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82ND AIRBORNE DIVISION
'ALL AMERICAN'

82nd Airborne Division
(In the Second World War)

The 82nd Infantry Division, was original an unit with its roots in the First World War, and known as the ‘All American’, due to the effect that it’s service personal came from all states in the United States. In March 1942 it was reactivated at Camp Clairborne, Louisiana. On 16 August of the same year the 82nd was divided to from the first American Airborne Division, together with the 101st 'Screaming Eagles' Airborne Division. The 82nd moved directly to the training camp Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Part of the division becomes the 504th Airborne Infantry Regiment that was called into life at Fort Benning, Georgia. The 82nd goes to war on 10 May, 1943 when the Americans arrive in North Africa. Under the command of General Mattew B. Ridgeway the men come to shore at Casablanca. From here they leave for Tunisia to prepare for the invasion of Sicily. ‘Operation Husky’ takes place in the night of 9 and 10 July 1943 when units of the 82nd Airborne Division, consisting of the 505th Airborne Regiment and the 3rd Battalion of the 504th Airborne Regiment step aboard there transport planes for there jump over Sicily.

Douglas C-47C Skytrain (British name: Dakota)

When the C-47's approach the island the American navy opens fire at them by mistake, they thought that the planes were from the German Luftwaffe. Despite that there are a couple of C-47’s destroyed with the costly price of the life of many young men, the main force with the ‘All American’ reach their drop zone. Ten days later the front troops are withdrawn. When the allied landings near Salerno in Italy are under threat to fail, units of the 82nd were swiftly brought in on 13 September, 1943. The Airborne Division manages to force a breakthrough to Naples. The 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment receives in Bagnoli, out of hands from Major-General Mark Clark, the Presidential Unit Citation for their part during the Anzio campaign.

Presidential Unit Citation

Now that Naples was secured, the 82nd was shipped to Liverpool where they arrive on 22 April, 1944. The division goes in training for their next mission, D-Day.

6 JUNE, 1944, D-DAY

The targets for the 82nd Airborne Division on 6 June, 1944, were west and south of Ste-Mere-Eglise. Their mission was to destroy two bridges over the river Douve and to secure the bridge over the river Merderet. This to prevent that the Germans could bring reinforcements to the landing beaches. The first group that were dropped were the ‘Pathfinders’. Their mission was to place the beacons for the main force of C-47’s. Unfortunately only 38 of the 120 ‘Pathfinders’ reach their specific target. After the first men have made their jump the German flak becomes more intents. The pilots try to climb their planes and to throttle up. This made the jump for the men much harder. Due to the fact of the bad weather and the lack of radar the flak was very inaccurate. Of the 805 transport planes that flew that night over the peninsula Cotentin, ‘only’ 20 were lost because of the flak. The 82nd, under command of Major-General M.B. Ridgeway were fortunate. The first regiment, under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Krauze, drops in by surprise with 75% of the men within a few miles of their target (dropping zone, DZ). At 04.00 hours, two hours after the main force has landen, Ste-Mere-Eglise is captured.

Ste-Mere-Eglise, Then and Now, target for the 82nd Airborne Division

But the the problems start to built. Of the 52 gliders loaded with the heavy weapons, only 22 reach their landing zone (LZ). The bridges that had to be taken are strong defended. Further more, a lot of paratroopers are lost wander around in search of their units. A whole group is lost between the river Merderet and the area that was intently swamped. The Germans for saw a landing in this area, and whole area’s were drowned and were impenetrable. Everywhere in the field stood high poles against gliders, the so called ‘Rommels-asparagus’. Due to the scattered landings of the paratroopers in the whole area were small conflicts with the Germans. It was for the defending German a nightmare. All around them were small groups of paratroopers. In this area operated the German 91st Infantry Regiment, special trained to deal with paratroopers, but there was no strategy in the fighting of the 82nd Airborne Division. At daybreak of the 6th of June the reinforcements arrive in gliders or were dropped. Around 10.00 hours in the morning the first contact is made with the troops who landed at UTAH Beach. There is a firm bridgehead with a depth of 12 kilometre. The 82nd Airborne Division is appointed to break out to the west and close off the peninsula Cotentin and secure it against retreating Germans from the north. Four other American Division will then steam up north, to Cherbourg. On 18 June, the 82nd reaches Barneville on the other side of the peninsula. At least 30.000 German soldiers are trapped and these pull back on Cherbourg.

'They don't like it up'm, the cold steel!'

