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 Weapons & Equipment of the Airborne Soldier






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Rather than fully detail those weapons and equipment used by British Airborne forces, which have been more than adequately described elsewhere, the following is a list of items which rendered the airborne soldier different to the line infantry man in WW2, and were utilised by Intelligence Corps personnel.

Headgear

Beret -

The famous maroon beret, first employed by airborne troops in 1942 at the behest of General Browning (who had also considered pale blue, the colour was said to have been selected by Gen Browning's wife, the novelist Daphne Du Maurier). The maroon or "red" beret of British airborne forces has been copied worldwide, and is a defining airborne item in the armies of the US, Germany, France, as well as armies in the emerging nations. WW2 Berets are considerably larger than their contemporary counterparts, and drooped well over the ear. Airborne units considered it almost a competition to have their regimental badge, supposedly above the left eye, as far round the head as possible.

Helmet -

British airborne forces adopted a different helmet from their line infantry counterparts. It was rimless and resembled a simplified version of the Fallschirmjaeger pot. It went through 3 or 4 changes, from the rear rimmed example used only for the earliest of drops - say at Bruneval, to the resin banded Mk 2 with its leather strap, the next Model sans banding, to the final WW2, with its webbing and leather strap assembly and no band. All examples feature a leather and sorbo rubber internal liner. Similar shells were used for Naval Gunners and Royal Armoured Corps personnel, and a motorcycle despatch riders format was also akin but with a heavy leather panelled liner.

Uniform

Smock, Dennison - 

The majority of the clothing worn by British airborne personnel was identical to that worn by line infantry, however, to cover their battledress airborne forces were issued the next defining article item. Prior to the issue of the 1st Pattern Dennison was the Step in Smock the design was copied almost exactly from the Luftwaffe Fallschirmjaeger "Knochensack". With the split leg design most noticeable this plain khaki smock was used at Bruneval (Op BITING Feb 1942). The 1st Pattern Dennison was issued in time for deployment on Op TORCH, the N. African landings. The design criteria had changed - it was camouflaged. Characteristics included, an "ape tail" vice the "step in" legs. This tail studded to the front, between the legs, but hung loose when undone. The garment had a half zip, and it pulled on over the head. It had tapered sleeves and knitted cuffs. The camouflage was hand painted, with wet dyes and large brushes. The 2nd Pattern Dennison featured cost saving and design improvements. The tapered sleeves were abandoned and, the knitted cuffs were replaced by button tabs. Rear studs were included to allow the stowage of the "ape tail" when not in use. The camouflage pattern became screen printed, but it retained the half zip.

Smock, sleeveless - 

The sleeveless drop smock was introduced just prior to D-Day to allow the covering of equipment, whilst parachuting and was designed to prevent harness snagging. It was a greenish khaki, similar to that used for denim BD and had a full zip, slightly angled. 2 mills bomb pockets were also included. The zip from this garment (which was designed to be discarded on landing) was often re-used post-war to convert Dennison smocks from half to full zip.

Trousers Parachutist - 

To allow for the extra stowage required by airborne troops, trousers parachutist were issued. These trousers have a different "bulgy" pocket on the front where the map pocket is on the BD trouser and a knife pocket on the right leg seam to accommodate the FS fighting knife. These come in 2 patterns, the 1st having chamois leather linings to the "bulgy" pocket and the 2 side pockets, whilst in the 2nd the leather has, for economy reasons, been replaced by heavy drill cotton. Both patterns of these trousers have an additional pair of field dressing pockets above the buttocks on the rear. There are no belt loops or ankle tabs.

Weapons

A large number of airborne forces personnel sought to acquire pistols above and beyond those such as: Officers, Bren Gunners, CMP and medical personnel (purely for self defence), who were issued them. US airborne, for instance, almost all carried the .45 Colt 1911A1 Pistol. Parachutists early on, noted the requirement for additional weapons, when their own may have been in a container dropped some miles away.

Pistols -

The normal sidearm of the British army by 1939 was the .38 Webley or Enfield revolver. A 6 shot weapon, it lacked a decisive punch, which had been lost when the .455 Webley was phased out. Airborne forces however, were some of the 1st British troops to adopt the semi-automatic pistol. Both Colts and Brownings were used.

Sub-Machine Guns -

The early parachute units were equipped with the Thompson but this proved heavy and cumbersome. The lighter Sten proved ideal, culminating in the MkV in 1944 with its wooden furniture, however, some airborne forces personnel discarded their Stens for German 9mm MP40 (sometimes misnamed the "Schmeisser").

Rifles -

Airborne units both parachute and glider were equipped with rifles. Initially these were packed into containers and dropped separately. However, both leg bags and rifle valises were adopted allowing the rifle armed parachutist to be armed on arrival. Again some personnel abandoned their rifles in favour of enemy sub-machine guns.

Intelligence Corps personnel were expected to have a thorough knowledge of both heavier British weapons and the full range of their German counterparts. The Bren and Vickers were employed by airborne forces, and from the Pistol 9mm, P08 or P38 through the Rifle, 7.92mm k98 series, the Sub-Machine Gun, 9mm MP40 and the Machine Gun, 7.92mm MG34 or 42, the full range of German weapons could be identified and operated.

Communications and Transport

Whilst Intelligence Corps personnel were not directly issued with radio equipment in the field, access to the command nets and the tactical nets was available. The radio call sign ACORN was allocated to the intelligence officer in formed units and HQ. Familiarity with radio equipment was essential and instruction on both No18 and No38 sets was given.

FSS attached to armoured and infantry divisions were established for appropriate transport. Airborne FSS were assigned a number of motorcycles, however, these were extremely impractical given the nature of FS duties, and in some cases were "lost" almost immediately.

 


Dennison & Beret

Smock, Denison (2nd Pattern) & Beret

Oversmock & Cam Scarf

Oversmock, Sleeveless & Camouflage Scarf

Trousers & Celanese

Trousers, Parachutist & Celanese Scarf

Enfield .38

.38 Enfield Revolver

 Colt .45

.45 Colt 1911A1

Mk II Sten

Mk.II Sten Sub-Machine Gun

Mk V Sten

Mk.V Sten Sub-Machine Gun

No. 1 Lee Enfield Rifle

No. 1 Lee Enfield Rifle

No. 4 Lee Enfield Rifle

No. 4 Lee Enfield Rifle

Bren Light Machine Gun

.303 Bren Light Machine Gun

 








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