Military Organization > United States > U.S. Army Regimental Pathfinder Team (D-Day)

 

U.S. Army Regimental Pathfinder Team (D-Day)

By Brendan Matsuyama, Editor

The Regimental Pathfinder Team was a small platoon-sized formation in U.S. Army Parachute Infantry Regiments for the purpose of marking drop zones (DZ) and landing zones (LZ) in preparation for airborne operations. This article outlines these teams as they existed on D-Day (5-6 June 1944).

 

Each Regimental Pathfinder Team consisted of 3 Battalion Teams—one per Parachute Infantry Battalion—and was responsible for the marking of the regimental DZ. This article is most likely reflective of the 82nd Airborne Division as their organization is more rigidly laid out in their After Action Report (AAR). The 101st Airborne had similar organization, but both naturally varied in practice.

All Regimental Pathfinder Teams were grouped into divisional Pathfinder Companies (Provisional) administratively, although the teams themselves would be spread out dependent on where their battalion and regimental drop zones were. Some Regimental Pathfinder Teams were not even meant to be dropped in the same drop zone, as the 101st Airborne Division mixed units in its drop zones.

Contents:

  1. Organization

    • 3× Battalion Pathfinder Teams

  2. Order of Battle

  3. Discussion

  4. Sources

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Organization

  • Type: Airborne Pathfinder Mixed Unit

  • Origin: U.S. Army (United States)

  • Personnel: 6 Officers and 42-48 Enlisted

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3× Battalion Pathfinder Teams (2 Officers, 14-16 Enlisted)

  • 1× Team Leader*, Captain or Lieutenant

  • 1× Assistant Team Leader*, Lieutenant or Warrant Officer

  • 2× Eureka Operators, Enlisted or NCO, each equipped with a 1 Eureka Transponder each

  • 1× Wireman, Enlisted or NCO

  • 7× Lightmen, Enlisted or NCO, each equipped with 2 Halophane Lamps each

  • 4-6× Security Personnel, Enlisted or NCO
     

  • Equipment:

    • 14× Halophane Lamps

    • 2× Eureka Transponders

* One of 3 Team Leaders would have also been the Regimental Pathfinder Team Leader.

 

Order of Battle (101st Airborne Division)

*Sticks are numbered based on the regiment the teams were a part of rather than the drop zones they were targetting.

Team A (DZ A for 502nd PIR and 377th PFAB)

​→ 1/502 PIR (Stick 1/Plane #1)

  • Captain Frank I. Lillyman*

  • First Lieutenant Robert S. Dixon

  • First Lieutenant Samuel McCarter

  • Second Lieutenant Reed Pelfrey

  • 2 Technician 5th Grades3 Private First Classes11 Privates

* Commander of 101st Pathfinder Company (Provisional)

​→ 2/502 PIR (Stick 2/Plane #2)

  • Captain Henry G. Plitt

  • Second Lieutenant Napoleon T. Lavalle

  • 1 Technician 5th Grades8 Private First Classes8 Privates

→ 377 PFAB (Stick 1/Plane #3)

Team C (DZ C for 506th PIR, 501st PIR)

​→ 1/506 PIR (Stick 1/Plane #5)

  • First Lieutenant Roy H. Kessler

  • Second Lieutenant Walter Amerman

  • 1 Sergeant, 1 Corporal, 5 Private First Classes8 Privates

​→ 2/506 PIR (Stick 2/Plane #4)

  • First Lieutenant Gordon O. Rothwell

  • Second Lieutenant Rolf Michaelis

  • 1 First Sergeant, 3 Corporals, 6 Private First Classes6 Privates

​→ 3/501 PIR (Stick 3/Plane #6)

  • First Lieutenant John W. Ell

  • Second Lieutenant Charles M. Faith

  • 1 Staff Sergeant, 1 Technician 5th Grade, 2 Private First Classes12 Privates

Team D (DZ D for 501st PIR, 506th PIR)

​→ 1/501 PIR (Stick 1/Plane #8)

