509TH PARACHUTE INFANTRY COMBAT TEAM
The 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion Combat Team, consisting of the 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion, the 463rd Parachute Field Artillery Battalion, and the 1st platoon, 596th Airborne Engineer Company, was given the mission of spearheading the 7th Army invasion of Southern France under operation BIGOT - ANVIL. The Combat Team, flying in two increments of forty-five C-47 transports each, was to land at 0428, before dawn, "D" Day in the mountainous mass dominating the French village of LE MUY.
Road blocks were to be installed at strategic points along the LE MUY - STE. MAXIME Road. All enemy movement along the road net around LE MUY was to be stopped. The capture of LE MUY itself was the mission of the British 2nd Parachute Brigade which was to land after daylight, Northeast of the village. Our Parachute Field Artillery was to support this attack by fire from positions near our DZ. Training exercises were carried on by the Combat Team during the first six days of August. These were climaxed by a full scale two-day problem emphasizing the possibilities that were expected to be encountered on the actual mission.
A Complete war room was established at the 509th Battalion Headquarters where details were worked out and minute plans made. Materials were gathered to brief each man in the Combat Team before take-off. As a graphic aid to briefing, a series of cartoons was prepared (see Sketch A & B). These showed humorously, a number of possible situations which might arise, and in each case, gave the individual a solution to the problems at hand. A close liaison was established with the Troop Carrier Command. On August 12th the unit departed from Lido Di Roma to the two take-off airdromes at FALLONICA, and GROSSETO where accommodations were already established by advance echelons. Special rations were on hand, motion pictures were scheduled. Swimming trips were arranged and magazines were furnished to the men. These special activities served to ease some of the mental strain over the forthcoming operation. A detailed briefing was given each man in the Combat Team including a study of the terrain model of LE MUY and the surrounding territory.
The afternoon of D-1 Day was an extremely busy one. Equipment racks were tested and loaded, parachutes were drawn and fitted, camouflage cosmetics were issued, as were escape kits and money purses containing French paper currency.
A steady stream of troopers passed through the briefing room, where last minute details were discussed and re-discussed. As nightfall came on, the airdromes were dotted with fires in which letter, confidential papers and other discarded material was consumed prior to our going into battle.
Men gathered into groups in the company streets and sitting on the blanket rolls and folded tentage, sang songs and spun long yarns about Anzio, Venafro, Tunusia. One by one, the fires died down. Our airplanes were waiting. We could see their shadowy forms stretching interminably along the runway. Their crews stood under the wings talking in low tones, their cigarettes punching tiny fiery holes in the night.
Suddenly the command came down, "Load Up". The troopers began to move out toward the planes. They sang out to each other in the dark as they passed. You could hear the clank of snap fasteners on their parachutes as they swung them over their shoulders.
Far off down the line of ships, a motor began to turn over, faltering at first and then with the familiar musical roar.
We were in the planes now, feeling bulk and uncomfortable under our heavy equipment. The wheels bumped along the rough ground and then eased into the smooth climb that told us we were in the air. Through the windows we could see the formation lights of other ships twinkling like stars as the huge transports swung into position behind us.
The rendez-vous point of our two flights of 45 airplanes each was the Island of ELBA. The first flight passed over ELBA at the appointed time. The second never arrived.
The dark outline of the coast of France passed under the first flight at about 0410. The ground was heavily blanketed with clouds. Only the rugged peaks of the mountains South of our DZ sticking through the clouds gave us a clue as to our whereabouts.
The first flight went over the side at 0423. It descended almost blind through the heavy fog that covered the DZ and came to a crashing stop near the DZ. The troopers lay silent for a while listening to the sound of their heart-beats, then cautiously began to cut their way out of the chute harnesses.
The second flight, that from GROSSETO, consisting of "B" and "C" Companies of the 509th, parts of Headquarters Battery, "B" and "C" Batteries of the 463rd Field Artillery, dropped at approximately 0435, 15 August 1944 on a populated area in the hills overlooking ST. TROPEZ, France.
By 150700 "B", Headquarters and "A" Companies had assembled. They gathered equipment from trees and ravines and proceeded to the accomplishment of missions. At 151200 the 463rd Field Artillery had assembled three pieces and were ready to fire. "A" Company had established road blocks at the pre-designated spots and patrols had made contact with an enemy patrol just South of LE MUY. At 151230 the battery registered on the cross-roads just South of LE MUY, then stood by to support the attack by the British 2d Parachute Brigade. The L.M.G. platoon fired on enemy personnel moving South along road toward FREJUS.
Companies "B" and "C" and parts of Batteries "B" and "C" assembled and took up positions on high ground overlooking ST. TROPEZ. Their positions were bombed and shelled by our Navy and Airforce units but they received no casualties. At 150745 B this force launched an attack on ST. TROPEZ and by 152030 B they had taken ST. TROPEZ, the CITADELLE and a fortified position dominating the city, and LATITUDE 43 with 176 prisoners (see Sketch No.1).
