Military Wiki
James Maurice Gavin
James M. Gavin, then Major General
Nickname The Jumping General
Slim Jim
Jumpin' Jim
Born (1907-03-22)March 22, 1907
Died February 23, 1990(1990-02-23) (aged 82)
Place of birth New York City, New York
Place of death Baltimore, Maryland
Allegiance United States
Service/branch United States Army seal United States Army
Years of service 1924 – 1958
Rank US-O9 insignia.svg Lieutenant General
Commands held 505th Infantry Regiment (United States) 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment
82nd Airborne Division 82nd Airborne Division

World War II

Korean War
Awards Distinguished Service Cross (2)
Distinguished Service Medal
Silver Star
Purple Heart
Distinguished Service Order (UK)
Legion of Honor (France)
Other work U.S. Ambassador to France

James Maurice "Jumpin' Jim" Gavin (born as James Nally Ryan; March 22, 1907 – February 23, 1990) was a prominent Lieutenant General in the United States Army during World War II. He was also referred to as "The Jumping General", because of his practice of taking part in combat drops with the paratroopers whom he commanded.

In his mid-30s at the time, Gavin was the youngest U.S. Major General commanding a division during World War II.[1] During combat, he was known for his habit of carrying an M1 Garand rifle typically carried by enlisted U.S. soldiers, as opposed to the M1 carbine rifles and Colt Model M1911 .45 caliber pistols traditionally carried by officers.

His men respected him a great deal, affectionately referring to him as "Slim Jim" due to his athletic figure. Gavin fought against segregation in the U.S. Army, which gained him some notoriety.

Among his decorations, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross with Oak Leaf Cluster, the Distinguished Service Medal, the Silver Star and the Purple Heart. He was also awarded the British Distinguished Service Order.

Early life

James M. Gavin was born in Brooklyn, New York on 22 March 1907. His precise ancestry is unknown; his mother was possibly the Irish immigrant Katherine Ryan, and his father James Nally (also of Irish heritage)[citation needed], although official documentation lists Thomas Ryan as father; possibly in order to make the birth legitimate. The birth certificate lists his name as James Nally Ryan, although Nally was crossed out. When he was about two years old, he was placed in the Convent of Mercy orphanage in Brooklyn, where he remained until he was adopted in 1909. His adoptive parents were Martin and Mary Gavin, a coal mining family from Mount Carmel, Pennsylvania.

Gavin took his first job as a newspaper delivery boy at the age of 10. By the age of 11, he had two routes and was an agent for three out-of-town papers. During this time, he enjoyed following articles about World War I. In the eighth grade, he moved on from the paper job and started working at a barbershop. There he listened to the stories of the old miners. This led him to realize he did not want to be a miner. In school, he learned about the Civil War. From that point on, he decided to study everything he could about the subject. He was amazed at what he discovered and decided if he wanted to learn this "magic" of controlling thousands of troops, from miles away, he would have to continue his education at West Point.[2]

His adoptive father was a hard-working miner, but the family still had trouble making ends meet. Gavin quit school after eighth grade and became a full-time clerk at a shoe store for $12.50 a week. His next stint was as a manager for Jewel Oil Company.[3] A combination of restlessness and limited future opportunities in his hometown caused Gavin to run away from home. In March 1924, on his 17th birthday, he took the night train to New York. The first thing he did upon arriving was to send a telegram to his parents saying everything was all right with him, to prevent them from reporting him missing to the police. After that, he started looking for a job in New York.

Pre-war service

Enlistment and West Point

At the end of March, 1924, Gavin spoke with a US Army recruiting officer. Since he was under 18, he needed parental consent to enlist in the Army. Knowing that his adoptive parents would never consent, Gavin told the recruiter he was an orphan. The recruiting officer took him and a couple of other underage boys who were orphans as well, to a lawyer who declared himself their guardian and signed the parental consent paperwork.

On April 1, 1924, Gavin was sworn into the US Army, and was stationed in Panama. His basic training was performed on the job in his unit, the US Coast Artillery in Fort Sherman. He served as a crewmember of a 155 mm gun, under the command of Sergeant McCarthy, who described him as fine. Another person he looked up to was his First Sergeant, an American Indian named "Chief" Williams. Panama was not a comfortable posting for soldiers, because of the high temperatures and the malaria-causing mosquitoes. Despite these adverse conditions, Gavin remembered his time in Panama with fondness.

Gavin spent his spare time reading books from the library, notably Great Captains and a biography of Hannibal. He had been forced to quit school in seventh grade in order to help support his family, and acutely felt his lack of education. In addition, he made excursions in the region, trying to satisfy his boundless curiosity about everything. The First Sergeant, "Chief" Williams, recognized Gavin's potential and made him his assistant; Gavin was promoted to Corporal six months later.

