Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The 507th PIR on D-Day

Today is the 68th anniversary of D-Day.

During World War II (1939-1945), the Battle of Normandy, which lasted from June 1944 to August 1944, resulted in the Allied liberation of Western Europe from Nazi Germany’s control. Codenamed Operation Overlord, the battle began on June 6, 1944, also known as D-Day, when some 156,000 American, British and Canadian forces landed on five beaches along a 50-mile stretch of the heavily fortified coast of France’s Normandy region. The invasion was one of the largest amphibious military assaults in history and required extensive planning. Prior to D-Day, the Allies conducted a large-scale deception campaign designed to mislead the Germans about the intended invasion target. By late August 1944, all of northern France had been liberated, and by the following spring the Allies had defeated the Germans. The Normandy landings have been called the beginning of the end of war in Europe.

Check out the site for videos and interactive maps.

One of the groups involved in that invasion was the 507 P.I.R. (Parachute Infantry Regiment).  This unit is sometimes called "the forgotten regiment."  The unit was activated in 1942 at Ft. Benning, GA.  A little history about the unit can be found here.  Here's an excerpt of their participation in the D-Day invasion:

The 507th PIR first saw combat during the Normandy invasion - 6 June 1944. The 507th and the 508th PIRs were to be dropped near the west bank of the Merderet River. The objectives of both regiments was to establish defensive positions in those areas and prepare to attack westward sealing off the Cotentin Peninsula. 
In the pre the predawn hours of D-Day the sporadic patterns of the 507th and the 508th PIRs left troopers spread out over a twenty mile area.  Some who overshot the Drop Zone (DZ) dropped into the Merderet River and its adjoining marshes. Many troopers who jumped with heavy equipment were unable to swim free and drowned. Others roamed the countryside until they encountered other units and joined their effort. Even Colonel Millett, the commanding officer of the 507th was unable to muster his troops and was captured three days after the drop in the vicinity of Amfreville. Only the 2nd Battalion under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Charles J Timmes  was able to function as a team and began digging in around Cauquigny on the west bank of the Merderet River. 

At that point the 507th was joined with the 508th for the rest of the mission.  Read the rest.

For the Normandy invasion the 507th flew from airbases further north in England than other regiments and thus arrived later to the battle than other units, therefore losing the element of surprise.

Sergeant Bob Bearden was a squad leader of a mortar squad in the 507th  PIR.  Here's an excerpt from his book:

Massive anti-aircraft fire and dense cloud banks encountered over the Normandy coast caused the 507th to have the worst drop of any of the airborne units participating in Normandy. Most sticks completely missed their drop zones and ended up stranded as individuals or in small groups in totally unknown territory. In addition, their drop zone and surrounding low-lying marshes had been flooded by the Germans, who manipulated locks to make the Merderet River overflow its banks, causing many of the heavily overloaded 507 troopers to drown before they got out of their chutes. 

There's much more at the link.

Here is a photo gallery of some of the members of the 507th PIR.  Look at their faces; check out the guy with the pipe!  So many young lives.

Here is the story of Howard Huebner who was in the 507th PIR, assigned to Company C.  An excerpt:

I am a Paratrooper! I was 21 yrs old when we jumped into Normandy. 
We knew the area where we were supposed to land, because we had studied it on sand tables, and then had to draw it on paper by memory, but that all faded as our regiment was the last to jump, and things had changed on the ground. Most of us missed our drop zone by miles.  As we were over our drop zone there was a downed burning plane. Later I found out it was one of ours. The flack was hitting our plane and everything from the ground coming our way looked like the Fourth of July.  
When I hit the ground in Normandy, I looked at my watch.  It was 2:32 AM, June 6, 1944. I cut myself out of my chute, and the first thing I heard was shooting and some Germans hollering in German, "mucksnell toot sweet Americanos".  
We the 507th, was supposed to land fifteen miles inland, but I landed three or four miles from Utah Beach by the little town of Pouppeville. I wound up about 1000 yards from a French farm house that the Germans were using for a barracks, and about 200 feet from a river, an area that the Germans had flooded. If I would have landed in the water, I may not be here today as I can’t swim. A lot of paratroopers drowned because of the flooded area.

Be sure to read the part where he talks about "a soldier I will never forget."

Huebner was in the same drop plane as Pfc. Bose Kelley; in the drop order, Huebner was #3 and Kelley was #13.

Pfc. Bose F. Kelley, Jr. was from Shreveport.  He died on D-day and is buried here in Shreveport at Greenwood cemetery.

Take time today to read through some of these stories and to remember.

Added:  There's an interesting D-Day documentary at SnagFilms about the secrecy behind the D-Day invasion and the subterfuge against the German army.  (Thanks, Harold, for the heads up.)


edutcher said...

"At that point the 507th was joined with the 509th for the rest of the mission."

Think you mean 508th.

The 509th was in Italy fighting at Anzio and would jump into Southern France in August.

Pat Austin said...

Yes, I do. Corrected and thank you!