504th Parachute Infantry Regiment
Sicily, July 1943
The History behind the uniform
The 504th parachute Infantry Regiment is a very storied Parachute Infantry unit during the Second World War. Each Regiment at times was a very iconic and individual looking rag tag group of battle hardened men. The 2nd Battalion was no exception to this. The 2nd Battalion was comprised of (D)og, (E)asy and (F)ox rifle companies during the war, which was the standard Parachute “triangular” formation of 3 instead of the regular 4 line companies per Battalion. The 2nd Battalion for the jump into Sicily was commanded by William P. Yarborough.
Bill Yarborough had an illustrious career in the US Army, he designed the Parachutist Badge, the iconic Parachutist Suit (sometimes erroneously called the “M1942” Paratrooper suit) as well as later on the Vietnam era slant pocket hot weather uniform ( which looks very similar). He is also one of the forerunners of the US Army 1st Special Forces Regiment “Green Berets”. William Yarborough was a field grade officer during WWII and prior to taking command of the 2nd Battalion 504th PIR, he was an Executive Officer of the 2nd Battalion, 503rd PIR (Later redesignated the 509th Parachute Inf Battalion mid flight, during their first parachute assault in North Africa, 1942).
During the first major parachute assault for the US Army (Divisional sized) the plan called for the 505th Regimental Combat Team to parachute in with the 3rd Battalion – 504th PIR on the first night of the invasion. The second lift would be the following day with the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 504th PIR. However once the C-47’s flew over the US Navy, they were mistaken for enemy bomber aircraft and subsequently fired upon. There were many casualties and it was a major tragedy and talking point for Allied planners. To remedy this potential friendly fire from happening again, it was decided to paint the aircraft with black and white stripes during the Normandy invasion (which proved to good effect).
From an eyewitness account – James Frederick Parr USN, USS Davison
“I was on the bridge when the admiral in charge of the invasion fleet called on the radio to tell us that the paratroopers were coming in on a different vector than we expected and not to fire on them. The Admiral said, ‘They are friendly. Repeat. They are friendly.'” “Then, some kid in a radio room in the bowels of one of the ships replies, ‘Friendly hell! They just dropped a stick [slang for a bomb?] on me’. And then the whole world just opened up on ’em. It was raining bodies and body parts. Shrapnel from a 5-inch shell would literally rip open a C-47 like a tin can, spilling the paratroopers out over the ocean.”
When stationed with the 509th PIB in England, they used a hand painted camouflage scheme on their uniforms which was similar to the early hand painted Denison Smocks worn by British Paratroopers. It is no wonder that when Yarborough took command of the 2nd Battalion, 504th PIR , that he took that knowledge of improvising field made items and camouflage with him. It is also worth noting that just the 1st and 2nd Battalions appears to have painted their helmets and uniforms en masse, no doubt because of the direction of Yarborough’s prior parachute jump combat experience.
Sometimes spotted is 82nd Airborne Shoulder Sleeve Insignia without the “Airborne” tab denoting its’ status a Parachute/ Glider outfit. During the preperation to move overseas, the Division was ordered to cover up the 82nd Patch
“We had covered our 82nd Airborne Division Insignias and all other things that showed in any way that we were paratroopers.(1)
Original Photographs of 2/504 PIR during the Sicily & Italian campaigns.
(1) More Than Courage: Sicily, Naples-Foggia, Anzio, Rhineland, Ardennes-Alsace
By Phil Nordyke