He wished to advance himself in the army, and on the advice of Williams, applied to a local army school, from which the best graduates got the chance to attend West Point. Gavin passed the physical examinations and was assigned with a dozen other men to a school in Corozal, which was a small army depot in the Canal Zone. He started school on September 1, 1924. After one month of schooling, they were required to pass another exam to be allowed to follow the four-month main course, which he did. In order to prepare for the entrance exams into West Point, Gavin was tutored by another mentor, Lieutenant Percy Black, from 8 o'clock in the morning until noon on algebra, geometry, English and history. He passed the exams, and with the help of Black was allowed to apply to West Point.

Gavin arrived at West Point in the summer of 1925. On the application forms, he indicated his age as 21 (instead of 18) to hide the fact that he was not old enough to join the army when he did. Since Gavin missed the basic education which was needed to understand the lessons, he rose at 4:30 every morning and read his books in the bathroom, the only place with enough light to read. After four years of hard work, he graduated in June 1929. In the 1929 edition of the West Point yearbook, Howitzer, he was mentioned as a boxer and as the cadet who had already been a soldier. After his graduation and his commissioning as a Second Lieutenant, he married Irma Baulsir on September 5, 1929.

Various postings

Gavin was posted to Camp Harry J. Jones near Douglas, Arizona and the US-Mexican border. This camp housed the 25th Infantry Regiment (one of the entirely African-American, Buffalo Soldier regiments). He stayed in this posting for three years.

Afterwards Gavin attended the United States Army Infantry School in Fort Benning, Georgia. This school was managed by Colonel George C. Marshall, who had brought Joseph Stillwell with him to lead the Tactics department of the school. Here Gavin found the army he was looking for: an army actively seeking new innovations and possibilities.

Marshall and Stillwell taught their students not to rely on lengthy written orders, but rather to give rough guidelines for the commanders in the field to execute as they saw fit, and to let the field commanders do the actual tactical thinking; this was contrary to all other education in the US Army thus far. Gavin himself had this to say about Stilwell and his methods: "He was a superb officer in that position, hard and tough worker, and he demanded much, always insisting that anything you ask the troops to do, you must be able to do yourself." In Fort Benning, Gavin learned to develop and rely on his own style of command.

The time spent at Fort Benning was a happy time for Gavin, but his marriage with Irma Baulsir was not going well. She had moved with him to Fort Benning, and lived in a town nearby. On December 23, 1932, they drove to Baulsir's parents in Washington, D.C. to celebrate Christmas together. Irma decided she was happier there, and remained to live with her parents. In February 1933 Irma became pregnant. Their daughter, Gavin's first child, Barbara, was born while Gavin was away from Fort Sill on a hunting trip. "She was very unhappy with me, as was her mother" Gavin later wrote. Irma remained in Washington during most of their marriage, which ended in divorce upon his return from the war.

In 1933 Gavin, who had no desire to become an instructor for new recruits, was posted to the 28th and 29th Infantry Regiment in Fort Sill, Oklahoma, under the command of General Lesley J. McNair. He spent most of his free time in, as he called it, the "excellent library" of this fort, while the other soldiers spent most of their time partying, shooting and playing polo. One author in particular impressed Gavin: J.F.C. Fuller. Gavin said about him: "[He] saw clearly the implications of machines, weapons, gasoline, oil, tanks and airplanes. I read with avidity all of his writings."

In 1936 Gavin was posted to the Philippines. While there became very concerned about the US ability to counter possible Japanese plans for expansion. The 20,000 soldiers stationed there were badly equipped. In the book Paratrooper: The Life of Gen. James M. Gavin, he is quoted as saying "Our weapons and equipment were no better than those used in World War I".

After 1½ years in the Philippines he returned to Washington with his family and served with the 3rd Infantry Division in the Vancouver Barracks. Gavin was promoted to Captain and held his first command position as Commanding Officer of K Company of the 7th Infantry Regiment.

While stationed in Fort Ord, California he received an injury to his right eye during a sports match. Gavin feared that this would end his military career, and he visited a physician in Monterey, California outside the Fort. The physician diagnosed a retinal detachment, and recommended an eye patch for 90 days. Gavin decided to rely on the self healing capacity of his eye to hide the injury.

West Point again

Gavin was ordered back to West Point, to work in the Tactics Faculty there. He was overjoyed by this posting, as he could further develop his skills there. With the German Blitzkrieg steamrolling over Europe, the Tactics Faculty of West Point was requested to analyze and understand the German tactics, vehicles and armaments. His superior at West Point called him "a natural instructor", and his students declared that he was the best teacher they had.

Gavin was very concerned about the fact that US Army vehicles, weapons and ammunition were at best a copy of the German equipment. "It would not be sufficient to copy the Germans", he declared. For the first time, Gavin talked about using Airborne forces:

"From what we had seen so far, it was clear the most promising area of all was airborne warfare, bringing the parachute troops and the glider troops to the battlefield in masses, especially trained, armed and equipped for that kind of warfare."

