Friday, November 30, 2012

Early British Paratroop Training - Parachute School Ringway 1941

"We ought to have a corps of at least 5,000 parachute troops, including a proportion of Australians, New Zealanders and Canadians, together with trustworthy Norwegians and Frenchmen... I hear that something is being done already to form such a corps but only, I believe, on a very small scale. Advantage of the summer must be taken to train these troops, who can nonetheless play their part meanwhile as shock troops in home defense. Pray let me have a note from the War Office on the subject."

Prime Minister Winston Churchill to General Sir Hastings Ismay
22 June 1940

The following photographs show very early training of British Army paratroops at the then newly established No.1 Parachute Training School, Ringway (formerly Manchester Corporation civil airport). An educated guess would place them on or about April 1941, which was the date when Prime Minister Winston Spencer Churchill paid a formal visit to the facility. Due to the posed nature, and quality of the photography, they may have been taken during a dress rehearsal for the Prime Minister's visit. However, the date could be as much as a year later.

Evident are the early canvas/sorbo rubber training ('bungee') helmets (some even without ear grommets) and first pattern jump smocks, which were copied from the German Fallschirmjager pattern, and predated the Denison Smock. The photographs also provide good detail of the then relatively new 'X' Type Statichute and Service Respirators in their unique carried position. Note two short web 'press the dot' tabs at the bottom corners of the respirator case, facilitating its being carried up-side-down, with ready access even while still descending to the DZ if required.

It is also interesting to note, by virtue of the brevet on their right shoulder, that the majority, if not all of these men, are qualified paratroops. Another uniform item which others may have spotted (I didn't until reviewing magnified photographs) was the Polish eagle insignia (presumably yellow) on some of the sorbo helmets of the paratroops in massed formation, identifying members of the Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade Group formed in September 1941 ('TOBIE OJCYZNO'). While helping to date that specific photograph, it should be stated that it was acquired independently from the others in the group.

In addition to the obviously posed sergeant with a .45 cal. Thompson Sub-Machine Gun M1928, it is interesting to note that in some photographs the paratroops are under arms, and in others they are not. It is my best understanding that at that point in time they jumped without weapons (prior to the collapsed 9mm Sten Mk II being tucked into the parachute harness), and retrieved them once on the ground from CLE containers. Also note secondary anti-aircraft hand-grips still on the underside of the stocks of the .303 cal. Bren Mk I Light Machine-Guns.

Also seen are the obsolete (considered infamous by many) Armstrong Whitworth Aircraft Ltd. Whitley Mk II bombers, six of which were used as initial interim transport aircraft for training jumps. Call letters, as can be discerned from the photographs, are 'R', 'T', 'X', 'Y', 'Z', and one aircraft apparently un-lettered. A keen eye will probably also spot the classic double deck bus parked by the hangar, RAF 'Tilly' light utility truck, and the Westland Lysander Army Co-operation aircraft (probably Mk Is)  positioned on the airfield, as well as in formation with the Whitleys in flight. Finally, beyond and to the right of the Lysander, barely discernible, are two GAL Hotspur Gliders (unidentifiable Mk at that range).

Although it probably post dates the photographs, by almost a year possibly due to security reasons, the following is the official Army Order formally documenting the formation of both the Parachute Regiment and the Glider Pilot Regiment.

With full acknowledgement and gratitude to the Airborne Assault ParaData web site, the following segment of archival film footage records the visit of Prime Minister Winston S. Churchill to Ringway in April 1941;

For those who might be interested in a more extensive history of the development of the British Airborne Forces there is an excellent book; CHURCHILL'S SPEARHEAD, The Development of Britain's Airborne Forces during World War II, J. Greenacre, Pen and Sword Books Ltd., Barnsley, Yorkshire, 2010, ISBN 978-1-84884-271-7.

While hardly Tennyson or Kipling, the lyrics of the songs sung in the previous newsreel camera film footage, may prove interesting in reflecting both the terms and tenor of the times:

(Tune: Knees Up, Mother Borwn)

When first I came to PTS, My CO he advised
Take lots and lots of underwear, you'll need it, I surmise,
By I replied, "By Gad, Sir, Whatever may befall,
I'll always keep my trousers clean,
When jumping through the hole".

[Chorus] Jumping through the hole,
Jumping through the hole,
I'll always keep my trousers clean
When jumping through the hole.

I went into the hangar, Instructor by my side,
And on Kilkenny's Circus had many a glorious ride,
"On these ingenious gadgets", said he, "You'll learn to fall
And keep your feet together, when yer jumping through the hole."