Through the night of 15 - 16 August, small arms and mortar fire were heard in LE MUY. It was thought that the British 2d Parachute Brigade was attacking according to plan. When word was received in the early morning of 16 August that LE MUY was still in enemy hands we made plans to attack from the heights which we held. The artillery battery began to fire on targets of opportunity. One .50 Cal. Machine Gun of D Battery was set up and fired from the high ground into fortified positions near the railroad crossing, South of town. At 160945 B, Brig. Gen BUTLER, 6 Corps, visited the CP and gave us a platoon of medium tanks to assist in the capture of LE MUY. They were to join us at 161400.
Our reconnaissance found the enemy to be occupying wired in positions on the high ground to the South of LE MUY. It appeared that the Germans were in approximately company strength. We received several burst of machine gun fire on our CT OP overlooking the bridge across the ARGENS River.
Our attack was to be made in two platoon strength, supported by the fire of the Field Artillery, and by the LMG and Mortar platoons of our own Headquarters Company. At 1230, "A" Company launched the attack on LE MUY from the South, an intense fire fight ensued between the elements forming the base of fire and an enemy strongpoint just on the Southern edge of the town near (428388). The 3rd platoon which was flanking the enemy position on the left ran into a short but fierce fire fight and artillery fire was directed on two pill-boxes from which the enemy fire was coming, the platoon then advanced on the one remaining strongpoint and closed with it (see Sketch No.2). At 1330 the tanks came up and fired direct fire into the fortified positions. The remaining platoon of "A" Company climbed on the tanks and began to roll into LE MUY. At 1600 a message was received that friendly troops of the 550th Glider Infantry Battalion were in LE MUY. The tanks and "A" Company went on into the town and then turned South on the road to FREJUS to contact elements of the 36th Infantry Division advancing North. 26 prisoners were captured by "A" Company during this action. LE MUY being cleared, the Combat Team went into bivouac in the area just South of the village to reorganize. It was then given the mission of policing and establishing security from ROQUEBRUNE to LE MUY. One platoon of "A" Company was sent to ROQUEBRUNE to bivouac. The remainder of the Combat Team was brought up from ST. TROPEZ and began to re-equip and reorganize.
On August 19, 1944 the 1st Airborne Task Force was ordered to relieve the 36th Division on the right flank of the 7th Army. The 509th Parachute Battalion Combat Team was given the mission of taking over the right flank sector of the Airborne Task Force.
The general plan envisioned a thrust to the Northeast by successive moves as far as the River VAR, along which the entire A/BTF was supposed to hold as a pivot for the remainder of the 7th Army to the North.
The 509th Combat Team was reinforced by the attachment of the 1st Battalion, 551st Parachute Infantry, under the Command of Lt. Col. WOOD JOERG.
The first major objective before reaching the line of the VAR River, was the famous resort of CANNES on the COTE D'AZUR.
The enemy in some strength, occupied the heights to the North and South of LA NAPOULE. An advance on CANNES itself or even debouchement onto the plain of the SIAGNES River was impossible until LA NAPOULE and the ground dominating it were captured.
Plans were made to advance in two main thrusts, one by the 1st Bn. 551st Prcht Inf. from FREJUS over the mountainous mass of FORET DOMINALE DE L'ESTEREL toward LES TERMES and MANDELIEU and the other by the 509th Prcht. Inf. Bn. directly up the coast toward THEOULE SUR MER and LA NAPOULE.
The 463rd Parachute Field Artillery Battalion went into positions near (290690) to support these advances.
At 0500 on 21 August our artillery and mortars opened up with a terrific barrage on the enemy held heights to the South of LA NAPOULE.
At 0600, Company "C" made the principle assault attacking with 2 platoons abreast, one in support on the left. Company "B" made a secondary attack to secure "C" Company's left flank. Mortar and machine gun fire support from our LMG and Mortar platoons was furnished until "C" Company's advance masked the fire.
The objective was in our hands by 1200 hours. "B" Company ran into intense machine gun fire and was grenaded heavily by the enemy from positions among the rocks but advanced and held fast.
Sixty-one (61) German prisoners were taken during this action. Many enemy were killed and wounded. Our own casualties were relatively light. (see Sketch No.3 A).
Examination of the enemy position revealed extensive defensive organization including concrete machine gun emplacements, and a complete system of type "B" fire trenches connected by camouflaged laterals.
Company "B", 645 TD Battalion joined the CT in attachment on the afternoon of 21 August 1944.
On the morning of 22 August our artillery and mortars again opened fire on the enemy positions in preparation for the attack which was launched by Company "A" at 0600.