He took an interest in the German airborne assault on the Fort Eben-Emael in Belgium in May 1940, which was assaulted and conquered at night from the sky by well equipped German paratroopers. This event, and his extensive study on Stonewall Jackson's movement tactics led him to volunteer for a posting in the new Airborne unit in April 1941.

World War II

Constructing an Airborne army

Gavin was Commander of the 82nd Airborne

Gavin began training at the Airborne School in Fort Benning in July 1941, and graduated in August 1941. After graduating he served in an experimental unit. His first command was as Commanding Officer of C Company of the newly established 503rd Parachute Infantry Battalion. Gavin's friends William T. Ryder — Commander of Airborne training - and William Yarborough - Communications officer of the Provisional Airborne Group - convinced General William C. Lee to let Gavin develop the tactics and basic rules of Airborne combat. Lee followed up on this recommendation, and made Gavin his Operations and Training officer (S-3). On October 16, 1941, he was promoted to Major.

One of his first priorities was determining how Airborne troops could be used most effectively. His first action was writing FM 31-30: Tactics and Technique of Air-Borne Troops. He used information about Soviet and German experiences with Paratroopers and Glider troops, and also used his own experience about tactics and warfare. The manual contained information about tactics, but also about the organization of the paratroopers, what kind of operations they could execute, and what they would need to execute their task effectively. Later, when Gavin was asked what made his career take off so fast, he would answer: "I wrote the book".

In February 1942 he followed a condensed course at the Command and General Staff College in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas which qualified him to serve on the staff of a division. He returned to the Provisional Airborne Group and was tasked with building up an Airborne Division. In the spring of 1942 Gavin and Lee went to the Army Headquarters in Washington D.C. to discuss the order of battle for the first US Airborne Division. The US 82nd Infantry division (stationed in Camp Claiborne, Louisiana) was selected as the first division to be converted into an Airborne division. Lesley McNair's influence led to the 82nd Airborne division's initial composition of two Glider Infantry Regiments and one Parachute Infantry Regiment, with organic parachute and glider artillery and other support units.

Gavin became the commanding officer of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment in August 1942. He was promoted to Colonel shortly thereafter. Gavin built this regiment from the ground up, seeing this as the best way to reach their vision and goals. Gavin led his troops on long marches and realistic training sessions, creating the training missions himself and leading the marches personally. He also placed great value on having his officers "the first out of the airplane door and the last in the chow line". This practice has continued to the present day in US Airborne units; for example, during Operation Urgent Fury the commanding officer of the 1st Ranger Battalion was the first man out the door.

After months of training, Gavin had the regiment tested for one last time:

"As we neared our time to leave, on the way to war, I had an exercise that required them to leave our barracks area at 7:00 P.M. and march all night to an area near the town of Cottonwood, Alabama, a march about 23 miles. There we maneuvered all day and in effect we seized and held an airhead. We broke up the exercise about 8:00 P.M. and started the troupers back by another route through dense pine forest, by way of backwoods roads. About 11:00 P.M., we went into bivouac. After about one hour's sleep, the troopers were awakened to resume the march. [...]In 36 hours the regiment had marched well over 50 miles, maneuvered and seized an airhead and defended it from counterattack while carrying full combat loads and living off reserve rations."

Preparations for combat

In February 1943, the US 82nd Airborne Division—consisting of the 325th and 326th Glider Infantry Regiments and the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment—was selected for the Allied invasion of Sicily. This selection came as a surprise for the division; most members thought that the US 101st Airborne Division would be selected, as that division was led by the "Father" of the Airborne idea, William C. Lee. Not enough gliders were available to have both glider regiments take part in the landings, so the 326th Glider Infantry Regiment was relieved from assignment to the 82nd on February 4, 1943, and replaced by Gavin's 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment effective February 10, 1943. The 326GIR was later assigned to the 13th Airborne Division but never saw combat.

Gavin arranged a last regimental-sized jump for training and demonstration purposes, before the division would ship to North Africa. An accident during this demonstration killed 3 soldiers, and lowered morale somewhat. On April 10, 1943 Matthew B. Ridgway explained what their next mission would be: Operation Husky, the invasion of Sicily. Gavin's regiment would be the first ever in the US to make a regimental sized Airborne landing. Gavin declared: "It is exciting and stimulating that the first regimental parachute operation in the history of our army is to be taken by the 505th."

On April 29, 1943, Gavin left the harbor of New York on board the Monterey. The convoy taking them to North Africa consisted of 23 troop transport ships, 8 destroyers, an aircraft carrier and the battleship USS Texas. The convoy arrived in Casablanca on May 10, 1943. They proceeded by land to Oujda, a city in the desert where temperatures could reach 140° Fahrenheit (app. 60° Celsius). To make things worse, the camp was repeatedly visited by burglars and thieves. During the waiting period in Oujda, the men had almost no entertainment and morale worsened. Gavin wrote a letter to his daughter, Barbara, almost every day during the waiting period in Oujda.

