Originally organized in November 1918, the 101st was demobilized the following month,
and later reconstituted in June 1921 as an Organized Reserve unit. The division was
organized that September at Milwaukee, Wisconsin, with reservists, most of whom were
individually called into federal service after the outbreak of the war.
The airborne division was activated at Camp Claiborne, Louisiana, with recently promoted
Maj. Gen. William C. Lee commanding. The airborne capability was to be provided
by two glider infantry regiments (GIRs), the 327th and 401st, and one parachute infantry
regiment, the 502nd, though the latter was still stationed at Fort Benning, Georgia.
This mix of glider and parachute regiments was a matter of great debate, and these
units were augmented in the coming months by the 506th and 501st Parachute Infantry.
the 101st designated as an airborne division, all that remained was to train its
soldiers to qualify for their new mission. In October 1942 the division moved to
Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and joined by the 502nd PIR, began its training under
the Airborne Command. Rivalry between the division's parachute and glider elements
developed rapidly. The paratroopers were considered to be elite troops and received
extra money or "parachute pay" for their hazardous missions. The glider troops, however,
had duties just as dangerous but were authorized no extra pay. This situation continued
through 1944, with unit commanders doing their best to keep the peace within their
ranks. Throughout these difficulties the 101st continued to train and to reorganize,
attempting to acquire airborne qualified personnel for the necessary positions.
By the spring of 1943 the division was ready to face its first test in local maneuvers.
Immediately following these maneuvers, the 101st left to take part in the Tennessee
maneuvers, a larger scale operation. Preceding the exercise, on 10 June 1943, the
506th Parachute Infantry was attached to the division. The SCREAMING EAGLES' performance
throughout the maneuvers was impressive as they demonstrated the capabilities of
U.S. airborne forces. During these maneuvers, however, General Lee was injured in
a glider. He later remarked, "Next time I'll take a parachute," which provided the
overlooked glider troops with some measure of satisfaction, if not extra pay.
division returned to Fort Bragg, continuing to train and perform various airborne
demonstrations for visiting officials until mid-August, when it received orders for
transfer overseas. Arriving in England, the 101st was quartered in Wiltshire and
Berkshire, where it continued to train. The early months of 1944 were a time of change
for the 101st Airborne Division.
In January the 101st received its third parachute
regiment, the 501st Parachute Infantry. On 5 February General Lee, who had championed
the airborne cause from the beginning, suffered a heart attack. Although he had brought
the division from its initial organization through training for the fight in Europe,
General Lee was not to be part of the 101st's baptism of fire. He was relieved of
his command and returned to the United States. Brig. Gen. Maxwell D. Taylor, former
commander of the 82d Airborne Division Artillery, assumed command of the 101st on
14 March. The division underwent another organizational change that month, when the
2d Battalion, 401st Glider Infantry, was permanently transferred to the 82d Airborne
Division. The 1st Battalion was attached to the 327th Glider Infantry to operate
under that regiment as a third battalion. The 1st Battalion, 401st GIR, was made
an official element of the 327th GIR in April 1945.
D-Day - Operation Neptune
The 101st Airborne Division first saw combat during the Normandy invasion - 6 June
1944. The division, as part of the VII Corps assault, jumped in the dark morning
before H-Hour to seize positions west of Utah Beach. Given the mission of anchoring
the corps' southern flank, the division was also to eliminate the German's secondary
beach defenses, allowing the seaborne forces of the 4th Infantry Division, once ashore,
to continue inland. The SCREAMING EAGLES were to capture the causeway bridges that
ran behind the beach between St. Martin-de-Varreville and Pouppeville. In the division's
southern sector, it was to seize the la Barquette lock and destroy a highway bridge
northwest of the town of Carentan and a railroad bridge further west. At the same
time elements of the division were to establish two bridgeheads on the Douve River
at le Port, northeast of Carentan.
