Gavin attended the Infantry School at Fort Benning, Georgia, served in the Philippines, and then was an instructor at West Point. He transferred to duty with parachute troops and, promoted to colonel in July 1942, rose to command the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, which eventually became part of the 82nd Airborne Division. In 1943, Gavin's 505th jumped into Sicily, where Gavin personally led a portion of his regiment during a fight on Biazza Ridge and stopped elements of the Hermann Göring Panzer Division from breaking through to the invasion beaches. After Sicily, Gavin led the 505th in another combat jump into Salerno on 14 September 1943. Promoted to brigadier general in October, he was appointed assistant division commander.
Gavin left Italy for Britain in November 1943. There he headed the airborne planning effort for Operation overlord, the invasion of France. He then rejoined the 82nd Airborne Division and made his third combat jump—into Normandy on 6 June 1944 as commander of Task Force A.
In August 1944, Gavin assumed command of the 82nd and led it on its fourth combat jump in September into Nijmegen, Holland, during Operation market-garden. He continued in command of the division for the remainder of the war, fighting through the Battle of the Bulge (Ardennes) and the subsequent drive into Germany. Gavin was only an observer in Operation varsity, the March 1945 airborne assault by the British 6th Airborne Division and U.S. 17th Airborne Division to secure British Field Marshal Sir Bernard Montgomery's bridgehead across the Rhine. However, by the end of the war, Gavin had made more combat jumps than any other general in history. At the end of the war, Gavin accepted the surrender of an entire German army.
Gavin continued to command the 82nd Airborne Division until March 1948. He was then, in succession, chief of staff of Fifth Army; chief of staff, Allied Forces South; commander of VII Corps; and deputy chief of staff of the U.S. Army. Promoted to lieutenant general in March 1955, Gavin was in line for promotion to general when he retired in 1958 because of differences with the defense policies of the Dwight D. Eisenhower administration—specifically what he regarded as its overreliance on nuclear forces. Gavin returned to public life during the John F. Kennedy administration, serving as ambassador to France in 1960 and 1961. He died at Baltimore, Maryland, on 23 February 1990.
Guy A. Lofaro
Blair, Clay. Ridgway's Paratroopers: The American Airborne in World War II. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1985.; Booth, T. Michael, and Duncan Spencer. Paratrooper: The Life of Gen. James M. Gavin. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1994.; Gavin, James M. Airborne Warfare. Washington, DC: Infantry Journal Press, 1947.; Gavin, James M. On to Berlin: Battles of an Airborne Commander. New York: Viking, 1978.