Sky Soldiers - History's First Airborne Units
During the years between the World Wars, armies around the world began organizing their own specially designated paratroop units. In the 1930s, Russia invested itself heavily in the concept. In 1933, the Soviets made the first large military airborne infantry drop in history. The peacetime trail involved 62 paratroopers. Three years later, the Red Army staged an even larger exercise with more than 1,000 paratroopers. Other countries watched with curiosity. During the 1930s, powers like Japan, Germany and Italy had followed Russia`s lead. France also formed a number of parachute units, including a company of 200 women paratroopers that were trained to serve as frontline nurses in wartime. Germany was the first power to use airborne infantry in combat. The jumps came during the 1940 invasions of Norway and Denmark.
The gear, gadgets and weaponry of a D-Day Paratrooper (photos)
Imagine you`re D-Day paratrooper, one of 13,000 American soldiers who`ve dropped behind enemy lines to fight the Germans in Normandy. Your mission is to neutralize Rommel`s response to an Allied beach invasion that will occur in just a few hours, but you`re also desperate to survive. There`s little comfort in combat, but you know your buddies have your back. You also vest confidence if your equipment. The army has loaded you to the hilt with gear, guns and gadgets, and any single piece of hardware could prove to be a life-saver. Now we take a focused look at the gadgets and weapons American paratoopers took into battle, including Thompson Submachine Gun, L 122-A Flashlight, Zippo Lighter, Machete, Combat Knife and Switchblade, Mk 2 Grenade and Gammon Bomb, and Cricket Noise Maker.
Scottish WWII paratrooper Hugh McIntyre, who helped steal elite German radar, honoured
A daring British paratrooper who was killed while stealing a Nazi radar has been honoured in the French village where he perished. Hugh McIntyre, 28, was shot to death by Nazis in 1942 during the elite squadron's first ever raid in the country. The Scottish rifleman parachuted into the snow-covered village of La Poterie Cap-d'Antifer and helped to capture a nearby villa before he was killed by machine gun. His 120-strong team continued on their mission - called the "Biting Raid" - and managed to commandeer parts of a state-of-the-art radar dish. British scientists used the dish to develop radar blocking techniques to hide allied aircraft from German sensors.
Band of Brothers veteran Buck Compton, who later secured a conviction of RFK assassin Sirhan Sirhan, dead at 90
Lynn D. "Buck" Compton, an Army paratrooper whose WW2 service was portrayed in the book and HBO miniseries "Band of Brothers" and who later as a prosecutor secured a conviction of Robert F. Kennedy assassin Sirhan Sirhan, passed away at 90. Compton fought in some of the war's fiercest battles as a first lieutenant with E Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division. The soldiers, known as Easy Company, participated in the June 6, 1944, invasion of Normandy, parachuted into Holland for the Operation Market Garden, and fought in the Battle of the Bulge.
101st Airborne division veteran recalls WWII: I took no prisoners, I blew away every German soldier I saw
Victor Lee Mackool became a sergeant in the motor pool, but later signed up with the 101st Airborne Division because the pay was better by $100 per month. Big money in those days. "What the hell is the matter with you, are you crazy?" he remembers thinking later of his decision. But none of his war experience marked him as much as seeing firsthand the horrors of Nazi atrocities, when he liberated Kaufering IV concentration camp: "I wanted to get the hell out of there. It was so, so pathetic. Even the war wasn't that bad. That's how bad it was. I just went crazy after that. I took no prisoners - I blew away every German soldier I saw."
Jack Watson secured Pegasus Bridge on D-Day and fought Tiger tanks during the Battle of the Bulge
Among the list of those who parachuted into the dark skies over Normandy on D-Day, the name of Major Jack Watson always stood out. The decorated officer had a key role in the first few hours of the D-Day assault on June 6, 1944. After Pegasus Bridge was seized he helped liberate Ranville, and then returned to defend Pegasus Bridge.
He earned the Military Cross in 1945 when, during the Battle of the Bulge, his Company came under attack by German Tiger tanks and infantry. At one time, in order to make a Tiger tank move its position and give a better shot, he deliberately drew attention to himself, though only 50 yards from the tank.
