13th Airborne Division (United States) - Actions During World War II - European Theater of Operations

European Theater of Operations

The division arrived in the European Theater of Operations in early February, coming under the command of First Allied Airborne Army, and Major General Chapman was informed that there was a possibility that the division would be required to conduct airborne operations during the closing stages of the Battle of the Bulge. However, the campaign in the Ardennes ended before the division could be transported there. The next chance for the 13th to participate in an airborne operation, and to actually see combat, was in March 1945 when the Allies had penetrated into Germany itself and reached the River Rhine. A few weeks before the division was to participate in a combat jump over the Rhine it was reorganized, after a conference by the Department of War had decided that a more efficient 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 combined into the 326th Glider Infantry Regiment that remained as the division's sole glider-based element. The 517th had recently fought during the Ardennes campaign, and had received a Presidential Unit Citation for its actions.

The Rhine river was a formidable natural obstacle to the Allied advance, but if breached would allow the Allies access to the North German Plain and ultimately to 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. 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. 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. However, much to the misfortune of the 13th, it was discovered that there were only enough transport aircraft available in Europe to transport two airborne divisions into combat, and as such it was removed from Operation Varsity due to its lack of combat experience.

After its removal from Operation Varsity, the division remained in reserve as the Allied armies advanced even further into Germany, moving to Oise, France on 3 April for supply and administrative tasks. The division was scheduled to participate in several other airborne operations; however, these were all cancelled before they could take place. The first of these 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; the planners of the operations envisioned that the operation would 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 and the British 6th Airborne Division and 1st Airborne Division. A preliminary date for 1 May 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 26 March due to the rapid movement of Allied ground forces negating the need for the operation. Two other airborne operations were planned to include the 13th. Operation Choker II was to be an airborne landing on the east bank of the Rhine near Worms, Germany; planning for the operation got to an advanced stage, and the division was only hours from taking off from airfields in France when the operation was cancelled due to Allied ground forces overrunning the proposed landing areas. Operation Effective was designed to land the 13th south of Stuttgart, seize a nearby airfield and create an airhead for further forces to land in near the Black Forest. The operation was scheduled for 22 April, but was cancelled on 18 April due to Allied units encircling the Black Forest region and making it unnecessary.

Read more about this topic:  13th Airborne Division (United States), Actions During World War II

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