History

508 PIR

On 20 October 1942, at Camp Blanding, Florida, the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment was activated with Major Roy E. Lindquist in command. The regiment primarily came from the 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment and the 26th Infantry Division. By mid-December, the 508th PIR reached full strength. The next month the 508th was moved to Camp Mackall, North Carolina, where they trained until December. On 28 December 1943, the regiment boarded the U.S. Army Transport James Parker and set out to join the convoy across the Atlantic for the war in Europe. Twelve days later, on 9 January 1944, the James Parker docked at Belfast, Ireland and the 508th commenced training throughout Great Britain.

D Day - Operation “Neptune”. Operation "Neptune" was an all-important airborne phase of Overlord, the name given to the massive plan for D Day invasion of Europe. The 82nd Airborne was an integral part of Operation Neptune. Because the 504th PIR ranks had been depleted due to the Italian Campaigns the 507th and the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiments were attached to the 82nd for this operation. The 82nd's mission was to destroy vital German supply bridges and capture causeways leading inland across the flooded areas behind the Normandy beaches where seaborne forces would land to gain control of roads and communications. More than 10,000 All Americans landed by parachute and glider on June 6 1944 D Day- as part of the greatest airborne assault in history.

The 508th was responsible for the Southwest portion of the 82d Airborne Division sector in Normandy. Their primary targets were bridges over the Douve River, located at Brienville and Beuzeville-la-Bastille. Clouds and heavy anti-aircraft fire caused the formations to break up and many of the planes to stray off course. The confusion was also compounded by the Wehrmacht’s presence in the scheduled drop zones. This prevented the pathfinders from marking them and consequently delayed many pilots from flashing the jump lights until they had overshot the drop zones as they frantically searched for the markers. Consequently, both the 507th and 508th troopers were widely scattered over the Normandy countryside. Landing in the swamp lands along the river the heavily laden troopers hurriedly scrambled to assemble into fighting units. Because of the confusion they were unable to muster their forces into enough strength to occupy the west bank of the Douve River in force. Instead the troopers assembled along the embankment of the main railroad from Cherbourg to Carentan, both because it was high ground and because it was a recognizable terrain feature. After regrouping into small units, the 508th began executing their daunting task to seize the bridge over the Douve River, at Pont L' Abbe. However, one unit under the command of Lt.Col Thomas J.B.Shanley, commanding officer of the 2nd Battalion, encountered a large contingent of German infantry (Battalion strength) before reaching the town. The Germans were pushing eastward in this area most of the day under orders to counterattack and wipe out the American insertion west of the Merderet. Lt. Col. Shanley immediately realized that they were vastly out numbered, and withdrew to Hill 30. He ordered his unit to dig in. For two days, he and his men fought off repeated German attempts to overrun the main paratrooper landings and contributed substantially to establishing the Merderet bridgehead. This action has been considered decisive in helping the airborne meet its objectives at Normandy.

The 508th continued their ferocious fight as infantrymen for 33 days after landing at Normandy. They had choked off reinforcements for the Axis forces defending the French coast. On 13 July 1944, the Red Devils returned to England after suffering 1,061 casualties out of 2,056 paratroopers of which 307 were Killed-In-Action (KIA). Included among the KIA was Lt.Col Batcheller, commanding officer of the 1st Battalion. For the remainder of WW II the 508th would remain attached to the 82nd Airborne Division.

Operation Market Garden On 9 September 1944 Field-Marshal Montgomery proposed a plan, called Operation Market Garden, to secure a bridgehead across the Rhine. The operation called for a combined armour and airborne assault to seize and hold key bridges and roads deep behind German lines in Holland. The airborne phase of the operation consisted of capturing five bridges ahead of the armoured force. The 504th now back at full strength re-joined the 82nd, while the 507th went to the 17th Airborne Division. At approximately 1330 hours on 17 September 1944, the Red Devils jumped into Holland as part of Operation Market Garden. Although initial resistance was light, heavy fighting ensued for days. The 508th established and maintained a defensive position along the main line of resistance which measured over twelve thousand yards in length against heavy German resistance. The regiment then seized Bridge Number 10 and prevented its destruction by destroying the apparatus for the demolition of the Nijmegen Bridge across the Waal River. This action contributed to the successful completion of the 82nd Airborne's mission. Meanwhile, the regiment also seized, occupied, and defended the Berg EN Dalkamp Hill mass terrain which controlled the Groesbeek-Nijmegen area. They cut Highway K, preventing the movement of enemy reserves, or escape of enemy along this important international route. The regiment withstood and repulsed the major enemy efforts at Wyler and Beek to penetrate the Division position and assault units to the north. While accomplishing these missions, the regiment captured 483 prisoners. During this period of combat the regiment suffered 139 KIA, 479 WIA, and 178 MIA. No Red Devils were captured by the enemy. On November 10, the 508th was relieved by a British Brigade. They immediately returned to Nijmegen and eventually to Camp Sissone, France on November 14th.

Battle of the Bulge - The Ardennes Offensive On 16 December 1944 the entire 82nd Airborne was thrust into Ardennes Forest in the largest battle of World War II - Battle of the Bulge The Germans smashed through the thin US screen in the Ardennes. (SHAEF) reserve forces were alerted. The 101st Airborne was sent into Bastogne to try and hold the southern shoulder of the penetration while the 82d was ordered to Werbomont to pinch in the northern shoulder. On December the 18th the 508th moved and by the 19th had set up positions in the vicinity of Chevron. The regiment held positions against the Germans until the 24th at which time they were ordered to withdraw to establish a new line of resistance. The regiment held it position until January 3, 1945 when the 82nd Airborne Division counter attacked. On January 7th the Red Devil's launched an attack with the 504th in the vicinity of Thier-du-Mont where it suffered heavy casualties. Again, the regiment was withdrawn from the line and placed in reserve until January 21st when it replaced elements of the 2nd Infantry Division. On January 24th the regiment was placed in Corp reserve, but was quickly back in action on January 26th. On January 29, 1945 First Sergeant Leonard Funk, Jr received the Medal of Honour (CMH) for action at Holzheim, Belgium. After leading his unit and capturing 80 Germans, the enemy, by means of a ruse, captured the four American guards, freed the prisoners and prepared to attack the understrength Americans. Funk, walking around a building into their midst, had a machine pistol thrust into his stomach by a German officer. Pretending to comply with a surrender demand, he lowly unslung his Thompson submachine gun and with lightning fast motion, riddled the officer and led his men in resisting the enemy, killing 21 in the process. On February 22, The Regiment moved back to Camp Sissonne where it became part of SHAEF reserve. The regiment performed maintenance, trained and refitted. On April 5 the regiment was relieved from attachment to the 82d Airborne Division and placed under the direct control of First Allied Airborne Army. The regiment moved to Chartres with a contingency mission to liberate POW camps in Germany by airborne assault if the situation demanded. The 508th remained at Chartres until late May, 1945. After a brief stay at Sissonne, the 508th was moved to Frankfort-Am-Main for occupation duty and served as guard to General Eisenhower's SHAEF Headquarters. In December 1945, LTC Otho E. Holmes assumed command of the regiment.

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Jump 44 are proud to have been given permission by Mr Tony Rogers to include a short documentary by Capt William .H “Bill” Nation of the 508th Airborne Infantry. This film was shot by Captain Nation on his arrival to Wollaton Hall, Nottingham in 1944. Captain Nation never got chance to see the film he made as he was killed in Holzeim, Belgium on 31st January 1945. Please enjoy the documentary below. We ask you not to copy this video in any way out of respect for Captain Nation. Taking this material without permission is in breach of the COPYRIGHT law

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