Paratroopers 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 defenses to protect other areas which would normally be safe by virtue of the geography. (Another common use for paratroopers is to establish an airhead.)
This doctrine was first practically applied to warfare by the Italians and the Soviets. During World War II, however, the forces of these two countries were overstretched in their battle with their enemies and the elite paratroopers were mainly used on land. Instead, paratroopers were first used extensively in World War II by the Germans (in German service, they were called Fallschirmjäger) and the Allies.
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. Due to the limited capacity of period cargo aircraft (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. 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, but most often special forces units, use "ram-air" paragliders which offer higher ability to turn and maneuver and are deployed without a static line from high altitude.
Paratroopers of all services of the United States Military begin training at the U.S. 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 being ground week, where soldiers practice landings and in aircraft procedures. The second week being tower week, where soldiers practicing exiting an aircraft out of mock towers and practice landing off the swing lander trainer. The third week is Jump Week, where soldiers must complete five successful airborne operations. After the successful completion of five jumps out of a high performance aircraft, soldiers are awarded basic parachutist wings. This badge allows the now 'paratrooper' to be assigned to an airborne position within an airborne unit.
Once assigned to an Airborne Unit (one with designated Paid Parachutist Positions (PPP)) paratroopers will continue to train during airborne operations (training) and can participate in combat jumps if required. Officers and NCOs are eligible for additional training in an Advanced Airborne School offered at Ft. Bragg, by the 82nd Airborne Division (United States), and at Ft. Benning, by the 1-507th, upon the successful completion of 12 paratroop jumps. Tested areas during the jumpmaster course are Nomenclature, Sustained Airborne training pre-jump oral recitation, Written Exam, Practical Work in the Aircraft (PWAC), and the dreaded Jumpmaster Pre-Jump Inspection (JMPI). After the successful completion of Advanced Airborne School, paratrooper graduates are then referred to as 'jumpmaster'.
Senior Parachutist Wings are Paratroopers who are Jumpmaster qualified but have not yet met the requirements for Master Parachutist Wings. Master Parachutist Wings are held by the most seasoned of Jumpmasters.
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.
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.
"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 shot) and also minimise 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, C-17, CASA-212, C-130/MC-130, 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.
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.
In 1935, Captain Geille of the French Air Force was trained in Moscow by the Soviet Airborne School and created the Avignon-Pujaut Paratroopers Schools then two combat units called Groupes d’Infanterie de l’Air.
In September 1940, General de Gaulle created the 1ere Compagnie d’Infanterie de l’Air transformed into Compagnie de Chasseurs Parachutistes in October 1941. These units fought in Creta and Cyrenaique in June 1942 with its brothers in arms, the British SAS.
2 French SAS units were created and existed independently of the other French Airborne units until 1945. They were part of the SAS Brigade.
The 1er Régiment de Chasseurs Parachutistes was created in May 1943 from the 601 GIA. as well as the 3ème and 4ème Bataillons d'Infanterie de l'Air.
The 2eme and 3eme Régiment de Chasseurs Parachutistes were created in July 1944.
During the D Day the BIA fought in Normandy and Britanny, the SAS in Britanny and Loire region, the 1er Regiment Parachutiste de Choc in Provence . The first allied soldier to touch the French territory was a French SAS in Britanny on June 5th, Captain Pierre Marienne, the first allied soldier killed in action in France was the Corporal Emile Bouétard of the 4th Bataillon d’Infanterie de l’Air in Britanny.
Many units were created after WW2, starting with the Bataillon de Parachutistes Coloniaux (BPC) in Vannes-Meucon. Metropolitan Paratroopers, Colonial Paratroopers and much later Bataillons Etrangers de Parachutistes (BEP, French Foreign Legion) coexisted until 1954, a Bataillon Parachutiste Viet Nam was created (BPVN).
Between 1945 and 1954, 150 different airborne operations took place in Indochina, 5 of them being major operations against the Viet Minh strongholds and areas of concentration.
All the battalions became regiments between 1954 and 1956, except the Commandos de l'Air(Air Force)
in Algeria, paratroopers were the best counter insurgency units of the French Army. For the first time in history, they used the helicopters for Air Assault and Fire Support.
In 1956, the 2eme Regiment de Parachutiste Coloniaux jumped on the Suez Canal.
The French Army regrouped all the Army Airborne units into two parachute divisions in 1956, the 10th parachute division (10e Division Parachutiste, 10e DP) under the command of General Jacques Massu and the 25th Parachute Division (25e Division Parachutiste, 25e DP) under the command of General Sauvagnac. The Commandos de l'Air were kept under command of the Air Force.
In the aftermath of the Algiers putsch, both 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 aftemath of the Cold War, the French Army reorganised and the 11e DP become the 11th Parachute Brigade in 1999.
French Airborne units have merged with non airborne troops like Alpine troops or special forces units into COS, Commandements des Operations Speciales (equivalent of US SOCOM) in order to face new threats of today's world.
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 of modest mechanization is framed in the Forces of Projection to the dependencies of 1° Commando FOD.
The first units of Italian parachutists were trained and formed shortly before the Second World War in Castelbenito, near Tripoli, where the first Military school of Parachuting was located.
The first troops trained were two Libyan battalions of the Royal Colonial Corps. To these were added 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 the 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 during the Second battle of El Alamein, it resisted the attack of six British divisions, two armored and four infantry, thus provoking the respect and the admiration of the English enemies. The Folgore Parachute Division had already proved its worth when, at the end of September, they gave very short shrift to a local attack by the British 31st Infantry Brigade.
The 185th Regiment is framed in the Brigade Parachutists Folgore , that it is in charge of the training and preparation of the unit, but depends, on the technical-functional plan and therefore for the employment on the land, from the Commando Operations of Special Forces (COFS), therefore as the other units of river basin FS/FOS of the Army, the Operating Group Incursori (GOI) of Military Navy, the Incursori Unit of the Aeronautics and for some functions also the Special Intervention Group (GIS) of the Police officers.
Previously unit of Parachute Artillery , and forming the basis of the Forces for Special Operations of Italian army, from the moment that its main tasks have become the recognition, the acquisition objects (both to you carried out in hostile territory) and the guide laser of “intelligent” devices uncouples to you from aerial carriers. Its employment, insomma, re-enters in relative the special operations to the operating function of the military intelligence and to the control of the fire finalized to I engage it of objects to you to high priority.
Officers, Non-commissioned officers and Troops of the unit are recruited by competitions announced publicly by the Army, but the possibility is previewed to feed the unit also with coming from staff at call (and previo verification of psycho-physical requirement) from other units of the Army. For being able to achieve the qualification of “Buyer” a much impegnativo of the duration of approximately two years (obligatory the attainment of the military licence of parachuting is previewed iter of training);
The Regiment has been engaged in Afghanistan and Iraq
The Brigade has been employed in numerous peacekeeping missions in the recent years.
Lebanese of 1982 (one of the first international missions of peace). In 1991 a Parachutist Tactical group was in Kurdistan in the picture of the mission of humanitarian aid “Italfor Airone”. From July 1992 the Brigade supplied personnel to the operation “Vespri Siciliani” (Control territory and defense of sensitive objects to you on the national ground). The Folgore participated Operation Restore Hope, in Somalia, from 3 December 1992 to September 1993. Parts of the Brigade have been employed many times over 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 takes part in Operation Leonte 2 in Lebanese, under aegis of the UN (Resolution 1701), as a result of the War between Israel and Hezbollah of the summer of the 2006.
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. They 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 due 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 division was destroyed during the Battle of Berlin in April 1945.
Russian Airborne Troops were first formed in the Soviet Union during the mid 1930s. But 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.
But 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.
VDV troops have 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.
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. Britain was 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, and a pivotal, but Pyrrhic victory, in the invasion of Crete.
Britain's first airborne assault took place on February 10, 1941 when, what was then known as II Special Air Service (some 40 men of 500 trained in No. 2 Commando), 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. Extensive drops were made during the Normandy Landings (see Operation Tonga), but Operation Market Garden against Arnhem proved to be A Bridge too far.
The first US Airborne Unit was 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 the first paratroop jump for the US Military on August 16, 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.