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Paratroopers are soldiers trained in parachuting and generally operate as part of an airborne force. They are used for tactical advantage as they can be inserted into the battlefield from the air, thereby allowing them to be positioned in areas not accessible by land. It is one of the three types of "forced entry" strategic techniques for entering a theater of war; the other two are by land and sea. This ability to enter the battle from different locations allows paratroopers to evade fortifications that are in place to prevent attack from a specific direction, and the possible use of paratroopers forces an army to spread their defences to protect other areas which would otherwise be safe by virtue of the geography. Another common use for paratroopers is to establish an airhead for landing other units.
This doctrine was first practically applied to warfare by the Italians and the Soviets. During World War II, however, the two countries' ground forces were often overstretched, leaving their elite paratroopers to be employed as regular infantry. The Germans then were the first to use paratroopers (Fallschirmjäger) extensively in World War II, and then later by the western Allies. Owing to the limited capacity of cargo aircraft of the period (for example the Ju-52) they rarely, if ever, jumped in groups much larger than 20 from one aircraft. In English language parlance, this load of paratroopers is called a "stick", while any load of soldiers gathered for air movement is known as a "chalk". The terms come from the common use of white chalk on the sides of aircraft and vehicles to mark and update numbers of personnel and equipment being emplaned.
In World War II paratroopers most often used parachutes of a round design. These parachutes could be steered to a small degree by pulling on the risers (four straps connecting the paratrooper's harness to the connectors) and suspension lines which attach to the parachute canopy itself. German paratroopers, whose harnesses had only a single riser attached at the back, could not manipulate their parachutes in such a manner. Today, paratroopers still use round parachutes, or round parachutes modified as to be more fully controlled with toggles. The parachutes are usually deployed by a static line. Mobility of the parachutes is often deliberately limited to prevent scattering of the troops when a large number parachute together. Some military exhibition units and special forces units use "ram-air" parachutes, which offer a high degree of maneuverability and are deployed manually (without a static line) from the desired altitude.
Many countries have one or several paratrooper units, usually associated to the national Army or Air Force, but in some cases to the Navy.Main article: List of paratrooper forces History Main article: Airborne forces Argentina
Argentina was the first country on the continent of South America to use Paratroopers at a time when only four other nations, the Soviet Union, Germany, United Kingdom and the United States in that order had such airborne forces. The first paratroopers were issued jump helmets similar to that used by the British at the time, as the rest of the equipment slightly based on the Fallschirmjäger. The 4th Parachute Brigade (4 Brigada Paracaidista) is a unit of the Argentine Army specialised in airbone assault operations. It is based in Córdoba, Córdoba Province. The Rapid Deployment Force (FDR) is based on this unit. The members of the unit wear Boina Rojas of the paratroopers with unit badges. As of 2009 it consists of:
During the Ecuadorian–Peruvian War, the Peruvian army had also established its own paratrooper unit and used it to great effect by seizing the Ecuadorian port city of Puerto Bolívar, on July 27, 1941, marking the first time in the Americas that airborne troops were use in combat.Empire of Japan Main article: Teishin Shudan
Teishin Shudan (挺進集団, Raiding Group?) was a Japanese special forces/airborne unit during World War II. The unit was a division-level force, and was part of the Imperial Japanese Army Air Force (IJAAF).
It was commanded by a major general, and was organized as follows:
Constant "Marin" Duclos was the first French soldier to execute a parachute jump on November 17, 1915. He performed 23 test and exhibition parachute drops without problems to publicise the system and overcome the prejudice aviators had for such life-saving equipment.
In 1935, Captain Geille of the French Air Force created the Avignon-Pujaut Paratroopers Schools after he trained in Moscow at the Soviet Airborne Academy. From this, the French military created two combat units called Groupes d’Infanterie de l’Air.