As the assault force approached the French coast,
it encountered fog and antiaircraft fire, which forced some of the planes to break
formation. Paratroopers from both the 82d and 101st Airborne Divisions missed their
landing zones and were scattered over wide areas. For many the first struggle of
combat was to find their units; 1500 soldiers from the division were killed or captured.
When units or soldiers finally assembled, they had difficulty in identifying their
locations relative to their objectives. The paratroopers of the 101st were promised
reinforcements at dawn, when 51 of the division's gliders were scheduled to land.
The gliders, however, had problems of their own. Many of the gliders crashed, and
several soldiers of the division were killed, including Brig. Gen. Don F. Pratt,
the assistant division commander. A second glider landing at dusk that day produced
even more casualties.
The men of the division, however, persevered and proceeded with their assigned missions
as best they could. By nightfall soldiers from the 101st had secured the beach exits
in their zone and contacted the landing forces of the 4th Division. The SCREAMING
EAGLES also controlled the la Barquette lock, but could not secure crossings on the
Douve River. The following day 101st elements attempted to advance in the division's
southern sector, but made little progress against heavy enemy resistance near the
village of St. Côme-du-Mont. That same day General Eisenhower directed that American
efforts be focused on closing the gap between the V and VII Corps. The VII Corps
received orders to capture the town of Carentan, and the 101st, already in position
outside St. Côme-du-Mont to the northwest, was given the task.
On 8 June elements
of the 501st and 506th Parachute Infantry, along with the 1st Battalion, 401st Glider
Infantry, engaged a German force in the town of St. Côme-du-Mont. The 3d Battalion,
501st PIR, took positions south of the town, along the highway to Carentan where
it encountered the enemy. The 1st Battalion, 401st Glider Infantry, was called to
aid the 3d Battalion, but the enemy withdrew before the glider troops arrived. Both
of the 101st battalions pursued the retreating enemy, but there was no additional
contact. The Germans had abandoned the town, and the SCREAMING EAGLES moved in to
plan the next step in the drive on Carentan.
The attack on Carentan was to be two
pronged. The right arm of the drive was to cross the causeway northwest of Carentan,
bypass the town, and continue to the southwest to occupy La Billonerie, also called
Hill 30, which, it was thought, covered potential escape routes available to the
Germans. The left arm of the assault was to cross the Douve River near Brevands,
with the main body of that force continuing on to Carentan, while a smaller portion
of the force moved east to the Vire River to contact the V Corps
The 3d Battalion, 502d PIR, led the right drive along the causeway. Progress, however,
was extremely slow. The men of the 502d advanced along the causeway with no cover,
facing steady fire as they moved forward. The battalion inched along until it reached
the bridge on the Madeleine River and ran into a strong enemy position concentrated
in an old farmhouse and the adjoining hedgerows. Lt. Col. Robert G. Cole, the battalion
commander, called for artillery fire on the position, but it did no good. Pinned
down, he ordered a charge with fixed bayonets. Colonel Cole leapt up to lead the
charge, but not all his men had gotten the word. The executive officer prodded the
men along, and Cole continued with the soldiers that had followed. The Germans withdrew
from the farmhouse, and the charging soldiers cleared the hedgerow positions. Cole
was awarded the Medal of Honor for his efforts that day. Unfortunately, he was killed
in a later division operation before receiving his medal.
Having suffered heavy casualties
in its trek along the causeway, and being in some disarray after the bayonet charge,
the battalion could not pursue the withdrawing enemy. The 1st Battalion, 502d PIR,
came up through the line to follow the Germans. The 1st Battalion, however, had advanced
along the same causeway, under the same fire as the 3d Battalion, and was also unable
to make the pursuit. The two battalions, instead, dug in to defend the newly taken
position. Their defenses were put to the test the next morning when the Germans launched
a strong counterattack. Throughout the day the battalions held their ground until
they were finally relieved by the 2d Battalion. Elements of the 506th Parachute Infantry
relieved the beleaguered battalions of the 502d on 12 June. By that evening the 506th
had completed the drive past Carentan and occupied Hill 30.