  • First Lieutenant John H. Crow

  • Second Lieutenant Albert E. Watson

  • 2 Sergeants, 2 Technician 5th Grades, 1 Corporal, 4 Private First Classes7 Privates

​→ 2/501 PIR (Stick 2/Plane #7)

  • Captain Frank L. Brown

  • First Lieutenant Joseph G. McGregor

  • Second Lieutenant James V. Haslam

  • 1 Sergeant, 1 Technician 5th Grade, 3 Corporals, 3 Private First Classes8 Privates

​→ 3/506 PIR (Stick 3/Plane #9)

  • Second Lieutenant John T. Windish

  • Warrant Officer Junior Grade Ernest L. Dilbrun

  • 2 Sergeants, 1 Technician 4th Grade1 Technician 5th Grade, 1 Corporal, 7 Private First Classes4 Privates

Team E (LZ E* for 81st AAA Bn, 326th Abn Eng Bn, 326th Med Co)

​→ 502 PIR (Stick 3/Plane #19)

  • First Lieutenant Donald S. Driver

  • Second Lieutenant James W. Tolar

  • 3 Technician 5th Grades4 Private First Classes9 Privates

→ 377 PFAB (Stick 2/Plane #20)

* Landing Zone "E" was a glider landing zone adjacent to Drop Zone "C"

 

Order of Battle (82nd Airborne Division)

505th PIR Pathfinders

​→ 1/505 PIR (Stick 1/Plane #12)

  • First Lieutenant Michael C. Chester

  • 1 Staff Sergeant, 1 Technician 5th Grade, 1 Corporal, 5 Private First Classes, 8 Privates

​→ 2/505 PIR (Stick 2/Plane #10)

  • First Lieutenant J. J. Smith

  • Second Lieutenant Robert B. Bales

  • 5 Private First Classes, 2 Privates

​→ 3/505 PIR (Stick 3/Plane #11)

507th PIR Pathfinders

​→ 1/507 PIR (Stick 1/Plane #15)

  • First Lieutenant George R. O’Brien

  • 1 Technician 4th Grade, 2 Technician 5th Grades, 13 Private First Classes, 2 Privates

​→ 2/507 PIR (Stick 2/Plane #14)

  • First Lieutenant Ralph S. McGill

  • Second Lieutenant Charles R. Ames

  • 2 Sergeants, 1 Technician 4th Grade, 3 Corporals, 4 Private First Classes, 8 Privates

​→ 3/507 PIR (Stick 3/Plane #13)

  • First Lieutenant John T. Joseph

  • First Lieutenant Claude V. Crooks Jr

  • First Lieutenant James H. Goethe 

  • 1 Sergeant, 1 Technician 4th Grade, 1 Technician 5th Grade, 2 Corporals, 4 Private First Classes, 7 Privates

508th PIR Pathfinders

​→ 1/508 PIR (Stick 1/Plane #16)

  • Captain Niels McRoberts*

  • Second Lieutenant Robert J. Weaver

  • 1 Corporal, 4 Private First Classes, 4 Privates

* Commander of 82nd Pathfinder Company (Provisional)

​→ 2/508 PIR (Stick 2/Plane #17)

  • Second Lieutenant T. Murphy

  • Second Lieutenant Lloyd L. Polette

  • 1 Sergeant, 1 Corporal, 6 Private First Classes, 8 Privates

​→ 3/508 PIR (Stick 3/Plane #18)

  • Second Lieutenant Edward T. Czepinski 

  • Second Lieutenant Gene H. Williams

  • 1 Sergeant, 1 Technician 5th Grade, 4 Private First Classes, 10 Privates

 
 

Discussion

The Regimental Pathfinder Team consisted of 3 sticks or Battalion Pathfinder Teams each (one per battalion) with one stick per aircraft. However, the pathfinders of the 377th Parachute Field Artillery Battalion were split between two drop zones/landing zones and only had two teams. These men were carried into battle by the C-47 Dakota transport aircraft of the 1st Pathfinder Group under the IX Troop Carrier Command as opposed to the rest of the airborne who were carried by Troop Carrier Groups. These aircraft were grouped into serials of 3 C-47s each, although a Regimental Pathfinder Team's aircraft were not necessarily grouped into the same serial. Rather, serials were grouped by drop zone. In the case of the 101st Airborne Division, there were mixed drop zones between the 506th/501st PIR and the 502nd PIR/377th PFAB. Meanwhile, the 82nd Airborne's regiments all were aimed at the same regimental drop zones.

