I&R Platoon Website 

Intell and Recon


Contact Us


What is an I&R Platoon?

I&R Platoons in Action

Division Histories

Events Page


Unit Roster


A Brief Outline of 45th Infantry Division

WW II History

Origin of the Division:

      The 45th was activated as a National Guard Division in 1924 in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Oklahoma. The Division adopted the Thunderbird shoulder patch in 1939 after the rise of the Nazi Party in Germany which used the swastika, a symbol that bore a resemblance to the original divisional patch. The Thunderbirds were “federalized” on 16 September, 1940 after President Roosevelt declared a “limited national emergency.”

Component Units:

  • 157th Infantry Regiment
  • 179th Infantry Regiment
  • 180th Infantry Regiment
  • 158th Field Artillery Battalion
  • 160th Field Artillery Battalion
  • 171st Field Artillery Battalion
  • 189th Field Artillery Battalion
  • 120th Engineer Combat Battalion
  • 45th Reconnaissance Troop

Stateside Training:

      The Division home is Fort Sill, Oklahoma, where initial Divisional training took place. The 45th took part in the Louisiana maneuvers in 1941 as part of the 3rd Army. In preparation for taking part in the North African Campaign, the 45th moved to Fort Devens, Massachusetts. Plans changed and the Division then trained at Pine Camp, New York where they experienced cold and snowy conditions. Later the 45th moved to Virginia and underwent mountain training. By the time the Thunderbirds departed the US for the invasion of Sicily, they were one of the most highly trained divisions in the entire US Army.

Shipping Overseas:

     The Division departed the States on 8 June, and arrived on 22 June, 1943 in North Africa, where it trained further for the Sicily invasion at Arzew, French Morocco.


Sicily – Operation Husky, 9 July-17 August, 1943:

     On the morning of 10 July, 1943, the 45th, commanded by Major General Troy H. Middleton landed as part of Patton’s Seventh Army on the easternmost beaches of the American landings. Pushing north, the 45th took part in the rush to Palermo before turning east toward Messina. Fighting along the coast with the 1st Infantry Division on their right flank, the 45th took Santo Stefano. After taking Motta Hill on 26 July and the fierce 4 days of fighting at “Bloody Ridge”, Patton, on 30 July, pulled the Division out of the line in preparation for the invasion of the Italian mainland.

                                           Trouble with Mules

     In Italy and Sicily the mountains were often too steep and paths too narrow for vehicles to carry supplies and ammo to the frontline troops. GIs became expert Mule Wranglers and teamsters as this was the only way to get supplies up and to bring down wounded soldiers from the rugged mountains. Sometimes the going was too difficult even for the mules and the soldiers had to carry the mules' loads themselves. This photo illustrates the legendary stubbornness of these animals, perhaps matched only by the stubbornness of GIs like this one.

Italy (Salerno) – Operation Avalanche, 9 September, 1943 – 21 January, 1944:

     Now part of the Mark Clark’s Fifth Army, the 45th was in reserve for the landings at Salerno, with the first elements of the 179th Regiment going ashore the morning of 10 September. The Division’s arrival was just in time to stop the German attempt to split the beachhead and destroy the landing forces through a gap in the lines along the Sele River. Moving inland, the 45th crossed the Calore River on 27 September, the Volturno River on 3 November and took Venafro, all against increasingly stiff resistance. As the allies pushed towards Cassino, progress slowed due to determined German defenses and difficult weather and terrain. The Division was pulled off the line on 15 January for rest and recuperation and to begin training for Operation Shingle.

                   Advancing toward Venafro

                                               Soldiers of the Division move up one of the narrow mountain paths toward Venafro, Italy.

Anzio – Operation Shingle, 22 January- 24 May, 1944:

     The 45th began landing at Anzio on 22 January, 1944, with the 179th Regiment seeing the Division’s first action of the campaign at Aprilia, also known as “the factory” on 27 January. By mid-February, the 45th was positioned astride the “Via Anziate,” the road leading to Rome. On 16 February, six German divisions struck at the 45th Division positions in an attempt to drive to the sea and destroy the beachhead. The attacks lasted for four days and nights causing horrendous casualties on both sides. The Thunderbirds were driven back but did not break and the German attack failed to achieve its objective. At the end of the month, the Germans tried to attack through the 3rd Division but failed there as well. Three more months would pass before enough men and materiel would be ashore to break out of the beachhead and move further inland. Following the successful attack on the Gustav line in mid-May, the Anzio breakout began on 23 May, 1944. On 25 May, the 5th Army advancing north from Cassino, joined the Anzio forces and turned towards Rome. After the fall of Rome, the 45th was preparing to invade southern France as part of Operation Dragoon.

                     The Division Marches Toward Rome

                                                             The Division heads for Rome after breaking out of the Anzio Beach head.

Southern France – Operation Dragoon, 15 August-14 September, 1944:

     Initially to be undertaken simultaneously to Operation Overlord in Normandy, Dragoon was postponed until mid-August due to shortages in landing craft needed to carry out both landings. The 45th landed against light resistance and began the rapid advance inland, spearheading the drive for the Belfort Gap. After coming ashore near Ste. Maxime, just southwest of Cannes, the division headed west towards Marseille before turning north at Peyrolles. The German defenders were unable to effectively stage a cohesive defense against the rapid advance of the Seventh Army and by September 1st, the 45th had taken Meximieux. In 15 days the Division had moved approximately 250 miles from the landing beaches. By September 15th, the Thunderbirds advanced only 75 more miles, indicating that the German defense was strengthening as the Seventh Army approached the Vosges Mountains.

