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101st Airborne Division

Page Created
November 14th, 2023
Last Updated
June 22nd, 2024
United States
US Flag
Included Operations
Mission Albany
Glider Mission Chicago
Glider Mission Keokuk
Operational Areas
Special Air Service
6th Airborne Division
Band Beach
Sword Beach
Juno Beach
Gold Beach
Omaha Beach
Utah Beach
82nd Airborne Division
101st Airborne Division
Operations within Operation Overlord
Operation Gambit
Operation Neptune
Operation Perch
Operation Epsom
Operation Charnwood
Operation Atlantic Operation Goodwood
Operation Bluecoat
Operation Totalize
June 6th, 1944
101st Airborne Division
  • Seize and hold four beach exits from Utah Beach.
  • Destroy the German heavy artillery battery at Saint-Martin-de-Varreville and a buildings complex coded WXYZ at Mezieres.
  • Capture the La Barquette lock, destroy bridges over the Douve River, and establish a defensive line to protect the southern flank.
Operational Area

Area behind Utah Beach, Normandy, France

Unit Force
  • 101st Airborne Division
    • 101st Airborne Headquarters Company
    • 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment
      • Regiment Headquarters Company
      • Regiment Service Company
      • 1st Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment
      • 2nd Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment
      • 3rd Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment
    • 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment
      • Regiment Headquarters Company
      • Regiment Service Company
      • 1st Battalion, 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment
      • 2nd Battalion, 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment
      • 3rd Battalion, 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment
    • 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment
      • Regiment Headquarters Company
      • Regiment Service Company
      • 1st Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment
      • 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment
      • 3rd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment
    • 327th Glider Infantry Regiment
      • Regiment Headquarters Company
      • Regiment Service Company
      • 1st Battalion, 327th Glider Infantry Regiment
      • 2nd Battalion, 327th Glider Infantry Regiment
      • 3rd Battalion, 327th Glider Infantry Regiment
    • Divisional Troops
      • 101st Airborne Division Artillery
        • 81st Airborne Anti-Aircraft Battalion
        • 321st Glider Field Artillery Battalion
        • 907th Glider Field Artillery Battalion
        • 377th Parachute Field Artillery Battalion
      • 101st Airborne Signal Company
      • 326th Airborne Medical Company
      • 326th Airborne Engineer Battalion
      • 101st Airborne Reconnaissance Platoon
      • 101st Airborne Military Police
      • 101st Airborne Ordnance Maintenance Company
Opposing Forces
  • 709. Infantrie-Division
    • 919. Grenadier-Regiment
      • 2 Bataillons
  • 91. Luftlande-Infanterie-Division
  • 17. SS-Panzergrenadier-Division

Drop Zone A: St Martin de Varreville

  • 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment and 377th Parachute Field Artillery Battalion: Seize Exits 3 and 4 at Saint-Martin-de-Varreville and Audouville-la-Hubert. Destroy the German heavy artillery battery at Saint-Martin-de-Varreville and the buildings coded WXYZ at Mezieres.

Drop Zone C: Hiesville

  • 3/501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, 1 and 2/506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, and 101st Airborne Divisional Headquarters: Capture Exits 1 and 2 at Pouppeville and Houdienville.

Drop Zone D: Angoville-au-Plain

  • 1 and 2/501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, 3/506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, and C Company 326th Airborne Engineer Battalion: Protect the southern flank. Capture the La Barquette lock, destroy bridges over the Douve River, and capture the wooden bridges at Le Port near Brévands.

Landing Zone E: Hiesville

  • Glider Mission Chicago (arriving at 04:00).
  • Glider Mission Keokuk (arriving at 21:00).
The Attack

Albany is the first of two parachute missions, with the 82nd Airborne Division following one hour later in Mission Boston. Each mission involves three regiment-sized air landings. The 101st Airborne Division’s drop zones are east and south of Sainte-Mère-Église, designated A, C, and D from north to south. Initially, Drop Zone B was assigned to the 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR) before a plan change on May 27th, 1944.

Each Parachute Infantry Regiment is transported by three or four serials (formations of 36, 45, or 54 C-47 aircraft), totalling 432 aircraft across ten serials. The planes, individually numbered within a serial by chalk numbers (numbers chalked on the airplanes to help paratroopers board the correct one), are organized into flights in a close pattern called “vee’s of vee’s”: three planes in triangular vees arranged in a larger vee of nine planes. The serials are scheduled over the drop zones at six-minute intervals. The paratroopers are organized into “sticks,” each comprising 15 to 18 men. Thirty minutes before the main jumps, three teams of pathfinders jump into each drop zone to set up navigation aids, including Eureka radar transponder beacons and marker lights, to guide the C-47’s in the dark.

To achieve surprise, the parachute drops approach Normandy at low altitude from the west. The serials begin taking off at 22:30 on June 5th, 1944, assemble into formations, and fly southwest over the English Channel at 150 metres to stay below German radar. Once over water, all lights except formation lights are turned off, and these are dimmed to their lowest practical intensity. At a stationary marker boat code-named “Hoboken,” carrying a Eureka beacon, they turn left to the southeast and fly between the Channel Islands of Guernsey and Alderney to their initial point on the Cotentin coast at Portbail, code-named “Muleshoe.”

Numerous factors over the Cotentin Peninsula reduce the accuracy of the drops. A solid cloud bank over the western half of the 35-kilometre peninsula at penetration altitude, an opaque ground fog over many drop zones, and intense German anti-aircraft fire break up and disperse many formations. These factors amplify the imprecision of making a massive parachute drop at night.

