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US Marine Parachute Jump
Deposition of naval paratroopers from an Antonov An-26 of the Russian Pacific Fleet (2009)

Paratroopers are part of the airborne troops , whose original main task is infantry combat after they have been withdrawn . The air landing can be carried out by parachute jump or helicopters , whereby only those units are called paratroopers who are qualified and equipped to be set down in the emergency room with a parachute. Other units of the infantry belong to the light airborne infantry .

In many armies - including the Bundeswehr - the paratroopers forms a separate branch of service in the infantry of the Armed forces army .

If soldiers are dropped by air, this is often surprising for the enemy. The pure defense of coastlines and traffic routes becomes a danger; the enemy is then forced to also station combat troops in the hinterland.

Contrary to their training, paratroopers are very rarely brought into the operational area by air landing. Due to the limited possibilities of parachute dropping - no heavy vehicles, no heavy weapons - paratroopers are only deployed with little and light equipment. This in turn makes paratroopers, regardless of the means of transport, a popular and quickly mobilized reaction force, whose replenishment is less expensive. Since they transport most of their equipment on foot due to the lack of trucks, paratroopers are also suitable for inaccessible areas.

Other airmobile troops such as combat swimmers , tele scouts and other special forces also have parachute jump training . However, these do not belong to the paratroopers and only lead an infantry fight to a limited extent.



Military aviation began using tethered balloons to scout enemy positions in the late 18th century . From this, Charles Leroux performed a parachute jump on April 14, 1889 from a height of approx. 1000 m, which, however, served as a rescue jump. The history of skydiving itself goes back further. With the first major use of airplanes during the First World War (1914-1918), the armies also saw a larger field of application for military parachute jumping. The first known airborne mission was carried out on October 4, 1916 by Lieutenant Maximilian von Cossel and Vice Sergeant Rudolf Windisch after an air landing on the Eastern Front. The first known jump operation was in August 1918, when 4 Italian officers jumped behind the Austrian lines. In October 1918, a French sabotage force parachuted into the Ardennes .

US Major General Billy Mitchell (1879–1936) developed the first comprehensive airborne plan during the war . He planned the use of a complete division , which should be deployed with 2,000 aircraft behind the German front line. The company was scheduled for 1919 and was canceled after the Compiègne armistice (November 11, 1918). Mitchell also advocated his concept in the following years without being able to assert itself. Nevertheless, he successfully demonstrated the dropping of six paratroopers during a maneuver in 1928. In France, too, no attention was paid to such ideas.

Development of modern associations

Paratroopers of the Bundeswehr practice in Malmsheim.

Between the world wars

After an initial phase of experimentation, the Red Army set up the first airborne troops in August 1930 , which grew to brigade strength by 1932 (450 paratroopers; 18 aircraft). During a maneuver in the Kiev military district in 1935 , 1,800 paratroopers were dropped, supported by 5,700 other airborne soldiers. In the following year, 1,200 paratroopers cleared an airfield during another maneuver, which was followed by foreign military observers, including Kurt Student and Archibald Wavell . By 1941 the Soviet airborne force grew to three corps , each comprising three brigades (1,200 men each). These associations were first used in the summer of 1939 during the Japanese-Soviet border conflict on the border with Japanese-occupied Mongolia under war conditions.

On January 29, 1936, the Wehrmacht set up the first German paratrooper units , and later also airborne units by reorganizing infantry divisions and equipping them with light equipment and armament. By July 1, the parachute regiments 1 and 2 were set up under the command of Major General Kurt Student , and combined to form the 7th Flieger Division , which was under the Air Force .

The main difference to the parachute associations of other nations was that the troops were not used tactically but operationally .

The first skydiving school was set up at the Stendal-Borstel airfield . There were other jumping schools in Braunschweig and Wittstock / Dosse . In the course of the world war, Kraljevo and Pau were added, in which troop replacements were trained. These units were used for the first time in the course of the occupation of the Sudetenland , when German airborne troops landed near Freudenthal behind the Czechoslovak lines in autumn 1938 . As a "nickname", the German paratroopers were given the designation "Green Devils" by the Allies during the war.

