The Alps

The Maritime Alps, France

An Introductory Summary (by Ken HESLER), D Battery


THE FORGOTTEN WAR.

August 30 - November 18, 1944

Less than two weeks after spearheading the airborne invasion of Southern France on August 15, 1944, two battle-tested battalions of the First Airborne Task Force, the 509th Parachute Infantry and the 463rd Parachute Field Artillery, were pursuing German forces eastward along the Riviera coast approaching the ancient port town of Antibes. Cannes had fallen August 24. 

 

What happened next is best told by William B. Breuer, military historian and author of Operation Dragoon:  The Allied Invasion of the South of France.  He writes that “...the Wehrmacht pulled back eastward to the Maritime Alps.  Then, like ripe plums, Nice and other towns along the Cote d’Azur fell, and the entire Mediterranean coast of France was in Allied hands by September 9.”  Breuer later called the Maritime Alps campaign the “Forgotten War.”

During that period, the nation’s newspapers and radio were reporting the liberation of Paris, Lt. Gen. George S. Patton’s armored thrust toward the German border, Russian offensive actions along the Eastern Front, and the capture of Grenoble, France, about 140 miles north of the Mediterranean.  The focus of the war was shifting rapidly toward Central Europe. 

 

As  Lt. Gen. Alexander M. Patch’s Seventh Army drove north up the Rhone River valley, its right flank was exposed to enemy forces with access through Alpine mountain passes along the Franco-Italian border.  To counter this prospect, airborne units of the First Airborne Task Force were moved into strategic mountaintop positions in the Maritime Alps to defend the major routes of possible attack by the enemy, a prudent action but one that shifted the traditional offensive role of these airborne forces to a holding action in a remote battleground.

 

On August 30th, the 463rd  was relieved from the 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion, and attached to the 550th Airborne Infantry Battalion. Major Stuart M. Seaton, commander of the battalion after Lt. Col. John T. Cooper, Jr. suffered a badly-fractured ankle during the invasion jump August 15, was directed to move the battalion’s 450 men and equipment by truck convoy from Antibes some 200 miles to the northwest over a circuitous, zigzag mountainous route and assume positions in support of the 550th in the vicinity of Jausiers, France, not far from the Italian border.  Jausiers is a small village in a region of high mountains near the western end of the Ubaye Valley, a gateway to enemy forces then in Italy. Because of the terrain, the battalion was at times spread along a 12-mile front.

 

Jausiers, image taken from the South, situated 8km from Barcelonnette.

After a seven-week assignment in the Jausiers area, the battalion moved south to Menton, France, October 22 to support the First Special Service Force.  This event is noted in Lt. Col. Burhans' The First Special Service Force: A War History of the North Americans, 1942-1944:  “ One fortunate note gave the Force considerable pleasure:  “the 463rd Parachute Field Artillery, old friends from Italy had rejoined to support with fire the final Force action.” 

 

Burhans also notes “Nice was the place, in those early December days, to say good-bye.  The artillerymen from the 463d were still around, the men who had become Forcemen for all practical purposes.  And there nights full of fighting in every square and bar when a parachutist would offer to remove a Forceman’s parachute pin.”  The FSSF was inactivated December 5, 1944.

 

On November 18, 1944, the 463rd was relieved by the 602nd Field Artillery Battalion and “dispatched to the Bivouac area in Gattières, France,” near Nice.

 

During the Maritime Alps Campaign, the 463rd and attached units fired 15,357 rounds, endured a blizzard that buried the guns of Battery "A" under eight feet of snow at an altitude of 10,000 feet, and, in mid-October, engaged in its largest single fire mission of the war.  Lt. Col. Cooper, who had returned to active duty as battalion commander just two days earlier, wrote of the October 15 action:  “The Germans launched a late evening attack aimed at securing two strategic peaks.  By firing five thousand six hundred (5,600) round of direct fire on the peaks, the attack was repulsed and the enemy driven back.” 

Doug Bailey : "Notice the two German Camouflage Shelter Half's, mine and Zafkes.
Since we did not jump with our own we picked up these two down somewhere on the outskirts of Nice.

Don and I shared a nice Hole in the mountain."

Although the mountain campaign had its share of steep narrow trails, enemy harassing fire, pack mules, suspected spies, and C-rations, the relatively short re-supply line, even though over difficult roads, provided “first class” battlefield service.  Consequently, baked bread, ground coffee, and 10-in-1 (7-in-1?) boxed rations containing cans of dried vegetables, bacon, and an occasional cut of boiling beef were a welcome addition to the battalion’s diet.

 

Of even more significance, was the re-supply of winter clothing with the as yet unknown Battle of the Bulge awaiting just a few weeks into the future. During the Maritime Alps campaign, four 75mm howitzers to make Battery D a firing battery, and the following items were items received by the 463rd

ITEM

NUMBER

Wool Blankets

1612

Wool Socks

1550

Handkerchiefs

1500

Wool Gloves

1160

Wool Undershirts

1160

Wool Trousers

665

Wool Drawers

630

Wool Caps

630

Wool Overcoats

525

Tent Shelter Halves

410

Raincoats

261

Wool Shirts

173

Herringbone Twill Suits

160

Field Jackets

105

Mackinaws

70

Howitzers, 75mm pack, M1A1

4

Winter "shoepacks"

?

Ken Hesler : "we did get shoepacs before going to Bastogne, likely after coming off the line in Southern France. 
No official operational records were kept during such periods.

Shoepac is the historical correct designation for the wet/cold weather boot introduced in Europe in late 1944
with a rubber foot, leather top, and felt insole.  I may have called them “mudpacs” originally. 

They kept feet warm and dry while walking, but cooled off quickly if standing or sitting still. 
Feet would sweat in rubber shoe part while moving about, even in cold weather. 
We had standing orders to dry them every night in whatever fashion, even sleeping with them against the body if  necessary.  "

Following a bivouac of approximately three-weeks at Gattières, the 463rd traveled by truck to Toulon, France, and boarded box cars for a rail trip to Mourmelon, France, arriving there December 12, 1944. The battalion was billeted with the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Mourmelon awaiting assignment to the 17th Airborne Division when, four days later, German forces unleashed a major counterattack into the Ardennes sector of Belgium.

 

Lt. Col.  Cooper volunteered the services of the 463rd to the 101st Airborne Division and the battalion was off to Bastogne and the Battle of the Bulge attached to the Screaming Eagles.

