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It fell to Lt. Gen. John J. Tolson to take up the issue of the 503d's  inaccurate Official History with the U.S. Army Centre of Military History.

 

 

John J. Tolson

1401 Rock Dam Court

Raleigh, N.C. 27609

 

 

24 March, 1979

 

Mr. Robert K. Wright, Jr.

U.S. Army Center of Military History

Washington, D.C. 20314

Dear Bob‑

This is the follow up of my visit to your office this past October in regards to the inaccuracies contained in the "History of the 2d Battalion (Airborne) 503d Infantry." The paper was issued to all attenders at the 503rd Parachute RCT Association, World War II, Reunion in St. Louis this past July. I am hereby submitting in writing, basically, the same comments that I gave you verbally on the inaccuracies, for whatever you deem advisable. 

I emphasize, at the onset, that my comments are based entirely on memory of the following personal experiences: 

1.     Formed A Co, 504th Prcht Inf Bn, in the fall of 1941, as its first company commander.

2.     Assisted in forming the 2nd Bn 503rd Prcht Inf Regiment from the 504th Prcht Inf Bn in early 1942, in the capacity of Bn Executive Officer.

3.     When the 2nd Bn 503rd Prcht Inf Regiment departed Bragg for England in May 1942, the Regimental Commander, Col Miley, held me back and gave me the job of immediately forming our new 3rd Bn.

4.     Later, in the capacity of Regimental Executive Officer, took the 503rd Prcht Inf Regiment (less the 2d Bn) in fall of 1942 from Bragg to San Francisco and then Australia via Panama.

5.     Participated in all three of the 503rd's World War II Combat: Jumps: a. Nadzab, as commander of the 3rd Bn. b. Noemfoor, as represent­ative of Gen Krueger, Commanding General, Sixth US Army. c. Corregidor, as Deputy Commander, Rock Task Force and representative of Gen Krueger. 

To facilitate the matter, am enclosing a copy of the first two pages of the History that was issued at the convention. My comments during my visit with you and now in writing, are limited entirely to same. 

Editor's Note: The second sentence of the first paragraph to which General Tolson shall refer is as follows:-

"The 503d Parachute Infantry Battalion was activated on 22 Aug 41. The first ever created by the United States Army as a result of successful efforts by the US Army Airborne Test Platoon at Fort Banning, Georgia in 1940." 

I believe the second sentence in the first paragraph is incorrect. The 501st and 502nd Parachute Infantry Battalions were activated at Ft. Benning prior to the 503rd. In fact, I believe the 501st Bn had moved to the Panama Canal Zone prior to 22 August 1941."

 

Editor's Note: The second paragraph, in its uncorrected form, reads as follows:-

"On 2 March 1942, the 503d Para-chute Infantry Regiment was formed with the 503d Parachute Infantry Battalion becoming the first Battalion, the 504th Parachute Infantry Battalion the second Battalion and the cadre of the two units forming the third Battalion. The unit was brought up to strength by replacements from the Provisional Parachute Group at Ft. Benning, later to become the Airborne Department of the Infantry School." 

"The second paragraph is not correct. The 503rd Prcht Inf Regiment was initially activated at full strength less a battalion (the 3rd Bn) and with top priority. The 503rd Prcht Inf Bn became the 1st Bn of the Regiment and the 504th Prcht Inf Bn became the 2nd Bn of the Regiment. The 3rd Bn of.the Regiment was not activated until after the 2nd Bn of the Regiment departed Ft Bragg for England in May 1942. Now, at the same time that the 503rd Prcht Inf Regiment was being activated at full strength, less the 3rd Bn, the 502nd Prcht Inf Regiment was activated at Ft Benning at cadre strength only, using the 502nd Prcht Inf Bn as the cadre."

 

Editor's Note: The third paragraph, in its uncorrected form, reads as follows:-

"Following its expansion to a Regiment, which consisted of the 501st, 502d, 503d, and 504th Parachute Battalions, the unit moved to Camp McKall, N.C. where it trained. On 15 June, the 2d Battalion was detached and transferred to England and redesignated the 2d Battalion 509th Parachute Infantry. This unit made history by executing the first combat jump in the United States Army history when it parachuted into North Africa."

The third paragraph is not correct. As previously stated, the 503rd Prcht Inf Regiment was initially activated at full strength, less the 3rd Battalion, using the 503rd and 504th Prcht Inf Battalion. The unit moved from Ft Benning to Ft Bragg, not McKall. It was much later before McKall was used by airborne troops. In fact, all of our initial tactical parachute training was restricted to and accomplished on the Rockefeller's Overhills Estate, which was adjacent to Ft Bragg. Our initial demonstrat­ion jumps were restricted to the Balloon Hangar area at Pope Air Field. Later, we obtained a lease on some farm land to be used for this purpose, located off Bragg Boulevard and subsequently known as Andy's Field & DZ.

