Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Gingerbread Men in Ireland

American paratroopers prepare to load onto their planes, "somewhere in
England" or in Northern Ireland?  Dated 7 Oct 42.
One of the frustrations for those with an affinity for the 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion and researching their service during WWII is the scarcity of official documentation. Since the unit had no immediate higher headquarters and was disbanded in the midst of combat, not many records made their way into the National Archives or other repositories. A great deal of the history of this unit has to be pieced together by a combination of veteran narratives and some work by a few "history detectives."

One of these dedicated individuals is Clive Moore from Belfast, Northern Ireland. Clive contacted me recently about some WWII photographs he has come across that depict American paratroopers loading onto planes. On the photos are written the usual Signal Corps description of "somewhere in England" and a date of 7 Oct 42. But several of the photos also have a label stuck on them that says "US Paratroopers in Northern Ireland."

Officers conferring over a map, L-R, RAF Air Vice Marshall J. Cole Hamilton,
U.S. Lieutenant Colonel "Roff" (who I believe is Edson Raff), and
RAF Group Captain S. Gray. Lough Neagh is visible on the map they are
holding. This photo is also dated 7 Oct 42.
Because of terrain features visible in some of the photos (particularly Lough Neagh, visible on a map in one of the photos), Clive is convinced that these pictures were taken at an airfield at St. Angelo, in County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland. In another photo, two RAF officers flank an American identified as a Lieutenant Colonel "Roff." I've included the photo in this post. If you have seen the pictures in "The Boldest Plan is the Best," you'll probably agree with me that "Roff" is a typo, and this is a picture of Edson Raff. Clive has identified the RAF officers as Air Vice Marshall J. Cole Hamilton, who was Air Officer Commanding (AOC) for Northern Ireland until November 1942, and a Group Captain S. Gray.

We know from veterans narratives that the Geronimos took part in an exercise in Ireland in September. Clive has also informed me that a training exercise, code named PUNCH, was held in Northern Ireland from September 21 to 29, 1942. The exercise involved the U.S. 1st Armored and 34th Infantry Divisions, along with the British 59th and 61st Infantry Divisions and the British 72nd Infantry Brigade. Signal Corps photos were often dated several days after they were taken as often the people developing them were not the ones who took them. These photos dated 7 Oct 42 could very well have been taken the last week of September. Although we don't have documentation, I think it's a safe bet that the 509th PIB is the airborne contingent that participated in this exercise.