Hand color tinted photo of Easy Company, 101st Airborne at Berchtesgarten, Germany WWII VE Day May 1945
The 101st Airborne Division—the “Screaming Eagles” is a U.S. Army modular infantry division trained for air assault operations. During World War II, it was renowned for action during the Normandy landings and in the Battle of the Bulge. During the Vietnam War, the 101st Airborne Division was redesignated first an airmobile division, then later as an air assault division. For historical reasons and because the pathfinder unit and parachute rigger company are both still on jump status, it retains the “Airborne” tab identifier, yet does not conduct parachute operations at a division level. Many modern members of the 101st are graduates of the U.S. Army Air Assault School, and wear the Air Assault Badge, but it is not prerequisite for assignment to the division, but is mandatory to hold a leadership position. The division’s headquarters are at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, and has served in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is the only U.S. Army division with two aviation brigades. It is one of the most prestigious and decorated divisions in the U.S. Army.
World War II
The 101st Airborne Division was activated August 16, 1942 at Camp Claiborne, Louisiana. On 19 August 1942, its first commander, Major General William C. Lee, promised his new recruits that the 101st had “no history but had a rendezvous with destiny.”
In his first address to his soldiers the day the division was born, Lee read General Order Number 5 dated August 19, 1942:
The 101st Airborne Division, which was activated on August 16, 1942, at Camp Claiborne, Louisiana, has no history, but it has a rendezvous with destiny.
Due to the nature of our armament, and the tactics in which we shall perfect ourselves, we shall be called upon to carry out operations of far-reaching military importance and we shall habitually go into action when the need is immediate and extreme.
Let me call your attention to the fact that our badge is the great American eagle. This is a fitting emblem for a division that will crush its enemies by falling upon them like a thunderbolt from the skies.
The history we shall make, the record of high achievement we hope to write in the annals of the American Army and the American people, depends wholly and completely on the men of this division. Each individual, each officer and each enlisted man, must therefore regard himself as a necessary part of a complex and powerful instrument for the overcoming of the enemies of the nation. Each, in his own job, must realize that he is not only a means, but an indispensable means for obtaining the goal of victory. It is, therefore, not too much to say that the future itself, in whose molding we expect to have our share, is in the hands of the soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division.
D-DayMain article: Mission Albany
The Pathfinders of the 101st Airborne Division led the way on D-Day in the night drop prior to the invasion. They left from RAF North Witham having trained there with the 82nd Airborne Division.
The 101st Airborne Division’s objectives were to secure the four causeway exits behind Utah Beach, destroy a German coastal artillery battery at Saint-Martin-de-Varreville, capture buildings nearby at Mésières believed used as barracks and a command post for the artillery battery, capture the Douve River lock at la Barquette (opposite Carentan), capture two footbridges spanning the Douve at la Porte opposite Brévands, destroy the highway bridges over the Douve at Sainte-Come-du-Mont, and secure the Douve River valley.
In the process units would also disrupt German communications, establish roadblocks to hamper the movement of German reinforcements, establish a defensive line between the beachhead and Volognes, clear the area of the drop zones to the unit boundary at Les Forges, and link up with the 82nd Airborne Division.
Drop Zone AThe paratroopers of the 101st Airborne Division “Screaming Eagles” jumped between 0048 and 0140 British Double Summer Time of 6 June. The first wave, inbound to Drop Zone A (the northernmost), was not surprised by the cloud bank and maintained formation, but navigating errors and a lack of Eureka signal caused the first error. Although the 2nd Battalion 502nd PIR was dropped as a compact unit, it jumped on the wrong drop zone, while its commander, Lt Col. Steve A. Chappuis, came down virtually alone on the correct drop zone. Chappuis and this stick captured the coastal battery soon after assembling, and found that it had already been dismantled after an air raid.
