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tv   American Artifacts WWII Combat Team in Maritime Alps  CSPAN  September 2, 2019 11:35am-12:01pm EDT

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units of the third army. the final line had been forged between our forces which landed in southern france on august 15th and those which had landed in normandy on the sixth of june. this junction closed the last escape route for the germans remaining in the south and west of france. those the fighting of the soldiers, sailors and airmen of the united nations defeated the germans in southern france. their valor to duty were beyond praise. you're watching american history tv all weekend every weekend on cspan 3. army heritage days is an annual event held in may at the u.s. army heritage and education center in carlyle, pennsylvania.
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hundreds of hobbyiests conduct demonstrations and talk to the public about the military. the theme this year was the d-day 75th anniversary. next on "american artifacts" we visit a living history camp to learn about the experiences of the army's 517th parachute infantry combat team. those who fought in france 75 years ago in the autumn of 1944. >> my name is matt holmgren i'm part of a group representing the 517th parachute infantry, which was part of a unit called the 517th prtc. it's a world war ii unit in italy, southern france, battle of the bulge and the hurkin forest. it's a smaller unit, numbered about 2,500 men throughout the war. it was comprised of three
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smaller units, the 517th parachute infantry regiment, the 576th engineer company, those units made the combat team which the higher command throughout the war, their campaigns would attach them to larger units, divisions where they were needed as they were needed throughout the war. we're representing them through their time of the maritime alps in autumn of 1944, that was near the french alps where they were tasked with protecting the right flank of the main advance of the u.s. 7th army up the river valley. that came from the operation dragoon campaign, the second invasion of france, the forgotten invasion, overshadowed by operation overlord, the normandy operations. originally both operations were designed to take place
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simultaneo simultaneously, code named hammer and anvil, trap the germans in france, push them out and liberate france. unfortunately due to lack of landing and aircraft, they were not able to have both operations at the same time and normandy was deemed to be the most important history. but the southern operations were delayed until august 1944, and that originally took place on august 15th. >> troops began to scramble up the beach. they were prepared for an enemy onslaught. but not a single german soldier appeared. not even a looft soared overhead. mine detecter squads cleared the way for our tanks. german prisoners were herded to beaches to be boarded onto ships. operations had progressed so smoothly by noon the following
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day a beachhead 20 miles long and 9 miles deep had been established. >> we are representing them during their maritime alps campaign which was after the initial invasion when they were protecting the right flank of the main advance. they were in combat for approximately 90 days from august '44 until late november early december 1944 which they were on the lines fighting against the germans in the south of france. they were in the maritime alps protecting the right flank and essentially it was aggressive patrolling and siege war fair they were going hilltop to hilltop rooting the germans out of the area because the germans were dug in there the entire occupation of france and they had to take hilltop to hilltop to fight the well dug-in germans. here we have an o.p. or out post, ahead of the main line of the troops dug in, an early warning system, two man foxhole,
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we have sandbags for more protection from the weather you would see more instances of logs and tree limbs over to provide heavy duty protection from mortar fire. normally the longer you're in an area the deeper you dig in to give yourself more protection. when troops would stop for any period of time, you would dig down maybe a couple inches, dig yourself some protection where the 517th at the time, during the maritime alps they were in a set area they were working from sending their patrols out so they had time to dig deeper and more elaborate foxholes because the germans were firing on them with their mortar pieces. so there are instances of them needing better foxhole protection like we have here. to our right we have a larger foxhole that would sleep three or four men, an example of the foxholes away from, behind the o.p. that's what essentially the soldiers were living in at that
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time during their campaign. we like to do this here because it gives, especially the kids they get an opportunity to see what it was like that some of these soldiers, how their life was during the war. >> you can slide that on. you might be surprised how heavy it is. >> put it on straight. >> we dug these for the display for army heritage days it took several hours among the several of us here. we had the tools that the soldiers were issued we used the sandbags for the dirt we dug out, filled up the sandbags. as i said, the unit that we're portraying being they were in the area they were for the south of france for that prolonged period of time, this gives the idea of the more well entrenched foxhole they would have in that campaign. it's as simple as digging down in the earth and building around you because that gives you protection from the german mortar fire they were receiving
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on their end. where their lines were, you get below the ground level and the more cover you have on top that protects you from mortar or artillery blasts than if you were standing out in the open. you can only be waterproofed so much. the rain we had last night, they kept us relatively dry from that rain. but the time period in autumn of 1944, the soldiers ran into snow in the end of september, there was one day they woke up and had 6 to 8 inches of snow. they found out because they were in the maritime alps it was colder than down on the riviera where they had come from. there were days they said they woke up and felt like a piece of plywood on them, it got that cold that they felt like they had a piece of plywood on top of them, instead of a piece of canv canvas. they have one here. they would make a bed roll,
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which is essentially one shelter half with either one or two blankets tied with a shelter half rope that soldiers could carry with them. it would be like a sleeping bag but you easily carry what you need to kind of keep you dry and warm as best you could. with the 517th, being they were in an established area for almost 90 days, they didn't carry too much around. if they went on patrol, they would take their ammunition and rifles with them, depending on how long the patrol may be, maybe a ration or two because they would be back to their main line, their foxholes. other units throughout the war, especially towards the end of the war as units were advancing, pushing into germany, soldiers would carry what they need on their back, they may have a bed roll for when they would stop. they would carry what they have in their pockets, they may carry a gp or gas mask bag like this.
