From 1943 to 1945, the 82nd U.S. Airborne Division was deployed in all of the important operations in western Europe. It took part in military operations in Italy, France, the Netherlands and Belgium as well as on the territory of the German Reich. After the war it was stationed in Berlin as part of the occupying forces.
The first wartime deployment of the 82nd U.S. Airborne Division occurred in the summer of 1943, when the Allies landed on Sicily. On 6 June 1944, 12,000 paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne participated in Operation Overlord, the Allied offensive in Normandy. Together with the 101st U.S. Airborne Division they were charged with setting up a bridgehead in the region of Sainte-Mère-Église on the western flank of the Allied assault and securing the segment of coast at Utah Beach. Despite being lightly armed and suffering numerous casualties, the U.S. troops managed to hold the line.
Three months later the paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne were deployed as part of Operation Market Garden in the Netherlands under the command of General James M. Gavin. They were dropped near the village of Groesbeek in order to capture the bridge over the Waal. Although they succeeded after fierce fighting with German troops, Operation Market Garden failed and the 82nd Airborne retreated to near Reims.
In December 1944 the German armed forces began the Ardennes offensive. Despite poor equipment and insufficient reinforcements, the 82nd Airborne Division advanced across Belgium towards Germany. On 7 February 1945 it captured the town of Schmidt in the Hürtgen Forest together with the 78th U.S. Division.
On 2 May 1945 the 82nd Airborne Division met Soviet units near Ludwigslust on the Elbe, 200 km northwest of Berlin. That same day, Gavin accepted the partial surrender of the German Army Group Vistula under General von Tippelskirch. The discovery of Wöbbelin concentration camp by American paratroopers also took place on 2 May.
After the war, the unit was transferred to the American Sector in Berlin, where it remained stationed until returning to the USA on 3 January 1946.
To secure the strategic bridges captured earlier by airborne forces, the Allied ground troops of Operation Market Garden, created a narrow front along a two-lane road heading north. This made their advance vulnerable to counterattacks on both flanks. Soon they came under constant, murderous fire. Therefore this route became known as ‘Hell’s Highway’.
The impressive American Military Cemetery of Colleville-sur-Mer contains the remains of 9.387 American soldiers who fell during the Battle of Normandy. The cemetery reflects and honors the sacrifices that the USA made for the liberation of Europe. From this point one can overlook Omaha Beach, the deadliest landing beach of Operation Overlord.
Shortly after midnight on 6 June 1944, D-Day began with the landing of American and British airborne troops on French soil. Two U.S. Airborne Divisions were tasked to establish a bridgehead in the sector of Sainte-Mère-Église, to back up the landing of the U.S. infantry on Utah Beach.
The 101st Airborne Museum in Bastogne is housed in the prestigious building of the former officers’ mess of the Belgian Army, built in 1936. The museum retraces the course of the Battle of the Bulge, fought between December 1944 and January 1945. A collection of items from the battle, reconstructed scenes and mannequins are displayed.
The city of Nijmegen played an important role in Operation Market Garden. With two bridges across the Waal river it was vital for the Allied advance towards Arnhem and Germany later on. On 20 September 1944 U.S. troops managed to capture both bridges and liberate the city.
Operation Market Garden managed to liberate a large part of the Netherlands, but failed in its main objective: outmaneuvering the Germans with a surprise crossing of the Rhine. The Nijmegen-Groesbeek area, conquered during Market Garden, remained in Allied hands and served as a springboard for the successful Rhineland Offensive in February 1945.
One of the main objectives of Operation Market Garden was to capture the two bridges across the Waal river in Nijmegen. This task proved to be difficult. In a desperate effort to maintain the momentum, U.S. paratroopers crossed the Waal in canvas boats. Attacking from both sides, they managed to capture the bridges intact.
Operation Market Garden was one of the largest Allied operations of the Second World War. It aimed to secure the bridges over the rivers Maas (Meuse), Waal and Rhine in the Netherlands in order to outflank the heavy German defences of the Siegfried Line and to insure a swift advance towards Berlin.