Περί Ελαφρού Πεζικού – Μέρος Η’

Ακολουθεί το τελευταίο απόσπασμα της μελέτης του Marc DeVore στο οποίο παρουσιάζεται η πολεμική εμπειρία και η ιστορικήεξέλιξη των αερομεταφερόμενων δυνάμεων μίας συγκεκριμένης χώρας, αυτής των ΗΠΑ. Όπως είναι αναμενόμενο, το απόσπασμα είναι εκτενέστερο από τα προηγούμενα για τη Σοβιετική Ένωση και τη Βρετανία.

Στο πρώτο μέρος της μελέτης, ο DeVore εξέθεσε τη βασική του θέση, ότι οι αερομεταφερόμενες δυνάμεις ήταν μια προπολεμική σύλληψη που τόσο ο Β΄ΠΠ όσο και η μεταγενέστερη εμπειρία απέδειξαν ότι ήταν λανθασμένη. Παρ΄όλα αυτά, οι δυνάμεις αυτές δεν εξαλείφθησαν ή μειώθησαν κατά αντίστοιχο τρόπο, εξ αιτίας της ισχύος που τα στελέχη τους είχαν εξασφαλίσει εντός των αμυντικών οργανισμών των αντιστοίχων χωρών. Ιδιαίτερα με το απόσπασμα για τον αμερικανικό στρατό, η θέση αυτή φαίνεται ιδιαίτερα ισχυρή.

Θα ακολουθήσει το τελευταίο και σημαντικότερο μέρος της μελέτης, που αφορά τη σύνοψη και τα συμπεράσματά της, και το οποίο θα εκτεθεί στα ελληνικά.

Institutions and the Evolution of Postwar Airborne Forces

Marc DeVore

Security Studies Program Working Paper
June 2004
MIT Center for International Studies

The United States: Fighting for a Role 

The story behind American airborne forces is different from those of the Soviet Union or United Kingdom. American airborne forces—the second largest in the world— have remained large since World War II. They have, however, shrunk since 1945 and their size and organizational formats have fluctuated considerably. Why did United States airborne forces evolve more erratically than their British or Soviet counterparts?  The answer to this question is complex and involves not only  the degree of institutional autonomy accorded to airborne  forces, but also the way that airborne institutions competed with  other American military organizations and services for roles,  missions and a share the national defense budget. In effect,  possessing a high degree of organizational autonomy, but not so  much as the Soviet VDV, American airborne forces fought  continually to justify their large size by embracing new roles  and missions, and lobbying to include airborne operations in most American military enterprises.

U.S. paratroopers await jump.

Strategically, the United States’ development of airborne  forces made logical sense during World War II. Because  Germany controlled Western Europe when the United States  entered World War II and Japan conquered much of the Pacific in the war’s first six months, the United States  needed to forcibly establish bridgeheads in territories under enemy control. Only airborne and amphibious  units could do this in the 1940s.115 The United States invested in both, including five airborne divisions, six  Marine divisions and substantial army amphibious forces.

As with other aspects of ground warfare, early American airborne thought reacted to developments  abroad and showed originality.116 However, once foreign demonstrations highlighted the value of parachute  units, several branches within the Army fought for the authority to develop and control them.

When the Chief of Infantry proposed creating a small detachment of ‘air infantry’ in 1939, the Air Corps  responded that airborne forces should answer to them instead. Not to be outdone, the Corps of Engineers  reasoned that because airborne troops would operate behind enemy lines and enact sabotage missions they  should answer to engineers. In late 1939, Army leadership moderated the competing claims of the Infantry,  Air Corps and Engineers, deciding in favor of the Infantry.117 Later, in 1941, the Air Corps made another  unsuccessful bid to control paratroop units.

Once jurisdictional issues were settled, the War Department ordered the Infantry to examine the feasibility  of airborne forces. This decision, coming in January 1940, was followed on June 25, 1940 by the creation  of a test platoon at Fort Benning.

Meanwhile developments abroad, including Germany’s easy victories in Scandinavia and the Low  Countries, and its successful invasion of Crete, hastened America’s development of airborne forces.118 Ironically,  the attack on Crete persuaded Germans that airborne forces were costly and vulnerable, yet won over  military leaders in the United States and United Kingdom. General Maxwell Taylor, wartime commander of  the 101st Airborne Division, observed, “On May 20 [1941], some 15,000 German parachute and glider troops  had attacked and captured the island of Crete . . . . It was a brilliant coup de main which made an enormous  impression in Washington as evidence of the feasibility of division-size airborne operations in the execution  of a ‘vertical envelopment.’ Oddly enough, the effect on the Germans was quite the contrary.”119

During this period, America’s young airborne forces expanded from a platoon, to a battalion, to finally a  regiment (the Provisional Parachute Group or PPG). By late 1941, airborne divisions were clearly the next  step. Questions remained, however, about what types of division would be created and what would be their  relationship with the Infantry, the Air Corps and other army institutions.

