John J. Tolson
1401 Rock Dam
24 March, 1979
Mr. Robert K.
Center of Military History
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
at the onset, that my comments are based entirely on memory of the
following personal experiences:
Formed A Co, 504th Prcht Inf Bn, in the fall of 1941, as its
first company commander.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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."
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."
The second paragraph, in its uncorrected form, reads as
"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
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
The third paragraph, in its uncorrected form, reads as
"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."
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."
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
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.
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."
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
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."
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.
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."
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
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.
concludes my comments and certainly hope this effort will help in our
desire to have the
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.
John J. Tolson
Lt Gen U.S.A.
sheets of "History 503rd"