World War II
The 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion went through several numerical designations from it's initial activation on October 5, 1941 when it was first designated the 504th Parachute Battalion. It was redesignated the 2nd Battalion, 503rd Parachute Infantry on February 24, 1942. The final redesignation came on December 10, 1943 when it was designated the 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion. This was the designation that it held throughout World War II until its disbandment on March 1, 1945.
This unit trained with the British 1st Parachute Brigade in England, earned the honorary title "Red Devils", and
were authorized to wear the maroon beret. The maroon beret remains an iconic symbol of airborne units.
In June 1942, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Edson Duncan Raff, the battalion sailed to Scotland, becoming the first American parachute unit to go overseas in World War II. The battalion was attached to the British 1st Airborne Division for training, which included mass tactical jumps from C-47 aircraft at 350 feet, extensive night training, and speed marching for 10 miles to and from the training area daily; and on one occasion, marching 32 miles in 11 hours. In the summer of 1942, Allied forces were completing the task of planning Operation Torch, the Allied invasion of North Africa, with the battalion making their first combat jump.
Operation Torch was the first joint military action undertaken by the Allies in World War II. This was the springboard for the idea, formed by Prime Minister Winston Churchill, of attacking the "soft underbelly of Europe" before attempting a cross-channel attack from England onto mainland Europe. The main objective of Torch was to seize French Northwest Africa and, for political reasons, the Americans would lead the operation. The airborne segment of the operation entailed flying 1,500 miles from England to seize two French airfields near Oran.
On 2 November 1942, days before Operation Torch began. On this momentous day, as C-47s flew over the English countryside, the 509th paratrooper was born.
North Africa Campaign - Operation Torch
The 509th carried out the first American combat jump during the invasion of North Africa. The transport planes flew all the way from English airfields to the African coast. This first operation was unsuccessful, due to being fired upon by friendly forces and 7 of its 39 C-47s becoming widely scattered. Only 10 aircraft actually dropped their troops, and nearly out of fuel landed on the Sebkha d'Oran, a dry lake near their target. The 509th marched overland to occupy its objective, and on 15 November 355 paratroopers successfully dropped on the Youks-les-Bains Airfield.
Liberation of Ventotene - Italy
Forty-six Paratroopers from the Scout Company 509th (the first pathfinders) participated in the liberation of Ventotene, a small Italian island, on 9 September 1943. The German commander was tricked into surrendering to the weaker American force before realizing his mistake.
On 22 January 1944, the 509th PIR took part in the seaborne landings at Anzio, just south of Rome. Corporal Paul B. Huff, a member of the 509th, became the first US paratrooper to be awarded the Medal of Honor, on 29 February 1944, after an action at Anzio.
France - Operation Dragoon - Southern France
Belgium - Battle of the Bulge
During the Battle of the Bulge in late 1944, the 509th fought in Belgium to blunt the German attack. The 509th Infantry Regiment's service during World War II concluded at the end of January 1945 near St. Vith, Belgium. Of the original 700 paratroopers who entered the battle, approximately ninety-three percent were injured. Effective 1 March 1945, the 509th PIB was disbanded, and the soldiers who remained were reassigned as replacements in the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division.