After 33 days of non-stop fighting, the 82nd is finally evacuated back to England. The losses were 40% of the initial strength from the month before. The troops had fought against five German divisions, 77th, 353rd, 243rd, 91st and the 265th, in which case the last two were almost wiped out. Further more, they destroyed 62 tanks and 44 pieces of artillery and anti-tank cannons.

17 SEPTEMBER, 1944, MARKET-GARDEN

During their period in Great Britain the 82nd and 101st are brought back to fighting strength and prepared for their next operation, Market-Garden. The target is the capture of several bridges, with the final goal the bridge at Arnhem. Montgomery plans to use this point to spearhead into Germany. The British 1st Airborne Division would be landing west of Arnhem, with support from the Polish Parachute Brigade. The 101st Airborne Division has its DZ in a area between Veghel and Son, north of Eindhoven. The 82nd will be dropped between the river Waal and the river Maas, south of Nijmegen. Under command of Major-General James Gavin their task is to capture the bridges, among them the longest (then) from Europe, over the Maas near Grave. Sunday 17 September, 1944 a 1000 transport planes and almost 500 gliders fly to Holland. The Americans who drop in the area Eindhoven-Nijmegen face little opposition, other than the British, who are under heavy fire from the start. A battalion of the 82nd Airborne Division capture the bridge near Grave within the hour. Before dark sets in, the route leading into Nijmegen is secured by capture the bridge over there. The next day, 18 September, the counter attack from the Germans begins from the Reichswald. This is in the same time when the reinforcements of the 82nd are due to arrive. From England started that morning 1203 gliders. They left late because of the bad weather. And now the LZ for the gliders is overrun by the Germans. General Gavin orders to clear the landing zone from Germans. With only thirty minutes to spare they paratroopers pushed the Germans back. But the gliders land under fire, but despite of that, the casulties are minor. Had the gliders left on time from their airfields, they would have landed in a by Germans captured area. But because of their late arrival it is to late to capture the bridge of Nijmegen that day.

The bridge at Nijmegen

In the night of 19 and 20 September German reinforcements are brought in over the Rhine to Nijmegen. These are units from battle-group 10.SS-Pantzer-Grenadier-Division. It takes most of the Wednesday to clear Nijmegen from German defences in and around Nijmegen, just as the shore of the river Waal. This was of great importance because the 504th Parachute Regiment were given the order to cross the Waal with boats. Around 15.00 hours the men board the rowing boats and under a smokescreen they set off. Unfortunately the wind blows the smoke apart and the fast flowing river makes it hard to row. Only half of the boats reach the other side, the rest is adrift or are destroyed by German fire. But somehow 200 men reach the other side and with additional reinforcements they capture the bridge. There is no medal in the world for this heroic act, to cross a fast moving river of 400 metres wide in brought daylight under heavy enemy fire. General Dempsey told General Gavin: "I'm very proud to meet the commander of the finest division in the world today". All of the British officers agreed with this wholeheartedly who witnessed the 82nd Airborne Division on that day.

Left, Lieutenant-General 'Boy' Browning in conference with Major-General 'Jumping Jim' Gavin, right, Gavin in 1958

Unfortunaly, Arnhem would not be liberated and the British had to give up their positions at the bridge. The planned breakthrough to the east before the winter had failed.

FROM BELGIUM TO BERLIN

When the 82nd and the 101st Airborne Division are pulled back to take some rest, the ‘Battle of the Bulge’ begins in the Belgium Ardennes. In great hurry the 101st is directed to Bastogne and the 82nd takes positions on the left flank. During the total isolation of the 101st at Bastogne, the 82nd hold of the Germans west of Bastogne with the help of the 17th Airborne Division. When finally the Germans are defeated and drove back, the pursue of enemy troops takes over. The river Rhine is crossed and the allies head for Berlin. The 82nd crosses the river Elbe together with British units. 50 Kilometres further, in Ludwiglust, they shake hands with the Russians. Meanwhile they liberated the concentration camp of Wobbelin and they accept the surrender of 145.000 German troops from the 21st Army, under command of General-Leutnant von Tippelskirch. After VE-Day (Victory Day-Europe) the 82nd Airborne Division is tasked to be administrate and policing the American sector in Berlin.

THE SHOULDER SLEEVE INSIGNIA

The original shoulder sleeve insignia of the 82nd Infantry Division dates back to the First World War and is accepted on 21 October 1918. It consist of a red square with a blue circle bearing the white letters ‘AA’ (All American). When on 31 August, 1942 the 82nd Airborne Division is reactivated the same insignia is accepted wit the addition of a half circle with the word ‘Airborne’ above it.

To the 101st 'Screaming Eagles' Airborne Division.

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