Lt Colonel Louis A Walsh Jr
517th PIR WW II
of Honor Recipient
Pfc Melvin E Biddle
Distinguished Service Cross(DSC) Recipients
Lt Col William J Boyle
T/Sgt Wilford C Anderson
T/Sgt George W Heckard
S/Sgt Albert P Deshayes
T/5 Sporos Gogos
Pfc Nolan L Powell
R E L A T E D
R E S O U R C E S
Ardennes: Battle of the Bulge
517th Parachute Infantry Regiment
he 517th Parachute Regimental
Combat Team was originally activated as part of the 17th Airborne Division on March
15, 1943. The Division's parachute units were the 517th Parachute Infantry
Regiment, the 460th Parachute Field Artillery Battalion and Company C, 139th
Airborne Engineer Battalion which was later redesignated the 596th Airborne (Parachute)
Engineer Company. The 517th was at Camp Toccoa, Georgia; the 460th
and C/139 were at Camp Mackall, North Carolina.
For the next several months, all men
volunteering for parachute duty at induction stations throughout the United
States were sent to Camp Toccoa. The 517th was charged with screening the
volunteers and assigning those qualified to either infantry, artillery or
engineers. Officers of the 460th and C/139 were placed on temporary duty at
Toccoa to help with the screening, and men assigned to those units were sent to
As units filled up, they were to be given basic
training at their home stations and then sent for parachute qualification to
Fort Benning, Georgia. After jump training, all units, including the 517th
would join the 17th Airborne at Camp Mackall.
Receiving and screening one to two hundred men a
day was a pretty big order for the 517th. On activation, the regiment had a
total strength of nine officers, headed by newly appointed commanding officer
Lt. Col. Louis A. Walsh, Jr. (picture above left) They were joined three
days later by the "cadre" under command of Major William J. Boyle, bringing the regiment's
strength to about 250.
Through the spring of 1943 trains arrived at
Toccoa daily with contingents of 50 to 150 men; each group was met at the
station and trucked to the parade ground where a 34-foot-tall parachute "mock
tower" had been erected. Lieutenant John Alicki, favored by fortune with a
rugged appearance, greeted them with a blood-and-guts speech intended to scare
off the timorous.
"In" and "Out" platoons were formed, those who
survived the mock tower went to the "In" platoon for further screening. This
consisted of a medical examination by Regimental Surgeon Paul Vella (picture right) and his
staff, followed by an interrogation by their potential officers as to why they
has applied for parachute duty. Many answers were interesting and some
A few had been advised by doctors to take up parachuting to help
overcome their fear of heights. Some with criminal records had been told their
slates would be wiped clean. Those failing the screening process were sent to
the "Out" platoon and the balance assigned to units. As men assigned to the
artillery and engineers moved to Camp Mackall the infantry began basic training.
Military organizations are strongly influenced
by the character of their commanders. Because of its isolation and greenness,
this was particularly true of the 517th. At age 32, Louis Walsh was young,
cocky and aggressive. He had been with the Airborne since its earliest days and
had spent three months as an observer with U.S. forces in the Southwest Pacific.
Having seen combat in its most primitive form under atrocious conditions, he
was determined to prepare the 517th to survive, fight and win under any circumstances.
To reach this goal Colonel Walsh set extremely high standards. Physical
conditioning was paramount.
Each trooper was required to qualify as "expert"
with his individual weapon, "sharpshooter" with another and "marksman" with
all crew-served weapons in his platoon.
It had been planned to fill the battalions in
numerical sequence. By the end of April, Major Boyle's lst Battalion was almost
complete. At the end of the following month Major Seitz' 2nd Battalion was
pretty well on its way. By late June or early July, while Major Zais' 3rd
Battalion was still waiting for its first recruit, the flow of volunteers to
Toccoa was suddenly turned off. It was announced that the 3rd Battalion would
be filled with Parachute School graduates who had already completed basic.
In late summer an advance detail staked out a
claim at Camp Mackall and the regiment moved to Fort Benning for parachute
training. The 517th breezed through jump school with no washouts, setting a
record that has endured to this day. School Commandant General Ridgely said that
the 517th's Battalions were without equal in discipline and effectiveness - which says a great deal
for Colonel Walsh's selection and training methods. The 517th troopers were the first to wear the
steel helmet in jump training; until then a modified football helmet had been used.