While the 502d struggled along the causeway, the 327th Glider Infantry, with the
battalion of the 401st, had led the left wing attack. On 10 June elements of the
force crossed the Douve River and occupied the town of Brevands. Company A, 401st
Glider Infantry, continued southeast towards the town of Auville-sur-le-Vey to contact
the V Corps. Encountering stiff German resistance outside the town, the company broke
through the enemy line to make contact with elements of the 29th Infantry Division,
part of the V Corps. The 327th, after crossing the Douve, had orders to seize both
the railroad bridge and the highway bridge that crossed the Vire-Taute Canal, blocking
the eastern escape routes from Carentan. The regiment succeeded in capturing and
holding the highway bridge, but the railroad bridge was blown in the fight. The men
of the 327th crossed the canal and continued their fight toward Carentan until enemy
resistance halted their progress about a half mile from the town.
At General Taylor's
direction, Brig. Gen. Anthony C. McAuliffe, (picture left) commander of the 101st's
artillery, coordinated the final drive for Carentan, which took place on 12 June.
Throughout the night of the 11th, the town was placed under heavy fire, but, unknown
to the U.S. forces, the main body of Germans withdrew under cover of darkness. The
following morning the 2d Battalion, 506th PIR, entered Carentan from the southwest
and connected with the 1st Battalion, 401st GIR, which approached from the northeast.
Once the two battalions had linked up they proceeded to clear the town of the remaining
enemy stragglers. Under orders to secure the approaches to the town, the 501st and
506th moved along the roads to the southwest, while the 327th advanced to the east.
Both groups, however, met enemy opposition, and their progress was limited. On 13
June the Germans launched a fierce counterattack in an attempt to retake the town.
The U.S. First Army directed elements of the 2d Armored Division to support the 101st
in defending Carentan. Together the Americans stopped the enemy thrust and held the
Two days later the VIII Corps became operational, and the 101st was reassigned to
the new headquarters. With the mission of establishing defensive positions across
the Cotentin Peninsula, the VIII Corps gave the SCREAMING EAGLES responsibility for
securing the left flank of the VII Corps. On 27 June the 83d Infantry Division arrived
and relieved the 101st. Two days later the 101st was relieved from the VIII Corps
and sent to Cherbourg to relieve the 4th Infantry Division. The 101st remained as
a First Army reserve until mid-July, when it returned to England for rest and training.
division had suffered considerable personnel and equipment losses during the Normandy
battles. The 101st spent the summer replacing equipment, training new soldiers, and
waiting for its next mission. At about the same time General Eisenhower called for
a headquarters that would oversee the Allies' airborne troops. In August 1944 he
established the First Allied Airborne Army, controlling elements of the American
and British (and Polish) Armies. The new army was put to the test in September 1944
during the Allied thrust in northern Europe: Operation MARKET-GARDEN.
Operation Market Garden
MARKET-GARDEN was planned as a two phase operation. Operation MARKET was the airborne
phase of the assault, with Operation GARDEN being the ground attack. The paratroopers
of First Allied Airborne Army were to jump into the Netherlands and secure a corridor
from Eindhoven north to Arnhem, through which the ground forces of the British 30
Corps could advance and push on to the IJesselmer (Zuider Zee). The eventual goal
was to cross the Rhine River and breach the German West Wall defenses. The Dutch
countryside, criss-crossed by innumerable dikes, drainage ditches, rivers, and canals,
however, would prove difficult to traverse if the ground troops could not advance
by road. For the plan to be a success the paratroopers had to keep the roadway open
and the bridges along the route intact and secure.