Most of the remainder of the 502nd (70 of 80 sticks) dropped in a disorganized pattern around the impromptu drop zone set up by the pathfinders near the beach. The battalion commanders of the 1st and 3rd Battalions, Lt Col. Patrick J. Cassidy (1/502) and Lt Col. Robert G. Cole (3/502), took charge of small groups and accomplished all of their D-Day missions. Cassidy’s group took Saint Martin-de-Varreville by 0630, sent a patrol under S/Sgt. Harrison C. Summers to seize the “XYZ” objective, a barracks at Mésières, and set up a thin line of defense from Fourcarville to Beuzeville. Cole’s group moved during the night from near Saint Mère Église to the Varreville battery, then continued on and captured Exit 3 at 0730. They held the position during the morning until relieved by troops moving inland from Utah Beach. Both commanders found Exit 4 covered by German artillery fire and Cassidy recommended to the 4th Infantry Division that it not use the exit.
The division’s parachute artillery did not fare nearly as well. Its drop was one of the worst of the operation, losing all but one howitzer and dropping all but two of 54 loads four to twenty miles (32 km) to the north, where most ultimately became casualties.
Drop Zone C
The second wave, assigned to drop the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR) on Drop Zone C 1 mile (1.6 km) west of Sainte Marie-du-Mont, was badly dispersed by the clouds, then subjected to intense antiaircraft fire for 10 miles (16 km). Three of the 81 C-47s were lost before or during the jump. One, piloted by 1st Lt. Marvin F. Muir of the 439th Troop Carrier Group, caught fire. Lt. Muir held the aircraft steady while the stick jumped, then died when the plane crashed immediately afterward, for which he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. Despite the opposition, the 506th’s 1st Battalion (the original division reserve) was dropped accurately on DZ C, landing two-thirds of its sticks and regimental commander Col. Robert F. Sink on or within a mile of the drop zone.
Most of the 2nd Battalion commanded by Lt Col. Robert L. Strayer had jumped too far west, near Sainte Mère Église. They eventually assembled near Foucarville at the northern edge of the 101st Airborne’s objective area. It fought its way to the hamlet of le Chemin near the Houdienville causeway by mid-afternoon, but found that the 4th Division had already seized the exit hours before. The 3rd Battalion of the 501st PIR, led by Lt Col. Julian J. Ewell (3/501), also assigned to jump onto DZ C, was more scattered, but took over the mission of securing the exits. An ad hoc company-sized team that included division commander Maj. Gen. Maxwell D. Taylor reached the Pouppeville exit at 0600. After a six-hour house-clearing battle with elements of the German 1058th Grenadier Regiment, the group secured the exit shortly before 4th Division troops arrived to link up.
Drop Zone D
The third wave also encountered severe flak, losing 6 aircraft. The troop carriers still made an accurate drop, placing 94 of 132 sticks on or close to the drop zone, but part of the DZ was covered by pre-registered German machinegun and mortar fire that inflicted heavy casualties before many troops could get out of their chutes. Among the killed were two of the three battalion commanders and the executive officer of the 3/506th.
The surviving battalion commander, Lt Col. Robert A. Ballard, gathered 250 troopers and advanced toward Saint Côme-du-Mont to complete his mission of destroying the highway bridges over the Douve. Less than half a mile from his objective at les Droueries he was stopped by elements of battalion III./1058 Grenadier-Rgt. Another group of 50 men, assembled by the regimental S-3, Major Richard J. Allen, attacked the same area from the east at Basse-Addeville but was also pinned down.
The commander of the 501st PIR, Col. Howard R. Johnson, collected 150 troops and captured the main objective, the la Barquette lock, by 0400. After establishing defensive positions, Col. Johnson went back to the DZ and assembled another 100 men, including Allen’s group, to reinforce the bridgehead. Despite naval gunfire support from the cruiser Quincy, Ballard’s battalion was unable to take Saint Côme-du-Mont or join Col. Johnson.
