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The 509th Parachute infantry Battalion

French General Edouard Welvert award Edson Raff, 509 first commander. after operation Torch. 1942.
French General Edouard Welvert award Edson Raff, 509 first commander. after operation Torch. 1942.
Colonel William Yorborough, interogate german prisoners with french soldiers . North Africa.
Colonel William Yorborough, interogate german prisoners with french soldiers . North Africa.

The 509th parachute infantry battalion is one of the very first US. Airborne unit in paratroopers history : 

Originally constituted 14 March 1941 as the 504th Parachute Infantry Battalion (PIB) and activated on 5 October 1941.

On 24 of February 1942 the unit moved to Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

Then , trained with the British 1st Parachute Brigade in England, earned the honorary title "Red Devils", and were authorized to wear the maroon beret. The maroon beret remains an iconic symbol of airborne units. Paratroopers wear it today. 

In June 1942, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Edson Duncan RAFF, the 2nd Battalion, 503rd PIR was detached from the 503rd PIR and sailed to Scotland, becoming the first American parachute unit to go overseas in World War II. 

In summer 1942, Allied forces were completing the task of planning Operation Torch, the invasion of North Africa, with the 2nd Battalion, 503rd PIR scheduled to take the lead and make the first combat jump. 

Operation Torch was the first joint military action undertaken by the Allies in World War II.

 

 

Eleonora Rosevelt visiting the 509 at Chilton Foliat . England. 1st commander RAFF on back right. 1942
Eleonora Rosevelt visiting the 509 at Chilton Foliat . England. 1st commander RAFF on back right. 1942

Ce bataillon est l'un des tout premiers États-Unis. Unité aéroportée dans l'histoire des parachutistes :

Constitué à l'origine le 14 mars 1941 en tant que 504th Parachute Infantry Battalion (PIB) et activé le 5 octobre 1941, L'unité a été transferrée à Fort Bragg,Caroline du Nord et renommé 2e bataillon du 503d Parachute Infantry en février 1942.

 

Cette unité formée avec la 1ère brigade britannique de parachutistes en Angleterre, a obtenu le titre honorifique de "Red Devils" "diables rouges" et a été autorisée à porter le béret marron.(rouge amarante) Ce fameux béret rouge qui reste un symbole emblématique des unités aéroportées.

En juin 1942, sous le commandement du lieutenant-colonel Edson Duncan RAFF, le 2e bataillon du 503rd PIR a été détaché du 503rd PIR et est envoyé en Écosse, devenant ainsi la première unité de parachutistes américains à se rendre outre-mer pendant la Seconde Guerre mondiale. Rattaché à la 1ère division aéroportée britannique.

À l'été 1942, les forces alliées achèvent de planifier l'opération Torch, l'invasion de l'Afrique du Nord.

 le 2nd Battalion, le 503rd PIR va y prendre part et effectuer son premier saut de combat.

L'opération Torch est la première action militaire alliée de  la Seconde Guerre mondiale : attaquer le "ventre mou de l'Europe" . Le principal objectif de Torch était de s'emparer de l'Afrique du Nord-Ouest française .La partie aéroporté de l'opération consistait aprés un vol de 1 500 milles depuis l'Angleterre de prendre deux aérodromes français près d'Oran.

Le 2 novembre 1942, quelques jours avant le début de l'opération Torch, l'unité es enfin désignée 2d Battalion, 509th Parachute Infantry. En ce jour capital,  le 509th parachutiste était né.

509th paratroopers North Africa. after Operation Torch.
509th paratroopers North Africa. after Operation Torch.

The 2-503rd newly named  2nd battalion of the 509th para regiment carried out the first American combat jump during the invasion of North Africa. The transport planes flew all the way from English airfields to the African coast. This first operation was unsuccessful, with 7 of its 39 C-47s widely scattered. Only 10 aircraft actually dropped their troops, while the others unloaded after 28 troop carriers, nearly out of fuel, landed on the Sebkha d'Oran, a dry lake near their target. The 509th marched overland to occupy its objective, and on 15 November 355 paratroopers successfully dropped on the Youks-les-Bains Airfield. 

 

Forty-six Paratroopers from the Scout company 509th (the first pathfinders) participated in the liberation of Ventotene, a small Italian island between Rome and Naples, on 9 September 1943. 

