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More on Von Der Heydte's Parachute Force in the Bulge

More on Von Der Heydte's Parachute

Force in the Bulge

Lieutenant Colonel Baron Friedrich August von der Heydte's parachute force was dropped in the Hohes Venn (French--Hautes Fagnes) on the night of 16-17 December--a day later than planned.  His parachute regiment had fought several vicious engagements with the 101st Airborne Division (The Screaming Eagles) in Normandy; and again in General Bernard Montgomery's flawed Market Garden offensive in September 1944--as was portrayed in the Band of Brothers.
F. Von der Heydte captured at Monscheau, Germany, December 23, 1944
Their primary objective was capturing the road junction midway between Eupen and Malmedy, and ten miles west of Monschau, in the Hohes Venn--a brushy, timbered area with streams and swamps forming the headwaters of the Roer River.  Three of us tried to cross it in November.  With our jeep flat out in four wheel drive, we travelled 125 yards before dropping it down to the floorboards.  We then built a corduroy road to get back to solid ground.

Sepp Dietrich's 6th SS Panzer Army had planned to drive to the road junction on 16 December, as the paratrooper's original plan was to have captured it by then.  The 38th Cavalry at Monschau, with its attached troops; and the 3rd Battalion, 395th Infantry Regiment, 99th Infantry Division at Hofen upset their timetable, and I believe were a major factor in the ultimate defeat of Hitler's grand plan.  Had Dietrich been able to force his way through Monschau, he very well may have captured the gasoline dumps near Eupen, and then moved almost unimpeded north to Antwerp.  That would have made the 101st Airborne stand at Bastogne unnecessary!

Also, had the Hofen pillboxes not been destroyed with explosives and then bulldozed full of dirt by our battalion, the enemy may have reoccupied them upon one of their forays into the 3rd Battalion, 395th Regiment positions; and would then have been difficult to dislodge.  Some of the attackers appeared to have been heavily into the schnapps, and oblivious to the withering rifle, machine gun, and artillery fire.  They kept coming until large numbers were killed, wounded, or captured--or they may just have been fiercely loyal, highly motivated young soldiers.  Who is to say?
The paratroopers were a day late because of glitches in delivering their gasoline, and in getting their forces assembled.  They were also widely scattered because of inexperienced pilots and minimal advance information concerning their mission--as dictated by Hitler.  General Sepp Dietrich's 6th Panzer Army's plan to link up with the paratroopers at this road junction on 16 December was an intended replay of their 1940 Ardennes attack in this general area, which had been so singularly successful.
Joe Manning led Marvin R. Lowry, Warren Hodges, and about ten others from the 146th Engineers to look for the paratroopers.  Lowry was killed in the ensuing fire fight that killed two Germans and wounded several more--the rest surrendered.  One paratrooper wandered into the "C" Company chow line and was captured--however, he did get fed!  Fred Matthews was captured in another action, but in the confusion of a subsequent fire fight he managed to escape.  A total of nine paratroopers were killed and about 60 were captured by our battalion.

Early on the morning of 17 December, Sergeant Henri Rioux sent Norman Nettles and another radio man from the radio shack to the battalion for breakfast.  We learned that the planned paratrooper assembly area was this battalion radio shack, several hundred yards from our battalion bivouac area near Mutzenich junction--located there to keep from drawing artillery fire on our headquarters.  When the two operators had not returned as expected, Sergeant Rious told Julius Mate and James France to go to breakfast and determine what had happened to them.

On their way, they saw a parachute, with an attached bag, hanging from a dead tree.  Evidence of the paratroopers was not surprising since they had heard noises during the night, and had seen their green and red recognition lights.  Mate attempted to recover the chute by pulling on the lines, but the rotten tree trunk broke and fell across his ankle, pinning him to the ground.

After being freed they continued on to breakfast, and then saw Nettles ahead acting very strange.  When they ran up to ask what was happening, six Germans with machine pistols stepped out of hiding, took them captive, disarmed them, and threw their M-1 Garands into a nearby creek--where they were found later that day by a patrol led by Lieutenant Refert Croon.  Nettles and Mate were directed to make a pole-support to carry a wounded paratrooper who had compound fractures of both legs.


At the end of the day, Mate's ankle was very swollen and painful, so France and Nettles then carried the wounded paratrooper's pole-support.  This small group kept moving during the day and slept under a cover of fir branches at night.  After wandering about for two days, they joined the main body of about 150 paratroopers, and were then interrogated by a German officer who spoke impeccable English.  He had studied at a Texas University and so not only knew the language--but also American idioms and customs.


They were combined with about 20 other captives from a laundry unit near Eupen.  At night, they slept in a tight pile to keep warm, as it was very cold.  After a time, when the body parts against the ground were growing cold, they all turned at a given signal.  They kept up a running conversation to warn of the importance in moving toes and fingers to avert frostbite.  One of the captives, who understood German, overheard their captors discussing how they should dispose of the Americans by throwing grenades into their midst while they slept.  When a 1st Infantry Division patrol flushed the paratroopers, the captives took off in a high lope saving their shirts and yelling, "Don't shoot--we're Americans."

Both Mate and France were sent to a field hospital where Mate's boot was cut off and he was found to have two ankle fractures.  France's feet were extremely painful and both he and Mate were examined by Captain Stanley Goldman--our new medical officer.  Captain Richard Straton, our previous medical officer who had been with us since our Assault Training Center day in North Devon, had been transferred out on 6 December 1944 at age 45 he was considered too old for such rough living conditions.
Mate was sent to hospitals in Paris and England--and eventually to the United States to complete his extended recovery.  France was one of the youngest men in our outfit and was barely 19 at the time of his capture.  He suffered seriously from the ordeal, with ongoing problems with his feet and legs which he attributed to the freezing temperatures while a captive.  Nettles also had lingering foot problems which he believed resulted from the cold conditions they had experienced during their captivity.
Source "The Bulge Bugle" August 2006
1st Lt Wesley ROSS

146th Engineer Combat



Battle of the Bulge,