During World War II, the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment participated in seven major campaigns and four regimental airborne assaults (Sicily, Italy, Normandy, and Holland).
On 6 July 1942, in the "Frying Pan Area" at Fort Benning, Georgia, the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment was activated. Troops were assigned as soon as they graduated from The Parachute School at Fort Benning. On 4 February 1943, the Regiment was assigned to the 82d Airborne Division, and on 12th of February, the Regiment arrived at Fort Bragg, North Carolina for advanced tactical training. On March 30th, the 505 made the first regimental mass jump in U.S. Army history.
On 28 April 1943, the 505th left the New York Port of Embarkation for Casablanca, North Africa where the regiment underwent six weeks of grueling training. The regiment then flew to Kairouan, Tunisia where final preparations were conducted for the 505th's entry into battle.
Sicily - Operation HUSKY
On 9 July 1943, just over a year after it's activation the 505th made the first regimental size combat parachute attack as part of Operation Husky l. Under the capable leadership of Colonel James M. "Slim Jim" Gavin, the 505th was organized into a Regimental Combat Team which included the 3rd Battalion of the 504th. As a staff officer in Airborne Command under General Lee, Colonel Gavin wrote "Instructional Pamphlet for Airborne Operations". These theories and observations would now be put to the test.
Their objective was to parachute behind enemy lines into an egg-shaped area around Gela, Sicily. They would then close off roads leading to beaches and secure the drop zone for further use. Especially important near the DZ was enemy-held Objective Y - a series of 16 concrete "pillboxes" from which German gunners controlled movement on nearby roads. In it's first trial-by-fire, the 505th, though outmanned and outgunned, used raw courage and fighting spirit to block the German Herman Goering Panzer Division at Biazza Ridge, in the process saving the beachhead and the Allied landings.
Italy - Operation AVALANCHE
With Sicily secure, the Allies continued attack on the Axis powers with landings on the Italian mainland as part of Operation Avalanche. A landing on mainland Italy took place in the early morning of 12 September 1943 at Salerno under General Mark Clark. Within 72 hours German Field Marshal Kesselring was poised to drive the Allies back into the sea. This set the stage for the 505th's second combat jump. On the night of 14 September 1943, Jim Gavin's 505th Parachute Infantry totaling roughly 2100 combat hardened paratroopers dropped onto the tenuous Salerno beachhead. It was an encore performance of the previous night's precise parachute jump by the 504th and no less spectacular. Within 24 hours these two units of the 82nd Airborne had jumped on short notice and shored up the faltering Salerno beachhead.
Two weeks later, on 29 September, the 505th had probed into the outskirts of Naples, thereby capturing the first major European city for the Allies. 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, the Division was moved to England as the allies were preparing for the assault on Western Europe. The regiment again changed commanders. Lt Col William Ekman assumed command on 22 March 1944 and would lead the 505th through the remainder of the war.
Normandy, France - Operation NEPTUNE
During the early months of 1944, the Division was moved to England as the allies were preparing for the assault on Western Europe. The largest combined military operation in history, Operation Overlord, was to be spearheaded by the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions, and the British 6th Airborne Division. 6 June 1944, at 0300 hours, found the paratroopers of the 505th landing on the Normandy Peninsula. It was on of the first Airborne units to hit the ground and liberated the first town in France; St. Mere-Eglise. They were attacked from the North, West, and East by fierce forces. A hard battle was fought at the La Fiere bridge across the Merderet River by the 1st Battalion of the 505 in order to keep the Germans from counterattacking with armor against the landings. For their performance in the invasions, the 505th was awarded the Presidential Distinguished Unit Citation, the unit equivalent of the Medal of Honor awarded to individual soldiers. In the words of author Clay Blair, the paratroopers emerged from Normandy with the reputation of being a pack of jackals; the toughest, most resourceful and bloodthirsty in Europe.
Holland - Operation MARKET GARDEN
On 9 September 1944 Field-Marshal Montgomery proposed a plan, called Operation Market Garden, to secure a bridgegehead across the Rhine. The operation called for a combined armor and airborne assault to seize and hold key bridges and roads deep behind German lines in Holland. The airborne phase of the operation consisted of capturing five bridges ahead of the armored force.
On 17 September 1944, as part of Operation Market Garden, the 505th made its fourth jump at Groesbeck, Holland, part the largest airborne assault in history. The 505 and 504 famously took and held the Nijmegen Bridge; the 504 having to perform a daylight amphibious crossing of the Waal River in canvas and wood boats. For their actions, the 505th received a second Presidential Unit Citation.
Belgium - a.k.a. the Battle of the Bulge
On December 16, 1944, the Germans launched a surprise offensive through the Ardennes Forest which caught the Allies completely by surprise. Two days later the 82nd joined the fighting and quickly blunted General Von Runstedt's northern penetration of the American lines above Bastogne. Despite a lack of cold weather equipment once again airborne spirit, courage, and hard-nosed determination won the day as the 505th withstood the bleak winter and stopped the fanatic German attacks at Ste Vith and the Salm River.
Much publicity has been given to the 101st encircled at Bastogne and rightfully so, however, according to Allen Langdon, the facts are that "Bastogne was neither astride the main route of the projected advance of the German armies to Antwerp, nor was Bastogne the key to the defeat of the Germans in the Ardennes." The defense of the Ardennes and the surrounding area was a joint effort, with 8 American Divisions involved initially (Langdon, "Ready," pg. 121).
Post- Battle of the Bulge and Occupation
After the Battle of the Buldge, the Regiment returned to Camp Suippes. On April 1st, the 82nd was ordered to take up defense positions along the Rhine River near Cologne and hold the flank of the Ruhr Pocket. In late April, the Division was moved to Northern Germany, and on April 30th, performed an assault crossing of the Elbe River near Blekede Germany. On May 3rd, contact was made with the Russian Army (Langdon, pg. 122-128). On May 5th, the Regiment discovered the Wobbelin Concentration Camp, near Ludwigslust. There were no gas chambers nor crematoriums; the prisoners were simply allowed to starve to death. Approximately 4,000 prisoners were held there, and approximately one-third survived. General Gavin ordered the leading citizens of Ludwigslust to dig graves, and he required the townspeople to attend the funeral (Nordyke, "Four Stars of Valor", pg. 403-405)
The war officially ended in Europe on 8 May 1945 and the 82nd Airborne Division was called upon to serve as the occupation force in the American Sector of Berlin. Here the 82nd Airborne Division earned the name, "America’s Guard of Honor," as a fitting end to hostilities in which the "All-Americans" had chased the German Army some 14,000 miles across the European Theater. Upon returning to the United States, the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, and its original Commander; James Gavin; had the distinct honor of leading the New York City Victory Day Parade in 1946.
For its valor in the seven major campaigns of the Mediterranean and European Theatres of Operations, the 505th was awarded two Distinguished Unit Citations and three Foreign decorations: the French Forragere, Netherlands Military Order of William, and Belgium Forragere.
"Ready: The History of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division, World War Two" by Allen Langdon
"Four Stars of Valor: The Combat History of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment in World War Two," by Phil Nordyke.
History of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment
G Company, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division (Reenacted)