                      First Regimental CP in Germany

                                                                              This is the first CP of the 180th Regiment in Germany.

Rhineland, 15 September, 1944-21 March, 1945:

     French troops relieved the 45th on 18 September and the Division moved north to the Vesoul area. The Division took the strongly defended city of Epinal on 24 September, crossed the Moselle River and entered the western foothills of the Vosges Mountains, taking Rambervillers on 30 September. By now, progress was measured in yards rather than miles. The Thunderbirds were fighting in forests, hills and small towns and encountering increasingly stiff resistance.  The Division crossed the Mortagne River on 23 October and continued east toward the Meurthe River. The Thunderbirds were pulled off the line on 9 November for a short rest period, returning to the Saverne area on 23 November. On the 25th, the Division attacked the forts Kaiser Wilhelm built to protect the Alsace Regions north of Mutzig, crossed the Zintzel River and advanced through the Maginot Line. On 15 December, the Thunderbirds crossed the border into Germany, making them the first US troops of the Seventh Army to enter the enemy homeland. In the following days the 45th attacked the bunkers and trenches of the Siegfried Line under the close support of Division artillery, tanks and tank destroyers. The German Winter Offensive, which began on 16 December in the Ardennes Forest and is more commonly known as the Battle of the Bulge, was drawing US divisions north to counter this attack. The 45th was forced to withdraw from their advance positions and spread out to cover more territory. This repositioning of US Divisions lead to Seventh Army going on the defensive until the Bulge could be reduced. From 2 January, to 16 February, 1945, the Division was in defensive positions along the Moder River. The 45th again pulled back for a rest period before smashing through the Siegfried Line on 17 March.  
                      M-10 Passes through the Siegried Line

                                       An M 10 tank destroyer drives through a section of Dragon's Teeth that make up a part of the Siegfried Line.

                       Soldiers disembark after crossing the Rhine in small boats

                                                                      Soldiers of the Division disembark after crossing the Rhine in small boats.

Central Europe, 22 March-11 May, 1945:

     On 26 March, 1945, the 45th crossed the Rhine between Worms and Hamm and reached Aschaffenburg on the night of 28 March after crossing the Main River. Fierce German resistance in this town kept the 157th Regiment occupied for eleven days before the city finally fell into their hands. The Division entered Nurnberg on 20 April, crossed the Danube River on 27 April, and on 29 April, the 45th liberated 32,000 prisoners of Dachau concentration camp. The Division captured Munich on 30 April, 1945 where it remained as the occupation force through May.

                       Victory Parade in Munich

                                                                      The Color Guard is ready for the victory parade in Munich, Germany.

Return Home:

     The Division arrived in New York in June, 1945 before continuing on to Camp Bowie, Texas. The 45th Infantry Division was deactivated on 7 December, 1945, reverting to a National Guard Division, but serving only Oklahoma.

                                 The 45th Division onboard ship for the trip home

                                                              Happy Soldiers of the 45th Infantry Division aboard the ship home from Europe.

Post War:

     The Division was re-federalized in 1950 and in March, 1951 shipped overseas and to Korea where it served until 1953, accumulating 429 days in combat. It went back to National Guard status until January, 1969 when it was restructured into an infantry brigade, an artillery group, and a support command, with state headquarters providing general administrative and logistical support. These units all retain the Thunderbird patch except the state headquarters group which uses the Indian Head patch.

WW II Division Statistics:

The 45th served 511 days in combat and suffered over 20,000 casualties; killed, wounded and missing.

The Division was awarded 7 Distinguished Unit Citations.

For their service in WW II, members of the Division were awarded:

  • 8 Medals of Honor
  • 61 Distinguished Service Crosses
  • 3 Distinguished Service Medals
  • 1,848 Silver Stars
  • 38 Legions of Merit
  • 59 Soldier’s medals
  • 5,744 Bronze stars 

Note: Information for this outline was compiled from the sources listed below. More detailed information can be found from these sources and from links found at these websites. The information in this outline is, to the best of my knowledge, accurate. Any errors founds in this outline are my own.

Whitlock, Flint. The Rock of Anzio. From Sicily to Dachau: A History of the U.S. 45th Infantry Division. Westview Press, 1998.

45th Infantry Division, The. The Fighting Forty-Fifth. The Combat Report of an Infantry Division. Army & Navy Publishing Company, 1946

157th Infantry Regiment, The. Eager for Duty. Army & Navt Publishing Company, 1946

180th Infantry Regiment, The. 180th Infantry. A regiment of the 45th Infantry Division.  F. Bruckman KG., Munich, Germany, 1945

Mauldin , Bill. The Brass Ring. New York, N.Y.  Berkley Publishing Co., 1971.

45th Infantry Division Museum: http://www.45thdivisionmuseum.com/index.html

“45th Infantry Division, World War II Reenactors and Venturing Crew” website: http://www.45thdivision.org/home.htm

45th Infantry Division (United States) from Wikipedia the free encyclopedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/45th_Infantry_Division_(United_States)

Back to Top