"A" Company passed through "B" and "C" Companies positions and assaulted the hill of SAN PEYRE (see Sketch No.3 B), sending one platoon into LA NAPOULE to mop up.
The objective was taken and LA NAPOULE cleared of enemy by 1000. We took 12 prisoners. Our casualties were light.
During the two day period over which our attacks were in progress, enemy artillery was active and caused a number of casualties among our personnel. Counterbattery by our supporting Naval Units soon reduced this enemy fire to a few sporadic rounds. LA NAPOULE cleared, our CT was now able to sortie onto the plane of the SIAGNES, which we did vigorously. Company "A" advancing towards CANNES, ran into an enemy strong-point South of LA BOCCA, and reduced it after a short fight. The enemy counterattacked the newly won position after dark the same night, and supported by two Anti-tank cannon succeeded in inflicting several casualties on our troops. The counterattack was beaten off and the platoon of "A" Company stood firm (see Sketch No.4).
On our left, the 1st Bn. 551st Prcht. Inf. fought its way over rugged country and through heavy shelling until it reached the LES TERMES - MANDELIEU Road.
We were now in a position to advance on CANNES itself.
Throughout the night of 23rd August, our engineers and demolitions platoon worked on a ford over the SIAGNES, the bridge having been blown up by the retreating Germans. During the morning of 24 August, "A" Company's patrols pushed on toward the outskirts of CANNES. They returned with the information that the enemy had withdrawn from the city.
Our engineers were experiencing considerable difficulty with the crossing of the SIAGNES River due to the soft bottom and to the mines. Our entry into CANNES was thus delayed until 1700 24 August.
The Combat Team again split up into two columns, one composed of the 1st Bn. 551st Prcht Infantry, the other of the 509th Prcht Inf bn. To make the entry into the city as impressive as possible considering our ragged condition and lack of transportation we loaded as many paratroopers as we could onto the backs of the tank destroyers.
The 50th Parachute Battalion led the column. We passed along streets lined with wildly cheering people, some crying openly, some throwing flowers into our vehicles. It was a welcome such as we had never before received in two years of fighting. Our column rolled straight through CANNES and finally stopped at ANTIBES. The 1st Bn. 551st Prcht Inf which followed us in the column across the SIAGNES, turned North at the outskirts of CANNES and took up a position around MOUGINS. Our plan was then to make contact between our two battalions, along the ANTIBES - MOUGINS Road, and with the 1st Special Service Force in GRASSE along the MOUGINS - GRASS Road.
The Bn CT CP was set up in ANTIBES in a building formerly occupied by a Fascist sponsored child-charity organization. Immediately a queue of civilians seeking information and seeking to give information, formed outside the gate, and remained until our departure. As there were no AMG officials present or available, we did the best we could to satisfy our visitors.
While in this position, we received some shelling from an enemy large caliber gun which succeeded in wrecking several civilian houses before it was silenced by our supporting Naval Artillery.
On August 25th our patrols were active. One patrol from Company "A" reached the town of BIOT and returned with the report that the enemy had withdrawn toward NICE.
F.F.I. agents brought word of an enemy held pill-box North of the BRAQUE River. On 26 August an "A" Company patrol crossed the river and attacked the pill-box. The patrol returned with eight (8) prisoners.
The first platoon, Company "C" was sent to police the city of CANNES and to regulate traffic coming across the ford over the SIAGNE River.
On 27 August the CT moved Northeast to the banks of the LOOP River. Patrols were pushed ahead to ST. LAURENT DU VAR and CAGNES SUR MER. At CAGNES our patrols encountered the 1st Battalion, 3rd Regiment, 1st Special Service Force moving Northeast.
The CT Command Post moved to a vacant hotel at (493758) in CROS CAGNES. By this time the enemy was in full retreat. F.F.I. agents filtering through our lines brought reports that except for a few Germans on the South bank of the VAR, NICE was clear. We made immediate plans to cross in force.
This time the 1st Bn, 551st Prcht Inf leapfrogged through the 509th Prcht Bn to the VAR River itself where about 40 prisoners were taken.
On the morning of August 30, our Combat Team crossed the VAR at a ford about 6 miles North of the demolished bridge at its mouth. We rolled triumphantly through the city of NICE but because of our early appearance few people were on hand to witness the event.
Our columns did not stop in NICE itself but continued to BEAULIEU along the coast and ST. ANDRE' to the North. Our line now extended along a three mile front through the two points mentioned.
Contact was made with the 1st S.S.F. on our left.
On August 31st the CT CP moved to NICE where plans for a continued advance to the Northeast were prepared.