He swung me in the swings boys, he shot me down the chute,
He showed me the high aperture, I thought it rather cute;
Said he "This apparatus will teach you one and all
To centralise your C of G, when yer jumping through the hole.

I saw the glorious statichutes, with camouflage design,
I heard the Warrant Officer shoot such a lovely line,
"This loverly bit of stuff, lads," said he, "Upon my soul,
T'is sweeter than your sweetheart, when jumping through the hole."

One morning very early, cold and damp and dark,
They took me in a so-called bus, out to Tatton Park,
In keeping with the weather, I said to one and all,
"I take a dim and misty view, of jumping through the hole."

He fitted me with parachute and helmet for my head,
The Sergeant looked with expert eye, "It fits you fine," he said,
"I'll introduce you now to 'Bessie', that's what we call the nice balloon
From which you'll very soon be jumping through the hole."

"OK - Up six hundred! Four to drop," said he.
"Four to drop? Good God!" I cried, "And one of them is me!"
So clinging very tightly to the handles on the floor,
I cursed the day I volunteered for jumping through the hole.

Sarg' told a funny story, I couldn't see the joke,
In fact, I thought he was a most unsympathetic bloke,
But when he shouted "Action stations!" and then he shouted "GO!"
I simply couldn't stop myself from jumping through the hole.

I hit my pack, I rang the "bell", I twisted twenty times
I came down with both feet entangled in the rigging lines,
But floating upside down to earth, I didn't care at all,
For I had kept my trousers clean when jumping through the hole.

(Tune: Red River Valley)

Come and sit by my side if you love me,
Do not hasten to bid me adieu,
Just remember the poor parachutist,
And the job he is trying to do.

When the red light goes on we are ready,
For the sergeant to shout "Number One"
Though we sit in the plane close together,
We all tumble out one by one.

When we're coming in for a landing,
Just remember your sergeants advice,
Keep your feet and your knees close together,
And you'll land on the ground very nice.

When we land in one certain country,
There's a job we'll do very well,
We'll fire Goering and old Adolf Hitler,
And all of those bastards as well.

So stand by your glasses steady,
And remember the men from the sky,
Here's to the dead already,
And three cheers for the next man to die.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Uniforms of the British Empire c.1888 by Richard Simkin

Presented herein another series of watercolor prints from the prolific brush of military artist Richard Simkin. This set depicts uniforms of troops of the then far-flung British Empire circa 1888. The date can be fairly accurately established by the fact that the majority of the soldiers are armed with the .577/.450 cal. Martini-Henry rolling block rifle (both short and long lever versions) and two of the Canadian soldiers are shown with a .303 cal. Lee-Metford (bolt action, magazine fed) introduced into the British Army in 1888. Again this set of uniform prints was reproduced in 'Tradition' magazine in the late 1960's. Full acknowledgement and gratitude is once more extended to the magazine's publishers. For those who may be interested in obtaining original copies of 'Tradition', they may be obtained from;

First shown are regiments of the Bengal Army of British India.

Next are regiments of the Madras Army of British India.

The next group of regiments is from the Bombay Army of British India.

This group of regiments is from the Punjab Frontier Force of British India.

The next group of regiments represents the Dominion of Canada.

This group of regiments is from Tasmania and New Zealand.

The next group of regiments is from Victoria, Australia.

This final group of regiments is from New South Wales, Australia.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Infantry Weapons of the 1st Airborne Division at Operation Market-Garden - 1944

The following photograph depicts the Airborne's variety of hand grenades, a Projector Infantry Anti-Tank (PIAT) with one of its rounds and fuze assembly, a Mortar, 2 in., M.L. Mk VIII* with an inert training bomb, and the .303 cal. Rifle, No.4 Mk 1* (third rifle from the left). The hand-grenades (all inert) from left to right are; No.75 Anti-Tank Grenade (Hawkins Bomb), No. 69 Grenade (Australian manufacture, with black incorrect British "All Ways" fuze cap), No.69 Grenade (British manufacture), No.36M Grenade (ubiquitous "Mills Bomb"), No.77 Grenade (White Phosphorous Smoke), and finally the No.82 Anti-Tank Grenade ("Gammon Bomb"). The object which at a glance initially appears to be a water bottle, is an early infrared receiver used by 'COPPist' teams, and discussed in detail in an earlier blog page. If the reader is interested it can be found at;

The second photograph is of the venerable .303 cal. Bren Light Machine Gun, Mk I, shown with its correct sling and spare parts/maintenance wallet. This specific example is a deactivated DP (Drill Purpose) weapon manufactured by the John Inglis Company, Ltd. of Canada. The weapon as employed by the Airborne Forces (for that matter all British Forces), would have had the secondary and obsolete anti-aircraft hand-grip (on the underside of the stock) removed.