A conflict arose between the commanders of the British forces and the American forces about who would supply the paratroopers and who would supply the planes to transport them. General Dwight D. Eisenhower intervened and had the Americans put 250 planes in the air and the British 150. Both sides felt miffed by this decision. Ridgway selected Gavin's regiment for the operation. General Patton suggested performing the invasion at night, but Ridgway and Gavin disagreed because they had not practiced night jumps. After mounting casualties during practice jumps, Gavin canceled all practice jumps until the invasion.

The regiment was transported to Kairouan in Tunisia, and on July 9 at 10:00am they entered the planes that would take them to Sicily. Their mission was to land 24 hours before the planned day/time of major combat initiation ("D-day") to the North and East of Gela and take and maintain control of the surrounding area to split the German line of supply and disrupt their communications. One hour before scheduled combat they should link up with the US 1st Infantry Division and help them take control of the airfield at Ponte Oliveto. Gavin was the commander of the combat team, consisting of the 505th, the 3rd Battalion of the 504th, the 456th Parachute Field Artillery Battalion, B Company of the 307th Airborne Engineer Battalion, a signal platoon, and some attached units (for example, naval gunfire observation teams). The Axis had 16 divisions in Sicily (two German and the remainder Italian), 14 of which were combat ready. Among these divisions were the Herman Goering Fallschirm-Panzer Division and the German 15th Panzergrenadier Division.

Operation Husky

Gavin sat quietly in the airplane and stayed in a separate compartment. A soldier informed him that the windspeed at the landing site was 56 km/h (about 34 miles per hour). During the planning phase, 24 km/h (about 14.5 miles per hour) had been assumed. After one hour of flying, the plane crew could see the bombardment of the invasion beaches. Gavin ordered his men to prepare for the jump, and a few minutes later was the first paratrooper to jump from the plane. Due to the higher than expected windspeed, he sprained his ankle while landing. After landing, he went to look for his men and shortly found his S-3, Major Benjamin H. Vandervoort, and his S-1, Captain Ireland. After a short while he had gathered a group of 20 men. He realized that they had drifted off course and were miles from the intended landing areas. He could see signs of combat twenty miles onwards; he gathered his men and headed towards the combat zone.

With a small band of eight 505th paratroopers Gavin began to march toward the sound of the guns. “He had no idea where his regiment was and only a vague idea as to exactly where he was. We walked all night,” said Major Vandervoort. The paratroopers did not pose a real threat as a fighting force but their guerilla tactics were nevertheless very effective – just as they would be in Normandy in June 1944. They aggressively took on enemy forces, leaving the impression of a much larger force. At one point the morning of July 10 Gavin's tiny band encountered a thirty-five man Italian anti-paratroop patrol. An intense firefight ensued and the Italians were driven back. Several paratroopers were wounded before Gavin and his men were able to gradually disengage. Gavin was the last man to withdraw. “We were sweaty, tired and distressed at having to leave [our] wounded behind,” said Vandervoort. “The colonel looked over his paltry six-man command and said, ‘This is a hell of a place for a regimental commander to be.’”

At about 8:30 a.m. on July 11, as Gavin was headed west along Route 115 in the direction of Gela, he began rounding up scattered groups of 505th paratroopers and infantrymen of the 45th Division and successfully attacked a ridge that overlooked a road junction at the east end of the Acate Valley. It was called Biazza Ridge. Gavin established hasty defenses on the ridge, overlooking the road junction, Ponte Dirillo and the Acate River valley. Although he had no tanks or artillery to support him, he immediately surmised the importance of holding the ridge as the only Allied force between the Germans and their unhindered exploitation of the exposed left flank of the 45th Division and the thinly held right flank of the 1st Division. Against Gavin that day was the entire eastern task force of the Hermann Göring Division: at least 700 infantry, an armored artillery battalion, and a company of Tiger Tanks.

The German objective was nothing less than counterattacking and throwing the 1st and 45th Divisions back into the sea. Although the attacks of July 10 had failed, those launched on July 11 posed a dire threat to the still tenuous 45th Division beachhead. For some inexplicable reason the Germans failed to act aggressively against Gavin’s outgunned and outmatched force. Even so, the afternoon of July 11 a panzer force attacked Biazza Ridge with full fury. Both sides were determined to succeed: the German panzer force to push Gavin off the ridge and into the sea, the Americans to deny them control of the ridge. The two sides exchanged fire throughout that terrible day as Gavin’s force somehow held out despite terrible pressure and steadily mounting casualties. To his men the commander made clear that: “We’re staying on this goddamned ridge – no matter what happens.”

The defenders of Biazza Ridge managed to capture two 75-mm pack howitzers, which they turned into direct fire weapons to defend the ridge. One managed to knock out one of the attacking Tiger tanks. Somehow the Americans continued to hold. By early evening the situation had turned grim when six U. S. M4 Sherman tanks suddenly appeared to the accompaniment of loud cheers from the weary paratroopers who had been joined by others, including some airborne engineers, infantry, clerks, cooks and truck drivers. With this scratch force and the Shermans Gavin counterattacked and in so doing deterred the Germans from pressing their considerable advantage. They broke off and the battle ended with the Americans still in control of Biazza Ridge. Thanks to the valor of Gavin and his men on July 11 the beachheads were finally secured. For his feats of valor that day Col. Jim Gavin was later awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.

