Airborne History

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History of the First Allied Airborne Army

The First Allied Airborne Army was activated on August 2, 1944 by the order of General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force after the lessons of Sicily and Normandy showed that a closer relationship was needed between allied airborne forces, troop carrier units and other land, sea or air assets. and Commanded by Lieutenant General Lewis H. Brereton, it consisted of the U. S. XVIII Airborne Corps (13th, 17th, 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions), all British airborne forces (1st and 6th Airborne Divisions and the Polish 1st Parachute Brigade), IX Troop Carrier Command (US) and Royal Air Force troop carrier units as required by the command. The First Allied Airborne Army controlled all Allied airborne forces in Western Europe from August 1944 to May 1945.

From the time of its creation until the end of World War II, the formation commanded the Allied airborne forces that participated in the Allied advance through North-West Europe, including Operation Market-Garden in September 1944, repelling the German counter-offensive launched during the Battle of the Bulge between December 1944 and January 1945, and Operation Varsity in March 1945.

The formation was then officially deactivated on 20 May 1945, with the British units under its command returning to the United Kingdom and the American units being renamed as First Airborne Army and taking over command of the American Zone of Occupation in Berlin.

Formation

Eisenhower believed that a single agency was required to coordinate all airborne and troop carrier units and which would have the authority to direct the operations they would participate in, as well as command attached army, naval and air force units. Planning for the creation of First Allied Airborne Army had begun several weeks before the beginning of Operation Overlord, with a sub-section of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force recommending as early as 20 May 1944 that all British and American airborne forces be unified under a single formation; troop carrier units, however, would still remain independent and under the control of the Allied Expeditionary Air Force under this first recommendation. This recommendation was then sent to First United States Army Group, 21st Army Group and the Allied Expeditionary Air Force, but was criticized and opposed by the Chief of Staff of First United States Army Group, Major-General Leven C. Allen. Allen argued that the larger number of American airborne troops, the differences in equipment and staff between British and American formations, and the fact that the available transport aircraft only had the capacity to carry the total number of American airborne troops and not British as well, all meant that there was no need for a unified command for both American and British airborne forces. However, the 21st Army Group and the Allied Expeditionary Air Force both agreed to the recommendation, only suggesting a few minor changes to be made, and on 17 June Major-General H.R. Bull, the Assistant Chief-of-Staff, Operations and Plans (G-3) of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force, recommended that a combined airborne troops headquarter be created, albeit one that still did not control troop carrier units.

Eisenhower had been thinking of creating an organization that would control both airborne forces and troop carrier units, based on the model of a modified corps headquarters and commanded by a high-ranking officer of the United States Army Air Forces. Creating such an organization, however, was complicated by the position of the Royal Air Force, which was an independent organization unlike the United States Army Air Forces. Senior British airborne commanders were apprehensive about having an Air Force officer command soldiers, in case the RAF could then use this at a later date as precedent to command British airborne troops. Further problems were created by officers of the Allied Expeditionary Air Force, who complained of the administrative problems which would be created by assigning RAF units to the proposed combined headquarters, and by the personal objections of Air Chief Marshal Trafford Leigh-Mallory, commander-in-chief of the Allied Expeditionary Air Force, who argued that the original recommendation should be followed – that of a command that unified American and British airborne forces but left troop carrier units under the command of the Allied Expeditionary Air Force. Despite this opposition, Eisenhower remained convinced for the need of a single unified command that would control both airborne forces and troop carrier units, and outlined his proposal in messages to General of the Army George Marshall and General of the Air Force Henry H. Arnold asking for the assignment of an Air Corps officer as commander of the unified headquarters. Marshall, however, asked for further clarification of the role of the commander, asking whether he would simply function as a corps commander of the airborne divisions or command all air and ground troops, and who would command the airborne forces once they had landed and gone into action. After much discussion the three men agreed that an Air Force commander would control all airborne forces until the situation on the ground permitted normal logistical support for the forces involved, when control would revert to a ground commander.

Lieutenant-General Lewis Brereton

Having solved the problems of what the commander of the unified headquarters would control, and when, the search then began for qualified personnel who could serve at the headquarters. The United States Department of War indicated that some personnel from the Airborne Center at Camp Mackall would be available for the new headquarters, and Headquarters and Headquarters Company, Second Airborne Brigade, from the United Kingdom would be disbanded and its personnel transferred to the new headquarters. In addition, the United States Strategic Air Forces in Europe would allocate ten officers and fifty enlisted men.

