‘Down from Heaven Came Eleven’

The first combat jump made by paratroopers of the WWII-era 11th Airborne Division was on 29 November 1944 when a mixed group of some 241 men dropped on Manarawat in Leyte, making a series of a half-dozen other jumps in early December.

11th Airborne Division jungle field camp, 1945. Note repurposed parachutes

On 3 February 1945, some 1,830 men of the 11th, primarily from the division’s 511thd Parachute Infantry Regiment (511th PIR), would jump outside of Manila at Tagaytay in Operation Shoestring– where a young paratrooper by the name of Rod Serling would be wounded.

“First Lift” The first of three lifts make the first combat jump in 11th Airborne Division history at Tagaytay Ridge, Luzon, P.I. Mt Batulao to the left (Photo: 11th Airborne Assoc)

A week later came a combat drop at Los Banos where 130 men of B Co., 511th PIR would rescue 2,147 POWs.

As noted by the CMH: 

In February 1945, the 11th U.S. Airborne Division and six Philippine guerrilla units operating on Luzon devised a plan to liberate the camp and for that purpose formed the Los Banos Task Force under Col. Robert H. Soule. The group consisted of approximately two thousand paratroopers, amphibious tractor battalion units, and ground forces as well as some three hundred guerrillas. The key to the rescue was an assault force consisting of a reinforced airborne company who were to jump on the camp while a reconnaissance force of approximately ninety selected guerrillas, thirty-two U. S. Army enlisted men, and one officer pinned the guards down. The remainder of the force was to launch a diversionary attack, send in amphibious reinforcements, and be prepared to evacuate the internees either overland or across the lake. The bulk of the Philippine guerrillas were to assist by providing guides and marking both the drop zone and beach landing site. This plan was based on intelligence provided by guerrilla observations of the camp guard locations and routines, supplemented by a detailed map of the Los Banos Camp which had been drawn by a civilian internee who had managed to escape.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Colin Powell: “I doubt that any airborne unit in the world will ever be able to rival the Los Banos prison raid. It is the textbook operation for all ages and all armies.”

June saw Task Force Gypsy, some 1,030 men of the 511th, land on Aparri in Luzon as a blocking force to keep the Japanese from falling back further inland– the last major American combat drop of WWII.

The division would be airlifted to Japan immediately after D-Day and would be the first large U.S. Army combat unit sent to occupation duty in the home islands. They would remain there for four years. 

On 30 August 1945, the 11th Airborne Division was sent to Southern Japan as part of the occupation force. Here in this photo, 11th Airborne troopers stood guard at MacArthur’s General Headquarters in the Grant Hotel in Yokohama, Japan.


Fast forward to the Korean War and 1,800 men of the division’s 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team (“Rakkasans,” now part of the 101st Abn Div) famously made combat jumps near Sunchon–north of Pyongyang– in October 1950 to block retreating Nork units, a feat they would repeat in Operation Tomahawk six months later outside of Musan along the 38th parallel.

Post-Korea, the unit was stationed in West Germany and included a number of former Eastern European residents in U.S service– such as Larry Thorne– and was inactivated in Augsburg on 1 July 1958, being reorganized and reflagged as the 24th Infantry Division.

Their last formal peacetime jump was in the summer of 1957.

Well, that is until this week.


Sticks of the 3rd Battalion, 509th Infantry (Airborne)– a unit that historically made four combat jumps during World War II: two into North Africa, one into Italy, and one into France— is now in the reformed 11th Airborne (“Arctic Airborne”) and made jumps in Alaska this week while wearing their new patches.

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