The Battalion Combat Team CP moved to the vicinity of ST. ANDRE with the 1st Bn., 551st Prcht Inf CP in area around road junction East of ST. ANDRE. "C" Co., 509th P.I. occupied positions astride the coastal road in the vicinity of BEAULIEU. "B" Company, 509th P.I. occupied the high ground overlooking the coastal road. Two Companies, 551st Prcht Inf., occupied positions astride and to the North of road leading from ST. ANDRE to LA TURBIE, with patrols working against the fortified positions around LA TURBIE. Sporadic shelling was received along our entire front. Naval supporting units counterbatteried with good results.
Our patrols worked steadily forward without much resistance. The 551 Prcht Inf Bn patrols contacted enemy in vicinity of LA TURBIE and began to make plans to drive the enemy out. Enemy artillery was supporting the strong-point in LA TURBIE from the old fort of AGEL. Naval fire and air support attempted to neutralize these batteries. Small arms and mortars held up the advance of "C" Company, 509th P.I. in the vicinity of CAP D'ALI. The enemy had failed to disrupt the communication lines into MONTE CARLO and phone messages were sent to our CP by F.F.I. agents which helped us to plan our attack to dislodge the enemy from strongpoints along the road entering the Principality of MONACO. The 1st Bn., 551, launched their attack on the strongpoint at LA TURBIE on 020630 and after an intense small arms fire fight succeeded in pushing the enemy out with heavy losses to the enemy, the attack continued to the vicinity of (701843). Several prisoners were taken. "C" and "B" Companies, 509th P.I. continued their attack and forced the enemy to evacuate the area around MONTE CARLO and BEAUSOLEIL (see Sketch No.5). A delegation from the Prince of MONACO escorted 509th P.I. to the palace for an interview with the Prince. Our patrols skirted the Principality and pushed on through BEAUSOLEIL.
New orders from A/BTF shifted our sector to the right flank of the 517 Parachute Regiment extending through the mountains from LEVENS to PUGET-THENIERS. Reconnaissance and plans were made to occupy the new sector after being relieved by the 1st Special Service Force. The relief was completed by 040600 and the first element departed for ST. SAUVEUR at 041400. The 509th Bn. C.T. CP moved into LA COURBAISSE with one company in ST. SAUVEUR with an outpost at LA BOLLENE VALDEBLORE and one company in vicinity of MARIE with one outpost of one (1) platoon at ISOLA, and one company in vicinity Point de CLAUS with an outpost at CLAUS. The 1st Bn., 551st, took up positions with C.P. in vicinity of MALAUSSNE. One company in PUGET-THENIERS, one company in vicinity of TOUET and an outpost position at BEUIL. Contact was maintained by two-day patrols from 551st.
Vigorous and extensive patrolling was carried out but no contact with the enemy gained. Contact was made with Captain FLYTE, a British Parachute Officer, who had organized a group of Italian Patriots and had knowledge of the terrain over which we had to patrol. We incorporated their services along with the F.F.I. in this area.
Plans and reconnaissance were made to occupy a line running from PLAN DE VAR through ST. MARTIN VESUBIE to ST. ETIENNE. "A" Company, 509th, occupied ST. MARTIN VESUBIE before the plans were completed and were attacked the following day by a force estimated as two (2) Companies. The attack was beaten off with light casualties to both sides, ten (10) prisoners were taken. (see Sketch No.6).
By this time the 509th Bn CT CP had been established at LANTOSQUE, with outposts at LA BOLLENE and BELVEDERE. F.F.I. units took over guard of the routes of supply and had several skirmishes with enemy patrols operating at night.
Our patrols contacted the enemy along a line running parallel with our line of defense and plans were made to shift our forces to face the enemy. The 1st Bn., 551st, occupied positions from ST MARTIN VESUBIE to ST SAUVEUR with outposts extending out to ISOLA and ST. ETIENNE. The 509th Bn took up position at ST. COLOMBAN and ST. MARTIN VESUBIE with one company held in position at LANTOSQUE to do the long range patrolling for the entire Combat Team. (see Sketch No.7). This company had patrolling missions every day.
Several patrol clashes were reported in both battalion sectors and light artillery fire fell in LA BOLLENE and ISOLA. The intensity of the artillery increased as the enemy lines and our lines became further stabilized.
Captain FLYTE, British Liaison Officer, was wounded and captured by enemy while on a long range patrol with the Italian Patriots.
The F.F.I. groups and Italian Patriots were organized into companies with a staff and CP set up in LANTOSQUE with office supplies, typewriter, and maps furnished by the 509th Bn C.T.
The 1st platoon, 645 Tank Destroyer Battalion went into battery positions at ROQUEBILLIERE to give indirect fire on targets in our sector and to counterbattery enemy artillery firing into our positions. Concentrations were registered and a systematic firing schedule was followed. Enemy artillery firing into our positions were counterbatteried immediately, either day or night.
Enemy strongpoints were located by our patrols and artillery fire was fired into the positions. Our observation planes worked steadily with our battery during the closing days of September, and our patrols stepped up their activities. The first snow began to fall on the high peaks.