Review: Bailout over North Africa

Publisher’s Summary: Anyone interested in WWII Airborne Operations will want to read this book. The fact that William Yarborough wrote it should sell it alone. He was one of the founding fathers of the U.S. Airborne and Special Forces and he was there from the very beginning. Not many people know about the 509th Parachute Infantry, they were the first U.S. Paratroopers to go into battle in 1942 almost two years before D-Day. What these paratroopers did, was unheard of at the time and the operation could have very easily failed as the odds were stacked heavily against them. 

Review: This book is mainly about Major William P. Yarborough’s experiences during WWII and the atriking airborne invasion of North Africa during Operation Torch, subsequent battles, and lessons learned. Fantastic airborne history here that should be required reading for all junior officers and NCOs in the Airborne Infantry and other Combat Arms units.

Major Yarborough’s unit was the 509th Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR). The 509th’s combat jump into North Africa was a stacked deck for these paratroopers. A long flight (over 1500 miles) from England to North Africa, paratroopers unfamiliar with jumping into combat conditions (bullets flying at you), pilots unfamiliar with carrying paratroopers and rigging for a drop, pilots unfamiliar with the route, waypoints, advanced navigation techniques; the entire combined force was unsure if the French forces in the target areas and North Africa would be fighting by their side or firing bullets at them, and of course enemy flak gunners during the last few miles approaching the coastline and target area. 

Historian’s Note: The 2nd Battalion of the 509th PIR carried out the first American combat jump during the invasion of North Africa. This is an undisputed fact but not fully understood across the US and International paratrooper forces. This first operation was not a total success, with 7 of its 39 C-47s aircraft widely scattered across the target area. Only 10 aircraft dropped their troops, while the others air landed. Another 28 troop carriers air landed later, nearly out of fuel, at the Sebkha d’Oran, a dry lake near their target. The 509th regroup and overcame this adversity by marching overland to occupy its objective.

Hours later, on 15 November the 509th conducted a parachute assault with 355 paratroopers for an airfield takedown at the Youks-les-Bains Airfield. At the time this was a game-changing methodology (Airborne Planning and Operations) to get an assault force behind enemy lines, raising hell and seizing key objectives well ahead of its main force.

The 509th would continue its missions in theater until the allies had expelled the Germans and Italian Armies from the AFrican continent. The 509th would go on to establish a helluva reputation that rivaled the 82nd Airborne Division, the 101st Airborne Division, and the Ranger Battalions during their WWII service. The regiment made a total of five combat jumps during the war.

As a reviewer and historian, I don’t understand why this book has not garnered more attention over the years. It is well written, has a great storyline, and has potential threads and themes for other research, articles, books, etc., only limited by your ambition and imagination.

After researching Major Yarborough you will find that he was also the man that designed the American jump wings, was a game-changer when he took command of the US Army Special Warfare Center (modern-day SOCOM) who was directly responsible for getting JFK’s approval for his SF soldiers to wear the Green Beret. He served in numerous leaership positions/combat commands during WWII, Korea, as well as Chief of Staff level positions alter on his career.

His historical/personal records were collected after his death and are now stored at Boston University. The collection consists of over 50 boxes of papers, orders, designs, memorabilia, and general paratroop command type of detailed documents and materials. IMPO, if I could dedicate a year of solid research I’m sure I could develop and refine a comprehensive book series of 5 or 6 books that would comprise his Memoirs/Biography. The book series has the potential to present a worthy rival to Winston Churchill’s 6 volume WWII set!

In my Airborne veteran organization life, I am lucky enough to know and correspond with Yarborough’s Grandson, Micheal Yarborough. Another fine officer from the Yarborough family, whom I am sure is asked to meet the highest standards in all his interest and works in honor of his family name. A very high bar indeed!

In closing, this book was an outstanding homage to the heritage, lineage, and badassery that was the 509th Airborne Infantry forces during WWII. As they say, They were the Greatest Generation!

Author: William Pelham Yarborough. This book is available on Amazon here.

  • Print length 180 pages
  • Language: English
  • Publisher: Phillips Pubns
  • Publication date: June 1, 1980

Reviewer: Christopher (Moon) Mullins

Rating: 5 Stars in all categories. One of the best books about the early combat paratrooper forces, the 509th!