"Were the questions raised by analysis of airborne maneuvers in this country taken into account of in the Sicilian operations?  Is the organizational set up such that the lessons of both and of the efficient New Guinea operation will be given effective application in prospective operations?"


-- Memorandum by Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson,
dated October 2, 1943


Major General Joseph Swing worked under the direction of Army Ground Forces Commander Lieutenant General Lesley McNair during the investigation that evaluated the Sicily airborne operation.  McNair had already made up his mind about the future structure and organization of the airborne after the failures in North Africa and Sicily.  These shortcomings convinced McNair of the impracticality of deploying large airborne units.  He planned to recommend that the War Department abandon airborne divisions and restrict parachute units to battalion-size or smaller.  Fortunately for the airborne, Marshall did not want to take such a drastic step without a test of the airborne division concept.  He wanted to determine if there were ways of changing training and operating procedures to employ the airborne division effectively.  He then wanted these principles tested in a giant maneuver before abandoning the airborne division concept.  Marshall ordered the maneuvers in December 1943.  The results of these maneuvers determined the life or death of the airborne division concept.[157]

Marshall selected Swing, at the time the commander of the 11th Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, because of his position of "airborne advisor" to Eisenhower during the planning and execution of the airborne operations in Sicily.  Swing had detailed knowledge of the entire operation and could make the most informed recommendations.  The board members included experienced paratrooper and glider unit commanders, and AAF troop carrier unit commanders and staff officers. [158]  Marshall could count on Swing, a firm believer in the airborne division, to render a verdict that supported Marshall's own favorable views of the airborne concept.  Swing already investigated the airborne operations for Eisenhower and published his opinion that the airborne operations could have been a decisive factor if employed correctly. To give a report of something other than favorable for the airborne division, Swing would have been voting himself out of his own job.[159]

MacArthur was not the only person interested in the success of the airborne concept.  Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson also showed a keen interest in airborne operations.  After a conversation with Stimson on October 2, 1943, G. H. Door, special assistant to the secretary, wrote down several questions for Marshall’s staff to answer that Stimson raised about airborne operations, especially about ground forces and the AAF, which focused its efforts on ground support, and not troop transport or airborne operations.  Stimson also wanted to make certain that the Army was applying lessons learned from the previous operations, particularly the successful Nadzab parachute drop, to future training and operation.[160] 

The questions raised by Stimson went to the very essence of the problems arising from airborne operations.  A week earlier, Swing had completed his investigation and submitted recommendations that answered many of Stimson's questions and concerns.  The Swing Board had met during September 1943 at Camp Mackall, North Carolina to review both Axis and Allied parachute drops to date.  It studied the organization of the airborne division and analyzed the problems encountered by the Army Air Force troop carrier units in the North Africa and Sicilian operations.  During its deliberations, the Nadzab parachute drop occurred, energizing the board members who favored large-scale airborne operations.[161]  By the end of the month, the board finished its findings and submitted its recommendations, which consisted of twelve separate, but interrelated, issues of doctrine, training, organization, employment principles, and relationships between the Airborne and Troop Carrier Commands (see figs. 11 and 12).[162] 

The first four recommendations dealt with the publication of a training circular that defined the relationship between the Airborne and Troops Carrier Commands, the former’s responsibilities, and the details of airborne operations from planning through execution.  On October 9, the War Department published this document with only minor changes as Training Circular Number 113, Employment of Airborne and Troop Carrier Forces (see Appendix B).  The Army Ground Forces, the Army Air Forces, and the War Department's Operations Division all endorsed the document.  The publication of this document, which became the “bible” for subsequent airborne operations, and adherence to its principles were the most important results of the Swing Board.[163]

The purpose of the circular was “to provide, in a single reference, information based upon experience gained in recent combat operations concerning the employment of airborne and troop carrier forces.”[164]  Both the Airborne Command and Troop Carrier Command had conducted business with each other based on gentlemen's agreement, rather than from a unified command structure.  Now their interactions were binding.  The only airborne operation that the circular cited by name for proper planning and execution was Nadzab.  Indeed, the document emphasized many of the principles present in that operation.  It stated that airborne and troop carrier units were theater of operation forces and, therefore, the planning and controlling headquarters had the authority to direct the necessary coordinated action of all ground, sea and air forces involved.  Without this level of authority, the planning headquarters could not ensure its proper coordination.  The airborne unit remained under the direct control of the theater commander until it landed in the combat area when it passed to the control of the ground commander.  A related principle dealt with the missions that airborne units were to conduct once employed.  Since an airborne unit was especially trained and equipped to accomplish a specific mission, it was not to be utilized on missions that could be performed by other forces.  So, once it passed to the control of the ground commander, its mission was to remain limited.[165]