The 101st Airborne Division jumps between 00:48 and 01:40 British Double Summer Time on June 6th, 1944. The first wave, inbound to Drop Zone A (the northernmost), maintains formation despite the cloud bank but experiences navigational errors and a lack of Eureka signal. Although the 2nd Battalion, 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment, drops as a compact unit, it lands on the wrong drop zone, while its commander, Lieutenant Colonel Steve A. Chappuis, comes down virtually alone on the correct drop zone. Chappuis and his stick capture the coastal battery soon after assembling but find it already dismantled after an air raid.

Most of the 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment (70 of 80 groups) drop in a disorganised pattern around the impromptu drop zone set up by the pathfinders near the beach. The commanders of the 1st and 3rd Battalions, Lieutenant Colonels Patrick F. Cassidy and Robert G. Cole, take charge of small groups and accomplish all their D-Day missions. Cassidy’s group takes Saint Martin-de-Varreville by 06:30, sends a patrol under Staff Sergeant Harrison C. Summers to seize the “XYZ” objective, a barracks at Les Mézières, and sets up a thin defence line from Foucarville to Beuzeville-au-Plain. Cole’s group moves during the night from near Sainte-Mère-Église to the Varreville battery, then captures Exit 3 at 07:30. They hold the position until relieved by troops moving inland from Utah Beach. Both commanders find Exit 4 covered by German artillery fire and Cassidy advises the 4th Infantry Division not to use it.

The division’s parachute artillery fares poorly, losing all but one howitzer and dropping all but two of 54 loads six to 32 kilometres north, where most ultimately become casualties.

The second wave, assigned to drop the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment on Drop Zone C 1.6 kilomtres west of Sainte-Marie-du-Mont, is badly dispersed by clouds and subjected to intense anti-aircraft fire for 16 kilometres. Three of the 81 C-47’s are lost. One, piloted by First Lieutenant Marvin F. Muir of the 439th Troop Carrier Group, catches fire. Muir holds the aircraft steady while the men jump, then dies when the plane crashes. He is awarded the Distinguished Service Cross posthumously. Despite the opposition, the 506th’s 1st Battalion (the original division reserve) is dropped accurately on Drop Zone C, landing two-thirds of its sticks and the 506th‘s regimental commander, Colonel Robert Sink, on or within a mile of the drop zone.

The 2nd Battalion, which jumps too far west near Sainte-Mère-Église, eventually assembles near Foucarville at the northern edge of the 101st Airborne Division’s objective area. It fights to the hamlet of Le Chemin near the Houdienville causeway by mid-afternoon but finds that the 4th Division has already seized the exit. The 3rd Battalion of the 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, flown by the 435th Troop Carrier Group, is also assigned to jump onto Drop Zone C but is partly scattered. Brigadier General Taylor, jumping from the lead aircraft of the 435th, lands on the Drop Zone, assesses the situation, and decides to take over the mission of securing the exits. An ad hoc company-sized team, including the divisional commander, Major General Maxwell D. Taylor, reaches the Pouppeville exit at 06:00. After a six-hour house-clearing battle with elements of the German 1058. Grenadier-Regiment, the group secures the exit shortly before 4th Infantry Division troops arrive.

The third wave encounters severe flak, losing six aircraft. Despite this, the troop carriers make an accurate drop, placing 94 of 132 sticks on or close to the drop zone. However, part of the drop zone is covered by pre-registered German machine gun and mortar fire, inflicting heavy casualties before many troops can get out of their chutes. Among the killed are two of the three battalion commanders and the executive officer (XO) of the 3rd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment.

The surviving battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel Robert A. Ballard, gathers 250 troopers and advances towards 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 is stopped by elements of the III./1058. Grenadier-Regiment. Another group of 50 men, assembled by the regimental S-3, Major Richard J. Allen, attacks the same area from the east at Basse-Addeville but is also pinned down.

The commander of the 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, Colonel Howard R. Johnson, collects 150 troops and captures the main objective, the La Barquette lock, by 04:00. After establishing defensive positions, Colonel Johnson returns to the drop zone and assembles another 100 men, including Allen’s group, to reinforce the bridgehead. Despite naval gunfire support from the cruiser Quincy, Ballard’s battalion is unable to take Saint-Côme-du-Mont or join Colonel Johnson.

The S-3 officer of the 3rd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, Captain Charles G. Shettle, puts together a platoon and achieves another objective by seizing two footbridges near La Porte at 04:30 and crossing to the east bank. When their ammunition runs low after knocking out several machine gun emplacements, the small force withdraws to the west bank. It doubles in size overnight as stragglers arrive and repulses a German probe across the bridges.

Two other significant actions take place near Sainte-Marie-du-Mont by units of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, both involving the seizure and destruction of batteries of 105-millimetre howitzers of the German III Battalion-191st Artillery Regiment. During the morning, a squad-sized patrol of troopers, mainly from Company E of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment under First Lieutenant Richard Winters, overwhelms a force three or four times its size and destroys four guns at Brécourt Manor.

Around noon, while reconnoitring the area by jeep, Colonel Sink, commanding the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, receives word that a second battery of four guns has been discovered at Holdy, a manor between his command post and Sainte-Marie-du-Mont, and the defenders have a force of about 70 paratroopers pinned down. Captain Lloyd E. Patch (Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment) and Captain Knut H. Raudstein (Company C of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment) lead an additional 70 paratroops to Holdy and envelop the position. The combined force then continues to seize Sainte-Marie-du-Mont. A platoon of the 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment, left to hold the battery, destroys three of the four guns before Colonel Sink can send four jeeps to save them for the 101st Airborne Division’s use.

At the end of D-Day, Major General Taylor and the commander of the 101st Airborne Division Artillery, Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe, return from their foray at Pouppeville. At that moment, General Taylor has control of about 2,500 of his 6,600 men.