History of the 551st Parachute Infantry Battalion

The 551st Parachute Infantry Battalion was activated at Fort Benning, Georgia in 1942. The potential paratroopers went through Jump School at the end of 1942. Elements of the 1st Battalion of the 551st Parachute Infantry Regiment were activated November 26, 1942 at Fort Kobbe, Panama Canal Zone.

The battalion was sent to Fort Kobbe, Panama Canal Zone in expectation of an assault on the Island of Martinique. The proposed mission of the battalion was to capture the island of Martinique, which was being held by the Vichy French. It was feared that Martinique might assist the Nazi's and their U-Boats during the War of the Atlantic. The invasion was scheduled for May 13, 1943, but the mission was called off when the French surrendered. It was in Panama that the Battalion's motto was born, "GOYA". Some would have it thought that it meant "Great Young Americans". While they were, that's not what it meant. GOYA stands for "Get Off your Ass". On August 20, 1943 the battalion left Panama bound at first, some believed, for combat duty in the Pacific. However, their destination proved to be Camp Mackall, South Carolina where they remained until March of 1944.

The battalion left Camp Mackall and arrived in Italy in April 1944 for two months of training at an Airborne training center located at Camp Kurtz. On August 15, 1944, Operation Dragoon began. At 1800, the 551st jumped into combat. Their jump, which was codenamed Operation Canary, was the first daylight combat jump in United States history. Many believe that the airborne component (Garden) of Operation Market-Garden was the first daylight jump, but the GOYA's jump was the first. August 15th marked the beginning of a long stretch for the GOYA's. They were to see continous combat until November 17th, 1944. This marked another milestone for the 551st. This period marked the longest stretch of combat by any US Airborne unit in the European Theatre of Operations (ETO).

On August 29, the battalion liberated the city of Nice. The battalion was then assigned to protect the right flank of the US 7th Army in the Maritime Alps. On November 18, the battalion was relieved and December of 1944 found them in Loan, France, where they would see little of their much needed rest.

On December 21, 1944 the Battalion arrived in Ster, Belgium with a strength of more than 800 officers and enlisted men. The battalion was first attached to the 30th Infantry Division, and reinforced the 30th ID's positions around Ster. They were subsequently attached to the 82nd Airborne Division and tasked with supporting the 508th PIR. They took heavy losses advancing through the Ardennes and then on January 7, 1944, the battalion was ordered to take the small town of Rochelinval, Belgium. Col. Joerg protested, saying that his men were tired and frostbitten, but his protests fell on deaf ears. No one knows who Col. Joerg talked to but whoever it was, their refusal to reconsider the order, sealed the fate of the 551st. The fighting was fierce and by the time the town had been taken, the 551st PIB had lost over 70 percent of it's complement.


Only known US Army picture of the 551st PIB, taken while moving up during the Battle of the Bulge.
Only known US Army picture of the 551st PIB, taken while moving up during the Battle of the Bulge.

On January 27th, 1945, General James Gavin informed the men that the battalion was being inactivated and all remaining troopers would be transferred to the 82nd Airborne Division. The GOYA's were officially no more, but the troopers would remember and carry on the proud legacy of the 551st Parachute Infantry Battalion, no matter where they were assigned.


551st troopers patrol the Maritime Alps on skis.
551st troopers patrol the Maritime Alps on skis. Unknown as to which Company they belonged to.

Time line

  • November 26, 1942: Activated at Fort Kobbe, Canal Zone.
  • May 13, 1943 Alerted for possible parachue drop on the Island of Martinique
  • August 20, 1943 Leave for the United States
  • September 8, 1943 At Camp Mackall
  • October 1943 The 551st Commanding Officer, LTC Wood Joerg is replaced by LTC Graves.
  • February 16, 1944 The 551st loses 8 men that drown during a night jump in North Carolina.
  • March of 1944 The GOYA's get their Colonel back as LTC Graves is replaced by LTCJoerg.
  • April 23, 1944 The GOYA's leave for Italy. One month later they arrive.
  • June 1944 They train in Trapani, Sicily.
  • August 15, 1944 The 551st, as part of the 1st Airborne Task Force, jumps into Southern France as part of Operation Dragoon.
  • August 17, 1944 The 551st capture the city of Draguignan and Generalmajor Ludwig Bieringer
  • August 29, 1944 Liberated Nice
  • September 4 to November 18, 1944: Campaign in Maritime Alps
  • December 8, 1944 The 551st moves to Laon, France
  • December 16, 1944 The Germans launches an offensive in the Ardennes which comes to be known as the Battle of the Bulge.
  • December 19, 1944 The 551st leaves for the Bulge and arrive in Werbomont on the 21st.
  • ted in Juslenville, Belgium 27 January 1945
  • 1945: Remainder of battalion absorbed into various units of the 82nd Airborne.

Campaigns

  • Italy
  • Southern France
  • Maritime Alps
  • Belgium


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