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Pvt. John R. Towle
504th Parachute Infantry Regiment - 82nd Airborne Division

John Roderick Towle was born on October 19 1924 in Cleveland, Ohio as a son of William Levi Towle and Mary Simpkins. John had one older brother and two younger sisters. He entered the service in 1943 and signed up to become a paratrooper. Eventually he was assigned to Company C of the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment.

John missed a couple of operations with the 504th, but joined up with the regiment just in time to take part in Operation Market Garden, the airborne assault in the Netherlands. The main body of his regiment jumped on drop zone ‘O’ in Overasselt and one company was dropped north-west of Grave. The regiment took the bridge at Grave with relative ease and was able to secure the bridges at Honinghutje and Heumen. Two bridges were blown up while the men of the 504th attacked them, but the bridge at Grave and Heumen was enough for XXX-corps to cross.

On September 20 the 504 PIR received a difficult task. The road bridge and railroad bridge over the Waal river at Nijmegen was still in enemy hands. Even after 3 days of consequetive fighting the Americans hadn’t been able to get to the bridges and take them from the enemy. The 504th, together with the 307th Airborne Engineers Battalion and men of the 376th Parachute Field Artillery Battalion, was tasked to cross the river Waal just west of the railroad bridge, close to the electric plant and attack the bridge and its defenders from the north side of the bridges. In the meantime, men of the 505th and British Guards Armoured Division would bash into the defenses on the south side of the bridge. At 15.00 hours in the afternoon the first wave hits the water. Twenty-six boats carrying members of the third battalion 504 PIR across the water make their way for the other side. The support tanks from the Guards Armoured division fire across the river into the enemy positions and fire smoke grenades to form a screen for the attackers. The second wave of boats hits the water. From the original twenty-six boats, only thirteen are left. German rifle, machine gun and artillery fire is so intense that the first and second wave take a lot of casualties, but the American airborne troops are persistent and start fighting on the dyke on the north side of the Waal river. John’s company, Company C, is taken across in the third wave. The enemy fire has died down now, only sporadic fire from the direction of the railroad bridge is experienced by the troops of Company C. The men of the 504 PIR, 307 AEB and 376 PFAB are able to take the north end of the bridge. At the south side of the bridge the men of the Guards Armoured Division and the 505 PIR are also able to clear the last pockets of German resistance. The Americans and the British suffered a high amount of casualties but they conquered the main goals for Operation Market Garden, the Nijmegen road and railroad bridge.

The men of the 82nd Airborne Division were able to create a bridgehead on the north side of the river Waal. Arnhem and the 1st Airborne Division was just a stone’s throw away. Tanks of the Guards Armoured Division cross the Nijmegen bridge and spend the night at Lent, a small town just north of the Nijmegen road bridge. They had to wait for the 43rd Wessex Division. Together they could clear the area in between Nijmegen and Arnhem of German forces and get to their brothers in arms at the Arnhem bridge.

The German forces knew that the Anglo/American bridgehead is still fragile and decide to attack it with full force. A couple of Tiger tanks, supported by half-tracks and infantry attack the bridgehead. In the morning the Germans made the first effort to attack, but are met by the tanks of the Welsch Guards at Lent. The Germans pull back and plan another assault by flanking Lent and reach the Nijmegen bridge via the dyke where John’s company is dug in. Paratroopers are only lightly equiped, so fighting tanks is a difficult job. John’s company is dug in along the dyke and they hear the rumbling of the tanks and can only assume what is coming for them.

The German Tiger tanks drove on top of the dyke and were heading for the bridge. John, a month shy of turning 20, gets his rifle and his bazooka, left the safety of his foxhole and starts his counterattack. A buddy of John follows him with some rockets for the bazooka. John finds a new position and starts shooting at the German tanks. Everytime he pops up from his position he hits one of the tanks and after a couple of hits is able to damage the two Tiger tanks. He receives heavy enemy fire but keeps going forward. The tanks retreat towards the direction of Lent and John sees a building where fire is directed from. He fires at it with his bazooka and hits target. John spots a halftrack and reloads his bazooka one more time. He aims for the vehicle, but just before he fires his tube a mortar round explodes right next to him killing him instantly.

With his actions John was able to save the men of his company of certain destruction and was pivotal in the defense of the bridgehead. In March 1945 John was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, the highest award for bravery in the United States army.

Private John Roderick Towle
Company C, 504 Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division
Place and date: Oosterhout, the Netherlands, 21 September 1944

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty on 21 September 1944, near Oosterhout, Holland. The rifle company in which Pvt. Towle served as rocket launcher gunner was occupying a defensive position in the west sector of the recently established Nijmegen bridgehead when a strong enemy force of approximately 100 infantry supported by 2 tanks and a half-track formed for a counterattack. With full knowledge of the disastrous consequences resulting not only to his company but to the entire bridgehead by an enemy breakthrough, Pvt. Towle immediately and without orders left his foxhole and moved 200 yards in the face of intense small-arms fire to a position on an exposed dike roadbed. From this precarious position Pvt. Towle fired his rocket launcher at and hit both tanks to his immediate front. Armored skirting on both tanks prevented penetration by the projectiles, but both vehicles withdrew slightly damaged. Still under intense fire and fully exposed to the enemy, Pvt. Towle then engaged a nearby house which 9 Germans had entered and were using as a strongpoint and with 1 round killed all 9. Hurriedly replenishing his supply of ammunition, Pvt. Towle, motivated only by his high conception of duty which called for the destruction of the enemy at any cost, then rushed approximately 125 yards through grazing enemy fire to an exposed position from which he could engage the enemy half-track with his rocket launcher. While in a kneeling position preparatory to firing on the enemy vehicle, Pvt. Towle was mortally wounded by a mortar shell. By his heroic tenacity, at the price of his life, Pvt. Towle saved the lives of many of his comrades and was directly instrumental in breaking up the enemy counterattack.