13th Airborne Division (United States)

13th Airborne Division (United States)

Infobox Military Unit
unit_name=13th Airborne Division

caption=Shoulder sleeve patch of the 13th Airborne Division
nickname="Lucky Thirteenth"
dates= August 13, 1943–February 26, 1946
battles=World War II
notable_commanders=Eldridge Chapman
US Infantry
previous=12th Infantry Division (Philippine Division)
next=14th Infantry Division
The 13th Airborne Division of the United States Army was an airborne division in the United States Army during World War II, and was commanded by Major General Eldridge Chapman. Flanagan, p. 289 ] It was officially activated as an airborne division in August 1943 at Fort Bragg in North Carolina and took part in several training exercises throughout 1943 and 1944. [ Huston, p. 125 ] It remained in the United States as a reserve formation and did not take part in the first two large-scale airborne operations conducted by the Allies, Operation Husky and Operation Neptune, only transferring to France in January 1945. Flanagan, p. 285 ]

When it arrived in France, it came under the command of First Allied Airborne Army. As it had only arrived in early 1945, the division had missed out in participating in the third large-scale airborne operation the Allies conducted, namely Operation Market-Garden. It also failed to participate in the last large-scale airborne operation of the conflict, Operation Varsity, because a sufficient number of transport aircraft could not be found to transport the division into combat. Clay, p.440 ] Several other operations were planned for the division after the end of Operation Varsity, but the Allied armies advanced too rapidly for the operations the division was planned to participate in to be necessary.Huston, p. 217] After the end of the conflict in Europe, the division was shipped to the United States for the planned invasion of Japan, but the conflict in the Far East ended before it was required. The division was finally deactivated on February 26, 1946 and its combat personnel transferred to the command of the 82nd Airborne Division. Flanagan, p. 290 ]


The 13th Airborne Division was the fifth airborne division to be activated in the United States during World War II, and was officially activated on August 13, 1943 at Fort Bragg, North Carolina under the command of Major-General George W. Griner Jr. Only a few months after the activation of the division, however, Major-General Griner was replaced by Major-General Eldridge G. Chapman, who would go on to command the division for the rest of the conflict. Chapman was one of the early pioneers of the American airborne concept, commanding the experimental 88th Airborne Infantry Battalion in late 1941 when he was a Lieutenant-General, before going on to take command of the 13th Airborne Division. [ Flanagan, p. 19 ] The 88th Airborne Infantry Battalion would be renamed as the 88th Airborne Infantry Regiment, and then finally become the 88th Glider Infantry Regiment on September 21, 1942, forming the core of the 13th Airborne Division. [ Flanagan, p. 20 ] When it was activated, the division was initially composed of the 515th Parachute Infantry Regiment, as well as the 88th Glider Infantry Regiment and the 326th Glider Infantry Regiment.

Actions During World War II


Between April 1943 and February 1945, the division remained in the United States and did not serve overseas or participate in any airborne operations, missing Operation Husky, Operation Neptune and Operation Market-Garden because it was it was surplus to the requirements of the United States Army during that period. The 82nd Airborne Division and 101st Airborne Division had been assigned as active combat formations to serve overseas in Europe, and the 11th Airborne Division had been assigned as the United States strategic reserve formation. [ Huston, p. 126 ] During this period, the activities of the division were primarily based around airborne training, as well as taking part in several training exercises. However, whilst conducting airborne training for the first four American airborne divisions was conducted with a minimum of effort during 1943, the 13th encountered considerable difficulties when it came to its turn for training. [ Huston, p. 124 ] By the last few months of 1943 the 101st and 82nd Airborne Divisions had been trained and conducted airborne exercises, and then been dispatched to Europe to see combat, and a large majority of the transport aircraft used in these training exercises had been sent with them, and even more had been sent to Europe after Operation Neptune as replacements. [ Huston, pp. 124–125 ] As such, very few transport aircraft were therefore available for use by the 13th, and the original training exercise for the division scheduled for June 1944 had to be postponed until September 17, and then once again until September 24. [ Huston, p. 139 ]

The exercise took place around Camp Mackall, where a similar exercise had been undertaken by the 17th Airborne Division a few months prior, but unlike that conducted by the 17th the units of the 13th encountered significant difficulties. Poor weather delayed the beginning of the exercise until the night of September 25, and it was only then that the aircraft carrying the first three battalions of paratroopers assigned to the exercise could take off and attempt to drop the airborne troops on three separate drop zones. Huston, p. 140 ] A combination of poor visibility and a lack of sufficient airborne training for the pilots of the transport aircraft resulted in the paratroopers dispersing widely when dropped. Only some sixty-five percent of the airborne troops and equipment dropped on the first drop zone were ready for action ninety minutes later, and in the second drop-zone the airborne troops were so scattered that by 10:00 the next morning the commander of the battalion had control over barely twenty percent of his men. A similar number of paratroopers missed the third drop zone, although the majority were dropped in a small area where they could gather. Further problems were encountered, as a plane crash killed eight paratroopers and four aircrew, and the glider-borne elements of the division due to land were delayed by poor weather. After the initial night, the exercise continued for a further three days, including a complex supply mission to supply an isolated battalion of airborne troops.