On completion of jump training the lst and 2nd Battalions moved on to Mackall while the 3rd remained
at Benning to complete fill-up.
Camp Mackall was not much different from Toccoa,
but bigger on level ground. Everyone was quartered in the same one-story,
uninsulated "hutments" heated with coal stoves. The 17th Airborne was big on
athletics, and the 517th shook it up a little by fielding football and boxing
teams that won Division Championships.
One day an inspection team from Headquarters
Army Ground Forces arrived at Camp Mackall to test the regiment's physical
fitness. Using more-or-less scientific statistical sampling methods, men and
units were selected and put through their paces. Individuals took the Physical
Fitness Test consisting of pull-ups, push-ups, and other weird calisthenics
done against time. Platoons and companies were chosen to run and march, with
and without equipment, for various distances. When all was done, the results
were analyzed and announced. The 517th had taken first, second and third place
in all tests and events, scoring higher than any unit tested before or since.
Through the fall the regiment conducted unit
training-tactical exercises for the squad, platoon, company and battalion.
Effort was made to conclude each phase of training with a parachute jump.
Sometimes jumps had to be cancelled because of weather or lack of airplanes, but
men and units averaged one per month.
In February, the regiment moved to Tennessee to
take part in maneuvers being conducted by Headquarters Second Army. The
"Tennessee Maneuvers" were a sort of little practice war that went on
year-round. Participation in the Tennessee Maneuvers was supposed to be the
final test before a unit could be pronounced combat-ready.
One cold day in March when all were shivering
and knee-deep in mud, it was announced that the parachute elements of the 17th
Airborne Division were being pulled out for overseas shipment as the 517th
Regimental Combat Team. So, from the mud of Tennessee, the 517th PRCT emerged.
The parachute units were hastily shipped back to Camp Mackall to prepare for
The 460th Parachute Field Artillery Battalion,
with an authorized strength of 39 officers and 534 enlisted men, consisted of a
headquarters and four firing batteries, each with four 75mm pack howitzers. The
75 threw a 13.9-pound shell for a maximum range of 9,650 yards. The 75 broke
down in to seven pieces for parachute drop.
Company C, 139th Airborne Engineer Battalion,
was redesignated the 596th Airborne (Parachute) Engineer Company. The 596th had
a company headquarters and three platoons with an authorized strength of eight
officers and 137 enlisted men. The engineers were lightly armed and equipped,
but highly trained in their missions of construction and destruction.
The 517th RCT received no special augmentation
to allow it to function as a separate unit. It was expected to operate as a
On return to Camp Mackall, all efforts were
concentrated on preparation for overseas movement. In the midst of this
activity, the word spread one day that Colonel Walsh had been relieved. It was
a real shock to 517th troopers. But in the Army, as elsewhere, life must go
on. Colonel Walsh's successor was Lt. Col. Rupert D. Graves, USMA '24, (picture right)
who came from command of the 551st Parachute Infantry Battalion
In early May, the RCT components staged through
Camp Patrick Henry near Newport News, Virginia. On May 17th the troopers
climbed the gangplanks for their great adventure. The 517th boarded the former
Grace liner Santa Rosa, while the 460th and 596th loaded onto the Panama Canal
One dark night the ships slipped through the
Straits of Gibraltar and it became obvious that the destination was Italy. This
idyll came to an end when the Santa Rosa and Cristobal docked at Naples on May
31st. The troopers filed down gangplanks into waiting railroad cars and were
carried to a staging area in the Neapolitan suburb of Bagnoli. En route,
Colonel Graves was handed an order directing the RCT to take part in the attack
from Valmontone to Rome the next day. The 517th was ready to go, but since
crew-served weapons, artillery and vehicles had been loaded separately it would
have to be with only rifles. After this was pointed out, the order was
cancelled and the RCT moved on to "The Crater."
