approximately 2105 hours on 7 November 1942, the first of 39 C-47s took to the
air carrying 2nd Battalion, 509th Parachute Infantry into the history books by
being the first U.S. Army Airborne Battalion to jump into combat. Before the
first paratrooper exited the door, the Battalion would fly more than 1600 miles
from England to North Africa, completing the longest airborne invasion ever
of two Algerian airfields, La Senia and Tafaroui, during OPERATION TORCH, the
Allied invasion of North Africa, was a critical supporting role for the beach
landings. Significantly, both airfields were beyond the operational reach of
the initial beach forces. The capture of the two airfields was critical to the
Center Task Force's invasion plan that was aimed at the port town of Oran. If
the airfields were left un-checked, enemy aircraft would have had the freedom
to attrit the exposed invasion forces.
Allied Force Headquarters had two plans for the invasion due to their lack of
knowledge on the extent of the French resistance in North Africa. The War Plan
would be enacted if the French decided to fight and the Peace Plan would be
initiated if the French accepted the Allies as comrades in arms. LTC Edson D.
Raff, the 509th Battalion Commander, also proposed two plans based on the
French resistance. If the Peace Plan was in effect, he would air land his
Battalion at the airfield at La Senia. If the War Plan was in effect, he would
conduct a mass tactical parachute jump between La Senia and Tafaraoui airfields
followed by a simultaneous seizure of each. One company was assigned the
mission to attack La Senia and the remainder of the Battalion would attack
prior to the Battalion's departure, LTC Raff spoke to the Battalion in mass for
the last time. Unsure if they would be greeted with cheers or bullets, he told
his Battalion, "We're going to have a difficult job because some people
down there will want to fight us and some won't. If they welcome us, and some
authorities say they will, we won't fire a round. If they don't, you have your
England airfield, on 7 November 1942 at 1700 hours, LTC Raff received the
message that the Peace Plan was in effect. As in all combat situations, the
plan changed dramatically while in flight to Algeria. After flying in darkness
through stormy weather over Spain, with a strong easterly wind, the formation
of aircraft became scattered during the eight hour flight. As the sun creased
the horizon over North Africa, the 39 C-47s arrived dispersed, miss-orientated
and critically low on fuel. Several planes tried to land at the La Senia
airfield as planned, but small arms and ack-ack fire prevented them from
landing. At this point, it became obvious that the War Plan was now in effect.
As a result of a lack of fuel, several C-47s were forced to land in Sebkra
Doran, a dry lake bed. Once on the ground, the planes and paratroopers received
small arms fire from the high ground to their north.
along with five other C-47s, flew over and observed the consolidation of
multiple C-47s parked on the desert floor and paratroopers digging hasty
fighting positions among the planes. LTC Raff received a radio message from COL
Bentley, the overall Task Force Commander, stating that forces on the ground
were under attack by a force of an undetermined size and that an armored force
was moving toward their position. Based on low fuel in his C-47, drastic changes
on the battlefield causing activation of the War Plan and the approaching
armored force, LTC Raff made the decision to jump in order to assist his
exposed paratroopers on the desert floor.
informed his pilots to locate a drop zone along the high ground overlooking the
armored advance and where the unit was receiving ground fire. He directed his
pilots to radio the remaining five C-47s in order to notify the Jumpmasters to
prepare their paratroopers to follow his lead as he exited the aircraft.
approximately 0815 hours on 8 November 1942, LTC Raff, yelled over his
shoulder, "Stand in the Door!" to his fellow paratroopers. The
jumpers in the rear of the plane moved up until all were lock step behind their
commander. As the bell rang, he led the 509th Parachute Infantry into history
and validated the new tactical maneuver that we still use today, the vertical
envelopment. The 509th would complete their mission and move to the Tafaraoui
airfield where they linked up with armored forces moving in from the beach. The
509th would make an additional four combat jumps during World War II, which was
more combat jumps than any unit in the Army. Their adaptability and tenacity
lives on today in all airborne units throughout the United States Army.
PUBLISHERS PROOF SIGNED AND NUMBERED, WITH CERTIFICATE OF AUTHENTICITY.