The Second World War saw many advancements in technology and equipment. None were greater than the design of specialist items that could be worn and/or used by the newly formed airborne units of the Allied Armies. The paratroopers had their own red beret issued to them which subsequently earned them the name the Red Devils by the German soldiers who fought against them in Africa. Paratrooper helmets were adapted with extra straps to hold them in place, jump jackets were designed to be fastened between the legs – so that they did not rise above the head when jumping from an aeroplane… and even bicycles were created to be folded up and launched out of planes.
In fact there were so many adaptations provided to the Airborne forces that we could not list them all here. We will go into greater depth with other paratrooper items in the near future, but for this article we take a look at some of the better known items that the airborne collector might want.
WW2 British Paratrooper folding bicycle
One of the more interesting items designed for the British paratrooper was the folding bicycle. It was realised that once on the ground the paratrooper needed to be mobile. Before the supply of the heavier folding motorcycles which came later, someone decided that a cheap alternative was to take a conventional army bicycle and hinge the centre.
It could be folded in half and launched into the air on a parachute and then recovered on the ground. The idea was that it could quickly be put into working order and the soldier was then on his way. They were also used by Royal Marine Commando’s landing on the beaches in Normandy, as well as paratroopers fighting during the battle of Arnhem.
This example has been restored and incorporates many original items and features, including a Brooks saddle, a BSA large chain wheel, pedal bars and it has its’ original brakes. The tyres appear to have been replaced as well as the rubber grips on the handlebars which is expected given the age of both.
The bicycle has twisting locks in the centre of the frame to enable it to be folded in half for easy transportation.
It also has a number of nice original accessories including the front lamp, repair kit which hangs on the cross-bar, as well as an original carrying frame which is dated 1943 – along with a 43 dated toolkit and a BSA hand pump. It is currently for sale by Regimentals and priced at £3,400.
A 1944 British Army Paratrooper drinks flask
This type of flask was widely issued to British paratroopers and it is in clean condition. It is dated 1944 on the base and it has a Thermos makers mark impressed on the base. Often they would be carried in a specially padded 37 pattern back-pack to protect them.
It is available from Oliver’s Army Militaria priced at £60.
A WW2 Paratrooper Dennison Smock
The classic Dennison smock was an essential piece of paratrooper equipment as it went over the battledress jacket and trousers to protect them during the jump. This example has had the addition of a re-enforced neck and added woollen cuffs, made from the same material (British Army socks). It was a common practice for paratroopers to modify their clothing in this way.
The smock retains its “tail” which is unusual as so often they were cut away as the soldiers felt it got in their way. There are two small field repairs on the front and back – and the zip works perfectly which is something that can add value. The price of a wartime manufactured smock is considerably more than the same jacket with a post war date.
Unfortunately the manufacturer’s label is missing, but the smock does have brass Newey press-studs which is a good wartime feature to look out for. Another thing that can date a smock is the colour. For a wartime one you need to look out for subdued tan colours, rather than the greener colours which came later.
It is believed that this smock is either a late issue WW2 or pre-1950 manufacture. It is available from Battleflag Miliutaria priced at £725.
A 1943 Parachutist’s Oversmock
During the war the British Army manufacturered a sleeveless green green denim oversmock to be used as a Parachutists over-jacket. They were to be worn on top of all other uniform items – over a battledress – or over the Denison smock. There are period photographs of these being worn and they probably assisted by keeping the uniform, belt and other items wrapped up. Which would be particularly useful during a parachute jump.
This example comprises two lower elasticated pockets which could be used for carrying grenades and a full length zip which is in good working order. There is a great condition manufacterer’s label which gives the details “Jackets Parachutists – 1942 Pattern Size No. 3” as well as being broad arrow marked. The manufacture date is November 1943 along with the manufacturer’s name of Harris Ltd.
It is in excellent condition with all of its Newey poppers intact. It is very difficult to find one with a date that is pre D-Day and pre-Arnhem. This example is for sale via CS Militaria and priced at £225.00.
British Airborne Operation Dragoon Armband
An interesting airborne issued item. This type of armband was designed to be worn by British Airborne soldiers during Operation Dragoon – the Allied invasion of Provence in the South of France on the 15th of August 1944. They were worn by the British Airborne as a means of identification for local people and other soldiers. It is in super condition with some marks and stains commensurate with its age.
A rare British Airborne item from Operation Dragoon – these are well documented in period photographs. Available from Vigo Militaria priced at £155.00.
A WW2 British Paratroopers beret
A distinctive part of a paratrooper’s uniform was the maroon beret. It was worn when the helmet was not being used and along with the Dennison smock they made up the unmistakable paratrooper look. This example has two black painted metal/alloy grommets and there is a leather loop with adjustment tapes still in place. The inside off the beret is lined in a ribbed cotton liner which has a War Department WD broad arrow mark and a makers mark “Kangol Wear Limited”.
It is available from The Collector’s Guild priced at $1,045.00.
A 1943 British Army Paratrooper’s Helmet
The Allied paratrooper needed a helmet which was smaller than the conventional army helmet to give the wearer more room in a plane or glider… and to reduce the risk of neck breaks upon landing. The solution was to manufacture a helmet which did not have a rim and was fitted with extra straps to hold it onto the wearer’s head. This pattern of Airborne was worn widely by Glider Troops and Paratroopers on D-Day and during the Battle of Arnhem so it has become a very sought after helmet with collectors.
This text book example is a British Army Mark 1 Paratrooper’s Helmet and it is dated 1943. The liner band is marked BMB which stands for “Brigs Motor Bodies” – a prolific maker of British Army helmets. It has retained much of the granulated factory applied finish on the exterior and then the owner has added the camouflage netting. The leather chinstraps and the leather liner band in good shape. There is also a size marking of 5 7/8ths.
This helmet has the feel of a great combat item. It is more than likely that this helmet has seen action with the British Airborne. Available from CS Militaria £1,250.
A matching pair of 1943 dated paratrooper knee pads
These are well marked size SMALL and dated 1943 on a manufacturer’s label which is marked BELMONT. As well as being worn by British Paratroopers they were also issued to SOE personnel who used them when parachuting into occupied Europe. This pair are for sale from Battleflag priced at £195.