The Golden Talon on the black background division insignia symbolizes the grasping of the golden oppoutunities out of the darkness by surprise.
Activation and Training
Central Europe Campaign
Activation and Training
The 17th Airborne Division was activated on 15 April, 1943 at Camp Mackall, North Carolina, with a cadre from the 101st Airborne Division. The 17th's commanding officer from the very inception and the only one the Division was ever to have was Major General William "Bud" Miley, one of the Airborne’s earliest pioneers.
After some nine months of rigorous training in the Sandhills area of North Carolina, the division moved in January 1944 to Tennessee for winter maneuvers. Later, in March of that year, the division returned to garrison at Camp Forrest, located near Tullahoma, Tennessee. There, for the next five months, the troopers fine-tuned their battle skills. Most of the men qualified for the Expert Infantryman’s Badge and 2,150 glidermen qualified as parachutists at a division-operated jump school.
In August 1944 the word was that the division was ready and it was moved to Camp Myles Standish at Taunton, MA, to prepare for overseas deployment. Finally the division sailed from Boston aboard the USS Wakefield. Eight days later, the main body of the division disembarked at Liverpool, England on 26 August, 1944. Closing at Camp Chisledon, England on 30 August, the Division was assigned to the XVIII Corp (Airborne). Together with the American 101st and 82nd Airborne Divisions, the Polish Brigade, and the British 6th and 1st Airborne Divisions, they became part of the First Allied Airborne Army.
Timeline of the 17th
Combat - The Battle of the Bulge
The 17th was undergoing further intensive airborne training when the news of the German breakthrough in the 'Battle of the Bulge' was received. Units of the 17th were rushed to the Reims area of France by air in spectacular night transport landings. These elements closed in at Mourmelon. After taking over the defense of the Meuse River sector from Givet to Verdun on 25 December, the 17th moved to Neufchateau, Belgium, then moved through the snow to Morhet, relieving the 28th Infantry Division, on 3 January, 1945. General Patton, who had just taken command of the sector, believed that the Germans, once stopped at Bastogne, were in full retreat. Under appalling conditions of snow and fog, with poor intelligence, no air cover and inadequate artillery support, Patton ordered the 17th to attack. With the 101st Airborne Division on the right, and the 87th Infantry Division on the left, the 17th troopers moved to halt the Germans who were attacking northwest to close the Bastogne corridor. Hitler on the other hand, furious at the failure to take Bastogne, commanded two German panzer armies in the north to regroup and attack again. The 17th was among the American divisions that ran head on into this numerically-superior force.
Colonel Bob Pierce's 194th Glider Infantry Regiment, with LTC Edward Sach's 550th Airborne Infantry Battalion (attached) and Colonel James Coutt's 513th Parachute Infantry Regiment, made the attack. Colonel Maurice Stubb's 193rd Glider Infantry Regiment and Colonel Edson Raff's 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment were in reserve.
The Germans hurled dozens of tanks and a heavy barrage of artillery at the attackers and many causalities were inflicted on the lightly-armed troopers. the 2,250 yards of narrow, high-rimmed road northeast of Bastogne rightfully earned its nickname of "Dead Man's Ridge." Attacking in a driving snowstorm, the division battled for control of the ridge. It was a bitterly fought battle that saw the 17th suffer close to 1,000 casualties during the three-day battle. Lightly-armed paratroopers and glidermen, at times in waist deep snow, were fighting German tanks. The division captured several small Belgian towns and entered Flamierge 7 January, 1945, but enemy counterattacks necessitated a withdrawal. However, constant pressure and aggressive patrolling caused the enemy to retreat to the Ourthe River.
When Major General Miley, the division commander, indicated that he was taking 40% casualties in some of his battalions (subsequent historian's estimates put the losses at 1000 casualties a day), Patton discounted the report, convinced that he was dealing with a defeated enemy. Later, however, in his diary, he stated: “They …ran right into the flank of the German attack. Had this not happened things could have been critical. As it was, we stopped the attack in its tracks. History will claim that such perfect timing was a stroke of genius…(but) I had no idea the Germans were attacking.” Noted military historian S.L.A. Marshall later wrote that no other American division suffered as brutal and as high a casualty rate in their "baptism of fire."
On 18 January, 1945 the division relieved the 11th Armored Division at Houffalize, Belgium, pushed enemy remnants from the Bulge, and seized Wattermal and Espelier on 26 January. Coming under III Corps, the 17th turned toward Luxembourg, taking Eschweiller and Clervaux and clearing the enemy from the west bank of the Our River. Aggressive patrols crossed the river to probe the Siegfried Line defenses and established a limited bridgehead near Dasburg before being relieved by the 6th Armored Division on 10 February, 1945.