After the 2nd Bn 503rd Prcht Inf Regiment moved to England, it retained that designation for a long time. In fact, just as soon as shipping could be made available, the remainder of the regiment was scheduled to join its 2nd Battalion in England during the summer of 1942. Because of this fact, when the 3rd Bn 503rd Prcht Inf Regiment was formed in May-June 1942 it was accomplished by rushing to Ft Bragg from Ft Benning the 1st Battalion of the 502nd Prcht Inf Regiment, less the Battalion Com­mander, his staff and the Company Commanders, to become the 3rd Bn of the 503rd. I believe that the Battalion in England was still the 2nd 503rd Prcht Inf Regiment when it jumped in North Africa. Later, it was redesignated the 509th Prcht Inf Battalion and it remained a separate battalion, with that designation, for the remainder of the war."  

 

  Editor's Note: The fourth paragraph, in its uncorrected form, reads a follows:-

"The remainder of the 503d was Ordered to the Pacific Theater in October 1942, and they landed at Cairns,Australia. To replace its missing Second Battalion, the 503d received the 1st Battalion 501st Parachute Infantry, formerly quartered in Pana­ma, and was redesignated the 2d Bn 503d Inf."

The fourth paragraph is off. The 503rd Prcht Inf Regiment, less the 2nd Bn and 3rd Bn, in September 1942 was ordered to England via Brooklyn. At the same time the 3rd Bn was ordered to the SWPA via San Francisco. Then, in a couple of days, overnight it was suddenly changed and the Regiment, less the 2nd Bn in England, was ordered to the SWPA via San Francisco and the Regimental Commander, Kinsler, left immediately by air for Australia. On the night that we left Ft Bragg by train for San Francisco, we were assigned a rifle company from the 504th Prcht Inf Regiment of the newly formed 82nd Airborne Division located at Camp McKall. From San Francisco, the ship carrying the 503rd sailed east to the Panama Canal. There we picked up the 501st Prcht Inf Battalion, less one company (C Co). Later, in Australia, the 501st Prcht Inf Battalion (less C Co) became the 2nd Bn 503rd Prcht Inf Regiment with the company from the 504th Prcht Inf Regiment replacing C Co 501st Prcht Inf Battalion, which was left in Panama.

 

 Editor's Note: The fifth paragraph, in its uncorrected form, reads as follows:-

"After 42 days at sea, the 503d arrived at Cairns, Australia. There the Regiment conducted extensive training in preparation for its entry into combat. In July 1943, the Second Battalion moved with the Regiment to Port Mosby (Moresby) New Guinea, where it marshalled. On 5 Sept. the battalion was flown in 96 , C47's to Nadzar where it conducted the first airborne operation in the Pacific Theater."

 

The fifth paragraph needs some clarification. From the Port of Cairns, in North Australia, the 503rd was trucked inland to the town of Gordonvale where, nearby, the troops built from scratch, their first base camp in Australia. The drop was made in the vicinity of Nadzab in the Markham Valley which is south of the Port of Lae on the north coast of New Guinea.

 

 Editor's Note:  The uncorrected sixth paragraph reads as follows:- 

"The jumpers began exiting the aircraft at 1200 hrs and the entire regiment was in the air within five minutes. The Japanese were taken completely by sur­prise when the paratroopers dropped onto an undefended drop zone. In subsequent fighting the 503rd helped to capture the entire island in less than two weeks thus giving the Allies another foothold in the Pacific. The capture of the island enabled General MacArthur to move one month ahead of schedule in the Pacific Theater."

The sixth paragraph needs some clarification and is not correct in parts. First, the statement "the 503d helped to capture the entire island in less than two weeks thus giving the Allies another foothold in the Pacific" is terribly inaccurate. New Guinea is a large island and this operation was only a part of the months and years of Allies fighting there. What the 503d did was a vertical envelopment by parachute assault, seizing and then an airhead at Nadzab - not Nadzar.

 Next, the existing non-operational small strip was hastily improved so that units of an Australian Infantry Division, 7th AIF, could be unloaded. They were to relieve the 503d in defense of the airhead and to advance units overland towards the Port of Lae in conjunction with an amphibious assault by another Australian Division, 9th AIF, just west of Lae. However, because of low ceilings in the Pass over the Owen Stanley Mts between Port Moresby and Nadzab, the airlanding schedule slipped. To compensate, the 3rd Bn of the 503rd was not flown back to Port Moresby with the remainder of the regiment. The 3rd BN remained and was placed under the command of the Australian Division Commander, who had them initiate the move out of the airhead toward Lae. After some sharp and successful encounters with Japanese units who were moving southwest out of Salamau(a), which is located east of Lae on the coast, the 3rd Bn was relieved by newly arrived Australian troops. Subsequently, the Bn was flown back to Port Moresby to join the remainder of the Regiment. Nadzab later became a major 5th Air Force base supporting later Allied offensive operations to the west. The ports of Lae and Salamau(a) fell to the Australian forces."

