"Where is the prince who can afford so to cover his country with troops for its defenses as that 10,000 men descending from the clouds might not in many places do an infinite deal of mischief before a force could be brought together to repel them."

 -- Benjamin Franklin, 1784
After witnessing one of the first manned balloon flights

 

The development of the airborne concept went quickly from an idea into reality.  In fifteen months the project went from a staff study to an actual parachute drop and just over two years later a combat jump.  Despite the speed of the initiative, there were many obstacles, challenges, and failures.   Some of the obstacles were the training and organizational structure of the initial units.  The challenges included doctrine, training, and employment principles.  The failures came in North Africa and Sicily.  The disastrous results of the Sicilian operations in July 1943 clearly showed the poor training of the troop carrier units and the lack of coordination and planning among all forces involved.  Many of the senior leaders in the Army were excited about the possibilities of vertical envelopment, but not all were convinced of its practicality.   The unsuccessful operations in Sicily almost led to the demise of the concept.     

In May 1939, Chief of Staff of the Army General George C. Marshall directed his Chief of Infantry to conduct a staff study of the concept of parachute and air-landing infantry units.  This directive was in response to the many intelligence briefings Marshall had received about the European powers that were experimenting with, or already had formed, various parachute and air-land units.  Marshall saw the enormous advantages in conducting a surprise vertical envelopment of the enemy by the use of airborne forces.[1]  Airborne forces consisted of three types:  parachute, glider, and air-land, or troops that landed by air transport.

Five days after Marshall’s request, Major General George Lynch, Chief of Infantry, delivered an extensive report on tests and operations that the Army already had conducted on the movement of forces by air.  Pointing to the capabilities and training of other nation's airborne units, he recommended employment principles and called for immediate experimentation to determine several key characteristics: the appropriate organizational structure and size, types of weapons and equipment, place in the Army’s organizational chart for command and control purposes, and design and characteristics for troop carrier airplanes.  His final recommendation was that he immediately receive a squadron of nine airplanes to begin testing at Fort Benning.[2]

Several months passed before General Marshall acted on the recommendations.  The extreme shortage of transport airplanes, as well as the long list of projects associated with equipping a rapidly expanding army, put the airborne project at the bottom of a long list.  Marshall eventually sent the recommendations to his Chief of the Air Corps, Major General Henry "Hap" Arnold, asking him for comments and recommendations.  Arnold, in turn, sent the project to his Air Corps Board at Maxwell Field and his Plans Division in Washington for their recommendations.[3]

Arnold received two divergent views on the airborne project.  Colonel Walter Weaver, Commandant of the Air Corps Tactical School, wholeheartedly advocated the formation of parachute units within the Air Corps to perform functions similar to those the Marines Corps executed for the Navy.  The paratroopers would guard airdromes and supply centers, conduct military ceremonies, provide guards for prisoners, as well as serve as parachute troops.  Lieutenant Colonel Carl "Tooey" Spatz, author of the Plans Division study, argued that the already meager resources of the Air Corps and the shortage of transport aircraft would not allow another priority project.  At the time the Army had just over a hundred aircraft to support its requirements.  He suggested that the project be the subject of joint study of the Air Corps and Infantry Boards until more aircraft were available.  Arnold endorsed Spatz's recommendation and sent it forward to Marshall.  Impressed by the coordinated employment of tanks and attack airplanes by German forces in Poland that September, Marshall agreed to keep the concept under study.  For the moment, he did not want to detract from the Air Corps' mission of developing a strong attack air arm.  The project languished until December 1939 when the Red Army’s employment of paratroopers in its attack on Finland revived Marshall’s interest.  Although the Soviets failed to achieve any immediate tactical victory, the possibilities were intriguing.  The Chief of Infantry appointed then Major William C. Lee to head the airborne project.[4]

Over the next several months Lee made considerable progress in the development of airborne techniques and procedures.  To his surprise, he received strong support from the Air Corps.  Throughout the spring, Lee test-dropped at Lawson Airfield on Fort Benning weighted containers that replicated paratroopers to determine proper jump altitudes and the resulting ground dispersion patterns. 

