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Airborne during World War II Overview
The double "A"
on the shoulder patch refers to the nickname
"All American Division" adopted by the
organization in France during World War I.
n 25 March 1942,the
82nd Infantry Division was reactivated at Camp Claiborne, Louisiana under the command of Major General Omar N. Bradley (left). On August 15, 1942, the
Division took wings as The 82nd Airborne - becoming the U.S. Army's first airborne division
- now commanded by Major General Matthew B.Ridgway (below
At the same time, 82nd personnel
also were used in the formation of a second
airborne unit - the "Screaming Eagles"
of the 101st Airborne Division.
In October, the 82nd was dispatched to Fort Bragg,
North Carolina, to pursue its new airborne
training. On October 14, the 82nd absorbed the
504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, which had
formed on May 1 at Fort Benning, Georgia. By the
time that they went overseas, the 82nd would
consist of the 325th Glider Infantry Regiment and
the 504th and 505th Parachute Infantry Regiments.
At Fort Bragg, the All Americans trained
vigorously. These pioneering paratroopers stood
up, hooked up and leaped from C-47
transport planes while the gliderborne troops
were at work in the 15-man WACO-CG4A
gliders - towed by the transport planes
In the spring of 1943, the 82nd All Americans
became the first airborne division sent overseas.
They left via troop ships from New England and
landed in Casablanca, North Africa on May 10,
1943. From there, they moved by rail to Oujda and
then by truck to Kairouan, Tunisia. That would be
their departure point for the Division's first
combat drop - the invasion of Sicily.
Sicily - Operation Husky Colonel James Gavin's 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR) and
the 3rd Battalion of the 504th PIR parachuted to
take the high ground near Ponte Olivo airfield
northeast of Gela, Sicily on July 9,1943. Despite
the wide scattering of the assault, the
objectives were seized and the units linked up
with the 1st Infantry Division the next day.
On July 11, 1943, the remaining Battalions of the
504th PIR were dropped in the vicinity of Gela
with heavy losses from both the German and Allied
(friendly fire) antiaircraft fire.
Despite the heavy losses the division was moved
up to the front by motor and reinforced by the 39th
Infantry Regiment of the 9th Infantry Division on July 12, 1943. The crossings
of Fiume delle Canno were secured on July 18,
1943 and the division pushed along the coastal
highway, seizing the Marsala-Trapani area of
Sicily's western coast by July 23rd.
Salerno - The Oil Drum Drop The Division's second combat operation was a
night parachute drop onto the Salerno
beachhead on September 13, 1943 in support of
General Mark Clark's 5th Army which was in danger
of being pushed back into the sea.
The 504th PIR was parachuted south of the Sele
River near Salerno on September 13, 1943. In
order to guide the C-47 pilots to the shrinking
dropzone, oil drums filled with gasoline soaked
sand were ignited every 50 yards when signaled.
1300 troopers landed that night infusing a new
sense of confidence to the beleaguered soldiers
of the 5th Army. The 505th PIR was dropped the
following night near the same dropzone to
reinforce the air assault. On September 15th the
325th Glider Infantry Regiment (GIR) was brought
into the beachhead amphibiously to join the rest
of the division.
Once the beachhead was secured, the 504th PIR
& the 376th PFAB began an attack to recover
Altavilla on September 16, 1943 and the division
fought towards Naples
which it reached on October 1, 1943 and moved in
to the next day for security duty.
"Leg Infantry" After Naples, the 504th PIR & the 376th PFAB
were detached from the 82nd Airborne temporarily
and fought as "leg infantry" through
the hills of southern Italy as part of the 36th
Infantry Division. On October 29th they capture
Gallo. They then battled in the Winter
Line commencing with attacks up Hill 687 on
December 15th, 1943.
On 9 December 1943 Colonel Gavin was promoted to Brigadier General and assumed the duties of the Assistant Division
Commander of the 82nd Airborne while Lt Col Herbert Batchellor assumed command of the 505th. During the
early months of 1944, units of the Division were moved to England as the allies were
preparing for the assault on Western Europe. The 505th PIR again changed commanders on 22 March 1944
when Lt Col William Ekman assumed command. He would lead the 505th through the remainder of the war.
Picture above right: 82nd Airborne Div General Staff - England - Spring, 1944.
(^^ Click Picture to Enlarge ^^)
They are (left to right) Front Row (Sitting): BG James M Gavin, Asst Div CO -
MG Matthew B Ridgway, Div CO - Col Ralph P Eaton, Chief of Staff ; Back Row: (Standing) Capt Arthur G Kroos Jr., Aide-de-Camp - Lt Col Robert H Wienecke, Div G-3 -
Lt Col Frederick M Schellhammer, Div G-1 - Lt Col Bennie A Zinn, Div G-4 and (Standing) Lt Col Whitfield Jack, Div G-2.)
Anzio - Operation Shingle On January 22nd &23rd 1944, the 504th PIR,
landed on the beach at Anzio and participated in
heavy combat along the Mussolini Canal. It was
their fierce fighting during this defensive
engagement that earned the 504th PIR the nickname
"Devils in Baggy
Pants." The nickname was taken
from an entry made in a German officer's diary.