 

(Monthly narratives of the Maritime Alps Campaign and other documents follow.)

A Condensed Chronology, by Martin GRAHAM

Based in large part on a collection of archival documents and other materials,

acquired and provided by Ken Hesler, Battery D, 463rd PFA.

August 1944

Aug. 28       |        Truck       |        3 Km East Antibes, France

Arrived 11AM


Aug. 30      |        Truck      |        Castellane, France


Aug. 30      |        Truck      |        Frejus, France


Aug. 30      |        Truck      |        Barcelonnette, France

Batteries A and D arrived at 8PM. 
463rd rapidly moved into Maritime Alps with the 550th Airborne Infantry to cut off German escape route into Italy.  "Champagne Campaign" 
The mission of all 4 batteries was to protect the pass through the Col de Larche and the Col de Vars, the two main roads to Turin, Italy. 
The battalion front extended 12 miles with resupply by mules and backpacks.

 

Aug. 30      |        Truck      |        10 Kilometers west of St. Andres

Headquarters Battery and Batteries B and C arrived at 7:30PM.

 

Aug. 31      |        Jausiers, France

Monthly Report - Fired approximately 3,158 rounds on: Personnel - 27; Machine gun & gun positions - 6; Observation posts - 1.  Targets disabled, destroyed: 3 machine guns; 3 gun positions; 2 strongpoints.  Casualties: 5 enlisted men killed; 2 officers & 56 enlisted men wounded & injured.

Battalion united at 7:50PM.  Set up position at 12,750 ft. at French fort.


             Officers Enlisted

Hq & Hq Btry    19       156

A                5        84

B                6        80

C                5        81

D                5        81

TOTAL           41       482

(7 Os & 96 EM joined Hq from rear echelon)

September 1944

Sept. 8      |        Casne de Restefond, France

Battery A moved into this position


Sept. 18      |        Jausiers, France

A suspicious man about 6'1" tall, blond hair, and wearing an OD shirt and slacks was reported in vicinity of Jausiers.  It is believed that this man could be Capt. Bisping of the 90th PZ, Gren. Div.

 

Sept. 20      |        Jausiers, France

Reinforced by one platoon of French 105mm Howitzers for 3 days.


Sept. 26      |        Jausiers, France

Casualties:                   

2nd Lt. Robert F. Anderson WIA

1st Lt. William F. Biggs WIA

Pvt. Jose F. Rodriguez WIA
 

1st platoon of D Company, 2nd Chemical Battalion went into position at (5195-4545) and were ready to fire at 0800 hrs. 26 Sept. 1944.  Patrol consisting of 1 O & 7 EM (1 O (Capt. Timothy Moran) & 1 EM 463rd, 2 EM, mortar observers 550th, & 4 EM from FFI) left the pill box at La Condamine to secure and set up observation post on Tête du Cuguret.  Equipment consisted of 2 M1 rifles, 3 French rifles, 1 cal. .45 pistol, 1 TSMG & 1 Machine Rifle (French or German make), and several grenades, Fragmentation, one telephone and radio SCR 536 were also carried.  At 0930 hours the patrol started with Machine Rifle covering advance in bounds of 1 to 2 hundred yards.  On arriving approximately 600 yards from objective, 2 German riflemen were seen on ridge to left of Cuguret.

 
Artillery fire was called for and enemy retreated behind ridge.  Patrol then proceeded towards objective.  Upon reaching base of peak, the telephone line was found to be blown out in several places.  It became necessary to leave four men to repair the line while one French EM and the one American officer mounted the peak.  Upon attaining the peak at approximately 1110 hours, 4 German riflemen were seen approaching the peak from about 25 yards, 3 more joined them from the left and 5 more from the right.  There was no way to signal the men at the base, so one grenade was tossed by the Frenchman and the two beat a hasty retreat down the side of the peak, gathering the rest of the patrol as they went.  Numerous egg-shaped grenades were tossed by the Germans.  Upon reaching base of peak, a machine gun approximately 150 yards to the right and another 175 to 200 yards to the left opened fire with rifles supporting them.  Slight cover was found about 200 yards from there and Artillery fire was called for.  They received Artillery fire with Chemical and 81mm mortars in addition.  Under cover of this fire, they were able to withdraw by leaps and bounds to a comparatively safe position, when they began to receive enemy mortar fire and timed fire from Artillery.  They returned to the pill box at approximately 1400 hours.

 

Sept. 30      |        Jausiers, France

Monthly Report - Fired 15,357 rounds on: Personnel - 32; Observation Posts - 20; Gun positions & Machine guns - 28; Mortars - 15.  Targets disabled, destroyed, neutralized: 1 dugout; 3 pack trains, 1 pill box.  Fired on 41 enemy patrols.  Casualties: 1 officer, 2 enlisted men wounded.

  

               Officers Enlisted

Hq & Hq Btry      16      193

A                  5      101

B                  5       97

C                  5       97

D                  4      100

TOTAL             35      588

 


October 1944

Oct. 10       |        Jausiers, France

Two Germans wearing French civilian clothing over their uniforms were challenged by the sentry at 463rd Command Post at 0300 hour.  Josef Gogler Unteroffizier, German Sergeant ASN 1414, 1st Co. 242 Pioneer Battalion, Division unknown was shot and killed by the sentry.  His companion escaped through wadi.  Believed to be slightly wounded.  Both are believed to have been unarmed.
Battery A, in position at 10,000 feet at Casne de Restefond, found itself under 8 feet of snow after a three day blizzard.  Much of the equipment had to be pulled down the mountain by hand on sleds fashioned from sheets of corrugated roofing before the roads were opened 3 days later.
 

Casualties:

T/5 James J. Hawkins WIA - SFW - Buttocks
 

Oct. 12      |        Jausiers, France

3 German speaking men were fighting with a man from D Btry, in Jausiers at 2115.  Several Frenchmen ran over to help the man from D Btry.  The men who were speaking German ran away.  A patrol from B Btry (5 men in a jeep) left Jausiers at 2200 hour and proceeded to Barcelonnette looking for the German speaking men, but could not find them.  The patrol returned at 2330 hour.

 

Oct. 14      |        Barcelonnette, France

Col. Cooper returns to battalion.


