were injured on landing. These were just half of the total force, however; "B" and "C" Companies of the 509th and two batteries of the 463rd were missing.

 

Nevertheless, the 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion quickly established themselves on the hill and blocked the road running South to Sainte Maxime. They had great difficulty finding their equipment containers in the dark, as some were hung up in trees and the locating lights which should have been triggered on those which reached the ground did not work, but once it became light they were easily spotted and the larger part was gathered in during the day. Several patrols were sent into the surrounding area, one of which discovered that the Germans held Le Muy in some strength. The 463rd Field Artillery Battalion, who also had problems recovering their guns and moving them across the difficult terrain, later fired 22 shells into the town.

 

The missing half of the 509th and 463rd Battalions had taken-off from a different airfield with the 441st Troop Carrier Group, who had been unable to link-up with the 442nd in the air. Having become lost, they dropped their passengers around Saint Tropez; two sticks tragically came down in the sea and were drowned. "B" Company were badly scattered, but some of their number met up with "C" Company who had landed almost intact. Realising that they were 10 miles to the South of DZ-C, too far to be of any use, they decided to attack Saint Tropez instead and render what would prove to be invaluable assistance to the seaborne forces. Guided by a well-armed Resistance group, they cleared most of the town within hours but met strong opposition in the centre. The Americans and French remained heavily engaged here until troops of the 3rd Infantry Division arrived from the beaches and settled matters.

 

The 517th Parachute Infantry Regiment

 

At 04:31, the 517th Parachute Infantry Regiment commenced dropping on DZ-A with very mixed results. The 2nd Battalion were the first to arrive and had by far the best of it, with about half of their number dropping on or within a respectable distance of the zone. Their primary objective was the high ground astride the Le Muy - Draguignan road, which they quickly occupied after several skirmishes with enemy patrols. "F" Company, who were to have cleared La Motte, had the misfortune to land to the East of Le Muy, and having fought their way through light opposition, they arrived to find that it was already in British hands and so moved on to join the rest of the Battalion on the high ground.

 

The drop of the 3rd Battalion went completely awry, as their aircraft wandered far off course and ended up scattering the Battalion some 10 miles to the North-East of DZ-A and across a distance of 8 miles, at Seillans, Tourettes and Callian. The Tourettes contingent met up with a company of the 5th Parachute Battalion, whose adventures will be described on the following page, before linking up with those who had landed at Callian. This party and the Seillans group then began the arduous march to the drop zone, reaching it during the early afternoon of the 16th August.

 

The 460th Field Artillery Battalion were the next to arrive, and about a third landed more or less in the correct place, but "C" Battery came down four miles to the North-West, while the remainder were spread across the Frejus area. Those who arrived on target assembled at a remarkable speed, and had four of their 75mm Pack Howitzers ready for action by 06:30, with a further seven in position by midday.

 

The 1st Battalion came last and perhaps had the most haphazard landing of any unit in the Task Force. Having overshot DZ-A, the aircraft began to drop their sticks without any co-ordination, and so the Battalion became utterly fragmented with troops landing anywhere up to 6 miles to the West of Draguignan, Trans-en-Provence and Les Arcs. Headquarters and "A" Companies suffered the least in this regard and began to assemble to the South of Trans-en-Provence. By 11:30, they had fought their way through several enemy parties and established themselves on the Battalion objective; the high ground overlooking the south-western approaches to Le Muy.

 

The remainder of the Battalion was reduced to small scattered parties moving in the general direction of the objective, slowly forming-up with others that they bumped into. Most passed through the area of Trans-en-Provence and Les Arcs; those attempting to negotiate the latter encountered a force of some 300 Germans advancing North-West, and a 25-strong group under Major Boyle, the Battalion Commander, spent the day practically under siege in the village, fighting a very spirited defence of their position. By the end of the day, the 1st Battalion had managed to impose some order on the chaos, with Boyle's party increasing to 90, whilst 200 men held the objective with a further 200, in the absence of the 3rd Battalion, covering the high ground overlooking Les Arcs.

 

Despite all of these problems, the 1st Airborne Task Force had secured all of its objectives with ease, and Brigadier-General Frederick was very happy with the overall situation, describing it at dusk as "a wonderful operation so far."