Today in Military History: On Sept. 5, 1943, the US Army’s 503rd Parachute Regiment makes an unopposed landing near Nadzab, New Guinea, as part of Operation Alamo, becoming first American airborne unit to see action in the Pacific. Known as “The Rock,” the unit was also the first US airborne unit to see action in North Africa.
The 503rd prepared for action since arriving in Port Moresby in July 1943, took the key town of Lae that was evacuated by Japanese forces, fighting read elements of the retreating troops.
According to the US Army’s official unit history, “This successful employment of airborne forces in the Markham Valley has been credited with saving the concept of vertical envelopment from being abandoned following several less than successful engagements in Europe.”
The unit was reinforced by additional US and Australian troops on Sept. 8 and after two weeks of fighting, beat Japanese forces. The 503rd returned to Port Moresby before heading to Australia.
It is the first operation for the 503rd since it was formally established on Feb. 14, 1942. The unit was one of the Army’s original parachute infantry regiments, born of the US Army Airborne Test Platoon at Fort Benning, Ga., which in 1940 successfully demonstrate airborne operations.
The 2nd Battalion of the 503rd conducted the first US combat jump in North Africa on No.v 8, 1942. The unit boarded 39 C-47 Skytrain transports aircraft at Lands End in England and jumped near Lourmel, Algeria, to engage Vichy French forces.
The 503rd served with distinction throughout World War II, earning a Presidential Unit Citation. It briefly inactivated after the war, and reactivated during the Korean War. Elements of the unit served in Vietnam, earning two more Presidential Unit Citations, as well as in Iraq and Afghanistan.
It now exists as the 2nd Battalion of the 503rd Infantry Regiment as part of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team headquartered in Vicenza, Italy.