The Filthy Thirteen
Under cover of darkness, a few hours before the 1944 D-Day invasion started, a U.S. vanguard unit dropped into Normandy. These men were a special saboteur group, known as “The Filthy Thirteen” and their mission was to blow up bridges across the Douve River.
This shallow river, 49 miles in length, starts in the Contentin peninsula of north west France, near Cherbourg and travels south east to Carentan.
A Suicide Mission
The small group of hard-fighting paratroopers who called themselves the Filthy Thirteen, were the Demolition unit of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne.
They landed behind German lines, on what many regarded as a suicide mission.
Although outnumbered by German troops, and suffering heavy casualties, the Filthy Thirteen destroyed two bridges and secured a third.
And cut off from communication with U.S. lines, they fought bravely, continually holding off enemy troops near the small Normandy village of Brevands for a further 5 days.
They never gave up.
By destroying access across the river, they disrupted German supply lines and delayed reinforcements reaching the German troops dug into the coast.
And their actions contributed in a big way to the Allies successfully taking the first major French city – Carentan – from the Germans.
But only a few of the Filthy Thirteen got through this mission. Six returned to England with the remainder killed or captured.
Jake “McNasty” McNeice
The last surviving member, who later became the unofficial “historian” for the group, was Sgt. Jake McNeice, a part-Choctaw American from Oklahoma. He volunteered as an Army paratrooper in 1942 and was considered the toughest in the squad, and the one who gave the Filthy Thirteen its character.
McNeice made four combat jumps into Normandy and immediately after D-Day, spent 30 days behind enemy lines. He and the rest of the squad later took part in several battles across northern France and Holland.
The Filthy Thirteen earned a notorious reputation for questionable behavior, hard-drinking and breaking rules, but senior command looked the other way.
These men got the job done. With their bravery and combat skills, they successfully completed every mission given to them.
Who Are These Guys?
In the hours leading up to D-Day, a Stars and Stripes newspaper photo-journalist took a picture of an odd group of paratroopers putting war paint on their faces. With their heads shaved into Mohawks. They were an unknown unit.
But after their pre-dawn mission on D-Day, their actions became legendary.
The original Filthy Thirteen included: Lt. Charles Mellen, Sgt. Jake McNiece, Jack Womer, John Agnew, Joseph Oleskiewicz, John Hale, James Green, George Radeka, Clarence Ware, Robert Cone, Roland Baribeau, James Leach and Andrew Rassmussen. With Frank Palys, Tommy Lonergan and Charles Plaudo also part of this squad.
During WW2, over 30 men would be members of this unique group. And the survivors remained as a unit until Germany was defeated and WW2 ended.
Jake McNeice died in 2013, aged 93
Want To Know More?
If you want to know more, this paperback by Richard Killblane and Jake McNeice is a great read.
The Filthy Thirteen: From the Dustbowl to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest – The True Story of the 101st Airborne’s Most Legendary Squad of Combat Paratroopers.
You get the insider account on the exploits of the Filthy Thirteen, in McNeice’s words.
A key part of their kit were “Corcoran” jump boots originally designed by Lt Col William Yarborough, a senior US Army office known as the “Father of the Green Berets.”
He created them in 1941 for use by the new 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment (they were later used by other airborne units) after realizing troops needed a strong boot to protect their ankles and feet during the hard landings of combat jumps. The boots were made from thick, tough leather, with a solid rubber sole made by the Goodyear company. They had a reinforced ankle area.
They were laced up using eyelets and not the usual lacing lugs to prevent parachute cord getting caught on the boot lugs during jumps.
Only qualified Airborne units were allowed to wear these jump boots after they’d earned their “jump wings” and other troops did everything they could to get their hands on a pair.
The boots were called “Corcorans” after the Corcoran and Matterhorn company who were given the Defense contract to supply these boots during WW2.
Keele University Air Archives
The 101st Airborne at Normandy, Mark Bando