A former infantryman compiles, from interviews with survivors, the story of the first major US airborne action of WWII.
Stalin wanted a second front; Churchill agreed and sold Roosevelt on it. Skip down a few steps in the command chain and find Lt. Col. James Gavin and 3,400 men of the 505th Regimental Combat Team headed across the Mediterranean to Sicily in C-47s. Jumping at night for the first time in combat from low-flying planes under fire, wandering far from their drop-zones, the 505th hit concrete-like hillsides and sun-dried furrows waiting in the dark to snap ankles or legs like twigs. The mission of this advance unit was to keep German and Italian defenders from counterattacking the most massive Allied landing force yet assembled on its beachheads. With little in the way of ground cover, save gullies, streambeds, vineyards, and farmers’ fences crafted from cactus rows, pockets of widely scattered paratroops who could still walk or hobble proceeded to “attack the enemy wherever he could be found.” The big surprise: German armor, which all had been assured would not be found on the island, was—including massive, nearly unstoppable Tiger Tanks. (Allied high command, it turns out, knew very well they were there; it was decided to withhold the knowledge from Gavin on down to guard a secret British decryption method that had obtained it.) The operation wound up being judged a marginal success (with Eisenhower dissenting) due to the bravado of small units who harried German defenders and caused them to seriously overestimate Allied strength. (Gavin would later become the youngest two-star Army general since the Civil War.)
Three bloody days of courage and confusion, both elements faithfully reflected with frustratingly minimal overview, from Ruggero (Duty First, 2001, etc.).