D-Day was set for 17 September 1944, and the 101st, along with the 82d Airborne Division,
the British 1st Airborne Division and 52d Lowland Division (Airportable), and the
1st Polish Parachute Brigade were set to jump. Unlike the Normandy jumps, this operation,
by order of Lt. Gen. Lewis H. Brereton, commander of the First Allied Airborne Army,
was to be carried out in daylight. Shortages in transport planes, however, prevented
the three divisions from dropping all their troops on D-Day, and the commanders had
to decide which units would go in first. The 101st Airborne Division was to anchor
the British Airborne Corps' southern-most flank and secure a 15-mile sector between
Eindhoven and Veghel. Taking this into consideration, General Taylor decided that
the three parachute infantry regiments would jump on the 17 September. The 327th
Glider Infantry was to arrive on D+1, and the artillery units were scheduled for
D+2, the 19th.
The planes carrying the 101st encountered heavy antiaircraft fire as
they approached their targets, but the pilots were able to hold formation, and the
paratroopers, for the most part, were delivered to the correct drop zones. These
were located to the west of the main highway and in the center of the division's
sector, near the villages of Zon, St. Oedenrode, and Best. The 506th Parachute Infantry
dropped near Zon, with the mission of securing the highway bridge over the Wilhelmina
Canal, south of the village. Once the bridge was secure the regiment was to advance
further south and seize Eindhoven. The 502d's zone was north of the 506th, and its
mission was to guard both regiments' drop zones for later use by the gliders. It
was also to capture the road bridge over the Dommel River at St. Oedenrode. Additionally,
General Taylor ordered the regiment to dispatch a company to the south of Best to
capture the bridges there that crossed the Wilhelmina Canal. The 501st Parachute
Infantry jumped north of the 502d, near the town of Veghel. Elements of the regiment
were to gain control of the rail and road bridges over the Willems Canal and the
The 501st accomplished its mission, capturing Veghel and the surrounding bridges
against only limited enemy resistance. The 502d also completed its main assignment
of securing St. Oedenrode and the bridge over the Dommel River. The company that
had moved south of Best, however, had great difficulty and could not take the bridges
over the Wilhelmina Canal. The 2d and 3d Battalions, 506th PIR, methodically cleared
Zon, while the 1st Battalion, accompanied by General Taylor, moved around the village
to the south to seize the bridge crossing the Wilhelmina Canal. The progress of the
battalions in the village was slow, but enemy fire stopped the 1st Battalion completely
as it approached the bridge. When the two battalions emerged from Zon and the 1st
Battalion also appeared to advance, the Germans blew the bridge.
Elements of the 506th
managed to cross the river, neutralizing the enemy force that had destroyed the bridge,
and a footbridge was improvised to allow the remainder of the 506th to cross. The
following day the regiment liberated Eindhoven, clearing the enemy from the town.
The local citizens were ecstatic, and that evening when the Guards Armoured Division,
the spearhead of the British 30 Corps' Operation GARDEN, passed through the town,
it was like a carnival. British engineers replaced the blown bridge over the canal,
and the ground forces continued north. With the exception of the bridges south of
Best, the division had achieved all its D-Day objectives. The next mission was to
hold what it had taken and keep Hell's Highway, as the road north became known, open
despite German counterattacks.
In the days following the link between the airborne and ground forces the 101st,
now in defensive positions, faced enemy counterattacks as the Germans attempted to
cut the road and stop the flow of Allied forces north. General Taylor received information
that the Germans were planning a large scale offensive, coming from both the east
and west sides of the road in the vicinity of Veghel and Uden, to the northeast.
Ordered to Uden on 22 September, elements of the 506th arrived to defend the village
moments ahead of the Germans, but the main assault came at Veghel. Taylor dispatched
the 327th Glider Infantry to reinforce the 2d Battalion, 501st PIR, at Veghel when
he received intelligence about the attack. As luck would have it, General McAuliffe
was also in Veghel on the 22d. He had been searching for a new division command post
when the word came, and General Taylor gave his artillery commander responsibility
for the defense of the town.
The SCREAMING EAGLES turned back the first attack on Veghel, which came from the
village of Erp to the east. The Germans, however, swung to the northwest and cut
the highway between Veghel and Uden, then turning south, the enemy force attacked.
