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Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Shanley

82nd Airborne Division - 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment - 2nd Battalion

Utah Beach

 

My original mission was to capture the town of Etienville and blow the bridge there and also the bridge at Housville la Bastille. On the flight to the drop my Bn. did not experience a great deal of flak. However, we experienced heavier flak than has just been described. A lot of jumpmasters said the planes took evasive action on the jump, and that may be the reason for the dispersion. The planes started taking evasive action due to the flak. I threw an A-4 radio bundle out, the chute on it failed, its contents were smashed; my battalion assembly light in it was also smashed. S-3 was supposed to have a light, but I did not see it. I used flashlights up in the trees when I landed. On the ground there was considerable fire which was all around us. A lot of the men who came into the assembly area had already killed a German or two. We landed just north of Picauville, and there were quite a few Germans around there. I sent several patrols out in different directions to get more men. I had only about 35 men with me at dawn. At that time I sent more patrols out and started encountering fairly heavy resistance. At approximately noon we were very heavily engaged on three sides, and I pulled out after I found that another group, larger than mine, was east of us. I left behind in that place about ten men, most of whom were jump casualties. Shortly after leaving the location north of Picaiville I collected approximately 200 men and officers, lost members of the 508th and from all Battalions who had gotten together there, and I set up in that location, which was 1000 yards east of Picauville. With 200 men, I had two machine guns, no mortars and no other automatic weapons. We didn't have much success in getting the bundles on the ground. I did have SCR 300 radios however. By radio I got in touch with another group which was commanded by Lt. Col. Warren. Several different groups of Frenchmen informed me that there were about 500 Germans in Picauville and more than that in Etienville. Having almost no heavy weapons and with so many Germans between my group and the objective I selected the one mission that the Regiment had that I felt I could accomplish--seizing a crossing of the Merderet River. Lt. Col. Warren's group joined mine and we set up a defensive position on Hill 30, West of the Merderet. Eventually the remainder of the regiment joined us on the West of the Merderet River. I wish I had had flares to use for assembly after the jump; lights were useless in that terrain. A Frenchman told us that Picauville was a German bivouac area.

Q. Would you want to use flares there?

A. If I didn't use them there, I could have moved elsewhere and used them.

Q.  Didn't you have flares?

A. No sir. I thought the Germans would have them and our men would be walking into the Germans. Flares, however, are the only feasible system of assembly in that hedgerow country. We used vitrolite tubing on our bundles. All the bundles I found contained ammunition. I did not find any heavy weapons.

Q. Did you succeed in rounding up your own stick?

A. No sir. I found many bundles, but found no one around the bundle. Eventually I ran into some men, but found none from my own stick for quite awhile. The men worked the challenging system very well. I recommend that we have one system of challenging to use throughout training and combat, and not change it later on, because that causes difficulty. Changing over confuses the men. In regard to assembly lights, we couldn't get them up high enough to be seen any distance.

Q. Would you have used a light that would flash up for one-thirtieth of a second every five or six seconds, and that would light up approximately a distance of six (6) miles (Krypton light).

A. Yes, I would use a light like that if I had to, to assemble my battalion.

(Courtesy: National Archives)