A period of re-equipment and preparation began. A new table of organization instituted during early March 1945 saw the 193rd Glider Infantry Regiment and the 550th Airborne Infantry Battalion deactivated. The 550th was designated the third battalion of a newly constituted 194th Regimental Combat Team. The 466th Parachute Field Artillery was also assigned to the 17th Airborne Division at this time.
Operation Varsity - The Airborne Assault into Germany
General Miley led the 17th Airborne in a daring daylight jump over the Rhine River into the Ruhr heartland of Germany itself in “Operation Varsity” on 24 March, 1945. The mission was "to seize, clear and secure the division area with priority to the high ground east of Diersfordt and the bridges over the Issel River, protect the right flank of the Corps, establish contact with the British 1st Commando Brigade, and the British 6th Airborne Division."
Taking off from marshalling areas in France, they and the 6th British Airborne Division, with a combined force of 17,000 men, were dropped in just over two hours in an area containing 85,000 German troops. Varsity constituted the largest Airborne operation ever staged in one single day. The 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment began landing at 0948 hours and landings were completed by 1201 hours. The Germans knew they were coming. So heavy was the flak they encountered, that an observer - General James Gavin - flying above the air armada counted 23 aircraft going down at one time. One regiment (513th PIR) was flown in the new, larger C-46s, an airplane that with their exposed fuel lines turned out to be fire-prone death traps. A smoke haze hung over the drop and landing zones causing some of the units to be dropped off their designated areas. In particular, the 513th troopers were dropped two to three miles from their Drop Zone. However, the troopers sized up the situation and began attacking the objectives in their vicinity and fought toward their assigned positions. Everywhere the Germans were found, they were routed from their positions.
Earlier, in the planning for Varsity, it became evident that there would not be enough transport planes to tow the required glider elements consisting of 906 Waco gliders with men, jeeps, artillery and other equipment. A decision was then made simply to have 578 of these heavily-laden gliders pulled two per plane in a V formation. The result was added carnage, as gliders crashed on take-off or tow lines fouled during the 2-3 hour flight, ripping off wings. Coming so close to the end of the war, little publicity was ever given that operation or its casualties. The worst single day in airborne history was not in Normandy or Holland, but at Wesel on 24 March, 1945, where over 1,070 members of the 17th Airborne and the 6th British Airborne Divisions were killed and thousands more wounded. Despite the costs, Varsity achieved all of its objectives, assisting in the final conquest of Nazi Germany.
On 25 March, the division secured the bridges over the Issel River and entrenched itself firmly along the Issel Canal. Moving eastward, it captured Haltern 29 March, and Munster on 2 April, 1945. The 17th entered the Battle of the Ruhr Pocket, relieving the 79th Infantry Division. It crossed the Rhine-Herne Canal 6 April, and set up a secure bridgehead for the attack on Essen. The "Pittsburgh of the Ruhr" fell 10 April, 1945, and the industrial cities of Mulheim and Duisburg were cleared in the continuing attack. Military government duties began 12 April, and active contact with the enemy ceased 18 April 1945. The division came under the XXII Corps on 24 April. It continued its occupation duties until 15 June, 1945 when it returned to France for redeployment. Many troopers were then transferred to the 82nd and 101st Airborne and for occupation duty in Berlin and Austria. Many of the men sent to the 82nd later came home with them to participate in the victory parade in New York City. Others joined the 13th Airborne Division, which was being returned to the US to be readied for the Pacific and the expected Airborne invasion of Japan. The remainder of the division was deactivated on September 15, 1945 at Camp Miles Standish, Massachusetts.
By the time World War II was over in Europe, the 17th Airborne had suffered 6,292 killed and wounded, almost double the daily combat average of any American Airborne division. It also had the most recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor (four).
15 Sep 44 - 21 Mar 45
Ongoing campaign joined by the 17th Airborne in late January.
Operation Market Garden was the first operation of the Rhineland Campaign. The objective of the Operation was to secure a bridgehead at Arnhem to outflank the Siegfried Line. Ultimately Market Garden was unsuccessful. Little progress was made on the ground, but the aerial attacks on strategic targets continued. Then, having regained the initiative after defeating a German offensive in the Ardennes in December 1944, the Allies drove through to the Rhine, establishing a bridgehead across the river at Remagen.
16 December 1944 – 25 January 1945
Objective: Halt the German counter offensive. This was the first time the 17th Airborne entered combat. The campaign was the last major German offensive, in an attempt to take advantage of relatively thin lines of American defense along a 45-mile front some 35 miles west of the Rhine. During their offensive in the Ardennes the Germans drove into Belgium and Luxembourg, creating a great bulge in the line. For some time the weather was bad, but when it cleared the Allies could send their planes to assist their ground forces by bombing and strafing the enemy’s columns, dropping paratroops and supplies, and interdicting the enemy’s lines of communications. By the end of January 1945 the lost ground had been regained and the Battle of the Bulge, the last great German offensive, was over.
