Sunday, March 1, 2015

REVIEW: OSPREY BRITISH PARATROOPER, 1940-1945



British Paratrooper, 1940-1945. Osprey Warrior, 174.  
Written by Rebecca Skinner, and Illustrated by Graham Turner.

Scope – A good introduction to the formation, training, equipment and second world war campaigns of the British paratroops
Completeness – Good
Appeal – high, nice book
Accuracy – I know of no problems, but am new to the topic. 


 British Paratrooper 1940–45



Describe
During the Second World War, the British decided to respond to the successful use of German paratroops by creating their own paratrooper units. This began with the recruitment of volunteers from soldiers from within the British army. All volunteers from within the pre-existing army ranks, no man would be forced to join a unit whose duties required them to jump from airplanes. (It wasn’t until the 1950’s that one could enlist directly into the British paratroops.) To no one’s surprise, the recruits tended to be highly motivated and very brave.   

The newly formed paratroops wore a distinctive uniform. It consisted of a special outer tunic whose design reduced the chances of equipment getting snagged in the parachute, shoes laced on the side and a maroon beret that showed their elite status. Portions of the uniform, such as the tunic, were inspired by and largely copied from, those of their German adversaries. This made sense as it was the effectiveness of the German paratroops that had arguably inspired the formation of the British units. 

The paratroops soon proved themselves to be useful and important additions to the British forces in several battles. The first of these was the Bruneval Raid in northern France in 1942. A small group of paratroopers were dropped into occupied France to occupy a radar station long enough for technicians to examine it and obtain needed intelligence on its capabilities, and then make their escape via sea using a Royal Navy pick up team.

The paratroops also distinguished themselves through their bravery, skill, and initiative in other campaigns of the war including North Africa, Italy, and Normandy. The book continues right up to the beginning of the paratroops service in Greece after the Germans left while civil war starting to break out in that nation. 
 
Never having had a strong interest in paratroops, I did not really expect to enjoy this book as much as I did. However, it is an interesting volume that can appeal to many people in many different ways. Some will enjoy the story and description of elite troops bravely facing danger and battle. Others, the stories of eccentric and larger than life personalities (There is, for instance, a story of a British paratroop officer who not only regularly carried an umbrella into battle, he also once captured a tank with the umbrella. OK, it was an Italian tank but it was still an impressive feat. ) 

For me much of the appeal of the story came from hearing how new technology, in this case parachutes, was actively applied during a military campaign. From the time the decision was made to form British paratroop units until the end of the war, training and parachuting procedures were continuously changed and underwent new developments.  To me, it was fascinating to learn that the earliest attempts at training British paratroops, for instance, were done before there were actually good quality planes whose designs facilitated parachuting available. One training plane, for instance, was an obsolete bomber and parachutists were required to crawl down the length of the plane and then crawl out, head first, through the bomb bay in the rear. Another training plane had literally had a hole cut in the center of the floor to enable the parachutists to jump out. To me, these stories of training in the new parachute technologies and techniques were very interesting.
I was astonished, for instance, to learn that the official reaction to a parachuting accident, even or especially a fatal one, was to make the remaining troops jump as soon as possible before fear and trauma had allegedly set in. 

In conclusion, this is a fine book, with much of interest to those interested in paratroops or the Second World War. It is highly recommended.

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