The battalion teams would be intended to land 30 minutes before the main force and mark their battalion drop zones which were part of a larger regimental drop zones. To do so, the lightmen—each of which dropped with 2 holophane lamps—would lay down a T-shaped pattern with their lights pointing towards the drop zone. The 1st Battalions' lights would be red, the 2nd Battalions' amber and the 3rd Battalions' blue. Additionally, Eureka transponders were jumped with in leg bags on the Eureka operators. At the top of the T would be one or two Eureka transponders that would broadcast a signal for C-47s equipped with Rebecca receivers to home in on. Ts would typically be set up 700 yards apart. For glider landing zones, the lights would be set up in a line parallel with the flight path with Eureka transponders at the base of the line.

The battalions involved would ideally rally on the Regimental Team Leader upon landing. The battalion team he led was considered to be the base team. Wiremen laid telephone wire that connected the separate battalion pathfinder teams to the Regimental Team Leader. This allowed him to control the navigational aids when set up.

The pathfinder teams were provisional units made up of volunteers from different parts of the regiments' battalions. They were not permanent formations and thus are not in battalion tables of organization. In practice each team had a different strength, but a basic organization was given in the 82nd Airborne Division's AAR for D-Day. Each Battalion Pathfinder Team included 1 Team Leader (officer), 1 Assistant Team Leader (officer), 1 Wireman, 2 Eureka Operators, 7 Lightmen and 4-6 Security Personnel. The Team Leader was generally a grade of Lieutenant, although sometimes a Captain. One of the battalion team leaders was also the regimental team leader. The Assistant Team Leader could be delegated to for certain duties, such as ensuring the functioning of the Eureka transponders while the Team Leader coordinated the team. In most cases the assistant would have been a junior Lieutenant, although in one case they were a Warrant Officer. The divisional pathfinder company commanders jumped with their teams as well.

 

There were no specific ranks for each billet as all personnel were volunteers, although each battalion team typically had enough non-commissioned officers or technicians for its Eureka operators. It is assumed that the technicians would be Eureka transponder operators as the job of setting up light tees or providing security were not as technically strenuous. The majority of team members were privates or private first classes. There were also no allotments of weapons. It is assumed the pathfinders retained their personal weapons, although photographic evidence suggest a higher allotment of submachine guns than the standard parachute rifle squad (but not universally) and no M1919A4s.

 

Of particular note was in the 507th and 508th PIR teams, where 4 men per battalion team were actually attachments from the 504th PIR. The 504th was sitting D-Day out because it took heavy casualties in Italy. This makes sense as the 507th and 508th PIRs were sister regiments and new additions to the 82nd Airborne Division, lacking the experience of the other divisional regiments who had already gone through 2 airborne landings and additional amphibious landings in Sicily and Italy.

The pathfinders had varying success. Many teams were able to set up their beacons and some or all of the lights within 1 mile of their drop zones, with the 505th PIR pathfinders themselves landing only 400 yards from theirs, while others were unsuccessful. The inconsistency was compounded by the fact that the Troop Carrier Group crews were fairly green, with 20 percent of crews having shipped out for England in preparation for D-Day within 2 months of the day itself. Additionally, there was a shortage of navigators, with generally only lead planes having their own navigators. Thus, if a lead plane went down, individual planes would not have a dedicated navigator to help guide them to their drop zones. Contrast this with the British who were able to furnish one navigator per aircraft.

 

"The secret of all victory lies in the organization of the non-obvious."

      - Marcus Aurelius

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