he 17th "Thunder from Heaven" Airborne Division was activated at Camp Mackall
on April 15, 1943 under the command of General William M Miley.
(pictured left) The core units of the newly formed division were the 513th Parachute
Infantry Regiment (PIR), the 193rd and 194th Glider Infantry Regiments (GIR). After the Normandy invasion the
507th Parachute Infantry Regiment was permanently attached to the division which was stationed in the
United Kingdom from 25 August to 23 December 1944.
Toward the end of August, 1944 the 17th Airborne Division, the 82nd Airborne Division and the
101st Airborne Division became permanent units of the U.S. XVIII Airborne Corps. When Operation Market Garden
was conceived the 17th Airborne was still in training. Consequently, it was held in reserve. This was not the
case during the German Ardennes Offensive.
Battle of the Bulge - The Ardennes Offensive From 23 to 25 December, elements of the Division were flown to the Reims area in France in spectacular night flights. These elements closed in at Mourmelon. After taking over the defense of the Meuse River sector from Givet to Verdun, 25 December, the 17th moved to Neufchateau, Belgium, then marched through the snow to Morhet, relieving the 28th Infantry Division, 3 January 1945.
The Division entered the Ardennes campaign, 4 to 9 January, at the Battle of Dead Man's Ridge. It captured several small Belgian towns and entered Flamierge, 7 January, but enemy counterattacks necessitated a withdrawal. However, constant pressure and aggressive patrolling caused the enemy to retreat to the Our River. On 18 January, the Division relieved the 11th Armored Division at Houffalize, pushed enemy remnants from the Bulge, and seized Wattermal and Espeler, 26 January. Coming under the III Corps, the 17th turned toward Luxembourg, taking Eschweiler and Clervaux and clearing the enemy from the west bank of the Our River. Aggressive patrols crossed the river to probe the Siegfried Line defenses and established a limited bridgehead near
Dasburg before being relieved by the 6th Armored Division, 10 February.
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, for
24 March 1945. Operation Varsity would be the last full scale airborne drop of World War II and the
assignment went to the 17th Airborne Division with the 507th spearheading the assault dropping at the
southern edge of the Diersfordter Forest, three mile northwest of Wesel.
Finally, on the 24th March 1945, taking off from marshalling areas in France in nearly perfect
weather, nearly 4000 aircraft from the British 6th Airborne Division and the 17th US Airborne Division dropped
fighting men behind enemy lines, into Westphalia in the vicinity of Weselon which was east of the Rhine
River. Their mission was to capture key points and so assist the advance of the ground troops. Having learned
the lessons from the Arnhem battle, the gliders and paratroops landed close to their targets and achieved total
Operation Varsity was the first airborne invasion over the Rhine into Germany itself. On
the 25th, the Division had secured bridges over the Issel River and had entrenched itself firmly along the
Issel Canal. Moving eastward, it captured Haltern, 29 March, and Munster, 2 April. The 17th entered the battle
of the Ruhr Pocket, relieving the 79th Infantry Division. It crossed the Rhine-Herne Canal, 6 April, and set up
a secure bridgehead for the attack on Essen. The "Pittsburgh of the Ruhr" fell, 10 April, and the industrial
cities of Mulheim and Duisburg were cleared in the continuing attack.
Military government duties began, 12 April, and active contact with the enemy ceased, 18 April.
The Division came under the XXII Corps 24 April.
It continued its occupation duties until 15 June 1945 when it returned to France for redeployment. In September, 1945, the 17th Airborne Division returned home and was disbanded. This was just another reminder of why the American flag still stands for freedom.