The 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment was a special unit. In 1944, the 504th fought against the Germans in Sicily in conjunction with the 82nd Airborne Division.
The Italians and Germans quickly learned how dangerous American Paratroopers were. Soon after, the 504th took part in the Sicily invasion. Part of the 3rd Battalion landed with the Rangers by the sea in the first part of Operation Avalanche.
Two days after, the remainder of the battalion with the 325th Glider Infantry Regiment was sent to the Salerno beachhead. The last two battalions of the 504th jumped into the area following oil drums that lit the way.
The Germans were putting up a strong fight, but regimental commander Col. Tucker was holding them off. But, there was the possibility that the American troops would be taken out.
Gen. Dawley, VI Corps commander, told Tucker to retreat, but he did not want to. Instead, he wanted another battalion. So, he was sent to another battalion.
The 3rd Battalion came to the 504th’s aid, and together, they secured the beachhead. The rest of the divisions went back to England to prepare for Normandy, but the 504th stayed in Central Italy.
On Jan. 4, 1944, they were pulled in to prepare for a parachute mission, Operation Shingle. It was an Allied amphibious assault mission on the Italian coast at the port of Anzio. German forces were in the way of southern progress and needed to get behind their lines.
The 504th landed and fought alongside other units like the 3rd Infantry Division, but Germans mounted counterattacks to push the Allied forces out to the water. The Germans pummeled the paratroopers, but they kept fighting.
The 3rd Battalion was given the Presidential Unit Citation, but the paratroopers continued to fight, providing patrols in their assigned area. The paratroopers found a deceased German officer’s journal that detailed his feelings on the paratroopers.
“American paratroopers – devils in baggy pants – are less than 100 meters from my outpost line. I can’t sleep at night; they pop up from nowhere, and we never know when or how they will strike next. Seems like the black-hearted devils are everywhere…”
The nickname, Devils in Baggy Pants, stuck. The Germans would meet the Devils once again in Holland, the Bulge, and Berlin.