General William Lee, commander of the PPG, wanted large divisions of 15,000 troops complete with  support personnel and organic transport. General Lesley McNair disagreed and favored stripped down 8,300  man divisions.120 McNair had the final word as commander of Army Ground Forces and the smaller divisions  were adopted. Under various operational pressures, however, airborne divisions grew to 11,000 men apiece  by 1944.121 Originally airborne divisions consisted of two glider regiments and one parachute regiment, a  ratio that was reversed before America’s first divisional sized airborne operation in July 1943.

Another debate, more central to the future of airborne forces, centered on the scope, form and autonomy  of parachute units. The PPG under Lee fought for an autonomous branch within the Army, on par with the  armored force or the infantry, which would control its own air transport. The Infantry and the Air Corps  opposed this measure. The Chief of Infantry argued that airborne infantry belonged in the same branch as  their foot-bound and motorized brethren. The Air Corps refused to subordinate air transport to an airborne  branch, but argued that if air transport and paratroops are interdependent, then both should answer to the Air  Corps.

The outcome of this bureaucratic battle determined the fate of American airborne forces. Airborne  forces won autonomy, but less than hoped for. Rather than becoming a separate branch, on par with the  infantry or armor, airborne forces were incorporated as a privileged group within the Infantry, possessing its  own high level administrative, combat and training commands.

They were allowed to create Airborne Command, later renamed Airborne Center. This higher-level  administrative headquarters empowered airborne forces to write doctrine, supervise paratroop recruitment and  training, establish equipment requirements, and liaise with the Army Air Corps Troop Carrier Command.  Other airborne institutions included a new Parachute School at Fort Benning and a combat headquarters, the  XVIII Airborne Corps.122

 Table VI 

Airborne Divisions as a Percentage of Total Force 

Country                           # Airborne Divisions                          # Divisions                            % Airborne

United States (1944)                 5                                                               90                                            5.6

United Kingdom (1943)           2                                                               39                                            5.1

Soviet Union (1941)                 10                                                             220                                          4.5

Italy (1941)                                    1                                                               64                                            1.6

Germany (1940)                          1                                                              156                                           0.6

Although American airborne forces failed to win control of air transport, the Army Air Corps also lost in  its bid to dominate airborne forces. Ultimately, airlift and airborne forces remained administratively separate,  20  but were frequently partnered up together. For example, the 505th Parachute Regiment collaborated with the  316th Troop Carrier Group during all of its airborne assaults from Sicily to Arnhem.123

Taken as an ensemble, the American airborne institutions created in 1941 and 1942 are much more  comprehensive and guarantee a higher degree of autonomy than their British equivalents; but they are much  less extensive than the Soviet VDV.

When American airborne forces won a measure of autonomy from the Infantry and confirmed their  independence vis-à-vis the Air Corps the stage was set for the creation of a very large and well-equipped  airborne force. In August of 1942, the Army officially created two airborne divisions, the 82nd and 101st.  Each consisted of one of the Army’s six (Parachute Infantry Regiments ) PIRs and two glider infantry  regiments drawn from the 82nd Infantry Division.124 In 1943, the Army formed three more airborne divisions  – the 11th, 17th and 13th. A sixth division, the 15th, was planned, but never activated.

Although the United States was slow to develop airborne forces, by 1943 it had an airborne force of five divisions; the second largest and one of the best equipped in the world. In absolute terms only the Soviet  Union’s 10 airborne ‘corps’ were nominally larger than American airborne forces.125

Relative to the size of American ground forces, the United States’ airborne forces were even larger than the Soviet Union’s or Germany’s. At the height of the Second World War the United States fielded 90 divisions;  of which approximately six percent were airborne. As Table VI above illustrates, percentages were  lower in other great powers.126

Besides being large, American airborne forces were expensive as well. Unlike other combat units,  including the Marines, they were composed entirely of volunteers who were paid $50 to $100 a month more  than other soldiers.127 Substantial numbers of America’s best-motivated soldiers were going airborne; a  markedly different allocation of human resources than the Germans practiced, who concentrated volunteers in  armored and mechanized divisions. Regarding American airborne soldiers, a staff officer observed, “Tough?  God they are tough! Not just in the field, but twenty-four hours a day. Off-duty they’d move into a bar in  little groups and if everybody there didn’t get down on their knees in adoration, they’d simply tear the place  up. Destroy it.”128

Besides consuming precious human resources, America’s airborne divisions needed substantial materiel  as well. The most advanced transport aircraft of the Second World War, the C-47, carried either 18 paratroops or 6,000 lbs of cargo. To drop one airborne battalion required 50 C-47 transport aircraft; a regiment required  150. Large airborne operations entailed building thousands of aircraft.129 Gliders were needed too and the  United States built over 5,000 poor-quality gliders during the war at a cost of $15,000 apiece.130