Following the Battle of France, General Charles de Gaulle formed the 1ère Compagnie d’Infanterie de l’Air in September 1940 from members of the Free French forces who had escaped to Britain. It was transformed into the Compagnie de Chasseurs Parachutistes in October 1941. By June 1942, these units were fighting in Crete and Cyrenaica alongside the British 1st SAS Regiment. As part of the SAS Brigade, two independent French SAS units were also created in addition to the other French Airborne units. They operated until 1945.Members of the 1st Foreign Parachute Heavy Mortar Company in Indochina.
In May 1943, the 1er Régiment de Chasseurs Parachutistes was created from the 601e Groupe d'Infanterie de l'Air in Morocco and the 3ème and 4ème Bataillons d'Infanterie de l'Air (BIA) in England in the Special Air Service. The 2ème and 3ème Régiment de Chasseurs Parachutistes followed in July 1944.
During the Invasion of Normandy, French Airborne forces fought in Britanny, (Operation Dingson, Operation Samwest). The first Allied soldier to land in France was Free French SAS Captain Pierre Marienne who jumped into Britanny (Plumelec, Morbihan) on June 5 with 17 Free French paratroopers. The first Allied soldier killed in the liberation of France was Free French SAS Corporal Emile Bouétard of the 4th Bataillon d’Infanterie de l’Air, also in Britanny in Plumelec : June 6, 0 h 40. Captain Pierre Marienne was killed on July 12 in Plumelec. French SAS paratroopers also fought in the Loire Valley on September 1944, in Belgium on January, and in Netherlands on April 1945. The 1er Regiment Parachutiste de Choc carried out operations in Provence.VBL (armoured light vehicle) of the 1st Parachute Hussar Regiment in Afghanistan.
After World War II, the post-war French military of the Fourth Republic created several new airborne units. Among them were the Bataillon de Parachutistes Coloniaux (BPC) based in Vannes-Meucon, the Metropolitan Paratroopers, and the Colonial Paratroopers and Bataillons Etrangers de Parachutistes (French Foreign Legion), which coexisted until 1954. During the First Indochina War, a Bataillon Parachutiste Viet Nam was created (BPVN) in southeast Asia. In total, 150 different airborne operations took place in Indochina between 1945 and 1954. These included five major combat missions against the Viet Minh strongholds and areas of concentration.
When the French left Vietnam in 1954, all airborne battalions were upgraded to regiments over the next two years. Only the French Air Force's Commandos de l'Air(Air Force) were excluded. In 1956, the 2eme Regiment de Parachutiste Coloniaux took part in the Suez Crisis.
Next, the French Army regrouped all its Army Airborne regiments into two parachute divisions in 1956. The 10th parachute division (10e Division Parachutiste, 10e DP) came under the command of General Jacques Massu and General Henri Sauvagnac took over the 25th Parachute Division (25e Division Parachutiste, 25e DP). Again the Commandos de l'Air were kept under command of the Air Force.
By the late 1950s, in Algeria, the FLN had launched its War of Independence. French paratroopers were used as counter insurgency units by the French Army. This was the first time in airborne operations troops used helicopters for Air Assault and Fire Support.
But in the aftermath of the Algiers putsch, the 10e and 25e Parachute divisions were disbanded and their regiments merged into the Light Intervention Division (Division Légère d'Intervention). This division became the 11th Parachute Division (11e Division Parachutiste, 11e DP) in 1971.
In the 21st century, French Airborne units have merged with Alpine troops and special forces units to create the Commandements des Operations Speciales (equivalent of US SOCOM).Italy Main article: ParacadutistiParatroopers of the Italian Army1944 paracadutisti motorcycle
The Folgore Parachute Brigade is the largest unit of paratroopers of the Italian Army. A second smaller unit is the 4th Alpini Regiment Monte Cervino.
The Folgore operates as Light Infantry with airborne drop and air transport capability, equipped with modest mechanization that is framed in the Forces of Projection to the dependencies of 1° Commando FOD.
The first troops trained were two Libyan battalions of the Royal Colonial Corps. These were added to the first battalion of Italian troops and the Carabinieri Parachute Battalion.
Later in Italy, the staff at Castelbenito was expanded into the School at Tarquinia and became the first elements of the future Division Folgore.
