Περί Ελαφρού Πεζικού – Μέρος Δ’
8 Φεβρουαρίου 2012 Σχολιάστε
Το κείμενο που ακολουθεί, αν και δεν είναι γραμμένο από στρατιωτικό, πραγματεύεται ένα στρατιωτικό θέμα από μία ειδική οπτική γωνία.
Το κείμενο αναφέρεται στην γέννηση και την εξέλιξη των μονάδων και σχηματισμών αλεξιπτωτιστών στους σημαντικούς στρατούς κατά την περίοδο που ξεκινά τον Μεσοπόλεμο και φτάνει μέχρι τα τέλη του 20ου αιώνα.
Η θέση του άρθρου είναι ότι οι δυνάμεις αλεξιπτωτιστών υπήρξαν μία λανθασμένη σύλληψη πριν από τον Β’ ΠΠ, στο πλαίσιο των τότε αναζητήσεων για την αποφυγή νέου πολέμο θέσεων – και για τους Σοβιετικούς υπήρξε μέρος της αντίληψής τους για τις «επιχειρήσεις σε βάθος» (deep operations).
Παρά τη θεωρία, η πράξη έδειξε ότι η σύλληψη της δημιουργίας και χρήσης δυνάμεων αλεξιπτωτιστών υπήρξε λανθασμένη, μιας και αυτοί ποτέ δεν πέτυχαν (τουλάχιστον με αποδεκτές απώλειες) τις αποστολές που τους είχαν ανατεθεί.
Το βασικό ερώτημα που διερευνά το άρθρο είναι γιατί, παρά την προφανή αποτυχία των δυνάμεων αλεξιπτωτιστών στην πράξη, οι δυνάμεις αυτές δεν είχαν ομοιόμορφη εξέλιξη σε όλους τους στρατούς, αλλά σε άλλους (όπως ο σοβιετικός) παρέμειναν σημαντικό μέρος της στρατιωτικής τους δυνάμεως, ενώ σε άλλους διατηρήθηκαν εξαιρετικά μειωμένοι, σχεδόν μόνον προσχηματικά.
Η απάντηση που δίνει ο συγγραφέας στο φαινόμενο αυτό βασίζεται στην ενδοϋπηρεσιακή ισχύ που οι εν λόγω δυνάμεις είχαν (ή δεν είχαν) αποκτήσει στους αντίστοιχους στρατούς, και η οποία καθόριζε την εξέλιξη τους, ασχέτως της επιδεικνυόμενης στρατιωτικής αξίας και χρησιμότητάς τους.
Το άρθρο αποτελεί μελέτη από το Τμήμα Πολιτικής Επιστήμης του MIT.
Στο παρόν, πρώτο μέρος, παρουσιάζεται συνοπτικά η γέννηση και η πορεία των δυνάμεων συνολικά, ενώ στα επόμενα μέρη θα εξεταστεί αναλυτικά η πορεία των Σοβιετικών, των Άγγλων και των Αμερικανών αλεξιπτωτιστών, ως τρία χαρακτηριστικά (και διαφορετικά) παραδείγματα.
Institutions and the Evolution of Postwar Airborne Forces
Security Studies Program Working Paper
MIT Center for International Studies
Much of the academic literature on military innovation is either directly or indirectly concerned with how militaries develop and perfect radically new methods of conducting battlefield operations. According to authors such as Clayton Christensen, extant organizations are unable to take advantage of these “disruptive” technological changes because their primary focus is on accomplishing current missions better, rather than on devising entirely new approaches to achieving their objectives.1 The institutional format associated with waging war in a particular way is rarely compatible with its successor. As a result, successful armed forces fail to respond to whatever the next great military innovation has to offer.
Theoretically, the best way of solving this problem and ensuring the flexibility of armed forces is to establish an autonomous service or sub-division dedicated to exploring future ramifications of a new doctrine or technology. Because developing a particular innovation would be the raison d’être of the new organization or sub-division, the autonomous entity will push the limits of what a technology or organizational format promises.