Specialized equipment was designed for airborne forces as well. Perhaps the most costly type of ordnance  developed for America’s airborne divisions was the M22 “Locust” tank. With the exception of Britain,  the United States was the only country to develop an air-transportable tank during World War II. As early as  1941, the Army began work on the M22 and by 1943 a specialized unit, the 151st Airborne Tank Company,  was equipped with it.131 Unfortunately, technical problems led to increases in the M22’s weight, edging it  above 7-tons and the carrying capacity of C-47 transports and Waco gliders. Only the much-prized British  Hamilcar glider could carry the American tank and there were too few of these to go around.132

When American airborne forces saw combat in 1942 they were a new organization, barely two years old,  but had received the pick of American manpower and materiel. How well did these forces perform in battle?  Overall, as Table VII demonstrates, few American airborne operations were unqualified successes and most  resulted in either costly successes or disastrous failures.

As should be evident, American airborne forces endured their share of catastrophic operations. Beginning  with the Oran operation of November 1942, only 6 of 33 C-47s carrying paratroopers reached their  destination in French Algeria and the 509th Parachute Battalion was unable to capture its intended airfields.133  A month later, an airborne battalion’s attempt to blow up the El Djem Bridge in Tunisia turned out even  worse. After failing to blow up the bridge and running afoul of Axis patrols, only eight out of 32 paratroopers  survived to reach Allied lines. 134

The American airdrop on Sicily, a much larger operation, also failed to achieve any of its objectives.  Poor navigation led to 88 percent of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment being dropped off target and, in  one of the most tragic friendly fire incidents of the war, 42 percent of the C-47s carrying the 504th Parachute  Infantry Regiment were hit by American anti-aircraft fire.

The few paratroopers that actually landed in their drop zones immediately faced a nightmare scenario.  When the German Hermann Göring Panzer Division attacked the American beachhead on Sicily, it went  through the 82nd Airborne Division like a sieve. As one man bitterly put it, “We drove the German infantry off, but the tanks managed to get through us.”135 Altogether, 27 percent of American paratroopers committed  to Sicily were killed, wounded or captured.136

Table VII 

World War II Airborne Operations Behind Enemy Lines 

Indecisive Operations or  Disasters                                    Pyrrhic Successes                                             Successes

Oran, Algeria                                                                                      Normandy                                                         Tebessa

El Djem, Tunisia                                                                                 Provence                                                 Nadzab, New Guinea

Sicily                                                                                                          Arnhem                                                           Corregidor

Avellino                                                                                                                                                                                 The Rhine

In addition to these outright failures, many American airborne operations were limited and very costly successes. During the Normandy invasion the United States’ 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions occupied the  Douves and Meredet river valleys, four roads crossing the lagoon inland of Utah Beach and the strategic town of Saint-Mère-Eglise during the morning of June 6, 1944. This success came at a cost of 19 percent of the  Anglo-American airborne forces in one day, and losses were this low only because German forces on the  Cotentin Peninsula remained inert. 137 Casualties were even heavier during Operation Market Garden. Although  paratroops seized their appointed bridges, over 27 percent of the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions  were either killed, wounded or captured before they were relieved by advancing British armored units.

General Eisenhower talks to U.S. airborne force on eve of Normandy invasion.

The American airborne assault in Southern France was less costly, but was not completely successful  either. When 60 percent of his paratroops failed to land in their appointed drop zones, Major General Robert  Frederick felt that his 1st Airborne Task Force was too weak to seize its objective, the crossroads city of  Muy.138 Fortunately, the Germans failed to take advantage of this situation to attack the Allied beachhead.139

While it suffered several disasters and semi-disasters, the United States experienced few airborne  triumphs. The four American airborne operations qualified as were successful were launched under the most  permissive conditions. For example, the American battalion that seized Tebessa airfield in 1942 did so at the  expense of Vichy French troops, who never opened fire. Victory at Nadzab, New Guinea, was easy because  the Japanese had orders to withdraw as soon as attacked. Although retaking Corregidor in 1944 should have  been a difficult task, “the [Japanese] defense showed neither spirit nor cohesion.”140

Faced with such a mixed record of successes and failures, high-level commanders tried to abolish  American airborne forces on two occasions and a virtual moratorium on airborne assaults existed by the end  of the war. General Dwight Eisenhower began questioning the usefulness of airborne forces beginning in  1943, after Oran, El Djem and Sicily. As General Maxwell Taylor remembered it, “critics pressed for a  reversion to the use  of small parachute  units primarily for  sabotage behind  enemy lines,” but “senior airborne  officers, such as  Generals Ridgway and Swing, fought  back as best they could and, in the end, were able to defer any immediate  changes in the  concept of airborne  operations.”141

After further  disaster at Avellino, both Eisenhower and McNair favored  abolishing airborne divisions.  Eisenhower went on  the record arguing  that airborne divisions were “too large” and that they should be reduced to “strong regimental combat teams.” McNair, for his part, contended  that airborne units should be battalion sized at most.142 General George Marshall, Army Chief of Staff,  demurred. Instead of abolishing airborne divisions, he convoked a panel under General Joe Swing, commander  of the 11th Airborne Division, to investigate recent failures.143

Having twice escaped elimination in 1943, fresh disappointments resuscitated doubts about airborne  operations in late 1944. Having fought bravely and captured public attention, American airborne divisions  became too prestigious to disband. However, American commanders, including Eisenhower and MacArthur,  declared a moratorium on airborne operations, especially ones deep in enemy territory. The plan for  America’s final airborne assault of the war, Operation Varsity, reflects their doubts.