The Italian mainland campaign began with a combat jump at Avellino, East of Naples inland, on 14 September 1943 airborne part of Operation Avanlanche, the amphibious assault at Salerno. The 509th operated independently for some two weeks behind German lines .

the unit finally reassembled in Salerno on 28 September 1943. 

 

On 22 January 1944, the 509th took part in the seaborne landings at Anzio, on the first wave, just south of Rome. the 509th was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation, the first parachute unit so honored. In addition to the battalion award of 29 February, Charlie Company won a second Presidential Unit Citation for a night attack on 14 March and Corporal Paul B. HUFF a member of the 509th, became the first US paratrooper to be awarded the Medal of Honor, on 29 February 1944, after an action at Anzio.

 After Anzio, the 509th conducted its fourth parachute assault and fifth combat assault spearheading the attack by the First Airborne Task Force of the Southern France (also known as the Champaign Campaign).

 

Colonel William Yorborough, new 509 commander . Naples Italy.
Colonel William Yorborough, new 509 commander . Naples Italy.


  Les avions de transport ont volé depuis les aérodromes anglais jusqu'aux côtes africaines. Cette première opération fut un echec.

Seuls 10 appareils ont effectivement largué leurs troupes, tandis que les autres ont atterri sur le Sebkha d'Oran, un lac asséché près de leur cible à court de carburant.

La Campagne d'Italie :

Quarante-six parachutistes de la compagnie scouts 509th (les premiers éclaireurs) ont participé à la libération de Ventotene, une petite île italienne entre Rome et Naples, le 9 septembre 1943. 

La campagne d'italie commence réèllement pour le 509em  par un saut à Avellino, à l'est de Naples à l'intérieur des terres, le 14 septembre 1943, partie aéroportée de l'assaut amphibie de Salerne.

Le 509th a opéré indépendamment pendant environ deux semaines derrière les lignes allemandes perturbant la zone arrière allemande. l'unité se rassemble enfin à Salerne le 28 septembre 1943.

Le 22 janvier 1944, le 509th participe au débarquement à Anzio, sur la première vague, juste au sud de Rome. le 509th reçois pour cet acte la "Presidential Unit Citation", et deviens ainsi la première unité  aéroporté américaine ainsi honorée.

 ce sera là que le Caporal Paul B. HUFF, membre du 509th, est devenu le premier parachutiste américain à recevoir la Médaille d'honneur du congrès, le 29 février 1944, après une action à Anzio.

 Après Anzio, le 509th mène son quatrième saut en parachute et son cinquième assaut de combat en tant que fer de lance de de la First Airborne Task Force dans le cadre du débarquement dans le sud de la France. 

Drawing of the 509th attack on D day and D+1 south of Le Muy. (stand in the door)
Drawing of the 509th attack on D day and D+1 south of Le Muy. (stand in the door)

Pour l'opération dragoon, le 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion deviens un "Combat Team", (équipe de combat) composé du 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion, le 463rd Parachute Field Artillery Battalion et le 1er peloton, de la 596th Airborne Engineer Company, il volera en deux vagues de quarante-cinq avions C-47.

Le 12 août, l'unité fait mouvement de Lido Di Roma pour les deux aérodromes de FALLONICA et GROSSETO.

mission : atterrir avant l'aube du jour «J» dans la zone rocheuse dominant au Sud le village du Muy code "Drop Zone C" appelé communément "Rocher de Roquebrune", prendre le controle du sud de la ville ainsi que sa voie ferrée, et le pont stratégique de l'Argens de la route Sainte Maxime/ Le Muy pour le cas d'éventuels renforts ou replis de l'ennemi.

   A 04h25, le 509em combat team touche le sol de Provence et contre toute attente le saut se passe étonnamment bien grâce à un incroyable exploit de navigation de la part des pilotes du 442nd Troop Carrier Group .

les compagnies "A" et la compagnie de commandement ainsi que deux batteries du 463rd Field Artillery Battalion sautent sur ou à proximité de la zone. Remarquable exploit compte tenu du terrain escarpé.

seulement une vingtaine d'hommes sur les 600  ont été blessés à l'atterrissage. Cependant, cela ne représentaient que la moitié de la force totale; Les compagnies "B" et "C" du 509th et deux batteries du 463rd étaient hélas manquantes.