The next major principle was that the employment of airborne units should land in mass, and as rapidly as possible and within as small an area as practicable.  In other words, the delivery of airborne units over several days throughout an area of operations as had been done in Sicily, had been a mistake.  This principle was one that Eisenhower cited to Marshall as a lesson learned from the British participation in the Sicilian airborne operations.  “A later operation on the British front brought out the lesson [that] when we land airborne troops on hostile territory, we should not do it in successive waves, but should do it all at once,” Eisenhower wrote.  “In the first wave, where we had surprise, losses were negligible, but in the succeeding waves they were very large.”[166]  This principle drove the requirement to have sufficient aircraft to transport the troops and equipment necessary at one time to accomplish the initial mission and maintain surprise.  The circular also promoted the requirement for additional aircraft to conduct resupply operations.[167] 

It was important for the theater or task force commander, according to the document, to have proficient airborne and troop carrier advisors and staffs.  It also ensured that there was sufficient time to plan, coordinate and conduct the necessary training for the upcoming operation.  This indispensable joint planning and coordination for the specific operation covered all the details and possible contingencies, and should culminate in a joint rehearsal of the operation under conditions that simulated as nearly as possible those of the intended operation.[168]

This joint training was crucial because it reinforced many of the standard operating procedures necessary between the airborne and troop carrier units.  The more units became familiar with each other, the more confident they were in each other's abilities.  The joint training was imperative because it ensured that the commanders and staffs of the airborne and troop carrier units communicated directly with each other throughout the planning and execution of the training operations.  This was critical in a cooperative command structure.  In planning parachute operations, airborne and troop carrier units encountered numerous problems, but they generally overcame them, especially when the units conducted adequate joint training and preparation before an operation.  This cooperative relationship resolved issues at the troop carrier - airborne unit level.  Rarely was there ever an issue that either commander referred to a higher echelon for resolution.[169]

Another principle was that an airborne operation was an integral part of the basic maneuver plan.  Airborne operations, by their nature, were complex, resource-intensive, and difficult to coordinate.  Accordingly, there should not be an airborne operation unless the situation indicated that its employment was necessary for the accomplishment of the mission of the force as a whole.  In addition, to superimpose an airborne operation on a major operation already planned would rarely, if ever, be successful.[170]

The one new principle introduced in the training circular was that there should not be an airborne operation unless ground or naval forces could support the airborne forces within approximately three days.  The only exception was if the airborne forces withdrew after its mission was over.  This seemed to rule out the strategic employment of airborne troops deep in enemy territory that Marshall and Arnold envisioned.  However, related to strategic employment was the introduction of airborne forces as a constant threat.  By their nature, airborne forces were a threat that could strike anywhere in theater within range of troop transport aircraft.  Through their mere presence in the theater of operations, airborne forces caused the enemy to disperse its forces over a wide area in order to protect vital installations.[171]

The next four recommendations of the Swing Board dealt with several issues: the number of troop carrier units necessary to support an airborne division, and how to deal with shortages, a schedule of troop carrier unit participation necessary to sustain training in the United States, and a recommended number of future troop carrier units necessary based on the number of projected airborne units.  The AGF, AAF and Operations Division did not universally accept these recommendations.  There was much disagreement over the roles and mission of troop carrier units.[172]  

Swing defined the primary mission of troop carrier units as combat units to provide air transportation for airborne forces into combat and to resupply such forces until withdrawn or supplied by other means.  The secondary mission of troop carrier units within the theater was emergency supply and evacuation, ferrying of troops and equipment, and finally transportation of personnel, supplies and mail.  Swing felt strongly that while troop carrier units were not participating in actual combat operations, they should be training for them and not diverted to other missions that might prevent their proper training.  The War Department did not concur with these narrow definitions because it viewed separate troop carrier units for the nearly exclusive use in airborne operations as an uneconomical use of airplanes.  It countered with the conclusion that troop carrier units could fly in from other theaters as necessary to launch large-scale airborne operations.[173] 

The War Department did follow the recommendation on the schedule of training requirements for troop carrier units.  War Department Directive "Joint Training of Airborne and Troop Carrier Units," dated October 9, 1943, outlined the joint responsibilities of the Commanding Generals of the AAF and AGF.  Some of the items in the directive were the essential minimum joint troop carrier - airborne training requirements before units departed for combat theaters.  The Commanding General, AGF, was responsible for the training of the airborne units, while the Commanding General, AAF, had similar responsibility for the troop carrier units.[174]

Neither a troop carrier unit nor an airborne unit could receive this minimum essential training without joint participation of both the AGF and AAF.  Therefore, it was a dual responsibility of the Commanding Generals, AGF and AAF, to require close coordination and cooperation, which would be possible only through effective long-range training plans and submission of requirements to the War Department sufficiently in advance to ensure coordination.  The initially agreed upon troop carrier - airborne requirements were in accordance with the schedule contained in War Department memorandum "Schedule of Troop Carrier Units" dated September 24, 1943.[175]  