Despite the pitiful state of the German Army in early 1945, only after prodding by General Montgomery  did Eisenhower consent to drop two airborne divisions in broad daylight, barely three miles behind enemy  lines, where 3,000 allied guns supported them.144 The limited results of even this operation persuaded American  commanders not to use airborne forces in the planned invasion of Japan.145

Given heavy losses, excessive costs and meager results, America could have abolished its airborne  forces or at least let them sink into obscurity as the British did. This did not occur and American airborne  forces have remained large ever since.

The key to the post-war survival of airborne forces lies in their wartime status. Because airborne forces  were consciously established as an elite organization, they received the pick of army officers—those who  would have had stellar careers in any case. Then, through constant use, the officers commanding three American airborne divisions earned the credibility and reputation needed to advance rapidly in the post-war  army. Whether their operations were strategic successes or not, the 82nd Airborne Division was for Sicily,  Salerno, D-Day and Arnhem; the 101st saw action in Normandy, Arnhem and at Bastogne; and the 11th Airborne  fought in New Guinea and the Philippines.

Airborne officers were privileged in the post war army because of their elite status and hard earned combat record, both products of organizational choices made in the early 1940s. In fact, three World War II era  airborne generals, Matthew Ridgeway, Maxwell Taylor and William Westmoreland, became Chiefs of  Staff of the Army while others, such as General James Gavin, occupied posts of critical importance within the  army. Many World War II regimental or division commanders commanded regular divisions or corps after the  war, including two who eventually commanded America’s armies in the United States’ two significant Cold War-era conflicts—the Korean and Vietnam Wars. As Richard Betts put it, “The leaders of the army in the  cold war were the men who had led airborne divisions in World War II.”146

With airborne officers occupying so many important command positions following World War II,  airborne forces received preferential treatment in an era of drastic force reductions. In their new positions,  Second World War airborne officers remained loyal to their wartime combat branch. This explains why two  of the army’s 11 active divisions, or 18 percent of America’s available land combat power, consisted of  airborne forces in 1947.147 Airborne divisions comprised a larger percentage of American forces at this time  than during the war (18% versus 6%) and were proportionally larger than Soviet airborne forces (18% versus  12%).

As time went on airborne forces struggled to maintain their status within the United States Army. Their  relative success or failure in this endeavor explains significant shifts in the size of airborne forces detailed in  Table VIII.148

In general, airborne officers used two techniques to preserve the size and status of their forces. These  included: 1) seeking out new missions to justify maintaining large airborne forces, 2) attempting to incorporate  airborne jumps into military operations, whether or not they were necessary.

As part of airborne forces’ struggle for size and identity, present and past airborne officers labored to  convince policymakers that airborne forces were compatible with changing American military doctrines and  foreign policies. To do this, they modified airborne forces to superficially correspond to the defense policies  and strategic orientations of each administration. At various occasions, this involved marketing airborne  forces as ideal for the atomic battlefield, superb rapid reaction forces or the key to waging successful  counterinsurgency operations.

Under the Eisenhower administration, which espoused “massive retaliation” and the nuclear battlefield,  airborne officers managed to increase both the relative and absolute size of American airborne forces by  transforming them into test-beds to examine combat on an atomic battlefield. In fact, after John Foster Dulles nunciated American nuclear strategy in 1954, Maxwell Taylor, Army Chief of Staff between 1955 and 1959,  reactivated the 101st Airborne Division, which he had commanded during World War II, and organized it as an experimental unit designed for an “atomic battlefield.” Taylor’s experiments with the 101st Airborne Division  led to the “Pentomic Army” initiative — a broad reorganization of the army for tactical nuclear warfare.

After the 101st Airborne Division, the 82nd and 11th  Airborne Divisions became “pentomic” in March 1957.149  Most of the remainder of the regular army converted to  the pentomic format in 1958. By using airborne divisions  as the test-beds and vanguard of the project, Taylor  managed to temporarily expand the size of airborne  forces from two to three divisions, meaning that they  constituted three of the United States’ 15 Army divisions,  or 20 percent of the Army’s combat units, in early  1958.150

Table VIII 

United States Airborne Forces 1945-95  (measured by infantry battalions) 

1945 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 45 battalions

1955 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21 battalions

1965 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 30 battalions

1975-85 . . . . . . . . . . . 9 battalions

1995 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12 battalions

When the Kennedy Administration assumed office  in January 1961, a new national strategy condemned  airborne forces’ pentomic role to obsolescence. President  Kennedy and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara  were less interested in nuclear battlefields, but wanted  military forces able to project power abroad and fight  insurgencies in the developing world. As soon as they discerned the outlines of Kennedy foreign and defense  policies, airborne officers flocked to convince McNamara that large airborne forces were essential to the new  administration’s goals.

