Operation Dragoon, 15th August 1944

1st Airborne Task Force, Evening 16th August 1944


One large and three small-scale resupply missions were flown to the 1st Airborne Task Force. Operation Eagle was scheduled to arrive at 08:14 on the 16th August, but early morning fog again conspired to obscure the landscape, and so it was not until 10:12 than 112 C-47's arrived with 246 tons of supplies of every type, but above all ammunition. The conditions were ideal as the weather had improved considerably by this time, the beacons set up on DZ's A and O were clearly received, and there was no enemy interference of any kind, yet the drop proved to be anything but perfect. The aircrews had very little experience of resupply operations and so were slow to jettison their cargo and did so from the unusually high altitude of 2,000 feet, consequently the supplies were scattered far and wide with an estimated 60% being lost. On the following day, three small emergency drops were made on DZ-O, with nine aircraft dropping rations at 01:12, ten delivering medical and signal supplies at 10:49, and a further twenty bringing in the same at 13:00. In all 60 tons of supplies were dropped on the 17th August, but the results were little different.


Although several small detachments had arrived from the beaches on the previous day, the first solid contact with the 7th US Army was made at 07:00 on the 17th August, when the 142nd Regimental Combat Team of the 36th Infantry Division passed over the bridges held by "B" Company, 4th Parachute Battalion, several miles to the East of Le Muy. The 142nd pushed on and half an hour later arrived at 2nd Parachute Brigade Headquarters, where the commanding officer of the leading battalion had breakfast with Brigadier Pritchard. The 36th Infantry Division continued to pass through the Brigade area throughout the day, linking up with the remainder of the 1st Airborne Task Force and advancing beyond them.


Except for those elements of the 5th Parachute Battalion which were still fighting around the Les Quatres Chemins crossroads at this time, the 2nd Parachute Brigade had now been relieved and over the following 24 hours began to stand its units down. The next two days were spent resting and carrying out routine maintenance, but parties were also sent out across the surrounding area to gather in supplies and equipment which had been dropped wide. Of this there was clearly a great deal, as by the 19th August the Brigade had gathered in so much that they were almost up to full strength.


Camp Gallieni


The 2nd Parachute Brigade remained under the command of the 1st Airborne Task Force, and their role was not yet at an end as they were still needed to help defend the rear areas. On the 20th August, the Brigade marched to Camp Gallieni, a mile to the North-East of Frejus. From here, the 6th Battalion, with the 300th Airlanding Anti-Tank Battery, "A" Company of the 4th Battalion and a section of their mortars and machine-guns under command, moved five miles to the North-East to relieve the 141st Regimental Combat Team on the wooded high ground overlooking the Frejus - Cannes road. Having heard from civilians that the enemy were patrolling the valley to their front, Major Calvert of "A" Company, 4th Battalion, led a 40-strong patrol of No.3 Platoon across the area, and whilst clearing a house they killed a German NCO and took two others prisoner. This marked the last action of the 2nd Parachute Brigade in France.


Return to Italy


On the 21st August, the 6th Parachute Battalion Group was relieved, and on the following day the Brigade officially left the 1st Airborne Task Force and came into the 7th Army Reserve, concentrating at Camp Gallieni to prepare for the return to Italy. It was several days before their embarkation orders arrived, but in the early hours of the 26th August they made their way to Saint Raphael with the help of an American transport company and the vehicles which the Brigade either owned or had acquired. By 08:30, the 4th and 5th Battalions were aboard the Florence Nightingale, whilst the remainder boarded the Dorothea Dix.


The 2nd Parachute Brigade disembarked at Naples on the 29th August and returned to their camps around Rome late on the same day. Since the 11th August, the Brigade's Seaborne Element had been based in Naples, enduring the mosquito-infested conditions until the 20th August when they were informed that their services in France were no longer required. The order came too late to prevent two trucks and drivers of the 751st Composite Company being loaded aboard the USS Achenar; they had no choice but to sail for France and returned to Rome on the 3rd September, less the supplies they had been carrying as these had been commandeered by the Americans.