Shown next are the two principal weapons employed by the personnel of the British 1st Airborne Division and the Glider Pilot Regiment at Arnhem and Oosterbeek. First is the .303 cal. Rifle, No. 4 Mk I, in this case the example is the I* manufactured at the Long Branch Arsenal in Canada. The second weapon being the 9mm Sten Machine Carbine Mk V, commonly referred to as the 'Airborne' version. Experts will note that the pistol grip of the weapon is the later modified design intended to simplify fabrication. 

Also employed in limited number, by designated snipers, was a variant of the No. 4, the .303 cal. Rifle, No. 4 Mk I (T). The majority of these rifles were converted from selected No. 4 Mk I and Mk I* rifles by the firm of Holland & Holland, as well as some by B.S.A. Shirley, J. Purdey, and 500 by the Long Branch Arsenal in Canada.

Next is a photograph of the principal revolvers and semi-automatic pistols that were employed. From top left; .38 cal. Pistol, Revolver No. 2 Mk 1* (Enfield), and next .38 cal Pistol, Revolver, Webley Mk IV (Limited Standard). Moving to the lower left is the .45 cal. Semi-automatic Pistol M1911A1 (most common in this caliber, however some produced/modified to British .455 cal.). Finally, although to my knowledge not employed (certainly not in general issue) at Arnhem and Oosterbeek, is the 9mm HP Pistol Self-loading, Inglis Browning No. 2 Mk 1*. Only entering production in late fall of 1944 (September/ October with 0T XXXX serials), it is associated with the British Airborne because of its wide issue and use during Operation Varsity, the crossing of the Rhine in the spring of 1945. Re-designated as the L9A1 it still remains in limited service with the British Army, but is in the process of being replaced by the Glock.


This represents the vast majority of the infantry small arms employed at Operation Market Garden (excluding .303 cal. Vickers Medium Machine Gun and the 3 in. Mortar Mk II), however limited numbers of other weapons were present in British hands, based either on personal narrative and/or photographs. These included; .45 cal. Thompson Sub-machine Gun Model 1928A1 & variants, .30 cal Carbine M1/M1A1, as well as captured German weapons such as the 9mm Machinen Pistole MP 40 (commonly referred to as a "Schmeisser"), and 9mm Pistole P-38 (Walther).

Although normally vehicle mounted in the jeeps of the 1st Airborne Reconnaissance Squadron, the .303cal Vickers "K" Gun saw albeit limited use in an unmounted status at Arnhem.


Friday, November 16, 2012

The Airborne Jeeps of the British 1st Airborne Division at Operation Market-Garden - 1944

In Operation Market-Garden the primary, and most prolific, vehicle employed by the British 1st Airborne Division  was the Truck ¼ Ton, Utility, Willys MB or Ford GP (General Purpose), thus more commonly known as the ‘Jeep”. Also referred to as Car, 5-cwt. 4 X 4. A principal reason for this was the fact that not only did it conveniently fit (with modifications) within the cargo envelope of the Airspeed AS 51 Horsa Mk I Assault Glider, but could be loaded through the forward door of the glider (hinged nose of later Mk II configuration), and was well within the payload weight carrying capacity of the Horsa.

In order to further facilitate its glider carriage and use by airborne forces, the Jeep was extensively modified to an airborne configuration by further reducing the size profile and weight. This task was undertaken, and accomplished on an accelerated schedule, by the Airborne Forces Development Center. It included the following features:

                  • Cutting down the front bumper Footsteps and grab handles removed to allow fitting into the Horsa Glider.
                  • Stowage of the spare wheel in front of the radiator grill to prevent shrapnel damage in the Reconnaissance version. This, in turn, unfortunately caused over heating.
                  • Addition of a pintle mounted single or twin Vickers .303 cal. 'K' Machine Gun for the front passenger in the Reconnaissance Role.
                  • Stowage of the rear jerry can in between the front seats, with two more added behind the seats to enable loading in a Horsa Glider.
                  • Fitting of a No. 22 Wireless Set over the rear drivers side wheel arch and additional battery holders and reels for the Signals variant.
                  • Attachment points on the bonnet (hood) for stretchers for the Ambulance version.
                  • Attachment of a collapsible stretcher rack (accommodating two stretchers) on the rear for the Ambulance version.
                  • Attachment of a collapsible pannier rack on the rear of the Payload Recovery configuration.
                  • Removal of the windscreen
- Addition of a removable steering wheel with the horn being moved to the dashboard.
                  • Entrenching tools removed from the sides, to allow for easy loading and unloading, with the tools relocated to the bumper.
                  • Black-out driving light on the left front mudguard removed and the lights in the grill were replaced with smaller versions mounted on the mudguards. The two main headlights were generally replaced by a single British blackout headlight.

