"How does one organize and train a Regiment that lands deep in enemy territory, disorganized and in a state of apparent total confusion?"

- James M. Gavin

On July 6, 1942, the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment was activated at Fort Benning, Georgia. Unlike the other parachute infantry regiments formed first as a platoon, becoming a company and then a battalion, the 505 was assigned a regimental mission from day one.

Executing that regimental mission was Lieutenant Colonel James Maurice Gavin. Intelligent, athletic, charismatic, handsome and tall (he was later given the nickname of "Slim Jim" by one of his staff officers), it would be his leadership that would define the regiment and his example that set its high standards.

Jim Gavin joined the Regular Army in 1924 at the age of seventeen. Just a little over a year later, the young enlisted man was accepted into the United States Military Academy at West Point, graduating and becoming an officer in 1929. He later wrote of the Academy's inspiration:

I went forth to seek the challenge, to ‘move toward the sound of the
guns’, to go where danger was greatest, for there is where issues
would be resolved and decisions made.

Eventually, the young officer would take note that where danger was greatest, where issues would be resolved and decisions made would be with the parachute troops—the new military concept of "vertical envelopment.” Gavin completed his airborne training in late August of 1941 and was given command of a parachute company. Shortly thereafter, he was promoted to the rank of major and assigned to the top parachute headquarters in the Army, the Provisional Parachute Group (later Airborne Command) under William C. Lee, who a few years later observed:

[Gavin] impressed his associates with his quiet dignified bearing,
his appearance of lean physical toughness, and his keen and
penetrating mind. His work as a battalion officer marked him
for greater responsibilities and promotion to major, and then
to lieutenant colonel.

Gavin knew what his regiment could and should be because as the head of the Group’s Plans and Training Section, he had written many of the basic training doctrines as well as the first textbooks on airborne training. He personally selected the 505’s cadre. Fourteen of the original officers were graduates of West Point and most of the senior non-commissioned officers came from the Regular Army, experienced in training and motivating soldiers.

As a commander, Gavin firmly believed that what a soldier needed and expected was exemplary leadership. The regimental officers were instructed by Gavin to follow his personal leadership axiom of:


The ranks of the regiment were filled with graduates from the Parachute School, and to their commander “…they were a venturesome, uninhibited lot.” In training, “they were not sure exactly what was expected of them…but it was obvious that they were very enthusiastic and willing to try anything.”

In January of 1943, Colonel Gavin (promoted in September) received orders to move his regiment of fully-trained paratroopers from Benning to Camp Mackall, North Carolina. Its stay at Mackall was very short as just days after arriving, the 505 received orders to move to nearby Fort Bragg and join the 82nd Airborne Division, commanded by Major General Matthew B. Ridgway. The 505 officially became one of the division’s three infantry regiments on February 12, 1943. (The other two were the 504th Parachute Infantry and the 325th Glider Infantry.)

During its months of arduous training at Benning, the 505 had learned to maneuver and fight as a smooth-running regimental team; at Bragg, the regiment learned to be a team member within a division. The division staff was impressed, as one officer noted:

They were awesome. Every man a clone of the CO, Gavin.
Tough? God they were tough! Not just in the field, but
twenty-four hours a day.

Retaining regimental esprit de corps, the 505ers were still proud to sew the famous All-American shoulder patch (now with Airborne tab) on uniforms and in so doing, assured their place in history since the 82nd Airborne Division would set a record in World War II unmatched by any other.

It was also at Bragg that the infantry regiment was reinforced by the addition of the 456th Parachute Field Artillery Battalion, Company B of the 307th Airborne Engineer Battalion, and elements of the 80th Airborne AA Battalion and 307th Airborne Medical Company. These units (most remaining with the 505 throughout the war) formed the regiment into a combat team (505 RCT).

On March 30, the 505 made U. S. Army history by being the first parachute infantry regiment to jump en masse. During a division training demonstration of an airfield seizure, the 505 jumped from C-47s onto three separate drop zones at Fort Jackson near Camden, South Carolina, in front of an audience of dignitaries including British Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill and Chief of Staff of the Army, General George C. Marshall.

The event, considered a success and a notable training achievement, was however marred by tragedy when one of the transports in the formation suddenly lost power. The stricken C-47 managed to land safely, but on its way down it sliced through a stick of paratroopers who had just jumped from another plane, killing three. Private Kelly Byars, a medic with Headquarters Company of the 1st Battalion, had the risers of his chute cut off about 18” above his hands by the plane’s propellers. Relying on his training, Private Byars deployed his reserve and landed safely. Though shaken and visibly upset by his close call, Byars, showing the mettle of a paratrooper and following the example of his commander in wanting to go “where danger was greatest”, did not request a transfer out of the airborne.

While the paratroopers had been training at Bragg, other American military forces had joined with the British in the fight against the Germans and Italians in North Africa. Once victory in North Africa was achieved, Allied planners intended to invade the island of Sicily—OPERATION HUSKY. It was hoped that in taking Sicily, the Allies could force Italy to capitulate and remove itself from the war. If not, taking the island would still provide needed airfields and staging areas for a possible future invasion of the Italian mainland.

When the 82nd and 101st airborne divisions were activated, the intent was to use them in an airborne operation as part of the cross-Channel invasion into occupied France, or in follow-up operations. With that plan now postponed by the Sicily operation, it was decided that one of the airborne divisions would be used for HUSKY—the 82nd was chosen.

Gavin diary entries:

About two weeks ago, we were alerted for overseas movement
…the regiment is in good fettle and mentally it is ready. These
people will fight. There have never been soldiers like them.
Parachuting is a good test of a man’s courage for combat.
A man who will jump regularly with equipment will do most

If they fight as well in Africa as they fight in Fayetteville we
have nothing to worry about.

On April 20, the division moved by train from Fort Bragg to Camp Edwards, Massachusetts, to prepare for embarkation. Nine days later the division sailed from piers on the north shore of Staten Island and Hoboken, New Jersey both locations in New York harbor. The well protected convoy was carrying approximately 58,000 troops and contained 33 ships.There were 23 transports that included a few oil tankers for refueling, 8 destroyers, an aircraft carrier and the Battleship Texas. From Staten Island Colonel Gavin and his staff sailed on the USS Monterey along with the 505th Regimental Combat Team. Sailing from a nearby pier was the USS George Washington carrying General Ridgway, his staff and 504th Regimental Combat Team. Also aboard were two replacement units for both regimental combat teams, EGB 447 and EGB 448.


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