In land warfare, examples abound where this institutional strategy succeeded in producing useful new military capabilities. The development of armored forces prior to the Second World War is a case in point. During the inter-war years, states where existing branches developed a doctrine of armored operations, such as France and the United Kingdom, were less innovative than those, such as Germany, where a dedicated panzerwaffe or armored branch explored the potential applications of the tank to modern warfare. Whereas tanks and half-tracks were grafted onto the organizational structures of infantry and cavalry formations in the former cases, in the latter case the German Wehrmacht started with a clean slate and fashioned a revolutionary mobile combined-arms formation — the panzer division.
In contrast to the attention lavished on the role that autonomous organizations play in generating successful military innovations, considerably less research has addressed the flip side of this strategy. Namely, what happens when a state establishes a service or branch within a service for the expressed purpose of engendering military innovation, but the resultant “innovation” fails once exposed to the vicissitudes of war? Drawing on the history of twentieth-century airborne operations, this essay will attempt to fill this gap in the academic literature on military innovation.
The fundamental paradox examined in this paper is why the post-war evolution of airborne forces varied markedly from country to country, while their wartime records were extremely similar to one another. Although all airborne forces performed dismally during the war, some suffered enormous force reductions after the war while others managed not only to survive, but also monopolized considerable human and material resources throughout the Cold War. Why, for example, did the United Kingdom virtually dismantle its airborne forces while those of the Soviet Union underwent a post-war boom in terms of size and resources?
By examining the British and Soviet cases, this paper will attempt to explore a theoretical framework for understanding why the evolution of airborne forces has followed the lines it has since 1945. This involves what could be termed a “degrees of institutionalization” argument. In this context, the extent to which airborne forces survived and prospered in the post-war era depended on the degree of autonomy and the access to manpower and materiel they were granted prior to the Second World War. In effect, airborne forces suffered cutbacks in countries, such as the United Kingdom, where they did not enjoy a high level of institutional strength or autonomy to begin with. Contrarily, they prospered after the war in the Soviet Union, where they possessed a great deal of organizational clout and independence before the war.
Anatomy of a Failed Innovation
Between the two world wars, armed forces developed a host of innovative ways of waging war.2 One of these was airborne warfare. Facilitated by the development of large transport aircraft and reliable parachutes, airborne operations promised an alternative to the static battles of the First World War. In theory, aircraft and gliders would henceforth swoop over enemy lines to land specialized infantry in rear areas. Once delivered on or near their targets, paratroops and glider infantry would seize enemy headquarters and pinch off the supplies destined for units at the front—bringing about the demise of an adversary’s heavy forces.
The first airborne enthusiasts saw the marriage of parachutes with infantrymen as a revolution in warfare. When Colonel Billy Mitchell proposed that the United States should drop an infantry division behind German lines at Metz in 1919, he claimed this would create such chaos behind German lines that Allied soldiers would advance against a crumbling adversary. Although the end of the First World War prevented Mitchell’s Metz operation from being carried out, his vision of airborne troops outflanking larger ground forces gained currency in the post-war decades.3
By the 1920s Soviet military theorists independently arrived at conclusions similar to those of Mitchell.4 Later, as airborne thought matured, paratroop formations became an integral part of Soviet military theories on how to envelop large enemy ground forces. During an offensive, paratroops would seize targets deep in the enemy’s rear and hold onto them until relieved by mobile tank and cavalry forces. One of the founding texts of Soviet blitzkrieg theory, the Red Army’s 1935 “Instructions on Deep Battle,” posited that “in coordination with forces attacking along the front, parachute landing units can go a long way in producing a complete rout of the enemy.”5
In a slightly different vein from the Soviet theorists, German General Kurt Student argued that, “Paratroops, if we succeed in making them operational, can be the key to our victory.”6 For Student, the role of airborne forces was not to participate in enormous terrestrial envelopments but to serve as an independent arm capable of paralyzing and destroying an enemy’s ability to wage war. German paratroops would simultaneously seize many small areas and advance from them until a single large gain would be consolidated.7 Conceptually, an attack of this nature would resemble scattering drops of ink on a piece of paper. At first drops remain fragmented, but over a short period of time they spread and interconnect.
