By Michael E. Haskew Only two years after the U.S. Army officially sanctioned the formation of an airborne arm, American paratroopers were committed to a vast offensive against Axis forces on the coast of French North Africa. Operation Torch, a highly complex endeavor scheduled for November 8, 1942, involved Allied forces landing at Casablanca, Algiers, and Oran. Plans for airborne troops to participate in operations against Casablanca and Algiers were briefly considered and then dropped. The Algerian port of Oran, however, had two nearby Vichy French airfields, Tafaraoui and La Senia. Just 230 miles east of the British bastion at Gibraltar, they included the only runways in western Algeria that were adequate for sustained operations, and Tafaraoui was the only one with a hard surface. Vichy fighter planes were within range of the Center Task Force, one of three poised to hit the North African beaches, which included 18,500 troops of the U.S. 1st Infantry and 1st Armored Divisions under Major General Lloyd Fredendall. Tafaraoui was 15 miles south of Oran, and La Senia just five miles distant. To secure these airfields, remove the Vichy threat, and facilitate the introduction of reinforcements and supplies, it was decided that risking an airborne operation was worthwhile. The 509th Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR) was placed under Fredendall, and its 2nd Battalion was slated to make the first American combat jump in history. The 509th had been authorized on March 14, 194


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