The 551st Parachute Infantry Battalion. "G.O.Y.A."(*)
(Great Outstanding Young American)
(*) Author, Gregory ORFALEA wrote on page 376 of his book about the 551st: "...Of the close one hundred survivors I have talked to or corresponded with, none said the acronym meant anything but "Get Off Your Ass." That is corroborated by JOERGs widow.
1. HISTORY.On the 16th of December 1944, the Germans launched their last major counteroffensive on the western front. Coming by trucks from their garrison camp at Laon (near Reims, France), the 551st PIB arrived at Werbomont during the night of the 20th to the 21st of December 1944. In the evening of the 21st, the battalion moved toward Ster/Francorchamps. Attached to the 30th Infantry Division "OLD HICKORY", the GOYAS prepared for an attack in the Stavelot area that was cancelled. On the 25th of December, the battalion moved back in Rahier and was attached to the 82nd Airborne Division.
In the night of the 27th to the 28th of December, the battalion successfully executed a nightraid on enemy advanced positions at Noirefontaine. This raid delivered vital information for the Allied counteroffensive soon to come. This mission was a success : about 30 Germans and a company commander killed, 6 prisoners, 1 halftrack destroyed. The 551st losses : 1 KIA, 2 MIA and about 15 WIA.
On the 03rd of January 1945, the 82nd Airborne was assigned to push back the Germans from the Salm River valley. Coming from Rahier, the men of the 551st PIB arrived (on foot according to some veterans) in the area of Basse- Bodeux.The battalion attacked from a line of departure between Basse-Bodeux and Trois-Ponts, on their right flank the Company I, 505th PIR and the 517th PRCT to their left. At the beginning of the attack, the 551st PIB moved across open fields, up slope terrain covered by 15 inches of snow and was immediately punished by heavy artillery, mortar, machine gun fires. With a poor artillery support, the Goyas secured its first objectives Sol Mé and Hérispèhe. The 551st continued his advance and arrived to the road Fosse/Saint Jacques. The order was to carry on in direction of the village of Dairomont. Once again, they had to cross wide open fields and the scouts reported the Germans had several machine gun and mortar positions at the edge of the woods with the support of tank(s).
The following tragic events would be recall as "The Battle of the Sunken Road". After a short break and despite the well entreched enemy positions, the paratroopers launched the assault. The A company was hit by small arms grazing fires and took cover along an embankment in the snow covered field. Coming from the road, a german tank emerged (near Laurent farm) to the left and fired at point range. Another tank got out of the corner of the woods and came down in the americans lines while tacking. The troopers are mowed down and those who can take shelter in the ditch of the sunken road. Captain DALTON and lieutenant HARSCH (1st platoon) got wounded. To the left, a bazooka squad knocked out a tank by a direct hit in the tracks. The survivors received orders to retreat to the line of departure in the woods. The platoon of lieutenant HIGGINS, C company, turned his guns to help that withdrawal. On the right flank, the platoon of lieutenant DURKEE, A company quickly regrouped and opened fire to cover the retreat of the survivors of the initial assault. The very cold night would also take his due and many men would be sent to the rear for frozen feet. The interview of lieutenant Dick DURKEE who commanded the 2nd platoon of A company gives the likely number of 68 EM and 3 officers lost from the 155 men left in the morning.
On 04 January, the 551st PIB is reduced and disorganized with tired, frozen, hungry and bewildered men. Its objective is the village of Dairomont and its defensive line. B company took the lead of the battalion and slowly progessed towards its objective under unceasing shellings causing the loss of several men and the lieutenant of the 1st platoon(wounded). A company was in reserve.
C company reduced to 2 platoons commanded by lieutenant SERIO and HIGGINS left Fosse where it spent the night. The C company went to the east towards Saint Jacques area where overrun Germans held positions around Laurent farm. The Goyas had to outflank the Krauts who just counterattacked B company of the 517th PRCT nearch the church of Saint Jacques. The Germans had the support of three tanks and the elimination of the pocket was not an easy task. Then, C company got the order to attack, clear and overrun Dairomont, but the company was not able to break through the hamlet because of the two Germans tanks in front of the their positions. In the meantime, the aid station of the battalion moved from Fosse to Saint Jacques, where it took cover in a small tumbledown house.