Taylor, now Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Gavin, Chief of Army Plans, Research and  Development, succeeded in promoting airborne forces as the military means needed to accomplish the new  administration’s political ends by advertising the ability of airborne forces to respond to crises and supporting  reforms to transform airborne divisions into counterinsurgency airmobile units.

As part of its more interventionist foreign policy, Taylor argued that the United States needed more  airborne units as rapid reaction forces. With Taylor’s prodding and Gavin’s support, new regional airborne rapid reaction forces sprang into existence, eventually including an airborne brigade attached to a non airborne division, an independent airborne brigade and three separate airborne battalions. Important regions, such as Asia and Europe, each received an airborne brigade — the 173rd Airborne Brigade and the 1st Airborne  Brigade, 8th Infantry Division respectively. Less important regions, such as Latin America and Alaska,  received battalion-sized forces.151

In addition to popularizing airborne forces based on their rapid deployment capabilities, Taylor also put  them at the forefront of army counterinsurgency research in the early 1960s. From the very beginning, the  idea of using troop-carrying helicopters for airmobile operations was developed and nurtured by airborne  officers. Lieutenant General Hamilton Howze, an airborne officer, led the panel that investigated the feasibility of helicopter-borne operations in 1962.152 In 1963, Taylor insisted that the test-bed unit for helicopterborne  operations carry on the airborne traditions of the World War II-era 11th Airborne Division. Later, once  helicopter air assault doctrines were elaborated, the 101st Airborne Division and the 173rd Airborne Brigade  were among the first units converted to the new organizational format.

By making airborne units the army’s rapid reaction forces and adapting them for counterinsurgency,  Taylor and Gavin added six active airborne battalions to the army during the Kennedy administration—  bringing the total to 30 parachute infantry battalions on the eve of the Vietnam War.153

The Vietnam War soon reduced the size of America’s parachute capable forces. Tight budgets, the  military pressures of the Vietnam War and the eventual transition to an all volunteer force led successively to  the abolition of Taylor’s independent airborne battalions and mixed airborne/infantry divisions, the loss of  airborne status by the 101st Airborne Division and, finally, the deactivation of the 173rd Airborne Brigade in  1972.154

Although the size of American airborne forces fell from 30 parachute infantry battalions in 1965 to 9  parachute infantry battalions in 1975, the Vietnam War is an ambiguous watershed in the history of American  airborne forces.  Although airborne  forces  shrunk, they  remained large in  both absolute and  relative terms.  Over time, they  managed to find  new missions to  justify their  continued  existence.

In the late  1970s, airborne  forces marketed  themselves as  America’s rapid  intervention force  for the Persian  Gulf after the  Carter Administration  explicitly  stated that the region contained American security interests. In 1978, the XVIIIth Airborne Corps became the  principal contingency force for America’s Rapid Deployment Force, later renamed Central Command. Because  of this new role, the XVIIIth Airborne Corps preserved its independence and obtained resources to  upgrade its subordinate units.155

Table IX 

New Missions for American Airborne Forces 

Administration                                        Mission                                                      Organizational Consequence 

Eisenhower                                                 Pentomic Army                                    101st Airborne reactivated as  “test” division

Kennedy                                                      Rapid Reaction                             three airborne brigades and  three airborne battalions formed

                                                                     Counterinsurgency                              11th Airborne reactivated as an  undersized “test” unit

Carter                                                      Persian Gulf                                        XVIIIth Airborne Corps  Interventions acquires a strategic role

                                                                                                                                                                 Corps support units upgraded

In sum, after World War II American airborne forces defended their size and autonomy by repackaging  themselves to appeal to each successive administration. Although airborne forces superficially adapted their  organizational structures to new missions, the changes were rarely more than skin deep. As Betts observed,  “An irrelevant tactical doctrine—airborne warfare—became indirectly influential by having permeated  attitudes and established loyalties within a service elite, thus helping to channel innovative impulses in a  conventional direction.”156

Besides competing for politically desirable roles and missions, airborne forces strove to demonstrate  continued relevance by lobbying to conduct paratroop operations. In almost every case, airborne operations  were unnecessary and their contributions were indecisive to the military operations of which they were a  component. However, the net effect of airborne officers lobbying for airborne operations is that American  airborne forces have been amongst the world’s most active, second only to the French. Table X illustrates  actual and planned American airborne operations after the Second World War.157

Table X 

Planned and Actual American Airborne Operations Post-1945 

Year                      Location                            Size of Force                                Opponent                                          Result

1952                        Korea                               1 regiment                                           China                                   Failed Encirclement

