History of the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment
Sicily, July 1943
Attached to the 505th PIR, the 3rd Battalion of the 504th PIR helped spearhead the airborne invasion of Sicily. The 504th paratroopers crossed over the Sicilian coast on schedule and jumped on their assigned drop zone on 9 July 1943 -- an event which British Prime Minister Winston Churchill termed, "not the beginning of the end, but the end of the beginning." For two days, 3rd Battalion’s troopers fought an enemy superior in numbers and equipment. By D+3, they had accomplished their initial mission and were relieved by the 1st Infantry Division to return to regimental control.
Also on 9 July, the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 504th PIR, led by Colonel Reuben H. Tucker, loaded aircraft and took off for Sicily from the dusty airstrip near Kairouan, Tunisia. Near the Sicilian coast, however, a nervous Allied naval vessel suddenly fired upon the formation. Immediately, all other naval vessels and shore troops joined in, downing friendly aircraft and forcing planeloads of paratroopers to exit far from their intended drop zones in one of the greatest tragedies of World War II.
Colonel Tucker’s plane, after twice flying the length of the Sicilian coast and with well over 2,000 holes in its fuselage, finally reached the drop zone near Gela. By morning, only 400 of the Regiment’s 1600 soldiers had reached the objective area. The others had been dropped in isolated groups on all parts of the island and carried out demolitions, cut lines of communication, established island roadblocks, ambushed German and Italian motorized columns, and caused so much confusion over such an extensive area that initial German radio reports estimated the number of American parachutists dropped to be over ten times the actual number.
With the return of 3rd Battalion on 13 July, the 504th moved out in the attack, spearheading the 82nd Airborne Division’s drive northwest 150 miles along the southern coast of Sicily. With captured Italian light tanks, trucks, motorcycles, horses, mules, bicycles, and even wheelbarrows pressed into service, the 82nd encountered only light resistance and took 22,000 prisoners in their first contact with Nazi and Fascist forces. Overall, the Sicilian operation proved costly both in lives and equipment, but the unit gained valuable fighting experience and managed to hurt the enemy in the process. It was with this experience and pride that the 504th returned to its base in Kairouan, Tunisia, to prepare for the invasion of mainland Italy.
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