  

Néanmoins, le combat team s'installe rapidement sur la colline et bloque la route en direction sud vers Sainte Maxime. Le 463rd Field Artillery Battalion, qui a également eu du mal à récupérer ses canons et à les déplacer sur ce terrain difficile, fut opérationel vers midi.

  La moitié manquante vas par une terrible erreur des pilotes du 441em larguer les hommes autour de Saint Tropez... tragiquement, deux avions vont tomber en mer et vont tous perir noyés. Pour le reste des parachutistes quand ils se rendent compte qu'ils sont à 38km au sud de l'objectif,

ils décident d'attaquer Saint Tropez  guidés par le groupe de résistance local sous les ordres de Marc RAYNAUT.

Les Américains et les Français sont restés fortement engagés à la citadelle jusqu'à ce que les troupes de la 3e Division d'infanterie arrivent des plages.

 

Marc Raynaut Chief Free french of St Tropez, Nicole Celebonovich, second in command and 509th paratrooper Winfred D. EASON. after the liberation of the town.
Marc Raynaut Chief Free french of St Tropez, Nicole Celebonovich, second in command and 509th paratrooper Winfred D. EASON. after the liberation of the town.

 voici le rapport de l'activité du 509em sur le secteur de la drop Zone :

7 heures Les compagnie A.B. et Head quarter sont réuniset rassemblent leur équipement . À  12 heures, le 463rd Field Artillery a assemblé trois canons de 75mm et sont prêt à tirer. La compagnie «A»  établi des barrages routiers et des patrouilles entrent en contact avec l'ennemie au sud du Muy. À 15 h 12, contact au carrefour  sud de la ville avec des hommes du 4em bataillon britanique, prêts à soutenir l'attaque de la 2d Parachute Brigade. Le L.M.G. (peloton de mitrailleuses legères) tire sur des troupes ennemis se déplaçant vers le sud le long de la route de FREJUS.

Dans la nuit du 15 au 16 août, des tirs d'armes légères et de mortier sont entendus. Le plan du Jour "J " est que la 2e brigade de parachutistes britannique dois attaquer par l'Est et le 550e bataillon aérotransporté par le Nord et le 509 par le sud.

Au petit matin du 16 août Le Muy est toujours aux mains de l'ennemi, et repousse les attaques. Le 509th lance une nouvelle attaque depuis les hauteurs sud . La 463em batterie d'artillerie commence elle à tirer . Un .50 Cal.

Une mitrailleuse de la batterie D est installée  près du passage à niveau, au sud de la ville. A 09h45, le Brigadier Général BUTLER, du 6 Corps américain débarqué sur les plages arrive au PC et propose l'envoie d'un peloton de chars moyens pour aider à la capture de la ville.

À 12 h 30, la compagnie «A» lance l'attaque depuis le sud, des intense combats sont engagés contre l' ennemi juste à l'extrémité sud de la ville

A 14h00, les tanks du 6em corp envoyés par BUTLER arrivent sur les hauteurs de la route de St Maxime et commencent à tirer.

À 16 heures, un message a été reçu que des troupes du 550th Glider Infantry Battalion étaient dans la ville. Les chars et la compagnie «A» descendent , vers le sud sur la route de Fréjus et prennent contact avec des éléments de la 36e division d'infanterie débarquée au Dramont.

509th assembly and first aid station on D day. DZ C.
509th assembly and first aid station on D day. DZ C.

fiveoniners on the Var river valley. Sept. 44. Henry KLIZIEWICZ middle.
fiveoniners on the Var river valley. Sept. 44. Henry KLIZIEWICZ middle.

The 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion formed for operation Dragoon a Combat Team, consisting of the 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion, the 463rd Parachute Field Artillery Battalion, and the 1st platoon, 596th Airborne Engineer Company.

  On August 12th the unit departed from Lido Di Roma to the two take-off airdromes at FALLONICA, and GROSSETO.

The Combat Team, flying in two increments of forty-five C-47 transports each, was to land  before dawn, on "D" Day in the rocky mass dominating the French village of LE MUY. 