In 1941, a Parachutist division was completed and was designated the 185th Parachute Division Folgore. It was trained for the assault on Malta in Operation Hercules. During course of the war in Africa, it was engaged in ground combat operations in North Africa.
The heroic behavior of the division Folgore was proven when, during the Second battle of El Alamein, it resisted the attack of six British divisions two of which armored and four infantry divisions, thus provoking the respect and admiration of the British. The Folgore Parachute Division had already proved its worthiness when they gave very short shrift to a local attack by the British 31st Infantry Brigade at the end of September.
The 185th Regiment is included in the Brigade Parachutists Folgore and is generally in charge of the training and preparation of units; but it can be converted to other tasks depending on the technical and functional plan, from employment on land with the Commando Operations of Special Forces (COFS) and other units of river basin FS/FOS of the Army, with the Operating Group Incursori (GOI) of the Navy (Marina Militare), with the Incursori Unit of the Air Force and for some functions also with the Special Intervention Group (GIS) of the Police officers.
Units from Parachute Artillery Regiments form the basis of the Special Operations component of the Regiment, from the moment that recon became part of its own tasks, as well as the acquisition of targets and the guidance of laser and precision munitions deployed by air.
Officers, non-commissioned officers and Troops of the unit (all volunteers) are recruited by public competitions announced by the Army, with candidates (pending verification of psycho-physical requirements) coming from other units of the Italian Army. An intensive course of the duration of approximately two years is required to obtain the qualification of "Acquisitore" (Target Acquisitor).
In 1991, a Parachutist Tactical group was in Kurdistan. Its mission was for humanitarian aid "Italfor Airone". From July 1992, the Brigade supplied personnel to Operation Vespri Siciliani. The Folgore participated in Operation Restore Hope in Somalia from 3 December 1992 to September 1993. Parts of the Brigade have been employed many times in the Balkans (Missions IFOR/SFOR in Bosnia and KFOR in Kosovo), with MNF in Albania and Mission INTERFETd to East Timor. The Folgore participated from August 2005 to September 2005 in Operation Babylon in Iraq. In August 2007, the Folgore takes part in Operation Leonte 2 in Lebanese, under aegis of the United Nations (Resolution 1701), as a result of the war between Israel and Hezbollah of summer 2006.Germany Main article: Fallschirmjäger
Fallschirmjäger units made the first airborne invasion when invading Denmark on April 9, 1940 as part of Operation Weserübung. In the early morning hours they attacked and took control of the Masnedø fort and Aalborg Airport. The Masnedø fort was positioned such as it guarded the Storstrøm Bridge between the islands of Falster and Masnedø - on the main road from the south to Copenhagen. Aalborg Airport played a key role acting as a refuel station for the Luftwaffe in the further invasion into Norway. In the same assault the bridges around Aalborg were taken. Fallschirmjäger were also used in the Low Countries against the Netherlands, although their use against The Hague was unsuccessful. Then the 1941 Battle of Crete was a pyrrhic victory because of the large casualties.
Hence later in the war, the 7th Air Division's Fallschirmjäger assets were re-organised and used as the core of a new series of elite Luftwaffe Infantry divisions, numbered in a series beginning with the 1st Fallschirmjäger Division. These formations were organised and equipped as motorised infantry divisions, and often played a "fire brigade" role on the western front. Their constituents were often encountered on the battlefield as ad hoc battle groups (Kampfgruppen) detached from a division or organised from miscellaneous available assets. In accord with standard German practice, these were called by their commander's name, such as Group Erdmann in France and the Ramcke Parachute Brigade in North Africa.
After mid-1944, Fallschirmjäger were no longer trained as paratroops owing to the realities of the strategic situation, but retained the Fallschirmjäger honorific. Near the end of the war, the series of new Fallschirmjäger divisions extended to over a dozen, with a concomitant reduction in quality in the higher-numbered units of the series. Among these divisions was the 9th Fallschirmjäger Division, which was the final parachute division to be raised by Germany during World War II. The Russian army destroyed the division during the Battle of Berlin in April 1945. The Fallschirmjäger were issued specialist weapons such as the FG 42 and specially designed helmets.Portugal Main article: Parachute Troops School
The first Portuguese paratoopers were part of a small commando unit, organized in Australia, during World War II, with the objective to be dropped in the reaguard of the Japanese troops that were occupying Portuguese Timor.
