In the early morning hours of August 15, the 517th Regimental Combat Team (RCT), with Gordon Lippman as a Platoon Sergeant and Stick Leader, jumped into southern France to spearhead Operation Dragoon, the second D-Day of WWII. Actions performed by Gordon helped to earn his first battlefield commission, a Bronze Star and the French Croix De Guerre.
This excerpt summarizes the objectives and results of what the 517th RCT did in France to liberate the underbelly of Fortress Europe. They had already gotten a taste of battle north of Rome, helping to push the Germany Army up into the Alpine region of Italy. That was two weeks in combat. What they are about to face will amount to more than 100 days of sustained combat against battle-hardened veteran German troops.
This short history was printed as a feature article in Airborne Quarterly magazine in the winter of 1998, modified here for clarity, and recounted in my book, Honor Through Sacrifice. You can find a flip-book elsewhere on this site and read a little more about these gallant men of the Greatest Generation.
THE CAMPAIGN IN SOUTHERN FRANCE
After the invasion of southern France, the Allies pressed hard on the German forces, eliminating main resistance, securing the sea ports and pushing German troops northward, back into the Maritime Alps.
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 517th RCT 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 I on the 22nd. During the attack, while Company G was pinned down by suppressing enemy fire, Company I surged through heavy fire up the mountainous slope to take the objective. For this action, Company I 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. With Germans attempting 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 as Companies G and H succeeded in capturing Col de Braus.
This brought the Americans a step closer to the heavily defended Sospel Valley.
Colonel Boyle’s 1st Battalion, supported by 460th artillery 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 retreating enemy.
With the general belief that southern France was now secure, 517th RCT involvement with the campaign was terminated on November 17, 1944.
After more than 100 days of continuous fighting, these men had earned a break in the action.
The RCT marched 48km to La Colle in order to board trains at Antibes on their way to northern France and assignment to XVIII Airborne Corps.
On December 6th the RCT left southern France for Soissons, R&R, USO canteens, re-equipping, reinforcements, hot showers, hot meals, and re-training.
This rest will do them good, for what they can only imagine will come next.
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