D-Day - Operation Neptune While the 504th was detached, the remainder of
the 82nd was pulled out of Italy in December 1943 and moved to the United Kingdom to prepare for
the liberation of Europe. With two combat jumps under its belt, the 82nd Airborne Division was
now ready for the most ambitious airborne operation of the war, Operation Neptune -the
airborne invasion of Normandy. The operation was
part of Operation OVERLORD, the amphibious
assault on the northern coast of Nazi-occupied
In preparation for the operation, the division
was reorganized. Two new parachute infantry
regiments, the 507th and the 508th, joined the
division. However, due to its depleted state
following the fighting in Italy, the 504th
Parachute Infantry Regiment did not take part in
On June 5-6,
1944, the paratroopers of the 82nd's three
parachute infantry regiments and reinforced
glider infantry regiment boarded hundreds of
transport planes and gliders and, began the
largest airborne assault in history. They were
among the first soldiers to fight in Normandy,
The division dropped behind Utah Beach, Normandy,
France between Ste Mere-Eglise and Carentan on
June 6th, 1944. They were reinforced by the 325th
GIR the next day. The division remained under
strong German pressure along the Merderit River.
Eventually, the 325th GIR crossed the river to
secure a bridgehead at La Fiere on June 9th. It
was during this action that Pfc Charles N.
DeGlopper single-handedly defended his platoon's
position and subsequently was awarded the Medal
of Honor for his heroism.
The next day the 505th PIR captured Montebourg
Station and on June 12th the 508th PIR crossed
the Douve at Beuzeville-la-Bastille and reached
Baupt. They established a bridgehead at Pont
l'Abbe on June 19th. The division then attacked
down the west coast of the Cotentin Peninsula and
captured Hill 131 on July 3rd. The following day
the 82nd seized Hill 95 overlooking La Haye-du-Puits.
By the time the All-American Division was pulled
back to England on July 13, 1944, it had seen 33
days of bloody combat and suffered 5,245
paratroopers killed, wounded or missing. The
Division's post battle report read, "...33
days of action without relief, without
replacements. Every mission accomplished. No
ground gained was ever relinquished."
Following the Normandy invasion, the 82nd became
part of the newly organized XVIII Airborne Corps
which consisted of the U.S. 17th, 82nd, and 101st
Airborne Divisions. General Ridgway was promoted and assumed command
of the XVIII Airborne Corps. Meanwhile, Assistant Division Commander, General James
left) was also promoted and assumed command of the 82nd Airborne.
Operation Market Garden In September, the 82nd began planning for
Operation Market Garden in Holland. The operation
called for three-plus airborne divisions to seize
and hold key bridges and roads deep behind German
lines. The 504th now back at full strength
rejoined the 82nd, while the 507th went to the 17th
On September 17, the 82nd Airborne Division
conducted its fourth combat jump of World War II
into Holland. Fighting off ferocious German
counterattacks, the 82nd captured the Maas Bridge
at Grave, the Maas-Waal Canal Bridge at Heumen
and the Nijmegen-Groesbeek Ridge. The next day
attempts to take Nijmegen Highway Bridge failed.
On 20 September the 504th carried out an heroic
assault crossing the Waal. With artillery support
the first wave of the 504th assaulted, in twenty-six
assault boats, under intense fire, taking 200
casualties in the process. Finally on D+4 the 504th finally secured their
hold on the bridge, fighting off another German
counterattack just before noon.
It was in this skirmish that Pvt. John Towle won
the Medal of Honor. Its success, however, was
short-lived because of the defeat of other Allied
units at Arnhem. The gateway to Germany would not
open in September 1944, and the 82nd was ordered
back to France.
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 82nd moved into action on December 17th in
reponse to the German's Ardennes Counteroffensive and blunted General Von
Runstedt's (picture left) northern penetration in the American
On December 20th the 82nd attacked in the
Vielsalm-St. Vith region and the 504th PIR took
Monceau. This fiece attack forced the German
units back across the Ambleve River the next day.
However, further German assaults along the Salm
hit the 505th PIR in the Trois
Ponts area on December 22nd and by December
24th the division lost Manhay. On December 25th,
1944 the division withdrew from the Vielsalm
salient then attacked northeast of Bra on
December 27th reaching Salm by January 4th, 1945.
On January 7th the 508th PIR Red Devil's launched
an attack with the 504th in the vicinity of Thier-du-Mont
where it suffered heavy casualties. The 508th was
then withdrawn from the line and placed in
reserve until January 21st when it replaced
elements of the 2d Infantry Division.
On January 29, 1945 First Sergeant Leonard
Funk, Jr. of Company C, 508th Parachute Infantry
Regiment won the Congressional Medal of Honor for
action at Holzheim, Belgium. After leading his
unit and capturing 80 Germans.
On February 7th, 1945 the division attacked
Bergstein, a town on the Roer River. The 82nd
crossed the Roer River on February 17th. During
April, 1945 the division performed security duty
in Cologne until they attacked in the Bleckede
area and pushed toward the Elbe River. As the 504th
PIR drove toward Forst Carrenzien, the German 21st
Army surrendered to the division on May 2, 1945.
Occupation Following the surrender of Germany, the 82nd was
ordered to Berlin for occupation duty. In Berlin
General George Patton was so impressed with the
82nd's honor guard he said, "In all my years
in the Army and all the honor guards I have ever
seen, the 82nd's honor guard is undoubtedly the
best." Hence the "All-Americans"
became known as "America's Guard of Honor."
(picture above right: 82nd Airborne Div marching down 5th Avenue NYC 12 Jan 1946.
(^^ Click Picture to Enlarge ^^))
The 82nd returned to the United States January 3,
1946. Instead of being demobilized, the 82nd made
its permanent home at Fort Bragg, North Carolina
and was designated a regular Army division on
November 15, 1948.