Oct. 15 

Casualties:
Cpl. Lloyd C. Hood WIA - SFW - Leg
 

Oct. 16      |        Barcelonnette, France

During the previous week, C Battery was shelled out of its battery position in the village of Le Sauze and had to move its guns; a German was shot and killed while sneaking through battalion positions in uniform and on a bicycle wearing a French beret and French overcoat attempting to replenish his squads liquor supply as he had numerous empty canteens and wine bottles; and at dinnertime one evening with the chow lines full at battalion headquarters the Germans cut loose with a heavy artillery barrage scattering all chow lines. 
Without infantry in its front, the 463rd was vulnerable to enemy attack.
Lt. Austin, FO, reported an enemy attack at 2030 hour on 463rd position at (52864656).  It was receiving fire from machine guns and other small arms; also hand grenades.  Lt. Austin adjusted fire in area from (52864670) to (54264760) to (53494775) to (52684710) with the result of breaking up the attack at 2300 hour.  One EM was wounded.  Enemy casualties were unknown.  Strength of attack was one enemy platoon.  Light harassing fire vic Jausiers and the 463rd CP throughout the night.  Lt. Schoenedk, Air Observer, reported occupied enemy artillery position at (36325689) three mules and enemy personnel entering position from the south.  Occupied defensive positions at (34405520).  Enemy living in house probably prefabricated at (33455580).  2 large trucks on road between Col de Larche and Argentera.  5,619 rounds were fired throughout this period, arguably the most fired in a 24 hour period by a single battery during the course of the war.
(Being unattached and on paper attached to 2 separate units, the 463rd was able to acquire as many shells as it wanted along with any other equipment and rations it needed.  Some thought the shelling was more to get rid of the excess shells than anything else.)  Corps. Headquarters heard of the incident and Cooper was called to justify his use of so much ammunition.  Gen. Fredericks was all set to chew Cooper out when Cooper brought the General's attention to the fact that there were no infantry in the 463rd's front and that all he had to shoot Germans with were 75mm shells.  Shortly after, French Colonial Senegalese Infantry showed up to cover the front.  A French Senegalese sergeant appeared with his squad one afternoon at C Battery's switchboard and communication center.  One of the 463rd, speaking French, found out that these soldiers were sent to protect the area.  They were taken out and shown the wire net to the guns and OP and the infantrymen were dispersed throughout the area.  The nights, being very cold, the black colonials from equatorial Africa, who wore long robes and carried very sharp knives which they sometimes used on German victims, built large bon fires every night to keep warm.

 

Oct. 22      |        Truck      |        2 KM NW Menton (St. Agnes), France

The snows of late fall began and Hdqts, B and C Batteries arrived at this position at 2030 hour, joining the First Special Services Forces closer to the coast.  They traveled through Antibes, Nice and Monte Carlo.

 

GENERAL NOTES ABOUT FRENCH ALPS AND RIVIERA

John Cooper

During one evening after Cooper returned, having recovered from his injuries during his jump, all batteries opened fire on their front, firing 5,600 rounds.  (Being unattached and on paper attached to 2 separate units, the 463rd was able to acquire as many shells as it wanted along with any other equipment and rations it needed.  Some thought the shelling was more to get rid of the excess shells than anything else.)  The official reason for the firing was that the enemy were attacking and there were no infantry in the front, but the real reason was that one forward observer thought he had seen something and called fire on it.  Since he had just returned, Cooper and some other officers were drinking when the firing began and unsure of the reason, let it continue.  Only 3 wild goats fell victim to the shelling.  General Frederick called Cooper to the first Airborne Task Force headquarters in Nice? to explain what had been going on.  The shelling had been the greatest the battalion would fire in the war and one of the greatest in the European Theater.  Cooper told him the truth, that he had just returned, had been celebrating and the firing began.  He also called attention to the fact that no friendly troops were in his front.  Frederick laughed, told Cooper to watch himself.  He also told Cooper to prepare to bring his men back for a rest.

Claude Smith/Jay Karp (tapes)

#1 gun in Baker Battery taken up behind enemy lines because of reports of enemy mule train.  Claude Smith, Joe Lyons, Nichols (gun sergeant), Karp and Clark were the only ones who could fit in jeep along with the ammunition. They fired 10 to 20 rounds.  They fired so fast that the forward observer made the comment that he thought they were firing a machine gun.  At one point they settled down to eat.  While eating, a shell passed several yards behind them.  Another fell several yards in front of them.  One of the members asked Lyons, "Lt., what would you do if you were the forward observer and you threw one shell over and the other short?  Where would you put the next one?"  Lyons said, "I'd put the next in the middle."  Before they knew it, a salvo exploded next to them.  They ran for the basement of a nearby house and Lyons reported to headquarters that they were under fire and they were ordered down from the mountain.  The Germans had fired 88s.  The Americans got the gun out in a hurry.

Jay Karp

A unit of the FFI was stationed near them.  One of the men would go out with them, alternating missions.  The 463rd was eventually relieved because of coming snow.

John Mockabee (tape)