After discussion between Eisenhower, Arnold and Marshall, it was decided that the first commanding officer of the formation was to be USAAF Lieutenant General Lewis H. Brereton, who currently commanded the USAAF Ninth Air Force. Brereton learnt of his appointment on 17 July when in conference with the commanding officer of the USAAF, General Carl Spaatz, and was initially unconvinced of the merits of a combined headquarters, suggesting instead that American airborne forces be placed under the command of the Ninth Air Force, a suggestion which was denied by Eisenhower. Having agreed to the appointment, Brereton recommended that the combined headquarters was renamed ‘First Allied Airborne Army’, which was approved by Eisenhower on 16 August after a brief period of opposition by Major-General Bull, who argued that such a name would be inaccurate, as he believed there was no intention of using the organization as an Army.

The First Allied Airborne Army was then assigned operational control over a number of airborne and troop carrier units. These were the IX Troop Carrier Command; XVIII Corps (Airborne), which controlled 82nd Airborne Division, 101st Airborne Division, 17th Airborne Division and a number of independent airborne units; British I Airborne Corps which included 1st Airborne Division and 6th Airborne Division,as well as 1st Special Air Service Brigade and Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade; and finally RAF troop carrier units, the number of which would vary depending on the time and the operation being conducted. As commander of First Allied Airborne Army, Brereton was directly responsible to the Supreme Commander Allied (Expeditionary) Force, General Eisenhower, for a number of functions. There were a large number of these functions, but among them Brereton was responsible for the supervision of training and allocation of facilities, the development of new airborne equipment, consultation with the commander-in-chief of the Allied Expeditionary Air Force and the commander of Allied naval forces in the Allied Expedition Force to coordinate airborne operations, and the execution of such operations.

The First Allied Airborne Army Units

Click here to see how British and U.S. Airborne Units were specifically organized from Divisions down to Squads.

    • U.S. XVIII Airborne Corps
        • U.S. 17th Airborne Division
          • Division Headquarters
          • 193rd Glider Infantry Regiment
          • 194th Glider Infantry Regiment
          • 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment
          • 513th Parachute Infantry Regiment
          • 517th Parachute Infantry Regiment
          • Division Artillery
            • 464th Parachute Field Artillery Battalion
            • 466th Parachute Field Artillery Battalion
            • 680th Glider Field Artillery Battalion
            • 681st Glider Field Artillery Battalion
          • 139th Airborne Engineer Battalion
          • 155th Airborne Antiaircraft Battalion
          • 224th Airborne Medical Company
          • 17th Parachute Maintenance Company
          • Headquarters Special Troops
            • Headquarters Company, 17th Airborne Division
            • 717th Airborne Ordnance Maintenance Company
            • 517th Airborne Signal Company
            • 411th Airborne Quartermaster Company
            • 17th Counter Intelligence Corps Detachment
            • Reconnaissance Platoon
          • 550th Airborne Infantry Battalion
          • 761st Tank Battalion
          • 811th Tank Destroyer battalion

       

        • U.S. 82nd Airborne Division
          • Division Headquarters
          • 325th Glider Infantry Regiment
          • 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment
          • 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment
          • 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment
          • 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment
          • 517th Parachute Infantry Regiment
          • 1st Battalion, 551st Parachute Infantry Regiment
          • HHB, Division Artillery
            • 319th Glider Field Artillery Battalion
            • 320th Glider Field Artillery Battalion
            • 376th Parachute Field Artillery Battalion
            • 456th Parachute Field Artillery Battalion
          • 80th Airborne Antiaircraft Battalion
          • 307th Airborne Engineer Battalion
          • 307th Airborne Medical Company
          • 82nd Parachute Maintenance Company
          • 82nd Counter Intelligence Corps Detachment
          • Headquarters, Special Troops
            • Headquarters Company, 82nd Airborne Division
            • 782nd Airborne Ordnance Maintenance Company
            • 407th Airborne Quartermaster Company
            • 82nd Airborne Signal Company
            • Reconnaissance Platoon

       