The following comments apply to the Noemfoor Island operations as described in the 2d, 3d, 4th, and 5th paragraphs on page 2. The employment of the 503d here was strictly in a reinforcing role. The task force (a separate Infantry Regimental Combat Team, reinforced) under General Patrick made an amphibious assault at what had been a major Japanese installation, Kamiri Airstrip, which was in the beachhead. However, Japanese troops were entrenched in the nearby inland cliffs overlook­ing the beachhead. Additional troops were urgently needed and the 503rd was positioned at Hollandia, ready to go, incase this contingency developed. The cause of the abnormally low altitude by the first two planes was a faulty altimeter setting in the lead aircraft. Anytime you use an airstrip as your DZ, your casualties will be high. This one was coral and hard! Little preparation of this Japanese coral strip to become a U.S. bomber base had been accomplished by our engineers at the time of the jumps. My hasty survey, on the spot, indicated that we suffered just as many casualties among the troopers who landed on the coral strips as among those who missed it and landed on the mass of varied equipment and supplies surrounding the airstrip. The situation on the second day did not warrant another parachute delivery of reinforcements, so, the 2d Bn was brought into the beachhead amphibiously. They did not make an amphib­ious assault on Noemfoor.

 Well- that concludes my comments and certainly hope this effort will help in our desire to have the history of the 503rd Parachute RCT in World War II an accurate one. If I can be of any further assistance, please do let me know.

 

With best regards.

 

 

Sincerely,

(Signature)

John J. Tolson

Lt Gen U.S.A. (Ret)

Enclosure: 2 sheets of "History 503rd"

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Copy of Paragraphs 7, 8, 9, 10, & 11

History of the 2d Battalion (Airborne) 503d Infantry

 "The regiment reassembled at Port Mosby (Moresby) after the operation and moved by ship to Brisbane, Australia to reorganize and train. The entire regiment went through the Australian Army's Jungle Warfare School before moving to Hollandia, New Guinea."

Some of the regiment's lieutenants went through through the Queensland Jungle Warfare School. Most of these, if not all, were replacements who had arrived after the jump at Nadzab. The regiment moved to Oro Bay, New Guines, departing Brisbane April 7, 1944. 

"The 503d's next combat jump came at Kamiri Airstrip (Drome) on Noemfoor Island, located 60 miles southeast of Biak in the Dutch East Indies. The jump was preceded by amphibious assault on 2 July 1944 and at 1028 hrs, the landing party determined that the Kamiri Airstrip could support airborne operations. At 1430 hrs the 503d was informed that one battalion of the regiment would jump on 3 July and the other two battalions would drop on 4th and 5th respectively.

At approximately 0515 hrs 3 July 1941, the Regimental Headquarters and the 1st Bn 503d began landing their aircraft. Thirty eight C47's were to carry the paratroopers to Kamiri along with three B-17's carrying equipment and ammunition. By 0747 hrs all the planes were airborne. The plan called for the planes to fly over the airstrip in flights of two at a height of 400 and 450 feet respectively. At about 0600 hrs 3 July, General Patrick, the shore commander, informed Theater Headquarters that the C47s should fly over in single file. However, it should be noted that this was 20 hours after he had been informed of this by an attached paratroop advisor. The recommendation was made because the drop zone was a narrow airfield 250 ft by 5500 ft with a 100 foot wide runway and obsta­cles along the sides. However, for an unknown reason no attempt was made to notify the C47s and at 1000 hrs the paratroopers began dropping from the planes.

The first two planes flew over about 175 feet, the lowest jump on record, and the next eight flew over at less than 400 feet. The low altitude combined with planes flying two abreast caused many casualties. Of the 739 men dropped, there were 72 casualties on 3 July. For the sec­ond jump General Patrick directed the obstacles on the edges of the drop zone be cleared, and the planes were ordered to fly over in single file. At 0955 hrs on July 4th, the 3d Bn began jumping. This time few jumpers landed off the drop zone, but there were over 8 percent jump casualties. The injuries on the second drop were attributed to the hard surface produced by the preparation of the air strip for use as a bomber base. The 2d Battalion conducted supporting attacks by conducting an amphibious assault on 4 July 1944." Note: No construction had began on Kimari Air Drome (We used the Japanese names until they were used by us. Then they became "airstrips"). The coral the Japanese had built the runway with was like cement and caused many injuries. The 2nd Battalion made no assault. They landed at Namber as described in the manuscript. The date was 11 July 1944. 

"The regiment was now assigned the task of mopping up remaining groups of Japanese in southern Noemfoor. The Noemfoor operation was declared over 12 August 1944, and the 503d PIR moved to Leyte, the Philippines in mid-November to conduct another amphibious assault, from Leyte the regiment conducted an amphibious assault on Mindoro landing in LCI's on December 15th." Note: As previously stated in the manuscript the regiment, now a part of a combat team, was moved into Leyte in preparation for a parachute drop and assault in the San Jose area of Mindoro. The inability to develop airfields at Leyte ruled this out. 

"Operating from bases on Mindoro the 503d assaulted the "Island Fortress" of Corregidor. Corregidor represented the last American resistance in the Philippines in 1942 and was considered one of the greatest defeats suffered by the American Armed Forces. The importance of Corregidor's recapture was thus as much sentimental as strategic."

 

 

 

 

 

   

  - CALHOUN'S  POSTSCRIPT - 

     More Reading:  The Attacks on Battery Monja

  - CALHOUN'S  POSTSCRIPT - 

 

 

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