82 AIRBORNE DIVISION

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82nd Airborne Division

Creation of the 82nd Airborne Division

Initially, the 82nd division is a classic Infantry Division, which was created on August 25, 1917 at Camp Gordon, Georgia. The division was sent to France during the First World War and participated in three major offensives which precipitated the collapse of the armies of the German Empire.

On August 15, 1942, the U.S. military creates for the first time an Airborne Division, turning the 82nd Infantry Division into the 82nd Airborne Division. It is placed under the command of General Omar Bradley and his second in command, Brigadier General Matthew Ridgway and it is based at Camp Claiborne, Louisiana.

Composed as a first step of a Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR) and two Glider Infantry Regiments (GIR), the 82nd Airborne is reinforced once in its new home at Fort Bragg (North Carolina) in October 1942. It is ultimately composed of the 504th and 505th PIRs, the 325th GIR, the 319th and 320th Glider Field Artillery Battalions (GFAB), the 376th and 456th Parachute Field Artillery Battalions (PFAB), the 80th Airborne Anti-Aircraft Bataillon (AAAB), the 370th Airborne Engineer Battalion (AEB) and various support elements.

Operation Husky

This operation is led by Colonel James Gavin, commander of the 505th PIR. This is the first Airborne military offensive in the history of the United States of America: on July 9th 1943, paratroopers of the the 505th are dropped over Sicily. Separated into different fighting groups, the paratroopers are preparing the ground before the amphibious operation that will folow later. The 504th PIR was to be dropped on July 11 over Sicily. But when American airmen flew over the Allied fleet, the sailors have mistaken them with enemy bombers and they opened fire with their anti-aircraft guns: 23 C-47 aircraft were shot down. 81 paratroopers were killed, including the Assistant Divisional Commander, Brigadier General Charles Keerans.

On the soil of Sicily, Operation Husky is a success: in 5 days, the 82nd traveled almost 94 kilometers and has about 23.000 prisoners.

Operation Avalanche

General Clark, commander of the 5th U.S. Army, has to launch an amphibious attack, called "Operation Avalanche, at Salerno. On September 9, 1943, the landing begins and for 4 days the American beachhead is threatened. Clark appeales to the 82nd Airborne Division, still in Sicily, to organize a Airborne operation, on September 13th - led by Colonel Reuben Tucker elements of the 504th PIR drops near the city of Paestum, south of Salerno. The next day, elements of the 505th PIR are dropped on the same location.

During the next two month, the 82nd fights in the region of Salerno and Naples, where the airborne division is the first to enter. It continues to progress up to the Volturno river, then it is sent to England to prepare Operation Overlord (D-Day). However, the 504th PIR remained in the area of Anzio, where it continued to fight the German forces.

D-Day

The 82nd Airborne Division is now based in England and preparing for D-Day. The 82nd Airborne Division objectives is to seize and secure different objectives in early morning hours of June 6th 1944 to secure the flanks for 4th Infantry Division comming from Utah Beach. Thus, in the early hours of June 6th 1944, paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne jump over Normandy: they have to capture different objectives in the area west of the Allied amphibious invasion, main objectives is the town of Sainte-Mère-Eglise and the La Fière bridge some few miles west of Sainte-Mere-Eglise.

On the morning of June 6th, the airborne troops make the junction with the landed troops belonging to the 4th infantry division at Utah Beach. On June 9, 1944, in the La Fière area, soldiers of the 82nd, including men of the 325th GIR fiercely defend the bridge against German tanks attacks.

Thus, the 82nd Airborne division fought for 33 days in Normandy until early July 1944 and received for its galantry actions the Presidential Unit Citation. But the war is not over for the men of the 82nd Airborne Division, a short time after the unit returnes to England, the division is getting ready to prepare for a new offensive in Europe - Operation Market Garden.

Market Garden

General Montgomery has developed a plan that requires many more Airborne regiments than in June 1944 during Operation Overlord in Normandy. 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 82nd is then placed under the command of the British 2nd Army, so is the 101st Airborne Division and the 1st British Airborne division. Before the operation, the 504th PIR, who had not participated into Operation Overlord, joined the 82nd division, while the 507th PIR is withdrawn.

On 17 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 82nd has to capture 16 bridges over two rivers: Maas and Waal. It must also control the road between the cities of Nijmegen and Groesbeek. The losses are very high: Company C, 504th PIR losts almost 50% of its men during the attack of the Grave bridge over the River Wall. But Americans have shown courage in all situations: on September 21st, Private John Towle, Company C, 504th PIR, counters alone a German attack composed of nearly 100 soldiers and 2 tanks (he received the U.S. Congressional Medal, the Medal of Honnor). But after 56 days of fierce fighting against a formidable enemy, the Allies are forced to move back. Market Garden is a failure. On 11 November 1944, the 82nd Airborne is moved back into the city of Reims, France.

The Battle of the Bulge

When the Germans launch their last big offensive in the Ardennes on December 16 , 1944, the Allies are swayed. Their last reserves are two U.S. Airborne Divisions, veterans of D-Day, the 101st and 82nd divisions. Two days later, on December 18, the 82nd is in the city of Webermont in Belgium and takes position along the Salm River. The fighting has been extremely demanding, but the German forces have been stopped.

In Germany

Relieved in the Ardennes in early 1945, the 82nd crosses the Rhine and the Siegfried Line into Germany and on April 30, 1945, it starts its last World War II battle, crossing the Elbe River near the city of Bleckede.

On May 2nd, 1945, the 82nd Airborne Division discovers and frees the survivors of the Woebbelin Concentration camp. General Gavin accepts the same day the surrender of about 150.000 soldiers of the 21st German army.

On May 8, 1945, war stops in Europe. The 82nd Airborne division had spend 442 days of fighting in Europe.

Copyright (C) Hans Martin Nielsen - 2015