        • U.S. 101st Airborne Division
          • Division Headquarters
          • 327th Glider Infantry Regiment
          • 401st Glider Infantry Regiment
          • 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment
          • 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment
          • 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment
          • HHB, Division Artillery
            • 321st Glider Field Artillery Battalion
            • 377th Parachute Field Artillery Battalion
            • 463d Parachute Field Artillery Battalion
            • 907th Glider Field Artillery Battalion
          • 81st Airborne Antiaircraft Battalion
          • 326th Airborne Engineer Battalion
          • 326th Airborne Medical Company
          • 101st Parachute Maintenance Company
          • 101st Signal Company
          • 101st Counter Intelligence Corps Detachment
          • Headquarters, Special Troops
            • 801st Airborne Ordnance Maintenance Company
            • 426th Airborne Quartermaster Company
            • Headquarters Company, 101st Airborne Division
            • Reconnaissance Platoon

       

      • U.S. 13th Airborne Division (in 1945)
        • 88th Glider Infantry Regiment
        • 189th Glider Infantry Regiment
        • 190th Glider Infantry Regiment
        • 326th Glider Infantry Regiment
        • 515th Parachute Infantry Regiment
        • 517th Parachute Infantry Regiment
        • HHB, Division Artillery
          • 458th Parachute Field Artillery Battalion
          • 460th Parachute Field Artillery Battalion
          • 676th Glider Field Artillery Battalion
          • 677th Glider Field Artillery Battalion
        • 129th Airborne Engineer Battalion
        • 153rd Airborne Antiaircraft Battalion
        • 222nd Airborne Medical Company
        • 13th Parachute Maintenance Company
        • Headquarters Special Troops
          • Headquarters Company, 13th Airborne Division
          • Military Police Platoon
          • 713th Airborne Ordnance Maintenance Company
          • 513th Airborne Signal Company
          • 409th Airborne Quartermaster Company

      British I Airborne Corps

      • British 1st Airborne Division
        • 1st Parachute Brigade
        • 1st Airlanding Brigade
        • 2nd Parachute Brigade
        • 3rd Parachute Brigade
        • 4th Parachute Brigade
        • Divisional troops
          • Divisional headquarters and signal squadron
          • 1st Airlanding Light Regiment, Royal Artillery
          • 1st Forward (Airborne) Observation Unit, Royal Artillery
          • 21st Independent Parachute Company Army Air Corps
          • 1st Airborne Reconnaissance Squadron
          • 9th (Airborne) Field Company, Royal Engineers
          • 261st (Airborne) Field Park Company, Royal Engineers
          • 250th (Airborne) Light Company, Royal Army Service Corps
          • 93rd Company, Royal Army Service Corps
          • Detachment Ordnance Field Park
          • Detachment, Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers Workshop
          • 89th Field Security Section, Intelligence Corps
          • 1st Airborne Division, Provost Company, Royal Military Police
        • British 6th Airborne Division
          • 1st Parachute Brigade
          • 2nd Parachute Brigade
          • 3rd Parachute Brigade
          • 5th Parachute Brigade
          • 6th Airlanding Brigade
          • Divisional Troops
            • 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion
            • 1st Special Service Brigade
            • 4th Special Service Brigade
            • 1st Belgian Infantry Brigade
            • Royal Netherlands Motorized Infantry Brigade

       

        • 52nd Lowland Division
          • 155th Infantry Brigade
            • 7th/9th Bn. The Royal Scots (The Royal Regiment)
            • 4th Bn. The King’s Own Scottish Borderers
            • 5th Bn. The King’s Own Scottish Borderers
          • 156th Infantry Brigade
            • 4th/5th Bn. The Royal Scots Fusiliers
            • 6th Bn. The Cameronians (Scottish Rifles)
            • 7th Bn. The Cameronians (Scottish Rifles)
          • 157th Infantry Brigade
            • 1st Bn. The Glasgow Highlanders
            • 5th Bn. The Highland Light Infantry
            • 6th Bn. The Highland Light Infantry
            • Divisional Units
              • 52 Reconnaissance Regiment
              • 7th Bn. The Manchester Regiment
              • 79 Field Regiment
              • 80 Field Regiment
              • 186 Field Regiment
              • 1 Mountain Regiment
              • 54 Anti-Tank Regiment
              • 108 Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment
              • 202 Field Company
              • 241 Field Company
              • 554 Field Company
              • 243 Field Park Company
              • 17 Bridging Platoon

       

        • Special Air Service Brigade

       

        • Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade

       

    • IX Troop Carrier Command USAAF
      • 50th Troop Carrier Wing
      • 52d Troop Carrier Wing
      • 53d Troop Carrier Wing

 

 

  • No. 38 Group RAF
  • No. 46 Group RAF