In May 1940, German airborne troops spearheaded the attacks on Holland and Belgium with great success.  In the attack against Holland, they captured essential bridges across the Maas and Waal Rivers, allowing the Panzer units to advance across Holland unhindered.  In Belgium, both glider and airborne forces landed inside the fortress of Fort Eben-Emeal, neutralizing that critical installation along the King Albert Canal defensive line.  The successful exercise in vertical envelopment energized Lee and his assistants and attracted widespread attention within the Army.  The reason was two-fold -- it was not only the accomplishment of such vital tasks with a small number of forces, but also the impact those missions had on the ultimate outcome of the overall operations.  The German achievement provided a concrete example of the capabilities and the value of airborne forces and magnified the urgency of the airborne project.[5] 

Major Lee informed the Infantry Board in June 1940, that he was ready for live-jump tests and that all he needed was volunteers.  They came from the 29th Infantry Regiment at Fort Benning to form the Airborne Test Platoon.  The new unit, under the command of Lieutenant William T. Ryder and Lee’s direction, began intensive training the next month.  By August 16 it was ready for its first jump.[6]   The interest of the high-command was so intense that both Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson and Marshall were on hand to watch the fifth and final qualifying jump.  The operation was an astounding success and Marshall immediately authorized the activation of the first parachute battalion, the 501st.[7] 

The training of jump volunteers grew at a furious pace.  In order to keep up with the growth of the airborne concept, the War Department activated the Provisional Parachute Group on March 10, 1941 at Fort Benning under the command of now Lieutenant Colonel Lee.  Still under the direction of the Chief of Infantry, Lee’s mission was to conduct basic parachute jump training.  The unofficial mission of the Group was also to train cadres for parachute battalions as the War Department authorized them, study permanent tables of organization and basic allowances, develop tactical doctrine, and prepare training literature.[8]

The task almost immediately became an even broader one when the Germans employed glider forces and air-landed forces to seize the entire island of Crete in a short period.  Before this operation, American planners had placed all their emphasis on the development of parachute units, but they now expanded the airborne concept to include glider and air-landed troops.[9]

As the War Department authorized more parachute battalions, it became evident that the airborne effort had progressed to a stage where the Chief of Infantry could no longer exercise effective control over it.  He did not have the authority to provide the unity of command necessary for organizing, equipping, training and providing effective liaison with the Air Corps.  An example of this inefficient organization came when the War Department authorized the testing of an airborne combat team that included a field artillery battery.  The Chief of Field Artillery first organized the unit and then the Chief of Infantry was responsible for its parachute training.  This training occurred only after the howitzers came from the Chief of Ordnance.[10]  The existing command structure thus did not facilitate the growth of the airborne concept.

Under the Provisional Parachute Group, parachute organizations received only individual jump and basic unit training.  They then passed to the War Department General Headquarters' control for advanced unit instruction and preparation for combat.  However, after basic unit training, the organization was only partially prepared for airborne operations.  Further training in the form of battalion and regimental jumps, loading and unloading of supplies, and air transport with other units (field artillery, infantry and antitank) was necessary. 

Lee pushed for the activation of a unified command to supervise the advanced and combined training for all units until they deployed to the theaters of operations.  Without this centralized training headquarters, there was no way to ensure uniformity of doctrine, procedures and standards throughout the entire airborne community.  With the probable dispersal of these units throughout the United States and overseas, the uniform training would be nearly impossible.  Another factor was the shortage of transport planes.  Only with a centralized location could a single command manage the acute shortage of aircraft. 

The training experiences of 1941 emphasized the critical role the Air Corps played in basic, unit and combined training stages.  The Air Corps did not have enough transport planes or pilots and staffs to keep up with the requirements of the expanding airborne forces.  In June 1941, it could provide only twelve transport aircraft for the 50th Transport Wing for airborne training.  This wing was the only such organization in existence; it could carry only one infantry company at a time and did not expect to receive any more aircraft until 1942.  The need for transport capability became so great in 1941 that the Provisional Parachute Group requested in vain the release of the airplane used by General Headquarters.[11]  

