History of the 11th Airborne Division

by Leo Kocher 511 PIR

The 11th Airborne division, nicknamed "The Angels," was activated at Camp Mackall, N.C.., Feb. 25, 1943, under the command of Maj. Gen. Joseph Swing. After almost a year training in ground and Airborne tactics, the division was tested for overseas movement and in May 1944, sailed from San Francisco for New Guinea. There the paratroopers trained for jungle warfare and intensified combat unit ground training, On Nov. 7, 1944, the Angels sailed from New Guinea and on Nov. 11, 1944  landed at Leyte Beach, Leyte, Philippine Islands, 40 miles south of Tacloban. In three months of bitter fighting, the division cleared the treacherous mountain pass from Burauen to Ormoc, killing more than 5,700 Japanese.

Their mission completed, the 11th Abn. paratroopers were withdrawn from the front lines in January 1945, given a short rest, re-equipped and on Jan. 26, 1945, stormed Nasgubu Beach, Luzon, Philippine Islands and started a drive towards Manila. In five days, the division fought its way from Nasgubu Beach to Manila, a distance of 69 miles. The eliminated all opposition along Highway 17, destroyed the famed fortified "Genko Line" protecting southern Manila, took Fort McKinley, Clark Field and Nichols Field. For the achievement, the division was cited by Lt. Gen. Robert L. Eichelberger, then commanding general of the 8th U.S. Army and almost every unit within the division was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation.

From Manila the paratroopers swung south. In a lighting thrust by land, sea and air, the division made a daring raid on Los Banos Internment Camp behind Japanese lines and successfully rescued 2,147 internees. This accomplished, they cleared the Japanese from southern Luzon, eliminating enemy strongholds in Ternate , Macolod and Mount Malepunyo.  

Near the close of the Luzon campaign. one reinforced battalion, designated "Task Force Gypsy" was attached to the 6th U.S. Army. A combined  parachute and glider operation was launched on Aparri, in Northern Luzon to seal off the Cagavan Valley and permit the annihilation of the remaining Japanese. Task Force Gypsy was the largest and one of the only U.S. glider operations of the Pacific War.  

During action on Luzon, the division participated in combat parachute jumps at Taygaytay Ridge, Los Banos, and Aparri. It was at Aparri that the 11th Abn. successfully completed the only combat glider landing made in the Pacific theater.

In May 1945, the division moved into a rest and training camp near Lipa, Luzon to prepare for the planned invasion of Japan. Japan's surrender canceled these plans and on Aug. 10, 1945, the division moved to Okinawa to escort Gen. Douglas MacArthur into Japan and to spearhead the occupation. The 11th Abn. landed at Atsugi Airdrome, near Tokyo, on Aug. 30, 1945, and occupied an initial area in and around Yokohama. They remained there until mid-September 1945, when they moved to northern Japan and assumed responsibility for Akita, Yamagata, Miyagi and Iwate Prefectures. The division later took over control of Amori, Hokkaido, Fukushima and Prefectures to control of almost half the island of Honshu and all the island of Hokkaido.

 General Swing left the division, which he had formed and led through combat, in January 1948, to assume command of 1st Corps, 8th Army and Maj. Gen. William M. Miley assumed command.

The division was relieved of its occupation role in early 1949 and made the move back to the United States and Camp Campbell, KY, to start an intensive training program. In the summer of 1949, they provided instructions to move than Reserve Officer Training Corps students and Reserve Officers, including the officers and men of the 100 Abn. Div. (Reserve).

In 1950, the division started concentrating on training and preparation for "Exercise Swarmer," scheduled to be held in May 1950 near Ft. Bragg, N.C. As a result of re-supply techniques learned on "Swarmer," forces in the Korean Conflict had superior re-supply methods and mobility over the enemy forces.

The 187th regimental Combat Team, formerly a part of the 11th Abn. Div., successfully completed two combat jumps in Korea, the first of which took place in the Sukchon-Sunchon area near the foothills of Pyongyang, the second was at Munsan-ni, near the 38th Parallel. Both caught the enemy by surprise and permitted the taking of objectives which would have taken weeks of slugging on foot. It also cut off and provided the capture of thousands of prisoners. Meanwhile, the remainder of the 11th Abn. at home was not idle. To fill the void of 187th overseas movement, the famous 188th Glider Infantry Regt. of the 11th Abn., in the Pacific during World War II, had been restored to the division in august 1950.

The 188th had distinguished itself in World War II as the only unit to make a glider attack in the Pacific theater in Operation Gypsy (Aparri) on Luzon in 1945. Upon its restoration to the division, the 188th was redesignated a Parachute Infantry Regiment.

 Los Banos, one of the most spectacular and successful raids of World War II which liberated more than 2,147 allied prisoners from a Japanese concentration camp, was the crowning achievement of the 511th Abn. Inf. Regt., which is one of the regiments of the 11th Abn. Div..

To make the division complete, the historic and battle-tested 503rd, know as "The Rock" for its capture of Corregidor, was reactivated March 5, 1951. This was the anniversary of it original activation in 1942 at Fort Benning, Ga., and the anniversary of the surrender of Corregidor to the 503rd by the Japanese in 1945.

With the outbreak of the war in Korea, training was intensified. In the late summer months of 1950, the 11 Abn. Div. was charged with training, processing and shipment overseas of 13,000 enlisted reservists which was completed in December of the same year.  

Another highlight came in March 1956, when the Division crossed the Atlantic into Europe to replace the 5th Inf. Div., in Augsburg, Germany during Operation Gyroscope. The division's nine-year tenure came to an end at Fort Campbell in July 1958, when the 11th Abn. Div. was officially inactivated.

Five years later, the 11th Air Assault Div (Test) was formed at Fort Benning, Ga., the training area site for many soldiers of the original division. During its brief, two year tenure, the division conducted studies  developing the concept of helicopters and the use of air mobility. When tests were completed, the division was once again deactivated. the last of the unit's commanders was Maj. Gen. W.O. Kinnard, who had been chief of staff of the 101st Abn. Div. during World War II.

11th Airborne Commanders

MG Joseph M. Swing.............02-1943..........02-1946
BG Frank Dorn.......................02-1943...........06-1946
MG Joseph M. Swing.............06-1946..........01-1948
MG William M. Miley..............01-1948...........01-1950
MG Lyman L. Lemnitzer........ 01-1950..........11-1951
MG Wayne C. Smith..............11-1950...........01-1952
MG Ridgely Gaither...............02-1952...........04-1953
MG Wayne C. Smith..............05-1953..........05-1955
MG Derrill McDaniel...............06-1955..........09-1956
MG Hugh P. Harris................10-1956...........04-1958
MG Ralph Cooper..................05-1958..........06-1958  Div. Inactiviated
MG Harry W. O. Kinnard.......  1963............  1965


1) 11th Airborne and 511th Parachute Infantry Yearbooks.

2) Articles from the 11th Airborne and 511th PIR Association Newsletters.

3) Newspaper Articles and communication with fellow 11th Airborne troopers.