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Operation Cobra

Saint-Lô, July 1944

On June 6, 1944, D-Day, the Allied invasion of Europe began. The 82 Engineer Combat Battalion landed in stages between 10 and 16 June '44 at Omaha Beach in Normandy. The purpose of the Allied high command was to quickly advance from Normandy to the rest of France. The reality proved more difficult. The advance was slow because the terrain in Normandy made it very difficult for the allies to move quickly.

In late July 1944, 7 weeks after D-Day the front line stalled. The Allies wanted to break the deadlock. Operation Cobra was the answer.

The 82 Engineer Combat Battalion was at that time stationed at Saint-Lô, near the front. Richard Wells experienced Operation Cobra at close quarters. He would have seen and heard the massive bombing of the German defensive lines. Saint-Lô was bombed and was completely destroyed.


Building bridges in France

Meulan, August 1944

Operation Cobra was a success and the
allied troops could move on in the
direction of Paris. At the end of July
82 Engineer Combat Battalion
was still in Saint-Lô and on August 7
in Vire. There Richard and his comrades
built their first (emergency) bridge.

The advance moved swiftly. On August 26 Richard and his comrades arrived in the town of Meulan and built a bridge over the Seine. Early September 82 Engineer Combat Battalion went on to Belgium.


Killed during a patrol

Between Kesselt & Veldwezelt, sept. 9, ‘44

On September 9 '44 Richard was commissioned to carry out a reconnaissance mission with three other soldiers. The aim was to find a suitable place to build a temporary bridge across the Albert Canal, because the Germans had blown up all the bridges leading to the Netherlands. Richard drove the jeep, and Lieutenant Edward J. Fairchild and soldiers William E. Ash and Lawrence P. Chemeski made up the rest of the patrol.

While the jeep was heading from Kesselt to Veldwezelt fate struck: from the bushes along the road, shots were fired by remaining German soldiers.

Both sides of the jeep were fired on. Richard was hit by several bullets in his abdomen and his legs. While he lay dying, his comrades were taken prisoner. The Germans laid Richard's body on the sidewalk by the Vanham family. The family opened their door after hearing loud bangs and found the lifeless body of Wells. Two days after his fall, the liberation of Limburg .


Emergency Bridges

Between Kesselt & Veldwezelt, sept. 9, '44

Although Richard was not alive to see it, it is interesting to note that in the days after his death the 82 Engineer Combat Battalion was able to build bridges over the Albert canal.

Due to the enormous depth of the channel it was not possible to temporarily repair the bridges at Vroenhoven, Veldwezelt and Briegden. A different site was chosen.

First, on September 12 a temporary footbridge was constructed from Nivelles (B) to Low Caestert / Eijsden (NL). Then a floating pontoon bridge was constructed.

The most appropriate site for a Bailey bridge over the Albert Canal was in Kanne. The first attempt failed. The bridge sagged and ended up in the water. A ship was used as a aupport in the second attempt. This is a beautiful painting made by Henry J. MacMillan. This attempt succeeded.



American Cemetery
Margraten, date unknown

Richard F. Wells died on September 9, at the age of 20. Twenty days later his parents received a telegram of condolence.

At that time, five members of the family were serving in the army: Donald and Edwin fought in the Pacific. Norman was stationed in Maryland, where he worked for the Ordnance Department, that took care of supplying the army.

His sister Doris served in the army as a nurse. She visited Richard's grave shortly after his death. Richard is the only one of the siblings who died in battle.

The Wells family decided to let Richard be buried at Margraten near the spot where he was killed. His grave is located in Block J, Row 6, Grave 6. He was decorated with the Purple Heart.