The Filthy Thirteen was the name given to the 1st Demolition Section of the Regimental Headquarters Company of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, of the United States Army, which fought in the European campaign in World War II. This unit was the inspiration for the 1965 book and 1967 film The Dirty Dozen.
The 1st Demolition Section was assigned and trained as demolition saboteurs to destroy enemy targets behind the lines. Inspired by Jake McNiece's leadership style, the unit had a tremendous mission focus but their blatant disregard for those aspects of military discipline that did not contribute to the mission became the bane of their officers. The unit acquired the nickname the Filthy Thirteen while living in Nissen huts in England. A demolition section consisted of thirteen enlisted men and they refused to bathe during the week in order to use their water ration for cooking game poached from the neighboring manor. Photos of the men wearing Indian-style "mohawks" and applying war paint to one another excited the public's interest in this unit. The inspiration for this came from McNiece, who was part Choctaw. During the Normandy Invasion of Europe in June 1944, the group was airdropped with the 3rd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment by aircraft of the 440th Troop Carrier Group of the United States Army Air Forces. They were ordered to secure or destroy the bridges over the Douve River. Half were either killed, wounded or captured on the jump, but the rest led by Jake McNiece accomplished their mission. Most of the 3rd Battalion leadership had been killed on the initial jump so without any contact with the 3rd Battalion, senior officers assumed the battalion had failed its mission and ordered the Air Force to bomb the bridges. The Filthy Thirteen also participated in the capture of Carentan.
During Operation Market Garden, the Demolition Platoon was assigned to defend the three bridges over the Dommel River in Eindhoven, the Netherlands. German bombing of the city killed or wounded half the demolitions men in the platoon, and McNiece was promoted to platoon sergeant of what was left. Jack Womer took his place as section sergeant. For the rest of the campaign, the demolitions men secured the regimental command post or protected wire-laying details. On one occasion, the survivors of the Demolitions Platoon were assigned as a rifle squad to an understrength company.
After coming back AWOL from Paris after Market Garden, McNiece volunteered for the Pathfinders thinking he would never make another combat jump. These were paratroopers sent in ahead of the main force to guide them in or guide in resupply drops. Half the surviving members of the original Filthy Thirteen followed him into the Pathfinders thinking they would sit out the rest of the war training in England. To their surprise they parachuted into the encircled town of Bastogne at the height of the Battle of the Bulge. Anticipating casualties as high as 80–90%, the 20 pathfinders lost only one man. Their CRN-4 beacon enabled them to guide in subsequent airdrops of supplies crucial to the continued resistance of the trapped 101st Airborne Division.
McNiece considered that any activities not directly concerned with his mission were irrelevant, an attitude that got him in constant trouble with the military authorities. Nevertheless, McNiece finished the war as the acting first sergeant and with four combat jumps, a very rare feat for an American paratrooper. His combat jumps included Normandy, the Netherlands as part of Operation Market Garden, the pathfinder jump in to Bastogne, Belgium, during the Battle of the Bulge, and as an observer with the 17th Airborne Division during Operation Varsity.
Of the activities of the Filthy Thirteen, Jack Agnew once said, "We weren't murderers or anything, we just didn't do everything we were supposed to do in some ways and did a whole lot more than they wanted us to do in other ways. We were always in trouble."
- Jack Agnew (W.I.A, Normandy) *Bastogne Pathfinder*
- George Baran (W.I.A, Normandy)
- Roland "Frenchy" R. Baribeau (K.I.A, Normandy)
- Robert S. "Ragsman" Cone (P.O.W, Normandy)
- Charles "Maw" Darnell (P.O.W, Normandy)
- John Dewey *Bastogne Pathfinder*
- Charles "Trigger" Gann (P.O.W. Bastogne)
- James F. "Piccadilly Willy" Green (P.O.W, Normandy)
- John "Peepnuts" Hale (K.I.A, Normandy)
- James E. "LaLa" Leech (P.O.W, Normandy)
- Louis "LouLip" Lipp (W.I.A, Normandy)
- Thomas "Old Man" Lonergan
- Max Majewski *Bastogne Pathfinder*
- Miguel "Mike" Marquez
- Lieutenant Charles Mellen (K.I.A, Normandy)
- Jake McNiece *Bastogne Pathfinder*
- Frank "Shorty" Mihlan *Transferred to HQ*
- John H. "Dinty" Mohr
- Joseph "Joe" Oleskiewicz (K.I.A, Holland)
- Frank Palys
- Herb "Herby" Pierce
- Charles "Chuck" Plauda
- George "GoogGoo" Radeka (K.I.A, Normandy)
- Andrew "Andy" Rasmussen (W.I.A, Normandy)
- Brincely Stroup (Injured in Practice Jump, Pre-Invasion)
- Clarence Ware (W.I.A, Normandy)
- Jack "Hawkeye" Womer
- Tom Young
The list includes original members from 1943 and the newer members during Operation Overlord and Operation Market Garden. An interview with Jake McNiece and Jack Agnew can be found on the two disc version of the Dirty Dozen DVD. Jack Agnew died aged 88 on 8 April 2010. Jake McNiece died aged 93 on 21 January 2013. Jack Womer died aged 96 on 28 December 2013.
