The 504th in Action: The Den Huevel Woods

The weekend of 1-3 May, the All Americans will be participating in a living history event at Latta Plantation in Huntersville, NC. We will be representing the 504th P.I.R. in the days following the invasion of Holland and the taking of the critical bridges that the 82nd Airborne Division became famous for. Our specific scenario will be of H Company on the main line of resistance in the vicinity of the Den Huevel (Dutch for “Den of the Devil”) woods where the the 504’s third battalion became engaged in a small yet ferocious fight with the Germans. Here is a timeline for the action with a focus on the Den Huevel woods action:

  • 17 September (Sunday): OPERATION MARKET GARDEN begins with a daylight drop over Holland. The 82nd is tasked with capturing and holding several bridges that will allow an armored column to advance through Holland and strike at the heart of Germany. By the end of the first day the 504th had completed it’s primary objective: capture bridges over the Grave River and the Maas-Waal Canal intact.
  • 18 September: 3rd Battalion troopers advance towards the town of Nederasselt, near the Grave bridge, and take up a reserve position.
  • 19 September: Late in the evening Col. Reuben Tucker, C.O. of the 504th, receives word that the regiment is to attack across the Maas-Waal to capture another two bridges. 3rd Battalion, with assistance from the 307th Airborne Engineer Battalion, will make the crossing.
  • 20 September: 3rd Battalion, led by Maj. Julian Cook, is briefed on the assault. Many regard the attack as a suicide mission. H-Hour is set for 15:00 and preceded by strafing runs and tank fire, neither of which do much to deter the dug in and heavily-armed Germans forces across the canal. By the time they reach the far shore, half the men are casualties but, miraculously, both bridges are taken with heavy losses on both sides.
  • 21 September: 3rd Battalion is tasked with expanding the bridgehead established the previous day. The attack kicks off at 13:00 and is met with stiff resistance but reaches its objectives in a few hours, after which it digs in for the night. Before the night is over, Maj. Cook reverses course and decides to cede the ground gained and stay in a closer proximity to the bridge instead. Wounded and personnel unnecessary for the retreat are moved to the rear.
  • 22 September: The rest of 3rd Battalion pulls back to the bridgehead. From there, the 504th is placed in division reserve and moves back to the other side of the river. Many of the troopers enjoy their first meal in a couple of days, supplemented by vegetables from the gardens of the Dutch.
  • 24 September: During the evening the 504th begins its relief of the 508th P.I.R., who was dug in along the MLR between the Waal River and the town of Kamp.
  • 25 September: H Company ties in with the 325th G.I.R. on the end of their 504th’s line. Their position is on high enough ground that they can see into Germany. H Co. troopers find an abandoned farm house to occupy as an outpost but it soon comes under attack and Sgt. Daun Rice is killed by a German grenade. Meanwhile, a patrol sent out earlier that morning returns with a captured German captain. The paratroopers discover that this captain was responsible for sending out the patrol that killed Sgt. Rice and are livid. Lt. Virgil “Hoagie” Carmichael (3rd Battalion S-2) arrives at the C.P. to find the captain being beaten and strangled with parachute silk. Lt. Carmichael is able to convince the H Co. men of the captain’s importance and takes him to the battalion C.P. Late in the evening a patrol from G Company moves out for the Den Huevel woods, located between American and German lines.
  • 26 September: The G Co. patrol gets lost but finds its way back to their company’s area. On their second attempt they find the woods unoccupied and begin digging in. Later in the morning, a single German walks into the command post before being shot by Lt. Don Graeber. This shot signals to the Germans that the woods are occupied and the fight to control them begins in earnest. More 3rd Battalion troops are sent in to reinforce the woods. Meanwhile in H Company, Lt. Joseph Forrestal leads his platoon to the farmhouse where the German captain was captured and establishes a defensive perimeter around it. Very soon after, Germans attack the platoon’s position but are beaten back into the woods. Around that time Lt. Megellas moves his platoon to establish a defensive position to the right of I Company.
  • 27 September: At dawn 200 infantry and four tanks launch another attack against G and I Companies. Megellas and his platoon do their best to repel the Germans and secure I Company’s flank. During the attack a portion of the German force turns to attack the the farm where Lt. Forrestal’s platoon is dug in. One of the tanks accompanies the infantry and sends a round into the barn, setting it on fire. Effective artillery fire is called in and repels the Germans, but also cuts telephone wire between the platoon and the company C.P. During the action Sgt. David Rosenkrantz and two replacements, Pvts. John J. Baldassar and Gerald W. Knight are killed. Lt. Forestal gives his platoon the order to withdraw in pairs back to their lines after dark.
  • 28 September: Nearly all of the platoon makes it back to their lines. Sgt. Dominic “Dick” R. Moecia is the exception: somehow he never heard the command to pull back and on the morning of the 28th found himself surrounded by Germans who had recently moved in. He plays dead in the bottom of his foxhole all day and waited until the Germans moved out after dark to escape. Miraculously he makes it back to American lines. Back at the MLR, 3/504 is relieved by 2/508.
  • 29 September: 3/504 digs in near Wyler Meer and the German border.

Other Items of Interest:

  • James Megellas notes that after September 24th the 504th does not make any major attacks. Instead, the focus was on strengthening defenses with minefields and barbed wire. Patrolling was a key part of this defense; many of the patrols are prisoner grabs.
  • The Germans who attacked G Company on 26 September were seen wearing American camouflage parachutes as helmet covers.
  • One of Capt. Moffatt Burriss’ (C.O. of Item Company) platoons was only 17 men strong when entering the Den Huevel. Burriss had lost half his company crossing the canal and half of what was left in the Den Huevel woods, only 11 days of combat.

Works Cited:

  • More than Courage: The Combat History of the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment in World War II by Phil Nordyke
  • All The Way to Berlin by James Megellas

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