Gradually weapons and vehicles arrived. On
June 14th the outfit struck tents, stowed away extra gear and moved to a beach
to wait for LSTs to carry it to Anzio. The troopers filed aboard, were handed
C-rations, and told to make themselves comfortable anywhere they could find
space on the crowded decks. In the evening, the ships raised ramps, backed out
into the channel and headed north. During the night the RCT's destination was
changed. At midday the LSTs put in at bomb-wracked Civittavecchia, dropped
ramps and the troops marched off to bivouac several miles inland.
The RCT was attached to Major General Fred L.
Walker's 36th Infantry Division, which under IV Corps was operating on the left
of Fifth Army. A long truck ride and a short foot march on the 17th of June
brought the units south of Grosseto. Colonel Graves was handed an overlay
marked with zones, Objectives and phase lines. The regiment was to join the
division's advance north from Grosseto the next day.
At daylight on June 18th, the
rifle battalions filed through Grosseto heading north-east on Highway 223.
Mechanized cavalry had reportedly been through the area and found it clear, but
the leading company of Major Boyle's 1st Battalion ran into a storm of machine
gun fire as it entered the Moscona Hills. The troopers fanned out, took cover
and returned fire. The Germans held a group of farm buildings in a small
valley. With a platoon of B Company attached, C Company moved to the ridge
overlooking the farm and opened fire. Enemy machine gun fire clipped leaves from
a hedgerow; within a few minutes 10 C Company men were hit.
Colonel Graves had received no
word from the 1st Battalion, but its predicament was obvious. He committed Lt.
Col. Dick Seitz' 2nd Battalion to envelop the enemy from the right and sent I
Company from the 3rd Battalion to protect the western flank. Battalion 81mm
mortars and 460th guns opened up. Under this fire and with pressure on their
front and flank, the Germans pulled out.
In the early afternoon the advance
was resumed. At twilight the battalions took up rough perimeters and halted for
the night. On the east I Company had become trapped in a minefield under machine
gun fire. It was extricated after dark.
In its all-important first day of
combat, the regiment suffered 40 to 50 casualties but inflicted several times
that number upon the enemy. The next seven days were spent in almost continuous
movement. The Germans tried to make an orderly withdrawal while the Americans
pressed them hard. For the 460th the period was a continuous, 24-hour-a-day
operation. Gun batteries continually leap-frogged each other; usually two
batteries were in position while the other two were moving forward. The
principle chore of the 596th Engineers was road reconnaissance and
On June 19th the 2nd Battalion
captured the hilltop village of Montesario. On the left the 3rd Battalion moved
through Montepescali against light resistance, going on to take Sticciano with
14 prisoners. The RCT bivouacked overnight June 22-23 on a ridgeline south of
Gavarrano. Next morning the RCT moved across the Piombino Valley and closed into
all assembly area behind the 142nd Infantry. On June 24th the 2nd Battalion
entered the eastern outskirts of Follonica under heavy artillery and Nebelwerfer
During the night of June 24-25 the
3rd Battalion made a long infiltration, emerging next morning on high ground
over-looking the dry stream bed of the Cornia River. At 0800 the 1st Battalion
passed through the 3rd to seize Monte Peloso, dominating a broad valley with the
town of Suvereto about a mile north on the far side. The attack was preceded by
a heavy artillery barrage fired by 36th Division Artillery under 460th
Moving in column along the dry stream bed, 1st Battalion met minor
delays as skirmishers with "burp guns" fought to slow the advance. Under cover
of a smoke screen laid down by 1st Battalion's 81mm Mortar Platoon, one company
moved west in a shallow envelopment to the left. PFC Carl Salmon silenced a
machine gun with rifle fire, and troopers rushed the hill. The enemy force had
been a detachment of the 29th SS Panzer Grenadier Division. The remainder of
the battalion came forward and the position was consolidated.