To complement it, the 22nd Infantry (Airborne) Division and, as a replacement for this, the 91st (LL) Infantry Division with subordinate Paratrooper Regiment 6 was set up in 1944 and reclassified with light equipment for air relocatability.

The French Air Force made in 1937, probably in response to the Soviet advances, the 601st and 602nd Infantry air group on. However, this new force received little attention. Italy had been experimenting with airborne troops since 1927, before the first two paratrooper battalions were set up between 1936 and 1938 . Until the Second World War (1939–1945), however, these troops were not deployed, but just as in the British armed forces were only transported to their locations by air. Great Britain did not set up any paratrooper groups, but only used aircraft, as in the Middle East, via air transport to move troops.

Second World War

Experience in World War II

German paratroopers landing on Crete, 1941

During the Second World War there were numerous missions by airborne troops. The first was carried out by the Red Army during the Winter War (1939/40) in Finland , but also later during the occupation of Bessarabia . These companies failed with great losses because the troops were only deployed locally in small groups.

In April 1940, when carrying out the attack on Denmark and Norway (→ Weser Exercise Company ), German paratroopers took primarily airfields and operationally important transport hubs, thus enabling other German units to fly in. After that, the paratroopers and airborne units came into action again in May during the western campaign . They conquered operationally important bridges in Holland and the Belgian fort Eben-Emael , which was located on one of these bridges , and bound large parts of the armed forces by landing in the air behind the Dutch enemy forces.

In the following year, on April 26, 1941, German paratroopers captured the tactically important crossing over the Corinth Canal when attacking Greece . The high point of the German paratroopers' operational mission was the loss-making conquest of the island of Crete from May 20 to June 1, 1941 (→ Company Merkur ). It was shown that air landing operations in automatic parachute jump (opening of the parachute automatically immediately upon take-off) in landing zones near or in which enemy forces are located lead to high losses. In particular, the transport aircraft, since they have to fly a long distance at a very low altitude, are at great risk from flak and handguns. After this mission, on July 17th, Hitler was credited with saying that the time of the parachute troops was over because their surprise effect had vanished. In the further course of the war, seven more parachute divisions were set up, but they only carried this name for reasons of prestige. Only two paratrooper divisions were trained and equipped for parachute jumping.

The Wehrmacht did not carry out any major air landings during the Russian campaign, also due to the losses during the conquest of Crete. Undercover operations after a parachute jump were carried out by special units of the Brandenburg division . The Hercules operation for the conquest of Malta in conjunction with Italian airborne troops was canceled. The next air landing after a parachute jump did not take place until 1943, during the Leopard operation on the island of Leros . Forces of the 1st Paratrooper Division were brought up during the Allied landing Operation Husky in July 1943 in Sicily by jumping against Allied air landings. The last airborne operation was during the Ardennes offensive in 1944 by Stößer .

Red Army

The Soviet armed forces carried out major airborne operations for the first time in the winter and spring of 1942, during which a total of five brigades landed behind the German Army Group Center . However, these associations were wiped out by the summer, remaining forces joined the partisans.

Japanese army

The Imperial Japanese Army and the Imperial Japanese Navy each deployed their own low-strength paratroopers (350 men) in their operations during the 1942 conquest of Borneo and Sumatra . The navy deployed the naval parachute troops for its own operations .

USA and UK

Only after Crete did the western allies begin to build airborne troops. Larger Allied airborne companies took part in Operation Torch in French North Africa on November 8, 1942 , in July 1943 during Operation Husky with the capture of Sicily, and then especially in the context of the invasion of Normandy in Operation Overlord , in Operation Market Garden , whose overall goal was not achieved, as well as in the spring of 1945 on the Rhine during Operation Varsity .