The last requirement of the directive was the authorization for direct correspondence between the Airborne Command and the I Troop Carrier Command.  The directive also encouraged the exchange of liaison officers between the two commands.  All these efforts were to improve the cooperative basis for airborne unit training and make it more of a unified command to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of airborne operations.[176]

The last four recommendations of the Swing Board had to do with various other issues such as the development of navigation aids to assist in finding the drop zone, activation of a quartermaster company for each theater having airborne units to assist in the receipt, packaging and delivery of all classes of supply by air to ground force units, testing of combat aircraft in conjunction with glider operations to determine feasibility, and  the assignment of a general officer to each theater commander to be an airborne adviser.  The War Department directed an organizational study and to make recommendations on these issues and their feasibility, but based on the guidelines in Training Circular No. 113, it did not agree that the theater commander needed an airborne advisor because the airborne forces were to remain at the theater level for employment.  Swing attempted unsuccessfully to keep a higher headquarters from pulling away the senior leaders from their units in order to assist in planning future operations. [177] 

Ridgway also gave the Swing Board a number of recommendations based on his experiences in Sicily and Italy when he returned to the United States and Swing also included them in his findings.  Ridgway believed that the airborne disasters had occurred largely because the senior ground commanders (Generals Eisenhower, Alexander, Montgomery and Clark) and their airborne advisers (namely Browning -- not Swing) had not understood how to employ airborne forces properly.  Swing criticized the piecemeal and haphazard employment of airborne troops because they were available.  This view coincided with Marshall's assessment that, in the words of his official biographer Forrest C. Pogue, "airborne units were being frittered away merely as support troops instead of being used decisively in an assault."[178]  To prevent further misuse of airborne forces, Ridgway submitted a set of written principles, tactics and procedures that theater commanders should follow when considering the employment of airborne forces.[179]  Ridgway's principles were very similar to the ones outlined in Training Circular No. 113

In addition to these principles, there were also items similar to tactics and procedures employed only during the Nadzab operation.  One of these items was the use of combat aircraft for resupply if transport planes were unavailable or unable to perform such missions.  Another item was the use of air support in the form of air bombardment, smoke and diversionary attacks to support the airborne operation.[180]

Training Circular No. 113 had a significant impact on future airborne operations as well as the development of doctrine for large-scale airborne operations.  This training circular became the reference for subsequent airborne operations during the war.  As the airborne operations grew larger in scale and complexity, the employment principles remained valid.  Large portions of the training circular appeared verbatim in the War Department Field Manual 71-30, Employment of Airborne Forces, dated July 3, 1947.  This field manual replaced War Department Field Manual 31-30, Tactics and Techniques of Air-Borne Troops, dated May 20, 1942, which was the basic doctrine for airborne operations during the war.    

Training Circular No. 113 not only had an impact on the development of airborne doctrine, but it also had an impact on the development on troop carrier aviation doctrine.  On January 31, 1944, by direction of Chief of the AAF General Arnold, the AAF Board initiated a project to prepare a field manual on the tactics and techniques of troop carrier operations.   “It is desired that this project serve to consolidate the loose ends of Troop Carrier aviation into a compact manual which will serve as a useful guide and to clarify many of the misunderstandings on this type of aviation,” said the Board.[181]  The primary reference for this project was Training Circular No. 113.  The directive stated that the Nadzab airborne operation was a useful source of information for the project.

            The purpose of the proposed manual was to present a complete picture of troop carrier operations in its various phases with special emphasis on training of crews and units, operations, communications, navigation aids, and employment of gliders.  In addition, there was special emphasis on the close coordination that must exist between troop carrier and airborne forces when planning and conducting operations.  The directive also underscored that close coordination between the Troop Carrier Command and the Airborne Command was necessary in the development of the troop carrier manual so that there would be no conflict in doctrine since the Airborne Command was in the process of updating their manual on airborne operations, War Department Field Manual 31-30, Tactics and Techniques of Air-Borne Troops.[182]

            On January 18, 1946, Arnold approved the AAF Board's tactics and techniques of troop carrier aviation project.  Large portions of Training Circular No. 113 appeared verbatim in this report as well.  The project's recommendations included the text for a field manual on troop carrier aviation operations.  The text later appeared as War Department Field Manual 1-30, Tactical Doctrine of Troop Carrier Aviation, dated August 12, 1947.  This manual was the first doctrinal manual on troop carrier operations in support of airborne operations.[183]