The S-3 officer of the 3rd Battalion 506th PIR, Capt. Charles G. Shettle, put together a platoon and achieved another objective by seizing two foot bridges near la Porte at 0430 and crossed to the east bank. When their ammunition drew low after knocking out several machine gun emplacements, the small force withdrew to the west bank. It doubled in size overnight as stragglers came in, and repulsed a German probe across the bridges.
Other actionsTwo other noteworthy actions took place near Sainte Marie-du-Mont by units of the 506th PIR, both of which involved the seizure and destruction of batteries of 105mm guns of the German III Battalion-191st Artillery Regiment. During the morning, a small patrol of troopers from Company E 506th PIR under 1st Lt. Richard D. Winters overwhelmed a force 3-4 times its size and destroyed four guns at a farm called Brécourt Manor for which Winters was later awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.
Around noon, while reconnoitering the area by jeep, Col. Sink received word that a second battery of four guns had been discovered at Holdy, a manor between his CP and Sainte Marie-du-Mont, and the defenders had a force of some 70 paratroopers pinned down. Capt. Lloyd E. Patch (Headquarters Company 1st/506th) and Capt. Knut H. Raudstein (Company C 506th PIR) led an additional 70 troops to Holdy and enveloped the position. The combined force then continued on to seize Sainte Marie-du-Mont. A platoon of the 502nd PIR, left to hold the battery, destroyed three of the four guns before Col. Sink could send four jeeps to save them for the airborne’s use.
At the end of D-Day, Gen. Taylor and his assistant division commander (ADC) Brig. Gen. Anthony C. McAuliffe returned from their foray at Pouppeville. Taylor had control of approximately 2,500 of his 6,600 men, most of which were in the vicinity of the 506th CP at Culoville, with the thin defense line west of Saint Germain-du-Varreville, or the division reserve at Blosville. Two glider airlifts had brought in scant reinforcements and had resulted in the death of his other ADC, Brig. Gen. Don F. Pratt. The 327th Glider Infantry had come across Utah Beach but only its third battalion (1st Battalion 401st GIR) had reported in.
The 101st Airborne Division had accomplished its most important mission of securing the beach exits, but had a tenuous hold on positions near the Douve River, over which the Germans could still move armored units. The three groups clustered there had tenuous contact with each other but none with the rest of the division. A shortage of radio equipment caused by losses during the drops exacerbated his control problems. Taylor made destroying the Douve bridges the division’s top priority and delegated the task to Col. Sink, who issued orders for the 1st Battalion 401st Glider Infantry to lead three battalions south the next morning.
Operation Market GardenMain article: Operation Market Garden On 17 September 1944, the division became part of the XVIII Airborne Corps in the First Allied Airborne Army. The division took part in Operation Market Garden (September 17–25, 1944), an unsuccessful Allied military operation under field marshall Bernard Montgomery to capture Dutch bridges over the Rhine fought in the Netherlands and the largest airborne operation of all time.
The plan, as outlined by Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, required the seizure by airborne forces of several bridges on the Highway 69 across the Maas (Meuse River) and two arms of the Rhine (the Waal and the Lower Rhine), as well as several smaller canals and tributaries. Crossing the these bridges would allow British armoured units to outflank the Siegfried Line, advance into northern Germany, and encircle the Ruhr, Germany’s industrial heartland, thus ending the war. This meant the large-scale use of Allied airborne forces, including both the 82nd and 101st.
The operation was initially successful. Several bridges between Eindhoven and Nijmegen were captured by the 82nd and 101st. The 101st met little resistance and captured most of their initial objectives by the end of 17 September. However, the demolition of the division’s primary objective, a bridge over the Wilhelmina Canal at Son, delayed the capture of the main road bridge over the Maas until 20 September. Faced with the loss of the bridge at Son, the 101st unsuccessfully attempted to capture a similar bridge a few kilometers away at Best but found the approach blocked. Other units continued moving to the south and eventually reached the northern end of Eindhoven.
