Photo story (Clockwise from top left): (1) British paratroopers ready for sky jump inside a Douglas C-47 Skytrain transport aircraft on 17th September 1944 (2) Douglas C-47 Skytrain called ‘Tico Belle’ in flight in March 2010 (3) Paratroopers sky jumped into history at National Parachute Test Center, Dunnellon Airport, Florida on 18th October 2013. (4) British & Spanish paratroopers participated in joint military exercise ‘Iberian Eagle’ on 1st December 2012
Paratroopers played a decisive role in the WWII. They provide a tactical advantage as they can be sky jumped into the battlefield from air, thus allowing them to be positioned in areas inaccessible by land. Paratroopers are also used to make forced entry, evade fortifications, spread defense of army, establish airhead for landing units and establish pickup-drop & landing zones for aircrafts. Germans used Paratroopers extensively for the first time during WWII and in the later parts the allied forces followed. Round designed parachutes with steering capability of a small degree were most often used in WWII. Due to the limited capability of cargo aircrafts of the era, the paratroopers jumped in groups of around 20 from one aircraft. National Parachute Test Center at Dunnellon Airport, Florida has offered WWII style sky jump class on 18th October 2013. Okala, which is the web edition of Florida’s renowned daily newspaper Star Banner, reported that the class this time drew 30 participants from all around the world including Canada, Australia, Chile, Mexico and Brazil.
The center arranges such sky jump training classes thrice a year for parachute enthusiasts. Some of the enthusiasts jumped with different clubs at air shows and at D day celebrations held around United States and the world, including in Britain, France and Germany.
On Friday morning, 18th October, WWII paratrooper Charles Breit sat in the shade of an aircraft hanger and was staring off into the sky as a WWII era Douglas C-47 Skytrain military transport aircraft approached from the west. Moment later, 2,500 feet above the ground, seven round olive drab Army parachutes started to billow open. He was reminiscing about his sky jumping days.
U.S. and Filipino troops consisting of 13,000 soldiers lost to 75,000 Japanese soldiers at the Battle for Corregidor fought from 5-6 May 1942. Capture of Corregidor Island in Manila Bay completed a 5 month long Japanese conquering of Philippines. From 16-26 February 1945, 7000 U.S. soldiers recaptured the island and annihilated the 6,700 Japanese soldiers that had occupied the Island. In the recapturing battle, 207 U.S soldiers were killed, 684 were wounded and a staggering 6,600 Japanese soldiers were killed. Combat team of 503rd Parachute regiment is honored for the recapture along with the 24th Infantry division. In the operation, the paratroopers had to make risky landing on the ‘Topside’ hill.
Breit who was part of the Topside hill landing said that when they had dropped into Corregidor they sky jumped out of the Douglas C-47 Skytrain at 400 feet. He added that he had jumped out, ‘just had a look up at the canopy and hit the ground’. Tom Lupu who came from Toronto said that he had started sky jumping in 2009 and he enjoyed military history a lot. He further said that he had military vehicles at home and they did shows and displays. The jumpers come to practice, learn and recertify their sky jump ability as some bigger shows in Europe have set qualification criteria of at least one jump in every six months.
The parachutes and the jump procedure at the sky jump class followed the WWII style jumps in the 1940s, which includes round parachutes, hooking of each jumper on to a wire that pulls open jumpers’ chute as they jump. Such jump style results in a visual spectacle of stream of parachutes slowly drifting to the ground.
Lupu was also part of sky jumping team in Normandy, France. He said that the Dunnellon jump class that started in 2011 has become quite popular. He also said that there were lots of places for skydiving in their area but very few drop zones allowed round parachutes. ‘We go to Ohio, where a drop zone allows rounds’ He added. Ferdinand Jonker, a native South African who is in Australian Air Force as squadron leader, took a 20 hour journey to attend the jump class. He said that he sky jumped for the first time in 1984 in the military and he came for the first time in Dunnellon to jump with the jumpers and spend time with them.
Mathews started to take the jump classes to refresh his jumping techniques after his parachute testing business was hit by recession. He was in the military and has accomplished more than 1,800 sky jumps. He said that he would like people, especially WWII veterans, to ‘come & see what we do’. He further added that though Fort Benning, the US Army post outside Columbus in Georgia, produced outstanding airborne soldiers they did not build competent parachutists.
The Douglas C-47 Skytrain used in the training is called ‘Tico Belle’. It flew in the D Day Normandy invasion. ‘A beautiful plane, it takes me back’ Breit said.