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Military parachuting or gliding form of inserting personnel or supplies.

Delivering personnel, equipment, or supplies.

Attributed to Italian troops on November 1927.

Airborne forces are military units, usually light infantry, set up to be moved by aircraft and 'dropped' into battle. Thus they can be placed behind enemy lines, and have an ability to deploy almost anywhere with little warning. The formations are limited only by the number and size of their aircraft, so given enough capacity a huge force can appear "out of nowhere" in minutes, an action referred to as vertical envelopment.

Conversely, airborne forces typically lack the supplies and equipment for prolonged combat operations, and are therefore more suited for airhead operations than long-term occupation; furthermore, parachute operations are particularly sensitive to adverse weather conditions. Advances in helicopter technology since World War II have brought increased flexibility to the scope of airborne operations, and air assaults have largely replaced large-scale parachute operations, and (almost) completely replaced combat glider operations. However, due to the limited range of helicopters and the limited number of troops that can be transported by them many countries retain Paratroopers as a valuable strategic asset.

General information

Airborne forces can be divided into three categories:

  • Paratroopers — landed by parachute from aircraft,
  • Airlanding troops — landed by aircraft (usually glider),
  • Air assault troops or airmobile infantry — transported to the battle by helicopter or by aircraft.

The basic premise of the Airborne is that they can arrive with such speed that a coherent defence cannot be mounted against them for some time. It is assumed that this tactical advantage cannot be sustained for very long, so effective Airborne missions require the rapid advance of ground based troops in support. Another problem regularly faced by Airborne troops, is that they are usually defencless while they descend. However, it is rather difficult to hit a moving target, especially a paratrooper because their movements while descending will be erratic and not in a straight line.

Airborne forces are generally composed of infantry and light, non-armored vehicles and guns. In World War II light motorcycles were used by paratroopers; the American Cushman Model 53 and the British Welbike. After the Korean war, vehicles light enough to be dropped by parachute were developed, such as the M551 Sheridan. The Soviets developed the BMD-1 and BMD-3 fighting vehicles. Helicopters can also transport vehicles such as the German Wiesel AWC, LAV-25 and British CVR series. Large transports can carry only small numbers of main battle tanks or heavier infantry fighting vehicles.

Early history

The idea of "Sky Soldiers" is by no means a recent thought; Benjamin Franklin envisioned a time when soldiers would be delivered from the sky, with a crude, rudimentary understanding of parachutes:

"Where is the prince who can afford so to cover his country with troops for its defense, so that ten thousand men descending from the clouds might not, in many places, do an infinite deal of mischief before a force could be brought together to repel them?"
-Benjamin Franklin, 1784

Although Winston Churchill, whilst serving in the British wartime government, had proposed the creation of an airborne force to assault the German flanks deep behind the trenches of the static Western front in 1917, the first modern operational consideration of the use of what we now call a paratroop force dates to late 1918. Towards the end of World War I, Major Lewis H. Brereton and his superior Brigadier General Billy Mitchell suggested dropping elements of the United States 1st Infantry Division behind German lines near Metzmarker. The operation was planned for February 1919 but the war ended before such an attack could be seriously planned. Mitchell conceived that US troops could be rapidly trained to utilise parachutes and drop from converted bombers and land near Metz thus causing disruption behind the enemy's lines in sychronistaion with a planned infantry offensive.

The first true paratroop drop was carried out by Italymarker in November 1927. Within a few years several battalions had been raised and were eventually formed into the two elite Folgore and Nembo divisions. Although these would later fight with distinction in World War II, the divisions were never used in a parachute drop. Men drawn from the Italian parachute forces were dropped in a special forces operation in North Africa in 1943 in an attempt to destroy the aircraft of the USAAF based there while they are still on the ground.

