The 513th PIR
arrived in England under the command of Colonel
James W Coutts who was formerly the assistant
commandant of the Fort Benning Parachute School.
The regiment was then shuttled to Camp Chisledon,
the 17th Airborne Division staging area, on
August 28, 1944. Flight and tactical training
continued and night maneuvers were added to the
training schedule. When Operation Market Garden
was initiated, the 17th Airborne was still in
training and was held in strategic reserve.
Although meant to
conduct Airborne operations, the 513th found
itself receiving their baptism of fire is an
unexpected way. On 16 December 9144 the Germans
launched the Ardennes offensive. Elements of the
17th Airborne, including the 513th were flown
into France to stem the German advance.
From 23 to 25
December, elements of the Division were flown to
the Reims area in France in spectacular night
flights then hastily trucked into Belgium.
Meanwhile, Patton's Third U.S. Army had finally
broken the siege at Bastogne with a marathon
thrust from the south. Upon arriving the 513th
PIR and the other elements of the 17th Airborne
Division were attached to Patton's Third U.S.
Army and ordered to immediately close in at
Mourmelon. After taking over the defense of the
Meuse River sector from Givet to Verdun on 25
December, the 17th moved to Neufchateau,
Belgium, then marched through the snow to Morhet,
relieving the 28th Infantry Division on 3
January 1945 and establishing a Division Command
In the ensuing days, the 513th PIR would gain
their baptism of fire that would have tested the
mettle of the most experienced airborne units.
In early February
1945, the tide of battle was such as to enable
an accurate estimate as to when and where the
2nd British Army would be ready to force a
crossing of the Rhine River. It was determined
that the crossing would be in conjunction with
an airborne operation by XVIII Airborne Corps.
The sector selected for the assault was in the
vicinity of Wesel, just north of the Ruhr, on 24
March 1945. Operation Varsity would be the last
full scale airborne drop of World War II and the
assignment went to the British 6th Airborne
Division and the 17th Airborne Division. The 1st Canadian
Parachute Battalion was also part of the
This would be the
last full scale airborne operation of the war
and the first combat jump for the 513th PIR. As
General Eisenhower watched the operation from a
church tower on the west side of the Rhine the
513th had the misfortune of flying over a
concentration of German antiaircraft weapons.
Two-thirds of the C-46's were either damaged or
in flames. The pilots remained with the
aircrafts until the troopers jumped. However,
the 513th landed in the wrong area in the midst
of the heavily fortified town of Hamminkeln.
Irregardless, the 513th began conducting frontal
assaults on the heavily entrenched German
positions as British gliders started to land
practically on top of them.
By mid-afternoon on 24
March 1945 the 513th had secured all of its
objectives including the capture of 1,100 German
Private Raymond Szwak was killed in action
during airborne operations near Wesel Germany on
March 24, 1945. The exact circumstances of
his death are unknown.He was survived by his
parents, a brother, Stephen, and a sister,
Pfc Raymond Szwak is
buried at Margraten American Military Cemetery,
Plot D Row 19 Grave 4.