U.S. 101st Airborne Division
101st Airborne Division (Screaming Eagles)
The 101st Airborne Division was activated on August 16,1942, one of the first such units in the United States Army. Brig. General William C. Lee, known as the “father of American airborne troops,” was the first to command the unit. In one of his first speeches to his troops he remarked, “The 101st has no history, but it has a rendezvous with destiny!” Time would prove this statement to be true. The division trained hard during the early war years and prepared for its role in combat. The Normandy invasion would be its first action. General Lee became ill in the spring of 1944, and was replaced by Brig. General Maxwell Taylor, who then commanded the 101st during the invasion.
The 101st, along with the 82nd Airborne, comprised the vanguard of the American D-Day assault. The 101st Airborne’s mission was to parachute into the interior of the Cotentin Peninsula and prevent German troops from reinforcing those facing the main Allied landing force on Utah Beach. In addition, it was to secure the causeways exiting Utah Beach for the main force to use as it drove inland from the beachhead.
The paratroops of the 101st, as well as the 82nd, were badly scattered during the landings in the early morning hours of June 6. The air transports had taken evasive action to avoid anti-aircraft fire, which resulted in many troopers being dropped miles from their intended drop zones. The confusion this caused eventually aided the airborne units, as the Germans could not determine the number or scope of the landings, and were actually more confused than the paratroopers. Many German units spent the early morning hours of D-Day chasing paratroopers over much of the Cotentin Peninsula.
About 4,600 of the paratroopers landed within the region bordered by the Douve River, Sainte-Mère-Église, and Ravenoville. In the early morning hours following the landing, a considerable amount of time was spent trying to group the widely scattered units into fighting forces. Many of the scattered troops fought lonely engagements in small groups. Some wandered for hours trying to find other troops. Even a few of the paratroops had landed in the English Channel. Estimates indicate that of the 6,600 men dropped, only about 2,500 had assembled by the end of the first day.
Despite the widespread scattering of troops, the division proceeded to take its primary objective, the region west of Utah Beach between Pouppeville and Saint-Martin-de-Varreville. This allowed the troops from the 4th Division to have access to the exit roads leading from Utah Beach and also prevented German reinforcement.
The 101st remained in action for several weeks, proving itself in combat. The paratroopers quickly became battle tested and hardened, as they fought in the hedgerows of Normandy. The costs were high. During the month of June, the division suffered 4,670 casualties, but continued to be an effective fighting force. The division was finally relieved in July and later participated in Operation Market Garden and the Battle of the Bulge.
For more information about the 101st Airborne Division:
101st Airborne Division Association Homepage – A great site with lots of information and history regarding the division.