H/504’s 7-8 February 1944 Action Timeline

Here is the full series of “reports” that went out on the All Americans Facebook page to cover H Company’s action:

6 February 1944, early evening: H Company, 504th P.I.R., now down to 25 men and 2 officers, is ordered into unfamiliar territory to stop massive German attack on Anzio beachhead. British lines have collapsed and they’re retreating in a panic. Lt. James Megellas stops a British rifleman who has discarded his weapon to find out the situation. The Brit can only offer, “The bloody Jerries are everywhere.”

6 February 1944, evening: H/504 reaches railroad embankment far to the front of Allied lines without making contact with organized friendly or enemy forces. Lt. Megellas orders the men to dig in while he and Lt. Rivers go on ahead to scout the high ground ahead of their positions. Using available cover, they move right into German forces who are headed their way and calling out to each other in high spirits to determine each other’s locations.

6 February 1944, evening: Lts. Megellas and Rivers make their way back to H Co.’s position to find them already engaging the Germans. Lt. Rivers orders Megellas to take 1st platoon on (only 6 men) to reconnoiter high ground on their left flank.

6 February 1944, evening: Lt. Megellas and 1st platoon reach the crest of the hill on their left flank to find that the other side is a steep drop-off and thus their flank is protected. However, they are spotted by a German machine gun who opens up on them. Sgt. Radika, 1st platoon’s sergeant, is killed. With no way to retrieve his body under direct observation, Megellas makes the difficult decision to leave his body there.

6 February 1944, evening: Lt. Megellas and 1st platoon then reconnoiter the left flank of their position. After going a ways out they hear German voices from a hill to their left. Megellas deploys the platoon at the foot of the hill and waits. A platoon-sized element of Germans begins to advance down the hill. 1st platoon waits until they are at close range before opening fire. The rapid fire burst fells many Germans while the others make a hasty retreat back up the hill. They do not counterattack.

6 February 1944, evening: Lt. Megellas and 1st platoon continue their patrol to reconnoiter their left flank. They go another hundred yards and here more Germans calling out to other units. Once again 1st platoon deploys at the bottom of the hill to ambush the Germans. A platoon-sized force of Germans crests the hill and right into range of the paratroopers only to be cut down. Survivors retreat, send up flares, and call in ineffective mortar fire.

7 February, early morning: After things are quiet again, Lt. Megellas and 1st platoon continue moving east and determine that the British troops who are supposed to be on their left flank are not there. H Company is completely alone.

7 February 1944, early morning: Lt. Megellas’s patrol returns to their positions. During their absence they repelled several German attacks. Finding their right flank exposed, Megellas orders B.A.R. gunner Cpl. John Granado and Pvts. Richard Ranney and William Riley to dig in there and fire at anything that approached from the enemy’s direction.

7 February 1944, early morning: German forces make several attempts to dislodge H Company. Mortars and hand grenades rain in other positions but any injuries are very minor. Lt. Megellas receives shrapnel wound in left arm.

7 February 1944, morning: H Company makes it to first light without sustaining any casualties, their strength only 26 men. They zero in their weapons on the helmets of dead Germans 200 yards ahead of their position. Sgt. Radika’s body is visible on the high ground to their left.

7 February 1944, afternoon: H Company spends the day in the cover of their foxholes awaiting the next German attack. They are still surrounded and have had no communication with any friendly forces. Ammunition is low enough that they are unsure if they will be able to repell another attack and chances of resupply during the day are very low. Water is also in short supply and this is the second day without rations for H Company.

7 February 1944, late afternoon: Lt. Rivers shares this with best friend Lt. Megellas: “Maggie . . . if we never make it back, our reward will be, we will be able to live with ourselves. We will have no trouble sleeping at night; our consciences will be clear.”

