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Against All Odds 

An Interview with Capt. Robert Rae, 507th PIR  

Robert Rae personally leads one of the most spectacular assaults of the war on La Fiere Bridge against a maelstrom of enemy fire and a logjam of dead and dying gliderman and paratroopers....

I landed in a small area right behind a large farmhouse. I had a feeling we were several miles away from our objective. The farmhouse had a shed in the backyard and there were trees all around me. As soon as I hit the ground I heard machinegun fire. The machine gun fired over my head several times but on the 3rd or 4th pass I realized it was just harassing fire and was not being aimed directly at me.   Meanwhile, I was able to gather up about eight other boys. At the time I was a captain in the service company of the 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment.

We moved toward the farmhouse and started cleaning out the Germans inside. I remember about three or four Germans escaped out the backdoor.

We left the farmhouse and started moving down the road and ran into a Frenchman who was startled to see us. We tried to ask him where we were. We didn’t have much luck communicating with him so I pulled out my map and he pointed to where we were. We were in the 101st drop zone. I knew where the 101st Airborne Division command post was supposed to be stationed so we made our way the CP.

When we got to the command post  I found the highest-ranking officer I could find and identified myself and I asked him if I could take all the 82nd men that were in the CP and move towards our objective St. Mere Englise. He agreed. So we gathered up the men, around 90, and got on the road and headed off towards St. Mere Englise. When I got into St. Mere Englise, I reported to Lt. Colonel Maloney, Executive Officer, of the 507 PIR. Maloney told me to take up positions along side the 505. The 505 courageously held their positions against several German attacks across the La Fiere causeway or bridge that spanned the Merderet River.

Col. Maloney determined he had enough 507 personal for three composite companies that he identified as Creek Co., Brackoneck Co. and Rae Co.

We made our way down towards the manor house by the bridge and artillery shells were coming down very heavily. I reported to General Gavin and he told me he wanted my men to be stationed near the 505. We stayed there for about 2 days.

On the morning of D+3 we began to prepare for the attack. At about 10:00 our artillery started firing. We were supposed to receive smoke but we didn’t get any. A full-strength battalion of the 325th Glider Infantry Regiment was to lead the attack across the Bridge and establish a bridgehead on the west bank.  We were in reserve along with Creek Co. and were to join the attack and push through if the 325 faltered.

As the 325th’s attack got underway, the causeway became a mass of stagnant humanity. [Editor's Note: after interviewing several survivors of the attack, most concluded that this was the "hottest" area they had ever been in. Enemy artillery and mortar fire poured all over the bridge. Numerous German machineguns and small arms fire were concentrated on the Bridge. The Germans were dug in and according to one source at nearly regimental strength.]

It became obvious more men were needed on the west bank to securing a viable bridgehead. At the time the 325th’s attack wasn’t moving forward, so General Gavin came over to me and said "Rae, you’ve got to go and keep going!"

We came out shouting, forcing our way through the log jam of dead and dying soldiers and some soldiers refusing to continue the attack. We continued running until we reached the west bank. After we knocked out the German positions on the other side, I split my force sending half down a dirt road to the south where the 325th was having trouble. [Editor's Note: Robert Rae personally led Rae Company  across the causeway inspiring his men through a maelstrom of enemy fire.] I took the other half of my men and attacked west. We remained actively engaged until we made our way into Le Motey, spending the night there.

 

Rae Company consisted of 90 men when we joined the causeway attack. I think we numbered approximately 60 men and officers when we withdrew back to La Fiere to reorganize on D+4.

For this action Robert Rae was awarded the DSC.

Interview with Robert Rae by Pat O’Donnell

 


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