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Waal Crossing

James M. Gavin

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

Gavin was the youngest Major General commanding a division during World War Two. During combat, he was known for his habit of carrying an M1 Garand rifle, as opposed to the pistols traditionally carried by officers.

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

Amongst 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), 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. His adoptive father was a hard-working miner, but the family still had trouble making ends meet, and Gavin was forced to start working at age 12 so he could help to support the family.

Because of the difficult conditions at home and the limited future opportunities in his hometown, and the certainty that his adoptive parents wanted him to become a coal miner, Gavin decided 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.

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 in to the US Army, and was stationed in Panama. His basic training was performed on the job in his unit, the US Coastal 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 Town, Belize. 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 promotion to 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 looking for new innovations and possibilities.

Marshall and Stillwell taught their students not to rely on lengthy written orders, but to rather 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 stayed to live with her parents in Washington D.C. 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 he was 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 1 1/2 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 eyepatch 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 Parachute troopers. 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.

Constructing an Airborne army

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 two Glider Infantry Regiments and the 504th and 505th Parachute Infantry Regiments — 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 Regiment was removed at the last minute and replaced by Gavin's 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment.

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 Ridgway explained what their next mission would be: Operation Husky, the invasion of Sicily. Gavin's regiment would be the first ever 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 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 cancelled 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 on D-Day-1 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 the H-hour on D-Day 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 Airborne Field Artillery Regiment, B Company of the 307th Airborne Engineer battalion, a signals 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.

D-Day

Operation Market Garden

For the first time General Gavin would lead the 82nd Airborne into combat. On Sunday, 17th 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.

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 advance towards Arnhem until daylight next morning. Lt. Col. Reuben Tucker, CO of the 504th Regiment, was furious.

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

Post-war

Gavin also played a central role in integrating the U.S. military, beginning with his incorporation of the all-black 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion {Badge right} 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 author, he called for a "cavalry" in lightweight armored vehicles and helicopters, which led to the Howze Board, which had a great influence on the Army's use of helicopters — first seen during the Vietnam War.

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.

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.

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 by her first marriage, Caroline. He and Jean had three daughters together: Patricia, Marjorie Aileen and Chloe. Gavin died on February 23, 1990 and is buried at the Old Chapel at West Point, NY. He was survived by his widow, Jean; his five daughters: Barbara Fauntleroy, Caroline McNeill, Patricia Cincotta, M. Aileen Lewis and Chloe Beatty; his ten grandchildren: Barbara Fauntleroy Fuller, Steve Fauntleroy, Jim Fauntleroy, Anna Lewis, Chloe Lewis, Eve Lewis, Thomas Beatty, James Beatty, John Beatty, and Matthew Beatty; and three great-grandchildren: Bill Fuller, Justin Fauntleroy and Thomas Fauntleroy.

On film

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.

Books

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 our military, scientific and technological development at that time, the reasons for it, and precise goals we needed to achieve for our national defense. Crisis Now (with Arthur Hadley) (1968) offered specific solutions to end the Vietnam War, and as important, observations on our domestic crises at home 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 with Andre Maurios.

Memorials

Each year on June 6, members of the Gavin family, the West Point community, local Gavin family chapters, and soldiers from the 3rd Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division from Fort Bragg gather to honor Lt Gen. Gavin at the Gavin Memorial Ceremony.

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.

Units

See also

Notes

References

External links

Trivia

  • Colliers journalist Martha Gellhorn and Gavin crossed paths in Paris after its liberation.

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