Personal recollections from world war two veterans and civilians.
A Condensed, Unofficial History of the 463rd. Parachute Artillery Bn.
By Douglas M. Bailey - B-Btry.Starting out as the 456th. Parachute Arty. Bn. at Fort Bragg N.C. the 456th was part of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regimental Combat team in the 82nd Airborne Division.
We left Fort Bragg in April, 1943 for a twelve day trip on the Matson liner, S.S. Monterey. Landing at Casablanca, we soon headed deeper into French Morocco, close to the Algeria border to an area around the city of Oujda. At Oujda we went into training getting ready for the Sicily Jump. This area around Oujda is probably the most fertile part of French Morocco, as the whole 82nd got dysentery at one time or another. It was here at Oujda that most of us made our first night jump. We then flew to Tunisia up around the city of Kairouan, and camped in the hot and miserable desert for a couple of days before we loaded the C-47's for the long flight across the Mediterrean. We took-off about 8 o'clock that night and arrived over the Island of Sicily around 12:30 a.m. B-Btry Jumped with the 2nd Battalion 505th Parachute lnfantry. We came roaring in over the coast, through the anti-aircraft fire like a run away freight train. Although we were a long way from our intended drop zone, we got the green light. Out we tumbled into the darkness, coming down right smack in the middle of a fortified position, landing in trees, rock walls, and in one case I know, on the roof of a fortified farm house. We were a long way from our drop zone, but at least B-Btry and the 2nd Bn. were altogether. We soon cleared out the area, capturing pill boxes, road blocks and fortified farm buildings, and prisoners. That night we started out on an all night march with our prisoners headed for Gela, where the rest of the Combat team was supposed to be. We were moving through the town of Vittoria, when we witnessed the terrific anti-aircraft fire which shot down so many planes of the 504th Parachute Combat Team coming in from Africa.
We finally caught up with part of the combat team at Biazza Ridge, where they were in the process of burying about fifty Paratroopers killed in that battle. The next day we marched to Gela where we got some truck transportation- our own and many captured ones. We then headed up the Island for Trapani. It was here on the outskirts of Trapani that many of us remember lying in slit trenches in a grape vineyard, eating grapes and watching with some amusement, enemy air burst trying to find us. The only trouble was that they had their fuses set too short, and they were bursting far over our heads.
After Sicily was secured, we flew back to North Africa to get replacements, Re-equip, and enjoy a show in the desert put on by Bob Hope. We only spent a short time in Africa and then flew back to Sicily to get ready for our next mission. It was here that some of us made an experimental jump with the 75 Pack Howitzer all ready assembled in a glider. We flew out over the Mediteranean, turned and came in over the coast, released the Glider, then the tow rope and then we jumped, landing in a freshly plowed field on the outskirts of the Airfield.
Well, the Army works in strange and mysterious ways. We loaded up on a French ship run by the British, (The vila De Oran), for a boat trip back across the Mediterranean to Algiers. In Algiers we loaded box cars for a four or five day trip across the desert to Bizerte, where we embarked on a Liberty ship, the ‘Anson Jones’, for a trip back across the Mediterranean headed for Naples, Italy. This would make our fifth trip across the Mediterranean. We pulled into a harbor in Sicily and waited until night fall to make a dash through the narrow straits of Messina because German Bombers were very active over that narrow strech of water during daylight hours. Landing at Naples we marched to Bagnolia and then on to Santa Maria where we joined forces with the U.S. and Canadian First Special Service Force.
Within a week we were up on the Casino front. This was in December 1943, and we spent Christmas at the front up around Venefro. Little did we realise that a year later we would be spending another Christmas in the snows of Bastogne… Rain, snow, mud, mules and mountains - that's the story of the Casino front. The only place during the whole war that the ground looked like pictures of No-Mans land during the first World War with water filled shell holes, trees shattered and destroyed villages. After a few weeks on the Casino front, we pulled out and headed back to an area close to Naples. We thought we were going to get a rest.
Little did we realize that the next day we would load on Naval landing ships to be fed into the meat grinder that became the Anzio Beachhead. For five months we lived like Moles in one man slit trenched dug into the sides of the irrigation ditches. It was on Anzio we left the 456th Parachute Battalion and became the 463rd Parachute Battalion.