The combat mission, rather than a logistical or transport one, governed the production of aircraft and the training of pilots and aircrews.  The U.S. Army was fortunate that the civilian Air Transport Association (ATA), the trade organization for the major airlines in the United States, had an operational blueprint for their mobilization in case of a national emergency.  The president of the ATA was Egar Gorrell, a veteran of the U.S. Air Service in World War I.[12]  The DC-3 airliner easily adapted to a military logistics and troop-carrier aircraft.  The Air Corps received the first DC-3 (designated C-47) in September 1941 and owned over 500 by the next summer.[13] 

The lack of effective coordination between the Air Corps and airborne forces was due primarily to the lack of an accurate, long-range schedule of airborne troop transport requirements.  There was little coordination among the numerous airborne units throughout the country and the Air Corps.  The Air Corps was thus unable to train crews properly or acquire sufficient aircraft to meet the requirements of the rapidly expanding airborne forces.[14]  Had there been a centralized training agency for all airborne forces, it might have been able to articulate the troop transport needs for the Air Corps.

The first operational test of the airborne concept occurred in the U.S. Army General Headquarters (GHQ) Maneuvers in the fall of 1941.  These maneuvers took place in Louisiana in September 1941 and the Carolinas in November 1941.  The 502d Parachute Battalion conducted four separate airborne operations, usually company-sized because of the shortage of transport planes.  None of the operations was of sufficient scale to have much of an impact on the maneuvers and the results seemed to indicate that parachute troops were most useful in small-scale sabotage missions.  Although they did not provide a realistic tactical test of the capabilities of airborne forces,  General McNair, commander of Army Ground Forces, believed that the manuevers at least had provided good training for the fledgling parachute battalion.[15]

The reorganization of the War Department and the U.S. Army in March 1942 into co-equal Army Ground Forces (AGF) and Army Air Forces (AAF) paved the way for the unified airborne command that Lee envisioned.   The creation of the AGF merged into one command the agencies under which the various parachute, glider and air-landed units operated.  The establishment of the AAF provided the one command necessary to coordinate with AGF the planning and training for airborne transport requirements.[16]

The Army Ground Forces formed the Airborne Command on March 21, 1942 at Fort Bragg, North Carolina to provide the oversight for all aspects of airborne operations.  The Airborne Command replaced the Provisional Parachute Group.  Its mission was to organize and train airborne forces, such as parachute, air-land and glider units, control the allocation of transport airplanes as made available by the AAF, and determine operating procedures for airborne operations.  The Command also had the responsibility for development of doctrine and standardization of material and equipment.  This simplified the process for advanced and combined unit training and established unity of command to insure uniformity of training and procedures.[17] 

A month after the activation of the Airborne Command, the AAF formed a similar organization to deal with many of the troop carrier issues.  This organization was the Troop Carrier Command (TCC), later renamed the 1st TCC.[18]  Its mission was to “organize and train Air Transport units for all forms of Air Transport with special emphasis on the conduct of operations involving the air movement of airborne infantry, glider troops, and parachute troops, and to make such units available to other elements of the Army Air Forces to meet specified requirements for Airborne forces.”[19]

In Field Manual 100-20, Command and Employment of Air Power, published in July 1943, the AAF paid little attention to the roles and missions of TCC in airborne operations.  That manual was the AAF's "Declaration of Independence," which made the case for centralization of all available air power and command through the senior air force commander.  The manual declared that "land power and air power are co-equal and interdependent forces; neither is an auxiliary of the other."[20]  The only mention of troop carriers came in the discussion of the types of tactical aviation.  The manual defined troop carrier activities (including gliders) as those air units that carried parachute and airborne troops, as well as cargo.  This broad definition made the case for the secondary mission of troop carriers units to deliver supplies when not conducting the primary mission of airborne operations.[21]

From the point of view of airborne and troop carrier units, the latter should have been training for their primary mission -- airborne operations -- when they were not actually participating in combat.  The view of most air and ground commanders, however, was that airborne training was an uneconomical use of the scarce resource of transport aircraft.  Most commanders, especially those of ground armies, regarded resupply as more important than training for future airborne operations.  As long as commanders regarded such training as non-essential, troop carrier and airborne units did not receive the joint training necessary for proficiency.[22] 