Not a direct result of the Swing Board, but a follow-on action, was the publication of AGF's memorandum, "Joint Training of Airborne and Troop Carrier Units," dated November 2, 1943.  This memorandum contained the newly developed program of instruction for combined airborne-troop carrier training for parachute battalions, parachute regiments and airborne divisions.  The War Department had directed this training in its memorandum for "Joint Training of Airborne and Troop Carrier Units," issued on October 9.  The training plan had three phases: small unit training, large unit training and divisional training.  Each phase built upon the previous phase.  The memorandum laid out the tasks, conditions and standards for each phase of the training.[184]

The memorandum specified the requirements an airborne division must satisfy before the Army Ground Forces certified the unit as combat ready.  Each airborne division must satisfactorily complete a combined maneuver of the following scope:

a.      Duration -- approximately five days.

b.      Employ at least four departure air bases.

c.      Objective area to be reached by circuitous route of approximately 300 miles.

d.      At least one-half of the landings and assembly of units to be made at night.

e.      The maneuver will be planned so that contact with friendly ground forces will not be made prior to D plus 4.

f.        Re-supply and evacuation by air and/or air landing during period D to D plus 4.[185]

The giant test maneuver that Marshall ordered used these standards to evaluate the feasibility of large-scale airborne operations and the ability to command and control the airborne division.  Swing's 11th Airborne Division was the first unit to conduct the test.

Stimson was highly interested in the success of the airborne concept.  Just before the test maneuver, he visited Swing and the 11th Airborne Division during a training exercise at Camp Mackall.  On November 23, 1943, Stimson watched the division stage a nighttime parachute and glider, infantry and artillery, demonstration that was a huge success. The 11th Airborne Division impressed the secretary of war.  In a note several days later to Swing, he wrote, "The Airborne Infantry Division will play a great part in our future successes, and I know that the 11th Airborne Division will render outstanding service to our country on some not too far distant D Day."[186]  He did not know how true that he would be.

            The special test maneuver that Marshall ordered for the 11th Airborne Division took place during the first week of December 1943.  The objective of the division was to capture the Knollwood Airport in North Carolina; thereafter, this exercise became known as the Knollwood Maneuvers.  The senior evaluator for the exercise was none other than McNair, the sharpest critic of the airborne division concept.  He directed the 11th Airborne Division to conduct the maneuver according to Training Circular No. 113 and evaluated it according to his headquarters' memorandum "Joint Training of Airborne and Troop Carrier Units," of  November 2, 1943.[187]

            Across five departure airfields on December 6, the 11th Airborne Division loaded its airplanes and gliders.  The division and troop carrier staff synchronized the takeoffs from each of the airports so that each serial joined the column in its proper place in line as the entire division became airborne.  The column headed east over the North Carolina shoreline, out over the Atlantic Ocean, turned north and then back west to the designated drop and landing zones.  Golf courses around Pinehurst and Southern Pines, open fields outside towns, and areas adjacent to Knollwood Airport were the drop and landing zones for the maneuver.[188]        

            Almost all the jumpers and gliders hit the proper drop and landing zones.  In a few hours, the division assembled and seized its assault objectives.  Before dawn, the Knollwood Airport was in the hands of the 11th Airborne Division.  For the next five days, the division received a steady flow of troop carrier aircraft loaded with all the supplies.  It successfully waged simulated combat against the defenders from the 17th Airborne Division over the sand hills of North Carolina near Knollwood.  By the evening of the sixth day, McNair declared the Knollwood Maneuvers over.  The maneuver was a huge success for the 11th Airborne Division and the airborne concept.[189]

The week after the maneuver, McNair rendered his verdict on the Knollwood Maneuvers to Swing.  McNair wrote: 


I congratulate you on the splendid performance of your division in the Knollwood Maneuver.  After the airborne operations in Africa and Sicily, my staff and I had become convinced of the impracticality of handling large airborne units.  I was prepared to recommend to the War Department that airborne divisions be abandoned in our scheme or organization and that airborne effort be restricted to parachute units of battalion size or smaller.  The successful performance of your division has convinced me that we were wrong, and I shall now recommend that we continue our present schedule of activating, training, and committing airborne divisions.[190]

Swing's paratroopers convinced the top army leaders that airborne divisions were tactically sound, but it was the 503d PIR’s jump at Nadzab that nullified the doubts after Sicily that set the stage for the Knollwood Maneuvers.  The Knollwood Maneuvers breathed new life into the nearly dead airborne division concept. 

Also in attendance to watch the maneuvers was Ridgway.  Afterward, he flew back to Ireland to rejoin his paratroopers already there preparing for their next mission.  The invasion of Nazi-held Europe was to begin in just over four months.  The vast Allied assault into Normandy began with three airborne divisions -- the American 82d and 101st and one British.  The large-scale American parachute drops on D-Day proved that McNair’s decision to save the airborne division had been a wise one.















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