Observers reported that they had been impressed with the performance of the glider-borne elements of the division, but that the training of the aircraft pilots for night formation flying and navigation was far from satisfactory. A recommendation was made by observers that night glider landings should be considered only when an emergency existed, and that otherwise gliders should take off during the night and land during daylight to avoid the wide dispersal of airborne troops and a decrease in efficiency. After these exercises had ended, the division continued to train until October 27, when it was ordered to be prepared to be shipped to the European Theatre of Operations after concluding its final training. [ Huston, p. 148 ] The division left the United States in early January 1945, and by the beginning of February the division had arrived in France. [ Devlin, p. 550 ]

European Theater of Operations

The division arrived in the European Theater of Operations in early January, too late to participate in any of the major airborne operations that had occurred thus far, but it was alerted to the possibility that it would be required to make combat jumps during the closing stages of the fighting in the Ardennes during the Battle of the Bulge; however, the campaign in the Ardennes ended before the division could be utilized. The next chance for the 13th to participate in an airborne operation, and to actually see combat, was in March when the Allies had penetrated into Germany itself and had reached the River Rhine. Just a few weeks before the division was to participate in a combat jump over the Rhine it was reorganized, it having been decided by the United States Army that the correct composition for an airborne division was two Parachute Infantry Regiments and only a single Glider Infantry Regiment. Subsequently the 517th Parachute Infantry Regiment, a veteran unit that had served in Italy, Southern France and the Ardennes, joined the division in early March, and the 88th Glider Infantry Regiment was disbanded, with the 326th Glider Infantry Regiment remaining as the divisions sole glider-based element. The 517th had recently fought during the Battle of the Bulge, and had fought so well that it had been the recipient of a Presidential Unit Citation for its actions during the campaign.

The Rhine was a formidable natural obstacle to the Allied advance,cite web |url=http://www.armyhistory.org/armyhistorical.aspx?pgID=1017&id=139&exCompID=177 |title= Operation Varsity: The Last Airborne Deployment of World War II |accessdate=2008-05-01 |author= Matthew J. Seelinger|year= 2007|publisher=Army Historical Research] but if breached would allow the Allies to access the North German Plain and ultimately advance on Berlin and other major cities in Northern Germany. Following the 'Broad Front Approach' laid out by General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force, it was decided to attempt to breach the Rhine in several areas. [Saunders, Tim, p. 41 ] Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, commanding the British 21st Army Group devised a plan to allow the forces under his command to breach the Rhine, which he entitled Operation Plunder, and which was subsequently authorized by Eisenhower. Plunder envisioned the British Second Army, under Lieutenant-General Sir Miles Dempsey and the U.S. Ninth Army under Lieutenant General William Simpson crossing the Rhine at Rees, Wesel, and an area south of the Lippe Canal. To ensure that the operation was a success, Montgomery insisted that an airborne component was inserted into the plans for the operation to support the amphibious assaults that would take place, which was code-named Operation Varsity. [Devlin, p. 258–259] Three airborne divisions were initially chosen to take part in Varsity, these being the British 6th Airborne Division, the US 17th Airborne Division, and finally the 13th, all of which were assigned to the US XVIII Airborne Corps, the 13th having been assigned when it had landed in France in January. However, much to the misfortune of the 13th, only enough transport aircraft were available in Europe to transport two airborne divisions, and as such it was removed from Operation Varsity due to a lack of combat experience.

After its unfortunate removal from Operation Varsity, the division remained in reserve as the Allied armies advanced even further into Germany, being scheduled for several other airborne operations which were all cancelled before the division could participate. The first was Operation Arena, which envisioned landing between six and ten divisions into what was termed a 'strategic airhead' in the Kassel region of Northern Germany in order to deny a large swathe of territory to the German defenders and give the Allied armies a staging area for further advances into Germany. The 13th was chosen to participate, along with the US 17th, 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions, as well as the British 6th Airborne Division and the 1st Airborne Division. [ Huston pp. 216–217 ] A preliminary date for May 1 was set for the operation once all of the required airborne and air-landed infantry divisions had been located and supplied, but it was ultimately cancelled on March 26 due to the rapid movement of Allied ground forces negating the requirement for the operation. [ Huston, pp. 217–218 ] The division was also required for two more airborne operations. Operation Choker II which was to be an airborne landing on the east bank of the Rhine near Worms, Germany, and during which the division was only hours from taking off before the operation was cancelled due to Allied ground forces overrunning the proposed landing areas. Operation Effective was designed to deny the Alps area from the Germans to prevent the creation of a last-ditch stronghold, but was cancelled when intelligence indicated such a stronghold did not exist.


