US Paratroopers: A Revolutionary Novelty of World War Two

  • US Paratroopers revolutionised on-ground battles during World War Two.
  • American paratroopers wore yellow gloves that stood out distinctively. Those signature gloves were made of rawhide that appeared yellow from a distance.
  • US paratroopers adopted T-5 parachutes that came equipped with an Irving quick-release mechanism – also known as the bang box. 

The Origin of US Paratroopers

World War Two started on 1st September 1939, when Hitler invaded Poland. After two years of bitter fighting in Europe and North Africa, the United States of America joined the war in December 1941.

The U.S. involvement came as a surprise to some of the existing participants. Although the U.S. had growing tensions with Japan, surprisingly the country had not expected the Pearl Harbor attack. As a result, American military combatants and generals struggled to develop effective war strategies immediately.

Countries at war started emphasising creative conveyance; and, as a result, horse drawn vehicles slowly lost their importance. On the other hand, dependence on aircraft grew significantly as the war progressed.

American Paratroopers in WW2
Private Ware smears war paint on Private Plaudos’s face whilst he cradles his Thompson wearing the iconic gloves.

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Nevertheless, the American people stood firm when push came to shove. Major industrial cities contributed accessories for war. The President of that time, Franklin D. Roosevelt, termed the collective efforts as an “Arsenal of Democracy.”

In those desperate times, the decision by other nations to use paratroopers revolutionised on-ground battles. Moreover, aerial deployment greatly added to the element of surprise. Consequently, both Germany and Britain started sending their paratroopers to enemy-held territories. The US was to follow.

According to an estimate, as many as 13,000 paratroopers, jumping from C-47 planes, landed in Normandy alone. By the war’s end, approximately 16,000 paratroopers landed in Wesel during Operation Varsity. The operation saw the last and largest airdrop of World War Two.

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Paratroops led to some of the most memorable war images to date, with snaps of men jumping courageously from planes becoming synonymous with World War Two. However, we must also remember the thousands of paratroopers who lost their lives or were reported as missing during the war.

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These paratroopers played a vital role in recapturing the invaded areas of Europe. These fearless men helped turn the tides in France, Belgium, and the Netherlands. The paratroopers did not take long to become a force to be reckoned with across Europe.

The Peculiar Gloves

Paratroopers Jumping WW2
Allied Paratroopers land in the Netherlands during Operation Market Garden in September 1944.

The US military designed uniforms to camouflage soldiers on the battlefield. However, the gloves worn by the Airborne troops were easy to spot from great distances because of their vibrant yellow colour. In any case, the yellow-coloured gloves became the signature of American paratroopers.

However, the perception behind the gloves is often misleading. These gloves were made of rawhide – a surplus of World War One. After World War One ended, the American military decided to replace horses. The military relegated horses to ceremonial duties – leaving behind an abundance of riding gloves.

Those gloves were specifically designed to keep the soldiers safe from rope friction. Additionally, the rawhide effectively protected riders from hot surfaces. These characteristics made rawhide gloves a perfect fit for paratroopers.

The Uniform of the American Paratrooper

Interestingly, the paratrooper uniform had a distinct appearance. The iconic uniform included a first aid kit on the helmet, the jump jacket and boots, and the paratrooper’s rawhide gloves.

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The M42 Parachute Jump Jacket had large pockets to carry extra rations, ammunition, and grenades. The soldiers often stashed extra first aid kits, knives, and personal belongings in their pockets. According to the Public Broadcasting Service, an average American paratrooper in World War Two carried supplies weighing around 70 pounds!

US Paratroopers before D-Day
Dwight D. Eisenhower speaks with American paratroopers of the 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division. June 5, 1944.

Considering the uncertainty of war, these men landed ready for everything that came their way.

Most paratroopers carried the standard M-1 Garand. The lucky ones received submachine guns for a stronger impact on the battlefield. When landing, paratroopers carried their ammunition in a special cloth container – the Griswold bag. Unfortunately, this practice left them vulnerable in front of the enemy. Therefore, some chose to hold their weapons at the ready when they jumped.

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The paratroopers used standardised T-5 parachutes during World War Two. These chutes were heavily employed in early training and airborne operations in Sicily and North Africa. Moreover, they saw significant action in Southern France’s Operation Dragoon.

The parachute rigs had Irving quick-release mechanisms that allowed the soldiers to snap free of the baggage as soon as they landed. However, the T-5 exited the scene before the Korean War when the American military started using the T-7 parachute. Currently, American soldiers use the T-11 Advanced Tactical Parachute System (ATPS) launched in 2007. The legacy lives on.