Central Europe Campaign
22 Mar 45 - 11 May 45
Following the Battle of the Bulge the Allies had pushed through to the Rhine. On 22 March 1945 they began their assault across the river, and by I April the Ruhr was encircled. Armored columns raced across Germany and into Austria and Czechoslovakia. On 25 April, the day American and Russian forces met on the Elbe, strategic bombing operations came to an end. Germany surrendered on 7 May 1945 and operations officially came to an end the following day, although sporadic actions continued on the European front until 11 May.
Battle of Dead Man’s Ridge January 4- January 9, 1945
The Battle of Dead Man’s Ridge was part of the Allied counter-offensive in the southern part of the Bulge. The battle was fought in the vicinity of Renaumont, Houmont, Hubermont, Flamierge, and Pinsamont, Belgium. A ridge-line overlooking the strategically crucial towns of Flamierge and Flamizoulle which followed the Bastogne-Marche Highway was the primary location of the fighting. U.S. forces engaged the German 3rd Battalion Remmer Brigade, 29th Panzer Grenadier Regiment, 9th Panzer Grenadier Regiment, and the 104th Panzer Grenadier Regiment. During the early stages of the battle, the division earned the first of what would ultimately be four Medals of Honor. Sgt. Isadore Jachman, of the 513th PIR engaged and destroyed two German tanks with a bazooka. The advancing column was forced to retreat, but Jachman himself was killed by machine gun fire. Over the course of the battle, the division suffered nearly 1,000 casualties, which earned it its name. This battle resulted in US forces holding commanding ground to the west of Bastogne, Belgium.
Battle of the Ourthe River Junction
This battle was in the vicinity of Herepont, Flamierge, Mande-St. Etienne, and Flamizoulle, Belgium during the period January 9-14, 1945 during the Ardennes Campaign. Under constant pressure from the 17th, the Germans were only able to hold their line for a short period before beginning a withdrawal. Despite installation of mines and booby traps, the 17th Airborne was able to successfully push toward the Ourthe River. This battle resulted in US forces establishing a junction with the British 51st Division and obtaining objectives along the Ourthe River Line.
Battle of Compogne through Espeler
This battle was in the vicinity of Houffalize to Hardigny, Belgium during the period January 19-26, 1945 during the Ardennes Campaign. This battle resulted in US forces seizing and holding the towns of Hautbellsin, Wattermal, and Espeler.
Battle of the Our River
This battle was in the vicinity of Clervaux, Luxembourg during the period January 26 – February 10, 1945 during the Rhineland Campaign. This battle resulted in US forces capturing Clervaux and Obereisenbach, Luxembourg, patrolling the Our River Siegfried Line defenses and establishing a limited bridgehead on the east bank of the Our River. The Division was relieved by the 6th Armored Division on 10 February.
This battle was in the vicinity of Wesel, Germany during the period 24-25 March 1945 during the Central Europe Campaign. The 17th Airborne dropped by parachute and glider into enemy positions. This was the first airborne invasion across the Rhine into Germany itself. This battle resulted in US forces seizing and holding the high ground in the vicinity and capturing the bridges over the Issel River and Issel Canal intact.
Battle of “New York” to “Paris” Lines
After having established itself on the banks of the Issel, the Division attacked east from the “London” line to seize objectives in the zone along the “New York” line. The attack proceeded as planned and over the course of the day all the objectives were taken, as were 300 prisoners. The “Paris” line was reached by 1100 on 27 March.
Battle of Dorsten
The 17th Airborne and the 6th Guards Armored Brigade captured Dorsten, Wulfen, and Haltern on 28 March. This break through enemy positions demoralized the enemy and provided significant progress into Germany.
Battle of Munster
Continuing with the 6th Guards Armored Brigade, the 17th Airborne advanced from Dulmen to Munster on 30 March. As part of a coordinated attack, the 17th moved into Munster while the 513th Combat Team 2nd Battalion took the town of Gievenbecker to the west and the 1st Battalion took Mecklenbeck to the south. The 194th Combat Team attacked Munster from the northwest, establishing consolidated defensive lines.
Battle of Ruhr Pocket
The 17th Airborne relieved the 79th Infantry Division and took up positions along the Rhine-Herne canal and made preparations to attack across the canal. On 6 April, the attack on Essen was launched. The 507th Combat Team seized Essen on 10 April. From there, additional units of the 17th Airborne took the industrial cities of Mulhein, Duisberg, and eventually Werden. When the Division passed by Stockhausen, the 194th GIR captured ex-Chancellor Franz von Papen.