Soon officers in Japan, the United Kingdom, the United States, France and Italy also were speculating on the future use of airborne forces. In France, Air Force Captain Fred Geille began making the case for France to develop a paratroop force in 1935, and within a year, Air Minister Pierre Cot committed himself to creating divisions of “Infanterie de l’Air” or paratroops.8 Italy, lagging slightly behind France, produced its first theoretical works on airborne operations in 1937 and its first operational airborne unit in 1938.9 Finally, in 1940, the United Kingdom, the United States and Japan followed suite in the creation of operational airborne units.10
This leap from theorizing about airborne operations to building units capable of executing them was costly and fraught with mistakes and false turns. Inevitably, the first attempts to deliver infantrymen by parachute were laden with risk and uncertainty. Germany’s first airborne demonstration ended with the lone parachutist being carried from the drop zone on a stretcher and early Soviet jumps involved paratroopers riding to their targets in one-man cradles, resembling stretchers, slung underneath the wings of TB-1 bombers.11
Although initiating work on airborne forces several years after the Soviets and Germans, early British jump procedures were also fraught with danger. At first, British paratroopers jumped through a hole in the floor of the Royal Air Force’s Whitley bombers.12 More often than not, as his legs exited the aircraft, a parachutist’s upper body and head would fly forward and hit the opposite edge of the jump hole. This phenomenon, known as “ringing the bell,” inflicted a steady stream of casualties on British airborne forces.13
While devising suitable jump procedures was difficult, it was not the only obstacle to developing airborne forces. Another impediment was the need to tailor almost every element of equipment a soldier wore or carried to the airborne role. Distinctive rimless helmets, side lacing or higher topped boots, camouflaged smocks and rifles with folding stocks were all indispensable accessories to airborne operations, and as such, had to be developed and tested. Parachutes, too, required considerable forethought and experimentation. Britain went through three distinct parachute designs, the United States, five, and Germany developed four between its first airborne experiments and the end of the Second World War.14
Perhaps the most formidable impediment to states acquiring airborne forces was the lack of specialized fleets of transport aircraft and gliders capable of transporting airborne forces to their objectives. Because transport aircraft were as small as they were — able to carry fewer than 20 fully equipped paratroopers — World War II-era airborne invasions required vast armadas of aircraft and gliders. For example, the British 6th Airborne Division used 355 gliders and 733 transport aircraft for its jump into 1944 Normandy and the 7th Flieger Division needed 300 gliders and 500 transport aircraft for its 1941 assault on Crete.15
While most of the transport aircraft used in an airborne assault could also be used in future missions, gliders were less durable. Built of canvas and wood, most gliders broke up when they touched solid ground. During the Normandy invasion more than half of the United States 82nd Airborne Division’s gliders broke apart while landing and the remainder suffered damage so severe that they could never be used again.16 Such an expenditure of gliders was costly—the 5,000 gliders built by the United States during the war cost the government more than $15,000 apiece.17
Given the substantial costs and considerable experimentation involved in their creation, it is remarkable in retrospect that all of the world’s great powers developed airborne forces between 1928 and 1940. Aircraft carrier-based naval warfare, strategic bombing and armored warfare all took longer to adopt and did not propagate so widely as airborne warfare. Whereas all six great powers created paratroop units, only three built aircraft carriers and only two built strategic bombers.
The utility of airborne forces was therefore one of the few issues of military doctrine on which the General Staffs of all great powers agreed and all of the great powers entered the Second World War expecting airborne forces to play a decisive role in the proceedings. Almost no offensive plan was without its share of paratroop drops. In 1938, the Germans planned to use them to seize the Sudetanland region of Czechoslovakia, and in 1940, the Soviets actually did employ them against Finland. This was only the beginning. Soon the most of the war’s important campaigns included airborne jumps.