rejoined D Battery and went into Menton and went through there and the batteries set up there.  Just when the guns pulled in, but were not yet set up, an enemy artillery barrage came in with busts occurring every 5 to 10 minutes.  Whittaker, radio man, John, Lt. Bill Biggs, and other man went up into the alps to set an OP up in a castle.  They stayed there 4 to 5 days.  It overlooked a pass, road, and a little hamlet.  They could see German vehicles.  Jerry used the castle as an aiming point.  Every morning at 6:00AM, Jerry fired on the castle until hit and after a couple of more rounds, would fire beyond to the units behind.  When John went back to the battery, a 75mm pack went off and John hit the ground, an impulse from reacting daily to the shelling on the castle.  Another trooper saw him and laughed.  A sergeant came up to him and said "Mockabee, I hate to ask you this and you can refuse if you want, but I need to have someone go back up the castle with Lt. Anderson.  You can refuse but I'd rather have volunteers.  John said he'd be willing to go back up if that other trooper would be willing.  The other guy finally agreed and the two of them went back up to the OP with a 50 caliber.  Booger Childress went up carrying a radio pack.    They arrived at the castle that evening.  The next morning at 6:00AM, Jerry starting firing again and the other trooper couldn't get deep enough and John was laughing.  Another time while they were up there, one of Jerry's shells went short.  The next over.  Another shell fell to the left.  Booger said, "If that SOB don't hit this castle the next time, I'm going to wave him a maggy drawers."  The next shell went over and Booger had an old sheet which he tied to a stick, got to the highest peak of the castle and started waving it.  The Germans kept shelling the castle for several hours and Lt. Anderson told Booger, " God damn you Booger Childress.  I could just kick your butt for doing that."  After the shelling stopped, they got back up and started firing at troop formations or trucks going by and Lt. Anderson called for artillery fire.  Shells hit close to the trucks which dodged them the best they could.  Lt. Anderson wanted to get closer, so they left the castle and went down until enemy artillery bursts came in.  Booger kept walking with the radio.  Lt. Anderson told him to get down.  Booger said if they're going to get me, they'll get me standing or lying.  The Lt. said he didn't care about him, he needed the radio.  They couldn't find a place with as good a view, so they headed back to the castle.  On the way back, it was getting dark and they stopped at a little house along the road.  2 stayed up while 2 slept.  About 2:00AM, they heard what they believed to be a German patrol walking by and on up the hill, but luckily never stopped to check out the house.  When they got back to Barcelonnette, they went out a little to the east and were placed on the right of the road.  They stayed there a couple of days and then moved back to the left side of the road and before they could set up, an enemy artillery barrage came in.  Lt. Anderson was wounded in the back by shrapnel.  John's machine gun (Corporal Fraley's) was placed always to the left of the howitzers and Bill McConnell's always to the right.

Armond Cerone (tape)

When he arrived in Barcelonnette, Armond remembers going into foxholes where there was blood on the blankets.  Armond feels there must have been some action there before they arrived.  One night he was asked to be a volunteer to help man a gun in a forward position.  During the night they zeroed into a target and fired many rounds into an unknown position.  The fired at isolated targets.

John Cooper/Alfred Mury (tapes)

Cooper sent Lt. Mury and Benucci?? to Nice to look for a place for the unit.  Mury found the Hotel Bristol in Nice all boarded up and thought that would be an ideal location for a recuperation center.  He found the owner in Monte Carlo who was happy to have the hotel opened again.  Mury was the manager and ran the hotel as a rest basin on a rotating basis for each battery.

Tony Spagnol

"We were shipped to the mountain area near Barcelonnette and Jausiers, France.  Our observation Post (OP) was located at an old French fort called (I believe) Fort Restafund about 9,000 ft. at the top of mountain which gave a scenery sight which seemed to be on the top of the world.  Activity was very limited.  We fired on vehicles traveling along the road in the valley between our OP and that of the Germans on the mountain top across the valley.  After several days of inactivity, all hell broke loose.  The Germans zeroed in our OP and fired about twenty or more rounds of an 88 or 105mm artillery hitting our Fort directly above our sleeping quarters and knocking down part of the heavy stone siding at the rear of the building.  Several infantry men were hit, not seriously, but most of us were at a forward OP about 100 ft. in front of the Fort.  I was lucky to have my camera with me and took a few pictures of the damage.  I was at the OP with Lt. Merriman and Siemer.  We were told that there were no Germans in the area.  On our few days off, Montague and I became very friendly with a Jewish family in Barcelonnette.  I took pictures of members of the family and their home.  We gave them soap, toilet paper and other items which were in very short supply in France.
"During a giant snow storm which lasted several days we were forced to abandon the Fort and troop down to our gun positions to catch a truck to our Command Post.  After about a month at the foothills of the French Alps we returned to the French Riviera for a few days of R&R.  We were trucked to Toulon where we boarded a railroad for a trip to Marseilles.  From Marseilles we traveled by rail to Reims where we loaded on trucks to Mourmelon a staging area for the 18th Airborne Corps.  I got a two day pass for Paris, took a log of pictures, went sight seeing and of course looking for girls."

Doug Bailey:

After we got together with the 463rd and 509 guys that did drop at Le Muy, we continued along the coast until we got to the outskirts of Nice.  At one point we came to a river, and the Germans had blown the bridge.  There was a blown up jeep that had hit a mine with pieces of the jeep in the branches of a tree and what looked like clothing or body parts.  The engineers had marked a path with white tape down the bank of the river which was fairly shallow and the trucks started down to cross.  Most of them made it.  But the truck behind us turned too soon and did not follow exactly and hit a mine in the middle of the river and blew up.  I could see two guys flying trough the air over the side of the truck and come splashing down in the river.  One suffered a broken leg, and I heard later that the other guy, I think his name was "Felton" was paralyzed from the waist down.  They were the only two really hurt.  The rest were pretty shook up, and the truck was totaled.  Later two more 463 troopers were wounded when their machine gun position was hit by mortar fire.  One was named "Tolster" who was an ex-Marine and had served in China.  On the transport that took us to N. Africa, the Matson Liner S.S. Monterey, he ran into the captain of the S.S. Monterey's steward who had owned a bar in Shanghai that Tolster use to patronize.  They looked at each other and recognized each other, and had a mini-reunion right there down on D Deck.   A few days after the capture of Nice, we were on our way to the mountains.  The 463rd along with a glider battalion was sent up into the French Maritime Alps to fight as mountain troops.
It took about two days for the trucks to get up in the mountains to our destination in the Alps.  We had our rear echelon in a pass through the mountains in the own of Barcelonnette, and our front line positions near the village of Jausiers.  We were told that this was the same pass that Hannibal took his elephants through on the way to Italy.
B Battery had a good position on the side of a mountain and did not receive too much counter battery fire.  The other batteries further down from us took a lot of fire.  I believe one battery had to move a couple times.  They sent one battery way up higher on a mountain, and while there were covered by deep snow and became ineffective.  They took 3 or 4 men from each gun section, and sent us up the mountain to help dig out the road so the snowbound battery could get out.  I did not mind going up there, although the snow was about 8 feet deep in places.  We really worked up a sweat shoveling that snow.  I think we were in the mountains for about 3.5 months.  We lived on C & K rations and once in a while we had 10 in 1 rations.  I think they were packed in England.  Because each box was a great big can of beef and kidney stew which was the worst food I ever tasted.  Even now I shudder when I think of it.  We were finally relieved by French Moroccan troops from North Africa that had mules to get around with.  The 463rd moved back down along the French Riviera where we fought what we called the Champagne campaign.  This was not too bad as the country was too rough for any serious fighting.  Sheer rock cliffs almost from the beaches.  We were dug in near Mentone, which is on the French/Italian border.
Just as we were ready to leave the Maritime Alps and go back down to the Riviera, the Germans mortared heck out of the positions we had just left.  We were really lucky to have missed all that incoming fire.  This also happened when we pulled out of a position down on the Riviera.  About the time the last truck pulled out, the mortar shells started to fall.  The same thing happened in Italy one time.  I guess we were just a lucky battalion.
At one time we were emplaced in a position by the French Maginot line that ran from the North Sea to the Riviera.  One day a couple of us decided to enter one of the big forts.  We got some flashlights and entered.  We went in quite a ways, but when we encountered all kinds of explosives laying around and teller mines laying all over the place, we beat a hasty retreat.  The place was huge.  It had tracks for the small railway cars, rooms with big generators, large elevators, kitchens, sleeping rooms, and mess halls.
We were finally pulled off the front lines for good and moved to a terraced hillside on the outskirts of Nice.  We spent a couple of weeks here waiting for our next move.  Things were pretty relaxed and we got to into the city of Nice as much as we wanted, or until your money ran out.  I used to head for "The Queens Bar" that was a hangout for the airborne.  Had an orchestra that played American tunes.  At this stage of the war, the Germans did not have much of a bomber force left and the city of Nice at night was lit up just like in peacetime.  This ideal situation lasted about two weeks, and then we went by truck to Marseille where we loaded up in box cars for the trip up into the middle of France near Rheims to a place called Mourmelon La Grande, and joined the 101st Airborne Division.  Mourmelon Le Grand means Big Mourmelon, and was next to Mourmelon Le Petit, which means little Mourmelon.