1962                        Cuba                               2 divisions                                   Soviet Union               Aborted—resolved  and Cuba diplomatically

1965            Dominican Rep.                      1 battalion                            Dominican rebels                   Aborted—Fear  of casualties

1967               South Vietnam                    1 battalion                                       Viet Cong                              Failed Encirclement

1970                     Jordan                              unknown                                       Palestinians                      Aborted—reasons  unknown

1984                   Grenada                            2 battalions                             Grenadan Army                                  Seized Airport

1989                  Panama                              6 battalions                     Panamanian Defense Forces                  Seized Airports

1991                 Gulf War                               1 division                                    Iraqi Army                             Aborted—Fear  of casualties

2003            Northern Iraq                           1 brigade                                     Iraqi Army                                     Inconsequential

* Operations listed in normal script were carried out; aborted operations are in italics.

During the Korea and Vietnam Wars, airborne forces benefited from the patronage of theater commanders  who were themselves former airborne officers. Nevertheless, only one airborne drop was carried out  during each of these wars and neither was particularly successful. During the Korean War the goal was to trap  enemy forces between an airborne blocking force, consisting of a parachute infantry regiment, and an armored  column. This “hammer and anvil” operation, as General Ridgeway called it, failed to achieve significant  results because North Korean and Chinese forces withdrew before the American 187th Parachute Infantry  Regiment cut their line of retreat.158

As with Korea, American airborne forces conducted only one combat jump during the Vietnam War, and this was hardly a success. Frustrated at not being employed in their intended role since they had been deployed  in Vietnam in 1965, airborne officers serving in Vietnam lobbied to conduct a parachute drop. These  pleas fell on the sympathetic ears of General William Westmoreland, an airborne officer from World War II,  who ordered his subordinate commanders to prepare a proposal for a battalion jump in October 1966.

By February 1967 Westmoreland’s planners thought they had an operation suitable for airborne forces.  During Operation Junction City one battalion of paratroopers jumped near Kontum to seize the chief communist  military headquarters in South Vietnam, while five brigades of non-airborne troops formed a cordon to  prevent communist forces from escaping. Unfortunately, as in Korea, a lightly equipped and elusive enemy  avoided encirclement.159

Airborne forces jumped into action on three occasions after Vietnam, but always in the most permissive  circumstances and never to complete a mission that could not be accomplished by normal troops. During the  1983 invasion of Grenada, two battalions of Rangers parachuted on the Port Salinas Airport to save supposedly  endangered American medical students. Although the Rangers succeeded in their mission, their success  came at the expense of Grenadan and Cuban forces with neither surface-to-air missiles nor tanks, and who  never planned to harm the medical students.

Later, in 1989, 5,000 Rangers and paratroops jumped into Panama to face a weak Panamanian Defense  Force denuded of surface-to-air missiles, radar-guided anti-aircraft guns and tanks.160 During this operation,  only 1,700 troops or 34 percent of the total airborne force jumped behind enemy lines. The remaining 3,300  paratroopers of the 1st Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division parachuted near an airport, which was already in  American hands. As always, paratroop casualties were disproportionate during the invasion of Panama.  Altogether paratroops and Rangers comprised 19 percent of the force committed to Panama, they suffered 42  percent of the casualties.161

Most recently, an American airborne brigade jumped into northern Iraq in 2003. As with the Torrijos  Airport airdrop in Panama, the Iraq operation was of doubtful military value. The paratroopers jumped into  an area held by friendly Kurdish forces and American Special Forces and played an inconsequential role in  the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime.

Besides the five post-World War II airborne operations mentioned above, airborne operations were included in a number of operational plans. For example, the plan to invade Cuba during the 1962 Cuban  Missile Crisis featured a strong airborne component. Influenced heavily by Taylor and Gavin, Operational  Plan 316 entailed dropping the 82nd Airborne on the los Banos airfield and Jose Marti International Airport  and the 101st Airborne on the Mariel and Baracoa military airfields, and port of Mariel.162

Thankfully the Cuban Missile Crisis was resolved diplomatically, without an American invasion of Cuba. Had such an invasion occurred, its airborne component would have been a disaster. As previously  mentioned, surface-to-air missiles and armored forces are the two greatest obstacles to modern airborne  operations. In October 1962, the Soviet Union possessed 177 SA-2 surface-to-air missile launchers and four  motorized rifle regiments in Cuba. They had more than enough military power to shoot down slow transport  aircraft and overrun surviving paratroopers on the ground.163

Army leaders rejected airborne operations on at least three occasions. In 1965 the United States Army  planned to drop an airborne battalion on Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic. However, fear of  casualties precipitated a change of orders while the battalion was en route and the battalion landed at the  airport instead of jumping into the capital.164 During the 1970 civil war in Jordan plans were elaborated to  drop airborne units on Palestinian held airfields. Ultimately, the operation, never favored by the Joint Chiefs  of Staff, was not executed.165

Later, during the 1991 Gulf War, airborne officers tried to persuade General Norman Schwarzkopf to include an airborne operation in the coalition battle plan. As General Bernard Trainor observed, “The 82nd  commanders were constantly pressing Schwarzkopf to include in his war plans an air drop or at least a jump  along the border as a show of force. But Schwarzkopf saw no need for a parachute assault; he planned to send the division by truck.”166

Through constant lobbying, airborne forces managed to insinuate themselves into a large number of  operational plans. In some cases, such as Operation Junction City (1967), Westmoreland’s desire to use  airborne forces weighed heavily on how the overall operation was planned. In other cases, such as Panama  (1989) and Northern Iraq (2003), some airborne troops were allowed to jump out of planes when landing  them on friendly airfields was a militarily more appealing option. Finally, with the exception of the Cuban  Missile Crisis, high command authorities rejected every suggestion that airborne forces be used in an environment  rich in surface-to-air missiles, as existed in Jordan (1970) and Iraq (1991).

In sum, American airborne forces struggled to defend their size and autonomy throughout the Cold War  and generally succeeded in doing so. The level of organizational size and autonomy American airborne forces  inherited from World War II was inferior to that possessed by the Soviet VDV, but superior to that of the  United Kingdom’s parachute regiment. This degree of institutional strength both enabled and forced American  airborne forces to fight for a significant role in the post war army. They could neither rely on organizational  strength to resist change, as the VDV did, nor were they automatically destined to wither away, as  British paratroop forces were. As a result, American airborne forces fought to maintain their organizational  strength and status over time, prompting them to embrace new missions and insinuate parachute drops into  existing operational plans.

Overall, this strategy succeeded in preserving America’s large airborne forces. Although their size  fluctuated significantly, from a high of 30 parachute infantry battalions to a low of nine, American airborne  forces remained oversized. If one counts Ranger battalions, but not Special Forces, the United States currently  maintains 15 parachute infantry battalions—an excessive number because three battalions is the largest  force dropped behind enemy lines since World War II and the United States is unwilling to drop paratroops  where there is even a moderate surface-to-air missile threat. In short, the United States retains, at heavy cost,  15 battalions of elite troops that can only use against third-rate opponents, such as the Panamanian Defense  Forces or the Grenadan Militia.

Notes

115 In the 1950s, helicopters would make possible another type of forced entry.

116 Although the United States Navy and Army Air Corps were very innovative in the years preceding World War II, the  Army was not. It lagged behind European states in the development of armor and preserved cavalry divisions inordinately  long.

117 Gordon Rottman, US Army Airborne, 1940-90 (London: Osprey, 1990), 5.

118 Clay Blair, Ridgway’s Paratroopers: The American Airborne in World War II (New York: Dial, 1985), 30.

119 Maxwell Taylor, Swords and Plowshares (New York: Da Capo, 1972), 44.

120 Blair, 32.

121 James Dunnigan and Albert Nofi, Dirty Little Secrets of World War II (New York: Quill, 1994), 253.  40

122 All airborne forces active in the European theater of operations answered to the XVIIIth Corps. The 11th Airborne  Division, active in the Pacific, did not. Rottman, US Army Airborne, 1940-90, 7, 18-19.

123 There is evidence that a close pairing of transport and airborne units bore results in this case. During the Normandy  invasion the 505th Parachute Regiment landed closer to its assigned objectives than any other American airborne unit.  Keegan, 90.

124 Blair, 34.

125 Germany theoretically had more airborne divisions than the United States, but these were airborne in name only.  Hitler’s refusal to countenance further airborne operations after the invasion of Crete in May 1941 and the destruction of Luftwaffe transport aircraft on the eastern front led to the abandonment of jump training. By the end of the war very few German ‘paratroopers’ were parachute trained.

126 Figures are given for years when jump-trained airborne forces were their largest. Only division sized units are  counted. If non-divisional units were counted as well, American airborne forces would appear larger yet, as the United  States maintained an independent airborne regiment and several battalions. Soviet airborne ‘corps’ are counted as  divisions. For Soviet divisional numbers see, Steven Zaloga, The Red Army of the Great Patriotic War, 1941-45 (London:  Osprey, 1984), 7-22. For overall numbers of divisions, see Dunnigan and Nofi, 84.

127 During World War II the Marine Corps accepted draftees, but parachute regiments did not. Parachute officers  received $100 and enlisted men $50 of extra pay. Blair, 32.

128 Anonymous, cited in Blair, 51.

129 Blair, 26.

130 Bednarek.

131 Rottman, 18.

132 R.M. Ogorkiewicz, Design and Development of Fighting Vehicles (New York: Doubleday, 1968), 52.

133 Blair, 66.

134 Ibid.

135 During the Hermann Gˆring Division’s attack on the beachhead at Gela, the division brushed past American airborne  forces, but was eventually halted by the 1st Infantry Division and naval gunfire. Ibid, 96.

136 1,424 paratroopers were killed, wounded or captured out of a force of 5,307. Ibid, 96.