Enemy artillery fire continued
heavy on Monte Peloso through the night. A haystack on the crest had caught fire
during the afternoon. After dark it became an aiming point for the German
artillery. While the 1st Battalion had been taking Monte Peloso, Colonel Graves
had been studying the terrain to the north. It was ideal for defense, with steep
hills over-looking broad open fields. In the distance he saw Tiger tanks moving
around. This was the first problem that Graves faced since High-Velocity Armor Piercing (HVAP) ammunition, standardized as M93, wasn't available until August 1944 for the 76 mm guns. (This projectile contained a tungsten core penetrator surrounded by a lightweight aluminum metal body, which gave it a higher velocity and more penetrating power against the formidable Tigers. Tungsten is so durable that eventually tungsten rings have become a popular choice for many people.) Graves also estimated that there would also be minefields with which to
contend. The colonel was planning a night attack to Suvereto. However, the 517th
went into IV Corps reserve and remained in that status until early July.
The 517th had been sent to Italy in response to a Seventh Army request for airborne troops for ANVIL, the
invasion of Southern France. Troops had been withdrawn from the line (including
517th's) and air and naval forces were assembling.
Southern France - Operation Dragoon
On July 2nd the Combined Chiefs
of Staff issued a directive to the CINC Mediterranean to go ahead with ANVIL
(renamed DRAGOON) on 15 August. As a by-product of this directive the 517th RCT
was released from IV Corps and moved to join the First Airborne Task Force in
the Rome area.
The German Nineteenth Army was
along the Mediterranean coast. Four divisions and a corps headquarters were west
of the Rhone. East of the Rhone the LXII Corps at Draguignan had a division each at Marseilles and
Toulon and one south-west of Cannes. There were an estimated 30,000 enemy troops in the assault area
and another 200,000 within a few days march.
The planners decided early that an
airborne force of division size would be needed. Since there was none in the
Mediterranean, a force of comparable size would have to be improvised. In
response, the 517th RCT, 509th and 551st Parachute Battalions and the 550th
Airborne Battalion were provided. Other units in Italy were designated "gliderborne"
to be trained by the 550th and the Airborne Training Center. By early July the
concentration of airborne forces in the Rome area was almost complete. Two
additional troop carrier wings totaling 413 aircraft were enroute from England.
H-Hour and D-Day were tentatively
set for 0800, 15 August. The 517th RCT had been allocated 180 C-47 aircraft in
four serials. The Combat Team was sealed off on August l0th. Maps, "escape kits"
and invasion scripts were issued. During the last hours of daylight on the 14th,
equipment bundles were packed, rigged and dropped off beside each plane. Around
midnight the paratroopers formed by sticks and marched to their planes. After
slinging the pararack bundles they fitted parachutes, adjusted weapons and
equipment and climbed aboard. At 0100 on August 15th, 396 C-47 aircraft began
turning over their engines. At 10-second intervals, planes taxied down dirt
runways, lifted off and circled into formation.
Radio beacons would
guide the serials from Elba to the northern tip of Corsica. From there,
radar and Navy beacon ships would lead them to Agay, where each serial should
descend to 1,500 feet, slow to 125 miles per hour, and home-in on its drop zone
by beacons and lights to be put out by pathfinder teams. Each plane carried six
equipment bundles in pararacks beneath its belly.
Most of the pathfinders missed
their drop zones. The 517th team dropped early at 0328. North of La Ciotat the
aircrews dropped 300 parachute dummies and a large quantity of "rifle
simulators" which went off in firecracker-like explosions as they hit the
The four serials bearing the517th
RCT began drops at 0430. First to arrive was Lt. Col. Dick Seitz' 2nd Battalion
in Serial 6 flown by the 440th Group from Ombrone. Lt. Col. Mel Zais' 3rd
Battalion was due next in the 439th Group's Serial 7 from Orbetello. The 460th Field
Artillery (less Battery C) in Serial 8 with the 437th Group from Montalto fared
better than the 3rd Battalion but not as well as the 2nd.
Twenty plane loads jumped
early and were spread from Frejus to the west. Last in was Serial 9 at 0453,
flown by the 43SthGroup from Canino with Major Boyle's lst Battalion and Battery
C of the 460th. One platoon of the 596th had dropped with the 509th. One platoon
had dropped with the 2nd Battalion and one with the 3rd Battalion.
All told, only about 20 percent of
the 517th RCT landed within two miles of the DZ. Regardless of where they landed
the 517th troopers went to work with the tenacity and aggressiveness that
characterized parachute outfits. The Germans were not anxious to tangle with
the Allied paratroopers but nevertheless put up a stiff fight.