The S.S. Monterey

Fred Shelton

3rd Gun Section Battery D, the battalion was in firing positions in Jausiers, France near Barcelonnette.  One of the weeks while we were in this firing action in these mountains.  There was a fire mission called for, or a registering fire, for just number 3 gun along for a period of five days.  We fired about 2 rounds each day about 11:00AM.  At the end of the fifth day, after firing, we in the gun pit, heard over the phone mission complete.  About a week later we found out from Forward Observer Party that we were firing at a German postman on a bicycle, who had to be just in the right place on the curve of the mountain road or we did not have a good shot because he went in back of the mountain shortly on the curve so we had to be right in our timing also.  All things turned out for good when your Forward Observer Post has patience and determination to stay on the job.


Oct. 24       |       Truck       |       2 KM NW Menton (St. Agnes), France

Batteries A and D arrived at 1800 hour.


Oct. 31       |       Truck       |       2 KM NW Menton (St. Agnes), France

Monthly Report - Fired approximately 12,970 rounds on: Personnel - 64; Machine guns - 16; OP's & CP's 11; Gun Positions - 9.  Targets disabled: 16 machine guns; 9 enemy gun positions; 5 self-propelled guns; 3 strongpoints; 10 vehicles; 19 mortar positions.  Fired in support of 2 counterattacks.  No casualties.

  

              Officers Enlisted

Hq & Hq Btry     15      186

A                 5       95

B                 5       99

C                 4      102

D                 2       99

TOTAL            35      596

November 1944

Nov.       |       French/Italian Border

Gave support to last push by First Special Services Forces. (1SSF 295)

 

Nov. 18       |       Truck       |       Gattiers, France (just northwest of Nice)

Battalion fired on Enemy personnel at (8220-9294) with good effect.  Battery A relieved by Battery A, 602nd FAB at 1845 hour 17 Nov. 1944.  Battery B relieved by B Battery, 602nd FAB at 1757 hour 17 Nov. 1944.  Battery C relieved by C Battery, 602nd FAB at 1818 hour 17 Nov. 1944.  Battery D closed from firing position at 0800 hour 18 Nov. 1944.  602nd FAB relieved CP and assumed control of sector 0800 hour 18 Nov. 1944.  463rd moved to bivouac area vicinity Gattières, France 0800 hour 18 Nov. 1944.   During Operation Dragoon, 463rd conducted over 1,000 fire missions and fired 34,759 rounds of ammunition, captured 375 enemy troops (244 in the first days after the airborne invasion), and suffered 81 casualties.


Monthly Report - Fired 4,632 rounds on: Personnel - 54; OPs - 8; Gun Positions & Machine Guns - 30; Mortars - 7.  Targets disabled: 1 mule train, 2 machine guns; 5 gun positions; 2 mortars; 1 road block; 1 75mm gun; 2 vehicles.  No casualties.  Broke up German counterattack on November 12.

 

               Officers Enlisted

Hq & Hq Btry      17      186

A                  5       98

B                  4       97

C                  5      104

D                  6      100

Met Det            2       15

TOTAL             39      602


Moves:

Truck     Antibes, France

463rd en route to Mourmelon.

Train     Toulon, France

Train     Marseilles, France

Train     Avignon, France

Train     Valenca (Valence), France

Train     Lyon, France

Train     Macon, France

Train     Dijon, France

Train     Chaumont, France

Train     Saint Dizier, France

Train     Châlons, France

December 1944

Dec.       |       Train        |       Reims, France


Dec. 12        |       Train       |       Mourmelon, France

Arrived 2:30PM.  Temporarily attached to the 101st Airborne Division for administration and rations. 
A drinking spree for everyone.  (Smith tape) (Hazzard tape)

 

ATTACHING THE 463RD TO THE 101ST:

The 463rd Wasn’t AWOL After All (By Ken Hesler)

 

Ken McAuliffe, nephew of Gen. Anthony C. McAuliffe, in a recent online communication with Filip Willems, webmaster of the 463rd Parachute Field Artillery Battalion on Trigger Time Forum noted his discovery of a wartime document from Gen. George C. Marshall to Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower that expands the story of how the battalion came to “join” the 101st Airborne Division on its dash to the defense of Bastogne, Belgium in December 1944. (see image below)

 

The oft told story of how Lt. Col. John T. Cooper, 463rd Battalion Commander volunteered the unit’s services to the Screaming Eagles although assigned to become part another airborne division is now a historic footnote in the Bastogne saga.       But the document recently found by Ken McAuliffe, along with related research, has expanded that story.

