“This jumping out of airplanes was not the epiphany, it was the transportation to fight. But, there was something about it which tested the mettle of the man, that which made him what he was, to be able to, in fact, wage battle.”
– Major General William C. Lee “Father of the Airborne”
Germany’s use of airborne forces in the conquest of Europe in 1940-41 introduced a new age of warfare. An age where paratroopers and glider troops descended from the clouds onto the heads of their enemies.
In response to German battlefield success, the U.S. organized a Parachute Test Platoon at Fort Benning, Georgia, in June 1940. The idea was to test the concept of vertical envelopment.
Under the command of Lieutenant William T. Ryder, the Airborne Test Platoon proved that American infantry soldiers could jump into battle and win. The forty-eight man Airborne Test Platoon grew into several airborne divisions made up of hundreds of thousands of volunteers by 1944.
In October 1940, the 501st Parachute Infantry Battalion was activated at Fort Benning. By late 1942, airborne divisions were formed with parachute and glider infantry, engineers, artillery, medics, military police, and logistic soldiers. Five airborne divisions were established during the war.
Paratroopers were formed in the crucible of combat during World War II. United States Army parachute, glider, and special operations were a catalyst for victory on the battlefield. They had, in the immortal words of General Jim Gavin’s words, “a fighting heart, the will to win.”
An airborne army and corps were formed in the European Theater of Operation to control the strategic and tactical use of airborne forces and troop carrier units. In the postwar era, 18th Airborne Corps and the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions served as the U.S. Army’s strategic reaction force. These elite forces stand ready at a moment’s notice to deploy anywhere in the world in defense of freedom. That mission continues to today. The extraordinary men and women who have served in the U.S. Army Airborne and Special Operations forces serve as a vanguard of freedom around the world since World War II.
About the author:
Oto holds a BS in History from Oregon State University and a MMA in Military History from American Public University. He served three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan as a Company Commander and Staff Trainer to the Afghan National Army. He was wounded once and decorated three times. Oto is an Infantry Lieutenant Colonel in the Army Reserve.