As the German armored column approached Veghel, McAuliffe ordered an antitank gun
brought up, and although there is debate over which unit fired, the American defenders
knocked out the lead tank, and the enemy column turned back. Additional battalions
of the 327th arrived, as did other elements of the 506th, along with British tank
squadrons. The enemy continued attacking Veghel through the afternoon, including
several heavy artillery bombardments, but McAuliffe and his forces held. The next
important step was to reopen the highway; men and equipment badly needed further
north were backing up on the closed road.
The British 30 Corps commander Lt. Gen.
Brian Horrocks, agreed to send the 32d Guards Brigade back south on 23 September
to help reopen the road. At the same McAuliffe sent two battalions of the 506th north
to confront the enemy position on the highway. When the American soldiers arrived
they found that most of the Germans had withdrawn. The 101st soldiers cleared the
remaining opposition and proceeded northeast towards Uden, where they met the British
tankers. Hell's Highway was open for business once again.
The Germans continued their
attack on Veghel the following day, but to no avail. They did, however, cut the road
once again, this time near the village of Koevering, between Veghel and St. Oedenrode.
On 25 September elements of the 506th, ordered south from Uden, the 1st Battalion,
502d PIR, and units of the British 50th Division, moving north from St. Oedenrode,
enveloped the enemy position on the road. During the night, after mining the road,
the Germans withdrew. The following day Allied engineers were called in to clear
the road of mines, and the highway was open once again. While the enemy continued
to harass the SCREAMING EAGLES along their sector of Hell's Highway, the division's
positions remained intact and kept the road open. Allied operations had forced the
Germans to spend precious resources on the defense of the Netherlands. Although MARKET-GARDEN
did not achieve its original goals, successes in Holland provided the Allies with
a foothold from which to launch future drives.
In early October the British moved
their 8 and 12 Corps into position along the highway, and it was thought the 101st
could be better used elsewhere. On 5 October the division moved north to take up
defensive positions in the British line, in an area known as the island. This area,
a narrow strip of land north of Nijmegen, situated between the lower Rhine and Waal
Rivers, was subjected to numerous German attacks. The division suffered heavy casualties
in defense of this "island". Shortly after the 101st assumed its positions in the
line, the British Corps returned, without either of its American divisions, to England.
The 82d joined the 101st on the island later in October. It was not until November
that the two divisions were released to prepare for the next airborne mission. The
101st, in late November, moved back to Mourmelon, France, for a well-deserved rest.
There the men of the 101st received replacement equipment and new clothes and trained
for the next jump. Events in the Ardennes forest, however, interrupted their rest,
and the next jump never came.
Battle of the Bulge - The Ardennes Offensive
The Germans launched their last great offensive in Belgium on 16 December, driving
west through thinly held positions, and catching the Allies unprepared. Maj. Gen.
Troy Middleton's VIII Corps was giving way, and he desperately needed reinforcements.
The VIII Corps had its headquarters in Bastogne, a city at the center of the highway
system spanning the southern portion of the Ardennes. Middleton believed the Germans
would need the road network to move their armored forces rapidly further west. As
an important road junction, control of Bastogne was vital to the German advance,
but the VIII Corps had been hit hard, and Middleton could not hold the position.
Lt. Gen. Courtney Hodges, commander of First Army, appealed to the Supreme Headquarters,
Allied Expeditionary Forces (SHAEF), for reinforcements. The only units that SHAEF
held in reserve were the two American airborne divisions, and Eisenhower released
them both to First Army. General Taylor, however, was on leave in the U.S., and General
McAuliffe received temporary command of the division.
