Danish Living History Association
101st Airborne Division
Creation of the 101st Airborne Division
The U.S. 101st Airborne Division is created officially on August 16, 1942 and makes its first steps in the base of Camp Claiborne, Louisiana. Its first commander is Major General William C. Lee.
The 101st was originally composed of the 502nd parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR), the 327th and 401st infantry regiments carried by gliders (GIR), the 377th Airborne artillery battalion (PFAB), the 321st and 907th artillery battalion transported by gliders (GFAB).
The 326th Engineer battalion (AEB), as well as the 101st signal company, the 326th medical company and the 426th Airborne quartermaster company.
In October 1942, the 101st Airborne Division is transferred to Fort Benning, Georgia, which had sophisticated equipments for the conduct of intensive training. These trainings were very difficult. The soldiers did not learn only the classic infantry combat techniques but they would know also how to jump from an aircraft, control a parachute and accept the fact that they would have to fight behind enemy lines, surrounded by nothing else as the enemy.
As a first step, the parachuted troops and glider transported troops were trained in different places. In early 1943, these two components are combined to form a division. In June 1943, Easy Company, in the 506th parachute infantry regiment (PIR), is placed under the command of the 101st Airborne division. That is when a large scale military exercise begins, the second of its kind at that moment. The maneuvers begin in July 1943 and at the end of the year, the 101st is ready to fight. On September 5th, 1943, it leaves the United States from New York to travel to England in order to continue its training and preperations for D-Day.
The Final preparation
In January 1944, the 101st Airborne division is strengthened by the 502nd parachute infantry regiment, so that the strength of the division reaches nearly 6.600 soldiers. It was at this time that the 101st losts its first Commander, General Lee, he is replaced by General Maxwell Taylor. In March 1944, three months before the start of operation Overlord, the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, just attend a show of forces of the airborne troops of the 101st Airborne that impresses its guests. Short while after that performance, General Taylor receives his orders for D-Day. In May 1944, units of the 101st reaches airfields in southern England from which they leave the eve of D Day to Normandy on June 5th, 1944.
The same day, paratroopers of the 101st Airborne are visited by Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces: General Eisenhower who after inspecting some units, wishes the men good luck. Later that evening the men board 1.432 C-47 transport planes, they are heading for the Norman coast at 10:15 p.m.
On the night between June 5th and 6th 1944, the 101st parachutists jump over Normandy. They must capture various objectives such as bridges, hubs or strategic villages to secure (togenther with the 82nd Airborne division), the western flank of the Allied invasion of Operation Overlord.
Over the Cotentin, the C-47 planes are the targets of the German Flak. The accuracy of the airborne operation is being seriously affected and the bulk of U.S. troops land in the wrong place. Some paratroopers are more than 20 miles from their objective.
But these airdrop errors mistake also the German soldiers who hear the enemy everywhere. Terrorized, most elements of the Wehrmacht retreat facing opponents who are often outnumbered. Reports indicate that about 1.500 U.S. soldiers from the 101st Airborne have been captured or killed during their landing in Normandy. Nevertheless, the paratroopers have completed many tasks. General Taylor has gathered a handful of officers and some infantry and he attacked the village of Sainte-Marie-du-Mont. On the morning of Tuesday June 6th 1944, the airborne troops have actually gathered with the landed troops belonging to the 4th infantry division. at Utah Beach. On June 10th 1944, the 101st Airborne division has to capture the village of Saint-Côme-du-Mont and on June 12 it has to capture the crossroads of the town of Carentan (located between the beaches of Utah and Omaha). It also has to repel all German counterattacks. After fierce fightings, the two U.S. beachheads are no more than one on June 14.
For nearly 3 weeks, the 101st Airborne Division was deployed on the Normandy front. In early July, it returns to England in order to prepare a new major offensive: Operation Market Garden.
Operation Market Garden
General Montgomery has developed a plan that requires many more airborne regiments than in June 1944 during Operation Overlord. The plan, also known as Operation Market Garden, consists of a wide airborne and ground offensive in Holland, which should enable the Allies to capture bridges over the Rhine.
The 101st is placed under the command of the British 2nd Army, so are the 82nd Airborne division and the 1st British Airborne division. On the 17th of September, Market Garden is launched: 20.000 Allied paratroopers jump into the Dutch sky. The German anti-aircraft artillery is missing and airdrops are particularly successful. But as in Normandy, gliders face great losses during the landings, both in human life and in equipment. The 101st is responsible for releasing several cities (including Antwerp) and villages and to ensure the uniformity of the front. It faces several bloody setbacks.
This operation is in the early days a complete success: the Allies penetrate more than 30 kilometers into Germany. But soon, the Germans launch counterattacks and progress. Market Garden has failed.
In December 1944 the German counter offensive have isolated the 101st division and some other allied troops in the Bulge region of Belgium. A terrible battle begins.
On January 18, 1945, the German offensive is stopped and the 101st Airborne, shelled for 3 weeks extremely difficult, is joined by the 3rd Army. The 101st Division receives the Presidential Unit Citation, the highest distinction granted by the President of the United States, for galantery at Bastogne.
The 101st Airborne Division is sent into Germany in April 1945 to "clean up" the resistance pockets in the industrial region of the Ruhr. Allies have agreed that the Russians capture Berlin, while most American divisions move south. Thus, the 101st Airborne is sent near the town of Berchtesgaden, were it captures some military members of the Nazi party.
The 101st was ready, once the end of the war in Europe signed (May 8, 1945), to go to the Pacific in order to fight the Japanese. But its soldiers never returned to fight after this date during the Second World War.
During the Second World War, 2.043 soldiers from the 101st were killed, 7.976 were injured and 1.193 are missing. The paratroopers of the 101st have spent 214 days in combat.
Copyright (C) Hans Martin Nielsen - 2015