The United States began building paratroop units in the summer of 1940. Their first major formations were the 101st US Airborne Division "The Screaming Eagles" and the 82nd US Airborne Division "All American", "America's Guard of Honor", established in August 1942, both combined in the XVIII. U.S. Airborne Corps . These were followed in the line-up by the 11th Airborne Division "The Angels", the 13th Airborne Division "Black Cat Division" and the 17th Airborne Division "Thunder from Heaven". Their first combat mission took place on November 8, 1942 near Oran in North Africa. Air landings to protect against amphibious landings were then carried out in Operation Husky in Sicily, Operation Avalanche on the Italian mainland, Operation Overlord with the air landing Operation Neptune , Operation Market Garden in the Netherlands and Operation Varsity to cross the Rhine near Wesel.

The British Army set up the 1st Airborne Division in October 1941, consisting of two Parachute Brigades and one Airlanding Brigade. The 6th Airborne Division as the second paratrooper division was set up in May 1943. The large air landing formations were supplemented by the air-transportable 52nd (Lowland) Division . Airborne operations by these large units were Operation Husky , Operation Tonga as part of Operation Overlord , Operation Market Garden with the destruction of the 1st Airborne Division, and Operation Varsity .

In the Pacific War was 11th Airborne Division (United States) used. A combat skydive took place during the reconquest of the Philippines on Corregidor by the 503rd Parachute Combat Team. Overall, also due to the climatic conditions and the wide operational area of ​​operations in the Pacific, fewer airborne operations in parachute jump were carried out, and more amphibious operations were carried out by the US Marines.

Airborne operations in the automatic battle jump after 1945

The automatic skirmish jumps carried out after 1945 mostly took place in asymmetrical wars, often after air transport and relocation from the mother country via a base closer to the area of ​​operation - for example, with the British air landing in 1956 from Cyprus. In the case of later, only occasionally carried out air landing operations, the landing zones were cleared up, explored and secured in advance by special forces in gliding operations after a free fall jump , such as the Pathfinder Platoon of the 16 Air Assault Brigade or how they are set up with the special parachute trains in the Bundeswehr. However, these types of air landing operations are the exception today and are hardly or no longer carried out due to the high risk to the transport aircraft when approaching at the lowest altitude, since they are not protected against fire. To a limited extent, units can be introduced in the sliding operation of the Military Freefall .


Paratroopers of the 25th Infantry Division during a training exercise in Alaska

Shipments: Paratroopers are typically brought to the scene by air landing . This is usually done by skydiving. Depending on the military usability, paratroopers can be deployed due to their light equipment also by air landing with helicopters, previously also with gliders . Specially trained paratroopers can also assist non-jumping specialists, such as B. Bring a reconnaissance specialist or an EOD specialist into the operational area by jumping in tandem. Alternatively, paratroopers can be deployed like any other infantry force.

Combat: The paratroopers fight as infantrymen on site. As infantry, they are particularly suitable for local and house combat as well as forest combat . A tactical challenge for paratroopers is the natural limit of a person's carrying capacity, since all equipment for deployment by the soldiers has to be moved “on the man” after landing. It is not uncommon for equipment that can reach the soldier's own body weight. For this reason, air-transportable weapons carrier vehicles such as the Kraka in the Bundeswehr or other carrier vehicles such as a pulling cart for the mobile medical team BAT were also carried with them early on. The deployment of paratroopers or airborne troops in general follows essentially tactical approaches:

  • Task Force Tactics : In this type of deployment, paratroopers are reinforced by armored troops, as they are vulnerable due to their relatively light armament and can only develop little firepower in isolation. The paratroopers also work closely with airborne combat support troops and airborne operational and command support troops from other branches of the armed forces. According to this pattern was z. B. designed the former 1st Airborne Division of the Bundeswehr .
  • Air storm tactics : Air storm troops or the air cavalry are infantry units - not exclusively paratroopers - which are often air-maneuvered by helicopter. Due to their support equipment and their armament, they are nevertheless powerful units. The armament includes light artillery, automatic cannons and guided missiles. Combat helicopters can also provide fire support. This is the concept pursued by Jägerregiment 1 in the Bundeswehr and the 101st US Airborne Division . During the Vietnam War , the division was renamed the "airmobile division" (airmobile), which means the main use of helicopters, and later the "air cavalry" (air assault). Traditionally, the term airborne is included in the division name, although today no paratrooper operations are carried out at the division level.
  • Command operations : These are used to fulfill operationally crucial tasks, to attack individual operational targets or to isolate them from a military conflict e.g. B. preventive carried out. In contrast to covert operations , commando operations are usually part of regular warfare, but the boundaries are fluid. The characteristic strengths of the paratrooper troops, which lie in the small, flexible and independently operating units in hunting combat , come into their own here. Unconventional combat management and especially the tactical element of surprise are extremely efficient and effective components of a "small" warfare. As a rule, such missions are carried out in pull strength - up to 45 paratroopers with parachute (LL) pioneer troops, parachute (LL) medical troops and parachute (LL) telecommunications troops - who lead the fight in the rear enemy space independently and on an assignment basis.

Relief: Due to the lack of supplies and replacement are exposed to airborne forces after landing in enemy territory special physical and psychological stress and have a few days of use by other troops aghast be. Ideally, they will have formed a bridgehead at the time of relief so that they can be relieved by advancing combat troops by land. Command squads and air storm troops can also be picked up and relocated by army aviators .

Paratrooper troops from individual armed forces


Beret badge for paratroopers

In the Bundeswehr, the paratrooper troops are a separate branch of the army . It belongs to the infantry group . The two paratrooper regiments form the infantry component of Airborne Brigade 1 . In addition to the support units, each regiment consists of two paratrooper companies and two paratrooper companies (extended basic qualification EGB)

Prospective paratroopers take part in the basic training of a recruit company assigned to the paratrooper regiment with a focus on infantry fighting. The parachute jump training takes place at the air landing and air transport school in Altenstadt . The skydiving course with automatic parachute opening lasts 3½ weeks and includes five jumps (usually three jumps in a row, one jump with a weapon and luggage and a night jump). The parachutist badge in bronze is awarded for the course . Particularly skilled soldiers can receive additional training for Specialized Forces of the Army with extended basic skills for special operations and then be assigned to a paratrooper company EGB of the regiment.

All members of the airborne troops, including paratroopers, wear a burgundy red beret. The following associations belong to the paratrooper troops:

Both regiments are not trained as a whole in parachuting. Thus, in contrast to other countries such as the USA or the United Kingdom, the Bundeswehr no longer has any parachute jump units or large units.


Until 1995, the Canadian Airborne Regiment was the paratrooper association in the Canadian Army . In 1992 as part of the Unified Task Force there were attacks against the Somali population, which escalated into the killing of a youth. Since this behavior was tolerated by the supervisor of the regiment and partially funded and attempts to cover-up were ( English Somalia Affair ), the regiment in 1995 by the Canadian government was disbanded without replacement. Since then there has been neither a paratrooper force nor paratrooper associations. The Canadian Army has three infantry regiments, each with three infantry battalions. The 3rd Battalion is the light infantry . In each of these battalions a company is trained for military parachute jump so that today there are three of these companies.


Austria has neither a paratrooper force nor a designated paratrooper association. The only infantry unit specializing in air landings is the Jägerbataillon 25 in Klagenfurt am Wörthersee . As a cadre unit, it consists of 1,000 long-term soldiers, around 120 of whom are trained in military parachute jump. The soldiers of the Jägerbataillon 25 are the only ones in Austria to wear a burgundy red beret and not the green beret of the hunter troop.