 

Activated in February 1944 on the Anzio Beachhead from Headquarters and two batteries of the 82nd Airborne Division’s 456th Field Artillery Battalion and with months of combat in Italy, Southern France, and the Maritime Alps, the battalion was sent north in early December 1944 to join the 17th Airborne Division.

 

Arriving in Mourmelon, France, December 12, following a truck and "forty-and-eight" box car ride from Gattieres, just west of Nice on the Mediterranean coast, the battalion was quartered with the 101st at Fort Mourmelon to await the arrival of the 17th.

 

But the Battle of the Bulge intervened. On December 16, 1944, the same date that the Germans counterattacked across the borders of Luxembourg and Belgium, Marshall sent a message to Eisenhower saying that, upon the latter’s concurrence, “War Department will immediately issue the necessary reorganization directive for 101st Airborne Division...” to “incorporate” the 463rd in the 101st.

 

The Marshall letter was sent from the War Department at 7:33 p.m. December 16, 1944, and was received at Eisenhower’s headquarters at Versailles, France, at 2:24 a.m. the next morning. Cooper made his offer to join the 101st at a 9 p.m. meeting called that same day by Brig. Gen. Anthony C. McAuliffe who said, “All I know of the situation is that there has been a breakthrough and we have go to get up there.”

 

In his article titled “High Tide at Bastogne” for the December 1944 World War II Magazine, Martin Graham, son of a 463rd veteran, describes the incident this way:

 

“As the meeting broke up, Cooper approached McAuliffe and the acting division artillery commander, Colonel Thomas Sher­burne, to remind them that his unit was only temporarily at­tached to the 101st and requested permission to join the division in its advance. McAuliffe directed Cooper to talk to Colonel Joseph H. "Bud" Harper of the 327th Glider Infantry Regiment, which lacked direct support artillery. Cooper found Harper, who had just made it back from England, and asked, "Do you need me?" Harper replied, "You're goddamn right."

 

During the exchange with Willems on the Forum, Ken McAuliffe writes, “When the 463rd arrived in Mourmelon, they had already been designated to be assigned to the 17th Airborne Division. The 17th was still in England, but was coming to France in the near future. The 463rd was attached to the 101st only administratively for quarters and rations.       Obviously, neither Cooper nor the 101st knew about Marshall's letter. If they had, Cooper wouldn't have had to ask to be included in the move.”

 

The December 1944 463rd narrative reports that "At about 2100 hours on 17 December, the 463rd Parachute Field Artillery, attached to the 101st Airborne Division, was alerted to move from its bivouac area Mourmelon, France, to the vicinity of Bastogne."

 

As a historical note, the 463rd was attached to the 101st just before Bastogne but not assigned until March 1945 under a planned reorganization of the division.       Shelby Stanton’s encyclopedic World War II Order of Battle” reports the 463rd as being attached to the 101st December 9, 1944.       When the 463rd accompanied the 101st to Bastogne rather than wait to join the 17th Airborne, some have referred jokingly to it being AWOL, but that can no longer be alleged.

John Cooper:

Although the 463rd was slated to join the 17th Airborne Division, Colonel John Cooper requested that the battalion accompany the 101st to the Ardennes line following word that Germans had broken through in Belgium.  General McAuliffe called a meeting of all officers in camp at 2100 hours, informing them about the German breakthrough in the Ardennes and informed officers that the 101st division was to prepare during the next two days to pull out to confront the enemy somewhere near Bastogne.  After the meeting, Col. Cooper met with McAuliffe to offer the 463rd's services.  McAuliffe asked, "How soon can you move out with the 101st?"  Since the battalion had not yet unloaded their trucks since their arrival at Camp Mourmelon, Cooper replied, "45 minutes - but I don't have any orders" (the 463rd was slated to join the 17th Airborne Division which had not yet arrived from England).  "To hell with that," McAuliffe said, "to see Bud Harper of the 327th."  Cooper found Harper, who had just returned from England and was still in dress uniform.  "Do you need me?," Cooper asked, to which Harper replied, "Your Goddamn Right."  Cooper went back to his officers and gave them a choice, either join the 101st in its drive to Belgium or remain behind as camp guards.  To a man, the officers voted to go.  The men were given 45 minutes to prepare to leave.

Battalion Officers:

            Commander:  Lt. Col. John T. Cooper, Jr.

            Executive Officer/S-1:  Major Stuart Seaton

            S-3:  Major Victor E. Garrett

            S-4: Capt. John F. Keester

            Surgeon:  John S. Moore

            Battery A:  Capt. William H. Gerhold

            Battery B:  Capt. Ardelle E. Cole

            Battery C:  Capt. Roman W. Maire

            Battery D:  Victor J. Tofany

 

Departed at 2130 hrs December 18 for Werbomont, Belgium.463rd convoy included: 27 1/4-ton trucks, 27 2.5-ton trucks, and 12 2.5-ton trucks attached from the 645th Quartermaster Company.  The 463rd was the last unit to leave Mourmelon and on the way out went through the ammunition dump and loaded all the ammunition that they could possibly carry in every vehicle they had.  The convoy moved out in a heavy fog and misty weather northeast from Mourmelon along muddy & slick roads, turned north at Suippes on the road to Sedan, passing through Sommepy-Tahure, Attigny, Poix-Terron, and across the historic battlefields of Sedan.

 

                                     Officers Enlisted

Hq & Hq Btry   20      168

A               5       92

B               4       89

C               5       97

D               5       93

Met Det         2       14

TOTAL          40      553

 

2 enlisted men returned from hospital and 2 from confinement.  Took about 1,500 rounds of ammunition.

Tony Spagnol

"About 2 days after I returned from Paris, we were told to get ready to move out because the Germans had broken through somewhere east of our position.  We were trucked to Bastogne, Belgium and assigned to the 101st Airborne Division to support the 327 Glider Infantry.  Lt. Merriman, about 2 other guys from our section and I were sent to an infantry outpost near a section where the 502 Parachute Infantry and the 327 Glider Infantry joined near a town called Hemroulle northwest of Bastogne."

November 18, 1944     |     LTC John T. Cooper

Award Recommendation


SUBJECT: Recommendation for Award.

 TO     : Commanding General, 101st Airborne Division, APO 472,  U. S. Army

 

  1. Under the provisions of War Department Circular 333, 22 December 1943, it is recommended that the 463rd parachute Field Artillery Battalion be awarded the first Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster to the Distinguished Service Badge.
     

