©Copyright CJ Magro, Paratroopers of the 50's
Hints to help you find Items on this page

To change Fonts size  Click on View  ;then Click  on Increase or Decrease Fonts

To find a Unit, Date, Location or Name : Click on Edit  and on   Find in Page , you can also use "Ctrl + F"
A Brief
"History of Airborne Forces"
By William Waters Jr.
Bill, served with the 82nd from 1948 to 1950 and as a jump school instructor at Ft. Benning from 1950 to 1953

Without the PARACHUTE there wouldn't be any Paratroopers so here's a breif : History of the Parachute
To skip this section and go stright to "History of the Airborne Forces"

The idea for a parachute started with Leonardo da Vinci in the fifteenth century he sketched a man sized parachute with man in mind even though no one had ever flown . He visualized it as a tool to escape from tall buildings and structures. The dimensions he calculated as necessary to safely land a person 300 years before one was ever used are very close to the ones used today.

In 1785 a French balloonist named Pierre Blanchard used a pet dog for his first idea of a parachute and dropped the dog several hundred feet, the dog ran off with the parachute and was never seen again.

In the 1800s acrobats were dropping from balloons that resembled a parachute and a trapeze, they did this to liven up their act, because balloons got boring after awhile and they needed something else to keep the crowds interest, people watched mostly hoping to see a fatality.

( somethings never change)

The parachutes were rigid with stiffening rods to maintain there shape and tied to the bottom of the balloons, when it came time to jump a helper would cut the rope and they would ascend in their particular contraption.

It was an era of do it yourself designs some worked and some didn't .  The ones that didn't were the unlucky ones (this could be considered an understatement).

This do it yourself design also applied to airplane  with a lot of fatal results.

The Wright brothers finally got one to fly and it has been the skies the limit every since.

Now the interest in (and need for) parachutes really took off.

One of the first parachutes was invented  in 1837 by a man named Robert Cocking.
Cocking developed a parachute like an upside umbrella, he felt being upside down it would control oscillations ( to bad he didn't know about an apex hole) He demonstrated in 1837 in england suspended from a balloon named Nassau, and piloted by Charles Green, who cut him loose.

The canopy was covered with linen and used stiffeners made of thin metal tubes to retain it's shape, the only trouble was it weighed 223 pounds . It worked fine at first, but the stiffening tubes started to give way , then a hole developed in the canopy, then it collapsed  ( it was the first parachute fatality).

After that England's  interest in parachutes declined, but continued in America and Europe.

In 1884 the Baldwin Brothers developed a parachute similar to the one used today, it had no stiffeners , just a fabric canopy that was folded and stuffed into a soft container.
The canopy was not attached to the jumpers but to the balloons rigging and a harness was worn by the jumpers and attached to the chute, it was several years in development before they had a full size model and was first tested from 3000 ft, instead of being guinea pigs they used sand bags instead for the first drop, the parachute worked perfectly and they considered it a success.

They decided to demonstrate it publicly, and sold tickets for the event at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, Cal. on Jan. 30,1887. Thomas Baldwin the younger brother got elected for the task, the brothers took the balloon to 5,000 ft. before a sellout crowd.

Tom jumped and the chute worked perfectly opened within five seconds and he drifted slowly to the ground, and landed safely.

In April 1914 Charles Broadwick invented the back pack container, his design resembled a sleeveless coat, the canopy and suspension lines were stowed on the back, the apex was attached to a static line on the back with a breakaway tie and a static line that could be hooked anywhere available, it similar to the design used today.

He demonstrated it to the army just a few months before WW 1, with hisadopted daughter Tiny then Twenty years old. She had been jumping since she was fifteen years old.

She jumped from a Curtis biplane and used the risers to steer to a perfect landing.
After that jump she was never seen again.

 This amazed the General and his staff. The Generals report to the Army was great , but they ignored it, and later American pilots flew into combat without parachutes because the Generals thought they would abandon their planes  at the very slightest chance of trouble, hence no parachutes.

(Editors Note: hard to believe they could think that of so obvious a BRAVE group of men)

During the war only Germans provided parachutes for their pilots, it was a canopy and suspension lines stored in a container. When it came time to depart the aircraft, they lifted the container from under the seat, stood on the seat and tossed the container over the side, then followed it, a little crude but it worked and all the other pilots envied them, especially since they had to ride theirs down in flames.

Col. Billy Mitchell attempted to get parachutes for his aviators, without success, but the army did conduct some test , and they were still testing when the war ended in 1918. But Col. Mitchell thought of others ways to use parachutes. To him goes the distinction of suggesting the first airborne assault. forces

The idea of parachutes for military personnel was first suggested by the late Col. William (Billy) Mitchell, this was sometime during W.W.I even before they had chutes for american flyers.

His idea was to assign infantrymen to the air force and to jump them behind the enemy to cut them off and use the air force to protect them. but his idea was never used.

This is a letter I found in a book written by Col. Billy Mitchell about his meeting with Gen. Pershing.

"I proposed to him that in the spring of 1919, when I would have a great force of bombardment planes, he should assign one of the infantry divisions permanently to the air force, preferably the first division; that we would arm the men with a great number of machine guns and train them to go over the front in our large airplanes, which would carry ten or fifteen soldiers. We could equip each man with a parachute, so when we desired to make a rear attack on the enemy, we could carry these men over the lines and drop them off at a prearranged strong point, fortify it, and we could supply them by aircraft with food and ammunition. Our low flying attack aviation would then cover every road in the vicinity, both day and night, so as to prevent the germans falling on them before they could thoroughly organize the position. Then we could attack the germans from the rear, aided by an attack from our army from the front, and support the maneuver with our great air force."