United States of America

Airborne Tab, the badge worn on the upper sleeve for airborne troops
"Black Hats" are the headgear and designation of the instructors at the parachuting school

The US armed forces have units and units in all branches that are trained in parachute jump. Larger infantry units trained in parachuting are only available in the United States Army . Paratroopers are not a separate branch of service and therefore there is no paratroopers, but only the collective name for paratroops ( English Paratroopers ), like infantry brigades are divided, however, have special airborne suitable equipment. The parachute troops in the United States should not be confused with the part of the airborne troops ( English Airborne Troops ) that specialize in landing with helicopters ( English Air Assault ). All soldiers in parachute troops, regardless of their type and use, must complete military parachute training and have a valid jump permit ( English Airborne Qualified ). Infantrymen of the parachute troops, like all prospective infantrymen, attend the combined basic and specialist training of the infantry at the infantry school in Fort Benning and then, together with all soldiers of the parachute troops in Fort Benning, the three-week training with the troop parachute T-11 ( English Basic Airborne Course ) to be completed. This is followed by the transfer to a paratrooper unit ( English Parachute Infantry Regiment or Infantry Regiment (Airborne) ). All members of the parachute troops wear a burgundy beret with their service suit. The following active units are parachute troops:

Special forces are also trained in parachute jump and traditionally marked with the Airborne Tab but are a separate branch of service. There is currently only one infantry battalion in the reserve that has airborne status. It is the 1st Battalion of the 143rd Infantry Regiment of the Texas National Guard assigned to the 173rd Airborne Brigade .

United Kingdom

Beret badge of the Parachute Regiment

The British Army does not have a paratrooper group as an independent branch. All paratroopers are members of the Parachute Regiment , an infantry regiment founded during World War II and today the only infantry unit in the British Army capable of parachuting. It is divided into three active and one reserve battalion . Two battalions provide part of the infantry forces of the 16th Air Assault Brigade , another battalion supports the special forces.

Aspiring paratroopers, like all infantrymen in the British Army, take part in combined basic and infantry training at the Infantry Training Center (ITC) Catterick . In the Parachute Regiment Training Company of the ITC's 2nd Battalion, the 28-week paratrooper training takes place. At the end of their training they complete the selection process for skydiving service in the P-Company . If they pass the selection, they receive the burgundy red beret and are transferred to the regiment in order to then complete the parachute jump training with the RAF Brize Norton .

The II. Squadron ( German  Schwadron ) of the Royal Air Force Regiment, the ground units of the Royal Air Force, is trained in parachute jump. It serves as support for the special forces.

French paratroopers of the GCP
Russian paratroopers of the 83rd Air Storm Brigade

Other states



Soldiers of the 173rd Airborne Brigade with a modern T-11 parachute

In addition to regular infantry training, paratroopers have special additional military training that enables them to land in the air, especially by parachuting . Due to the special requirements of this type of service, extensive weapons and shooting training as well as special courses under different climatic and operational conditions are part of the training program. Paratroopers can fight on their own for some time. For this reason, fighting in the depths as a hunting fight behind enemy lines are the main focus of training. Leaders generally take part in individual , local and house combat and mountain combat courses in order to be able to cope with the broadest possible range of operations. There is close cooperation within NATO , including personnel exchanges with foreign paratrooper units. German paratroopers often go through jump training in other armies and are trained on the weapons of the allies.


The equipment of the paratroopers includes normal infantry equipment with small arms. Paratrooper helmets, a parachute knife and special parachute boots are issued in many armies as special equipment for skydiving .

Special motor vehicles, airborne troops and paratroopers

Tradition and Corps Spirit

German parachutist badge in level I - bronze
US paratroopers on board a Boeing C-17

The parachute jump demands a high level of physical and mental performance from the soldier, since jumping out of aircraft combined with infantry operations is a considerable physical strain. The proportion of volunteers and willingness to perform are often above average. In the Bundeswehr , as in most other armies in the world, voluntary reporting (willing to parachute) is necessary for the actual jump training. This has a lasting impact on the corps spirit of most paratrooper units. For this reason, paratroopers in all armies of the world have an elitist self-image and high corps spirit . Paratrooper units are seen as elite groups of the respective armed forces. Paratroopers have always been practicing in an international and multinational setting like hardly any other branch of the army. The Franco-German "Kolibri" airborne exercises since the 1950s were probably the first major international maneuvers in which the young Bundeswehr took part. Almost all paratroopers worldwide wear the burgundy beret as a sign of their status. According to legend, the originally green beret of an English paratrooper turned red after a hard landing with a bleeding head injury. Since then, the burgundy beret has been a symbol of the special dangers that paratroopers encounter.


