"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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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 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.
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
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.
The existing command structure thus did not facilitate the growth of 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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.”
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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
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.
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.”
As for an airborne effort, it would turn in a “perfect performance if all
its objectives were seized and held at the planned time."
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."
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
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.
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
There was no question about the execution of HUSKY II: from the
standpoint of the air, airborne and overall effort, it was an unqualified
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
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.
Unfortunately, those lessons came through the inevitable price of war in
The Fifth Army Airborne Training Center also submitted a report on HUSKY
airborne operations that was very critical of the troop carrier
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.”
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.
CHAPTER 3 - THE
DEVELOPMENT OF THE AIRBORNE