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they weren't carrying their gas masks but carry maybe some rations in there, an extra pair of socks, maybe bare essentials for what they need. they're on their feet all the time so they want to be as light as possible. what we have here is somewhat of a small supply point. we have ration boxes, ammunition crates. we have examples of what were called k rations and the 501 rations your basic field ration that the army had. a k ration was a boxed meal. there was three meals, three boxes made up, you have breakfast, dinner, lunch and upper. breakfast may have canned eggs or chicken. two types of crackers, four pack of cigarettes in each box. cigarettes were an issued item. you would have instant coffee a
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lemon or orange powder to make a drink, a breakfast bar. it was designed by a nutritionist, designed to get the needed calories in a meal for a soldier in the field away from a regular meal. instances throughout the war, some soldiers were eating these for a month or two at a time, it was not designed for that long of an intake where they were having adverse affects they weren't getting that regular meal and were actually suffering from that. but this is a squad-level stove. not all soldiers would have this. for our instance, from our research and photographic evidence, there's instances of the 517th in the maritime alps, they had almost a field kitchen with them because they were where they were established. but this would be r carried, runs by a squad, running on
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modern fuel, it's good to heat up multiple cups of coffee or if they're fortunate to have a powder to make up proper meals. talking to ray hess who recently passed away. he told me a story one time when they were in the alps, they had a can of roast beef they were cooking on a campfire, but they were cooking the can of roast beef and they heard german artillery coming in, he had his cup of coffee he just made and they jumped in their foxhole. he said he dove in, luckily didn't spill his coffee, they came out and said if we hadn't moved we would have all been wiped out with that round because they zeroed in our campfire. and we were looking forward to
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the roast beef. the field rations they could eat them cold or heated up. if the soldiers had the luxury of a stove like this they would heat up the coffee or even the canned meet. other instances they would rip apart the box, you had two layers, a wax layer and your outer cardboard layer, they would rip these up and burn them to make a small fire they could possibly heat up their rations with. this is an item you would not see with all soldiers in the war. in the case of the 517th during their maritime alps campaign, that was an item we saw that they used. what we have here, this is a standard rifleman for an m-1 grand, the belt which would hold clips of 30 ought six grounds. this is the cover for the folding entrenching tool. you have the carlisle pouch that
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held the first aid kit which was a band age which had a pack of sulfa powdered to be administered to wounds. and we have the canteen pouch, which we're missing the canteen. we have the m-1 grand, the m 1 a 1 which had a folding stock that was used by paratrooper units. at the time period we're portraying, even though they were an airborne unit they would have the folding stock but through our research we found the longer they were on the lines due to damaged or lost m-1 a-1 they would be presupplied with whatever was available so you see the non-airborne m-1 coming into play during their time in the alps.
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this is a br or browning automatic rifle. it fired a 30 ought six round, which was the same as the m-1 grand took. it had a 20 box magazine. this is a weapon you did not see with airborne units as it was not part of their table of organization and equipment. in the case of the 517th, it was a -- we saw evidence of them using it in the maritime alps. they found that it was a good weapon to help clear out the dug-in germans of their pill boxes and bunkers in their area. for their type of warfare in that theatre they found it was good to clear out the entrenched germans. we're fortunate that the 517th prt association has a great website that was started -- the association was started by the vets and now run by their family members because unfortunately many of the vets have passed away or up in years. there is a ton of information,
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photograph history, personal accounts that the vets had submitted and they had a great website. that's one of our resources that we take from personal accounts, personal photographs that we're able to build our impression an display solely on those photograph accounts. there's great books out there, battling buzzards, a great history on the 517th, first airborne task force, which is another reference book that covers what was called first airborne task force, airborne division that took place or part of operation dragoon. normandy operation, the famous 101st and 82nd that went in the night before the main beach forces, operation dragoon the same way. they went in the night before to secure roads behind the beaches before infantry divisions hit the beach head. at that time there was no large airborne in the mediterranean needed for this because the
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airborne divisions were already in normandy. there were multiple independent airborne which one of them was the 517th together for first airborne task force, another ad hoc unit. other units 509th infantry battalion, 5 au50th, 551st, independent british airborne regiment. actually if you heard of 442nd regimental combat team, famed japanese unit of the war, there was a company of their anti-tank uptown that was actually giving a very quick glider training. they said you're going in on glider and they were given glider training and attached to the 17th for a month, month and a half. that's important to know because the airborne troops you had