However, the first regular parachute unit was only created in 1955, by the Portuguese Air Force, as the Parachute Caçadores Battailon. This unit adopted the green beret, which has become, since then, the principal emblem of the Portuguese paratroopers. The Battailon was expanded to a Regiment and additional parachute battailons were created in the Portuguese overseas territories of Angola, Mozambique and Guinea. These units were actively engaged in the Portuguese Colonial War, from 1961 to 1975, being involved both in airborne and air assault operations. In addition to the regular units of paratroopers, in Mozambique were also created the Parachute Special Groups, composed of African irregular troops who wore a maroon beret.
With the end of the Colonial War, the Portuguese parachute troops were reorganized as the Paratroopers Corps, with the Light Parachute Brigade as its operational unit. In 1993, the Paratroopers Corps was transferred from the Portuguese Air Force to the Portuguese Army and become the Airborne Troops Command, with the Independent Airborne Brigade as its operational unit.
The reorganization of the Portuguese Army in 2006 caused the extinction of the Airbone Troops Command. The Independent Airborne Brigade was transformed in the present Rapid Reaction Brigade, which now includes not only parachute troops but also special operations and commando troops.Russia Main article: Russian Airborne TroopsRussian paratroopers
Russian Airborne Troops were first formed in the Soviet Union during the mid-1930s and arguably were the first regular paratrooper units in the world. They were massively expanded during World War II, forming ten Airborne Corps plus numerous Independent Airborne Brigades, with most or all achieving Guards status. The 9th Guards Army was eventually formed with three Guards Rifle Corps (37,38,39) of Airborne divisions. One of the new units was the 100th Airborne Division.
At the end of the war they were reconstituted as Guards Rifle Divisions. They were later rebuilt during the Cold War, eventually forming seven Airborne Divisions, an Independent Airborne regiment and sixteen Air Assault Brigades. These divisions were formed into their own VDV commands (Vozdushno-Desantnye Voyska) to give the Soviets a rapid strike force to spearhead strategic military operations.
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, there has been a reduction in airborne divisions. Three VDV divisions have been disbanded, as well as one brigade and a brigade-sized training centre. Nevertheless, Russian Airborne Troops are still the largest in the world.
VDV troops participated in the rapid deployment of Russian forces in and around Pristina airport during the Kosovo War. They were also deployed in Chechnya as an active bridgehead for other forces to follow.South Africa Main article: 1 Parachute Battalion United Kingdom British Army
The Parachute Regiment has its origins in the elite force of Commandos set up by the British Army at the request of Winston Churchill during the initial phase of the Second World War. Churchill had been an enthusiast of the concept of airborne warfare since World War I, when he had proposed the creation of a force that might assault the German flanks deep behind the trenches of the static Western front. In 1940 and in the aftermath of Dunkirk, Churchill's interest was caught again by the idea of taking the fight back to Europe - the airborne was now a means 'to be able to storm a series of water obstacles... everywhere from the Channel to the Mediterranean and in the East'.British paratroopers inside one of the C-47 transport aircraft, September 1944
Enthusiasts within the British armed forces were inspired in the creation of airborne forces (including the Parachute Regiment, Air Landing Regiments, and the Glider Pilot Regiment) by the example of the German Luftwaffe's Fallschirmjäger, which had a major role in the invasions of Norway, and the Low Countries, particularly the attack on Fort Eben-Emael in Belgium, and a pivotal, but costly role in the invasion of Crete. From the perspective of others, however, the proposed airborne units had a key weakness: they required exactly the same resources as the new strategic bomber capability, another high priority, and would also compete with the badly stretched strategic air lift capability, essential to Churchill's strategy in the Far East. It took the continued reintervention of Churchill to ensure that sufficient aircraft were devoted to the airborne project to make it viable.