The conflict with Germany came to an end shortly after Operation Effective was cancelled, and shortly afterwards it was announced that the division would be redeployed to the Pacific to participate in the invasion of Japan after a brief stop-over in the United States. The deactivation of the 17th Airborne Division meant that the 13th acquired several combat units from that division to bolster it for its envisioned action in Japan. [ Flanagan, p. 344 ] The division arrived in New York on August 23, but did not leave the United States before the surrender of Japan in September 1945. With the conflict at an end, the division was no longer required by the United States Army, and it was permanently deactivated at Fort Bragg, North Carolina on February 25, 1946, with its personnel transferred to the command of the 82nd Airborne Division.

Divisional Order of Battle

Units of the 13th Airborne Division included:

*88th Glider Infantry Regiment (disbanded March 1, 1945, assets to the 326GIR)
*189th Glider Infantry Regiment (disbanded December 4 - December 8, 1943, replaced by 88GIR and 326GIR)
*190th Glider Infantry Regiment (disbanded December 4 - December 8, 1943, replaced by 88GIR and 326GIR)
*326th Glider Infantry Regiment
*513th Parachute Infantry Regiment (relieved March 10, 1944 by 515PIR)
*515th Parachute Infantry Regiment (assigned March 10, 1944; replaced the 513PIR)
*517th Parachute Infantry Regiment, (assigned March 1, 1945)
*HHB, Division Artillery
**458th Parachute Field Artillery Battalion (75mm)
**460th Parachute Field Artillery Battalion (75mm) (assigned February 22, 1945)
**676th Glider Field Artillery Battalion (75mm)
**677th Glider Field Artillery Battalion (75mm)
*129th Airborne Engineer Battalion
*153rd Airborne Antiaircraft Battalion
*222nd Airborne Medical Company
*13th Parachute Maintenance Company
*Headquarters Special Troops
**Headquarters Company, 13th Airborne Division
**Military Police Platoon
**713th Airborne Ordnance Maintenance Company
**513th Airborne Signal Company
**409th Airborne Quartermaster Company [cite web |url=http://www.history.army.mil/documents/eto-ob/13ABD-ETO.htm |title= 13th Airborne Division |accessdate=2008-05-14 |author= US Army Centre of Military History|year= 2008|publisher=US Army Centre of Military History]



*cite book
last = Blair
first = Clay
title = Ridgway’s Paratroopers - The American Airborne In World War II
publisher = The Dial Press
year = 1985
isbn = 1-55750-299-4

*cite book
last = Devlin
first = Gerard M.
title = "Paratrooper - The Saga Of Parachute And Glider Combat Troops During World War II
publisher = Robson Books
year = 1979
isbn = 0-31259-652-9

*cite book
last = Flanagan
first = E.M. Jr
title = Airborne - A Combat History Of American Airborne Forces
publisher = The Random House Publishing Group
year = 2002
isbn = 0-89141-688-9

*cite book
last = Harclerode
first = Peter
title = Wings Of War – Airborne Warfare 1918-1945
publisher = Weidenfeld & Nicolson
year = 2005
isbn = 0-30436-730-3

*cite book
last = Huston
first = James A.
title = Out Of The Blue - U.S Army Airborne Operations In World War II
publisher = Purdue University Press
year = 1998
isbn = 1-55753-148-X

*cite book
last = Jewell
first = Brian
title = ”Over The Rhine” – The Last Days Of War In Europe
publisher = Spellmount Ltd
year = 1985
isbn = 0-87052-128-4

*cite book| first=Tim|last=Saunders|title=Operation Plunder: The British & Canadian Rhine Crossing|publisher=Leo Cooper Ltd|year=2006|origdate=|isbn=1-84415-221-9

External links

*cite web
last =Murray
first =Williamson
authorlink =
coauthors =
title =Airborne Operations During World War II
work =
publisher =World War II Magazine
date =
url =http://www.historynet.com/airborne-operations-during-world-war-ii.htm/
format =
doi =
accessdate = 2008-04-28

*cite web
last =United States Army
first =Centre of Military History
authorlink =
coauthors =
title =13th Airborne Division
work =
publisher =US Army Centre of Military History
date =
url =http://www.history.army.mil/documents/eto-ob/13ABD-ETO.htm
format =
doi =
accessdate = 2008-05-14

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