Parachutists of the
Kingdom of Yugoslavia
Posted in columns: Parachuting Photo: Military Archive
Widespread usage of airborne troops to conduct combat operations was firstly occurring during the WWII. Monitoring events abroad and considering local needs, Yugoslav political and military leaders came up with the idea to organize airborne units which could be operational on the Yugoslav territories.
On the 14th of October 1944 in Bari, Italy, the First Parachute Battalion was formed of the fighters of the People`s Liberation Army of Yugoslavia-Partisans who previously successfully completed a parachute training. The first commander was Lieutenant Cedomir Vranic. Due to various circumstances, these first Yugoslav paratroopers were not deployed to combat during the Second World War. The day of foundation of this battalion was taken as a Day and Slava of the legendary 63rd Parachute Brigade, and today is also celebrated as a Day of the Foundation of the Airborne Units. However, it should be pointed out the first military airborne units were established long before the famous 63rd Parachute Brigade, in the time of the Royal Yugoslav Army.
With the reorganization of the Yugoslav Royal Air Force (from 1937 to 1941) there was a plan to establish airborne units, as well as assisting transport squadrons.
Therefore, during 1938 in Belgrade a parachute tower was built that was projected by Czech engineers from the Shkoda factory. At the time, the tower was the highest of its purpose and type in the world, with 74 meters of height and installed jumping platforms at 40 and 60 meters altitudes. In addition, new bases with needed facilities were raising that should have become training centers for the first generation of Yugoslav paratroopers.
Much like in the German Army at the time, the responsibility for recruiting, training, equipping as well as tactical command over airborne units was given to the Air Force Command, unlike many other countries where airborne units were, as a rule, a part of land forces. A similar organization was kept in the YPA until the beginning of nineties (63rd Parachute Brigade was the part of Air Force and Anti-aircraft Defense of the YPA).
On the 1st of October in 1939 in Panchevo (former pilot school, but today`s barracks and the base of the Special Brigade named “Rastko Nemanjic”) the first parachute school began its work.
Parachute school gave two classes of parachutist (in 1939 and in 1940) until the escalation of conflicts on the territory of the former state. The parachute training at the time lasted for a year and classes were formed exclusively of officers and non-commissioned officers volunteers. The content of the training included practical training as well. The first class of the parachute school came on the 20th of June 1940 and consisted of 28 participants who acquired the parachutist titles and received parachute insignias. These insignias were represented by an eagle carrying a rifle.
The school was, after giving two classes of paratroopers, moved to the city of Novi Sad, but very soon, as in the beginning of 1941, it was planned to move yet again to the city of Nis, but the relocation was not carried out due to the attack of the Nazi army on the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, followed by the occupation of the state territory. The commander of the school until the occupation was First Class Captain Dragutin Dolanski. After the capitulation of the state Dolanski joined the Home Guard of the Independent State of Croatia (Cro. Nezavisna Država Hrvatska-NDH) and carried out duties of the chief of the Parachute Fighting Company, and later duties within commands of the Croatian Air Force. After the war his fate remains unknown.
It should be pointed out that the first Yugoslav who conducted an individual parachute jump on the Yugoslavia ground was the lieutenant scout-diver, Dragutin Dolanski, on the 2nd of September 1926 at the airport in Novi Sad. The jump was conducted with the parachute Blanquier from a height of 650 meters of the plane Anrio.
After releasing two classes of paratroopers the first airborne unit was established on the territory of former Yugoslavia.
On the eve of the war, in March 1941, a parachute company was established at the military airport in Novi Sad. The chief of the company was Captain Momcilo Vukovic. The company had around 180 men in formation and was intended to have 3 assault squads and one support squad in the operational element. Unfortunately, until the escalation only one squad became operational and was consisted exclusively of officers and NCOs.
According to the War Plan of the Royal Yugoslav Army R-41 it was decided to establish another parachute company, of 335 personnel in formation, but that did not happen.
After the outbreak of war in the former country, parachute company was tasked to protect the airport in Novi Sad from possible insertions by the German troops, but since that did not happen, the company did not take part in combats in the so-called April War.
The unit withdrew from Novi Sad to the city of Sarajevo, where merged with the newly established infantry detachments composed of flying and non-flying units with tasks to block the northern, western and southern directions towards Sarajevo. However, the majority of these fighters was captured without a significant resistance.
The first paratroopers used Air Force uniforms M 1937 with parachute insignias attached. These uniforms were completed with the cap shajkacha in the greyish-blue color with air force emblem on the front. The jumping set was consisted of an overall in greyish-green color and every parachutist also had those for jumping in summer and winter conditions, a leather “helmet” and gloves from the manufacturer Knebl und Dietrich from the city of Indjija. The main parachute in use was the Yugoslav Irvin which was manufactured under the license from the US producer.
|7,31 meters||50 m2||8,5 kilograms||5 meters per second|
As for the weaponry, Yugoslav carbines M 24 in 7.9 mm were used, as well as revolvers Gaser. For the needs of fire support light machine guns Zbrojovka ZB 30 were used as well as Polish-made mortars in 46 mm caliber. In the category of handguns automatic Mauser handguns in 7.62 mm were in use, as well as semi-automatic C 96 in 9x19 mm Parabellum/Luger of the same manufacturer.
Shortly before the outbreak of war a contingent of around 100 submachine guns Thompson 1928 A1 in .45 ACP caliber with 50-round drums and vertical handgrips was ordered from the USA for the needs of the parachute company. The order arrived to Yugoslavia on the 12th of April 1941, but never became the part of the armament of the Yugoslav paratroopers.
Parachute insignias, worn by soldiers of the Royal Yugoslav Army in exile, who were inserting on the state territory during the war in order to merge with troops in the homeland-Chetniks of Draza Mihajlovic, were changed: instead of the original eagle with a rifle, new emblems had motives of a parachute with wings and four ocelli instead of the emblem of Kingdom of Yugoslavia.
Between 1942 and 1945 37 individual parachute jumps of officers and NCOs of the Royal Yugoslav Army were recorded on the state territory. In March 1945, three groups of around 10-15 commandos each, conducted insertions by air on the Yugoslav territory tasked to conduct raids and sabotages against facilities and enemy personnel. Those Yugoslav commandos were trained by British instructors. Also, between 1943 and 1944 29 parachute jumps of the Yugoslav Partisans Units paratroopers were recorded.
 People's Liberation Army of Yugoslavia-Partisans.
 The 63rd Parachute Brigade, now organized as a 63rd Parachute Battalion of the Special Brigade of the Serbian Army, bearer of the highest state medals that are given for merits and sacrifices during armed conflicts, such as the Medal of National Hero, Medal of War Flag and others.
 The Yugoslav People's Army.
 A difference should be made between emblems used to mark an airborne unit and ones used to mark the title of a parachutist. Nowadays insignias of units of this type are usually represented with a parachute symbol, while the title of a parachutist is usually represented with spread wings, with or without a parachute in the middle.
 The April War (6-17 April 1941) is related to the invasion of Nazi Germany on the Kingdom of Yugoslavia.
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