The 81st Airborne AA Batallion was formed in August 1942 when the 82nd Infantry Division was divided into the 101st Airborne Division and the 82nd Airborne Division.
Most of the personnel in the 81st Batallion came from the 1st Batallion, 327th Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Infantry Division. The Batallion was composed of six Batteries, a Headquarters Det and a Med Det. Each Battery was composed of seventy one men and three officers, as per the Table of Organization. Battery A, B & C were anti-tank Batteries, with each Battery having eight 57 mm. guns. After arriving in England, these guns were replaced with the British 6 pound guns, which were the same caliber, but the gun mount fit into our CG4A gliders better than the American guns. Battery D, E and F each had twelve 50 calibre machine guns, with M3 mounts, suited to firing at aircraft. After Normandy, ground mounts were secured so that the guns could be used more effectively for ground fire. At no time did the Batallion fight as a Unit but Batteries were assigned to support the Infantry Regiments of the 101st Division. Our fire power was much stronger than any weapons which they had.
Our Combat Action
Batteries A and B went by glider into Normandy, France, landing about 4:00 a.m. on 6 June 1944. Battery C came in over Utah Beach at 14:30 p.m., 6 June 1944 from ships. Batteries D, E and F were transported by ship and landed on Utah Beach at 6:15 a.m., 6 June 1944, with the assault wave of the Engineers of the 4th Division and set up the first AA protection on the beach. Headquarters Det and part of the Med Det that did not go in with the Batteries came in over Utah Beach D+3. The Batallion returned to England in July. We were taken back to Basildon Park, Berkshire, England where we had been for the year prior to D Day.
The Bn. went into Holland on 19 September 1944 to Son, for Operation Market Garden. There were 81 gliders of the 81st Bn towed by C-47 planes. Batteries A, B and C were in gliders and Batteries D, E and F joined us in Holland by sea and/or land. Shortly after take off it became very foggy. I could not see the tow plane (300 feet ahead of us) or the gliders to the side. We were flying in columns of four and as the visibility was so bad, the tow plane pilots drifted out of formation, for safety reasons. I do not know how long we were in the fog but it seemed like two or three hours (was probably one hour). Over Belgium or Southern Holland we received rifle fire, from the ground. I had several rifle bullets hit my glider but no real damage was sustained.
Our landing field was just west of Zon. My glider made a rough landing, as most of the gliders did. However, no injuries to myself, the two glider pilots (because I was a C.O. I had two pilots), my S-2 Lt. George McCormack, or my driver Julian Heaton. We were sitting in my jeep as though we were driving down the road. I am enclosing a copy of a picture of my glider after the landing.
After landing, and going to the edge of Zon, and assembling we had only 46 gliders accounted for. Six gliders went down in the English Channel and were rescued. Six could not find the landing zone and the planes took them up to about 5,000 feet and returned to England. Because there was no insulation in the gliders and the soldiers did not have heavy clothing they almost froze. These gliders and men were brought back to Holland several days later to join us.
Several gliders went down in Belgium. My Bn Medical Officer’s glider landed south of Antwerp, where the Germans were holding the north side of town. He and others with him joined us a few days later. A glider carrying my supply section fell and all aboard were killed. My S-1, Capt. T. E. McGrath’s, glider did a loop and landed safely, not far from the supply section crash. He and his crew were able to assist in burying those of the crash before coming on to join us in Holland.
I have a very clear memory of 23 September 1944. I went into the advance Hdqs of the Division. It was located in a large house, on the south side of Veghel, to the east side of the highway. I had been there only a few minutes when General Anthony McAuliffe came to me and said, “Word has just come in that the highway north of town has been cut and tanks have been heard. Go see what you can find out.”
I left the house and went to the street, some 30 to 50 yards in front of the house. As I got to the street, which was packed bumper to bumper with British trucks, one of my Btry B jeeps and AT gun was slowing making its way up the street. In the jeep were Btry B CO Capt A. G. Gueymard, driver Rogie Roberts and another enlisted man. I jumped in the jeep and we proceeded along the side of the street lined with stalled trucks.
About half way through Veghel a Lt., standing in a building doorway, asked if he could help. I said, “yes” and he got on the jeep too. Just as we passed the last building on the north side of Veghel, we heard a tank to the north of us. It sounded as if it was coming toward us, so we stopped the jeep, unhooked the 6 pounder Anti Tank gun, we used a British 6pounder gun because the trails fit into the gliders better than the American 57mm did, turned it toward the noise, and spread the trails on the tarmac. By then, the tank was in sight, some 200 to 300 yards away and was turning to its right. I do not know, but I thought that maybe the gun turret was not working properly and they were turning the tank so they could fire in our direction.
Just as the tank was broadside to us, Rogie Roberts fired our gun, with Capt Gueymard sighting. Since our gun’s trails were not dug in, or weighted down, the gun jumped from the pavement and broke Roberts’ knee. His shot had hit the tank in the belly, just between the tracks. The tank burst into flames and some one came out of the top. Gueymard jumped across the trails and fired two more rounds, each hitting the side of the tank.
The Lt., we had picked up was a glider pilot. He had taken in some of the 82nd Div. and was working his way back toward England. Many years later he was able to locate me and I found out who he was. His name was Lt. Thos. Berry. At the time of the battle, we were too busy to ask questions or introduce ourselves. Now, I do not know if the tank was an M4 or M5.
I know there has been some debate about this action. The 327th Glider Inf. had people on the west side of the highway and were manning a 37 mm gun. The holes in the tank, as was confirmed when I saw it later, were 57 mm holes. I know there were paratroopers on the east side of the road, as I went there soon after the tank was knocked out and I was able to quickly get everyone to stop firing. All was quiet as there were no other enemy attacking.
I returned to Div Hdqs and told Gen. McAuliffe that we had gotten the tank and the road was open. I think I had been gone about an hour. That was a favorite story of the General long after the war was over.
On 19 December 1944 the Batallion moved to Bastogne, Belgium with the Division. Again the Batteries gave support to the Infantry Regiments, except for a period of some five days when the AA Batteries were again used against night bombing of Bastogne. After leaving Bastogne there was limited action until the war ended. At that time, the Batallion was assigned occupation duty in the Tamsweig area of Austria, southeast of Berchestgaden.
After a month in this area, the Division and the Batallion moved to Auxerre, France to receive replacements for men who had enough service points to allow them to be sent home. After Japan surrendered the Division was deactiveated. When the 101st AirborneDivision was reactivated as the 101st Air Assault Division, the 2nd/44th Artillery Regiment took their history from the 81st Airborne AA Batallion.
Submitted by Col. X B Cox, Jr., CO of 81st Airborne AA Batallion from 25 March 1944 until November 1945, having been in the Batallion since it was organized at Camp Claiborne, LA. in August of 1942.