  • Terry Kajuko: Dien Bien Phu - The Paratroopers of the Foreign Legion in Indochina . Epee Edition, Kehl am Rhein 2014, ISBN 978-3-943288-26-1 .
  • Hartmut Buch: Ready to Jump - On the Past and Present of the Airborne Forces in East and West 1914–1991. Aviatic Verlag, Planegg 1993, ISBN 3-925505-24-5 .
  • Albert Merglen: History and Future of Airborne Forces. Publisher Rombach, Freiburg / Breisgau 1970, DNB 457575344 .
  • Burkard Straub: Airborne Troops, Military Air Transport, Air Mobility - Selected Bibliography 1966–1976. Air landing and air transport school, Altenstadt 1978, DNB 800790871 .
  • Reinhard Scholzen : The infantry of the Bundeswehr. Motorbuch Verlag, Stuttgart 2011, ISBN 978-3-613-03293-4 .

Web links

Wiktionary: Paratroopers  - explanations of meanings, origins of words, synonyms, translations
Commons : Paratroopers  - Collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ A b Albert Merglen: History and future of the airborne troops , Freiburg / Breisgau 1970, p. 14 f.
  2. ^ Albert Merglen: History and future of the airborne troops , Freiburg / Breisgau 1970, p. 15 f.
  3. ^ Albert Merglen: History and Future of Airborne Troops , Freiburg / Breisgau 1970, pp. 19-22.
  4. ^ Albert Merglen: History and future of the airborne troops , Freiburg / Breisgau 1970, pp. 16-19.
  5. ^ Albert Merglen: History and Future of Airborne Troops , Freiburg / Breisgau 1970, p. 26.
  6. To this in detail: Hans-martin Ottmer: "Weser Exercise" - The German attack on Denmark and Norway in April 1940 , Munich 1994.
  7. An overview can be found in: Hans Umbreit: The struggle for supremacy in Western Europe. In: The German Reich and the Second World War , Vol. 2, Stuttgart 1979, pp. 284–307.
  8. To this in detail: Hans-Otto Mühleisen: Kreta 1941 - The company "Merkur" May 20 to June 1, 1941 , Freiburg / Breisgau 1968.
  9. ^ Albert Merglen: History and future of the airborne troops , Freiburg / Breisgau 1970, pp. 40 and 46.
  10. Hellmuth Reinhardt: The Russian air landings in the area of ​​the German Army Group Center in the first months of 1942. In: Wehrwissenschaftliche Rundschau , Vol. 8 (1958), pp. 372–388.
  11. ^ Albert Merglen: History and future of the airborne troops , Freiburg / Breisgau 1970, pp. 51–54.
  12. ^ Richard Foot: Somalia Affair. In: The Canadian Encyclopedia, September 6, 2019, accessed June 28, 2020 .
  13. ^ Jägerbataillon 25. In: Federal Ministry of Defense, accessed on June 28, 2020 .
  14. ^ Corey Dickstein: Army to pair National Guard, Reserve units with active-duty units . In: Stars and Stripes . Washington March 22, 2016 (English, [accessed June 24, 2020]).
  15. ^ British Army: The Parachute Regiment . Retrieved July 21, 2015
  16. British Army: The Parachute Regiment-2 PARA (English). Retrieved July 21, 2015
  17. British Army: 2nd Infantry Training Battalion (English). Retrieved July 21, 2015
  18. British Army: Pegasus Company (P Coy) (English). Retrieved July 21, 2015
  19. See: Equipment of the paratroopers ( Memento from November 2, 2013 in the Internet Archive )