World War II D-Day paratrooper Jim Martin - of the 101st Airborne Division - makes jump at 89
Shortly after midnight on June 5, 1944, the start of D-Day, U.S. Army paratrooper Jim Martin made his first WWII combat jump. He and his fellow soldiers in the "Screaming Eagles" 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, jumped behind German lines from a C-47 transport. On July 11, 2010, Martin made what he called his final parachute jump from a small white Beech 18, flying at 12,500 feet in the air at SkyDive Greene County Inc. Airport. Asked how his jump differed from that the D-Day jump, he said, "Nobody's shooting at me. It was much more fun than having tracers coming down all around."
John Agnew's World War II unit - the Filthy Thirteen - inspired The Dirty Dozen
John "Jack" Agnew, one of the members of a U.S. Army unit that operated behind enemy lines in World War 2 and is often credited with having inspired the novel and movie "The Dirty Dozen," passed away at 88. Agnew was part of the Filthy Thirteen, an unofficial unit within the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division. Tales of the unit's exploits and a Stars and Stripes photo are said to have inspired the novel "The Dirty Dozen" by E.M. Nathanson not because any of the unit's members were convicts but because of their reputation for brawling, drinking and spending time in the stockade.
Six World War II Easy Company paratroopers drew big crowd
The Band of Brothers got a rock star reception at the Strategic Air and Space Museum during a fundraiser. 6 paratroopers whose WWII combat was made famous by "Band of Brothers" -miniseries were greeted by a 5-minute ovation as they took the stage. History buffs stood in long lines holding WW2 books, photos and DVD sets to get autographs. The main event took place as the real men of Easy Company gathered onstage to answer questions about their service with the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment. Don Malarkey told about the training they went through at Camp Toccoa, Ga. Forced marches and 3 1/2 mile runs to the peak of Currahee Mountain were routine.
89-year-old veteran of the 82nd Airborne Division parachutes into Holland just like 1944
T. Moffatt Burriss - 4 days short of his 90th birthday - swooped down onto a field outside a small Dutch village much like he had 65 years ago during World War II. Jumping tandem with a female former Dutch paratrooper, Burriss touched down firmly: "I've been waiting a long time to do that again." In September, 1944, Burriss - a company commander in the 82nd Airborne Division - had been one of more than 25,000 airborne troops who parachuted in Holland, in Operation Market-Garden. The high-risk attempt to open a corridor into Nazi Germany's industrial heartland and win the war is the largest parachute campaign in military history.
D-Day paratrooper Thomas Blakey tells stories of wine, women as well as war
Volunteer museum guide Thomas Blakey also shared some humor with those who toured the National World War II Museum. He and other soldiers in the 505th Regimental Combat Team of the 82nd Airborne Division parachuted near the town of Sainte-Mere-Eglise, behind Nazi lines, to seize a bridge over the Merderet River and hold it against any German tanks. Paratrooper's gear - a pack with 5 days' worth of food, a rifle, 288 bullets and a small canteen - weighed 135 pounds. No surprise that they finished their canteens quickly. And they refilled them with France's world-famous wine: "Pretty quickly, we figured out their wine weighed the same as our water."
Movie legend Richard Todd was one of the first paratroopers to jump on D-Day
Movie legend Richard Todd featured in two great WW2 films - The Longest Day and The Dam Busters - but it's his real-life war experience that makes him proud. Richard, a paratrooper in the British 6th Airborne Division, was one of the first paras to jump into Nazi-occupied France on D-Day June 6, 1944. "Although I had 40 jumps under my belt, I had no experience of dropping under fire. ... Being first out of the first plane wasn't my idea I assure you. But immediately I could see I was lucky. My plane had benefited from the element of surprise. We'd come under a lot of enemy fire but nothing compared to the flak the other planes behind were getting."
Clarence Ollom, of the 82nd Airborne Division, charged a German machine gun nest
WWII paratrooper Clarence Ollom charged a German machine gun position 5 days after D-Day, shooting 3 German soldiers with his M-1 rifle. 3 holes littered the folds of his military uniform - where bullets had went through without hitting him. Like many WW2 veterans he rarely talked about his adventures, saying: "The heroes are the ones still over there." Ollom was drafted in 1942, and for an extra 50 bucks a month became a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division. When the 82nd jumped into combat, he was there. "There were 22 guys on a C-47 plane... there were all those guys in line behind you. You went out the damn door whether you wanted to or not."
