U.S. 82nd Airborne Division

82nd Airborne Division (All American)

Shoulder patch of the 82nd Airborne Division

Shoulder patch of the 82nd Airborne Division.

The 82nd Airborne Division is the oldest airborne division in the U.S. Army. It had been reorganized from an infantry division in the early days of World War II and had undergone extensive training stateside. Units from the division had seen combat in North Africa, Sicily and Italy during the early phases of the war in the Mediterranean. In November 1943 the 82nd was recalled from Italy, where the division’s paratroopers had made a parachute assault on the beachhead near Salerno.

For D-Day, the division was composed of the following airborne regiments: 505th Parachute Infantry, 507th Parachute Infantry and the 325th Glider Infantry. The 504th Parachute Infantry, which had remained in combat in the Mediterranean, was detached to rest and absorb replacements in England. It was reattached to the division after D-Day.

The division commander, Maj. Gen. Matthew B. Ridgway, was a highly capable, competent, and inspirational leader who had commanded the 82nd from its inception as an airborne unit through all its earlier campaigns in North Africa, Sicily, and Italy. Brig. Gen. James Gavin was assistant division commander. This highly talented and charismatic leader had been promoted to this position in Italy and later became division commander after Ridgway was promoted.

The main objective for the 82nd on D-Day was to secure the bridges over the rivers behind Utah Beach. The division was to land astride the Merderet River and seize, clear, and hold its area of operation. After destroying all crossings over the Douve River, the 82nd was to be prepared to move west on order.

For the invasion, the division had designated over 6,000 paratroopers for the parachute assault and almost 4,000 glidermen for the glider assault. Together, with the 101st Airborne Division, the 82nd was scheduled to begin landings in the early morning hours of June 6th. Gen. Eisenhower’s air operations officer had predicted casualties to be greater than 70%.

The drops went badly. Cloud cover and heavy anti-aircraft fire made the air transports deviate from course, which resulted in wide-spread scattering of the paratroops. Many of the aircraft were flying too fast and some too low, often giving the green-light jump signal over the wrong drop zones. Of the 6,396 paratroopers of the 82nd who jumped, 272 or 4.24 percent were killed or injured as a result of the drop. The 505th generally landed in the vicinity of its drop zone, but the 507th and 508th were both widely scattered. Many troopers landed in the center of the village of Sainte-Mère-Église, as a fire raged out of control. German soldiers, already alerted by the fire, shot many of the paratroopers before they hit the ground. One paratrooper, John Steele, landed on top of the church. His parachute caught on the steeple, where he dangled for two and a half hours, playing dead until he was finally taken prisoner.

In spite of this, the 82nd adapted to the situation and achieved all its primary objectives. Sainte-Mère-Église was secured by dawn of 6 June, the first French village to be liberated. As an anti-airborne effort, the Germans had flooded much of the adjoining area near the Merderet River. Nevertheless, by nightfall of 6 June approximately 30 percent of the division forces were under control, holding a line along the Merderet River from La Fière south to include the eastern end of the causeway over the river.

The 82nd Airborne Division continued to fight on the Cotentin Peninsula until relieved on July 8, 1944, after 33 days in action. On July11th, the division moved to Utah Beach in preparation for its return to England. The 82nd later participated in Operation Market Garden and the Battle of the Bulge.

For more information on the 82nd Airborne Division:

82nd Airborne Division During WWII -Lots of information here.