Britain's first airborne assault took place on February 10, 1941 when, what was then known as II Special Air Service (some 37 men of 500 trained in No. 2 Commando plus three Italian interpreters), parachuted into Italy to blow up an aqueduct in a daring raid named Operation Colossus. After the Battle of Crete, it was agreed that Britain would need many more paratroopers for similar operations. No 2 Commando were tasked with specialising in airborne assault and became the nucleus of the Parachute Regiment. The larger scale drops in Sicily in 1943 met with mixed success, and some commanders concluded the airborne experiment was a failure. Once again, it took the reintervention of senior British political leaders, looking ahead to the potential needs of D-Day, to continue the growth in British airborne resources.
Extensive successful drops were made during the Normandy Landings (see Operation Tonga), under the command of General Richard Gale, but Operation Market Garden against Arnhem under General Frederick Browning were less successful, and proved, in the famous phrase, to be A Bridge too far. Later large scale drops, such as those on the Rhine under Operation Varsity, were successful, but less ambitious in their intent to seize ground. After the war, there was fierce debate within the cash-strapped British armed forces as to the value of airborne forces. Many noted the unique contribution they had made within the campaign. Others pointed to the extreme costs involved and the need for strict prioritisation. During the debate, the contribution of British airborne forces in the Far Eastern theatres was perhaps underplayed, to the long term detriment of the argument.Royal Air Force
Several parachute squadrons of the Royal Air Force Regiment were formed in World War II in order to secure airfields for the RAF - this capability is currently operated by II Squadron.United StatesWW II US paratroopers
In 1930 the US Army experimented with the concept of parachuting three-man heavy-machine-gun teams. Nothing came of these early experiments.
The first US airborne unit began as a test platoon formed from part of the 29th Infantry Regiment, in July 1940. The platoon leader was 1st Lieutenant William T. Ryder, who made his first paratroop jump for the US Military on August 13, 1940 at Lawson Field, Fort Benning, GA from a B-18 Bomber. He was immediately followed by Private William N. King, the first enlisted soldier to make a parachute jump.
Although airborne units were not popular with the top U.S. Army commanders, President Franklin D. Roosevelt sponsored the concept, and Major General William C. Lee organized the first paratroop platoon. This led to the Provisional Parachute Group, and then the United States Airborne Command. General Lee was the first commander at the new parachute school at Fort Benning, in west-central Georgia.
The US Army regards Major General William C. Lee as the father of the Airborne.
The first US Army Combat Jump was near Oran, Algeria, in North Africa on November 8, 1942 conducted by elements of the 509th Parachute Infantry. For the role of paratroopers in the Normandy Landings see American airborne landings in Normandy.
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Paratroopers of all services of the United States Military begin training at the United States Army Airborne School located in Ft. Benning, Georgia. For three weeks soldiers are trained by the "Black Hats" of the 1-507th Parachute Infantry Regiment. The first week is "ground week", when soldiers practice landings and in-aircraft procedures. The second week is "tower week", when soldiers practice exiting an aircraft out of mock towers and practice the various landing falls on the swing lander trainer. The third week is Jump Week, when soldiers must complete five satisfactory jumps. The first two jumps are typically "Hollywood" jumps, wearing only the parachute, reserve chute and harness. The next two are with full combat load, and the final is a night jump. Upon completion of these five jumps, soldiers are awarded basic parachutist wings and become qualified for paratrooper assignments in an airborne unit.
Paratroopers assigned to an Airborne Unit (one with designated Paid Parachutist Positions (PPP)) continue airborne operations training and participate in combat jumps when required. Eligible officers and NCOs can receive additional training in an Advanced Airborne School Course offered at Ft. Bragg by the 82nd Airborne Division (United States), and at Ft. Benning by the 1-507th, after 12 jumps. Jumpmaster course curriculum includes Nomenclature, Sustained Airborne training pre-jump oral recitation, Written Exam, Practical Work in the Aircraft (PWAC), and the Jumpmaster Pre-Jump Inspection (JMPI). Advanced Airborne School graduates receive the 'jumpmaster' qualification.