At about the same time the Soviet Unionmarker was also experimenting with the idea, planning to eventually drop entire units complete with vehicles including light tanks. To train enough experienced jumpers, parachute clubs were set up all over Russiamarker with the aim of being able to transfer skilled members (or at least the men) into the armed forces if needed. Planning and organization progressed to the point that Corps-size drops were demonstrated to foreign observers, including the British Military Attache Archibald Wavell, in the Kiev military district maneuvers of 1935. By the late 1930s, the USSR possessed the largest Airborne forces in the world, but development stagnated prior to WW2 as a result of the Great Purge .

One of the observing parties, Germanymarker, was particularly interested. In 1936, Major F. W. Immans was ordered to set up a parachute school at Stendal (Borstel), and was allocated a number of Junkers Ju 52 aircraft to train on. The military had already purchased large numbers of Junkers Ju 52 aircraft which were now modified (slightly) for use as paratroop transports in addition to their other duties. The first training class was known as "Ausbildungskommando Immans", They commenced the first course on May 3, 1936.

Other nations, including Japanmarker, Francemarker and Polandmarker also organized airborne units around this time.

World War II

German operations

Several groups within the German armed forces attempted to raise their own paratroop formations, resulting in confusion. As a result, Luftwaffe General Kurt Student was put in overall command of developing a paratrooper force to be known as the Fallschirmjäger.

During the invasion of Norwaymarker and Denmarkmarker in Operation Weserübung the Luftwaffe dropped paratroopers on several locations. In Denmark a small unit was dropped on the Masnedøfort on the small island of Masnedømarker to seize the Storstrøm Bridgemarker linking the islands of Falstermarker and Zealandmarker. A paratroop detachment was also dropped at the airfield of Aalborgmarker which was crucial for the Luftwaffe for operations over Norway. In Norway a company of paratroopers was dropped at Oslo's undefended airstrip. Over the course of the morning and early afternoon of April 9, 1940, the Germans flew in sufficient reinforcements to move into the capital in the afternoon, but by that time the Norwegian government had fled.

In the Battle of France, members of the Brandenburg Regiment were landed by Fieseler Fi 156 Storch light reconnaissance planes on the bridges immediately to the south of the 10th Panzer Division's route of march through the southern Ardennesmarker. In Belgiummarker a small group of German glider-borne troops landed on top of the Belgian fortress of Eben Emaelmarker on the morning of May 10, 1940 and disabled the majority of its artillery. The fort held on for another day before surrendering. This opened up Belgium to attack by German Army Group B.

The Dutchmarker were granted the spurious privilege of being exposed to the first large scale airborne attack in history. During the invasion of the Netherlands, the Germans threw into battle almost their entire Luftlandekorps, an airborne assault army corps that consisted of one airborne division, one parachute division and the necessary transport capacity. The existence of this formation had been carefully kept secret until then. Two simultaneous airborne operations were launched. German paratroopers landed at three airfields near The Haguemarker, hoping to seize the Dutch government. From one of these airfields they were driven out after the first wave of reinforcements, brought in by Ju-52s, was annihilated by anti-aircraft fire and fierce resistance by some remaining Dutch defenders. As a result, numerous crashed and burning aircraft blocked the runway, preventing further reinforcements from landing. This was one of the few occasions where an airfield captured by paratroops has been recaptured. The other two airfields were recaptured as well. Simultaneously the Germans dropped small packets of paratroopers to seize the crucial bridges that led directly across the Netherlands and into the heart of the country. They opened the way for the 9th Panzer Division. Within a day the Dutch position was hopeless. Nevertheless, Dutch forces inflicted high losses on the German transportation aircraft. Moreover, 1200 German elite troops from the Luftlandekorps taken POW around The Hague, were shipped to England just before the capitulation of the Dutch armed forces.

The Fallschirmjäger's greatest victory and greatest losses occurred during the Battle of Crete. The Ultra enabled the British to wait on each German drop zone, yet despite compromised secrecy, surviving German paratroops and airlanded mountain troops pushed the Commonwealth forces off the island in part by unexpected fire support from 75 mm guns. Seaborne reinforcements were destroyed by the Royal Navy. However, the losses were so great that Hitler forbade their use in such operations in the future. He felt that the main power of the paratroop was novelty, and now that the Britishmarker had clearly figured out how to defend against them, there was no real point to using them any more.

There was one notable exception to this and that was the use of airborne forces in special operations. On September 12, 1943, Otto Skorzeny led a daring glider-based assault on the Gran Sassomarker Hotel, high in the Apenninesmarker mountains, and rescued Benito Mussolini from house arrest with very few shots being fired. On May 25, 1944, paratroopers were dropped as part of a failed attempt to capture Josip Broz Tito, the head of the Yugoslav Partisans and later postwar leader of Yugoslavia.

Allied operations

The actual heavy German casualties during the Battle of Crete were hidden from allied planners. Ironically, the battle that ended Germany's paratrooper operations had the opposite effect on the Allies. Convinced of the effectiveness of airborne assaults, the Allies hurried to train and organize their own airborne units. No.1 Parachute Training School at RAF Ringwaymarker near Manchestermarker trained all the 60,000 allied paras who were recruited in Europe during World War II .

A fundamental decision was whether to create small Airborne units to be used in coup-de-main type operations, or to organize entire Airborne Divisions for larger operations. Many of the early, successful Airborne operations were coups-de-main carried out by very small units. The Allies eventually formed two British and five US Airborne Divisions: the British 1st Airborne Division and 6th Airborne Division, and the US 11th Airborne Division, 13th Airborne Division, 17th Airborne Division, 82nd Airborne Division, and 101st Airborne Division. By 1944 the British Divisions were grouped in the 1st Airborne Corps under General Frederick Browning, while US Divisions in the ETO (the 17th, 82nd, and 101st) were organized into the XVIII Airborne Corps under US Major General Matthew Ridgway. Both Corps fell under the First Allied Airborne Army under US Lieutenant General Lewis Brereton.

Early commando raids

Operation Colossus: Raid on the Tragino Aqueduct
Britain’s first airborne assault took place on February 10, 1941, when 'X' Troop, No 11 Special Air Service Battalion (which was formed from No 2 Commando and subsequently became 1st Battalion, The Parachute Regiment) dropped into southern Italy from converted Whitley bombers flying from Maltamarker and demolished a span of the aqueduct near Tragino in a daring night raid named Operation Colossus.

Operation Squatter: Raid on Axis airfields in Libya
54 effectives of 'L' Detachment, Special Air Service Brigade (Largely drawn from the disbanded Layforce) mounted a night parachute insertion onto two Drop Zones in Bir Temrad, North Africa on the night of November 16/17 1941 in preparation for a stealthy attack on the forward airfields of Gambut and Tmimimarker in order to destroy the Axis fighter force on the ground before the start of Operation Crusader, a major offensive by the British Eighth Army.

Operation Biting: The Bruneval raid
A Würzburg radarmarker site on the coast of France was attacked by a company of British Paratroopers from 2 Battalion, The Parachute Regiment, commanded by Major John Dutton Frost, in Operation Bitingmarker on February 27, 1942. The key electronic components of the system were dismantled by an English radar mechanic and brought back to Britain for examination so that counter measures could be devised.


Operation Mercury: Crete
This was the last large scale airborne assault by Adolf Hitler and the Germans. The German paratroopers had such a high death rate in the jump into Crete that Hitler forbade any further large scale airborne attacks. The Allies on the other hand were very impressed by the potential of paratroopers, and started to build their own airborne divisions.

Operation Torch: North Africa
The first United States airborne combat mission occurred during Operation Torchmarker in North Africa on 8 November 1942. 531 men of the U.S. 2nd Battalion 509th Parachute Infantry Regiment flew over 1600 miles at night from Britain, over Spain, intending to drop near Oranmarker and capture two airfields. Navigation errors, communications problems, and bad weather scattered the forces. Seven of the 39 C-47s landed far from Oran from Gibraltarmarker to Tunisiamarker, and only ten actually delivered their troops by parachute drop. The remainder off-loaded after 28 C-47 troop carriers, short on fuel, landed on the Sebkra d'Oran dry lake, and marched overland to their objectives.

One week later, after repacking their own chutes, 304 men of the battalion conducted a second combat jump on 15 November 1942 to secure the airfield at Youk-Les-Bains near the Tunisian border. From this base the battalion conducted combined operations with various French forces against the German Afrika Korps in Tunisia. A unit of French Algerian infantry, the 3rd Regiment of Zouaves, was present at Youk-les-Bains and awarded the American paratroopers their own Regimental Crest as a gesture of respect. This badge was awarded to the battalion commander on 15 November 1942 by the 3rd Zouaves' Regimental Commander, and is worn today by all members of the 509th Infantry.

Operation Husky: Sicily
As part of Operation Husky four airborne operations (two British and two American) were carried out, landing during the nights of July 9 and July 10. The American troops were from the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division, making their first combat parachute jump. Strong winds encountered en route blew the dropping aircraft off course and scattered them widely. The result was that around half the US paratroops failed to make it to their rallying points. British glider-landed troops fared little better. Only 12 out of 137 gliders in Operation Ladbroke landed on target, with more than half landing in the sea. Nevertheless the scattered airborne troops maximised their opportunities, attacking patrols and creating confusion wherever possible. On the night of 11 July a reinforcement drop of the 82nd Airborne behind American lines at Farello airfield resulted in heavy friendly-fire casualties when despite forewarnings, Allied antiaircraft fire both ashore and aboard U.S Navy ships shot down 23 of the transports as they flew over the beachhead.

Despite a catastrophic loss of gliders and troops loads at sea, the 1st Airlanding Brigade captured the Ponte Grande bridge south of Syracuse. Before the Germans' counterattack, the beach landings took place unopposed and the First Airlanding Brigade was relieved by the 8th Army as it swept inland towards Cataniamarker and Messinamarker. For more details on this action see the article on the South Staffordshire Regiment.

On the evening of July 13, 1943, more than 112 aircraft carrying 1,856 men and 16 gliders with 77 artillerymen and ten 6 pounder guns, took off from North Africa in Operation Fustian. The British First Parachute Brigade's initial target was to capture the Primosole bridge and the high ground around it, providing a pathway for the 8th Army, but heavy anti-aircraft fire shot down many of the Dakotas before they reached their target. Only 295 officers and men were dropped close enough to carry out the assault on the bridge. They captured the bridge but the German 4th Parachute Brigade recaptured it. They held the high ground until relieved by the 8th Army, which re-took the bridge at dawn of 16 July.

The Allied commanders were forced to reassess the use of airborne forces after the many misdrops and the deadly friendly fire incident. Nevertheless, improved training and some tactical changes kept airborne units in the war, eventually in much-increased numbers.

Italy agreed to an armistice with the Allies on September 3, 1943, with the stipulation that the Allies would provide military support to Italy in defending Rome from German occupation. Operation Giant II was a planned drop of one regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division northwest of Romemarker, to assist four Italian divisions in seizing the Italian capital. An airborne assault plan to seize crossings of the Volturno River during the Allied invasion of Italy, called Operation Giant, was abandoned in favor the Rome mission. However doubts about the willingness and capability of Italian forces to cooperate, and the distance of the mission far beyond support by the Allied military, resulted in the artillery commander of the 82nd, Brig. Gen. Maxwell Taylor (future commander of the 101st), being sent on a personal reconnaissance mission to Rome to assess the prospects of success. His report via radio on September 8 caused the operation to be postponed (and canceled the next day) as troop carriers loaded with two battalions of the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment were warming up for takeoff.

With Giant II cancelled, Operation Giant I was laid on again for September 13 to drop two battalions of the 504th at Capuamarker. However significant German counterattacks beginning September 12 resulted in a shrinking of the American perimeter and threatened destruction of the beachhead. As a result, Giant I was cancelled and the 504th instead dropped into the beachhead on the night of September 13 using transponding radar beacons as a guide. The next night the 505th PIR was also dropped into the beachhead as reinforcement. In all, 3,500 paratroopers made the most concentrated mass night drop in history, providing the model for the American airborne landings in Normandy in June 1944. An additional drop on the night of September 14-15 of the 2nd Battalion 509th PIR to destroy a key bridge at Avellinomarker, to disrupt German motorized movements, was badly dispersed and failed to destroy the bridge before the Germans withdrew to the north.

In April 1945 Operation Herring, an Italianmarker commando-style airborne drop aimed at disrupting German rear area communications and movement over key areas in Northern Italy, took place. However the Italian troops were not dropped as a unit but as a series of small (8-10 man) groups. Another operation, Operation Potato, was mounted by men drawn from the Folgore and Nembo divisions, operating with British equipment and under British command as No 1 Italian Special Air Service Regiment. The men dropped in small groups from American C-47s and carried out a successful railway sabotage operation in Northern Italy.

Western Europe

The Allies had learned better tactics and logistics from their earlier airborne drops, and these lessons were applied for the assaults along the Western Front.

Operation Overlord: D-Day
One of the most famous of airborne operations was Operation Overlord on D-Day June 6, 1944. The task of the airborne forces was to secure the flanks of the landing beaches in Normandy. The British glider transported troops and paratroopers of the 6th Airborne Division secured the Eastern flank in Operation Tonga of which Pegasus Bridgemarker is the best remembered objective. Another objective was the Merville gun batterymarker. The American glider and parachute infantry of the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions, though widely scattered by poor weather and poorly marked landing zones in the American airborne landings in Normandy, secured the western flank of VII Corps with heavy casualties. All together the casualties of the Airborne at D-Day total around 23,000.

Southern France
On August 15, 1944, airborne units of the 7th Army's provisional airborne division, commanded by US Major General Robert T. Frederick, opened the invasion of Southern France with a dawn assault. Called the "1st Airborne Task Force", the force was composed of the British 2nd Independent Parachute Brigade, the 517th Parachute Regimental Combat Team, the 509th and 551st Parachute Infantry Battalions, the glider-borne 550th Airborne Infantry Battalion, and supporting units. Nearly 400 aircraft delivered 5,600 men and 150 guns to three drops zones surrounding Le Muymarker, between Frejus and Cannesmarker, in Operation Albatross. Their objective was to capture the area, destroy all enemy positions and hold the ground until the US Seventh Army came ashore. Once they had captured their initial targets, they were reinforced by 2,600 soldiers and critical equipment carried in 408 gliders in daylight missions code-named Operation Bluebird and Operation Dove. A second daylight parachute drop, Operation Canary, dropped 736 men of the 551st PIB with nearly 100% effectiveness late on the afternoon of August 15.

Operation MARKET-GARDEN: "A Bridge Too Far"
Waves of paratroops land in the Netherlands during Operation Market Garden in September 1944.

Operation Market Garden of September 1944, involved 35,000 troops dropped up to behind the German front lines in an attempt to capture a series of bridges over the Maasmarker, Waal and Rhinemarker rivers, ultimately enabling the Allies to outflank German fortifications and penetrating into Germany. The operation was hastily planned and many key planning tasks were inadequately completed. Three complete airborne divisions executed Operation MARKET, the airborne phase. These were the British 1st Airborne Division, the US 82nd Airborne Division and 101st Airborne Division, as well as the Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade. All three Divisions, as well as the Independent Brigade, were landed or dropped at various points along Highway 69, or "Hell's Highway", in order to create a "carpet" over which the British XXX Corps could rapidly advance in Operation GARDEN, the armored phase. It was a daylight assault, with little initial opposition, and most units achieved high accuracy on drop and landing zones. In the end, after strong German counter-attacks, the overall plan failed: the British 1st Airborne division was all but destroyed at Arnhem, and the final Rhine bridge remained in German hands.

Operation REPULSE: re-supply of Bastogne
Operation Repulse, which took place in Bastogne on December 27, 1944, as part of the Battle of the Bulge, glider pilots, although flying directly through enemy fire, were able to land delivering the badly needed ammunition, gasoline, and medical supplies that enabled defenders against the German offensive to persevere and secure the ultimate victory.

Operation VARSITY: The Rhine Crossing
Operation Varsitymarker was a daylight assault conducted by two airborne Divisions, the British 6th Airborne Division and the American 17th Airborne Division, both of which formed a part of the US XVIII Airborne Corps. Conducted as a part of Operation Plunder, the operation took place on the 24th of March, 1945 in aid of the attempt by the British 21st Army Group to cross the Rhine rivermarker. Having learnt from the heavy casualties inflicted upon the airborne formations which took part in Operation Market-Garden, the two airborne divisions were dropped several thousand yards forward of friendly positions, and only some thirteen hours after Operation Plunder had begun and Allied ground forces had already crossed the Rhine. There was heavy resistance in some of the areas that the airborne troops landed in, with casualties actually statistically heavier than those incurred during Operation Market-Garden. The British historian Max Hastings has labelled the operation both costly and unnecessary, writing that 'Operation Varsity was a folly for which more than a thousand men paid for with their lives...'

Pacific Theater

Less famous are these airborne operations against the Japanese.

South West Pacific
In September 1943, in New Guinea, the U.S. 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment made a highly successful, unopposed landing at Nadzabmarker, during the Salamaua-Lae campaign. This was the first Allied airborne assault in the Pacific Theater.

In July 1944, the 503rd jumped again, Battle of Noemfoor onto Noemfoor Islandmarker, off Dutch New Guinea.

The 503rd's most famous operation was a landing on Corregidor ("The Rock") in February 1945, during the Philippines campaign of 1944–45.

The U.S. 11th Airborne Division saw a great deal of action in the Philippines as a ground unit. The 511th Parachute Regiment, made the division's first jump near Tagaytay Ridgemarker, 3 February 1945, meeting no resistance at the drop zone. The division also jumped to liberate 2,000 Allied civilians interned at Los Bañosmarker, 23 February 1945. The final operation of the Division was conducted on 23 June 1945, in conjunction with an advance by U.S. ground forces in northern Luzon. A task force from the 11th was formed and jumped on Camalaniugan Airfield, south of Aparrimarker.

A large British force, known as Chindits, operated behind Japanese lines during 1944. In Operation Thursday, most of the units were flown into landing grounds which had been seized by glider infantry transported by the American First Air Commando Group, commencing on March 5. Aircraft continued to land reinforcements at captured or hastily constructed landing strips until monsoon rains made them unusable. Small detachments were subsequently landed by parachute. The operation eventually wound down in July, with the exhausted Chindits making their way overland to link up with advancing American and Chinese forces.

For Operation Dracula, an ad hoc parachute battalion group made up of personnel from the 153 and 154 Parachute Battalions of the Indian Army secured Japanese coastal defences, which enabled the seaborne assault by the 26th Indian Division to attain its objectives with the minimum of casualties and loss of time.

Japanese operations

The Japanese used troops with parachute training in several battles in the Dutch East Indies campaign of 1941-42. Before the Pacific War began, the Imperial Japanese Army formed Teishin Dan ("Raiding Brigades") and Imperial Japanese Navy trained marine paratroopers.

Rikusentai airborne troops were first dropped at the Battle of Menado, Celebesmarker in January 1942, and then near Kupangmarker, during the Timor campaign, in February 1942. Teishin made a jump at the Battle of Palembang, on Sumatramarker in February 1942. Japanese airborne units suffered heavy casualties during the Dutch East Indies campaign, and were rarely used as parachute troops afterwards.

On 6 December 1944, a 750-strong detachment from Teishin Shudan ("Raiding Division") and the Takachiho special forces unit, attacked U.S. airbases in the Burauenmarker area on Leyte, in The Philippinesmarker. The force destroyed some planes and inflicted casualties, but was wiped out.

Japan built a combat strike force of 825 gliders but never committed it to battle.