  2. The 463rd Parachute Field Artillery Battalion distinguished itself by extraordinary heroism in action in the Campaign for Southern France as follows:
     

    1. on 13 July 1944, the 463rd parachute Field Artillery Battalion received forty (40)-percent replacements to bring it up to full fighting strength, These replacements were trained, equipment drawn and packed and parachutes drawn and packed for a jump, in one months time. Thirty-three (33) days after C and D Batteries were organized from replacement personnel, they jumped Southern France. The personnel in the other three (3) batteries, made their first jump, during this operation, in over a year. There the organization was to function in combat as a complete Battalion, for the first time.

      The elements of the Battalion were divided into two (2) groups and took off from two different airports for strategical purposes. The entire Battalion was to be dropped on the same drop zone, however, at H minus four (H -4) due to an Air Corps mix up, only the group composed of A Battery complete and elements of headquarters and D Batteries were dropped in the correct area. This group, nevertheless had all of its guns together and were firing by 1200 hours or eight (B) hours after the jump. Several support missions were fired and the combat teams mission of cutting two important road and rail junctions and seizing the key terrain features was accomplished in such a manner that the forces advancing from the sea were enabled to speed straight through and make terrific gains on the first few days.

      The other half of the Battalion met with much greater difficulties. They were dropped on a small peninsular right on the sea, and consequently met a great deal of enemy resistance. In spite of this, Battery B had three (3) guns assembled and firing while Battery C had two (2) of their guns in position in the early hours of the morning. The first enemy contacted in any large numbers, surrendered immediately. Patrols from B and C Batteries ran across a fortified garrison and were forced to call for direct fire before the enemy inside would surrender.

      Another group, led by the Battalion S-3 and composed of Headquarters personnel, took one gun and although forced to fire from a prone position, destroyed two road blocks which were delaying the advance of friendly Infantry patrols. Later, patrols from the unit, fighting as Infantry captured ninety (90) prisoners in a strong garrison. By this time, the action from landing troops from the sea had caught up.

      The Battalion was credited with three hundred seventy-two (372) men and three (3) officer prisoners, more than the entire Airborne Task Force took on the first two (2) days.

      After seaborne invasion troops had driven past the Battalions position a hasty reorganization was made and two (2) days later the 509th Combat team, of which this unit was a part, was in position at Théoule-sur-Mer on the coast with the mission of pushing the right flank of the beach-head as far as possible. In the first eleven days of the push, the unit supported seven (7) Infantry attacks, sending an observer with each company to assure maximum observation and help. Targets of all types were successfully taken under fire.

      Then on 30 August 1944, the Battalion was suddenly shifted to the Alps in the North and attached to the 550th Airborne Infantry with the mission of cutting an important German escape route, from France into Italy. This was accomplished on the first day that the combat team moved into position. The enemy, however, dug in and prepared a defensive line generally opposite the line held by the combat team and the Free French Forces. Due to the extremely mountainous terrain, and such high angles of fire it was necessary to use great ingenuity in placing the batteries in position. Also, it became necessary to spread out the batteries in order to cover the necessary ground. At one time, the battalion front was better than twelve miles wide. Several times, one or two guns were moved into forward exposed positions in order to take observed targets, which were normally out of range, under fire. on 22 September 1944, the second gun section from C Battery moved into a position where they could fire on a known enemy OP, and put one hundred (100) rounds on the installations. It was three (3) weeks before the enemy had observation in this sector again. Two days later, one gun section from B Battery moved up ambushed a daily mule supply train, killing twelve mules and as many enemy soldiers. At another time, three guns displaced forwarded at the same time and one gun position, an occupied fort, and a command post, were taken under fire simultaneously. This resulted in great surprise losses to the enemy.

      Early in October the weather turned bad and A Battery, whose position was ten thousand feet above sea level, woke up one morning after a three day blizzard, to find their guns under eight feet of snow. It was three (3) days before snow plows could clear a road to the position. When it became necessary for A Battery to displace, they fashioned sleds from corrugated roof tops and pulled out all of their equipment to lower levels on the mountain. All of the gun crews and chiefs of sections showed great initiative during this maneuver.

      Halfway through the month of October, the Germans launched a late evening attack aimed at securing two strategic peaks. By firing five thousand six hundred (5600) rounds of direct fire on, the peaks, the attack was repulsed and the enemy driven back.

      On 22 October 1944, the Battalion went into position in support of the First Special Service Force, along the French-Italian border on the coast. When the Battalion moved into position, several main highways were being used by the enemy in plane sight of the observers. However, they were out of range. By moving all positions forward and directly behind the MLR, those highways were reached and subsequently all traffic on them ceased. Two attacks were repulsed, also.

      After ninety-five days, the outfit was relieved and taken from the lines. Three thousand fifty (3500) rounds were fired on targets of every possible type. Every time the Battalion was called on for either a routine or a different type of mission they came through with maximum efficiency.
       
    2. Among targets destroyed or neutralized by this Battalion in France, were the following; thirty-six (36) observation posts, thirteen (13) command posts, sixty-six (66) gun positions, nineteen (19) vehicles, five (5) mule trains, thirty-three (33) mortars, four(4) self propelled guns and one hundred twenty-seven (127) houses.
       

    3. This battalion has fired thirty-four thousand seven hundred fifty-nine (34,759) rounds of ammunition in France. Approximately one thousand missions were fired.

                                                  Officers    Enlisted Men

    4. Injured in action - - - - - 2                  46
      Wounded in action - -   3                  25
      Killed in action  - - - ---- 0                    5
      Total casualties  -  81
       

3. PROPOSED CITATION:


The 463rd Parachute Field Artillery Battalion distinguished itself in many ways, in action in Southern France. They accomplished their support mission on the initial jump, in a superior manner, assembling all available equipment and personnel speedily and efficiently. Those elements which did not drop near the proposed drop zone, made the most of what they had and quickly cleared the area of St. Tropez, France, of all enemy strong points enabling seaborne troops to push on without trouble at that point. The number of prisoners taken exceeded that figure turned in by the entire Task Force for the first two days. When sent to the Alps and faced with many difficult missions they always succeeded in fulfilling highest expectations. Several times radical chances from routine procedure were necessary in order to continue operations. These departures were made and carried out speedily and efficiently. Again on the coast, great destruction was inflicted on the enemy over a sustained period while no casualties were suffered by the unit.