D-Day and Mission Boston

Gavin was part of Mission Boston on D-Day. This was a parachute combat assault conducted at night by the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division on June 6, 1944, and part of the American airborne landings in Normandy. The intended objective was to secure an area of roughly 10 square miles (26 km2) located on either side of the Merderet River. They were to capture the town of Sainte Mère Église, a crucial communications crossroad behind Utah Beach, and to block the approaches into the area from the west and southwest. They were to seize causeways and bridges over the Merderet at La Fière and Chef-du-Pont, destroy the highway bridge over the Douve River at Pont l'Abbé (now Étienville), and secure the area west of Sainte Mère Église to establish a defensive line between Gourbesville and Renouf. Gavin was to describe the operation as having two inter-related challenges - it had to be 'planned and staged with one eye on deception and one on the assault'.[4] Gavin's success lay in balancing these two factors to near perfection.

To complete its assignments, the 82nd Airborne Division divided itself into three forces:

  • Force A (parachute): the three parachute infantry regiments and support detachments, commanded by Assistant Division Commander Brig Gen. James Gavin,
  • Force B (glider): the glider infantry regiment and artillery battalions, and airborne support elements, commanded by Division Commander Maj Gen. Matthew B. Ridgway, and
  • Force C (seaborne): remaining combat elements, division support troops and attached units including tanks, landing at Utah Beach, commanded by Assistant Division Commander Brig Gen. George P. Howell.

Boston was the second of two combat jumps, with "Mission Albany" preceding it by one hour to drop the 101st Airborne Division. Each mission consisted of three regiment-sized air landings. Drop Zones T and N were west of the Merderet River from north to south, and Drop Zone O was east of it, just northwest of Sainte Mère Église. In the process units would also disrupt German communications, establish roadblocks to hamper the movement of German reinforcements, establish a defensive line between Neuville and Baudienville to the north, clear the area of the drop zones to the unit boundary at Les Forges and link up with the 101st Airborne Division.

The drops were scattered by bad weather and German antiaircraft fire over an area 3 to 4 times as large as planned; ironically, this gave the Germans the impression of a much larger force. Two regiments of the division were given the mission of blocking approaches west of the Merderet River, but most of their troops missed their drop zones entirely. The 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment jumped accurately and captured its objective, the town of Sainte-Mère-Église, which proved essential to the success of the division.

C-47 of the 303d TCS/442d TCG in invasion markings. The 442nd TCG carried the 1st Battalion 507th PIR on D-Day.

Missed drop zones

The 82d Airborne's drop, mission "Boston", began at 0151. The 505th PIR, assigned to jump on Drop Zone O, was scheduled to arrive ten minutes after the last serial of the 101st's drop. The C-47s carrying the 505th did not experience or else overcame the difficulties that had plagued the 101st's drops. Pathfinders on DZ O turned on their Eureka beacons as the first 82nd serial crossed the initial point and lighted holophane markers on all three battalion assembly areas. The 2nd Battalion, first to jump, was accurate but jumped from above the planned altitude. C-47s carrying the 3rd and 1st Battalions were off course but adjusted in time to jump. Most flights were able to fly in formation above the clouds and none encountered serious antiaircraft opposition. As a result, the 505th enjoyed the most accurate of the D-Day drops, half the regiment dropping on or within a mile of its DZ, and 75% within two miles (3 km).

The other regiments were more significantly dispersed and 8 aircraft were shot down, several with paratroopers still inside. The 508th experienced the worst drop of any of the PIRs. Its serials had not seen the clouds and flew through, rather than over, them, with C-47s taking evasive action to avoid collisions. Minutes later they emerged into fierce antiaircraft fire. In need of pathfinder aids, the pilots discovered that the sets near DZ N were ineffective or not turned on. The flight leaders navigated accurately to the drop zone, but most of their flights were no longer in formation. 25% of the 508th PIR came down within a mile of the DZ, and another quarter within 2 miles (3.2 km). Fully half the regiment was unavailable for its assigned tasks, however, because it dropped east of the Merderet, and half of those jumped more than 10 miles (16 km) away or were missing.[5]

1st Lt. Malcolm D. Brannen, Headquarters Company, 3rd Battalion 508th PIR came down between Picauville and Etienville, south of the DZ. Near dawn, just after observing the landing of reinforcements by gliders in Mission Chicago, Brannen and the group of paratroopers he had assembled fired on an automobile headed for Picauville at high speed, and in a brief firefight, Brannen shot and killed Generalleutnant Wilhelm Falley, division commander of the 91st Air Landing Division.

