Edward J. Sims

Sicily and Holland with the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division Edward J. Sims, First Lieutenant, 504th Parachute Infantry

Near Karouan, North Africa the evening of July 11, 1943, 2nd Lieutenant Edward J. Sims suited up for his first combat jump with the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division. The destination was Sicily. After months of hard fighting in Sicily and later in Italy, then being withdrawn to England, Sims suited up again for a second combat jump. This time the destination was Nijmegan, Holland on September 17, 1944 as part of Operation Market Garden. Sims relays in his memoirs first hand accounts of jumping into combat and, as recalled in A Bridge Too Far by Cornelius Ryan, those actions in Holland that earned him a Silver Star.

SICILY

Near Karouan, North Africa, on the night of July 11, 1943, my regiment (504th Parachute Infantry [less 3rd Battalion]), loaded into C-47 aircraft and departed for their first combat parachute jump. Our destination was the island of Sicily where in the early morning hours of July 10, our 3rd Battalion had jumped with the “505th Parachute Infantry Regiment. This was our initiation to combat.

At the time, I was a 2nd Lieutenant and platoon leader in Company F, 2nd Battalion. As we approached Sicily, I was standing at the open door of the aircraft and could see land as it appeared under the port side wing. The night was calm and the light from the quarter moon reflected off the white caps of the Mediterranean Sea below.

Suddenly, against the dark background of the sky, a gradual build-up of fire red tracers from below was engulfing our formation. I felt a shimmy go through our plane and then pandemonium reigned as anti-aircraft guns of our own forces, at sea and on the beaches, were blasting our slow flying aircraft.

As my plane flew through the heavy flak, I could hear the hits as they penetrated. From my door position, I scanned the sky for other planes, but could see only those going down in flames. My plane developed a distinct shudder and banked away from the flak with one engine starting to sputter. I had my men stand up and hook up then, before going forward to talk with the pilot I instructed my platoon sergeant to get the men out fast if the plane started to go down before I returned.

From the pilot I learned he had lost the formation and had a damaged starboard engine. We decided, since there was land below, that he would stay our present course and allow me a few seconds to return to the door, then turn on the green (go) light when in jump altitude. We both realized that with the heavy load he had, it would be difficult for him to fly back to North Africa. I rushed back to the door yelling to my men to get ready to jump. As I arrived at the door, the red (warning) light came on followed, within seconds, by the green light just as I hooked up. I immediately released the equipment bundles from under the plane, then jumped into darkness with my men following.

Landing was quick and rough, my parachute had just opened seconds before landing. The plane must have been less than 300 feet above the ground. When assembled, I learned that one man had been injured when he hit a stone fence. I sent patrols in opposite directions on a nearby road to look for signs and landmarks. One patrol located a road sign indicating that Augusta was 40 kilometers. This was sufficient to allow me to locate our general position on the map as being south west of Augusta, Sicily and about 25 miles from where we planned to land in the vicinity of Gaela. Also we were several miles behind the Axis forces opposing the beach landing of the U.S. 45th Division. I had 14 men with me so we moved in a southwesterly direction, on roads and cross country, toward Gaela. At one point, we had a short fire fight with a small German force, but they soon fled. Later, we spotted a company size German force moving north, but since they did not see us, we held our fire and let them pass. Our next contact was with advance elements of the U.S. 45th Division. They opened fire on us and for a few moments the situation was dangerous. We had a tough job trying to convince them that we were U.S. Paratroopers.

Two days later we joined with the remainder of the 504 near Gaela and from there, moved 10 miles through Agrigento to seize Sciacca. At one point during this move, enemy planes strafed our column. We did take up dispersed positions and opened fire, but all of the planes continued to fly south. It was obvious there were no serious hits. As we approached Sciacca, I was leading with my platoon when I noticed smoke rising from the road ahead, so I dispersed my platoon into firing positions and went forward to check out the smoke. The road had been mined with anti-tank mines and a two-wheeled cart, driven by an old man with a young child, had set off one mine killing both of them and the mule that was pulling the cart. To our left on the crest of a small rise were a number of pill-boxes with white flags being waved from the gun ports. We advanced cautiously and flushed out a large group (about 100) of Italian soldiers who wanted to surrender. After disarming them, they were sent, under guard, to our rear. I will never understand why they allowed the old man to drive his cart into the mine field.

