paratrooping

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In Action: Uzi

The photograph above shows a group of Israeli soldiers during the Battle of Isamilia during the Yom Kippur War. At least two of the men are armed with the IDF’s iconic Uzi submachine gun. One man has a captured Egyptian RPG-7 anti-tank rocket-propelled grenade launcher. 

By the time of the Yom Kippur War (1973) the Uzi had been officially in service for 20 years. Designed by Major Uziel Gal, the Uzi was chambered in 9mm and fed from a 32-round magazine. It had a telescopic bolt and used the ubiquitous blowback action.

The Uzi was adopted as a personal defense weapon for rear echelon support troops, officers, artillery men and tankers. It was operationally issued first to Israel’s elite special forces in 1954. The Uzi first saw action during the Suez Crisis in 1956 and subsequently the Six Day War (1967), where paratroops fighting in the street battles in Jerusalem found the Uzi’s firepower and compactness essential. It was initially issued with a detachable wooden butt and later a more compact folding stock introduced in the early 1960s.

Outside of Israel the Uzi was adopted by dozens of militaries for use with specialist troops and elite special forces units it was made under license by FN in Belgium and in Germany. 

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The American Paratrooper Who Served in the Red Army During World War II.

When the United States entered World War II in 1941, Joseph R. Beyrle enlisted in the US Army and volunteered for the elite paratrooper service.  After completing paratrooper training and training as a demonlitions expert, he was assigned to the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division (Screaming Eagles) with the rank of sergeant. Little did he know where the winds of destiny would blow him. 

His first two missions were secret clandestine operations in which he covertly parachuted into German occupied France wearing bandoliers filled with gold, which he delivered to the French Resistance. On June 6th, 1944 Beyrle participated in the legendary D-Day drop during the Normandy Invasions. When his plane came under heavy fire he was forced to jump early and only 120 meters above the ground. Despite being separated from his unit, Sgt. Beyrle continued his mission, performing acts of sabotage behind enemy lines which resulted in the destruction of two bridges and a power station.  Unfortunatley a few days later he was captured by the Germans when he accidentally stumbled upon a German machine gun nest.  For the next 7 months he was held as a prisoner of war, where he became notorious as an escape artist, making several attempts, two of which were seccessful.  After each attempt, the Germans tortured, starved, and beat him, then transfered him to a different camp.  During his time in German captivity he was shuffled between seven different camps.  After his 7th escape attempt, which was successful except that he accidentally boarded a train for Berlin, the Germans sent him to a camp deep within Poland, with the idea that it’s distance from the Western Front would discourage him from further escape attempts.  Promptly after arriving at the camp in January of 1945, he successfully escaped and made his way to Soviet lines.

After his escape, he came upon the 1st Battalian of the 1st Tank Guards, where he met the famous lady tank commander Captain Aleksandra Samusenko, introducing her with the greeting, “Americansky tovarishch” (American comrade), while handing over a pack of Lucky Strikes. 

Wanting to get back into the war, Bayrle convinced Samusenko to allow him to join the Battalion. Samusenko agreed, and he was appointed a tank machine gunner.  For the next month he would serve with the Red Army, even taking part in the liberation of the POW camp from which he had escaped.  In February of 1945, he was seriously wounded after an attack by a Stuka dive bomber, and was evacuated to a Soviet hospital. During his recuperation, he met none other than the Soviet supreme military commander, Field Marshal Georgy Zhukov. 

 When Bayrle arrived at the US Embassy in Moscow, he learned that he was officially listed as dead, and that his family back home in Muskegon, Michigan had celebrated his funeral.  As it turns out, when he was captured during the Normandy Invasion, his uniforn and dogtags were taken and used by a German infiltration unit.  The German soldier wearing the uniform was unexpectidly killed in September, the corpse being recovered by the Allies and mistakenly identifed as Bayrle’s and buried in France.  Bayrle returned home in April of 1945, married in 1946 (coincidentally in the same church that held his funeral) and lived a happy life raising three children. In 1994 during the 50th Anniversary of D-Day, he was awarded with medals by both US President Bill Clinton and Russian President Boris Yeltsin at the White House. He was also personally awarded a specially made presentation AK-47 dedicated to him by Mikhail Kalashnikov.  Joseph “Jumpin’ Joe” Beyrle passed away in 2004 while visiting the paratrooper training grounds in Toccoa, Georgia. He was buried with honors in Arlington National Cemetery.

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For the anniversary of the D-Day invasion, these Pathfinders of F Company, Task Force Eagle Assault at Forward Operating Base Wolverine, Afghanistan paid special tribute to those original World War II Pathfinders of the 101st Airborne Division by giving each other Mohawk haircuts and painting their faces much like their forerunners had for a combat patching ceremony.

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How to take out an armored vehicle with an umbrella.

Major Allison Digby Tatham-Warter  was certainly an odd fellow from the Second World War.  An experienced parachutist and commando, Major Tatham-Warter commanded Company A of the British 2nd Parachute Battalion.  To show just how British he was he often carried an umbrella into battle.  In one incident Tatham-Warter calmly escorted a chaplain through a barrage of mortar fire, holding his open umbrella over the priest’s head for “protection.” When a lieutenant pointed out the umbrella wasn’t going to do much good in a fight, Tatham-Warter responded, “What if it rains?”

In Sept. of 1944 Tatham-Warter and his men took part in Operation Market Garden, a bold offensive to take several strategic bridges in The Netherlands using paratroopers, paving the way for an invasion of Germany.  Tatham-Warter and his battalion was tasked with taking and holding the Arnhem Bridge which crossed the Rhine directly into Germany.  Unfortunately the operation would end in total failure.  The paratroopers dropped into Arnhem were in an especially desperate situation as they were surrounded by an entire SS Panzer division.  The light weapons of the paratroopers were almost useless against German tanks and armored vehicles.  However the British paratroopers found some creative ways to defend themselves from the steel behemoths, one of which involved an umbrella.

During a particular heavy firefight, Major Tatham-Warter and his men noticed an armored car approaching their position.  The major immediately ran up to the vehicle and shoved his umbrella into the viewport.  After opening the umbrella the driver was blinded and the umbrella could not be removed.  Taking advantage of the German crew’s confusion the British paratroopers swarmed the vehicle and attached a bomb which permanently destroyed it.

Despite a staunch and courageous defense, Arnhem would fall to the German Army.  Around 6,800 British paratroopers were forced to surrender.  Another 2,000 were killed in action.  Major Tatham-Warter was wounded in the action and captured by German forces.  He later escaped from the hospital he was held in and returned to friendly lines.