Infantry: August 16, 2001

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Sixty-one years ago, 48 army volunteers formed the U.S. Army Parachute Test Platoon. On August 16, 1940, they made their first mass jump. The exercise was considered a success. America went on to raise over 100,000 parachute and glider infantry (all volunteers) and formed five airborne divisions (11th, 13th, 17th, 82nd and 101st). The parachute was nothing new in American history, the first jump was made (from a balloon) in 1819 (the earliest such jump was made in France in 1797). The first jump from an airplane was made by an American in 1912. The basic elements of combat jumps by infantry (using a rip chord) were developed and tested by Americans in 1919. Had World War I gone on an additional year, the first combat jump would have been over Germany, by American paratroopers. Instead, German paratroopers startled the world in May, 1940 when they dropped on an "impregnable" Belgium fortress and conquered it in hours. The U.S. Army noticed and went on to field the world's largest airborne force. The first American combat jump was in North Africa in November, 1942. U.S. paratroopers went on to make a total of 93 combat jumps. Parachute infantry has rarely been used since World War II. The helicopter, first used at the end of World War II, had much to do with the decline of parachute forces. American still has the largest and most capable parachute forces (about two divisions worth, although only one complete airborne division.) The Russian airborne force is almost as large in personnel, but with a lower level of training and readiness. Other nations have brigades or battalions of paratroopers, which serve mainly as elite infantry or commandos. In that role, American paratroopers have frequently been in combat, earning 69 Medals of Honor in the process. 

 


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