To the chagrin of many pre-war military thinkers, most wartime airborne operations were either costly successes or bloody failures, and the few genuine airborne successes, such as the German paratroop operations against Norway, Denmark and the Netherlands, were won against weak opponents.18 The first problem facing airborne operations, even before they get off the ground, is the need to collect timely intelligence on drop zones tens, if not hundreds of miles behind enemy lines. Over the course of World War II, faulty intelligence condemned many lightly armed airborne forces to destruction. Before attacking Crete in 1941, Admiral Canaris, chief of German intelligence, assured the armed forces that few enemy soldiers remained on the island and that “the governor of the island and all of its notables would greet the Germans with open arms.”19 Instead, 40,000 well-armed British and Commonwealth forces were available to inflict 6,650 casualties on the Germans. Even more disastrously, Soviet intelligence failed to spot the movement of the German 19th Panzer Division towards the Dnepr River in 1943. When three unfortunate brigades of Soviet paratroopers jumped directly in the path of the oncoming panzer division, half of the paratroops were killed or captured within a day, and the rest fled into the forests of the Ukraine. During the Second World War, even nations with the best intelligence gathering capabilities were unable to determine what enemy units were stationed near a drop zone. Despite the efforts of photoreconnaissance aircraft, the Dutch resistance, and teams of cryptographers reading German military codes, British intelligence failed to note the presence of two SS Panzer divisions near Eindhoven and Arnhem in September 1944.20 This intelligence failure led to the destruction of the British 1st Parachute Division. Even with perfect intelligence, adverse winds and navigational errors can scatter paratroops haphazardly across the battlefield and thereby ruin paratroop operations. In fact, during the Second World War any unit parachuting onto an objective lost the lion’s share of its combat power to the vagaries of winds and navigational errors. During the Allies’ 1943 airborne invasion of Sicily, only one-eighth of the paratroopers assigned to seize the high ground above the Gela-Niscemi road landed anywhere near their objective and only two of the 129 gliders dispatched to capture the Ponte Grande bridge landed near it.21 Elsewhere, the Soviets faced similar problems. Of the 7,373 Soviet paratroops dropped behind German lines during the Viaz’ma operation, some fell directly into German garrisons where they were killed, while others landed in forested areas so remote that they struggled for months to find their way back to Soviet lines. In total, only 5,000 paratroopers eventually assembled to operate as a cohesive unit, signifying that the Soviet airborne force dropped near Viaz’ma lost one-third of its combat power before a single shot was fired.22 Even the most minutely planned airborne operation in history—the night drop of three divisions in Normandy—proved susceptible to the same dispersion effects as the less rehearsed drops on Sicily and Viaz’ma. Only 150 of the 635 paratroops of the United Kingdom’s 9th Battalion of the Parachute Regiment landed anywhere near the battalion’s objective, the German Merville Battery.23 And only 180 of the 600 men of the 8th Battalion of the Parachute Regiment were able to assemble for the battalion’s attack on the Bures and Troarn bridges.24 Overall, dispersion effects cost the British 6th Airborne Division 60 percent of its effective combat-power before its paratroops touched terra firma in France.25 Because paratroop units are both scattered and intermingled when they arrive on the battlefield, commanders could rarely assert much authority over them. As General Ridgeway observed of his own experiences at Normandy, “There was little I could do toward exercising division control; I could only be where the fighting seemed the hottest, and thereby help my battalion commanders.”26 Needless to say, command-and-control was often non-existent during airborne operations. Based on his experience of this problem, Ridgeway quipped that “never have so few been commanded by so many.”27 Besides the intelligence problems and dispersion effects, paratroop operations failed because airborne formations lacked firepower. The requirement of airborne units to pack all of their equipment onto airplanes and drop it on the battlefield places limits on the weight of the weapons paratroopers can use. During the Second World War, the largest item in a paratroop division could not exceed seven tons.28 This meant that airborne units could not carry medium tanks — of which the lightest weighed between 20 and 25 tons — or artillery pieces with bores larger than 80 mm. Bereft of heavy equipment, airborne divisions lacked the firepower of even standard infantry divisions and were invariably destroyed when confronted by hostile armored divisions. The Dnepr airdrop is a case in point. During this operation armed Soviet paratroops were dropped behind enemy lines to prevent German reinforcements from reaching the Dnepr River.29 Lacking towed antitank guns, entrenching tools or armored vehicles of their own, the paratroopers were