Actions throughout the next three
days threw the Germans into a state of chaos. Enemy convoys were attacked,
communication lines severed and German reinforcements were denied access to
the beach landing areas. Towns and villages were occupied as troopers fought
toward their objectives. Le Muy, Les Arcs, La Motte and Draguignan became names
Part of the 3rd Battalion had
proceeded toward Fayence shattering enemy lines and installations as they moved.
Remaining troops of the 3rd Battalion assembled from Seillans,
Tourettes and Callian. Those troops landing to the east of Tourettes were joined
by troops of the British 2nd Independent Parachute Brigade. 'The combined force
annihilated a large German convoy speeding reinforcements to defensive
positions near the beach.
Lt. Col. Boyle and a handful of
1st Battalion men made a gallant stand at Les Arcs. Remaining elements of the
1st Battalion captured assigned objectives.
The 460th Field Artillery, under
Lt. Col. Ray Cato, had a bulk of its guns deployed and ready to fire by 1100.
The 2nd Battalion pushed through
to join with the 1st Battalion as Germans began massing their forces on the outskirts of Les Arcs for
an all-out counterattack. The 3rd Battalion completed a 40km forced march as the RCT consolidated.
The team attacked all assigned German positions clearing the way for Allied beach forces to push toward
The 1st Platoon of Capt. Bob Dalrymple's 596th engineers had joined assault
operations with elements of the 509th Parachute Battalion near Le Muy. The 2nd Platoon conducted
operation south of Les Arcs. The 3rd Platoon had joined attack operations with 3rd Battalion.
By D+3, German opposition within
the airhead had ceased. The 517th RCT was given a new mission.
"There was no
development of that period which added more decisively to our advantages or
aided us more in accomplishing the final and complete defeat of German forces
than did this attack coming up the Rhone Valley from the Riviera."
The Airborne operation was a
remarkable performance, considered by many military historians the most
successful of the war. Within 18 hours 9,099 troops, 213 artillery pieces and
anti-tank guns and 221 vehicles had been flown over 200 miles across the
Mediterranean and landed by parachute and glider in enemy-held territory.
Despite widely-scattered landings, all missions assigned had been accomplished
within 48 hours. Airborne task force losses included 560 killed, wounded and
missing, and 283 jump and glider casualties. 517th PIR losses included 19
killed, 126 wounded and 137 injured through D+3.
General of the Army
Dwight D. Eisenhower
As VI Corps moved west, the Airborne Task Force reverted to Seventh Army
control and was assigned to protect the Army's eastern flank, while the main forces moved up the Rhone
Valley. The British 2nd Parachute Brigade returned to Italy and was replaced by the First
Special Force. Protection of the Army's eastern flank meant moving as far east
as practicable and then protecting the best ground available. The initial Task
Force objective was the line Fayence-La Napoule. The 517th RCT was assigned the
left, the Special Service Force the center and the 509th/551st the right in a
narrow strip along the coast.
The 2nd and 3rd Battalions were
charged with the capture of Fayence and Callian. This was accomplished by August 21st. Saint Cezaire
fell to Companies G and Ion the 22nd. During the attack, Company G had been pinned down. Company I
surged through heavy fire up the mountainous slope to take the objective. For this action, it earned a
commendation from Task Force Commander Maj. Gen. Robert T. Frederick.
Saint Vallier, Grasse, Bouyon and
La Roquette fell in quick succession. In the attack on La Roquette, Company E
distinguished itself and received a commendation from General Frederick.
The RCT's momentum was slowed by a
line of enemy fortifications extending from the Maritime Alps to the sea. The
Germans attempted to hold a series of forts at all costs. On September 5th, Company D
succeeded in taking some high ground near Col de Braus. Heavy fighting
ensued. Companies G and H were successful in capturing Col de Braus.
A step closer to the heavily defended Sospel Valley.
The 1st Battalion, supported by
460th fire, pressed into Peira Cava. A red-letter day of the campaign occurred
when Ventebren and Tete de Lavina were captured by the 2nd and 3rd Battalions.
