Barcelonnette & Jausiers

On the morning of August 29th, the 550th Infantry Airborne Battalion without the A Company, left Grasse towards Nice to protect the the 1st ABTF Command Post then left with the 463rd PFAB, the 2nd platoon of the B Company of the 645th Tank Destroyer Battalion, the 2nd platoon of the D Co. of the 83rd Chemical Battalion and a platoon of the A Company 40th Engineer, attached to the Task Force since August 28 in the direction of Barcelonnette and Jausiers. They make up the 550th Infantry Airborne Combat Team.

463rd PFAB Commander, Major Stuart Seaton after Lt. Col. John T. Cooper Jr., who suffered a broken leg during his jump on August 15, moved with 450 men from the battalion in trucks from Antibes for about 300 kilometers. Most trucks are supplied by the B Co. 645th TD Battalion and an anti-aircraft unit.

They make their way to zigzagging north-west on mountain roads where most of the valleys are dotted with anti-glider obstacles, which supplies the rural people in the woodland area. The column even passes over a bridge that is being repaired by German prisoners guarded by FFIs.

The column takes two days to arrive and takes position near Jausiers for 463rd PFAB and Barcelonnette in the Basses-Alpes, not far from the Italian border.

Like Jausiers, Barcelonnette is a small village in the high mountains near the western end of the Ubaye Valley, a loophole for enemy forces from Italy. Because of the terrain, the 463rd PFAB is laid out on a 20-kilometer front line. These are the northernmost units of the entire 1st Airborne Task Force. The mission of the 550th Infantry Airborne Combat Team is to protect the Larche Pass and Vars Pass, which can be used as a retreat for retreating Axis forces from Turin, Italy. The population is not very enthusiastic to welcome American soldiers to their cities, but the FFIs would serve as their guide and scout.

From September 1st to 3rd, the activities of the 550th are limited to patrols to become familiar with the area. On the 3rd, the Germans think they have spotted activities in St. Bear and trigger an artillery fire. A man from the 550th battalion is killed.

Bearings between companies are carried out to have a constant surveillance of the front at Camp des Fourches. This former French camp consists of old stone barracks located in the mountains east of Barcelonnette.

On September 7th, two Germans are killed and two taken prisoner at Camp des Fourches. The same day a contact is made with a regiment of the 2nd Moroccan Infantry Division. The two units work together for several days doing patrols. In the afternoon, the Camp des Fourches was attacked by the German artillery. They are 105mm howiters firing on them, the Germans captured these guns at an American artillery unit advancing into the Rhone Valley

On September 11th, a 551st PIB’ patrol coming from Saint-Etienne-de-Tinée made a stop at the Camp des Fourches.

On the night of September 15 to 16, 1944, the Germans attacked the Camp des Fourches outpost, after a harassing fire on the post and its surroundings. At 2 am, they assault the block B6 and Ventabren block located at the Col des Fourches (350 meters south-east of the camp) and the FFI must leave the B6 with the machine guns for the repel. From 5:20 am to 6:00 am, the Germans set off again, but still without success.

On October 23rd, the Combat Team is dissolved and all the 550th Airborne Infantry Battalion is relieved by the French Army and the 550th IAB is sent to Lantosque to replace the paratroopers of the 509th PIB. The 2nd Platoon of the B Co. of the 645th TD Battalion is sent to Nice for a revision of its M10.

This is the end of the American troops presence in the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence.

The next day, September 17, 1944, around 4 o'clock a new attack of block 6 took place, still without success. Colonel Sachs then decided to replace the FFI by his troops, the FFI no longer holding the Restefond, the Sagnes, the hamlet of Bousiéyas and Las Planas.

Around 9:00 pm, a new attack took place on the Ventabren block, but it was repelled by artillery fire. On three occasions the Ventabren block was almost lost, the Germans having been repulsed only thanks to the barrage of 81mm mortars from the Heavy Mortar Platoon of the 550th IAB.

Until September 26, the front hardly moves. A/463rd is located since September 8 at la Caserne de Restefond. the 2nd mortar platoon of the D Company of the 83rd Chemical Battalion is raised on September 22nd by the 1st mortar platoon of the D Company of 2nd Chemical Bn. which had been put in reserve until 24 September.

The snow begins to fall in early October. Winter clothes are supposed to arrive, but they do not reach them and Col. Edward Sachs, commander of the 550th IAB sends a radio message to the staff of the FABTF in Nice to send winter clothes but nothing helps. He leaves personally to Nice to get warm clothes and sees all the occupation troops equipped with warm coat.

Snow causes slips on the roads and supplies, whether in warm clothing or food does not arrive. The snow is too deep for the mules. Because of this, two A Co. platoons depart from the Camp des Fources at Restefond while the 3rd platoon remains with the company commander. The road to Jausiers and Barcelonnette must be reopened. This work is carried out thanks to a snow plowing requisitioned from civilians, as well as another sent to the battalion from Nice. This is useless considering the intensity of the storm.

October 14, Lt. Col. John T. Cooper took command of the 463rd Parachute Field Artillery Battalion. The week before October 16, the C Battery is bombed on its positions in the small village of La Sauze by German artillery and must settle elsewhere. A German on a bicycle disguised as a Frenchman trying to break into the battalion lines is killed. Obviously this one trying to bring back alcohol to his unit in view of his canteens and empty bottles of wine.

The great battle of Jausiers

On the evening of october 16th, 1st Lt. James M. Austin, who had been wounded in the jump on August 15th, spotted a German attack with his binoculars. His position was fired with machine guns but also with grenade. Austin directs the artillery fire coming to break the German attack.

From 20h30 to 23h the 463rd fired 5619 shells on two rocky peaks from where begins a German attack, which during WWII is the largest number of shots in a lapse of time also running for a single battery. After the war, this actions was called the "Great Battle of Jausiers."

General Frederick had to hear Cooper's justifications for the excessive use of so much ammunition. Frederick was about to dismiss Cooper's command when he drew attention to the fact that his battalion had no infantry support on his lines, and that all he had to shoot at the Germans were 75mm shells.

The same day, 16 and 18 October, the entire Combat Team was relieved by French troops, assigned to this front line area.

On October 22nd, because of the snow, the entire 463rd PFAB descends to the coast to support the First Special Service Force instead of the 602nd GFAB.