Activated by Maj. Gen. Omar N. Bradley at Camp Claiborne, Louisiana, on 25 March 1942, the 82nd Airborne Division was designated an airborne formation on 15 August and began jump training at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, in October. By then the commanding general was Matthew B. Ridgway, who would remain at the helm for two years. Deployed to North Africa in May 1943, the ‘‘All Americans’’ jumped into Sicily on 9 July and shuttled around the Mediterranean theater until moving to Northern Ireland in time for Christmas. D-Day training was conducted in England from February 1944, leading up to Drop Zone Normandy.
Through most of its combat career the division included the 504th and 505th, 507th, and 508th Parachute Infantry Regiments (the latter two detached from the Seventeenth Airborne Division), plus two glider and two parachute field artillery battalions. Dropped behind Utah Beach on the eve of D-Day (minus the 504th, still understrength from Italy), the 82nd Airborne Division was spread between Sainte-Mère-Église and Carentan. The next day the paratroopers were reinforced by the 325th Glider Infantry Regiment, arriving by air and overland via the newly won beachhead.
- 505th PIR: Lt. Col. William E. Ekman.
- 507th PIR: Col. George V. Millett, Jr.
- 508th PIR: Col. Roy E. Lindquist.
- 325th GIR: Col. Harry L. Lewis.
Of 6,400 All Americans who jumped into Normandy, nearly 5 percent were killed or injured in the drop. The 507th’s commander, Colonel Millett, was captured on D+2 and was succeeded by Lt. Col. Arthur Maloney. In the three weeks after D-Day the division lost 457 killed, 2,571 missing, twelve captured, and 1,440 wounded. However, many of the missing subsequently rejoined their units, having been dropped far from their assigned zones.
Despite persistent German opposition along the Merderet River, the division established a bridgehead at La Fiere on D+3. The next day, 10 June, the 505th seized Montebourg Station, and on the 12th the 508th crossed the Douve River, reaching Baupt on the next day. On D+10 the 325th and 505th were as far as St. Sauveur-le-Vicomte, and the division occupied another important bridgehead, at Pont l’Abbé, on the 19th. Ridgway’s troops then attacked along the west coast of the Cotentin Peninsula, and on 3–4 July took two important hills overlooking La Haye-du-Puits. Following five weeks of almost nonstop combat, the 82nd Airborne Division was withdrawn to England.
In August, Ridgway was succeeded by Maj. Gen. James M. Gavin, who prepared the division for its next operation. That jump occurred during Operation Market-Garden at Nijmegen-Arnhem, Holland, in September, followed by operations in Belgium and Germany. On VE-Day in May 1945 the division was engaged along the Elbe River. In all, the 82nd Airborne Division sustained 8,450 casualties (1,950 dead) throughout the war.
This article is part of our larger selection of posts about the Normandy Invasion. To learn more, click here for our comprehensive guide to D-Day.