Jumpmaster-qualified paratroopers may progress to Senior Parachutist and Master Parachutist, based on the number of jumps completed and time served on jump-status with qualifying organizations.Spain
In Spain the three branches of the Armed Forces have paratrooper units, being the biggest in number the Army's Paratrooper Brigade in Alcalá de Henares. All members of the special forces in the Navy (Fuerza de Guerra Naval Especial), the Army and the Air Force must be certified as paratrooper and pass the HALO-HAHO examinations each year.Basic paratroop safety
American paratroopers receive training in a number of areas to ensure they arrive in the battlefield safely. They are taught about how to respond to a premature deployment of their parachute in the aircraft, the need to push their static line into the hands of the safety or jumpmaster to prevent the line from becoming entangled around the next jumper and proper procedures in case the aircraft has an emergency. The five points of performance, a system of steps taught to paratroopers to be performed while jumping in order to successfully reach the ground from the aircraft, are also observed.Five points of performance
Before each airborne operation a jumpmaster runs through the "Sustained Airborne Training" script, which contains a number of points of performance. While the script is recited paratroopers perform the actions they will do when jumping from the aircraft, while being observed to ensure they are done correctly.
Military static-line jumps range from 250 to 350 meters (800 to 1,200 ft). Jumpers without equipment are called "Hollywood Jumpers." Jumpers with Rucksack and weapon are called "Combat Equipped", while jumpers only with weapon are referred to as "Combat Light" (Neither should be confused with "Combat Jump"). Typical combat rigged rucksacks vary in weight from 35 lb (16 kg) to well over 110 lb (50 kg). Paratroopers are also required to jump both day and night for both training and actual combat. The T-10D parachute is non-steerable and falls at roughly 18–21 feet per second. The MC-1D is slightly more maneuverable and has a forward speed of about 8 knots (15 km/h) and a vertical fall speed of 15 feet per second (4.6 m/s).
"Combat Jumps" (into Panama, for example, during Operation Just Cause) are executed at lower altitudes, typically just over 150 meters (500 ft). At such altitudes, the reserve parachute is useless. These low altitudes decrease the time aloft for paratroopers; thus decreasing the chance of being observed, and possibly taking fire; as well as also minimising the opportunity for drift-related hazards (e.g. entanglements, leap-frogging). Combat Jump Veterans are awarded a small bronze jump star worn on the respective airborne wings, one for each successful jump into a combat zone.
Paratroopers jump from a variety of aircraft. Current high performance aircraft include the C-130 series, C-17 and C-5 (this is not an exclusive list, but only the most common jump aircraft). Most jumps are from the side doors of the aircraft using an alternating door technique. However, sometimes jumps are designated tailgate, which is where the tailgate is lowered and the jumpers exit the aft end of the aircraft. Some Aircraft are designated tailgate only, as in the CASA-212, CH-47 and CH-53. Jumping from helicopters like the CH-47, CH-53, and UH-60 are possible, but are not very common except in Special Operations where they are utilised almost exclusively.
Paratroopers also drop heavy equipment to aid in the mission. Heavy Equipment is dropped by rigging large diameter (100') parachutes to equipment loaded on aluminum platforms called pallets. Equipment can vary in size from light combat vehicles and artillery to heavy construction equipment. Heavy drop rigging is an intricate process requiring experienced parachute riggers to rig the load so that in the air the parachutes properly balance the load. This is important because the load must be stable with no oscillation and must remain upright as it impacts the ground. During large airborne operations, heavy equipment is dropped just prior to personnel and it is possible to combine loads on the same aircraft.Malfunctions
There are two types of parachute malfunctions — a complete malfunction and a partial malfunction. A complete malfunction means the parachute does not provide any lift capability; therefore the reserve must be activated. There are several types of partial malfunctions with the action depending upon the severity and the effect of the malfunction.