  The 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion were to drop on DZ-C, directly on top of their objective. The zone was far from ideal, but it had been reluctantly chosen as the only means of quickly establishing a force on top of this important feature, overlooking the Le Muy - Sainte Maxime road. At 04.25, the Battalion arrived over the zone and against all the odds the drop went surprisingly well, thanks to an incredible feat of navigation on the part of the 442nd Troop Carrier Group, who had carefully studied the local topography and were able to identify the hills protruding above the fog.  as a result, "A" and Headquarters Companies of the 509th and two batteries of the 463rd Field Artillery Battalion landed on or within an easy distance of the zone. Even more remarkably in view of the hazardous terrain, only about 20 men of the 600 who had jumped over DZ-C were injured on landing. These were just half of the total force, however; unfortunatly, "B" and "C" Companies  and two batteries of the 463rd were missing. 

  

Nevertheless, the Battalion quickly established themselves on the hill and blocked the road running South to Sainte Maxime.  once it became light resupply containers were easily spotted and the larger part was gathered in during the day. Several patrols were sent into the surrounding area, the Germans held Le Muy in some strength. The 463rd Field Artillery Battalion, who also had problems recovering their 75mm howitzers and moving them across the difficult terrain. 

  

The missing half of the 509th and 463rd Battalions had taken-off from a different airfield with the 441st Troop Carrier Group, who had been unable to link-up with the 442nd in the air. Having become lost, they dropped the men around little town of Saint Tropez and tragically two sticks came down in the sea and were drowned. "B" Company were badly scattered, but some of their number met up with "C" Company who had landed almost intact. Realising that they were 24 miles to the South of their objective too far to be of any use, they decided to attack Saint Tropez instead and render what would prove to be invaluable assistance to the seaborne forces. Guided by a well-armed Resistance group, under command of Marc RAYNAUD , they cleared most of the town within hours but met strong opposition in the centre. The Americans and French remained heavily engaged here until troops of the 3rd Infantry Division arrived from the beaches and settled matters. 

A total of 552 paratroopers jumped with the 509th.  Half of them jumped in Le Muy while the other half were misdropped in Saint Tropez. 

509's paratrooper with French resistant Nicole CELEBONOVICH, in St Tropez after the liberation of the town.
509's paratrooper with French resistant Nicole CELEBONOVICH, in St Tropez after the liberation of the town.

By 07.00 "B", Headquarters and "A" Companies had assembled.  They gathered equipment from trees and ravines and proceeded to the accomplishment of missions.  At 12.00 the 463rd Field Artillery had assembled three pieces of howitzer and were ready to fire.  "A" Company had established road blocks at the pre-designated spots and patrols had made contact with an enemy patrol just South of LE MUY.  At 12.30 the battery registered on the cross-roads just South of LE MUY, then stood by to support the attack by the British 4th battalion of the 2d Parachute Brigade.  The L.M.G. (light machine gun) platoon fired on enemy personnel moving South along road toward FREJUS. 

Through the night of 15 to 16 August, small arms and mortar fire were heard in LE MUY.  It was thought that the British 2d Parachute Brigade was attacking according to plan from East and the 550th glider battalion from North.  When word was received in the early morning of 16 August that LE MUY was still in enemy hands the 509th made plans to attack from the heights which we held.  The 463rd artillery battery began to fire on targets of opportunity.  One .50 Cal. Machine Gun of D Battery was set up and fired from the high ground into fortified positions near the railroad crossing, South of town.  At 09h45 Brigadier General BUTLER, 6 Corps, visited the CP and gave to the combat team a platoon of medium tanks to assist in the capture of LE MUY.  At 12.30, "A" Company launched the attack on LE MUY from the South, an intense fire fight ensued between the elements forming the base of fire and an enemy strongpoint just on the Southern edge of the town.

at 14.00, the thaks from the 6th corp arrived on from Sainte Maxime road and were ready to fire.

At 16.00 a message was received that friendly troops of the 550th Glider Infantry Battalion were in Le Muy.  The tanks and "A" Company went on into the town and then turned South on the road to FREJUS to contact elements of the 36th Infantry Division advancing North.

The town was deffinitivly liberated at about 6pm of that day.

