Capt Robert W Dalrymple
Silver Star Recipient
Pfc Ernest R Coffelt
The 596th Airborne Engineer Company
he 139th Airborne Engineer Battalion (AEB) was constituted on 10 March 1943
at Camp Mackall, North Carolina (NC). It was activated 15 April 1943 at Camp Mackall, North Carolina under the command of
Lt Colonel Stanley Johnson.
Company C, 139th Airborne Engineer Battalion, was redesignated the 596th Airborne (Parachute) Engineer Company. The 596th had a company headquarters and three platoons with an authorized strength of eight officers and 137 enlisted men. It was commanded by Captain Robert Dalrymple. (picture left) He and his officers had been hand-picked, and had attended a 30-day course at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, prior to the Company's activation.
The Engineers were lightly armed and equipped, but highly trained in their missions of construction and destruction. This training -- particularly in the removal of mines and booby-traps--was to stand them in good stead on the battlefields of Europe.
When the 596th AEC was combined with the 517th Parachute Infantry Regiment (517th PIR) and the 460th Parachute Field Artillery Battalion (460th PFAB), the combined unit formed the 517th Parachute Regimental Combat Team (517th PRCT). In early May, the RCT components staged through Camp Patrick Henry near Newport News, Virginia. On May 17th the troopers climbed the gangplanks for their great adventure. The 517th boarded the former Grace liner Santa Rosa, while the 460th and 596th loaded onto the Panama Canal ship Cristobal.
The 517th Parachute Infantry Regimental Combat Team (CT)
baptism of fire occurred as a unit of the 36th Infantry Division. This ground operation placed the 596th Parachute Combat
Engineer Company in a position to provide direct combat support to any element of
the 517th PRCT engaged in operations. In Italy The principle chore of the 596th Engineers was road reconnaissance and mine-sweeping.
During Operation Dragoon as part of the First Airborne Task force, One platoon of the 596th had dropped with the 509th. One platoon had dropped with the 2nd Battalion and one with the 3rd Battalion. The 1st Platoon of Capt. Bob Dalrymple's 596th engineers had joined assault operations with elements of the 509th Parachute Battalion near Le Muy. The 2nd Platoon conducted operation south of Les Arcs. The 3rd Platoon had joined attack operations with 3rd Battalion.
The 596th moved with the combat team to Soissons, France in
early December 1944. Soon the company was alerted for duty at the Battle of the Bulge. Movement orders came for the 517th at 1100, December 21st. The company was subsequently moved by Transportation Corps semis to the vicinity of Werbemont Belgium. The combat team was assigned to the XVIIIth Airborne Corps under General Ridgway. There followed a
series of combat team operations, attachments to larger units, detachment from
units, transportation to a new sector sometimes by transport, sometimes
marching, another attachment and another combat operation. One Battery of the 460th and a platoon of the 596th were attached to each rifle battalion for movement. The directive to recapture Manhay arrived in RCT Headquarters at 1400 on December 26th. The 517th was to attach one battalion to the 7th Armored Division for the mission. The 3rd Battalion (less Company G) under Lt. Col. Forest S. Paxton was given the assignment. One platoon of the 596th Engineers and a section of the Regimental demolitions platoons was attached. The battalion would have to cross two miles of terrain covered with snow and underbrush, in darkness, before reaching the line of departure.
By 0600 on the morning of February 5th In mid-morning the 596th Engineers began working in relays to clear a lane through the largest minefield encountered by the Allies in World War II while under direct enemy observation and fire. For 36 hours the 596th continued this genuinely heroic effort. In the 1st Battalion area, Company A sent a patrol from Hill 400 to Zerkall. Over the course of the next several days, as US troops gained the initiative and began overrunning the enemy, the 596th was able to recapture and recoup enough heavy equipment from the battlefield to give the company the necessary capability to respond to normal ground force engineer combat support
- picture above: Men of the 596th AEC -
(^^ Click Picture to Enlarge ^^)
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