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THE 1ST BATTALION IN NIJMEGEN (3 of 3)

     By now it was dawn, and while the remainder of the 81mm mortar platoon had been released to battalion control, "C" company and the section of machine guns was still retained by regiment. Word also came back that the combat patrol under Lt Weaver of "C" company had been unable to reach the bridge, and estimated resistance South of the bridge to be about company size. By now the "NCO and seventeen men" guarding the bridge were considered to be a remarkable group of men by the First Battalion Commander, While "A" company was being reorganized, preparatory to continuing the attack, the Division Commander, General James Gavin, drove up in one of the division's reconnaissance jeeps, and wanted to know the particulars of the action. When he was told that we did not yet have the bridge, but that the attack would be continued shortly, he told one battalion commander to hold where he was, because the German forces were attacking in the Southeast portion of the perimeter, and that the First Battalion might be needed there.

     Shortly before 1000 hours D plus 1, Regiment ordered the First Battalion to break off the action in the town, counter march to the vicinity of the drop zone of the previous day, (some seven miles distant) counterattack the two plus German companies there who were forcing "D" company (2nd Battalion) back, so that the landing zone would be clear for the glider landing scheduled at 1300 hours for the three glider borne battalions of the Division artillery. The Battalion S3, Captain James Dietrich, was dispatched to have "B" company break off the action, "A" company, not in contact, was ordered to immediately move to an assembly area, and the Battalion Commander started for the Regimental CP on the double to get the details of the plan. Upon arrival, he found out that "C" company was released to his control, with the remainder of the machine gun platoon. "C" company, commanded by Captain Schofield, had also been dispatched to secure a line of departure for the battalion by the Regimental commander. The glider landing was delayed for one hour, and the attack of the battalion, launched at 1245 hours was silencing the last of the sixteen dual 20mm ack-ack guns as the first of the gliders was released over the landing zone. The attack, which had debouched [sic] from the woods on the flank of the two plus German companies had captured 149 prisoners and killed approximately 50, with a loss of ten casual-ties. The sixteen dual 20mm's were either destroyed or captured in this action also. The formation for the attack was "B" and "C" companies in the assault and "A" company in reserve. Captain Adams and Lt Lamm were still missing with most of "A" company's first platoon.

     The battalion was ordered to dig in on the LZ, tie in with Third Battalion on the left, and "D" company on the right. During the night it was ordered to seize and organize the Tuefel Berg, overlooking the Wyler Meer. The Third Battalion had been given this mission initially, but it had been hard pressed to hold its own. Lt. Col. Lou Mendez had lost ten Lieutenants in the day and a half's fighting, and a sizeable number of men. This high ground in the vicinity of Bergendahl had to be held, since it dominated the entire area. As a result, only one platoon could be spared to seize the Teufel Berg, and it was too small for the job. The only forces left to the First Battalion Commander to secure the Teufel Berg - some 3500 yards from his right flank - was a small "A" company. Lt John P. Foley, Captain Adam's Executive officer, was given the mission, and reinforced with a four gun LMG section. He accomplished what the platoon of the Third Battalion had been unable to do by moving in close to the German defenders by stealth and then launching a sudden screaming attack at the run in the early hours of the morning. The German forces were quickly overrun, and Teufel Berg secured.

     In the mean time, a two platoon strong point had been established in Wyler under Captain Woodrow Millsaps, the "B" company commander, and the rest of the battalion front outposted to tie in to Millsaps strong point. The Germans began probing this outpost line early on D plus 2, and by night rail elements of two battalions had driven in the outposts, and Captain Millsaps strong point. The attack came at 0800 hours the morning of D plus 3, with its main effort aimed up the highway from Wyler. This highway was also the international boundary between Germany and Holland, and ran through Bergendahl to Nijmegen. By noon the attack was stopped, but it had achieved a penetration of about 400 yards between "A" company on the left, and "B" company in the center. "A" Company was also under attack from the low ground North of the Wyler Meer. "C" company on the right was not under attack, so not having any other reserve, the battalion commander used elements of the headquarters to screen "C" company's position, pulled the company out of the line, and counterattacked with it. The counterattack was successful, capturing about 35 prisoners, killing a similar number, and erasing the penetration. "C" company was then placed back in the line. By the AM of D plus 4 the pressure was general all along the line, and communications with "A" on the Teufel Berg was gone. A volunteer wire team fought through with an ammo carrying party and repaired the cut line, Captain Adams, Lt Lamm, and the bulk of the "A" company first platoon rejoined the battalion. The Second Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry, commanded by Lt. Col. Vandervort had liberated them the previous day. This force joined up with "A" company in time to help repel another series of attempts by the Germans to take the Teufel Berg, which was coupled with another attack aimed up the international boundary road. This attack was stopped after some severe fighting, with a big assist going to the 319th FA Battalion for one emergency barrage which fell squarely on the German main effort. Another counterattack to "A" company met no German resistance, resupplied the company and took their wounded out. ("A" company, when resupplied had five rounds per M-l rifle, and no machine ammo left. Their ten casualties were all head wounds).

To recapitulate, the First Battalion during the four and one-half day period had been in almost continuous action, had captured over two hundred German prisoners, killed over one hundred, and successfully accomplished every mission assigned it, except the one mission of securing the bridge over the Waal at Nijmegen. It is the unswerving belief of the undersigned that with the forces available at the time, the mission assigned was not possible of accomplishment at the time it was given. Had the entire battalion been available to the battalion commander, it may have been possible. It is also quite evident that had the mission been assigned to the battalion on landing, it is very possible that the bridge could have been secured without difficulty. Whether it could have been held at both ends without the battalion being reinforced is problematical. The question also arises that had the first battalion not been available to its regiment on D plus 1 through D plus 4, who would have accomplished the very necessary missions assigned it during that period?

 


 

 

SHIELDS WARREN JR.
Lt Colonel, Infantry Commander of the 1st Battalion,
508th parachute infantry Regiment
6 June I944 - 15 September l945

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