82nd Airborne Division Blog

General Maxwell D. Taylor saves the 82nd from annihilation

World War II: The Allies first victory against Hitler’s Fortress Europe came in July 1943 with the invasion and capture of Sicily. It was not a total success as most of the Axis soldiers on the island escaped to mainland Italy. However, the British and American armies were now in striking distance of the Italian mainland and fighter aircraft could assist in the effort from Sicilian airbases.

The 82nd Airborne Division proved a valuable asset and General Mark Clark’s V Army wanted them in the initial fighting in Italy, but was unsure where and how to use them to best advantage. Several ideas were floated and then scrapped, finally leading to Operation Giant II.

Italian dictator Benito Mussolini had recently been overthrown and the new government was in secret talks with the Allies regarding Italy’s surrender and immediate switching of sides in the war. Giant II would take advantage of this by dropping the 82nd Airborne Division on and around the airfields of Rome. Italian soldiers would attack and prevent German anti-aircraft guns from firing on the troop transports and help take and hold the capital city.

General Maxwell Taylor, executive officer (second in command) of the 82nd, volunteered to be smuggled into Italy, meet with the Italian high command and get a feel for their resolve and ability to follow through on their commitments.

The paratroopers and glidermen scrambled to absorb the new plan and were soon ready to go. The 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment was slated to be the first part of the division to drop on Rome. A battalion was already inside C-47′s waiting for takeoff when General Taylor got word through to Allied command.

Taylor believed the Italian soldiers would probably not be able to control the anti-aircraft batteries over which the 82nd would fly and would be of little help in and around Rome. Giant II was canceled.

Lt. Col. Mark Alexander, the commander of the 2nd Battalion 505, hadn’t liked the mission from the moment he learned of it. “Iā€™d often thought afterward if we had gone in there, they would have wiped us out. We would have been cut to pieces before Allied reinforcements could get to us. I breathed a sigh of relief when they canceled that jump. It would have been a suicide operation.ā€

This was proved out when it was learned that the Germans had multiple divisions within twenty miles of Rome, several of which were armored. The light weapons of the paratroopers would not have matched up well. Severely outgunned and out-manned, it would have been a bloodbath.

After the war it became known that General Matthew B. Ridgway, commander of the 82nd, also hated the plan and believed it to be suicidal.

Fortunately, Taylor accomplished his secret mission and saved the 82nd in the process. He would later be given command of the 101st Airborne Division, successfully leading it for the rest of the war.

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