THE LIBERATION OF BERGEVAL.
Recollections of the night January 3-4, 1945
by Bill Bolin, 1st sergeant, Company C,
517th Parachute Regimental Combat Team
The evening of January 3rd started out wonderfully. Our Christmas dinner finally caught up with us at Basse Bodeux. Roast turkey with all the trimmings. Battalion mess was set up along the road and there was an abundance of food. “C” Co. was last in the chow line and I was the last man in “C” Co.. I piled my mess kit high and put some of the extra food in my musette bag for later on. After dinner we loaded up on water and ammunition before leaving for the attack on Bergeval.
Leaving Bassse-Bordeux we went downhill through dense trees and brush to a small stream. Fog was so thick down by the stream that we had trouble staying together. We spread out to find the best place to cross without getting our feet wet. We sounded like a herd of cattle making our way through the thick brush and there was a lot of cursing going on as men fell down. Once across the stream and organized again we climbed uphill through equally dense forest to a clearing that looked like farm land. By this time it was well past midnight. We could see Bergeval in the distance across the open ground. There were no lights on but we could see smoke from the chimneys so we knew somebody was there. The intelligence report given to us at Basse-Bodeux estimated there were about 15 of the enemy in Bergeval.
Left to right: Bill BOLIN and Guy WELBORN above Bergeval in October 1999
We stayed at the edge of the clearing to plan the attack and get organized for it. We left the woods in our usual formation for open ground. Two platoons abreast in front with scouts out ahead, Co. Hq. immediately behind, and the 3rd platoon following as rearguard and reserve. About midway across the opening were a couple of outbuildings. The scouts surprised a 5-man outpost there and captured them. The weather had turned colder and they were bundled up asleep. Our approach in the soft snow had been practically soundless. The POWs werebrought to Co. Headquarters for questioning and our progress halted while they were being interrogated. We had one man in the Company who knew a little of the German language and he thought they confirmed there were only 15 enemy in the village.
One of the enemy outpost was the tallest man I had ever seen. He must have been about 7 feet tall. His uniform was much too small and he looked like a scarecrow. Men began crowding around to see the “giant” and the Company Commander became very upset by the noise they were making. We sent the POWs to the rear and continued our attack. We had barely started again when we were fired on by a machinegun in the village. We were fully exposed and hid as best as possible by flopping down in the snow. For some unknown reason the gunfire stopped as suddenly as it began, possibly because the gun jammed as German machineguns were prone to do. Capt. LaChaussee got on the 300 radio and called Battalion Hq. for artillery support and got it very quickly. They must have zeroed in before because they were right on target.
While the artillery barrage was on we went up close to town. Then Capt. LaChaussee lined up the whole Company in a single line abreast and ordered us to charge the town yelling and firing our weapons as we moved ahead. Our entire Battalion of artillery must have been bombarding and it was quite effective on such a small village. When the artillery stopped (as signaled by a smoke shell) we charged into the town as the Capt. had ordered and I didn’t detect a single shot fired by the Germans, They were still in their holes and it was simply a matter of rounding them up. We captured 121 enemy altogether, but only 2 Officers. As we were entering the village we heard a vehicle leaving the other end and surmised it was the bulk of the Officers escaping. Like a bunch of rats leaving a sinking ship! Our assault had been the most successful we ever coordinated with our artillery.
In the woods near Bergeval, october 1999.
We didn’t have any casualties during the assault, but later in the day one man was wounded by a booby trap. T/5 John Wilkins picked up a small radio sitting on the end of an old civilian flatbed truck, and it exploded. John was our radioman and he made a mistake. I had seen that radio on the truck earlier and thought it was incongruous at the time. You just didn’t fool around with anything that didn’t look natural! The Battalion Surgeon later operated on him and he was given several pints of blood by direct transfusion. He was still alive when transported to the Regimental Aid Station but we heard later that he died the next day. I believe the house T/5 Wilkins was operated on is now occupied by Mrs Maria Gaspar.
Capt. LaChaussee called Battalion Hq. and informed them of our situation and they moved up and joined us. We got a bite to eat and bedded down in the houses where it was warm. We didn’t often get to sleep in a warm house and it was much appreciated. Of course we had our usual guards on duty but they were rotated so everybody got a chance to sleep. We rested up and replenished our ammunition to get ready for the next assignment. Little did we know at the time that we would get our noses bloodied on the ridge east of town that night.
Author: Bill Bolin, 1st Sgt. Co “C”, 517th PRCT
Copyright © 2001-2011 Bill BOLIN & Eddy LAMBERTY
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