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The invasion of Normandy

Hiesville, Normandy, June 6, 1944

As of September 1943 Robert Watts and his comrades were stationed in the county of Wiltshire in villages such as Aldbourne, Ramsbury, Froxfield, and Chilton Foliat. Until early June 1944 there was further training for the imminent invasion of the European mainland.

In the early hours of June 6, 1944 - D-Day
the men of 506th PIR flew from Greenham Common Airport
(in nearby Berkshire) to the coast of Normandy.

They were dropped into Drop Zone 'C' north of Hiesville behind Utah Beach. In the following month, the men of PIR fought in Normandy. After the war, Robert's pal Frank Palys recalled how Robert, somewhere in Normandy, shot two
Germans who had suddenly emerged.

In July, 506 PIR returned to England
for a rest and to continue exercises.
The percentage of dead and wounded was around 50%.


Operation Market Garden

Son, September 17, 1944

The second mission for the men of 506th PIR was Operation Market Garden. They took off in the late morning of September 17, 1944 from Membury airfield in Berkshire and were dropped into Drop Zone 'B' near Son, north of Eindhoven.

After the paratroopers landed, the Dutch population came out of hiding and helped their liberators whenever possible. The Americans had had some bad experiences in France, after help from the local population, but they quickly realised that the information provided by the local Dutch inhabitants was useful. In his role in the intelligence section Robert Watts would
have had talked at length
with the local population, as evidenced
by a photograph, in which he is surrounded
by several Dutch locals and some
of his comrades of 506th PIR.

On September 18, 506 PIR took
the bridges over the Dommel in Eindhoven and in the days after liberated St. Oedenrode, Uden, Veghel and Nijmegen. Unfortunately, Operation Market Garden did not end as hoped. 101 Airborne Division remained on the continent.


The Battle of the Bulge

Bastogne, December 18, 1944

In the early morning of December 16 the Germans launched a major attack with a barrage of some 2,000 guns, aimed at breaking the allied advance: the Ardennenes Offensive. The paratroopers of 101 Airborne Division were rushed to Bastogne, which was a critical junction and needed to stay in Allied hands at all costs.

They arrived on December 18 and were
almost immediately more or less
surrounded by German troops. What
followed was a week of heavy fighting.
Some days the situation was
critical, as the German bombardments
continued, and there was a shortage
of everything: ammunition, fuel and

But the tide turned for 101
Airborne Division when they were supplied by C-47s
on 23 and 24 December. On December 26 the 4th Armored Division under General George Patton finally took Bastogne. On December 25 Robert Watts and 'Vinnie' Utz were both injured, during one of the many German artillery attacks on the city. Vinnie lost his left arm so for him the war was over. But Robert's injuries were not very serious. He recovered and went back on duty.


Killed by friendly fire

Dormagen, April 13, 1945

On April 2, 506th PIR was transferred to the Ruhr area, where they were deployed along the front line on the west bank of the Rhine River south of Dusseldorf, near Dormagen.

On the night of 12 to April 13 Robert Watts was with a combat patrol led by Major William H. 'Billy' Leach. Leach had been bullied by his fellow officers because he had spent so little time behind enemy lines. That seemed to annoy him so that he decided to see some action by conducting a night patrol behind enemy lines. The end of the war was in sight.

The action was at first uneventful, but that changed on the way back. Robert and his comrades were seen by German soldiers stationed on the east bank, who then opened fire. It appeared that Major Leach had forgotten one crucial thing: he did not let anyone know that he was going to carry out this patrol. The inevitable happened: since the guards of Easy Company (the Band of Brothers men) who were on the west bank, knew nothing of the patrol, they thought that it was the Germans trying to cross the Rhine. And hence they opened fire. With disastrous consequences ...

Leach and his men were in a crossfire, coming from both sides. At least four of them were hit, fell into the Rhine and drowned.


The walls of the missing

Margraten, 1945

In the days after the fatal incident on the Rhine, the bodies of Major Leach and soldier Frank Pellechia were washed downstream. Soldier Al Tucker was seriously injured, but reached the shore, as well as soldier Angelo F. Kalograkos who miraculously was not injured.

The bodies of Robert Watts and Michael Koval were not found. Robert Watts died on April 13, 1945, aged 26 years old. The Watts family received a telegram on 28 April informing them of Robert's disappearance.

After the war, the US military led a re-investigation into the disappearance of Robert Watts and Michael Koval in an attempt to find their bodies. However, this research did not succeed.
In 1949, both men were declared missing: Missing in Action.

Robert's name was placed on the Walls of the Missing in Margraten. For his military deeds he was decorated with a Purple Heart, a Bronze Star Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster.