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What are Paratroopers?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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Paratroopers are specially trained soldiers who are familiar with the operation of parachutes. These skydiving soldiers can penetrate battlefields behind enemy lines, since they can be dropped from the sky. Many people romanticize this particular branch of the airborne military, since paratroopers are usually highly skilled, very well trained individuals who are considered to be among the cream of the airborne crop. Some militaries also maintain exhibition paratrooping forces which perform at military events and airshows.

The concept of using parachutes to drop soldiers in specific areas gained a great deal of ground in the Second World War, when many militaries used aircraft as part of their overall strategy. Paratroopers were highly flexible, and generally dropped in small groups which could quickly gain ground. Since most forces do not expect to be attacked from behind, paratroopers also had a distinct advantage which they could exploit to destabilize the enemy in advance of a larger ground-based force.

Paratroops could also be used to spy on enemy territory, or to provide needed backup in areas which are hard to reach by land. Parachute forces in the Second World War also developed parachutes and rigging techniques for dropping needed equipment onto the battlefield. All of these uses for paratroopers continue to endure; with advanced rigging techniques, it is possible to drop vehicles and heavy weapons onto the ground along with supplies for refugees and other materials. Rigging for heavy objects requires special skills to ensure that the objects are not damaged during transit, and to make certain that they are dropped in the right place.

In order to qualify as a paratrooper, a soldier undergoes regular training and then receives special parachuting training. Soldiers are taken up into the air over friendly territory and taught proper skydiving technique. Once a soldier has completed several successful jumps from an aircraft, he or she learns how to manipulate the specialized parachutes used in paratrooping, and about techniques for staying in formation when jumping with a large group.

Typically, paratroopers are part of an airborne branch of a military, such as the Air Force. They perform routine jumps to keep their training on form, and some learn advanced techniques which allow them to do things like jump into water in diving gear. During wars and other military actions, the advantage of paratroopers may be utilized by invading militaries, making this glamorous military position quite dangerous for the participants.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Historical Index researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

By JimmyT — On Sep 11, 2011

@jmc88 - The army apparently liked to use paratroopers because, believe it or not they can actually descend fairly quickly to Earth in under 2 minutes and then once they hit the ground they are able to spread out and hide from the enemy if they happened to be seen.

Although the enemy may see the paratroopers descend to Earth that does not mean that they would have time to shoot them out of the sky. If there was a battle going on you would be totally right, but in spying operations either they would descend under the cover of darkness or they would descend at a time the enemy would not expect it. Once the enemy saw them it would be very difficult for them to react in under two minutes and shoot them down. This would be the only time they would be able to get them as once they land they could run off and hide anywhere and it would be like finding a needle in a haystack.

Usually paratroopers are highly trained individuals and know exactly what to do if they are spotted during descent. Otherwise they would not be used in operations that involved spying on the enemy.

By kentuckycat — On Sep 11, 2011

@matthewc23 - I am glad you used that example because my great uncle was a paratrooper and the way that showed depicted para-trooping was almost exactly the way he described it.

My great uncle liked to tell stories about how he was a paratrooper and how dangerous his missions were.

Whether it was old war yarns or the total and absolute truth the way he described his experiences made someone seriously wonder what the mortality rate was for paratroopers and whether or not it was one of the most dangerous jobs during WWII.

By matthewc23 — On Sep 10, 2011

@jmc88 - I understand your point. I have watched the show Band of Brothers and have seen an episode where the unit paratroops being enemy lines in order to spy on them. Because this was a spying operation they had to be sneaky and they descended at night and could not call a lot of attention to themselves. Anyway, during the descent, if I remember right, one or two died and another was seriously injured, and they were all spaced out away from each other and it gave me the impression that para-trooping was amazingly dangerous.

What I remember most from that episode is the show depicting the descent. The paratroopers jumped out of the plane and it showed their points of view and all the bombs going off and really showed how scary it was and you had to wonder as a viewer how in the world a paratrooper could ever reach the ground safely and alive under wartime conditions.

By jmc88 — On Sep 09, 2011

Although this article describe paratroopers in a way as having a distinct advantage over the enemy one problem that comes with jumping out of an airplane during war time conditions is that if they are seen as the are descending by the enemy they are almost surely dead.

Since a parachute causes the person to slowly descend down to Earth, and is a very big thing to be seen in the air if the enemy were to see them it would not at all be hard with even the technology of WWII to shoot them down, or at least give ample time for the enemy to know where they landed and find them, or at least be warned of an impending attack.

Usually paratroopers were used in a sneaky way and problems did not occur under normal conditions. However, when a battle occurred paratroopers were almost sitting ducks to the enemy. Numerous instances of paratroopers being sent out during battle, most notably D Day paratroopers.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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