The 507th PIR's pathfinders landed accurately on DZ T, but because of Germans nearby, marker lights could not be turned on. Many of its C-47s straggled and only 3 sticks jumped on the DZ. From 30 to 50 sticks (450-750 troops) landed nearby in grassy swampland along the river. Estimates of drowning casualties vary from "a few"[6] to "scores"[7] (against an overall D-Day loss in the division of 156 killed in action), but much equipment was lost and the troops had difficulty assembling.

Almost 30 sticks of the 507th came down in 101st Airborne areas and became temporarily attached to that division. The headquarters company of the 1st Battalion, carried by the last serial of the night, was dropped 5 miles beyond Carentan at Montmartin-en-Graignes. They rallied other stragglers and fought off attacks by the 17th SS Panzergrenadier Division for five days before 150 managed to infiltrate back to Carentan in small groups.

Sainte Mère Eglise

Timely assembly enabled the 505th to accomplish two of its missions on schedule. The 3rd Battalion captured Sainte Mère Eglise by 0430 after small firefights . It set out roadblocks and took up defensive positions against expected counterattacks. The 2nd Battalion established a blocking position on the northern approaches to Sainte Mère Eglise with a single platoon (3rd Platoon, D Company) while the rest of the unit reinforced the 3rd Battalion when it came under heavy attack from the south by infantry and armor at mid-morning. The platoon delayed two companies of the 1058th Grenadier Regiment at Neuville-au-Plain for eight hours, allowing the troops in Sainte Mère Église to repel the southern threat.

Along the Merderet

According to some historians, the 1st Battalion did not achieve its objectives of capturing bridges over the Merderet at Manoir de la Fière and Chef-du-Pont. This account is disputed by both the Company and Regimental commanders. This version states that Company A was unable to take the bridge near la Fière, a farm two miles (3 km) west of Sainte Mère Église, despite the assistance of several hundred troops from the 507th and 508th PIRs that had jumped in the area. After several attempts to force a passage over the causeway or outflank the defenses had failed, Brig. Gen. James Gavin, the assistant division commander of the 82nd Airborne, began committing troops elsewhere and accompanied one force to take the bridge at Chef-du-Pont.

The Company Commander of Able Company, John "Red Dog" Dolan categorically denies this view stating that Company A took the bridge. This was in response to a questionnaire sent by famed author Cornelius Ryan. Dolan presents a detailed response which was forwarded on to the author as an accurate account by Gavin. Dolan states:

The most glaring inaccuracy is about the bridge being lost. For the record, this bridge was held by Company "A" from the time of its capture on "D" Day, until we were relieved..[8]

Col. Roy Lindquist, commander of the 508th PIR, was left in charge at Manoir de la Fière and led an assault at noon that eradicated the German defense, effecting a link up with an isolated group on the west bank. Through miscommunication and poor assumptions, the lodgment was not consolidated and was overrun by a German counterattack an hour later. A U.S. counterattack by Company B 508th PIR crossed the bridge but was broken up and the survivors forced to swim the river to safety.

Lindquist brought the entire 1st Battalion 505th PIR into the line to defend against further counterattacks. Supported by intense artillery and mortar fire, the 1057th Grenadier Regiment and the 100th Panzer Replacement Battalion (100.Panzer Ersatz und Ausbildungs Abteilung, a training unit with captured French tanks, including 19 R-35, 8 Hotchkiss H38, 1 CharB1 bis and 1 Somua as well as 3 obsolete German Pzkpfw III tanks.) overran the 1st Battalion command post late in the afternoon of June 6 before being stopped by bazookas and a 57 mm anti-tank gun, destroying several tanks on the La Fière causeway. Gen. Gavin returned from Chef-du-Pont and withdrew all but a platoon to beef up the defense at Manoir de la Fière.

None of the 82nd's objectives of clearing areas west of the Merderet and destroying bridges over the Douve were achieved on D-Day. However one makeshift battalion of the 508th PIR seized a small hill near the Merderet and disrupted German counterattacks on Chef-du-Pont for three days, effectively accomplishing its mission. Two company-sized pockets of the 507th held out behind the German center of resistance at Amfreville until relieved by the seizure of the causeway on June 9.

General Gavin's experiences in the invasion of Normandy were detailed by Cornelius Ryan in his book The Longest Day. He is also mentioned in Jeff Shaara's The Steel Wave.

Operation Market Garden

Gavin receiving the DSO from British Field Marshal Montgomery in Mönchengladbach. 21 March 1945

For the first time General Gavin would lead the 82nd Airborne into combat. On Sunday, 17 September, Operation Market Garden took off. Market Garden, devised by the British General Bernard Montgomery consisted of an Airborne attack of three Airborne Divisions. The British 1st Airborne's (General Urquhart) mission was to seize and hold the bridge across the Lower Rhine in Arnhem. The 82nd was to take the bridge across the Maas river in Grave, seize at least one of four bridges across the Maas-Waal canal and the bridge across the Waal river in Nijmegen. Also the 82nd was to take control of the high grounds in the vicinity of Groesbeek, a small Dutch town near the German border. The 101st Airborne was to seize several bridges across canals and rivers south of Grave. Next to the Airborne divisions, the British XXX Corps was to advance along the "Corridor" to their objective - Arnhem.