The first task of Airborne Command was to move from the overcrowded Fort Benning to Fort Bragg.  On April 9, 1942, the Airborne Command and the two battalions of the 503d Parachute Infantry Regiment relocated to Fort Bragg.  The next tasks were to continue with the training of the newly activated units and writing of doctrine.  The first doctrinal publication on airborne operations was Field Manual 31-30, Tactics and Techniques of Air-Borne Troops, dated May 20, 1942. [23]   Describing airborne warfare as the seizure of suitable landing areas by parachute troops and then reinforcement by troops arriving by glider or airplane, the manual listed a series of possible operational objectives.  Among them were holding key terrain, seizing and holding river and canal crossings and defiles, establishing bridgeheads, and capturing or destroying vital enemy supply and communication installations.  But the most likely mission was the seizure of an airfield and to that task the manual devoted an entire section.[24]

The remainder of the manual was a basic description of the organization of a parachute infantry regiment, fundamental tactical employment considerations, and advice to instructors on how to conduct basic parachute training.  The manual could describe only what the Airborne Command expected, since at that point no American airborne troops had participated in a combat airborne operation.  Although the document dealt with the basics, much of it proved valid with the test of combat and substantial portions remained in later editions and other doctrinal references.[25]  However, key points of doctrine, training, and employment principles would come only through trial and error, a sometimes disastrous process.

The few manuals that did exist in the early development of airborne warfare covered only the overall aspects of airborne operations and organizations, not the troop carrier operations and organizations.  There were no manuals on the tactics and techniques of troop carrier aviation in support of airborne operations.  A basic manual on the training of crews and units, operations, navigation aids, and coordination between troop carrier and airborne forces was desperately needed.  The available aviation manuals treated only air transport tasks that were significantly different from troop carrier missions in airborne operations.[26] 

It did not take many training exercises to reveal the numerous shortcomings in the existing doctrine and training manuals.  Basic details were still lacking as late as April 1943 when a Joint Airborne-Troop Carrier Board made recommendations on minimum jump altitudes, jump speeds, formations, time warnings and other jumpmaster-pilot coordination issues.[27]  Some units, such as the 503d Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR), which had already departed Fort Bragg for its theater of operation, found answers in its own training exercises.  Other units learned the hard way through the trial of combat.    

American airborne troops saw their first action on November 8, 1942, when the Second Battalion, 503d PIR (later designated 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion) jumped into North Africa as part of Operation TORCH.  This operation was not only the first for paratroopers, but it was also the longest of the war. The 39 C-47s that carried them from Cornwall, England to North Africa traveled over eight hours and 1,100 miles -- nearly half of those being over Spain.[28]  Most of the troop carriers separated from the formation on the long flight.  Several dropped their paratroopers prematurely in Spanish Morocco, while others ran out of gas and landed in the desert.   German fighters shot down several more.  The remainder dropped their paratroopers nearly thirty-five miles east of the intended objective.  The result was that the airborne mission contributed virtually nothing to the success of the overall operation.  The fault lay with inept and inexperienced transport pilots who had not properly trained for a parachute drop.  There were some valuable lessons learned, but after the operation, there was only half the number of parachute forces available because of the loss of men and aircraft.[29]  This failure was just the first of more to come.

By the summer of 1943, the War Department had authorized five airborne divisions (11th, 13th, 17th, 82d, and 101st) and several independent parachute regiments.  There had not been any tests of the large-scale airborne concept, however, to determine its feasibility.  The largest organization described in doctrine at the time was the parachute infantry regiment.  Any parachute drop larger than battalion-sized was a large-scale operation.  The first combat large-scale American airborne maneuvers were regimental size operations of the 82d Airborne Division in July 1943 at the island of Sicily.  These parachute drops became known as the Airborne’s Baptism of Fire – Operation HUSKY.  Major General Matthew B. Ridgway, commander of the 82d Airborne Division, had serious objections. 

