Purple Heart Bronze Star


Captain
Robert P. Woodhull

February 7, 1945

Ohio - Bergstein


(picture courtesy of
Lt. Alicki, via 517prct.org)

 

Robert P. Woodhull was from Ohio.

He was an officer Forward Observer with the 460 Field Artillery Battalion. His job was to get as far forward as possible to direct artillery fire on enemy positions.

The 460th was part of the 17th Airborne Division in the United States, but attached to the 517th Parachute Infantry regiment when it was shipped to Europe. Together with the 517th Parachute Infantry regiment and the 596 Engineer Combat Company they made up the 517th Regimental Combat Team.

460 Field Artillery Battalion

517 Regimental Combat Team

The unit saw action in Italy, participated in the invasion of southern France and fought in Northeast France and Germany, in the Huertgen forest.

Lt. Howard Hensleigh, HQ Company, 3rd Battalion, 517 PIR, went on many missions with Capt. Woodhull. He writes:

"Woody" Woodhull of the 460th was a buddy. He had been assigned to the 3rd Bn. as our artillery liaison officer for a long time. He and his radio operator, Herbert Jeff, were virtually part of the 3rd battalion. From the jump in Southern France on August 15, 1944, I was the Battalion S-2 responsible for obtaining information about the enemy. We did this mainly by patrolling. Woody and Herb went on almost all of our patrols. Herb and Woody used to covet our combat infantry badges; they deserved them. If we got in too deep and were being pursued by the Germans, Woody would call in artillery to give us time to make it back to our lines. Sometimes we had the assistance of the 460th's L5 (Piper Cub) aircraft to cool things off. We patrolled together many times in southern France. After a successful combat patrol, Woody would call in artillery to finish the job and keep the enemy troops from deciding to follow us as we withdrew."

One encounter is remembered by Lt. Hensleigh when they took some German prisoners:

"Once on a combat patrol in Southern France we had a platoon of Germans partially surrounded. When I yelled at them to surrender and several times the Germans stood up with their hands up, their non com fired his machine gun to thwart the surrender. Woody crawled forward with me to within a few feet of the gun position where we silenced him. I put an M-1 clip into the bush I thought his fire came from. Luckily, I guessed right, because I don't think there would have been a second chance. It is a shame we couldn't have met on different circumstances. He was a brave guy. We might have been friends. We captured the platoon, all their weapons, ammo and equipment. The German officer slipped away when the fighting first started, as they were ordered to do to preserve the officer corps. Most good American combat officers were up front where they knew what was going on. This sometimes resulted in their loss.


Paris 1944: Left to Right: Lt. Woodhull, Major Paxton, Lt. Alicki and Lt. Dickerson
(picture courtesy of Lt. Alicki, via 517prct.org)

Early February 1945, the 517 PIR found themselves on the frontline near Bergstein in the Huertgen forest and ready to attack. The area of Schmidt, Vossenach, Bergstein and Kommerscheidt was a heavily fought over area for many months. The initial attack was beaten off by the Germans with incredible casualties to the US forces. The Regiment was to make a divisionary attack, in support of the main assault.

Lt. Hensleigh: "During the next few days, the 517th would encounter some of the most violent fighting of the war, under the severest of weather conditions. During this period in the Bergstein- Schmidt area of the Huertgen Forest, the 460th Fire Direction Center coordinated their heaviest concentration of artillery fire of the war. 14 battalions of division and corps artillery, FO Captain Robert Woodhull was killed while directing fire and FO team member, Battalion Operations Sergeant, Tech Sergeant George Hubbard was seriously wounded.

Now, to that morning. We were new to the terrain around Bergstein having just arrived there before the attack. The Germans had been there for several months defending that terrain. They had laid extensive mine fields and had machine gun, mortar and artillery zeroed in to protect well
organized defensive positions. From the outset, our attacking infantry units were in serious trouble. When they hit the mine fields, the supporting enemy fire came in with devastating effect. What Woody and I were attempting to do was to give G, H and I Companies artillery support in their attacks. We got too close that morning.

Woodhull was killed by a burst of machine gun fire not more than three feet from me at Bergstein. We were doing our "damnedest" to assist the attack with artillery, probably a little too far forward for an OP, which was usual with Woody. Red Meline and I directed artillery fire to wipe out the machine gun nest after his death. His radio man, I believe a Sgt. Riddle, previously was wounded in the lower leg by a burst of the same gun. That burst went between my legs miraculously not even nicking me. He was standing just behind me and was evacuated. We remained in that position all day serving as a communications link between the rifle companies and higher headquarters.

Bergstein was a heart rending diversionary attack – our last taste of combat and a bad one. A diversionary attack is just that though – an attack to fool the enemy into thinking your main thrust is from one direction, when you really intend to get him from another. If you tell the attacker to put on a good show and not take too many casualties, it probably won’t fool the enemy and won’t be successful. In an attempt to remove some of the bitterness we feel in our enormous losses at Bergstein, personal as well as organizational, we must credit ourselves with the fact that it was a successful diversionary attack. When that outfit swept in from the right with tanks and artillery, they rolled. They rolled because of what we did in that diversionary attack.

I often wonder how we could have done things differently to save Woody's life. He was a prince of a man. "

Captain Robert Woodhull is buried at Margraten American Military Cemetery, Plot F Row 8 Grave 1.



(picture by Robert Duijkers)

Margraten, The Netherlands

See also:
Other casualties of the 517th Regimental Combat Team

Sources:
Mr. Howard Hensleigh, Lt. HQ Company, 3rd Battalion, 517th PIR
Ben, of the 517th RCT website

Directions to Margraten American Military Cemetery

Posted 26 July 2006

If you have any suggestions, comments or additional information, please contact me.

This website is dedicated to the men and women who died and/or are buried in The Netherlands during World War II.

 

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