As inferred above, there were at least five configurations in the TO&E of the 1st Airborne Division, which nominally included 904 Jeeps.
                  • Armed (not armored) Reconnaissance configuration
                  • Ambulance configuration
                  • Signals (communications) configuration
                  • Payload Recovery configuration (facilitated the carriage of CLE containers and panniers) Very limited information available to the author on this variant. It is known to have had a collapsible pannier carrying rack on the rear. See drawing further below on this page.
                  • Basic Airborne configuration (10% being provided with the rear collapsible stretcher rack)

The following photograph is of one of the armed Jeeps of the 1st Airborne Reconnaissance Squadron.

Note both the Arm of Service (AoS) tactical marking and the 1st Airborne Division's Airborne Forces 'Pegasus'  formation sign still discernible on the vehicle's front bumper. Also the single Vickers .303 cal. 'K' Machine Gun still mounted on the passenger side pintle.

A frontal view of the armed Jeep, with single Vickers .303 cal. 'K' Gun as used by the 1st Airborne Reconnaissance Squadron.

As indicated the standard means of delivery of the Airborne Jeeps was by the Airspeed AS 51 Horsa Mk I Assault Glider. Probably most interested readers know that the 1st Airborne Reconnaissance Squadron had 39 armed Jeeps in their ‘coup-de-main’ force delivered in the 1st Lift. (Chalk No. 354-375). The 1st Airlanding Light Regiment, RA employed the Jeep to tow their batteries of the 75mm Pack Howitzer, M1A1 (M8 carriage). It was capable of being carried with a Jeep, trailer, and crew, as one payload in the Horsa Glider.  The 1st Lift also included 7 gliders (early Chalk No. 263, 286-290, 313) carrying major elements of the 181st Airlanding Field Ambulance.

The following drawing is of an official loading diagram for the 75mm Howitzer, M1A1 (M8 carriage), a 10-cwt trailer (loaded) and its Jeep towing vehicle. Not that the gun carriage is partially disassembled. All as a single load in an Airspeed AS 51 Horsa Mk I  Assault Glider. 

As an aside, and for those of us not fortunate enough to obtain the real thing, to say nothing of a discrete place to park it, the following is a good alternative. It is a highly detailed, and "reasonably (limited by use of polystone) accurate", 1:6 scale model of the 75mm Howitzer, M1A1 (M8 carriage) produced by Dragon Models. The aiming stakes are scratch built from brass tubing. Based on expert knowledge however, modified lifting bars, not the stakes shown, were used for the function.  Keen of eye might notice the base of a scale model complete round (real brass) for the howitzer on the shelf above, beside a No. 75 Anti-Tank Grenade, ( 'Hawkins Bomb'), and two No. 69 Grenades.

In order to afford a direct comparison, the following are a few photographs of the real thing, first in a museum, and then in actual use from the battery positions of the 1st Airlanding Light Regiment RA in Lower Oosterbeek within the final perimeter. In the last picture of the howitzers in action note the fuze assemblies of the stack of ready service rounds in the immediate foreground.

This drawing is of the collapsible pannier carrying rack in stowed position on the Payload Recovery configuration. An educated guess would be that Jeeps of this specific capability would have been within the TO&E of the following elements of the 1st AB Division; 250th Light Company RASC, 93rd Composite Company RASC and 253rd Composite Company RASC. The AoS Tactical Marking of 250 Lt. Coy. RASC is shown as an example below the drawing.