Elite paratrooper Harry Henkel was with Otto Skorzeny to rescue Benito Mussolini
Harry Henkel was a member of the elite paratroopers who under Captain Otto Skorzeny rescued Benito Mussolini on 12 Sept. 1943 from the Campo Imperatore Hotel at Gran Sasso. Harry Henkel's story of that event is to be the topic of Mark Tronson's next book on Harry Henkel's war experiences. Mark's first book on Harry Henkel - Boy Parachutist 1943-45 - was published in 2008 as an e-book, telling Harry Henkel's Wehrmacht story. Harry Henkel saw action in North Africa, Sicily, Monte Casino and the Russian Front.
Pegasus Bridge operation - Securing key bridges before D-Day landings
The last living officer to serve in WW2's Pegasus Bridge mission (Operation Tonga) which paved the way for the D-Day landings has passed away aged 85. Colonel David Wood led a platoon of airborne troopers in helping to secure two key bridges in Normandy, only hours before the Allied beach assault. He was among troops who drifted behind enemy lines in six Horsa gliders on June 6 1944 and took just 10 minutes to take the bridges. The mission - hailed as the single most important ten minutes of the war - prevented the Nazis from sending in reinforcements and enabled Allied forces to continue their advance after taking the D-Day beaches.
WWII officer Harry W.O. Kinnard suggested the reply "nuts" to Germans
Harry W.O. Kinnard, who suggested the famous answer "Nuts!" to a Nazi demand for surrender during the 1944 Battle of the Bulge, has passed away. Kinnard, who graduated from West Point in 1939 and spent 30 years in military uniform, was one of the men behind the Army's concept of helicopter use in Vietnam. He parachuted into Normandy on D-Day with the 101st Airborne Division. When Hitler launched an offensive in Dec. 1944, the 101st took over Bastogne road junctions and was soon encircled. When demanded to surrender Brig. Gen. Anthony McAuliffe remarked "Us surrender? Aw, nuts" and then wondered how he should reply. Kinnard suggested: "what you just said... nuts."
James Megellas, the most decorated officer of the 82nd Airborne Division, turns 91 (Article no longer available from the original source)
Lt. Col. James Megellas, the most decorated officer of the 82nd Airborne Division, turned 91. He is the author of "All the Way to Berlin: A Paratrooper at War in Europe". He earned the Distinguished Service Cross, 2 Silver Stars, 2 Bronze Stars and 2 Purple Hearts. Tom Petri has set up legislation, 2007 H.R. 795, to award Megellas the Medal of Honor for his heroism during the Battle of the Bulge. In addition his battles include action near the Anzio beachhead, his combat jump during Operation Market Garden, crossing the Waal River under heavy German fire in broad daylight.
WWII 82nd Airborne Division veteran visits paratroopers in Afghanistan
"If there is anything such as hell on earth, it was that moment," said James Megellas, talking of a thing of legend, something seen in WWII films like "A Bridge Too Far." Megellas, a retired lieutenant colonel from the 82nd Airborne Division, came to Afghanistan to visit the troops and gave a class - focusing on leadership in combat, a skill he learned during World War II. But the class was more than a lecture, it was Megellas' story. The day was Sept. 20, 1944; the unit was the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Abn. Div.; the operation was Market Garden... "Paratroopers, if properly led would follow you to the gates of hell if asked."
101st Airborne veteran Bob Rommel displays flag proudly
"I did what I did for myself and my country," Bob Rommel proclaims. He jumped into Europe with the 101st Airborne on the night before D-Day and then jumped again in Holland during the failed attempt to take a bridge across the Rhine. He was part of the "Forgotten Battalion" 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment of World War II that was turned into a book and documentary. He served side by side with the men of Easy Company, portrayed in the Stephen Ambrose book and series "Band of Brothers." In the Battle of the Bulge a German shell made mincemeat of his foot. From the friends and blood he left on the battlefield, Rommel swears his allegiance to the flag.