excruciatingly vulnerable to German artillery and tanks the moment they hit the ground on September 25, 1943. Almost immediately, these dispersed and lightly armed Soviet paratroops bumped into the German 19th Panzer Division, which slaughtered them. As the chief of operations of the 19th Panzer Division observed, “Our devastating defensive fire and the brilliant white flares that were zooming everywhere clearly unnerved the Soviets . . . . Split up into smaller and smaller groups, they were doomed. They tried to take cover in narrow ravines, but were soon winkled out; they were killed or taken prisoner.”30 Out of the 4,575 Soviet soldiers that parachuted behind the Dnepr, more than 2,400 became casualties in their first 24 hours on the ground.31 Despite better planning, British airborne forces at Arnhem suffered the same fate as their Soviet cousins on the Dnepr. Cognizant of the armored threat to airborne forces, British planners devised new lighter antitank weapons and novel ways of delivering existing antitank guns by air. Whereas the Soviet paratroopers only had inadequate PTRD antitank rifles, their British counterparts were equipped with 70 6-pounder antitank guns delivered by gliders, P.I.A.T. antitank missile launchers and large numbers of antitank hand grenades called Gammon Bombs.32 Regardless of having better equipment than the Soviets, British paratroops were still too poorly armed to accomplish their mission. In the final analysis, only so much firepower can be crammed into a glider or parachutable container. As a consequence, soon after landing in Arnhem and the neighboring town of Oosterbeek, 10,000 British paratroops were overwhelmed by two under-strength German armored divisions, with a combined force of 7,000 men and a score of tanks at the beginning of Operation Market Garden.33 The destruction of airborne forces by armored units occurred with such regularity that the mere threat of armor caused airborne commanders to cancel their plans. For example, Lieutenant General F.A.M. Browning cautioned that “we might be going one bridge too far” when he heard that German armor was near Arnhem.34 Later, during a German airborne operation in support of Adolf Hitler’s ill-fated Ardennes offensive, the paratroop commander, Colonel von der Heydte, disbanded his forces and sent them back towards German lines once he became aware of an oncoming American tank force.35 In this case, the possibility of his regiment bumping into tanks was enough to convince Heydte to abandon his mission.
A Failure Survives
The tribulations involved with possessing insufficient intelligence on potential drop zones, having paratroops scattered by the act of the drop itself and suffering disastrous losses in combat with an adversary’s heavy forces combined to doom many World War II airborne operations to failure. In fact, as illustrated by the table below, only four of the 16 major airborne operations conducted in Europe during World War II can be qualified as “successes,” and all but one of these were achieved against small, previously neutral countries.36 The remainder, including most of the war’s largest operations, were either disastrous failures or pyrrhic victories. In either case, many of the paratroopers and much of the materiel landed at a target was lost. While on average less than one-third of the airborne forces engaged in failed operations survived to fight again, even the most successful airborne operations involved high body counts.
World War II Airborne Operations in Europe
Disasters Pyrrhic Successes Successes
Viaz’ma Crete Denmark/Norway
Demiansk Tragino Aqueduct Eban Emael
Dnepr Sicily The Netherlands
Operation Market Garden Normandy Bruneval
The Ardennes Drvar
xxxxxxxx The Rhine
For example, the German 22nd Air Landing Division suffered 28 percent casualties over the course of its five-day battle for the Netherlands. In fact, the losses suffered by airborne forces during the Second World War were so severe that Germany and the Soviet Union consciously foreswore their use before the conflict was over. After his paratroopers won a bloody victory on Crete, losing more than a quarter of the men engaged, Hitler and his closest military advisors observed that “the hour of paratroopers is past.”37 Arriving at this conclusion in 1941, the German High Command cancelled all further attempts to use airborne forces. Paratroopers played no role in the invasion of Russia, the campaign in North Africa or the disastrous Stalingrad offensive, and only reemerged at the end of the war to make a few desperate combat jumps into the Ardennes and onto Yugoslav partisan leader Joseph Broz Tito’s headquarters at Drvar.38 Like the Germans, the Soviet High Command deliberately abandoned its use of airborne forces after worthlessly squandering the lives of tens of thousands of paratroops to accomplish nothing on the battlefield. After the bloodbaths suffered at Viaz’ma, Demiansk and the Dnepr, airborne forces played no role in the victorious offensives that carried Soviet arms from the Byelorussia to Berlin. Only in 1945, after the end of the war in Europe, did Soviet paratroops return to take part in the Manchurian offensive against Japan’s moribund Kwangtung Army.39 Throughout the Cold War, prospects for successful airborne operations continued to decline as armored vehicles