We cleared Sciacca, then headed for Marsala. In an area called “Tuminello Pass,” we were forced to make a frontal assault when a strong German force caught us by surprise and opened fire on our column. This turned into a long, hard fire fight, with a number of casualties on both sides, before the Germans were driven off. Marsala was soon taken and then Trapani was seized and secured. Near Marsala a friend, Lt. Lutcavage, was accidentally shot in the left elbow by one of his own men who was shooting at wine barrels. His elbow was shattered and he was evacuated through medical channels to the U.S. for treatment.

After seizing Trapani, the fighting in our area subsided and we were placed on occupational duty. My platoon was assigned to police an area near the small town of Salaparuta, which was the milling center for a larger area. I established my command post in a house vacated by a Nazi collaborator and selected a local citizen, who had been deported from the U.S. in the late ’20s, as an interpreter. He was a great help to me and served the community well. We immediately set out to search the surrounding area for hold outs and soon found a large building that had been used by the Germans for food storage. The large amount of food supply remaining was confiscated. I then arranged with the local clergy to distribute the food to the most needy in Salaparuta.

A number of local citizens came to me with information that the Mayor of Salaparuta was and had been illegally obtaining money for his personal use through the milling operation by withholding grain from the input. After investigating the allegations, I determined that he was guilty, so I removed him from office and ordered him to move from the area for his own safety. I then called for candidates for the purpose of running for the office and found three who were willing to run. A date was set for the election and on that date, the entire adult population came to the town hall square. On a balcony of the town hall office building, the three candidates and myself appeared. As I held my hand above the head of each candidate, the citizens voted by raising their hands for a yes vote. A popular school teacher received the most votes, so I immediately swore him into office.

When word of my action concerning the Mayor of Salaparuta reached the U.S. Military Government people in Trapani, they became furious. I know the regimental commander was pressured to remove me and my platoon from Salaparuta and from further police action.

Soon after leaving Salaparuta, the entire 82nd Airborne Division returned to North Africa to prepare for the next mission.

In his book on Sicily, Senior Historian, Martin Blumenson reported that on our flight into Sicily on July 11, 1943, there were 144 planes carrying the 504 Parachute Infantry Regiment, less 3rd Battalion. A total of 23 planes never returned to North Africa. Of the 23 planes, six had been shot down before the men could jump. Another 37 planes were badly damaged. Eight planes aborted the operation and returned with their load to Tunisia. All together, 229 casualties were sustained (82 dead, 131 wounded, 16 missing). A full-scale investigation was ordered immediately, but it was inconclusive. In my opinion, the investigation was a shameful cover-up.

Company F casualties in Sicily were nine killed (names below), and about 18 wounded.

The plane that flew me to Sicily was one of those badly damaged, but made it back to North Africa.

Co. F Fatalities in Sicily:

Killed in Action

PFC. Coen, Edward
PVT. Cope, Leonard J.
SGT. Durdin, Moses A.
T-4 Fattore, Louis F.
SGT. Lockhart, Joseph L.
PFC. McNally, Arthur
S/GT. Reopke, Paul M.
T-5 Secondine, Alfred
S/GT. Wilczynski, Henry J
HOLLAND

My second combat parachute jump took place during daylight hours on September 17, 1944 in Holland, some 50 miles behind enemy lines. Although my right leg continued to bother me, I had no desire to remain in England while my unit went into combat. Over the Scheldt Estuary in Holland, German anti-aircraft weapons open fire on our formation, but this time, our own fighter planes were on them immediately and were able to neutralize most of them. One plane in my formation was hit and the men who jumped were taken prisoner. The pilot and co-pilot went down with the plane.