 The Americans, with virtually no night jump training, were to be delivered by pilots with the least experience in combat and who were grossly undertrained in night formation flying and navigation.  The troop-carrier pilots would have to navigate and fly a route over water, at night, that was clearly beyond the capability of most, and in the follow-up missions "not suitable" for avoiding friendly naval fire.[30]

The inadequate training of the troop carrier units deeply concerned Ridgway.  He knew the mission would be arduous and worried that they had not acquired the necessary proficiency to execute the operation as planned.[31]  In spite of his repeated objections, the stage was set for a disaster.

            There were four separate airborne operations in the Sicilian assault:  HUSKY I, a parachute drop about five miles northeast of Gela on July 9;  HUSKY II, another drop three miles east of Gela on July 11;  LADBROKE, a glider mission to a point just south of Syracuse on July 9; and FUSTIAN, a parachute mission reinforced by gliderborne artillery, five miles south of Cantania on July 13.  The first two operations were American and the last two were British.[32]

The first American jump was that by Colonel James Gavin's reinforced 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment.  The plan was simple enough -- fly to Malta and take a dogleg to the left, coming in on Sicily's southwest coast near Gela.  The dogleg was necessary to avoid Allied naval convoys and the possibility of their anti-aircraft fire.  The troop carrier aircraft flew under 500 feet to avoid radar detection.  The island of Sicily was to come into sight on the right side of the aircraft and the paratroopers were to jump on four drop zones to the east of Gela.[33] 

The 226-aircraft formation flew in an aerial column over 100 miles long.  Three airplanes missed the turning point over the island of Malta and returned to North Africa.  There was a thirty-five mile per hour crosswind from west to east that caused the entire air armada to make landfall on the eastern coast of Sicily.  Most paratroopers saw land come into sight on the left side of the aircraft, instead of the right as planned.  German anti-aircraft fire shot eight airplanes out of the sky and severely damaged many more.  Twenty-three airplanes dropped their paratroopers in the British zone near Noto, almost sixty miles away from the intended drop zone.  Another 127 placed their paratroopers several miles outside of the division's sector.  According to Gavin's estimation, only about 12 percent of the combat team landed near the correct drop zone, a contingent still widely scattered by the strong winds.[34]  The returning pilots, thinking they had been successful, were elated.  In spite of all the navigation problems, most claimed they had found their drop zones.  The troop carrier unit proudly informed its higher headquarters that "80% of the paratroopers had been dropped on their designated drop zones."[35]  In reality, almost the opposite was true.

The paratroopers were unable to secure most of their assigned assault objectives.  However, this did not stop them from being productive, or destructive in this case.  Small groups of lost paratroopers roamed through the hills of southern Sicily cutting telephone lines and ambushing enemy patrols.  Other groups caused confusion and fear by just appearing here and there.  The scattered paratroopers throughout the area panicked the enemy and caused him to exaggerate greatly the Allied strength.  The German commanders assumed that the drops had been well executed and that there were numerous organized airborne battalions within or behind their front lines.  As Field Marshall Albert Kesselring, German Supreme Commander in the Italian Theater later commented, the Allied paratroopers had “considerably impeded the advance of the Hermann Goering Panzer Division and helped to prevent it from attacking the enemy promptly after the landings at Gela and elsewhere.”[36]  Hitler’s forces thus faced a new dimension of warfare. 

It was fortunate that the commander of the Hermann Goering Panzer Division did not counterattack with speed and vigor.  If he had, the counterattack on the thinly defended beachheads would have been a catastrophe for the poorly prepared Americans.  The scattered groups of paratroopers bought valuable time for the landing divisions to establish a secure beachhead and build combat power.  General George S. Patton credited the paratroopers with speeding his ground advance by forty-eight hours.[37]

To judge the success or failure of an airborne operation requires consideration of three aspects:  the air contribution, the airborne effort, and the impact of the parachute drop on the overall outcome.   The Weapon System Evaluation Group (WSEG), which conducted a study and evaluation of airborne operations after World War II from the standpoint of their utility in future operations, defined a successful air effort as one which “a high degree of accuracy and concentration of a large proportion of troops delivered is achieved with light troop losses and maximum air destruction and obstruction of the movement of enemy material and personnel.”[38]  As for an airborne effort, it would turn in a “perfect performance if all its objectives were seized and held at the planned time."[39]  Success for the overall effort was if the airborne operation “accomplishes its planned purpose, and the success of the operation measured in terms of the accomplishment of ultimate purpose, was dependent on the performance on the airborne forces."[40]