The 82nd Airborne consisted of the 504th, the 505th, and 508th Regiments. On September the 23rd, the 325th Glider Regiment would land to reinforce the 82nd.

In the drop into Holland, Gavin landed on hard pavement instead of grass, injuring his back. He had it checked out by a doctor a few days later who told him that his back was fine, so he continued normally throughout the entirety of the war. Five years later, he had his back examined at Walter Reed Hospital, where he learned that he had actually fractured two discs in that jump.[9]

The battle of the 82nd Airborne culminated on September the 20th, with the famous Waal crossing of the 3rd Battalion of the 504th Regiment, under the command of Major Julian Cook. The 504th took the bridge across the Waal river, but it was too late, the 2nd Battalion of the Parachute Regiment, 1st Airborne Division, was defeated and couldn't hold on any longer to their north side of the Arnhem bridge. The Guards Armoured Division, which attacked the south side of the Waal river bridge would not[citation needed] advance towards Arnhem until the following afternoon. Lt. Col. Reuben Tucker, CO of the 504th Regiment, was furious.

The 82nd would stay in Holland until November 13, when it was transferred to their new billets in Sisonne et Suippes, France.


Gavin also played a central role in integrating the U.S. military, beginning with his incorporation of the all-black 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion into the 82nd Airborne Division. The 555th's commander, Colonel Bradley Biggs, referred to Gavin as perhaps the most "color-blind" Army officer in the entire service. Biggs' unit distinguished itself as "smokejumpers" in 1945, combating forest fires and disarming Japanese balloon bombs.

After the war, Gavin went on to high postwar command. He was a key player in stimulating the discussions which led to the Pentomic Division. As Army Chief of Research and Development and public author, he called for the use of mechanized troops transported by air to become a modern form of cavalry.[10][11] He proposed deploying troops and light armored fighting vehicles by glider (or specially designed air dropped pod), aircraft, or helicopter to perform reconnaissanse, raids, and screening operations. This led to the Howze Board, which had a great influence on the Army's use of helicopters—first seen during the Vietnam War.[12]

While he was the US Army's Chief of Research & Development, he established a requirement for an armored, tracked, air-droppable Universal Carrier. This requirement crystallized in 1956 as the AAM/PVF(Airborne Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle). FMC (founded as Food Machinery Corporation, and which later established itself as a major manufacturer of ground combat vehicles) delivered two similar competitors: the T113, featuring an aluminum alloy hull, and the T117, with a steel hull. The T113 won the competition, and - with some minor modifications - was fielded in 1960 as the M113. With more than 80,000 vehicles produced, it is the most numerous tracked APC of all times. Also, it is the longest-serving APC in history.

Gavin retired in March 1958 as a Lieutenant General. He wrote a book, "War and Peace in the Space Age", published in mid-1958, which, among other things, detailed his reasons for leaving the army at that time.

Upon retiring from the U.S. Army, Gavin was recruited by an industrial research and consulting firm, Arthur D. Little, Inc. He began as vice president in 1958, was elected President of the company in 1960 and eventually served as both President and chairman of the board until his retirement from ADL in 1977. During his tenure at ADL, he developed a $10 million domestic company into a $70 million international company. Gavin remained as a consultant with ADL after his retirement. He served on the boards of several Boston organizations, Museum of Fine Arts Boston, the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Northeastern University, and some business boards as well.

In 1961 President Kennedy asked Gavin to take a leave of absence from ADL and answer his country's call once again, to serve as US Ambassador to France. Kennedy hoped Gavin would be able to improve deteriorating diplomatic relations with France, due to his experiences with the French during World War II, and his wartime relationship with France's president, General Charles De Gaulle. This proved to be a successful strategy and Gavin served as the U.S. Ambassador to France in 1961 and 1962.

President Jimmy Carter, in 1977, considered the 70-year-old Gavin for CIA Director, before settling on Adm. Stansfield Turner. [1]

He married Jean Emert Duncan of Knoxville, Tennessee, in July 1948 and remained married to her for 42 years, until his death in 1990. He adopted Jean's daughter, Caroline Ann, by her first marriage. He and Jean had three daughters, Patricia Catherine, Marjorie Aileen and Chloe Jean. Gavin died on February 23, 1990, and is buried to the immediate East of the Old Chapel at the United States Military Academy Post Cemetery at West Point, NY. He was survived by his widow, Jean, his five daughters, ten grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.