The 101st Airborne Division,
travelling by truck, reached Bastogne on 18 December, and McAuliffe met with General
Middleton, who had received orders to pull the VIII Corps headquarters out of the
city. When Middleton left the following morning he gave McAuliffe only one order,
"Hold Bastogne." To accomplish this task, in addition to 101st Division assets, McAuliffe
controlled, Combat Command B, 10th Armored Division; the remnants of the Reserve
Command, 9th Armored Division, which had been ravaged by the German offensive; the
705th Tank Destroyer Battalion; the 755th and 969th Field Artillery Battalions; and
miscellaneous stragglers from other units
During the morning of 19 December the 501st Parachute Infantry moved east to contact
the American forces deployed to protect approaches to the city. German resistance
from the town of Neffe stopped the 501st's advance, but American forces in the area
were able to consolidate their positions. The U.S. soldiers east of the city faced
determined attacks and could not advance their lines against the German onslaught.
By 20 December the Americans had fallen back to a defensive perimeter outside Bastogne.
As the German divisions pushed west, encircling the city, McAuliffe pulled back his
troops to solidify the defenses on the northern and eastern outskirts of Bastogne.
The 502d lined up in the north, in the Longchamps area. The 506th took positions
between Foy and the Bourcy-Bastogne Railroad. The 501st took its place in the line
on the 506th's right, facing east, with its southern flank near Neffe, while the
2d Battalion, 327th GIR, held positions at Marvie.
The Germans first attempt to break
the defenses at Bastogne came in the 501st's sector at Neffe. The paratroopers, however,
held their line against repeated attacks, and the enemy attention eventually turned
to another section of the perimeter, further south. On the 21st German soldiers probed
the line at Marvie, in the 327th's sector. The enemy penetrated the glider regiment's
defenses, which rallied and repelled the assault. After continued skirmishes, four
German soldiers approached the 327th's defenses on 22 December carrying a flag of
truce. The Germans brought an ultimatum for the Allied commander of Bastogne to surrender
within two hours or face annihilation from a massed German artillery bombardment.
McAuliffe's now famous response "NUTS!" provided a boost to the sagging morale of
The following day the weather cleared and GIs in Bastogne received some needed supplies
from an air drop. The weather also allowed the Allied air forces to provide support
against the German forces massing around Bastogne. That same day the enemy attacked
the western perimeter in the 327th's zone, and on Christmas Day a German assault
force penetrated the line near Hemroulle. Once through the defenses the German force
split, half pressing on towards Hemroulle (defended by elements of the 10th Armored
Division and 705th Tank Destroyer Battalion) and the rest swinging left to attack
the 502d at Champs. The defenders cut off both columns, killing or capturing the
enemy soldiers. The Germans launched their final effort to eliminate the American
garrison on the 26th, but artillery eradicated the assault force.
That afternoon elements
of the 4th Armored Division advancing from the south broke through the line and reached
their trapped comrades. Though the Germans attempted to close the breach, the siege
was broken. The successful defense of Bastogne had slowed the German advance and
absorbed enemy resources urgently needed elsewhere during the Battle of the Bulge.
With the outcome of the enemy offensive no longer in doubt, elements of the 101st
remained in the Bastogne area during the next few weeks, helping to clear the area
of the remaining enemy forces and reduce the bulge in the Allied lines.
On 18 January the 101st moved to the Alsace region as part of the Seventh Army line,
holding defensive positions through late February. The 101st then returned to Mourmelon,
where it reverted to First Allied Airborne Army control.
On 1 March the new organizational
structure for airborne divisions reached the 101st, and the 506th PIR became an organic
element of the division. Two weeks later, General Eisenhower visited Mourmelon and
awarded the SCREAMING EAGLES the Distinguished Unit Citation (now the Presidential
Unit Citation) for its stand at Bastogne. The division went back to training, this
time for a proposed air assault on Berlin. Instead, the division, minus the 501st
PIR which remained at Mourmelon, moved to positions near the Rhine during the first
week in April.
During the last days of the war the 101st Airborne Division was in Berchtesgaden,
Adolph Hitler's vacation retreat. The airborne soldiers spent their days hunting
members of the Nazi leadership that had gone into hiding. On 1 August the 42d Infantry
Division relieved the 101st, which moved back to France to train for a possible airborne
assault on Japan. These plans were canceled after the Japanese surrender, and the
division was deactivated 30 November 1945 in France.