On August 19, 1944 the 509th received new orders to move out and secure the right flank of the advance of the US 7th Army which was rapidly advancing north to join forces with the Allies who had landed in Normandy in June.  On August 20, 1944 the 509th PIB moved into positions vacated by the 141st Infantry Regiment of the 36th Infantry Division.  There they found themselves facing enemy defenses on Castle Ridge north of Napoule occupied by the German 28th Reserve Jager Battalion. Plans to attack were to commence the next morning.  On August 21, 1944, B and C companies of the 509th PIB would advance to attack while Headquarters and A Company would provide support by fire to keep the enemy busy while B and C Companies advanced across a deep ravine under enemy fire. B Company would suffer heavy casualties and Henry Klisiewicz and other 509th Medics would aid in providing care and evacuating the wounded back to the safety of the battalion aid station for further care.  C Company captured the castle on the ridge and what few Germans that were not captured or killed, fled to the next hill called San Peyre. Thirteen members of the 509th PIB were killed with another 13 injured on Castle Hill.  The next morning it was A Company‘s turn to attack the hill San Peyre and liberate the town of Napoule. They did so by noon meeting only light resistance. The 509th PIB was ready to advance on Cannes. On August 23, 1944 the 509th PIB came upon a destroyed bridge across the Siagnes River. With the 645th Tank Destroyer Battalion attached to support the 509th PIB, it was necessary to secure this area to allow the combat engineers of the 596th Airborne Engineer Company to make repairs to allow the armor to continue its advance. The 509th PIB would push east and secure the next key terrain and deny the enemy the ability to place effective fires on the combat engineers. A Company would advance across the Siagnes River and the parallel running Beal Creek into a clearing.

In September, 1944 the Geronimos, along with the other units of the FABTF, moved into the French Maritime Alps to screen the U.S. Seventh Army's push to the north. After more than three months of patrol actions in the mountain passes, the gingerbread men were relieved and moved to join the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions camps around Rheims and Soissons, France on December 13, 1944.

Belgium - Battle of the Bulge.

During the Battle of the Bulge in late 1944, the 509th fought in Belgium to blunt the German attack. The 509th Infantry Regiment's service during World War II concluded at the end of January 1945 near St. Vith, Belgium. Of the original 700 paratroopers who entered the battle, approximately ninety-three percent were injured. Effective 1 March 1945, the 509th PIB was disbanded, and the soldiers who remained were re-assigned as replacements in the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division.

After World War II, the colors of the 509th remained inactive until 1963, when Company A, 509th PIB was reactivated, 1st Battalion (Airborne), 509th Infantry, and Company B, , 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 509th Infantry Regiment..

 

509 medical detachment in Turini. Peira Cava. October 1944. near Italian Border
509 medical detachment in Turini. Peira Cava. October 1944. near Italian Border

Le 19 août 1944, aprés une réorganisation et un ratissage de la zone, le 509th reçoit l'ordre de faire mouvement et de sécuriser le flanc droit de la 7e armée américaine dans son avance vertigineuse.

Le 20 août 1944, le 509th PIB se retrouvent face à des défenses ennemies au nord de Napoule, occupés par le 28e Bataillon de réserve allemand.

En septembre 1944, les "Geronimos", ainsi que les autres unités de la First Airborne Task Force, combattent dans les Alpes maritimes et la frontière italienne pour filtrer la poussée de la septième armée américaine vers le nord. En grande partie dans la vallée de la Vésubie pour le bataillon. Après plus de trois mois d'actions de patrouille ett de durs combats dans ces montagne,

les hommes du 509em sont relevés et déplacés pour rejoindre les 82e et 101e divisions aéroportées autour de Reims et Soissons, le 13 décembre 1944. pour êtres engagés dans la terrible battaile des Ardennes.

Lors de la bataille, fin 1944, le 509th combat en Belgique pour émousser l'attaque allemande. Sur les 700 premiers parachutistes qui ont été engagés dans ces batailles, environ quatre-vingt-dix pour cent ont été blessés. Le 1er mars 1945, le 509th PIB est dissous et les soldats restés furent réaffectés en remplacement de la 82nd Airborne Division des États-Unis.

Après la Seconde Guerre mondiale, les couleurs du 509th sont restées inactives jusqu'en 1963. L'unité est toujours active de nos jours.

509's member along the riviera.  Oct 1944
509's member along the riviera. Oct 1944

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