Historical Narratives, September - November 1944

Victor E. GARRETT, Major.

HISTORICAL NARRATIVE, 463rd PARACHUTE

FIELD ARTILLERY BATTALION

From 1 September 1944 to 30 September 1944

 

During the period 1 September to 30 September 1944 this Battalion fired in direct support of the 550th A/B Infantry Battalion and F.F.I.


During this period Co. "D", 83rd Chemical Battalion was relieved for operational control on 21  September 1944 and on 26 September 1944 First Platoon, Co. "D", 2d Chemical Battalion was attached for operational control. On 20 September 1944, one Platoon of French 105mm Howitzers was attached and reinforced fires of this Battalion. They were relieved on 23 September 1944.


There were several displacements of the Batteries during this period. On 5 September l944, Battery "A" moved into position at Casne de Restefond, France, (see overlay "A"), and fired on such targets as personnel, guns and vehicles. Part of the Fire Direction was moved to this position and operated as a unit. One gun of Battery "A" was moved forward into position (see overlay "B") to shell a pack train that was out of range for other guns. This gun moved 24 September and returned 26 September 1944. Approximately ten (10) mules and ten (10) enemy were killed while this gun was in this position. Battery "C" moved from position (see overlay "C") to position (see overlay "D") on 3 September 1944, and again to position (see overlay "E") on 30 September 1944. On 25 September 1944 Battery "D" was reorganized as a Howitzer Battery and went into position (see overlay "F") and moved again on 26 September 1944 -(see overlay "G").


This Battalion fired approximately 15,357 rounds of ammunition on the targets as follows, using ground and air O.P.'s:

Personnel - - - - - 32

Observation Posts - 20

Gun Positions and

Machine Guns - 28

Mortars   - - - - - 15

Targets disabled, destroyed, or neutralized include one dugout, three (3) pack trains, one pill box and fired on forty-one (41) enemy patrols. This Battalion fired one preparation fire during
this period. The results obtained during this period were excellent.

The total casualties for this period include two (2) officers and one (1) enlisted man wounded.

 

The morale of this Battalion for this month was excellent and excellent work by Forward Observers and Observation post details continued.

3 November 1944.     |     Stuart M. SEATON, Major.

HISTORICAL NARRATIVE, 463RD PARACHUTE FIELD

ARTILLERY BATTALION

From 1 October 1944 to 31 October 1944

 

At the beginning of this period and occupying position as indicated on overlay A, the 463rd Parachute Field Artillery Battalion with the 1st platoon, 2nd Chemical Battalion, and 2nd Platoon Company "B", 645 T.D. Battalion attached was firing in support of the 550th A/B Infantry Battalion. Positions as shown remained the same until 16 October 1944, when at this time an enemy gun battery was located by the air observer and was found to be out of range for the normal fire of this battalion. On this date two howitzers from Battery "C", were displaced well forward and occupied the position as indicated on overlay B. These two weapons remained in this position and fired on the enemy battery on 18 October 1944 with excellent results and closed in original position on this same date. Also on 18 October 1944, Battery "B" displaced one howitzer to position shown on overlay C, for the purpose of firing on targets out of normal range.

 

On 19 October 1944 the 1st platoon 2nd Chemical Battalion was relieved from attachment for operational purposes from this organization and displaced to Jausiers, France. On 20 October 1944 the 2nd Platoon, Company "B", 645 T.D. Battalion was relieved from attachment for operational purposes. Also on this date Batteries "B" and "C", complete, displaced from their position and moved into bivouac at Barcelonnette, France.

 

This battalion on 21 October 1944 was relieved by the Artillery of the DMM. Batteries "A" and "D" remained in position supporting the fires of the 4 DMM Artillery and Hq, "B" and "C" Batteries proceeded to Menton, France where they closed in positions on 22 October 1944 as shown on overlay D. At 1200 hour 23 October 1944 this organization assumed control of the sector from the 602nd Field Artillery Battalion, and fired in support of the 1st Special Service Force, Also on 23 October 1944, Batteries "A" and "D" displaced from position to Barcelonnette, France and on 24 October 1944 departed for Menton, France where positions were occupied as shown on overlay E, with one howitzer as shown on said overlay moving into the indicated position on 26 October 1944. Positions remained constant and on 29 October 1944, Battery "C", and on 30 October 1944, Battery "B", and on 31 October 1944, Battery "A" displaced to position shown on overlay F. During this monthly period this battalion, together with attached units, fired approximately 12,970 rounds of ammunition on the targets as follows, using ground and air OP's.

Personnel  - - - - - - 64

Machine Guns - - - - - 28

OP's and CP's  - - - - 11

Gun Positions  - - - -  9

Targets disabled, destroyed, or neutralized include sixteen (16) Machine Guns, nine (9) Enemy Gun Positions, five (5) self propelled guns, three (3) Strongpoints, ten (10) vehicles and nineteen (19) Mortars positions. In addition to these missions this battalion fired in support of two (2) Counterattacks. The results obtained throughout the month were excellent.

There were no battle casualties during this period, the moral of this battalion was excellent and excellent work by forward observers and observation post details continued.

15 December 1944. | Stuart M. SEATON, Major.

At the beginning of the month of November this Battalion was occupying the position as indicated on overlay A and was firing in direct support of the First Special Service Force. This Battalion remained in this location and at 0800 hour 18 November 1944 was relieved by the 602d Field Artillery Battalion thus completing the combat service for the month of November 1944.

 

During the period 1 November 1944 to 18 November 1944 this battalion fired 4632 rounds of ammunition on the targets as follows, using ground and air OP's.

This Battalion fired approximately 15,357 rounds of ammunition on the targets as follows, using ground and air O.P.'s:

Personnel - - - - - 54

Observation Posts -  8

Gun Positions and

Machine Guns - 30

Mortars   - - - - -  7

Targets, disabled, destroyed, or neutralized include one (1) mule train, two (2) machine guns, five (5 ) gun positions, two (2) mortars, one (1) road block, one (1) 75mm gun, two (2) vehicles,
 

There were no battle casualties for this period, the moral of the battalion was excellent and work by forward observers and observation posts details continued.

 

During the period one TOT was fired and on 12 November 1944 this battalion fired a mission of breaking up a German counter attack which was successfully repulsed.

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