The remainder of September was
spent digging defensive positions in and around Peira Cava. The 517th RCT now
held a thinly manned 15-mile front, using mines and booby-traps to take the
place of troopers. Attacks on Hill 1098 ended the month with the roar of
artillery duels echoing through the Maritime Alps.
Despite heavy artillery fire, a
patrol from Company F pushed into Sospel on September 29th. The Germans withdrew
as Company B moved up to occupy Mount Agaisen. The siege of Sospel was over
after 51 days of continuous fighting. Troopers fanned out in pursuit of the
enemy. 517th involvement with the campaign was terminated on November 17, 1944.
The RCT marched 48km to La Colle. On December 6th the RCT moved from La Colle
to entrain at Antibes for movement to Soissons and assignment to XVIII Airborne Corps.
The 517th PRCT suffered over 500
casualties and had 102 men killed in action. On July 15, 1946, the President of
the Provisional Government of the French Republic issued Decision Number 247
awarding the French Croix de Guerre to the RCT.
The Ardennes - Battle of the Bulge
All elements of
the RCT were quartered in Soissons by December l0th. Every American airborne
unit in Europe was now part of General Matthew B. Ridgway's XVIII Airborne Corps.
This included the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions just back from Holland and
the 517th and other separate units up from the Mediterranean. Additionally,
the 17th Airborne Division was now in England and was scheduled to come across
to France in the near future.
During the night of December 15-16
the German army launched its last great offensive of World War II, striking with
three armies against weak American positions in the Ardennes region of Belgium
and Luxembourg. The Allies were taken totally by surprise. The Germans made
their main effort with the Sixth SS and Fifth Panzer armies, while their Seventh
army on the left made a limited holding attack.
Movement orders came for the 517th
and 1100, December 21st. One Battery of the 460th and a platoon of the
596th were attached to each rifle battalion for movement.
Orders were received through XVIII
Airborne Corps which directed the 1st Battalion to the 3rd Armored Division
sector near Soy, Belgium. Pressure from German armor had made the situation so
fluid that it was impossible to tell exactly where the front began. Company D
was immediately attached to the 3rd Armored's Task Force Kane. This unit held
the key point on which the front hinged. Companies A and B detrucked northeast
of Soy and was ordered to attack along the highway leading from Soy to Hotton.
The mission of the 1st Battalion
was to take the commanding ground around Haid-Hits, then remove the enemy from
the high ground at Sur-Les-Hys. The object was to facilitate a breakthrough
and free surrounded elements of the 3rd Armored in Hotton.
Company B led the attack until
forced to hold a line due to heavy tank and automatic weapons fire. It became
necessary for Company A to bypass the planned route to Hotton. While this
maneuver saved casualties, it was necessary to fight for every foot of ground
along the entire route. Fighting on the return trip from Hotton to Soy was as
heated as on the trip in. The Soy-Hotton mission was so well executed despite
fanatic resistance that the 1st Battalion was awarded the Presidential
Distinguished Unit Citation. The cost: 150 wounded and 11 men killed.
While the 1st Battalion was attached to the 3rd Armored, the balance of
the RCT was kept busy. The morning after arrival in Belgium, Company G was detailed as a security
force for the XVIII Airborne Corps CP. The RCT (less 1st Battalion and Company G) was attached
to the 30th Infantry Division near Malmedy. The RCT Headquarters opened at 1000,
December 23rd, at Xhoffraix. On Christmas Day the RCT was released from
attachment to the 30th and returned to XVIII Corps control.
When the RCT was attached to the
30th Division, the 460th tied in with 30th Division Artillery and fired 400
rounds in missions south and east of Malmedy. During the nine days in December,
the 460th fired more than 30 TOTs.
The fall of Manhay to the 2nd SS Panzer Division on Christmas Day sent
shock waves throughout the Allied Command. From Manhay the Germans could continue north toward Liege
or turn against the flank of the 3rd Armored and the 82nd Airborne. Urgent
directives descended upon General Ridgway demanding that Manhay be retaken at all costs.
The directive to recapture Manhay
arrived in RCT Headquarters at 1400 on December 26th. The 517th was to attach
one battalion to the 7th Armored Division for the mission.
