17th Airborne Division

....."Wars may be fought with weapons,
.......but they are won by men."

........................................... ......General George S. Patton

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Lt Colonel Stanley T B Johnson - Commanding Officer 139th AEB
LtCol Stanley T.B.Johnson

Silver Star Recipients
2/Lt Earl A Goodman
Pfc Edward R Knox
Lt Col Stanley Johnson
1/Lt John J McNamee Jr

17th Airborne WW II
Medal of Honor Recipients

T/Sgt Clinton M Hedrick
S/Sgt Isadore S Jachman
Pvt George J Peters
Pfc Stuart S Stryker
The 139th Airborne Engineer Battalion
Unit History

he 139th Airborne Engineer Battalion (AEB) was constituted on 10 March 1943 at Camp Mackall, North Carolina (NC). It was activated 15 April 1943 at Camp Mackall, North Carolina under the command of Lt Colonel Stanley Johnson. (picture left) The 139th AEB was immediately assigned to the 17th Airborne Division. Moved to the Tennessee Maneuver Area 7 February 1944 then transferred to Camp Forrest, Tennessee 24 March 1944. The battalion staged at Camp Myles Standish, Massachusetts on 14 August 1944. It departed the Boston Port of Embarkation 20 August 1944 aboard the USS Wakefield and arriving in Liverpool, England on 28 August 1944.

When the 139th AEB arrived in England, the battalion was immediately shuttled to Camp Chisledon, the 17th Airborne Division staging area, on August 29, 1944. Flight and tactical training continued and night maneuvers were added to the training schedule. When Operation Market Garden was initiated, the 17th Airborne Division was still in training and was held in strategic reserve.

Battle of the Bulge - The Ardennes Offensive
Suddenly, on December 16, 1944, the Germans launched a surprise offensive through the Ardennes Forest which caught the Allies completely by surprise. The 17th was still in England. But the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisons were in Sissones, France and were rushed by truck to contain the bulge in the Allied lines. Between December 17 and 23, the Germans were halted near St. Vith by the 82nd Airborne and Bastogne by a roadblock, defended by the U.S. 7th Armoured Division and the 101st Airborne Division. To help reinforce the siege at Bastogne the entire 17th Airborne Division was finally committed to combat in the European Theater of Operations.

From 23 to 25 December, elements of the Division were flown to the Reims area in France in spectacular night flights then hastily trucked into Belgium. Meanwhile, Patton's Third U.S. Army had finally broken the siege at Bastogne with a marathon thrust from the south. Upon arriving the 17th Airborne Division was attached to Patton's Third U.S. Army and ordered to immediately close in at Mourmelon. The 139th AEB supported the division in the defense of the Meuse River sector from Givet to Verdun until 1 January 1945. On 2 January 1945 the 17th Airborne moved to Neufchateau, Belgium.

During the next month, the 139th AEB moved several times within Belgium sweeping roads for mines and locating and destroying booby traps until on the 27th when the battalion took up positions near Bockholz, Luxembourg. On 11 February 1945 the 139th AEB and returned to camp at Chalons-sur-Marne in France with the rest of the 17th Airborne Divison. The 17th returned to Belgium on 21 March 1945 to prepare for the air assault across the Rhine.

Operation Varsity - The Airborne Assault on the Rhine
In early February 1945, the tide of battle was such as to enable an accurate estimate as to when and where the 2nd British Army would be ready to force a crossing of the Rhine River. It was determined that the crossing would be in conjunction with an airborne operation by XVIII Airborne Corps.

The sector selected for the assault was in the vicinity of Wesel, just north of the Ruhr, on 24 March 1945. Operation Varsity would be the last full scale airborne drop of World War II and the assignment went to the British 6th Airborne Division and the 17th Airborne Division.

This would be the last full scale airborne operation of the war and the first combat glider landing for the 139th AEB. The 139th's mission was to land north of Wesel in Landing Zone (LZ) S, a large flat area where the Issel River and the Issel Canal merge. Then to seize the crossing over the Issel and protect the division's right flank.

Lt Col Stanley Johnson briefs Operation Varsitys Marshalling Plan. (Source: US Airborne Forces) As General Eisenhower watched the operation from a church tower on the west side of the Rhine the 139th had the misfortune of flying over a concentration of German antiaircraft weapons. Two-thirds of the C-47's were either damaged or in flames. The pilots remained with the aircrafts until they released the gliders which landed amid German Artillery units. The German gun crews immediately repositioned their guns for direct fire. It was a fluid situations for a period but the glider troops prevailed and were able to overrun the German positions.

(picture above right: Lt Col Johnson briefs his men on Operation Varisty's Marshalling Plan. (^^ Click Picture to Enlarge ^^) )

The 139th AEB served in the Army of Occupation of Germany from 2 May - 19 June 1945. The battalion reassembled in the Neufchateau area of France and returned to the United States via the Boston Port of Embarkation on 14 Sepember 1945 and deactivated at Camp Myles Standish, Massachusetts on the same date.

139th Airborne Engineer Battalion - Article    
  • 139th AEB - Time Article - Article from Time Magazine April 2,1945 regarding the 139th AEB & Operation Varsity.   (Article courtesy of Lauren Randolph)
  • 139th AEB - Company B - Platoon of troopers Company B at Camp Forrest TN circa June 1944.  
  • 139th AEB - Company C - Louisiana Maneuver February 1944.  (T/5 Leicester C Stift {Demolition Specialist 533} is kneeling on the left. The other men are unknown.)    (Photo courtesy of his son Gary Stift)

R E L A T E D   B O O K S

Ambrose, Stephen E D-DAY June 6,1944: The Climatic Battle of WW II. 6/93, Simon & Shuster ISBN: 0671673343
Badsey , Stephen & Chandler, David G (Editor)  Arnhem 1944: Operation "Market Garden" (Campaign No.24) 1993 96p. ISBN: 1855323028
Breuer, William B Geronimo! American Paratroopers in WWII. New York: St. Martin Press, 1989 621 p. ISBN: 0-312-03350-8
D'Este, Carlo  Patton: A Genius for War 1024 pp ISBN: 0060927623
De Trez, Michel  At the Point of No Return : Pictorial History of the American Paratroopers in the Invasion of Normandy 7/98, D-Day Pub, 200 p. ISBN: 2960017617
Gavin, James M.  On to Berlin : Battles of an Airborne Commander, 1943-1946 ISBN: 0670525170
Golden, Lewis Echoes From Arnhem Penguin ISBN: 0718305213
MacDonald, Charles B  A Time For Trumpets: The Untold Story of the Battle of the Bulge Wm Morrow & Co (P), 720 p. ISBN: 068151574
McKenzie, John  On Time, On Target Novato, CA: Presidio, May 15,2000. 304 p. ISBN: 089 141 714 1
Ryan, Cornelius  A Bridge Too Far 670p. ISBN: 0684803305
Wildman, John B All Americans 82nd Airborne. Meadowlands Militaria, 6/83 ISBN:091 208 1007
The Center of Military History The War in the Mediterranean: A WWII Pictorial History Brasseys, Inc., 465 p. ISBN:1574881302

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