world war ii: paratroopers


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.

“General Dwight D. Eisenhower gives the order of the Day. "Full victory - nothing else” to paratroopers in England on June 6, 1944, just before they board their airplanes to participate in the first assault in the invasion of the continent of Europe. All of the men with General Eisenhower are members of Company E, 502d.“

(US Army)

Walter Gordon, Floyd Talbert, John Eubanks, unknown, Francis Mellet of Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment in the 101st Airborne Division. D-Day


How the Japanese named their small arms,

In 1899 the Japanese adopted the Type 30 bolt action rifle. The rifle had many flaws, so it was redesigned by Kijiro Nambu, and the new Model, called the Type 38 was adopted in 1905.  In 1939 the Japanese adopted a new and improved bolt action rifle in a new caliber, it was called the Type 99. In 1942 they developed a shortened paratrooper version of the Type 99, it was called the Type 2. Umm…wuht????

On popular Japanese light machine gun in the 1920′s was the Type 11 Light Machine gun, adopted in 1922. The weapon was found to be severely problematic, so it was replaced by the Type 96… in 1936. Huh???

At first glance the way the Japanese number their small arms models seems not to make any rational sense at all. Typically weapons are named based on succeeding models, like the Lee Enfield Mark I, Mark II, Mark III etc, or model numbers are by date, like the Model 1911 pistol adopted in 1911, the Model 1917 revolver adopted in 1917, the 1903 Springfield adopted in 1903.

While Japan’s modeling system may seem nonsensical at first glance, there actually is a very interesting method to their madness. Originally  models names were determined by the reigning year of the Japanese Emperor. For example, the Japanese Type 38 bolt action rifle was adopted in 1905, which was the 38th year of Emperor Meiji’s reign. The Type 11 light machine gun was adopted in 1922, then the 11th year of Emperor Taisho’s reign.

In 1927 the Imperial Army chose to switch to a system using the Japanese calendar.  The Type 99 bolt action rifle and Type 99 machine gun were both adopted in 1939, which was the year 2599 according to the Japanese calendar. Hence, the model was named after the last two digits in the year 2599. In 1942, a paratrooper version of the Type 99 was created called the Type 2.  On the Japanese calendar that was the year 2602.  The Japanese chose not to count zero as a digit, thus the model was the Type 2 Paratrooper rifle, not the Type 02 Paratrooper rifle.

“Parachutes open as waves of paratroops land in Holland during operations by the 1st Allied Airborne Army in September of 1944. Operation Market Garden was the largest airborne operation in history, with some 15,000 troops were landing by glider and another 20,000 by parachute.”

(US Army)


A Tiny Widdle Tank of World War II — The M22 Locust

One of the major challenges of airborne warfare, even to this day, is how to equip paratroopers with enough gear and weaponry to make a formidable assault force, yet still be light enough to be taken into the air and dropped onto a drop zone.  Often, airborne forces must make a compromise by being only equipped with the lightest of weapons while lacking in the area of heavy firepower.

During World War II, Allied forces attempted to bridge the gap between airborne forces and armored forces by creating a new class of tanks called “airmobile light tanks”, which were intended to give airborne troops some measure of armor support.  Among a handful of tank designs, one American creation was the tiny little M22 Locust.  These little tanks were only 7.4 tons in weight, 13 feet long, 7 feet in width, and 6 feet high.  Think about that for a second, it was only six feet high, about as tall as a somewhat tallish American person today.  I myself, am 5′11′’.  It had to have been extremely cramped in that tiny little war beast for its three crewmen (gunner, driver, and commander).  The M22 was lightly armed for tanks of the day, with a 37mm cannon as a main gun and a M1919 machine gun as a secondary weapon.  At its thickest it only had 12.5mm of armor.  Top speed was around 40 MPH.

Obviously the M22 Locust was designed with compactness and lightness in mind for airborne operations.  Typically they were loaded into gliders which were towed to the battlefield.  

After testing it was found that the M22 had several flaws.  It was underpowered and mechanically unstable.  The puny 37mm gun could do little even against lightly armored German vehicles.  Most importantly, it’s thin armor made it vulnerable, as even a .50 caliber machine gun could riddle the tiny tank with holes.  A few American “airborne tank companies” trained with the M22, but none saw combat in American hands.  Most of the 830 M22′s produced were shipped Lend Lease to British forces.  In British hands they were used in some minor operations during the invasions of Madagascar, North Africa, and Sicily.  Later they were used by the British during the Normandy invasion, and in Operation Varsity towards the end of the war.  It didn’t take long for the Brits to realize that the M22 couldn’t go toe to toe with German armored units.  So for the most part the M22 was used to support the paratroopers against other infantry, or used as reconnaissance vehicles.  After World War II most M22 Locusts were sold to the Egyptian Army.  Several company sized units of Locusts were deployed by the Egyptians during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War.