The war ended twenty five days after the meeting. The idea came from the mind of a visionary who wouldn't live to see his ideas come into being.
The american army didn't completely abandon development of the parachute, and in 1919 a board was established at McCook Field to determine which type of parachute was suitable for american aviators. The board was headed by Maj. E.L. Huffman, who sent letters to known jumpers in the country to demonstrate equipment and techniques that might be purchased by the government.
One of the respondents was a circus performer known as "Sky High" Irvin, who had been jumping since the age of sixteen and had logged numerous jumps over the years. He presented the first free-fall parachute, a concept that required the jumper to manually release the canopy with a rip cord instead of a static line. The Irvin model used a harness instead of a coat. The canopy was thirty two feet in diameter, with twenty four suspension lines. Instead of being extracted by a static line, the canopy was deployed by a pilot chute that sprang from the container when the jumper pulled the rip cord.
Until this time, it was believed that free falls couldn't be tolerated by human beings, who would either be immobilized by the force of the airflow or by fear of the situation. Irvan proved them wrong by making a delayed-opening jump from 1,500 Feet, which convinced the board to sign a contract with him for 300 parachutes. By 1922 a parachute was a required part of the uniform of the military and airmail pilots, and the design remained unchanged for the next fifty years.

During the 1930s the Russians and Germans started using airborne troops.

The Russians in 1935 and the Germans in 1937 . The French also started in 1937, however the French were  defeated before they could use them.

The success of the Germans in Holland and Belgium caused the United States to form an airborne unit.

The first thing the United States did was to design a chute that could be used for military jumps since most chutes were only used by stunt jumpers.

The "AIR CORPS TEST CENTER" was commission to design and develop a chute for mass military jumps. They designed what was then called the T-4 and was the first chute to have four risers so it could be steered. They also developed the reserve , something only the U.S. had. No other nation ,at that time, used reserves.

Other nations chutes were hooked to a single D ring and hooked to the harness behind their head. The jumpers were unable to steer them and they landed where ever the wind took them.

A platoon of volunteers was formed in 1940 and made the first mass jump August 1940.

The first airborne Reg. the 501st was formed in April of 1941 and the first jump school was started at Ft. Benning, GA. The idea for the 250' towers came from Coney Island, N.Y. They were built for the 1940 worlds fair , and are still their today. The rest were put together from scratch.

The first airborne divisions were created on August 15 1942. The 82nd and the 101st. Then came the 11th ,13th and 17th.

The first combat jumps was made on November 8, and November 15, 1942 by the 509 PIR in Algeria at Tunisia. The next combat jump was made by the 504th PIR in Sicily,

On September 5, 1943 the 503rd jumped in the Pacific at Markham Valley.

The first really big jumps were made on September 9th and 14th , 1943 by the 504 and the 509 at Salerno and Avellion which, because of lack of organization, almost turned out to be a disaster.

After that jump, other units like artillery, engineers and signal Corps were added to make Airborne units more like a traditional division and increase their efficiency.

Even the jumps at Normandy was disorganized, but this worked in their favor, because they landed in so many different spots the Germans didn't know how many men had landed, and it kept them off the beaches of Normandy, allowing the invasion force to gain a foot hold on the beach.

Gliders were necessary because they didn't have chutes big enough to drop artillery and jeeps, and there was a pressing need to get more men and heavier equipment on the ground quicker. Hence the design and use of gliders.

Gliders proved very dangerous and to add insult to injury the BRAVE troopers that rode them didn't even draw jump pay.

I am not sure if they even had a choice . I think they were just assigned to these units.

I have talked with a glider man who went through the entire war without jump pay and finally got on jump status after the war was over.

The most disastrous jump of world W.W.II was by the 1st airborne task force in France. The Germans found our about it and was waiting for them. They placed steel girders all over the landing field and destroyed most of the gliders on landing. The jump was salvaged but not without tremendous loss of life.

The next large jump was by the 82nd and the 101st in Nijmegen-Arnheim to take control of the bridge at Remagen that crossed the Rhine river into Germany. The mission was accomplished leading to the defeat of the Germans.

Then it was back to the Pacific. On February 3, 1945 the 11th airborne jumped at Luzon and again on the February 23, at Las Banos in the Philippines.

The last and final jump of world W.W.II was by the 503rd on the Island of Corregidor also in the Philippines. This Jump got the 503 its nickname "THE ROCK" . It was on a cliff and some troopers were blown of and their chutes re-open before they hit the ocean!

Last but not least was the battle of Bastogne.
The 101st didn't jump into Bastogne, but they were very successful at holding the Germans at bay until the weather opened up. General MacAuliffe made himself and the 101st famous with the word of "NUTS" when asked by the Germans if he wanted to surrender .
Another great airborne story is when, the Germans had them on the run at the bulge and a tank was retreating. A rifleman asked them if they were looking for a safe place to hide. He said :


Bill Waters Jr. "Airborne 1948 to 1953 All the Way and Proud of it"

Want to see more pictures of the 50's ?
Combat Jumps; Jump School;  The Planes; and Great Jump Pictures?
Then use our drop down menu and pick a DZ to jump on.

   Or Select a Site

For Information on how to obtain a CD of GREAT AIRBORNE SONGS or a CD of a Documentary of Jumpschool in the 50's
click on Album CoverSONG ALBUM

Be part of one of the largest data base to find old Para Buddies !!
Please, list the dates and units you served with.

Return to top of page

Free Counter  Visits This Site
Paratroopers of the 50's main Index Page