There are relative degrees and combinations of success within these definitions.  For example, an air effort can be a total success, but the whole effort could be a failure.  Alternatively, the airborne effort could be a total success, but failed to achieve the purpose of the overall effort.  In actual airborne operations, however, the actual results were usually combinations of these definitions.  From the perspective of the air effort, the HUSKY I airborne operation was a failure, in spite of the reports from the pilots.  The troop carriers did not drop the paratroopers accurately, nor were the paratroopers dropped closely together.  From the perspective of the airborne effort, the operation was a failure as well because the paratroopers were not able to achieve their assault objectives.   For the whole effort, the airborne operation was a success.  Although the paratroopers did not accomplish their planned purpose, the success of the overall operation was dependent on the airborne forces.  The failure of the air effort directly contributed to the failure of the airborne effort, but may have indirectly contributed to the overall success of the operation.  HUSKY I was a success since it facilitated the Seventh Army's advance, but the costs were high.

What the HUSKY I operation revealed again was the serious weaknesses in the capabilities of the troop carriers, which could not drop a large force reasonably close to a chosen drop zone at night.  In the defense of the pilots, the aircraft flew a circuitous route because of naval restrictions, there was insufficient time for reconnaissance and briefings by subordinate flight leaders, and the weather was severe that night.  Obviously the troop carriers units needed better navigational aids and more training in night flying.[41]

 On July 11,1943, General Patton ordered Ridgway to bring in another regimental combat team later that night with little or no planning or coordination.  The next unit to jump in HUSKY II was the 504th PIR, commanded by Colonel Reuben H. Tucker, III, who lacked one of his battalions.  This mission comprised 144 C-47s that carried the paratroopers to an abandoned airfield three miles east of Gela.  The purpose of the operation was to reinforce the 505th PIR.  The pilots believed this would be a "milk run" and vowed to improve on their previous poor performance.  By all indications, the mission started well.  All the airplanes made the turn at Malta and were on course and in formation.  The first indication of trouble was that the air armada received random and inaccurate fire from some of the Allied convoys while they were approaching Sicily, but there were no reported damages.  After all the airplanes made proper landfall and skirted along the beachhead at Sicily, they encountered clouds and climbed to 1,000 feet to avoid them.[42] 

Ridgway was at the drop zone waiting for the arrival of the 504th PIR when all of a sudden friendly anti-aircraft units opened fire.  Within a minute, it seemed to Ridgway that every anti-aircraft weapon afloat and ashore began firing along the entire length of the beachhead.  Because of the haste in executing the operation, neither the Allied ships nor the units on the beachhead had received sufficient warnings about the airborne operation.  Friendly fire hit sixty of the 144 airplanes; twenty-three crashed into the sea or on Sicily and the anti-aircraft fire damaged thirty-seven beyond immediate repair.  The remainder of the airplanes broke formation and dropped paratroopers wherever they could -- some inside German lines.  The results were disastrous.  There were 229 paratrooper and ninety aircrew casualties.[43]  There was no question about the execution of HUSKY II:  from the standpoint of the air, airborne and overall effort, it was an unqualified failure.

The two British airborne operations proved to be as disastrous as the American.  The failures of Sicily convinced many military leaders that such operations were too costly to be of value.  General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the overall Allied Commander, was one of the skeptics.  Eisenhower knew that small groups of paratroopers, although widely scattered through no fault of their own, had performed extremely well at many points on the battlefield.  He appointed one of his airborne advisors, Major General Joseph Swing, to investigate the reasons for the debacle.  In his subsequent report (see fig. 1), Swing listed five major errors for the HUSKY II failure:  insufficient prior planning and lack of coordination between the Army, Air and Navy; inability of aircraft to adhere closely to routes given;  the unalterable decision of Navy elements to fire at all aircraft at night coming within range of their weapons;  the unfortunate circumstance of an enemy bombing raid coinciding exactly with the arrival of the friendly aircraft;  negligence of some ground commanders in informing their units of the airborne operation.[44]  In the end, the board was unable to find a sole cause or fix any single blame for the disaster and it took no disciplinary action.  Ridgway's statement best sums up the whole tragic incident:

