History of the 13th Airborne Division

By Col. James Mrazek

The 13th Airborne Division was constituted into the United States Army on January 9, 1942. It consisted of cadres of the 189th and 190th Glider Infantry and the 513th Parachute Infantry Regiments and supporting units. On August 13, 1943, the division was activated at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and Major General George W. Griner Jr. assumed command.

In December 1943, three regiments from the inactivated First Airborne Brigade at Alliance joined the Divison. These were the 88th Glider Infantry Regiment from Fort Meade, South Dakota, and the 326th Glider Infantry and the 515th Parachute Infantry Regiments from Alliance, Nebraska. The 189th and 190th were inactivated and their men transferred to the 88th and 326th respectively. At this time, General Eldridge G. Chapman, a decorated veteran of World War I and the commander of the Airborne Command took command of the 13th. Colonel Hugh P. Harris, who was to become a four star general, became the chief of staff. On March 10, 1944, the 513th Parachute Infantry Regiment was reassigned to the 17th Airborne Division in Tennessee.

The 326th, then an infantry regiment, had been in the 82nd Division during World War I serving with distinction in historic battles St. Mihiel, Meuse-Argonne, and Lorraine. It became known for having been in active operations longer, continuously, and without relief than any other regiment in the American Expeditionary Force. It was reactivated with the 82nd Airborne Division at Camp Claiborne, Louisiana, early in World War II, but was soon transferred to the First Airborne Brigade.

The 13th Airborne Division's history harks back to World War I. It had its roots in the 13th Infantry Division, which was constituted in the Regular Army on July 5, 1918 at Camp Lewis, Washington. A square division consisting of four infantry regiments, it trained and prepared to join the American Expedition-ary forces in France. The war ended in November before it was sent to the front, and the division was demobilized March 8, 1919. Among its commanders were Brigadier General Cornelius Vanderbilt and Major General Joseph D. Leitch.

The 88th Glider Infantry Regiment had its origins in the 88th Airborne Infantry Battalion. During two years it trained the 11th, 17th, 82nd, and 101st Airborne Divisions in air transportability and later did so for the 84th and 103rd Infantry Divisions in preparation for their joining in the planned massive airborne assault on Berlin by the Allied Airborne Army.

In January 1945, the 13th Airborne Division embarked for France. On arrival it was assigned to the XVIIIth Airborne Corps and went into assembly areas at Sens, Joigny and Auxerre. On March 1, 1945, the battle-seasoned 517th Parachute Infantry Combat Team, which had fought in Italy, Southern France, Belgium and Germany, joined the 13th at Joigny, France. The 88th Glider Infantry Regiment was deactivated and its personnel were transferred to the 326th Glider Infantry, which was then increased from two to three battalions.

Assignments to combat missions came quickly but with frustrating results. Alerted along with the 17th Airborne Division for an assault against the Nazi forces at Wesel, Germany, the 13th's participation was cancelled for lack of enough aircraft to airlift both divisions. Next, the division geared up for Operation "Choker," the landing across the Rhine at Worms. The day before the division was to take off the 13th's paratroopers and glider-troopers again moved out of their barbed wire enclosed assembly areas. Paratroopers marched to the airfields, found the C-47's climbed in the ones they were assigned to, and secured drop loads. Glidertroopers loaded and lashed ammunition, pack howitzers, Jeeps and trailers into the gliders ready to take off at dawn. They woke up the next morning to the news that the mission had been cancelled while they slept. General Patton had captured Worms while they were loading up the day before!

Next came operation "Effective," which was to deny part of the Alps to the Nazis to prevent them establishing a last ditch stronghold there. New intelligence, however, indicated that this operation was no longer necessary, and it was cancelled. Finally, as the days of the Third Reich were drawing to a close, elements of the 13th were scheduled to land at Copenhagen, Denmark, on a classified mission. It, also, was cancelled. Shortly thereafter, Allied Airborne Army Headquarters announced that the Division would be redeployed to the Pacific to participate in the invasion of Japan after a stopover in the United States. The 13th Air-borne Division arrived at the New York Port of Embarkation on August 23, 1945 and was stationed at Fort Bragg. Shortly thereafter, Japan surrendered.

At the end of the war the Division consisted of the following units:

326th Glider Inf. Regt.                  129th Abn. Eng. Bn.

515 Prcht. Inf. Regt.                     153rd Abn. Anti-aircraft Bn.

517th Prcht. Inf. Regt.                  222rd Abn. Med. Co.

458th Prcht. FA Bn. (75mm)         13th Prcht. Maint. Co.

460 Prcht. FA Bn. (75mm)             Hq.   Special Troops

676th Glider FA Bn. (75mm)          Headquarters Company

677th Glider FA Bn. (75mm)          Military Police Platoon

409th Abn. Quartermaster Co.       713 Abn Ord. Maint. Co.

513 Airborne Signal Co.

In addition to six generals that served in the 13th during World War II, twenty others were to become generals. One wore four stars, two wore three stars. One of the latter had been a private in the 517th Parachute Regiment.

On February 25, 1946, the division was inactivated, and its personnel transferred to the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. The 13th was again a matter of history.

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