and surface-to-air missiles proliferated. As already noted, Second World War-era airborne forces were acutely vulnerable to enemy tanks and self-propelled guns. Fortunately for 1940s paratroopers, armored divisions constituted only between 5 and 20 percent of great power armies during World War II.40 The Cold War, however, saw armored vehicles proliferate. Soon, between 80 to 95 percent of divisions in great power armies were either armored or mechanized, increasing the likelihood of lightly equipped airborne troops encountering large tank units.41 While the spread of armored vehicles increased the risk of airborne forces being crushed on the ground, the development and proliferation of surface-to-air missiles (SAM) barred them from reaching potential drop zones. Beginning in 1957 and 1959 with the Soviet Union and the United States respectively unveiling SA-2 and HAWK missiles, mass produced and exported SAMs provided even second-rate powers with the ability to shoot down large slow transports carrying paratroopers to their destinations. As military historian John Keegan observed, once states possessed “ground- and air-launched missiles . . . no general anywhere would consider sending formations [of paratroops] en masse against prepared positions, and the role of the parachutist would dwindle to that of the clandestine interloper.”42 As the table below demonstrates, the negative experiences of World War II, combined with the spread of armored vehicles and SAMs, has deterred states from dropping airborne forces behind the lines of anything but the most primitive opponents. In each case, small airborne forces faced poorly armed and frequently incompetent adversaries and in no case did the forces opposing airborne units have SAMs or tanks.43 No great power has dropped airborne forces on even a second-rate military since 1960. The Israelis did not conduct a parachute drop during the 1967, 1973 or 1982 Arab-Israeli conflicts, Britain demurred from launching an airborne assault during its 1982 war with Argentina over the Falklands, neither the Indians nor Pakistanis used paratroops in their wars against each other, and the Serbs did not employ airborne forces in their conflicts with Croatia or Slovenia. During this time, the United States and France deliberately rejected proposals to use their airborne forces in the 1991 Gulf War or to save the Bosnian Muslim enclave of Srebrenica in 1995.44 When questioned about his lack of enthusiasm for the latter operation, French Minister of Defense François Léotard responded that “While we could have done an airborne operation . . . I know that we would have lost a lot of men” and “it would have been difficult, very difficult.”45 In retrospect, it is astonishing that paratroop forces survived at all given how costly they were to create, how disappointing they were in combat and how the Cold War proliferation of SAMs and armor heightened their vulnerability. Yet survive they did. In fact, the size of the victorious great powers’ airborne forces remained unaffected by the legacies of their wartime operational performance or the emergence of new threats to their existence.46
Airborne Operations Post-1960
Year Location Launching State Size of Force Opponent
1964 Belgian Congo Belgium 545 men Congolese Rebels
1967 South Vietnam United States 1 battalion Viet Cong
1970s Rhodesia Rhodesia platoons Rebels
1978 Zaire France 400 men Congolese Rebels
1984 Grenada United States 2 battalions Grenadan Army
1989 Panama United States 6 battalions Panamanian Defense Forces
For example, the country whose airborne forces performed the worst during World War II —the Soviet Union — maintained eight airborne divisions, more than the rest of the world combined, despite its wartime decision not to use paratroops in combat. Contrarily, the United Kingdom, whose paratroopers enjoyed a mix of successes and failures during the war, all but eliminated its airborne forces during the thirty years following victory. As illustrated in Table III, the American example lies between these two poles.47 Thus, the paradox emerges that airborne forces survived and prospered after the Second World War in countries where they had failed in battle, while, conversely, they were disbanded by a state whose paratroop operations were relatively more successful. This illogicality can only be accounted for by the varying degrees of institutionalization that characterized different countries’ airborne forces prior to the Second World War. In effect, the ability of paratroop units to oppose force reductions and budget cuts is a product of the degree of institutional autonomy they enjoy within the armed forces as a whole. In this context, highly autonomous airborne forces staved off attempts to lessen the volume of resources at their disposal, while less autonomous ones proved more vulnerable to the challenges of critics and the competing claims of other groups within the armed forces. The following pages will examine how the degree to which airborne forces were initially institutionalized affected how they evolved after World War II in the two countries where their evolutions diverged the most markedly, namely the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union, and in a third, the United States, where the size of airborne forces fluctuates widely.
