This is the story told from the human perspective how military men adapted Leonardo Da Vinci’s parachute ‘umbrella’ and glider concept as a means of going to battle. Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany were at the forefront of translating this into military reality. The parachute and glider invasion of the Low Countries in 1940 turned the ‘vertical’ flank. Ground warfare suddenly became three-dimensional.
Different countries evolved their own personalised approaches to airborne warfare and these are examined through the individual experiences of those that pioneered them. Did the act of parachuting to war offer any intrinsic battle winning superiority? What were the human differences between parachute and glider troops and the helicopter air mobile soldiers that appeared in the 1950s and 1960s? Parachuting requires a basic skills set, yet glider and helicopter borne troops were regarded by some commanders as ‘flying trucks’ transporting winged infantry. What was the airborne soldier’s view of this? Reviewing the human Second World War and Post-War conflict experiences provides some answers, seen from the perspective of the participants themselves.
How do military paratroopers conquer the fear of jumping from aircraft at low level, by night and frequently under fire? Has the helicopter replaced the need for parachutists in the 21st Century? This perspective is examined from Suez in 1956 to contemporary Afghanistan. Has the increasing lethality of anti-aircraft weapons made the airborne option redundant?
These issues are examined alongside the personal experiences of the Soviet ‘Locust Warriors’, German Fallschirmjäger, British Red Devils, those American ‘devils in baggy-pants’ and Les Paras. The spectrum covers the 1930s through the Second War to Afghanistan today, from total war to counter-insurgency. In so doing, the author, a parachute officer of 34 years experience, has attempted to unravel and define the ‘Airborne Spirit’, that intangible quality that differentiates the Sky Men from other soldiers.
Daily Mail July 2010.
‘A fascinating new book tells how the Parachute Regiment was born and the terrors they faced learning to jump out of aeroplanes’.
Shropshire Star August 2010.
‘This is a fascinating book which brings home the odds which were always stacked against the paratroopers…Kershaw takes a close look at what it takes to be a paratrooper’.
Sunday Times August 2010
‘Kershaw has built up a telling portrait of both the courage and the vulnerability that the paratroopers displayed…
…much the best part of the book is his reconstruction of the experiences of airborne soldiers in the Second World War’.