Ex-paratrooper of 101st Airborne Division says life after war is pale
Battle changes you: "You're kind of a skeptic the rest of your life. You're quieter. You don't worry about death anymore. Unless you've been there, you cannot understand it." As a former member of the 101st Airborne Division who survived many bloody WWII encounters with the Germans, including a siege at Bastogne, Bobby Hunter has been there. Steeled warriors also don't worry about killing the enemy, he said. After a lifetime of learning that killing is wrong, Hunter said, the first time you kill someone in battle, "it gives you a funny feeling." But once you realize, "Hey, these people are trying to kill me ... it don't take you long to get over it."
The First U.S. Army Airborne Operation - American military history
Army Aviation developed rapidly during WWI with advancements in aircraft types, weapons and flight gear - but early parachutes were too heavy. As aircraft developed during the interwar period, military planners also experimented with parachutes. The outbreak of WWII in 1939 provided a chance to refine airborne doctrines. The German military had airborne successes in Norway, Belgium and Crete. Recognizing the potential of airborne forces, the Army formed test platoon in June 1940. The 82nd Infantry Division was redesignated and the 101st was activated on 15 August 1942 as the Army`s first 2 airborne divisions.
Eben Emael: Few visit the scene of one of Hitler's greatest victories
A small band of paratroopers mounts a daring assault on a huge underground fortress. Swooping down silently in gliders, they disable its big guns with secret weapons and force the 1,300-man garrison to surrender. Sounds like the plot of a action movie - In fact, it's what happened on May 10, 1940, to Fort Eben Emael, one of the world's most powerful fortifications which Allied war planners counted on to halt the Nazi Germany's attack on Western Front. Dug into a limestone cliff the fortress was regarded as impregnable to surface attack or aerial bombardment. Its fall was the key to the Nazi victory in the West.
Novelty toy saved D-Day paratroopers of 101st Airborne division in 1944
Captain Sam Gibbons of 101st Airborne troops knew his D-Day mission was in trouble when he hit the ground. Troops were scattered far from drop zone. "People are always talking about behind enemy lines. Hell, there ain't no lines in combat. We jumped right on top of the Germans." On the ground, in the dark, the American soldiers relied on a novelty toy to sort things out. Gibbons is one of the few Operation Overlord paratroopers who held onto his military-issued "cricket," a brass and steel version of the tin prize from a 1930s Cracker Jack box. "If you came across somebody, you clicked. If he responded in kind, you were friends. If he didn't, you shot him."
Past the D-Day beaches of Normandy: "Don't ask me how I made it"
June 7, 1944 was D-Day plus one. The 325th Airborne Infantry, 82nd Division, glided across the English Channel and landed 8-9 miles past the beach in Normandy at the Merderet Causeway - a crucial territory for the success of the Normandy invasion. Sgt. James B. Livaudias landed his glider with precision along with the other 1,000 in his 325th Airborne Regiment battalion. "The Forcing of the Merderet Causeway at La Fiere, France, An Action by the Third Battalion, 325th Glider Infantry" is a military study of the campaign written during WWII (www.army.mil/cmh) describing the battle. The report reveals what soldiers faced that day.
Corporal tells WWII memories - In the 82nd Airborne Division
Corporal Jack Rogers knows the horrors of war. He served in the US Army in the 82nd Airborne Division where he fought in WWII 1944-1945. He served in the Third Battalion, 517th Parachute Infantry Regiment. The Battle of the Bulge broke out Dec. 16, 1944. Convoy took the unit to Manhay, Belgium, where Rogers had his first full-scale encounter with the German Army. In the Manhay sector, the unit was in combat for 43 straight days during the worst winter on record. Rogers was wounded in the Manhay battle. A German tiger tank shot down 5 houses made out of stone boulders - when he was in the downstairs.
A World War II paratrooper only now talks about the experience (Article no longer available from the original source)
The first time Willie Gray rode in an airplane, he jumped out of it in the dark of winter with a bazooka strapped to his leg. "I was scared, but they didn't have to push me out of the plane (as they did with some). In the airplane all we heard were bullets. Some hit the plane and some missed." ... Bastogne was beautiful as we marched to the end of the town. When we reached open fields, all we heard was, "boom, boom, boom." Then there were leaflets wanting us to surrender because we were surrounded and the president had died. They said there was no use in us fighting them anymore. The Nazi SS troops were vicious and experienced soldiers, Gray said.
