13th Airborne Corps

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The 127th Airborne Engineer Battalion
Unit History

n November 12, 1942 the 127th Airborne Engineer Battalion was instituted. It was activated as an element of the 11th Airborne Division on 25 February, 1943, at Camp Mackall, North Carolina, the birthplace of many airborne units. The Battalion consisted of three letter companies, A, B, and C, plus a Headquarters and Service Company

From the date of activation until June of 1945, the battalion was commanded by Lt. Col. Douglas C. Davis. The 127th was the second unit of Airborne Engineers to be activated. The first unit was the 307th Airborne Engineer Battalion, which was assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division. In the decade that followed, these units became permanent Airborne Engineer Battalions, and they were the only ones remaining in the United states Army after the Second World War. During these years, select parachutists in the Corps of Engineers were assigned and reassigned to the Airborne Engineer Battalions. There they formed a closely knit family of friends and comrades. They imprinted their forceful personalities onto these airborne engineer units. They frequently came to think of these units as home.

The initial phase of organization and unit training for the 127th Airborne Engineer 127 AEB Company B circa 1944 Battalion was conducted at Camp Mackall. It was there that the kinks were worked out of this novel type of organization. Experienced engineer officers and noncommissioned officers tackled the new problems that airborne capability imposed. Time at Camp Mackall was spent in training men to fill the ranks of the new airborne battalion.

(picture above right: Men of the 127th Airborne Engineer Battalion, Company B circa 1944. (^^ Click Picture to Enlarge ^^) )

This was a twofold job, first to produce engineer soldiers, and also to produce soldier engineers trained in the this revolutionary vertical deployment. This herculean task of organization and training was accomplished in the relatively short period of time from activation in February 1943 to January of 1944, when the entire 11th Airborne Division moved to Camp Polk, Louisiana, to undergo three months of intensive training in jungle warfare and advanced unit operations.

Through February, March, and the early part of April, 1944, training was conducted in the heart of the Louisiana swamp country, orienting officers and troopers on the intricacies of jungle warfare. Road and airfield construction training received by the battalion under these conditions, would prove to be of particular value in the campaigns soon to be fought in the dense jungles of Pacific Islands. Some of these later campaigns would be fought in jungles so thick that the Army commander himself carried a jungle knife in order to clear a path through the brush.

On 18 April, 1944, an advance party left Camp Polk, Louisiana, for the port of embarkation, where preparations were made for the arrival and processing of the main body of the 11th Airborne. On 27 April, the main body arrived and was hurried through four days of processing. They departed on the 30th of April for a twenty-six day cruise on the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean before debarking on the island of New Guinea.

Lt. Col. Douglas C. Davis now had his Airborne Engineers ready for their baptism of fire. This following deals with the most colorful portion of the history of the 127th Airborne Engineer Battalion, describing the three campaigns of New Guinea, Leyte, and Luzon. They were written in blood and later commemorated in the three green pennants on the battalion crest when it was adopted in 1952. The battalion arrived at the island of New Guinea in the Pacific Ocean, in May 1944 after twenty six days at sea. They immediately set about constructing a jump school facility and billets for the Division's personnel. These projects were so successful that the division, under General Swing, opened the jump school on June 16, 1944.

By July 25th, 290 new parachutists had been qualified. Tactical training was not neglected during this period of construction, daily training emphasized tactical jumps and demolition work. This training continued through the summer of 1944 until November, when the 11th Airborne Division was sent to Leyte. There, they were given the mission of relieving the 7th Infantry Division, which had been sorely pressed since the invasion of the island in the previous month. On arrival in Leyte, the Engineers accomplished the impossible task of opening the main supply route in two days. Roads and bridges had been impassable due to the daily torrent of rain that persisted throughout this period. Drying and storage sheds were constructed to protect the parachutes from the rain and humidity. The remaining effort was concentrated on the construction of badly needed airstrips. On the afternoon of December 6, First Lieutenant Paul J. Pergamo and his twenty-man platoon were patrolling the San Pablo airstrip. At 1830, two enemy bombers dropped incendiaries on the strip and ignited the gasoline dump. Within ten minutes, two flights of enemy parachutists had dropped on the east end of the strip from a height of 750 feet. Pergamo and his men immediately attacked the larger force of enemy troops causing confusion, disrupting them, and forcing them into small groups. That night, Pergamo had his men dug in on the high ground at the southwest corner of the strip. There his men withstood three enemy attacks during the night.

At dawn, enemy dead were found within fifteen feet of the engineers' positions. Lieutenant Pergamo was awarded the Silver Star for his courageous action. Next morning, when the enemy once more attacked, the division commander directed Lt. Col. Davis to assume the dual mission of guarding the division command post, and also clearing the enemy from the vicinity of the air strip. Col. Davis quickly formed some service troops into a perimeter defense around the command post. He then organized the line soldiers for an attack on Japanese positions around the air strip. There were two plans made for the attack. The first plan called for the engineers to attack alone. The second plan was for a coordinated attack with the engineers and the 674th Artillery Field Battalion, if it arrived in time.