The 3rd Battalion (less Company G)
under Lt. Col. Forest S. Paxton was given the assignment. One platoon of the
596th Engineers and a section of the Regimental demolitions platoons was
attached. The battalion would have to cross two miles of terrain covered with
snow and underbrush, in darkness, before reaching the line of departure. The
attack would jump off at 0215 after a 10-minute TOT by eight battalions of
The attack proceeded as planned
after 5,000 rounds were fired in four concentrations. By 0330 the last pocket
of resistance was eliminated. A counterattack at 0400 was driven off. The 3rd
Battalion suffered 36 casualties, including 16 killed
Early on New Year's Day, the RCT
was attached to the 82nd Airborne and alerted to go on the attack. On January
3rd, the RCT, acting as the left flank of the 82nd, attacked south along the Salm
River. The 551st Parachute Infantry, as an attached unit, fought through Basse
Bodeux, while the 2nd Battalion captured Trois Ponts. The southerly attack
continued to Monte Fosse where advance elements were subjected to intense
The 1st Battalion moved through
ground already taken to seize Saint Jacques and Bergeval. The 3rd Battalion
continued its attack across the Salm River and moved to the east. On January
9th, they circled around the 551st and closed on the bank of the Salm at Petit-Halleux.
That night, advance details of the 75th Infantry Division arrived to make arrangements for
relieving the 82nd in the area. To get them off to a good start, 3/517
under direction of the 504th crossed the Salm and seized Grand Halleux.
Colonel Graves received orders on
January 11th that the RCT (less 2nd Battalion, attached to the 7th Armored Division)
was attached to the 106th Infantry Division. The immediate job was to relieve the 112th Infantry at
Stavelot and along the northern bank of the Ambleve. This was accomplished by the 1st Battalion on
A new attack was launched at 0800
on January 13th, to seize a line running from Spineux, north of Grand Halleux,
to Poteaux, eight miles south of Malmedy. The 1st and 2nd Battalions moved to
the south capturing Butay, Lusnie, Henumont, Coulee, Logbierme and established blocks at Petit Thier
and Poteaux. The RCT had now reached the limits of the prescribed advance.
While most of the RCT had been involved with the 106th and 30th Infantry
Division, the 2nd Battalion moved from Goronne to Neuville for assignment to the 7th Armored Division.
Colonel Seitz and his men were assigned to Combat Command A at Polleux. On January 20th, Task
Force Seitz attacked south from an assembly area near Am Kreuz to capture Auf
der Hardt woods and formed defensive positions on the southern edge. On reaching the objective, a
patrol was sent to the village of Hochkreuz. At 1500 Company F was detailed to
join a tank company for an attack on Born.
On January 22nd, the task force
led CCA through In Der Eidt Woods and closed in attack positions a mile north-west of Hunnange.
At 1700 TOT concentrations were fired on Hunnange and the attack moved out. By dark Task Force Seitz had
overrun Neider Emmels and Hunnange and was in contact with other 7th Armored Division forces.
Defensive positions were taken facing south and southwest. A road block was
established at Lorentswaldchen and patrols were sent to the outskirts of Saint Vith. At 1400 on January
23rd, Combat Command B passed through Task Force Seitz and completed the capture of Saint Vith.
On January 24th orders were given
to clear the Saint Vith-Ambleve road that remained in enemy hands. At 0600 on
January 25th, the Battalion moved out for its attack position. By 1400 the
objectives were secured.
On February 1st the 517th PRCT
joined the 82nd near Honsfeld. Next day the 1st Battalion took up a blocking
position to protect the northern flank of the 325th Glider Infantry while the
3rd Battalion moved into position to support if required. All objectives of the
attack plan were met, and on February 3rd, the RCT received orders attaching it
to the 78th Infantry Division at Simmerath.
The Schmidt Minefield
During the night
of 5 Feb 45, A and B Companies of the 517th attempted to cross the Kall River to
secure a high observation point. To do this they were forced to move
through minefields in view of the enemy. These fields were determined to
have been the most extensively mined are encountered by the Allies during WWII.