Evolution of Great Power Active Airborne Forces
Country 1945 1965 1985
Soviet Union 10 “corps” 7 divisions 8 divisions
United States 5 divisions + 2 divisions + 1 division + 1 regiment 3 brigades 1 brigade
United Kingdom 3 divisions 1 brigade 1 battalion
1 Christensen’s argument addresses how innovation occurs in business settings. Nevertheless, the book is assigned
widely within the armed forces (according to Colonel Kevin Benson, United States Army) and is required reading in
academic courses on military innovation and organization theory. Clayton Christensen, The Innovator’s Dilemma (New
York: HarperCollins, 2000), 42-48.
2 Amphibious assaults, carrier warfare, strategic bombing, integrated air defenses and armored warfare are the best
known and most successful examples. Less successful innovations include: “air control,” biological warfare, fortress
systems, mixed horse-tank divisions, cruiser submarines, cruiser aviation, motor torpedo boats, and bicycle and motorcycle infantry.
3 In retrospect, Mitchell’s plan was almost certainly unworkable in 1919. Whether the Entente could have produced the
20,000 or so parachutes needed for an operation of this type and whether 12,000 infantrymen could have been trained in their use is doubtful. Moreover, key technologies such as the static line parachute and larger dedicated transport aircraft did not exist. See John Galvin. Air Assault: The Development of Airmobile Warefare (New York: Hawthorn, 1969), 1-4.
4 M.N. Tukhachevsky first wrote about airborne operations in 1928. The three missions articulated above were proposed
by A.N. Lapchinsky at the same time period. See David Glantz, A History of Soviet Airborne Forces (London: Frank
Cass, 1994), 4.
Part of the cost of buying airborne forces.
5 Glantz, 32.
6 Kurt Student, “Interview with Pierre Sergent,” Bad Salzuflen, Germany: November 1973. in Pierre Sergent, Histoire
mondiale des parachutistes (Paris: SPL, 1974), 70.
7 Galvin, 13.
8 Sergent, Histoire mondiale des parachutistes, 45-47.
9 Ibid., 48.
10 It is interesting to note that in some nations airborne forces were created and controlled by air forces, where in others
they fell under the command of armies. France and Germany were examples of the former phenomenon; the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom and the United States fall into the latter category. In Japan, both the Army and the Navy possessed their own paratroop forces. Finally, in Italy paratroops initially were under the jurisdiction of the air force, but
later came under that of the army. See Ibid.
11 The German experiment was carried out in 1935. Bruce Quarrie, German Airborne Troops, 1939-45 (London: Osprey,
1983), 5. For more on the Soviets, see Zaloga, 9-10.
12 This hole was the product of removing one of the Whitley’s defensive gun turrets.
13 Ibid., 134-35.
14 See Quarrie, 22-25; and Gregor Ferguson, The Paras, 1940-1984 (London: Osprey, 1984), 3-4.
15 Sergent, Histoire mondiale des parachutistes, 73, 172.
16 Ibid., 180-81.
17 Janet Daly Bednarek, “Damned Fool Idea: The American Combat Glider Program, 1941-1947,” Air Power History
(Air Force Historical Association, Winter 1996), 44-47.
18 The German assaults on the Netherlands, Denmark and Norway all enjoyed the advantages of surprise and complete
19 Student, 71.
20 A.D. Harvey, Arnhem (London: Cassell, 2001), 31-37.
21 General James Gavin himself landed 30 miles from his correct drop zone. Galvin, 101-04.
22 Steven Zaloga, Inside the Blue Berets: A Combat History of Soviet and Russian Airborne Forces, 1930-1995 (Novato,
California: Presidio, 1995), 56-57.
23 This under-strength force of 150 paratroopers managed to seize the Merville Battery, but in doing so 45 percent of the
force was killed.
24 Gregor Ferguson, The Paras, 1940-1984 (London: Osprey, 1984), 17-19.
25 The American paratroopers dropping into Normandy appear to have suffered just as heavily from dispersion effects as
the British. For example, none of the American pathfinders landed near the drop zones they were supposed to illuminate.