The 127th Engineers consisted of five platoons assigned to two companies, A and C. Each company had two platoons. Company C had one additional platoon from Company B. As the engineers were moving into attack positions on the morning of December 7th, the 674th Field Artillery Battalion arrived. Col. Davis directed the engineers, under the command of Major Eisenberger, to take the left sector, and the artillery task force to move out on the right. When the engineer and artillery force moved forward, the engineers encountered stiff resistance on the west. Major Eisenberger ordered A Company to move out around the enemy flank. This action surprised the enemy, and forced them to withdraw. The engineers were then able to advance some three hundred yards.

On the east flank the artillery met little resistance. They had been able to advance 700 yards. At that time there was only messenger communication between the two groups. At about 9:45 some radios arrived from a Signal Company. By radio communication it was learned that units were running short of ammunition. So, at 10:15, the units were ordered to withdraw and secure the air strip. A perimeter defense was formed around the air strip. From these positions the men fought off several grenade charges throughout the night. While carrying ammunition to another position, two engineer privates, Eristas (Houston) A. Jolley and Alien W. Osborne, noticed a large enemy flag flying from a tree. The privates made several attempts to climb the tree to pull the flag down, but each attempt was interrupted by enemy fire. The men then got an axe from a nearby truck and, working in a crouched position and still under fire, chopped down the tree. This flag, so hard won, had been presented to the Japanese attacking force on December 3, 1944. It was inscribed "To Tsuno Waru Shiral (00 of Unit), Kalori Shimpei, (Unit), 'Exert the most for your Country' (Signed) Kyojito Mikiaga, Lt. General, Chief of War Department, Personnel Bureau, Attendant to the War Minister at Imperial Group Headquarters." The flag was presented to Major General Joe Swing, Commanding General of the 11th Airborne Division. Later, during a visit to the Division Command Post, Lieutenant General Robert L. Eichelberger, Eighth Army Commander, showed interest in the flag. General Swing gave the flag to Eicheiberger and he later presented it to the museum at West Point where it now hangs.

On December 8, the 127th Engineer Battalion was relieved from its defensive position by the artillery battalion so that work could resume on vital construction efforts. In his book, "The Jungle Road to Tokyo," General Eichelberger reported that over 300 enemy troops were killed in the vicinity of the air strip on December 7, 1944.

( Source: Al Hankrader )

127th Airborne Engineer Battalion - Pictures  Photos 127th AEB  
R E L A T E D   B O O K S

Ambrose, Stephen E D-DAY June 6,1944: The Climatic Battle of WW II. 6/93, Simon & Shuster ISBN: 0671673343
Archer, Clark Paratroopers Odyssey : A History of the 517th Parachute Combat Team. 266p., 1985, ISBN: 0961601507
Astor, Gerald 'Battling Buzzards': The Odyssey of the 517th Parachute Regimental Combat Team 1943-1945. 338p., 7/93, Donald I Fine Pub, ISBN: 0440236932
Badsey , Stephen & Chandler, David G (Editor)  Arnhem 1944: Operation "Market Garden" (Campaign No.24) 1993 96p. ISBN: 1855323028
Breuer, William B Geronimo! American Paratroopers in WWII. New York: St. Martin Press, 1989 621 p. ISBN: 0-312-03350-8
Brooks, Victor Hell is Upon Us: D-Day in the Pacific-Saipan to Guam, June-August 1944. Da Capo Press, (Sept 2005) 384 p. ISBN: 0306813696
Davis, Donald A Lightning Strike: The Secret Mission to Kill Admiral Yamamoto and Avenge Pearl Harbor. New York: St. Martin Press, (March, 2005) 400 p. ISBN: 0-312-30906-6
Devlin, Gerard S  Paratrooper! St Martin's Press, (P) c1976 ISBN: 0312596529
Flanagan, Lt Gen E. M. Jr. USA (Ret.) The Angels: A History of the 11th Airborne Division 1943-46 10/89, Presidio Press, 422 p. ISBN: 0891413588
Keegan, John The Second World War Penguin (P), 708 p. ISBN: 014011341X
McKenzie, John  On Time, On Target Novato, CA: Presidio, May 15,2000. 304 p. ISBN: 089 141 714 1
O'Donnell, Patrick K. Beyond Valor  Free Press, 2001, 384 p. ISBN: 0684873842
O'Donnell, Patrick K. Into the Rising Sun: In Their Own Words, World War II's Pacific Veterans Reveal the Heart of Combat  Free Press, 3/13/2002, 320 p. ISBN: 0743214803
Potoka Jr, William J Love in an Altered State: A Family Tested by Stroke  Authorhouse, 12/30/2010, 156 p. ISBN: 1452096678
Ryan, Cornelius  A Bridge Too Far 670p. ISBN: 0684803305
Wildman, John B All Americans 82nd Airborne. Meadowlands Militaria, 6/83 ISBN:091 208 1007
The Center of Military History The War in the Mediterranean: A WWII Pictorial History Brasseys, Inc., 465 p. ISBN:1574881302

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