The 596th Parachute Combat Engineer Company was called forward to breach the
minefield while under intensive enemy small arms and automatic weapons fire.
By their daring and valor, the engineers cleared a breach, enabling the infantry
to pass through
The 78th was to attack east on
February 6th to seize Schmidt and the Schwammenauel Dam. The 517th RCT was
to move north to the Kleinhau-Bergstein area, relieve elements of the 8th
Infantry and attack south from Bergstein during darkness on February 5th to
seize the Schmidt-Nideggen Ridge. The Germans had prepared the strongest
defenses of the western front in this area.
US Army History - Ardennes
By 0600 on the morning of February 5th, all units had closed at Kleinhau.
The German line ran from Zerkall west and South of Hill 400 to the Kall River. After dark the 2nd and
3rd Battalions moved into attack positions. Five to six hundred yards below Bergstein, both battalions
hit minefields and concertina wire. The troopers attempted to move forward by crawling and probing, but
all efforts proved futile. Men were blown up by Schu mines, Tellermines and "Bouncing Bettys."
In Bergstein the troopers found some protection from small-arms fire but little else.
In mid-morning the 596th Engineers
began working in relays to clear a lane through the largest minefield
encountered by the Allies in World War II while under direct enemy observation
and fire. For 36 hours the 596th continued this genuinely heroic effort. In the
1st Battalion area, Company A sent a patrol from Hill 400 to Zerkall.
In the early afternoon of February
7th, Colonel Graves was informed that the 517th was released from the 78th
Division and attached to the 82nd Airborne in place. Task Force A had been
formed, consisting of the 517th and the 505th Parachute Infantry. The 517th was to continue
its planned attack.
During darkness on February 7th,
the 1st and 2nd Battalions prepared to go on the attack. At 2145 the 2nd
Battalion moved down the lane through the minefields. By 0100 Company E and the
remains of Company F were at the edge of the Kall Ravine. At 0145 the 1st
Battalion was 400 yards southeast of Hill 400. North of the Kall, the 2nd
Battalion troopers came under savage machine gun and mortar fire. The 1st
Battalion rearranged to Hill 400. At noon a 3rd Battalion patrol was sent west
to contact the 505th at the predesignated point on the Kall. Three efforts to
reach the point were turned back by machine gun fire.
The rifle strengths of the 517th
Battalions, now reduced to company size, would be relieved by the 508th
Parachute Infantry that night.
After being relieved by the
508th Parachute Infantry, the RCT was trucked to the railhead at Aachen,
Germany. After a two-day train trip, the RCT arrived at Laon, France, where they
settled in for a two-day stay. On February 15, Colonel Graves was notified by
the XVIII Airborne Corps that the RCT was assigned to the newly arrived 13th
Airborne Division and was to proceed to Joigny, France, 70 miles southeast of
As the RCT closed in at Joigny
on February 21st, the RCT was dissolved the 517th became part of the 13th
Airborne Division Artillery and the 596th Engineers were merged with Company B,
129th Airborne Engineer Battalion.
On March 12, the 13th Airborne
was assigned by 1st Allied Airborne Army to participate in "Operation VARSITY".
Montgomery's crossing of the Rhine River. The 13th's participation in VARSITY
was called off. It was the first of several aborted missions. The war in Europe
ended and the 17th Airborne Division was scheduled for shipment to the Pacific
where they were to participate in "Operation Cornet", a jump into the Japanese
home islands, with take off from the Aleutians.
( Source: Condensed from Paratroopers' Odyssey: A History of the 517th Parachute Combat
Team (1985, Military Narrative by LTC Charles E. LaChaussee, AUS Ret.) and Chronicle of the 517th
PRCT (1985, Compiled by Clark Archer)
This version was printed as a feature article in
Quarterly magazine in the winter of 1998.)
517th Parachute Infantry Regiment - Pictures
- 517 - F Company
- Photos of 1/Lt Harry E Riddle of the 517th PIR F Company 2nd Battalion.
- 517 - F Company
- Photos of 1st Lts. Clarence McCollum, Harry Riddle and George Giuchici - 517th PIR F Company Platoon Leaders 2nd Battalion.
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