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paratroopers, standard infantry, not part of their training. they were pulled and saying you're going in gliders, here is training and getting attached to this airborne unit. >> this aerial van guard to destroy enemy defenses and ease the task of their comrades still at sea by keeping the foe from rushing troops to the coast. swooping down to tree top level our attack planes straight nazi gun batteries troops and supply trains with telling effect. in the calm of a summer morning these bombers rained destruction while the allied warships were steaming along french coast within the range of enemy batteries. >> so when they went in the night of the invasion and jumping out of their aircraft, you hear stories of the normandy operations, the troop carrier groups, airplanes making evasive maneuvers to avoid anti-aircraft and that caused many misdrops. it was the same troop carrier
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units, same pilots and planes that dropped in normandy did the operation dragoon drop. due to the areas that were during normandy drop, the pilots really wanted to make up for the airborne, mistakes they had made, so they tried their best to stay on course. unfortunately what happened, there was heavy fog over the area. there was misdrops due to heavy fog because the pilots could not see the pathfinder beacons to zero in on the proper drop zones. so many soldiers, many of the airborne that dropped that night, when they jumped out of the airplanes and saw the heavy fog, they actually thought they were jumping into the mediterranean ocean. so they were starting to strip their equipment off to lighten their load to get the may west life vest inflate because they were preparing for a water ldiers as they are stripping the gear off and their life vest prepared for water landing, preparing for that hit of water, they start going through the fog and next thing they know they are on the ground. that's how thick the fog was.
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actually we unfortunately don't have any because the 513st with task force unique uniform item, there's an experimental camouflage first airborne task force tried out for the operation they spray painted their uniforms, where you see the paratrooper uniform. what the task force did, they had engineers with spray guns filled with green and black. they had the guys line up and put a spray box over their head. engineers would hit them with camouflage paint and off they go. from the commander colonel fredericks has came down to camouflage their uniform. we have an example of the 517th helmet. this was overspray of the green
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and black. they would put the helmet on and spray for silhouette. another example of the 517th helmet, they did not have the proper jump helmet you saw with other airborne unit they had the standard which was not good for jumping. they actually modified their chin straps, what we have an12ç example of here. but going back to the camouflage uniforms that they had, veteran accounts -- you're on the mediterranean august 1944 is a very hot, humid area at that time so it's a cotton uniform with paint that actually made it even thicker and heavier and smell bad, so the soldiers did not like that very much. it made them even more uncomfortable. a more seniors issue they had, at the time with paint, fresh paint, the soldiers that got wounded, they found paint would bleed into their blood streams
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and they were getting infections with the paint. once they were on the ground and the paint made the uniform stink, the wound issues, there was accounts of soldiers moving between objectives. if they came across a stream they were going off the road walking through the stream trying to wash the paint off and get back on the road soaking wet just to try to get rid of that paint. it was an improvise camouflage system that didn't work the best. the 517th is an overshadowed, somewhat forgotten unit, because they were a smaller unit in an overshadowed theater of the mediterranean, south of france. we do that to keep their story alive, to tell the public about their story to keep the memories of the men alive. this is a great way to do it because you can read all the history you can in a book. you do firsthand accounts like this. they have especially the young kids get firsthand experience to get the helmet on, equipment on, see what soldiers went through for the campaigns. it's another way to teach and
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another way to learn about them because we're always researching the unit. there's always something to learn about them, something out of the woodwork to photograph personal accounts that we can learn and we can pass on on their stories. so they are not forgotten. >> the final line this been forged between our forces which landed in southern france august 15th and those that landed in normandy on the 6th of june. this junction closed the last escape route for the germans remaining south and west of france. thus fighting qualities of soldiers defeated the enemies in southern france. their value or, stamina and devotion to duty were beyond praise. >> you can learn more about the
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517th parachute regimental history only. you can watch this and all other american history tv programs online at >> tonight on the communicators, george mason university professor talks about the black hat cyber security conference in las vegas and the vulnerabilities associated with electric motors. >> so an electric motor has the control system, the power system and electromagnetic in one way or the other that's how it actually generates the momentum and the moment by essentially moving an electric wire across a magnetic field. so any and all of these
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components are subject to some kind of interruption disruption or moment that was not expected to be there. >> tonight at 8:00 eastern on c-span2. >> this is american history tv on c-span3 where each weekend we feature 48 hours of programs exploring our nation's past.
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founded in 1607 jamestown, virginia, first settlement in north america. the summer marked the arrival of the first african slaves and the first meeting of the kbenl sgen assembly which established government in the colony. next on american history tv. a commemoration of the 400th anniversary of the first virginia general assembly. this is part one of a three-part ceremony. >> governor northam and distinguished guests welcome to historic jamestown. i have the great honor to serve as chief executive officers for preservation virginia. on behalf of prive revauxation virginia's board of trustees and our jamestown rediscovery foundation board of directors,


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