Widespread usage of airborne troops to conduct combat operations has been taking place during the WWII. Monitoring events abroad and deeming local requirements, Yugoslav policymakers came up with the idea to organize airborne units that could be operational on the Yugoslav territories.


A very rare photo of the first Yugoslav parachutists. : Military Archive

On October 14, 1944, near the city of Bari, Italy, the First Parachute Battalion was established from the fighters of the People`s Liberation Army of Yugoslavia — Partisans[1] who had previously completed a parachute training. The first commander was Lieutenant Čedomir Vranić. Due to the circumstances, these first Yugoslav paratroopers have not been deployed to combat during the Second World War.

This battalion foundation day has been taken as a Day and Slava of the legendary 63rd Parachute Brigade[2], and nowadays is being celebrated as Day of the Foundation of the Airborne Units. However, it should be pointed out that the first military airborne units had been 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, along with five auxiliary transport squadrons. Therefore, during 1938 a parachute tower was built in Belgrade, projected by Czech engineers from the Škoda factory. At the time, the tower was the highest of its purpose and type in the world, with 74 meters in height and jumping platforms installed at 40 and 60 meters altitudes. Moreover, new bases with needed facilities have been building, all of whom should have become training centers for the first Yugoslav paratroopers generation.

Much like in the German Army at the time, the responsibility for recruiting, training, equipping as well as tactical command over airborne units was delegated 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 adopted in the YPA[3], until the beginning of nineties (63rd Parachute Brigade had been the part of Air Force and Anti-aircraft Defense of the YPA).

On October 1, 1939, in Panchevo (a pilot school back then, but nowadays barracks and base of the Special Brigade named “Rastko Nemanjic”) the first parachute school began to work.

Parachute school gave two classes of parachutists (in 1939 and in 1940), until the escalation of conflicts throughout the territory of the former state. The parachute training at the time lasted for a year with classes formed exclusively from officers and non-commissioned officers volunteers. The training curriculum included practical training as well.

The first class of the parachute school came on June 20 1940, and consisted of 28 participants, all of whom acquired the parachutist titles and attained parachute insignias. These insignias were represented by an eagle carrying a rifle[4].

The school was, after giving two classes of paratroopers, moved to the city of Novi Sad, but very soon, as from the beginning of 1941, the plan was to move it yet again to the city of Niš, although 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 was First Class Captain Dragutin Dolanski until the occupation. 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 the Croatian Air Force commands. His fate remained unknown after the war.

It should be pointed out that the first Yugoslav who conducted an individual parachute jump on the Yugoslavian grounds was the lieutenant scout-diver, Dragutin Dolanski, on September 2 1926, at the airport in Novi Sad. The jump was conducted with the Blanquier parachute, from altitude of 650 meters, out of the Anrio plane.

The first airborne unit was established on the territory of former Yugoslavia, after releasing two classes of paratroopers. 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 Momčilo Vuković. The company had around 180 men in strength and was deemed to have 3 assault squads and one support squad in its operational element. Unfortunately, until the escalation, only one squad became operational and was consisted of officers and NCOs exclusively.

According to the Royal Yugoslav Army War Plan R-41, there was an intention to establish another parachute company, with 335 personnel in strength, but that did not happen. After the declaration of martial law in the former country, the parachute company was tasked to protect the airport in Novi Sad from possible German airborne insertions, but since that had not happened, the company did not take part in combats in the so-called April War[5].

The unit withdrew from Novi Sad to the city of Sarajevo, where merged with the newly established infantry detachments, consisted of squadrons and ground units tasked to block the northern, western and southern directions towards Sarajevo. However, most of these fighters were captured without a significant resistance.


The first paratroopers used Air Force uniforms M 1937, with parachute ranks attached. These uniforms were completed with the šajkača cap in greyish-blue color, with air force emblem on the front.

The jumping loadout consisted of an overall in greyish-green color and every parachutist also had ones for summer and winter jumps, a leather “helmet” and gloves, manufactured by Knebl und Dietrich, from the city of Inđija. The main parachute in use was the Yugoslav Irvin, which was manufactured under the license from the US producer.

Free jumps were a special trait of the first Yugoslav paratroopers, carried out using a manual activation lever, while parachutists of other countries at the time were commonly opening their parachutes using a strap (forced opening).

As for the weaponry, Yugoslav carbines M 24 in 7.9 mm were in use, along with Gaser revolvers. For the purpose of fire support, Zbrojovka ZB 30 light machine guns were used, as well as Polish-made mortars in 46 mm caliber. In the category of handguns, automatic Mauser 7.62 mm handguns were in use, along with semi-automatic C 96 in 9×19 mm Parabellum, from the same manufacturer.

Shortly before the outbreak of war a contingent of around 100 Thompson 1928 A1 submachine guns in .45 ACP, with 50-round drums and assault handgrips was ordered from the USA, intended for the parachute company. The order arrived to Yugoslavia on April 12 1941, but have never became the part of the Yugoslav paratroopers armament.

Parachute insignias, worn by soldiers of the Royal Yugoslav Army in exile, who were air-inserting throughout the state territory during the war in order to merge with troops in the homeland — Četnici of Draža Mihajlović, 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 Royal Yugoslav Army officers and NCOs individual parachute jumps were recorded on the state territory. In March 1945, three groups of around 10-15 commandos each, conducted insertions by air onto 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 Yugoslav Partisans Units parachute jumps were recorded.

[1] People's Liberation Army of Yugoslavia — Partisans.
[2] 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.
[3] The Yugoslav People's Army.
[4] A difference should be pointed out 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.
[5] The April War (6-17 April 1941) is related to the invasion of Nazi Germany of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia.

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