D-Day Airborne Commander who captured a German battery
In the history of airborne forces in the World War II, the name of Terence Otway will live for his capture of the German battery at Merville on D-Day. Allied intelligence believed that four 150mm guns were able to fire on Sword Beach. Silencing battery beforehand was tasked to the 9th Parachute Battalion after battery was attacked from the air by 56 RAF Lancaster bombers on the night of May 9-10. The German summary of raid reported "Out of 1,000 bombs only 50 landed near the battery and of these only two hit a casemate, though without penetration. A rabbit warren suffered a direct hit."
Battle of Arnhem Vet honoured - The largest airborne operation
Austin Brearton was lucky to survive the Battle of Arnhem during the Second World War. He was attached to the First Parachute Battalion and part of the First Forward Observer Unit which took the brunt of enemy fire during the largest-ever airborne operation in Sept 1944. 25,000 paratroopers were dropped in 3 separate areas in order to occupy the bridges from the Belgian border to Arnhem. Only 2,400 returned safely. Just 7 out of 73 men in his unit survived. Realising how fortunate he was, he has devoted much of his time to the Arnhem Veterans' Club, which honoured him with an MBE for his hard work.
William P. Yarborough: The plan for the airborne phase of North Africa
Soldiers paid tribute to a pioneer of modern warfare as Lt. Gen. William P. Yarborough was laid to rest. From the earliest days of paratroop experiments, his hand touched every part of airborne: he worked out the designs for jump uniforms and jump boots. He designed the airborne insignia, the famous jump wings of the parachutist's badge. He developed the initial concept and plan for the airborne phase of the WWII invasion of North Africa, then as executive officer went with that task force on its flight over Spain toward target objectives in Algeria - the longest operational flight ever made by parachute troops.
War hero killed German soldiers disguised as a Nazi paratrooper
A New Zealand war hero broke the international rules of combat by killing German soldiers in WWII while disguised as a Nazi paratrooper. The claim appears in a newspaper report about a new book. Alfred Clive Hulme was awarded the Victoria Cross, the highest British and New Zealand bravery award, for his actions in the 1941 Battle of Crete. It is there that he killed 33 German snipers and other soldiers while dressed as a German paratrooper.
Why Operation Market Garden was doomed (Article no longer available from the original source)
It was the last British defeat of the WW2. The daring attempt to race through the Netherlands failed to shorten the war and cost 8,000 Allied lives. High levels of iron in the soil around the town of Arnhem prevented the Allied soldiers from communicating with their headquarters. That meant vital supplies fell into German hands. Operation Market Garden, the Battle of Arnhem, took place in Sep 1944, and involved parachuting troops deep into occupied Holland at strategic bridges. But unexpectedly strong German resistance, including Nazi Panzer divisions, meant the Paras were defeated before the Allied ground forces could reach them.
British counter-intelligence interrogator and SS paratrooper meet (Article no longer available from the original source)
Edwards was a British counter-intelligence interrogator when World War II ended while Parchmann was a pimply-faced paratrooper of 18. Edwards interrogated captured Germans as well as the SS Troops and Gestapo after it was over to determine who should be put up for war crimes trials. When Parchmann was drafted by the Nazis at the age of 16 his friend was drafted too, but he became a member of the infamous SS. Both agreed if the Germans had been treated with respect after World War I, Adolph Hitler would never have come to power.
Joseph Beyrle: The Only U.S. Soldier To Fight For Soviets
Joseph Beyrle is believed to be the only soldier to have fought for both the United States and the former Soviet Union during WWII. Mr. Beyrle was among the first paratroopers to land in Normandy, as part of the 101st Airborne Division's 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment. The Germans captured him shortly after he landed. He escaped from a POW camp in Poland and joined a Soviet tank unit headed for Berlin. He fought alongside the Soviets for three weeks or so, and they called him "Joe." He got wounded in the leg along the way, and had to be hospitalized. While he was staying in the hospital, Marshal Georgy Zhukov came over for a visit.