At 06:00 hours on 18 September the Irish Guards Group resumed the advance while facing determined resistance from German infantry and tanks. Around noon the 101st Airborne were met by the lead reconnaissance units from XXX Corps. At 16:00 radio contact alerted the main force that the Son bridge had been destroyed and requested that a bailey bridge be brought forward. By nightfall the Guards Armoured Division had established itself in the Eindhoven area however transport columns were jammed in the packed streets of the town and were subjected to German aerial bombardment during the night. XXX Corps engineers, supported by German prisoners of war, constructed a class 40 bailey bridge within 10 hours across the Wilhelmina Canal. The sector of the longest sector of the highway secured by the 101st Airborne Division later became known as “Hell’s Highway.”
Battle of the Bulge
The Ardennes Offensive (16 December 1944 – 25 January 1945) was a major German offensive launched towards the end of World War II through the forested Ardennes Mountains region of Belgium. Germany’s planned goal for these operations was to split the British and American Allied line in half, capturing Antwerp, Belgium in the process, and then proceeding to encircle and destroy the entire British 21st Army Group and all 12th U.S. Army Group units north of the German advance, forcing the Western Allies to negotiate a peace treaty in the Axis Powers’ favor as a result. In order to reach Antwerp before the Allies could regroup and bring their superior air power to bear, German mechanized forces had to seize all the major highways through eastern Belgium. Because all seven of the main roads in the Ardennes converged on the small town of Bastogne, control of its crossroads was vital to the success or failure of the German attack.
Despite several notable signs in the weeks preceding the attack, the Ardennes Offensive achieved virtually complete surprise. By the end of the second day of battle, it became apparent that the 28th Infantry Division was near collapse. Maj. Gen. Troy H. Middleton, commander of VIII Corps, ordered part of his armored reserve, Combat Command B of the 10th Armored Division to Bastogne. Meanwhile, Gen. Eisenhower ordered forward the SHAEF reserve, composed of the 82nd and 101st Airborne, which were stationed at Reims.
Both divisions were alerted on the evening of 17 December, and not having organic transport, began arranging trucks for movement forward. The 82nd, longer in reserve and thus better re-equipped, moved out first. The 101st left Camp Mourmelon on the afternoon of 18 December, with the order of march the division artillery, division trains, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR), 506th PIR, 502nd PIR, and 327th Glider Infantry. Much of the convoy was conducted at night in drizzle and sleet, using headlights despite threat of air attack to speed the movement, and at one point the combined column stretched from Bouillon, Belgium, back to Reims.
The 101st Airborne was routed to Bastogne, located 107 miles away on a 1463 ft (445m) high plateau, while the 82nd Airborne took up positions further north to block the critical advance of Kampfgruppe Peiper toward Werbomont, Belgium. The 705th Tank Destroyer Battalion, in reserve sixty miles to the north, was ordered to Bastogne to provide anti-tank support to the armorless 101st Airborne on the 18th and arrived late the next evening. The first elements of the 501st PIR entered the division assembly area four miles west of Bastogne shortly after midnight of 19 December, and by 0900 the entire division had arrived.
By 21 December, the German forces had surrounded Bastogne, which was defended by both the 101st Airborne and Combat Command B of the 10th Armored Division. Conditions inside the perimeter were tough—most of the medical supplies and medical personnel had been captured on 19 December. CCB of the 10th Armored Division, severely weakened by losses in delaying the German advance, formed a mobile “fire brigade” of 40 light and medium tanks (including survivors of CCR of the 9th Armored Division, which had been destroyed while delaying the Germans, and eight replacement tanks found unassigned in Bastogne). Three artillery battalions, including the all-black 969th Field Artillery Battalion, were commandeered by the 101st and formed a temporary artillery group. Each had 12 155 mm howitzers, providing the division with heavy firepower in all directions restricted only by its limited ammunition supply (By 22 December artillery ammunition was restricted to 10 rounds per gun per day.) The weather cleared the next day, however, and supplies (primarily ammunition) were dropped over four of the next five days.