 The responsibility for the loss of life and material resulting from this operation is so divided, so difficult to fix with impartial justice, and so questionable of ultimate value to the service because of acrimonious debates which would follow efforts to hold responsible persons or services to account, that disciplinary action is of doubtful wisdom.  Deplorable as is the loss of life which occurred, I believe that the lessons now learned could have been driven home in no other way, and that these lessons provided a sound basis for the belief that recurrences can be avoided.[45]

 Unfortunately, those lessons came through the inevitable price of war in human life.

The Fifth Army Airborne Training Center also submitted a report on HUSKY airborne operations that was very critical of the troop carrier performance:

 The 82d Airborne Division was in superb physical condition, well qualified in the use of infantry arms, in combined ground operations, and in individual jumping.  It was extremely deficient in its air operations.  The 52d Troop Carrier Wing did not cooperate well.  Training was, in general, inadequate.  Combat efficiency for night glider operations was practically zero.  The combined force of the 82d Airborne Division and troop carrier units was extremely deficient.[46]

 The report also commented on the employment of troop carrier units for purposes other than airborne operations.  The report stated that higher headquarters did not realize the importance of the joint training of troop carrier and parachute units in conducting airborne operations.  The troop carrier units were focusing on their secondary mission of resupply operations to the detriment of their primary mission of airborne operations.  There was not enough emphasis on the joint training for airborne operations. [47]

After the Sicily operation, the entire airborne concept was the subject of widespread discussion both within and outside the airborne community.  Swing voiced the most optimistic opinion.  He believed that the Allied airborne forces could have been a decisive factor in the invasion of Sicily if employed differently.  Instead of four separate regimental-size operations to support the seaborne invasion, Swing advocated the consolidation of the units for a mass attack into the heart of Sicily.[48]  At the other end of the debate was Lieutenant General Lesley McNair, commander of AGF, who was far less optimistic about the airborne concept.  The failures at Sicily convinced him of the impracticality of handling large airborne units, so he recommended that parachute units be no larger than battalion-size.[49]

Even within the 82­d Airborne Division, there were differences of opinion about the organization of the airborne division.  At the time, the 82d Airborne Division had two parachute infantry regiments and one glider regiment.  The "nonparatroopers," Ridgway and Assistant Division Commander Brigadier General Maxwell D. Taylor, believed the AAF was not capable of dropping paratroopers at night and was not willing to provide adequate fighter escort for daylight operations.  So they concluded that the parachute regiments should be withdrawn from the division and be employed by the theater commander for special missions of regimental size or smaller.  The airborne division, stripped of its parachute regiments, would become, in effect, an air-landed division of gliders and transports.[50]

The "paratroopers," Gavin and Tucker, wanted to maintain the integrity of the airborne division.  But they did make several recommendations for change, such as intensified aircrew training, including B-17 bombers in the aerial formations to provide navigation and protection, and the employment of pathfinders to mark drop zones.  Their argument convinced Ridgway, who presented the case to Eisenhower.   Ridgway urged that the AAF must intensify training for all types of airborne operations, but especially night operations.  Sicily, he continued, had demonstrated that the commitment of airborne division in a piecemeal fashion was a mistake.  But to deploy the whole division would obviously require more transport aircraft.  A final lesson learned, he concluded, was that a single commander of airborne forces capable of choosing routes and enforcing safety procedures was required.[51] 

Following a review of the airborne operations conducted during the Sicily campaign, Eisenhower stated in his after-action report to Marshall:  “I do not believe in the Airborne Division.  I believe that airborne should be organized in self-contained units comprising infantry, artillery and special services, all of about the strength of a regimental combat team.”[52]  He recommended against the airborne concept primarily because a division was too difficult to control in combat.  This letter almost resulted in the break-up of the five airborne divisions.[53]

 

CHAPTER 3 - THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE AIRBORNE

 

 

 

 

 

 

         

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