General Gavin is the author of five books:

  • Airborne Warfare (1947) is a recap of the development and future of aircraft delivered forces.
  • War and Peace in the Space Age (1958) details why he left the army, the perilously inadequate state of U.S. military, scientific and technological development at that time, the reasons for it, and precise goals the U.S. needed to achieve for her national defense.
  • Crisis Now (with Arthur Hadley) (1968) offered specific solutions to end the Vietnam War, and as important, observations on America's domestic crises and creative, innovative solutions for them.
  • On to Berlin: Battles of an Airborne Commander 1943–1946 (1976), is an account of his experiences commanding the 82nd Airborne Division. He also co-authored
  • France and the Civil War in America (1962) with André Maurois.


Each year on June 6, members of the Gavin family and representatives from various local chapters of the 82nd Airborne Division Association gather at his graveside for a wreath laying ceremony to honor Lt Gen. Gavin.[2]

The street that leads to the Waal Bridge in Nijmegen is now called General James Gavin Street.[13] Near to the location of his para drop during Operation Market-Garden in Groesbeek a residential area is named in his honour.[14]

A street in Thorpe Astley, a suburb of Leicester, England, was named Gavin Close in his honour. Thorpe Astley forms part of Braunstone Town in which General Gavin was stationed at Braunstone Hall, prior to the D-Day landings.[15]

Additionally, there is a small memorial in Mount Carmel, PA, where he grew up, commemorating Lt Gen. Gavin's service. There are also two memorials in Osterville, Massachusetts, where he and his family spent summers for many years

In 1975, American Electric Power completed the 2600-megawatt General James M. Gavin Power Plant on the Ohio River, near the town of Cheshire, Ohio. The plant boasts dual stacks of 830 feet and dual cooling towers of 430 feet. It is the largest coal-fired power facility in Ohio, and one of the largest in the nation.

General Gavin is vividly portrayed in The Steel Wave the second part of a trilogy historical novel of the 2nd World War by Jeff Shaara.

In 1986, the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment created the "Gavin Squad Competition". This competition was designed to identify the most proficient rifle squad in the regiment. The original competition was won by a squad from 1st Platoon, Bravo Company, 3/505th PIR. General Gavin was on hand to award the nine man squad their trophy. The competition is still held every year if the wartime deployment schedule allows it.

The members of the original 1986 "Gavin Squad" were: David Holt (Squad leader), Douglas O. Pallister (Team leader), Jim Masloski (Team leader), Dean Roka, Slade Matthews, Melvin Stewart, Michael Miller, Kenneth Duran II and John L. Waller.


  • Colliers journalist Martha Gellhorn and Gavin crossed paths in Paris after its liberation and the two had an affair.
  • General Gavin is said to have had an affair with Marlene Dietrich.
  • General Gavin was portrayed by Robert Ryan in The Longest Day, and by Ryan O'Neal in A Bridge Too Far. General Gavin served as an advisor to both films.
  • The General Gavin Power Plant is named after him.

Recommended reading

  • Atkinson, Rick. The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943–1944. New York: Henry Holt, 2007.
  • Booth, T. Michael, and Duncan Spencer. Paratrooper: The Life of Gen. James M. Gavin. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1994.
  • Fauntleroy, Barbara Gavin. The General and His Daughter: The Wartime Letters of General James M. Gavin to His Daughter Barbara. New York: Fordham University Press, 2007.
  • Gavin, James M. The James M. Gavin Papers. U. S. Army Military History Institute, Carlisle Barracks, PA.
  • Hein, David. "Counterpoint to Combat: The Education of Airborne Commander James M. Gavin." ARMY 63, no. 7 (July 2013): 49–52.
  • LoFaro, Guy. The Sword of St. Michael: The 82nd Airborne Division in World War II. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo, 2011.


  1. Fauntleroy, Barbara Gavin (2007). The General and His Daughter: The Wartime Letters of General James M. Gavin to His Daughter Barbara. Retrieved 2008-05-10. 
  2. Gavin, War And Peace In The Space Age, 1958, p. 22-27
  3. Gavin, War And Peace In The Space Age, 1958, p. 28-29
  4. Gavin, James. Airborne Warfare, 1947, p37.
  5. Warren, Airborne Operations, 54.
  6. Warren, Airborne Operations, 55.
  7. Wolfe, Green Light!, 119.
  8. The Bridge at la Fière
  9. Ambrose pg. 121
  10. Gavin, James. Airborne Warfare (1947)
  11. Gavin, James. "Cavalry and I Don't Mean Horses." Harper's In about 1953 Lt General Gavin served as Commander of the US 7th Army based in Germany. <Sgt A Corrao; Served as driver for Gen Gavin in 29th Car Co Kelly Barracks Germany VII Corps HQ.8/54-9/55> (April 1954): 54-60.
  12. Krepinevich, Andrew. The Army and Vietnam, 1986. pp.118–127; Marhnken, Thomas. Technology and the American Way of War since 1945, 2008. pp.100–103.
  13. Nijmegen memorials
  14. Google maps
  15. Braunstone Town Council


External links

Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Amory Houghton
U.S. Ambassador to France
Succeeded by
Charles E. Bohlen

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