Despite several determined German attacks, the perimeter held. The German commander, Generalleutnant Heinrich Freiherr von Lüttwitz, requested Bastogne’s surrender. When General Anthony McAuliffe, now acting commander of the 101st, was told, a frustrated McAuliffe responded, “Nuts!” After turning to other pressing issues, his staff reminded him that they should reply to the German demand. One officer (Harry W. O. Kinnard, then a Lieutenant Colonel) recommended that McAuliffe’s initial reply should be “tough to beat”. Thus McAuliffe wrote on the paper delivered to the Germans: “NUTS!” That reply had to be explained, both to the Germans and to non-American Allies.
Both of the two panzer divisions of the XLVII Panzer Corps moved forward from Bastogne after 21 December, leaving only one panzergrenadier regiment of the Panzer-Lehr-Division to assist the 26th Volksgrenadier Division in attempting to capture the crossroads. The 26th VG received additional armor and panzergrenadier reinforcements on Christmas Eve to prepare for its final assault, to take place on Christmas day. Because it lacked sufficient armor and troops and the 26th VG Division was near exhaustion, the XLVII Panzer Corps concentrated the assault on several individual locations on the west side of perimeter in sequence rather than launching one simultaneous attack on all sides. The assault, despite initial success by German tanks in penetrating the American line, was defeated and virtually all of the German tanks involved were destroyed. The next day, 26 December, the spearhead of General George S. Patton’s U.S. Third Army relief force, the 4th Armored Division, broke through the German lines and opened a corridor to Bastogne, ending the siege. The division got the nickname “The Battered Bastards of Bastogne.”
Post-WarOn 1 August 1945, the 501 PIR was moved to France while the rest of the division was based around Zell am See and Kaprun in the Austrian alps. The division was deactivated 30 November 1945.
For their efforts during World War II, the 101st Airborne Division was awarded four campaign streamers and two Presidential Unit Citations. The division suffered 1,766 Killed In Action; 6,388 Wounded In Action; and 324 Died of Wounds during World War II.
327th Glider Infantry Regiment
401st Glider Infantry Regiment, disbanded 1 March 1945 in France; assets to 327th GIR
501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, attached 1 May 1944 – past 9 May 1945
502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment
506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, assigned 1 March 1945, previously attached 15 September 1943 – 1 March 1945- Which contains the “Easy Company” which gained fame from the show Band of Brothers.
HHB, Division Artillery
321st Glider Field Artillery Battalion (75mm)
377th Parachute Field Artillery Battalion (75mm)
463d Parachute Field Artillery Battalion (75mm)
907th Glider Field Artillery Battalion (75mm)
81st Airborne Antiaircraft Battalion
326th Airborne Engineer Battalion
326th Airborne Medical Company
101st Parachute Maintenance Company
101st Signal Company
101st Counter Intelligence Corps Detachment
Headquarters, Special Troops
801st Airborne Ordnance Maintenance Company
426th Airborne Quartermaster Company
Headquarters Company, 101st Airborne Division
Military Police Platoon
Band (assigned in 1 March 1945 reorganization)
The 101st was distinguished partly by its helmet decorations. The soldiers used card suits (diamonds, spades, hearts, and clubs) to indicate the regiment to which they belonged. The only exception being the 187th, who were added to the division later.
These insignias were first seen in World War II, and can still be seen on 101st Division soldiers today.
327th: Clubs (?) (Currently worn by the 1st Brigade Combat Team; seen in 1949 film Battleground)
501st: Diamonds (?) (Currently 1st Battalion, 501st Infantry Regiment is part of the 4th Brigade (ABN), 25th Infantry Division in Alaska.) (The Diamond is currently used by the 101st Combat Aviation Brigade)
502d: Hearts (?) (Currently worn by the 2d Brigade Combat Team)
506th: Spades (?) (Currently worn by the 4th Brigade Combat Team; seen in miniseries Band of Brothers (TV miniseries))
187th: Torii() (Currently worn by the 3d Brigade Combat Team; not during World War II, when the 187th Infantry Regiment was part of the 11th Airborne Division.)