The remainder of Company H jumped at about 1305 hours on the designated area near Grave. Initially we supported other units in securing the Grave Bridge over the Mass River and other bridges over the Mass Waal Canal. Intelligence reports placed some 4,000 S.S. troops and a German tank park in the Grave/Nijmegan area, but resistance near Grave was light and all of our initial objectives were secured by 1800 hours the first day.

Upon landing, I re-injured my back, but did not go for treatment because I felt nothing could be done. For the next several weeks, I carried on in less than top physical condition. We set up a company command post near a small cluster of homes and it was there that I met the first Dutch family and their fifteen children. The mother made room for me to stay with them and that evening, she prepared a delicious stew using beef she had previously preserved. They wanted to celebrate our arrival and their liberation from the Nazis.

Silverstar Award

Click for larger version Facsimile of letter awarding Edward J. Sims the Silver Star Medal, 22 May 1945

On September 19, 1944, we moved to an area west of Nijmegan and received a briefing on a new mission that included crossing the Waal River in assault boats and seizing the north ends of the railroad and road bridges spanning the river at Nijmegan. The south end of each bridge had not yet been taken and the Germans were fiercely defending them. We learned that the British Parachute Units (Red Devils) who had the mission to seize the bridge over the Neder Rijn River at Arnheim were unable to accomplish this. Elements of the German IX and X S.S. Panzer Divisions were mauling them. Because of this tense situation, it was imperative that at least one of the bridges over the Waal River be taken before the Germans destroyed both of them. This would allow the British Armor, coming up from the south, to cross and go to the rescue of what was left of the Red Devils.

For our crossing the British provided 26 assault boats. My company was on the right nearest to the railroad bridge. Company I was to our left. The remainder of the 3rd Battalion would cross in subsequent waves. Our first objective was the north end of the railroad bridge. The plan included support from artillery and smoke screen neither of which helped. We did get good supporting overhead fire from our own 2nd Battalion and a few British tanks that had arrived early from positions along the south bank of the river.

The time for crossing had to be moved up to 1500 hours on September 20, 1944, because the boats were late arriving. We were all amazed at the flimsy assault boats which had folding canvas sides and wooden bottoms. Each boat had a capacity for 16 and each had eight paddles. It took us a few minutes to adjust and secure the canvas sides and then move to the river’s edge for launching. Within minutes, we were receiving incoming enemy fire from the north side and the railroad bridge and as we progressed, enemy fire became more intense. Many boats received direct hits and sank. A number of boats had trouble navigating, but the men with me, including two engineers who had to return the boat, were calm and rowed in unison. (Only 11 of the 26 boats made it back to the south bank.). It seemed like eternity before my boat landed on the north bank, but it was only about ten minutes. My group had landed some distance west of the railroad bridge and disembarked rapidly into a skirmish line. Another boat landed nearby with many casualties, so I ordered those who had not been wounded to join my group and then led this combined group (18 men) in a frontal assault on the dyke that was several hundred yards further north. I carried an M-1 rifle and directed the assault forward by bounds with rapid fire from all, including myself. Enemy fire from the dyke was heavy, but the men with me did not falter. Their courage and determination was obvious and admired by me. Because of these few men, the dyke was seized within a short time and those German defenders, still alive, were routed or taken prisoner. I learned later that there were numerous enemy dead on that part of the dyke taken by my group.