137 For loss figures see “Le jour J: 6 juin 1944 – dÈbarquement alliÈ,” Histoire mondiale des conflits (Paris: No. 3, May-  June 2004), 39. German counterattacks tended to be small and disjointed. The largest involved a 190-man company,  supported by two tanks, that attacked a platoon of the 3rd battalion, 505th PIR. Keegan, 93-105.

138 The 1st ATF consisted of the American 517th PIR, the 509th PIB, the 550th Glider Infantry Battalion and the British 2nd  Independent Parachute Brigade. Jeffrey Clarke and Robert Smith, Riviera to the Rhine (Washington D.C.: Center of  Military History, 1993), 38-39.  41

139 It was feared that the 19th Panzer Division, the only German armored unit in the south of France, would be committed.  However, it was not. Only 480 Allied soldiers in total became casualties on the day of the invasion, August 15, 1944.  Two hundred thirty of these, 48 percent, were jump and glider casualties suffered by the 1st ATF. Thus, even a relatively bloodless invasion resulted in casualties concentrated disproportionately in the airborne. Ibid, 103-04, 122.

140 Samuel Morison, The Liberation of the Philippines: Luzon, Mindanao, the Visayas, 1944-1945 (New York: Little,  Brown, 1959), 203.

141 Taylor, 52.

142 Ibid, 171.

143 The future of airborne forces was decided in a large Stateside test. On December 6, 1943, Swing’s 11th Airborne Division was ordered to ‘overcome’ a regimental combat team of the 17th Airborne Division defending the Knollwood airport near Fort Bragg. The futures of both the 11th and the 17th Airborne Divisions were only secure if the former overcame the latter. As one historian put it, “Swing’s troops knew they were testifying for or against the life of their division as well as the lives of all other airborne divisions, so they put maximum effort into every task.” Blair, 173-74.

144 Even under these circumstances losses were heavy—1,000 casualties in each of the American and British divisions.  Blair, 460-61, 465.

145 Airborne forces were used as a deception measure. John Skates, The Invasion of Japan: Alternative to the Bomb  (Columbia: South Carolina, 1994), 163.

146 Richard Betts, Soldiers, Statesmen and Cold War Crises (New York: Columbia, 1991), 134.

147 A good standard of comparison for judging the relative size of airborne forces is comparing them to armored forces of  the same time period. For example, while the United States possessed two airborne divisions in 1947, it had only one  armored division. Rottman, 19.

148 Drawn from Rottman. Figures do not include Rangers, who constituted an additional airborne regiment (really a  brigade) from the 1950s onwards.

149 Rottman, US Army Airborne, 1940-90, 24-26.

150 Ibid., 27-28.  151 Ibid., 33-50.

152 Betts, 136.

153 There were two divisions at this time—the 82nd and the 101st. The 11th Airborne Division was dissolved in July 1958 to troops to the 24th and 8th Infantry Divisions. Rottman, US Army Airborne, 1940-90, 26-27, 36.

154 Ibid., 33-50.

155 Ibid, 53.

156 Betts, 137.  42

157 The French Army conducted significant numbers of combat parachute drops following World War II, including at least  ten battalion or larger sized operations. In Indochina the French launched significant operations at Nghia Lo (1951, two  battalions), Hoa Binh (1951, one battalion), Tu Le (1952, one battalion), Na San (1952, three battalions), Phu Doan  (1952, three battalions), Operation Castor (1953, six battalions) and Dien Bien Phu (1954, five battalions). Later, French  forces engaged in airborne operations during the Suez Crisis (1956), to defend the French naval base of Bizerta (1961)  and to save Kolwezi, Zaire (1978). See Martin Windrow, The French Indochina War (London: Osprey, 1998), 34-40.  And Jean-Louis Dufour, Les crises internationales de Pékin-1900 à Sarajevo-1995 (Paris: Complexe, 1996), 145-  47.189-92.

158 Matthew Ridgeway, The Korean War (New York: Doubleday, 1967).

159 Clifton Berry, Jnr. Sky Soldiers, An Illustrated History (London: Bantam, 1987), 65-74.

160 Gordon Rottman, Panama, 1989-90 (London: Osprey, 1991), 14-15.

161 There were 5,000 paratroops and Rangers committed out of a total force of 26,000. They suffered 137 wounded out  of 330 for the overall mission (105 of these were jump casualties). Ibid, 30-45, 53-54.

162 Dino Brugioni, “The Invasion of Cuba” MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History (New York: MHQ, Volume  4, Number 2, Winter 1992), 92-101.

163 “General Anatoly I. Gribkov Recalls the Soviet Military Buildup in Cuba (1962), 1992,” in Karl Valois, ed.  The Cuban Missile Crisis: A World in Peril (Carlisle, MA: Discovery, 1998).

164 Rottman, US Army Airborne, 1940-90, 33.

165 Betts, 102, 135.

166 Bernard Trainor and Michael Gordon, 157.

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