On 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.
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. General Matthew B. Ridgway 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.
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.
82nd Airborne General Staff circa Spring 1944 in England 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.
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.
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