Hans Rosenfeld was a German Jew who escaped to Britain in 1939 with his 11-year-old sister Ruth. He took with him a family photograph on which was written: ‘Dear boy, do not forget us. With love, your father.‘ His parents did not survive the Holocaust, being murdered at Minsk in 1942.

He enlisted in the British Army, and served with 21 Independent Parachute Company in North Africa and Italy under the nom de guerre ‘John Peter Rodley’. On 23 September 1944, during the Battle of Arnhem, Rosenfeld was killed by a burst of machine gun fire while in a slit trench at No. 8 Stationsweg.

“Sgt James Elbert "Jake” “McNasty” McNiece (May 24, 1919 – January 21, 2013) was a @USArmy paratrooper in World War II. He was the leader of the Filthy Thirteen, an elite demolition unit whose exploits inspired the novel and movie ‘The Dirty Dozen’. McNiece enlisted for military service on September 1, 1942. He was assigned to the demolition saboteur section of what was then the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment. This section would become the Filthy Thirteen, with McNiece as its sergeant and leader. His demolitions experience with the fire department before the war made him the section sergeant, but his mission focus kept him in that rank in spite of his deliberate disobedience and disrespect during training. His first sergeant and company commanders knew he was the man the regiment could count on during combat. His escapades are document in both his words in The Filthy Thirteen, Fighting With the Filthy Thirteen, and War Paint; The Filthy Thirteen Jump Into Normandy.

McNiece went on to make a total of four wartime combat jumps, the first as part of the Invasion of Normandy in 1944. In the same year he jumped as part of Operation Market Garden in the Netherlands, which was featured in the book and subsequent film, ‘A Bridge Too Far’, and at the Siege of Bastogne, part of the larger Battle of the Bulge. During Holland he was promoted to demolition platoon sergeant. After Holland he volunteered for pathfinder training anticipating sitting out the rest of the war training in England but his pathfinder stick was called upon to jump into Bastogne to guide in the resupply drops. His last jump was in 1945, near Prüm in Germany. In recognition of his natural leadership abilities, he ended the war as the acting first Sgt for Hq Co, 506th Parachute Infantry Regt. He was discharged from the military in Feb 1946.” Wiki


The Fighting Batmen of World War II,

In the 1920’s and 30’s parachutists began using special wingsuits in conjunction with their parachutes.  Popular when performing aerial stunts, the wingsuits gave the parachutist the ability to control speed and direction of descent. While used in civilian aviation, the possibility of military use was not considered until World War II.  In 1942, with America entering the war, a article entitled “Yankee Ingenuity vs. Hitler” featured in Mechanix Illustrated  magazine first purposed the idea of batwing paratrooper. It was then that idea was seriously considered.   

Thus in August of 1942, the California State Guard commissioned a popular parachutist named Mickey Morgan to test proof of concept.  It was planned that an entire regiment of "Batmen” troopers was to be organized if the concept was found practical.  Unfortunately the idea was never adopted.

Free Polish Forces, Western Front, World War II

Private, Polish Independent Parachute Bde.; Holland

Paratroopers wore much the same uniforms and kit as their British comrades - rimless steel helmets, battledress, Denison jump-smocks, and 1937 webbing sometimes augmented by a ‘toggle-rope’ for crossing obstacles. The weapon is the Sten sub-machinc gun. The only Polish distinctions are the yellow eagle painted on the helmet; the dove-grey collar patches trimmed in yellow and bearing silver parachute insignia; and- not illus- trated - light bluish-grey bert'ts bearing con- n ·ntional Polish national and rank insignia.

Second Lieutenant, 24th Lancers, 1st Polish Armored Div.; NW Europe

The earth-brown denim overall worn by Polish tank crews seems normally to have had two thigh pockets instead of the mort usual single left pocket. Only the rank star on the shoulder strap distinguishes this officer’s overall; the collar of his BD blouse, folded outside it, bears the regimental pennons - for 24th Lancers, white with a yellow stripe. The national eagle and a rank star are embroidered on the black Royal Armored Corps beret. The scrubbed webbing set includes an open-topped pistol holster on the long RAC leg strap; note lanyard, characteristically worn from the right shoulder whenever the holster was fixed. Officers wore brown boots.

Private, 10th Dragoons, 1st Polish Armored Div.; NW Europe

The 10th Mot. Cav. Bde. included this regiment of motorized infantry, and the regimental pennons (amaranth and orange divided by a green stripe) are sewn to the BD blouse. The black left shoulder strap and lanyard commemorate the old 10th Bde. of 1939. The national shoulder title is worn above, on the left sleeve, the 1st Armored Div. patch. In this regiment the right sleeve bore instead a blue shield-shaped patch bearing the Cross of St Andrew and the arms of the town of Lanark in Scotland, where the 10th Dragoons trained. The helmet eagle, 1937 pattern webbing, '1940 pattern’ BD, and Thompson sub-machine gun are all conventional.

(Richard Hook and Steven Zaloga)