Soviet Operations

The Soviets mounted only one large-scale Airborne operation in World War Two, despite their early leadership in the field in the 1930s. The Axis air superiority early in the conflict limited the ability of the Soviets to mount such operations, whilst later in the conflict ongoing shortages of materiel, including silk for parachutes, reduced the ability of the Soviet airborne to operate. Nonetheless, the Soviets maintained their doctrinal belief in the effectiveness of airborne forces, as part of their concept of 'deep battle', throughout the war. The largest drop during the war was corp-sized, and was not successful (the Vyaz'ma Operation, the 4th Airborne Corps). Airborne formations were used as elite infantry units, however and played a critical role in several battles. For example, at the Battle of Kurskmarker, the defense of the eastern 'shoulder' of the southern penetration by Guards Airborne units was critical to holding back the German penetration. The Soviet military sent at least one team of observers to witness British and American airborne planning for D-Day, but took pains not to reciprocate the liaison.

Russia pioneered the development of combat gliders, but used them only for cargo during the war.

Post World War II

Korean War

The 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team ("Rakkasans") made two combat jumps in Koreamarker during the Korean War. The first combat jump was made on October 20, 1950 at Sunchon and Sukchon, North Korea. The missions of the 187th were to cut the road north going to Chinamarker, preventing North Korean leaders from escaping from Pyongyangmarker; and to rescue American prisoners of war.

The second combat jump was made on Easter Sunday, 1951 at Munsan-ni, South Koreamarker codenamed Operation Tomahawk. The mission was to get behind Chinese forces and block their movement north. The 60th Indian Parachute Field Ambulance provided the medical cover for the operations, dropping an ADS and a surgical team and treating over 400 battle casualties apart from the civilian casualties that formed the core of their objective as the unit was on a humanitarian mission.

The 187th served in six campaigns in Korea. Shortly after the war the 187th ARCT was considered for use in an Airborne drop to relieve the surrounded French garrison at Dien Bien Phu in Vietnam but the United States, at that time, decided not to send its troops into the combat zone.

The unit was assigned to the reactivated 101st Airborne Division and subsequently inactivated as a combat team in 1956 as part of the division's reorganization into the Pentomic structure, which featured battle groups in place of regiments and battalions. The 1st and 3rd Battalions, 187th Infantry, bearing the lineages of the former Co A and Co C, 187AIR, are now with the 101st Airborne Division as Air Assault units.

First Indochina War

The French used paratroops extensively during their 1946-54 war against the Viet Minh. Colonial, French Foreign Legion and local Vietnamese units took part in numerous operations which were to culminate in the disastrous siege of Dien Bien Phumarker.

Operation Musketeer: Suez crisis

During the Suez Crisis, Operation Musketeer needed the element of total surprise to succeed, and all 660 men had to be on the ground at El Gamil airfield and ready for action within four and a half minutes. At 04.15 hours on November 5, 1956, British 3rd Battalion, Parachute Regiment jumped in and although opposition was heavy, casualties were few. Meanwhile, French paratroopers of the 2nd Regiment of Colonial Paratroopers under the command of Colonel Chateau-Jobert jumped on the water treatment factory South of Port-Said.

The landings from the sea the next day saw the first large-scale heliborne assault, as 45 Commando, Royal Marines were landed by helicopters in Port Saidmarker from ships offshore.

Israeli paratroopers led by Ariel Sharon dropped into the important Mitla Pass to cut off and engage Egyptian forces. This was the IDF's first and only combat parachute operation in its entire history up to present day.

Indo-Pakistani War of 1965

For the first time in a combat in South Asia, paratroopers were used in the subcontinent during the Second Kashmir War of 1965. A covert operation was launched by Pakistan Army with the intention of infiltrating Indian airbases and sabotaging them. The SSG (Special Service Group) commandos numbering close to 200 were parachuted into Indian territory. Indian sources however claim as many as 800-900 attempted the landing. Given that most of the Indian targets (Halwara, Pathankotmarker and Adampurmarker) were deep into enemy territory only a dozen or so commandos made it back alive and the stealth operation proved ineffective. Of the remaining, 136 were taken prisoners, 22 were killed in encounters with the army, local police or the civilians. The daring attempt proved to be a disaster with the Commander of the operations, Major Khalid Butt too being arrested.