In further detailing the Ambulance Jeeps, the Order of Battle of the 1st Airborne Division contained three field ambulances. The 16th Parachute Field Ambulance was assigned to the 1st Parachute Brigade, the 133rd Parachute Field Ambulance to the 4th Parachute Brigade, and the  181st Airlanding Field Ambulance to the 1st Airlanding Brigade. According to original source documentation; 1 AIRBORNE DIVISION, Report of Operations “MARKET” ARNHEM 17 – 26 Sep 1944, Parts 1 - 3, SECRET, 10 January 1945) Appendix ‘C’ to Part II ORDER OF BATTLE – A/Q STAFF AND SERVICES (page 33) a table details the following;
                    16 Fd. Amb          5 jeeps 4 trailers 2 m/cs 1 Lt wt m/c
                  133 Fd. Amb         5 jeeps 4 trailers 2 m/cs 1 Lt wt m/c
                  181 Fd. Amb         10 jeeps 6 trailers 5 m/cs
These figures are in slight variance to another original source document; REPORTS BY MEDICAL OFFICERS OF 1 A/B DIVISION on OPERATION “MARKET” AND THEIR SUBSEQUENT EXPERIENCES 17 SEPT 1944 – 8 MAY 1945, which cites the following numbers;
                    16 (Para) Fd Amb   6 jeeps 6 trailers 4 m/cs
                  133 (Para) Fd. Amb  8 jeeps 6 trailers 2 m/cs
                  181 (A/L) Fd. Amb 8 jeeps 4 trailers (unk) m/cs

The following group of photographs show an excellent specimen of a fully restored Airborne Ambulance Jeep with the exception of the light blue WD numbers (correct for 6th AB Div), would be white in most, but not all the vehicles, of 1st Airborne Division, and the yellow bridging disc, which was present on many of the known jeeps at Arnhem or Oosterbeek. The Jeep shows both the correct AoS marking, White '117' on Black 'Square', for the 181st Airlanding Field Ambulance, and the Airborne Forces 'Pegasus' formation badge on its front bumper.

 There are only limited contemporary photographs of ambulance jeeps present at either Arnhem or Oosterbeek. Am not certain about the first photograph as the windscreen (windshield) is still present.

Unfortunately because this jeep is burnt out no markings are discernible, other than the white star on the side. As a consequence it cannot be positively identified as an airborne ambulance jeep, or one of the airborne jeeps with the stretcher rack modification.

An example of a correctly restored Airborne Signals Jeep configuration is shown in the following photographs. Again restored in the colors of the 6th Airborne Division (light blue) the WD and AoS numbers would be white rather than light blue for the 1st Airborne Division. Also note collapsible stretcher on rear. See; on this blog page. (with full and  grateful acknowledgement to David Gordon's excellent Airborne Jeep web site; see Links).

Finally a photograph of an excellent restoration of the 'standard' Airborne Jeep, with exception of the side view mirror. Again the AoS tactical markings are for the 6th Airborne Division (with full and grateful acknowledgement to Brian Tegg).

Sources of information for this blog page included: 
1 AIRBORNE DIVISION, Report of Operations “MARKET” ARNHEM 17 – 26 Sep 1944, Parts 1 - 3, SECRET, 10 January 1945, Parachute Regiment and Airborne Forces Official Files, Aldershot
REPORTS BY MEDICAL OFFICERS OF 1 A/B DIVISION on OPERATION “MARKET” AND THEIR SUBSEQUENT EXPERIENCES 17 SEPT 1944 – 8 MAY 1945, Parachute Regiment and Airborne Forces Official Files, Aldershot
Margry, K., OPERATION MARKET-GARDEN Then and Now (Vol 1 and 2), After the Battle, London, 2002, ISBN 1 870067 45 2
Peters, M. & Buist, L., Glider Pilots at Arnhem, Pen & Sword, Barnsley South Yorkshire, 2009 ISBN184415763-6
181 Airlanding Field Ambulance RAMC Living History Group Website;
Middlebrook, M., ARNHEM 1944 The Airborne Battle, Viking, London, 1994 ISBN 0-670-83546-3
Piekalkiewicz, J., Arnhem 1944, Scribner’s, New York, 1976 ISBN 0-684-15479-X
Taylor, R., WARPAINT Volume II: Colours and Markings of British Army Vehicles 1903-2003, MMP Books, Poland ISBN 8389450925
Forty, G., BRITISH ARMY HANDBOOK 1939-1945, Sutton, Gloucestershire, 1998 ISBN 0-7509-1403-3
Airborne Jeep – Modifications;
Bouchery, J., THE BRITISH SOLDIER FROM D-DAY TO VE-DAY (Vol 1 and 2), Histoire & Collections, Paris, 1999 ISBN 2 908 182 742
Hodges,P. and Taylor, M., British Military Markings 1939-1945, Cannon Publications, 1994, ISBN 1-899695-00-1