Soldiers Making Parachute Packs

Military Parachuting History

A Brief History of Airborne Forces

Paratrooper Checking Packs Before Flight

Inventing the Backpack container

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 was similar to the design used today.

He demonstrated it to the U.S. Army just a few months before World War I with his adopted daughter Tiny (then Twenty years old.) She had been jumping since she was fifteen. She jumped from a Curtis biplane and used the risers to steer to a perfect landing.

(Editors Note: It is 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 tests which they were still conducting 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. 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. However, 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."

War's End

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 Regiment, 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 there 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 jump

The first combat jump 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 were 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: "IF YOU ARE THEN PULL YOUR VEHICLE BEHIND ME," he yelled "I'M THE 82nd AIRBORNE AND THIS IS AS FAR AS THE BASTARDS ARE GOING!"

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

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Author: William Waters Jr.

Served with the 82nd from 1948 to 1950 and as a jump school instructor at Ft. Benning from 1950 to 1953