Moreover, the 2nd Battalion of the 502nd Regiment was able to assemble only 75 men during the first evening and the 3rd Battalion of the 506th Regiment could only muster 150. Sergent, Histoire mondiale des parachutistes, 171-72.
26 Matthew Ridgeway, cited in Galvin, 143.
27 Ridgeway, cited in Smith, 55.
28 The largest item of equipment in any World War II airborne force was the seven-ton British Tetrarch tank. Only
Britain’s enormous and costly Hamilcar gliders could carry the Tetrarch. As a consequence, only seven Tetrarchs were
landed during the invasion of Normandy. See R.M. Ogorkiewicz,
Design and Development of Fighting Vehicles (New York: Doubleday, 1968), 52.
29 At this stage of the war, the Soviet Union lacked an adequate man-portable antitank gun. The PTRD antitank rifle had
been adequate against the lightly armed Pz IIs and Pz (t) 38 light tanks in 1941 and 1942 but was completely inadequate
when faced with the heavily armored panzers of 1943.
30 Zaloga, 106.
31 Ibid., 108. And Glantz, 277.
32 Harvey, 35.
33 Some of the German tanks that saw action at Arnhem were quite old. Amongst the armored vehicles encountered by
the British were French Char B-1 bis tanks captured in 1940 and German Panzer IIs built before the war. See Ibid., 90-98.
34 Unlike the movie version of Cornelius Ryan’s book A Bridge Too Far, General Browning uttered his famous line
before the battle began and not after its conclusion. Ibid., 7.
35 Galvin, 200-12.
36 The information presented in this table was gleaned from a variety of sources. See Sergent, Histoire mondiale des parachutistes, Galvin, Zaloga and Glantz. Failures are defined in terms of operations not accomplishing their stated objectives. Pyrrhic victories are defined as operations that succeed, whether through the actions airborne forces or not, where the attacking force suffers over 25% casualties in its first 24 hours on the ground. Successes occur when operational objectives are seized and where the attacking force suffers fewer than 25% casualties during its first day on the ground.
37 Student in Sergent, Histoire mondiale des parachutistes, 71.
38 While they did not conduct combat jumps, German paratroopers fought on as an elite infantry force (one of several) throughout the war.
39 This offensive touched-off after the first atomic bomb had been dropped on Hiroshima. As such, the Japanese forces facing the Soviets were in no position to fight much of a defensive battle against a large attacking Soviet military force.
40 In 1940, six percent of German divisions were armored (10 of 156). Seven percent of French divisions were armored (7 of 104). The Soviet Union had appreciably more, with 15 percent of its divisions armored (58 of 386). Of great power armies, the Japanese probably had the smallest percentage of armor, and the United States the greatest.
41 Throughout much of the Cold War, 16 of 20 US Army divisions were armored or mechanized and 162 of 170 Soviet
Divisions were either motorized rifle or tank.
42 John Keegan, Six Armies in Normandy: From D-Day to the Liberation of Paris (New York: Penguin, 1982), 81.
43 Only the Viet Cong cannot be characterized as incompetent, and it is noteworthy that the one use of airborne forces against them, Operation Junction City, was an operational failure because the lion’s share of VC Main Force units escaped an attempted American encirclement. As mentioned above, none of the enemies that confronted airborne forces after 1960 possessed tanks. In fact, only three, the FLNC in 1978, the Grenadans in 1984 and the Panamanian Defense Forces in 1989 had any armor whatsoever, and this was comprised of elderly armored cars and inexpensive armored personnel carriers.
44 Bernard Trainor and Michael Gordon, The General’s War: The Inside Story of the Conflict in the Gulf (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1995), 157.
45 Mission d’information commune sur les événements de Srebrenica, “Testimony of François Léotard, Minister of Defense, March 1993 – May 1995” (Paris: February 12, 2001).
46 The obvious exceptions were Germany and Japan, whose airborne forces were dismantled following their defeat in
World War II.
47 Table III counts only paratroop forces that remain jump-qualified and are trained in conventional airborne assaults.
Therefore, units such as the US Army Rangers are counted as airborne, while others, such as the American 101st Airborne, is not. Special Forces, which use parachutes as an occasional means of clandestine insertion, are not included.