551st Parachute Infantry Battalion
The 551st Parachute Infantry Battalion was activated on November 1, 1942 in Panama. It replaced the 501st Parachute Battalion which had been absorbed in the 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment.
Ever since France fell to the Germans there was a concern that the French island of Martinique might assist German U-boats in the Atlantic. Plans were drawn up for the 551st to make a surprise attack on the island and seize it. However, the French commander surrendered and the plan was cancelled. In August, 1943 the 551st was deployed to Camp Mackall, North Carolina where it remained until, March, 1944. The battalion sailed for Italy and engaged in intensive pre-combat manoeuvres at an airborne training centre in Sicily. Operation Dragoon, the invasion of Southern France, was the battalion's first combat assignment as part of the 1st Airborne Task Force along with the 517th Regimental Combat Team, the 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion and the 550th Infantry Airborne Battalion.
In Operation Dragoon, the 551st was in continual action from the August 15, 1944 until November 17 1944. Like the 550th, the 551st also fought in the Maritime Alps as mountain troops. During this time the 551st along with the 509th and the 550th fought a successful holding action against the Austrian 5th Hochgebirgesjager Division protecting the right flank of the U.S. 7th Army. The battalion was relieved by the U.S. 100th Infantry on November 17, 1944. They would barely have enough time to restock their supplies before being thrust into the middle of the largest battle of World War II.
The 551st Parachute Infantry Battalion entered the Battle of the Bulge on December 21, 1944 and was initially assigned to the 30th Infantry Division reinforcing the 30th positions in and around Francorchamps, Ster and Stavelot, Belgium. On Christmas Day the battalion was attached to the 82nd Airborne Division near Rahier, Belgium in support of the 508th PIR. On General Gavin's orders the battalion executed a reconnaissance in force to capture prisoners and determine the German units in contact. After considerable close-in combat including repulsing two German counterattacks the 551st withdrew to its original line of departure. The mission was accomplished.
From January 1st onward intense German artillery fire slowly decimated the battalion as it advanced through the Ardennes Forest in order to consolidate positions west of the Salm River. During an artillery barrage on January 7, 1945, the youthful commander, Lt Col Wood C Joerg, was also killed as the battalion took the town of Rochelinval, Belgium. He had been the battalion's Commanding Officer since its activation in Panama. By January 9th the battalion strength was less than a company as they moved to Juslenville, Belgium. Finally, in March, 1945 the XVIII Airborne Corps reorganized and the 551st Parachute Infantry Battalion was consolidated into the 82nd Airborne Division.