After seizing the dyke, I was joined by other members of Company H. Lt. Megellas took his platoon and moved out to seize an old fort that was near by and I took the 18 man group I had and went for the north end of the railroad bridge. Lt. La Riviere, with a few men, moved east to flush out a sniper who had shot and killed one of his men. Resistance at the north end of the bridge was light and it soon fell into our hands. I then ordered a few men to look for explosives and to cut all wires; then I set up a defense around our end of the bridge. During a hasty search of the supporting abutments, a hold out shot one of my sergeants, but fast medical treatment was credited for his eventual recovery. Lt. La Riviere and a few men with him joined us and not a moment too soon, because German troops, in mass, were coming across the bridge toward our position. We let them come within range; then opened fire and continued to fire until all enemy movement stopped. After we ceased our firing, we allowed those still alive to either withdraw or surrender. The advantage here was ours because the Germans on the bridge had no where to deploy. As a consequence, they suffered a large number of casualties. (After several weeks, I learned that the bodies 267 German soldiers were removed from the railroad bridge.) The number that jumped or fell from the bridge into the river will never be determined.

At the time of this action, my men and myself were tense and angry because of the strenuous fighting and the loss of many of our own men during the crossing. We had little concern about destroying the large enemy force opposing us.

Often, in my mind, I relive this particular action and always conclude that this terrible slaughter of humans is not something to be proud of or to brag about. It continues to bother me that I had to make the hasty decision that led to the death of so many young men, our own and those opposing us. When will nations stop wasting their young?

I remained at the railroad bridge while the rest of Company H moved out to help seize the road bridge along with Company I. After a brief fire fight, the north end of the road bridge was taken, but the Germans continued to hold positions in the center of the bridge and this took some time to eliminate. Lt. La Riviere and his men did their share in eliminating these hold outs. Later, during darkness, I joined my company at the road bridge and with the few men we had left, occupied a defensive position east of the road leading to Arnheim. Earlier a British tank unit came across the bridge and lined up their tanks on the side of the road facing north. There they remained until the following day when they moved north. By then, the British Red Devils at Arnheim had many more dead and wounded.

I will never understand why the British did not immediately push north in order to take advantage of the turmoil we had just created among the German defenders in this area.

During this operation, Company H had 7 men killed in action and 20 wounded. In my opinion, this specific operation was poorly planned and lacked adequate support. It was accomplished only because of the courage and determination of the junior officers and the fine men they led. For my part, in this action, I was awarded my first Silver Star.

Several days after the crossing of the Waal River, my unit returned to the south of the river and went into a defensive position near the Den Hueval woods and close to the border between Holland and Germany. My company occupied positions near Grossbeek. Company I went into positions in the woods. At this point, two U.S. fighter pilots were sent to Company H in order to gain the experience that ground fighters do. This event was approved by all headquarters involved, which in my opinion, was very stupid. About ten minutes after they arrived, the Germans hit our positions with heavy artillery fire and both of the pilots were badly wounded and evacuated through medical channels. During the shelling, the company executive officer was killed and I was moved to this position.

On our second day in this position, a large German force supported with tanks attacked Company I. Their situation soon became critical, so my company moved one platoon to a wooded area flanking the Germans and surprised them with intense fire. Shortly thereafter, the Germans halted their attack and withdrew.

Our next defensive position was partly in Germany near Bad Wyler. There, patrol actions were prevalent. On one patrol in Germany, Lt. Megellas captured several Germans. The following night, our over-eager regimental staff ordered another patrol (different company) into the same area. As expected, the patrol was ambushed by a strong German force and suffered many killed and wounded. The Lt. leading that patrol received multiple gunshot wounds and was crippled for life.

On November 13, 1944, the 8th Canadian Brigade replaced our regiment. We moved to Camp Sissone, France where we received replacements and started a training program to get them ready for combat.

Co. H Fatalities in Holland:

Killed in Action

S/Sgt. Allen, James Jr
Pfc. Baldassar, John J.
Pvt. Beyer, John L.
Pvt. Cassetti, David B.
T-5 Dixon, Russell K.
Pvt. Hold, Louis P.
Sgt. Rice, Daun Z.
Pfc. Rigapoulos, John
Pfc. Sheldon, Harold R.
Cpl. Williams, Curtiss A.

Died of Wounds

Pfc. Kelly, Edward J.
1st Lt. Preston, William H.
Died Other

S/Sgt. Rosenkrantz, David

Original Article: http://www.brookdalecc.edu/pages/960.asp