In late afternoon, the second platoon, A company, led by Lieutenant Dick DURKEE conducted a rare fixed bayonet assault of machine gun nests. Divided in two squads, the second platoon advanced when the patrol to the right was hit by heavy fires causing severe losses. At that moment, Lieutenant DURKEE ordered his men to "fix bayonets". The men were all surprised since they had never heard that order before. So, Lieutenant DURKEE led one of the few bayonet charges in the ETO. The surprised Germans were quickly overrun and after ten minutes of hand to hand combats the positions was taken. The Germans accounted 64 KIAs. Early in the morning of the 05 of January, the Germans left the hamlet of Dairomont under cover of darkness and company B took possession of the place.
To the south-east, the 505th PIR encountered stiff resistance but finally arrived to the vincinity of Arbrefontaine. All the day the regiment had skirmishes with overrun german troops trying to escape and rejoin their lines. To the left, the 517th secured the villages of Mont-de-Fosse and Bergeval.
On the 05th of January, the battalion settled in the CP at Dairomont. The aid station took position in the farmhouse GASPAR. B company carried on the advance toward the crest (east) while A and C company were in reserve and took care of the supply. A patrol of A company overtook Germans elements and killed about 20-25 men (Russian battalion?) in a pasture near the hamlet of Quartiers.
On 06 January, the 551st continually had brushes with Germans rearguards. At last, the Goyas arrived up to the lines of woods in front of the village of Rochelinval which would be it's next objective. The 551st is detached from the 517th and attached to the 504th which was assigned the objectives of the depression of Petit-Halleux.
On 07 January, the Americans would attack to eliminate the last ennemi pocket of resistance on the west bank of the Salm River. The battalion is confronted its final critical objective : Rochelinval on the Salm River. Since the 03rd of January, the Goya have suffered heavy losses and the battalion is half understrenght for the assault. The men started out early in the morning and and got to their jump-off point. At dawn, the company A, divided in two platoons, launched the initial attack to the left. The two platoons are mowed down and decimated by a heavy machinegun and mortars fires. Arrived in the outskirts of the village, only 6 EM and one officers were left standing from the 42EM and 4 officers who had started the attack. In same time, Lieutenant Colonel Wood JOERG was mortally wounded by a tree-burst while he led the attack. Suffering an enormous number of casualties, the battalion finally overwhelmed the Germans defenders and captured the village, shutting off the last bridge of egress to the Germans in a 10-miles sector of the Salm River. The Germans accounted a company commander who has commited suicide, 50 KIA and about 300 hundreds POW.
After 5 days of combats in the Ardennes forests, from the 790 EM and officers who started the campaign. Only 96 EM were left alogether and 14 officers left out of 42. The 551st PIB casualties rate, 84 percent, is the highest of the airborne units after its sister airborne unit, the 509 Parachute Infantry Battalion.
On the 08th of January, Major W.N. HOLM took command of the battalion which assumed the surveillance on the Salm River around Rochelinval.
The following days, the survivors were sent back to Juslenville (Theux) for a thtree-week rest. On 12 January, the battalion was disbanded and the survivors were assigned to the 504th PIR, 505th PIR, 508th PIR and 325th GIR of the 82nd Airborne Division, to the 517th PRCT.
- Dan MORGAN. " The Left Corner Of My Heart Saga Of The 551st Parachute I f Infantry Battalion ", USA 1984
- Gregory ORFALEA. " Messenger Of The Lost Battalion The Heroic 551st And The Turning Of The Tide At The Battle Of The Bulge ", USA 1997
- Serge FONTAINE. " LEnfer De Trois-Ponts Du 551st Parachute Infantry Battalion", Belgium - March 1988
Created : June 04, 2001
Updated : August 15, 2005
Copyright © 2001-2002-2003-2004-2005 Eddy LAMBERTY
Please send your comments, WWII accounts, WWII pictures to:
Eddy LAMBERTY - Rue de Farnières 14