Indo-Pakistani War of 1971

In 1971, the Indian Parachute Regiment fought numerous actions both in the Eastern and Western Theatres. On 11 December, India airdropped Para Bn Gp 130 in what is now famous as the Tangail airdrop. The Paratroop unit was instrumental in denying the retreat and regrouping of the Pakistani army, and contributed substantially to collapse of Dacca. The Para Commandos also proved their unmatched skills in spectacular lightening raids into Chachro (Sindh, Pakistan) and Mandhol (Jammu and Kashmir). The Regiment earned battle honours Poongli Bridge, Chachro and Defence of Poonchmarker during these operations.

Vietnam War

In 1963, in the Battle of Ap Bacmarker, ARVN forces delivered airborne troops by helicopter and air drop. The use of helicopter-borne airmobile troops by the United Statesmarker in Vietnam was widespread, and became an iconic image featuring in newsreels and movies about the conflict.

In February 1967 Operation Junction City was launched, it would be the largest operation the Coalition Force would assemble. During this operation, 845 members of the 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry (Airborne), the 319th Artillery (Airborne), and elements of H&H company of the 173rd Airborne Brigade made the only combat jump in Vietnam.

Soviet and Russian VDV

The Soviet Unionmarker maintained the world's largest airborne force during the Cold War, consisting of seven airborne divisions and a training division. The VDV was subordinated directly to the Ministry of Armed Forces of USSR, and was a 'prestige service' in the armed forces of the USSR and Russia to reflect its strategic purpose. Recruits received much more rigorous training than ordinary Soviet units. Although a light infantry force, the paratroops were the recipients of several pieces of specifically-designed equipment, such as the AKS-74 ASU-85 self-propelled gun, and the BMD-1. The VDV have participated in virtually all Soviet and Russian conflicts since the Second World War, including the Soviet war in Afghanistan. As an elite force, the VDV developed two distinctive items of clothing: the telnyashka, or striped shirt, and the famous blue beret.

Airborne assault (воздушно-штурмовые войска) units wore similar striped shirts (as did the naval infantry) but used helicopters, rather than the Military Transport Aviation's AN-12s, AN-22s, and IL-76s, which carried the Airborne Troops and their equipment. The airborne assault forces thus had tactical missions.

Soviet Glider Infantry

The Soviet's maintained three glider infantry regiments until 1965.

Operation Meghdoot

Operation Meghdoot was the name given to the preemptive strike launched by the Indian Military to capture most of the Siachen Glaciermarker, in the disputed Kashmirmarker region. Launched on April 13, 1984, this military operation was unique as it was the first assault launched in the world's highest battlefield. The military action was quite successful as Indian troops managed to gain two-thirds of the glacier with the rest remaining under Pakistani control.

Recent history

Members of the 1st Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry, Fort Richardson, Alaska, United States
With the advantages of helicopter use, airborne forces have dwindled in numbers in recent years. Their strategic capabilities have ensured that Airborne forces are still a part of armies today with the 82nd Airborne Division and Russian Airborne forces being the largest formation of paratroopers in the world.

Other meanings of the word Airborne

In the United States Air Force, the term refers to Airmen (other than pilots, navigators and weapon system officers) performing duties in aerial flight, such as the operations crew on the E-3 Sentry.

See also


Further reading

  • Ambrose, Stephen E., Pegasus Bridge. Pocket Books, 2003
  • Ambrose, Stephen E., Band of Brothers. Pocket Books, 2001
  • Arthur, Max, Forgotten Voices Of The Second World War. Edbury Press, 2005
  • Balkoski, Joseph, Utah Beach: The Amphibious Landing and Airborne Operations on D-Day, June 6, 1944. Stackpole Books US, 2006
  • Bando, Mark A., 101st Airborne: The Screaming Eagles at Normandy. Motorbooks International, 2001
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