7 February 1944, early evening: Lts. Rivers and Megellas successfully low crawl up to the high ground on the left and drag Sgt. Radika’s body back to H Company’s position. This is not typical behavior for officers, let alone the last two officers of an entire company. They know that recovering Sgt. Radika’s body will spare his family the agony of hearing that he is missing in action.

7 February 1944, early evening: The remainder of 3rd battalion, 504th P.I.R. (G & I companies) establishes a defensive line on the high ground to H Company’s rear. Both of these companies have also been reduced to less than 25 men apiece. During an attack to relieve the pressure on H Company, I company’s commander, Lt. Roy Hanna, is shot through the chest and knocked down. However, he regains his feet and continues to lead the attack. Hanna does not know that the bullet has punctured his lung and his lung is filling up with fluid. Due to lack of oxygen he will fall unconscious and collapse 4 times. He will also get back up all four times and continue to lead his men and win the Distinguished Service Cross for this action.

7 February 1944, evening: As darkness sets in, a runner from I company reaches H Company, their first communication with friendly forces in close to 24 hours. H Company will pull back as I company provides covering fire. Lt. Megellas returns to the right flank to alert Granado, Ranney, and Riley to the move but there is no sign of them.

7 February 1944, evening: Lt. Megellas returns to the main position to begin their retreat even as they hear Germans moving into position for another attack. As H Company retreats, the Germans begin to send in artillery and shoot up flares that force them to fall flat to the ground to avoid being seen. The flares go up so frequently that troopers can only make it 20 yards before having to stop and wait. Lt. Megellas, suffering from loss of blood due to his arm wound, requires assistance from company medic Cpl. Seymour Flox. Megellas arrives at an aid station that is about to be overrun and is sent on to an evacuation hospital on the Anzio beachhead. His war is over temporarily.

7 February 1944, evening: 3/504’s commanding officer, Lt. Sims, returns from an evacuation hospital to retake command. Sims, wounded 2 days previous by artillery shrapnel (the other 2 men who shared his slit trench were killed) arrived at the hospital, received another shelling, and decided he would be safer back at the front. 3rd battalion continues to repel German attacks through the night despite heavy casualties (I company is now down to 16 men).

8 February 1944, morning: German forces have managed to get in behind H Company’s new position. Lt. Sims orders I company into the attack and they repel the German advance.

Over the next 5 days Germans will continually hit 3/504th’s position but be turned away each time. On 13 February a British unit replaces 3/504 on the line and 3rd battalion rejoins 1/504 and 2/504 on their previous defensive position on the Mussolini Canal. For their brave actions, 3/504 will be one of the first units in the European Theater of Operations to receive the Presidential Unit Citation.

As to what happened to Cpl. John Granado and Pvts. Richard Ranney and William Riley, the three men were taken overrun and taken prisoner by the Germans. They would spend the rest of the war in a P.O.W. camp until they are liberated in May 1945.

One of the stranger parts of H Company’s action is that they were credited with rescuing a British brigadier general who was stranded behind enemy lines. Lt. Sims placed the credit for the rescue on the shoulders of Lt. Megellas and the patrol he led on the night of 6 February, but Megellas clearly states that he never encountered any British troops, let alone a brigadier general, on his patrols. What is undisputed is this, as stated by Lt. T. Moffatt Burriss (I company, 504) in his book “Strike and Hold: “The Germans must have thought they were facing a full regiment because they had been repelled all along the line. Otherwise, they would have charged full force, overrun the fewer than twenty-five men, and pushed on to the beachhead. H Company was the cork that kept them bottled up.”

Author’s Note: There is a one day discrepancy between James Megellas’ memoir, All the Way to Berlin, and Phil Nordyke’s history of the 504th, More than Courage. Megellas places the start of the action on 6 February while Nordyke has 7 February as the start date. T. Moffatt Burriss’ book also places the date as 6 February, but he states that he is going off of the memoirs of his friend James Megellas. Out of deference to Megellas, who was there, I have gone with his timeline for the purposes of this history.

Bibliography:

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