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Operation Dragoon.

Maj. Gen. R. Frederick

On the 15th of August 1944, the invasion of southern France by allied troops took place, better known as Operation Dragoon. The 551 st PIB was placed under command of the 1 st Airborne Task Force. This combined task force was led by the British Major General Robert Frederick. The unit was made out of combined forces of US and British Airborne. These airborne troops would start their combat jump from airfields in Italy. A total of 9732 men of this 1 st Airborne task would be taking part during Operation Dragoon. 5607 of these men were paratroopers. Furthermore there were three US Infantry Divisions who were about to land on the beaches of Southern France, and the French 5 th Armored Division.

On the evening of the 14 th of August 1944 these troops were ready to go and waiting in their 526 C-47 airplanes and 453 Waco and Horsa gliders. At 01.00 AM on the 14 th of August three pathfinder teams would lead the way from Marcigliana airfield. At 03.30 AM the main assault body of the paratroopers left the Italian airfields.

60 % of the paratroopers who jumped over French soil, landed exactly on the spot where they were supposed to land and about 25 % landed in the proximity where they were supposed to land. Given the fact that there was thick haze that night, one could say that this was a job well done.
The 551 st PIB had been given the order to land in drop zone “A”, about 800 meters south of the town La Motte.

The 551 st PIB made the jump with 841 officers, NCO’s and enlisted men. When the touched down, they took over defensive positions from the 517 th, who had already landed earlier that day.
Joe remembers that he made the jump around 18.10 PM and that he was the 3 rd man from his stick to leave the C-47. Joe considers himself being lucky on this jump, because he landed on the railroad track from Valbourges.Joe was carrying ammunition for the heavy weapons platoon and he started looking for them, and went to the assembly area.
Joe found out that one of the machine gunners was wounded during the jump, so he took over the machine gun for a while and got some help from his buddy Larry Poston (Joe spent a several months in a POW camp with Larry during the end of the war). By the time the unit started to move out, Joe’s job as a scout began again. Joe led a reconnaissance patrol on the 15 th of August to the town of Draguignan. The patrol got in to fights with German forces around the town of La Motte. The patrol was also able to create big confusion amongst the German forces and they took a number of prisoners. Joe was ordered by Lt. Peabody to return to HQ to bring out a report. Joe remembers running the 5 to 7 miles from La Motte to Valbourges. On his way he looked at every bush and tree for Germans that may have been around.

Villa Gladys
On the 16 th of August Joe led the entire company back to Draguignan. Joe asked a Frenchmen about the positions of the Germans and was told that the Germans had a HQ in a large building, called “Villa Gladys”.
Joe and his platoon sergeant Don Thompson decided to pay a visit to the German HQ.
When Joe, Don, Ed Schultz and Bud Hook approached the villa, they could hear gun fire, which suddenly stopped.

Captured Germans
They could see a large German flag flying in front of the villa. Slowly the small patrol entered the villa and they could hear voices coming out of a room nearby. They stormed through the door and completely surprised a group of German officers….
With this bold action, Joe and his men captured general Bieringer and his staff. Besides this general, the 551 st also captured general Neiling in Draguignan, who was hiding in a cave. The 551 st was the first Airborne unit who captured two generals!
Joe and the men started to search the German officers and Joe found a hidden pistol on general Bieringer, which was strapped to his leg. Joe got so angry that wanted to take the general outside and shoot him. Joe placed his M1 with bayonet on the generals chest and lord be hold, all of a sudden the general was able to speak English. The general begged Don Thompson not to let Joe shoot him. The general got so scared that he wet himself . The general gave Don Thompson a 1.000.000 Reichsmark banknote and the matter was settled.
Joe and the men started to search the villa, where they found five large sacks of German Reichsmarks and French Francs.

Joe confiscated a truck and together with Don Thompson and Ed Schultz they drove through Draguignan and threw the money all over the streets. One of Joe’s buddies shouted:
“Do you think they think we’re Santa Claus or goddamned fools??”. Joe remembers answering: “Probably a little of both”.
Joe also took the German flag that hung outside the villa and had it shipped home.

On the 40 th anniversary of the liberation of Draguignan, Joe gave the flag back to the town.
The flag is still on display in the town hall.

After the success of operation Dragoon, the 1st ABTF was assigned to liberate Cannes and Nice, then to secure strategic mountain top positions in the Maritime Alps along the Franco-Italian border.

About the liberation of Nice, Joe still remembers: “The reception in Nice was unbelievable. Already in Cannes, we had been received very well, but this was sheer madness. The girls kissed us, threw flowers or gave us wine or alcohol. It was a true triumph, but the war went on.
So August the 31 st, we stared going eastwards to the Italian border, in order to eliminate the German resistance in the region.

On the 2 nd of September the 551 st arrived in the vicinity of La Turbie. Joe led a reconnaissance patrol into La Turbie that soon turned into a combat patrol. On this patrol Joe was accompanied by Lt. Luening, Pvt. Lou Waters, Pvt. Hook, Sgt. Anderson and Pvt. Dorr. The patrol got assistance of a local man, called Charles Calori, whoo showed the patrol the town of La Turbie and was very helpful. The patrol spotted a machinegun position on a hill side of a mountain.
The patrol went in and knocked out the machine gun nest, while doing so, killing 5 German soldiers.

Joe had to shoot one of these German soldiers through the head. From 3 of those German soldiers, Joe tor out the pictures in their pay books. Joe still has these pictures at his home in Sun City.
On September the 4 th, the GOYA’s arrived in the vicinity of Isola, were they would spend a great deal of their time. Joe remembers that most of the time they lived out doors and slept on the ground. They had to do daily patrols through rain, snow and very extreme weather conditions.
In this time the GOYA’s successfully fought against the Austrian 5 th Hochgebirgsjäger Division (Mountain Troops). The Austrian Mountain Troops were able to obtain the high ground in the mountains. Simply by aggressive patrolling, the 551 st was able to make sure that the enemy wasn’t able to make any surprise attacks on the villages below. The elevated position gave the enemy big artillery advantage. In this time, the village of Isola was hit by thousands of German artillery shells, which caused a lot of casualties amongst the civil population of Isola. Joe still has a deep feeling for the population of Isola, because they too good care of him and his GOYA buddies.
On the 19 th of October Joe went out on a patrol and they found themselves a little chapel up in the mountains.

All of a sudden, a German artillery shell demolished the chapel.
Joe and his GOYA buddies took cover and hit the ground. When Joe looked up he saw a big rosary lying next to him.
The rosary was blown out of the chapel. Joe took the rosary and had it mailed home to his mother. In 1996 Joe gave the rosary back to the people of Isola, and today it can still be seen on display, hanging on the statue of the Holy Virgin in the Sainte Anne chapel in Isola.

On the 3 rd of December 1944, the 551 st left for St. Jeannet by boxcars towards Laon near Reims, Northern France.