After 38 years, memories of Anzio all run together. The shelling and counter shelling. German Bombers over at night bombing by the light of parachute flares that lit everything like daylight, firing thousands of rounds at the enemy, firing T.O.T. missions (Time on Target) when every gun on the Beachhead would open up at the same time and pulverize the same target area, watching our own bombers being shot down as they flew overhead to bomb enemy positions, German bombers dropping radio controlled glider bombs in front of our Gun positions and then directed to hit ships in the harbor; picking up German propaganda leaflets telling us to get off the Beachhead while we still had a chance, building fox hole radios out of a carbon out of flashlight batteries, a razor blade, some wire, lead out of a wood pencil, and the crystal out of a Army Sound Power phone. We could pick up the girl broadcaster in Rome putting out propaganda programs. We referred to her as the "Berlin Bitch". Week after week of C & K rations, and having our Battery Commander killed, and our Battalion Commander so badly wounded that he never returned to the Battalion.
Finally, after building up supplies. getting some replacements, we broke out of the Beachhead, and with the rest of the 5th Army, headed for Rome. After Rome was captured, we were finally pulled out of combat for a well deserved rest. First at Lake Albano, and then at the beach at Lido di Roma. We enjoyed the beaches, passes to Rome, the wine, the city itself, and the glorious sunshine.
But all good things must come to an end, and we soon headed for an airfield North of Rome to get ready to lead the Invasion of Southern France as part of the First Airborne Task Force. The 163rd, along with the 509th Parachute Bn. loaded planed around midnight for another long flight across the Ligurian Sea.
We arrived over the cloud covered coast of France about 4:30 in the morning. About six plane loads of the 463rd and 509th got the jump signal too early, and out we went into the darkness to come down through the clouds to land in and around the Sea coast tow of St. Tropez. We soon captured the town and many prisoners, and later joined the rest of the Task Force up around Le Muy.
We then headed up the coast to the outskirts of Nice. On the way, the First Airborne Task Force destroyed an enemy division and forced bank other enemy forces that were better equipped and were familiar with the terrain. It was here the 463rd and a Glider Infantry battalion were pulled out and sent up to the French Alps to fight as Mountain Troops. We were up here for quite sometime. As winter was coming on and the trucks would have difficulty bringing up supplies, we were replaced by an Algerian outfit from Africa that had mules to work with. We soon headed back to the coast to join the rest of the 1st. Airborne Task Force and get our share of the Champagne campaign.
We would have been quite content to spend the rest of the war in this beautiful country, but the Gods of war had other plans. They broke up the lst A/B Task Force, and soon the 463rd traveled by box cars to Mourmelon where the 101st Airborne were licking their wounds from the battles in Holland. We were suppose to wait here for the 17th Airborne Division to come over from the States and join them, but the Germans made the big breakthrough that started the Battle of the Bulge.
Our Colonel "John T. Cooper" volunteered the 463rd. to go along with the 101st. and that's how we became a part of the 101st Airborne Division. He soon headed for Belgium, the 463rd digging in around the small village of Hemroulle. It was here the 463rd knocked out three Mark IV Tanks by direct fire, captured one intact and drove it into our lines to be used as a roadblock. It was at Hemroulle on the 24th of December that this writer, Doug Bailey, Don Zafke, and Cecil Farmer were wounded, eventually all of us ending up in hospitals in England. Zafke and Bailey rejoining the Battalion at Mourmelon, Farmer stayed in the Hosp. until after the war.
We were soon headed up to the Rhine, holding the west bank of the River while other forces were closing the Ruhr Pocket. We then headed south. We were in the hills about 30 miles from Munich when the war ended. No longer would we hear the cry of " Stand up and hook up" or “Stand in the door". Never again would we get the commands of "Fire Mission, Battery adjust, Shell H.E. Charge 4, Fuse quick". We had buried our dead in Sicily, Italy, France, Belgium and Germany.
The old original bunch had come a long way from Africa to Berchtesgaden. We were entitled to 8 battle stars, 2 bronze Initial Assault Arrowheads, the Presidential Citation, two stars on our Jump wings, and lots of pleasant memories of serving with a great bunch of men who for their own personal reasons decided to go Airborne.