Literature and cultural influenceEdit
The 101st Airborne Division issued a press release on the unit, but war correspondents embellished the story. War Correspondent Tom Hoge started the ball rolling when he wrote the first article about these paratroopers and coined the name "The Filthy Thirteen" in an article for the Stars and Stripes, June 9, 1944, "Filthy Thirteen Squad Rivaled by None in Leaping Party."
Arch Whitehouse wrote an article for True magazine that had some of the myths that would eventually find their way into E. M. Nathanson's book The Dirty Dozen which was the basis of the 1967 film of the same name. Whitehouse wrote, "They called themselves the 'dirty dozen,' and took pride in the reputation they had of being the orneriest, meanest group of paratroopers who ever hit this base..." Whitehouse also claimed the original 12 members were full blood Indians who had sworn not to bathe until they jumped into combat and it required their new lieutenant to beat each one in a fight in order to win their respect. This addition of this new member changed their name from the Dirty Dozen to the Filthy Thirteen. E. M. Nathanson was informed by a friend who worked on documentaries for the war about a unit of condemned prisoners who were sent on a suicide mission—more likely one of the Filthy Thirteen myths.
Searching the archives of condemned prisoners, Nathanson found no evidence of such a unit (more likely since he was searching the wrong path), but used the information gathered for his novel published in 1965, which was later turned into a blockbuster movie in 1967. Barbara Maloney, the daughter of John Agnew, told the American Valor Quarterly that her father felt that 30% of the movie's content was historically correct, including a scene where officers are captured. Unlike the Dirty Dozen, the Filthy Thirteen were not convicts; however, they were men prone to drinking and fighting and often spent time in the stockade.
Richard E. Killblane wrote Jake McNiece's version of the unit in The Filthy Thirteen (2003), and Stephen DeVito wrote Jack Womer's version in Fighting with the Filthy Thirteen; The World War II Story of Jack Womer – Ranger and Paratrooper (2012). Killblane followed up both books with a more accurate history of the unit that included nearly all surviving member's accounts in War Paint; The Filthy Thirteen Jump into Normandy (2013). Jerome Preisler wrote an excellent account of the Bastogne jump in his history of the World War II pathfinders, First to Jump; How the Band of Brothers was Aided by the Brave Paratroopers of the Pathfinder Company, in 2014. The Filthy Thirteen has been translated into French, Swedish and Spanish. Maurin Picard included a chapter about Jake McNiece and the Filthy Thirteen in his book, Des Heroes Ordinaires; Au coeur de la Seconde Guerre mondiale (The Ordinary Heroes of the Second World War) published in 2016.
The cover of War Paint; The Filthy Thirteen Jump into Normandy shows a copy of a commissioned painting by Joel Iskowitz, depicting the Filthy Thirteen getting ready for their jump into Normandy. The Stephens County Currahee Military Museum in Toccoa, Georgia commissioned a bronze bust of Jake McNiece.
Andrew Jones wrote and directed a low budget film about the unit titled, "D-Day Assassins" released in 2019.
- "'Filthy Thirteen' veterans recount their antics during WWII". www.stripes.com. 10 November 2008.
- "The Filthy Thirteen: The U.S. Army's Real "Dirty Dozen" (2008/2009 Winter)". American Valor Quarterly. Archived from the original on 7 April 2010.
- Richard E. Killblane and Brian Miller, War Paint; The Filthy Thirteen Jump into Normandy, Victory Press, 2013
- Richard E. Killblane, "A Christmas Present for Bastogne", World War II, September 2003
- Jerome Preisler, First to Jump; How the Band of Brothers was Aided by the Brave Paratroopers of the Pathfinder Company, Berkley, 2014
- Allen, Nick (12 April 2010). "Original member of group that inspired 'Dirty Dozen' dies" – via www.telegraph.co.uk.
- A band of brothers, archived from the original on 22 May 2013
- Woolf, Chris (24 January 2013). "Jake McNiece, D-Day Paratrooper Dies, the Last of the 'Filthy Thirteen'". The World. Retrieved 3 February 2013.
- "Local World War II hero Jack Womer dies at 96". Dundalk Eagle. 8 January 2014. Archived from the original on 22 January 2014. Retrieved 21 January 2014.
- Arch Whitehouse. "The Filthy Thirteen". True. Date unknown. Cited in Richard Killblane and Jake McNiece. 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. Casemate, 2005. p. 251 (p. 48, note 11). ISBN 9781935149811
- The Filthy Thirteen: Real Stories From Behind the Lines (2006)
- Member of Unit Linked to 'Dirty Dozen' Dies in Pennsylvania Fox News (Associated Press). 12 April 2010. Retrieved 15 March 2014.
- "The Filthy Thirteen: The U.S. Army's Real 'Dirty Dozen'." American Valor Quarterly online, Winter 2008–09. Retrieved 15 March 2014.
- "Filthy 13" Squad Rivaled by None in Leaping Party: whereabouts Not Known But Pity the Nazis Who Meet Them", Tom Hoge, Stars and Stripes Staff Writer, page 4, The Stars and Stripes, June 9, 1944
- The Filthy Thirteen: The True Story of the Dirty Dozen Amazon.com
- Jack Womer and Stephen De Vito. Fighting With the Filthy Thirteen. 
- Richard E. Killblane and Brian Miller. War Paint; The Filthy Thirteen Jump into Normandy. Jump Into Normandy
- Jake McNiece speaks to AMBUCs in Enid, Oklahoma Enidnews.com