National Airborne Day
National Airborne Day, observed on August 16th each year, celebrates the accomplishments of Army parachute tradition. The Army’s Airborne Rangers and the Army Golden Knights parachute team are among the best-known American paratrooper organizations, and the accomplishments of Army paratroopers are noted across more than seven decades of service including the Iraq war in 2003.
National Airborne Day will be observed on Sunday, August 16, 2020.
A Brief History Of Army Parachuting
The idea of using parachutes as a combat tool is said to originate, at least for the U.S. Army, in the days following World War I. Brigadier General William Mitchell is thought to be the first to discuss the notion parachuting troops into combat operations as a way to supplement other forces.
Benjamin Franklin is said to be one of the earliest public figures to advocate the use of an airborne assault force, as early as 1874. “Five Thousand Balloons capable of raising two Men each, would not cost more than Five Ships of the Line”, Franklin said, adding, “And where is the Prince who can afford so to cover his Country with Troops for its Defense, as 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?”
The first parachute jump was a test conducted by the United States Army in 1940. It was specifically designed to measure the usefulness of sending troops into combat by air; 48 soldiers from the 29th Infantry Regiment received training at Fort Benning, Georgia to become the first U.S. Army airborne infantry force. The prevailing question during that training was whether it was feasible to drop troops behind enemy lines.
The Army First Test Parachute Jumps
Two months after the training, the very first test platoon jump happened over Lawson Army Airfield. The first to jump was the platoon leader, 1st Lieutenant William T. Ryder, followed by Private William N. King, the first enlisted soldier to “jump out of a perfectly good airplane” as the old Army paratrooper joke goes.
Early Combat Jumps
About a year following the first U.S. Army test jumps, Adolf Hitler ordered an airborne invasion of Crete, Greece. Significant losses in that operation convince Axis powers never to repeat the attempt, but Allied powers used paratroopers in a variety of ways including the pioneering (for Airborne troops) Operation Torch in 1942, a major offensive by sea and air.
The 509th Parachute Infantry Regiment flew from Britain into present-day Algeria to capture two airfields near Oran. This operation is considered to be the first Airborne combat jump.
Airborne Rangers Over Normandy and Beyond
Two years later and the incredible 1,200 aircraft-strong Operation Overlord offensive was launched on D-Day. The hindsight of history shows mixed results of this offensive; American paratroopers from the 101st and 82nd Airborne divisions were able to support the D-Day invasion of Normandy, but issues related to missed landing zones and other problems kept D-Day from being a major triumph for Army Airborne Rangers.
Two years later Operation Varsity, the last significant airborne operation of the war, saw Army paratroopers completing their then-largest single day mission. German forces were overwhelmed by this operation and suffered an unknown number of casualties with more than 3,500 enemy soldiers captured as prisoners of war.