1st Airborne Task Force, Evening 16th August 1944

Les Quatres Chemins, 17th August 1944


The capture of Le Muy was the highlight of the 16th August for the 1st Airborne Task Force, but there were a number of other notable successes during the day which consolidated their grip on the area.


The 517th Parachute Infantry Regiment


The 1st Battalion, 517th Parachute Infantry Regiment began the day divided into three parts, with 200 men defending the objective overlooking the Frejus - Toulon road, a further 200 occupying the 3rd Battalion's objective above Les Arcs, and in that village itself Major Boyle and 90 others were still besieged by a strong enemy force. It was imperative that Les Arcs be cleared as soon as possible to avoid unnecessary delay to the seaborne forces, and so the 2nd Battalion of the 517th was ordered to assist. At 09:00, two platoons of "D" Company worked their way into the village and contacted Boyle's party, who were able to withdraw in the afternoon when they were relieved by "F" Company.


The enemy position around Les Arcs remained strong and continued to grow despite several attempts to break them up with air strikes and the impressive power of the Regiment's 4.2" mortars. Eventually the Germans began to infiltrate through the thinly-held positions of the 1st and 2nd Battalions, threatening the stability of the south-western flank, but at this critical moment the 3rd Battalion of the 517th finally arrived on the scene after their epic march from Fayence. Tired though they were, at 19:45 they advanced on Les Arcs behind a devastating creeping barrage laid down by the 460th Field Artillery Battalion and "D" Company of the 83rd Chemical Mortar Battalion. By the following morning Les Arcs was firmly in American hands.


The 551st Parachute Infantry Battalion


The most dramatic success of the 16th August belonged to the 551st Parachute Infantry Battalion, who had taken over the 2nd Battalion's original positions astride the Le Muy - Draguignan road. At 16:05, having received a report that a French Resistance group were heavily engaged near Draguignan and were in danger of being overrun, the 551st set off to intervene, leaving "C" Company to defend the road. The Battalion was briefly held up by machine-gun fire on the outskirts, but Resistance guides led "A" Company into the town from the East and "B" Company from the South against light opposition. By the following morning, Draguignan and 400 of the enemy had been captured for the loss of 1 dead and 6 wounded. Amongst the prisoners was Generalmajor Beiringer, the district commander, and General Neuling, the commander of LXII Korps. Brigadier-General Frederick personally drove Beiringer to General Patch's 7th Army Headquarters, but he was recognised and pelted by civilians on the way, and so had to suffer the indignity of continuing the journey beneath a tarpaulin.


The 2nd Parachute Brigade


The 2nd Parachute Brigade also had an eventful day. Since their arrival on the high ground to the East of Le Muy, the 4th Battalion had been constantly troubled by the machine-guns of a platoon-sized force in the factory 1,000 yards to the South. At 13:00, Lieutenant Riley's No.6 Platoon attacked the area and took 33 prisoners without loss. There was little to trouble the Battalion after the fall of Le Muy so their positions were reorganised. "C" Company remained in Les Serres with "A" and Support Companies immediately to the North, while Lieutenant-Colonel Coxen moved his Headquarters into the factory, and "B" Company, reinforced overnight by two platoons of "C", advanced along the Le Muy - Frejus road to occupy two bridges, 1 and 3 miles to the East of Le Muy, to welcome the vanguard of the 36th Infantry Division when it arrived.


The 5th and 6th Parachute Battalions meanwhile extended their patrols northwards to guard against enemy incursions from the Draguignan - Fayence road. One patrol from the 5th Battalion learned that a small enemy force was operating along the road between the Les Quatres Chemins crossroads, five miles North of Le Mitan, and St Paul-en-Foret, seven miles to the East of there. Captain Hunter of "B" Company, along with Lieutenant Brammall and a section of his No.8 Platoon, were sent to join a Resistance group which was setting up a roadblock at the crossroads. Having spent the night there, Hunter moved on during the morning of the 17th August to harass any enemy in the area of Callas and Montferrat, two and five miles respectively to the North-West of the crossroads.


At the same time his namesake and commander of the 5th Battalion, Lieutenant-Colonel Hunter, took a Jeep and 6 men to Les Quatres Chemins with the intention of moving on to Fayence, which was reported to be clear. When they arrived at the crossroads the partisans told them that an enemy force was approaching. This was ambushed at close range, but after an exchange of fire it was clear that Hunter's men were heavily outnumbered and so they retired to Battalion Headquarters. At 14:00, two platoons of "B" Company, later reinforced by one of "C", attacked the crossroads and drove the enemy eastwards. At the same time, two platoons of "B" Company, 6th Parachute Battalion, were ordered to cut the Draguignan - Fayence road several miles to the south-west of Les Quatres Chemins, in the hope of intercepting enemy troops fleeing the area. One such group was encountered at 13:30 and several casualties were inflicted on them.


Meanwhile, Captain Hunter's group had reached Callas when they were informed of considerable activity along the Draguignan - Fayence road. With the village threatened, Hunter led his section of No.8 Platoon onto the road about a mile to the West of Les Quatres Chemins, and fired on an enemy force gathered around a farmhouse, taking them completely by surprise. Hunter's men kept firing until they ran out of ammunition, then they returned to Callas to acquire more from the Resistance. As it seemed likely that the village might be attacked, Hunter left Lieutenant Brammall and almost all of his men to organise its defence, while he and just two others returned to the farmhouse to resume firing, but heavily outnumbered they were soon compelled to withdraw to Callas. By this time the village was in a defensible state and had been reinforced by Captain Cruden and men of Headquarters Company, who had been dropped far to the North. During both of these actions, Hunter's group had inflicted some 20 casualties on the enemy at the cost of 1 dead and 1 wounded.


Despite these successes, the enemy presence in the area remained strong, and at 18:30 on the 17th August, "B" Company, 5th Parachute Battalion were on the move at Les Quatres Chemins when they were heavily attacked on three sides by about 100 Germans, some of whom made a bayonet charge. Major McCall's men inflicted some 20 casualties on the enemy but lost four dead and were compelled to withdraw to some nearby high ground. With darkness falling the situation across the area became somewhat confused, and so Brigadier Pritchard came forward to clarify matters before asking for orders from Brigadier-General Frederick as to whether "B" Company should maintain contact with the enemy at the crossroads or allow them to drift North. Frederick said that contact was to be maintained to protect the flank of the 551st Parachute Infantry Battalion at Draguignan, but although this instruction was passed on to the 5th Battalion it failed to reach "B" Company and so contact was lost. Yet at dawn they observed an enemy force moving North from the crossroads and so a patrol was sent out to cut them off, resulting in the capture of 10 officers and 87 men. The battle for Les Quatres Chemins was over.