Parachute Maintenance Company
By Major Thomas R. Cross, Inf.
Division Parachute Officer, 11th Airborne Division
The Quartermaster Review, September-October 1950
Article written by the officer credited with designing the first rigger badge about one of the first new Quartermaster Divisional Parachute Maintenance Companies. Also talks about the origin of the Red rigger cap.
The Rigger’s Pledge, its meaning, and its grave responsibilities, will adequately serve as an introduction to the new Airborne Quartermaster Parachute Maintenance Company as authorized by T/O&E (Table of Organization and Equipment) 10-337, dated 1 April 1950. This unit is a new addition to the Quartermaster Corps, and is the forerunner of many similar type airborne organizations that will enable the Quartermaster Corps to fulfill those obligations and commitments to the Ground Forces which were formerly the responsibility of the Air Force.
The new Airborne Quartermaster Parachute Maintenance Company has the mission of providing parachute packing and maintenance, and supply support for Airborne Division units. This company is an organic part of the Airborne Division as currently organized under T/O&E 71, and has the following capabilities: to receive, store, and issue Air Force equipment (light aircraft and associated equipment excepted); to inspect and pack parachutes; to supervise the recovery of parachutes and allied equipment after parachute drops; and to perform organizational and field maintenance on parachutes and allied equipment.
The Airborne Quartermaster Parachute Maintenance Company is divided into the following groups:
the Division Parachute Officers Section; Company Headquarters: the Supply Section: two Packing Platoons of two sections each; and one Maintenance Platoon of six sections. The total authorized: strength consists of six officers, one warrant officer, and 236 enlisted men, or 243 officers and men.
All of our present replacements for the 11th Airborne Parachute Maintenance Company are supplied by the 11th Replacement Company of the 11th Airborne Division. All applicants are personally interviewed by an officer from the Parachute Maintenance Company before they are assigned to the organization. After an applicant has been assigned to the organization he is sent to the Parachute Maintenance Company Packing School for two weeks. While attending this course he not only learns how to pack parachutes of all types but is also instructed and checked out on the C-82 and C-119 airplane monorail systems. Each applicant is also given the fundamentals of the heavy-drop technique, which involves dropping the 105-mm. howitzer and the 1/4-ton truck by parachute. The final graduation exercise consists of each applicant jumping his own parachute, and loading and dropping one mono-rail load without a malfunction. At the conclusion of this course the applicants are assigned to the Parachute Packing Platoons. They remain with the Packing Platoons until such time as the company receives a sufficient quota to send them to the Riggers School at the Airborne Section of the Infantry School, Fort Benning, Georgia. This may seem a rather tedious way of doing business however, our normal attrition is so great that this procedure is absolutely necessary in order to insure that we maintain an adequate number of parachute packers in both packing platoons.
The 11th Airborne Parachute Maintenance Company is fortunate in having its company area close to the packing sheds, drying tower, and other vital installations. This is a prime requisite for any similar type organization; otherwise vital man-hours would be lost in going to and from the widely separated areas.
The photograph on page 12 (not included here) shows the main parachute packing, storage, and maintenance facilities of the 11th Airborne Parachute Maintenance Company. The first building is designated as Packing Shed No. 1; the next building is the Parachute Drying Tower, with Packing Shed No.2 on the right. This is an ideal set-up, due to the fact that as the parachutes are brought into the area from the jump-field they are hung up, shaken out, and dried in the Drying Tower before they are shipped to Packing Sheds Numbers 1 and 2 for inspection and repacking. Any parachutes needing repairs are sent to Maintenance Section for more complete inspection and repairs. The Supply Section handles the issue, receipt, and recovery of all parachutes and allied equipment. It is held responsible at all times for accurate data on the location and condition of every piece of airborne equipment in the, Parachute Maintenance Company area. The magnitude of this job is portrayed by the fact that they have the task of accounting for over, 40,000 parachutes plus thousands of aerial delivery containers and allied pieces of equipment. The thoroughness of this section can be best realized when one considers the following:
During a night training jump recently held at Fort Campbell, involving approximately 650 jumpers and thirty aircraft, this section was able to disclose, forty minutes after the first plane-load jumped, that a definite number of parachutists had not cleared the area, as their parachutes had not been accounted for. Immediate investigation revealed that one plane had crashed, one was missing, and that only half of the personnel of another aircraft had jumped, due to an unsafe condition in flight. Fortunately no parachutists were injured, and all were finally accounted for. This jump was non-tactical, which was a determining factor in the speedy recovery of equipment and the location of personnel.
All of the packed parachutes are stored in a separate building. This building is properly safeguarded and under constant observation at all times. Every ten days an inspection is made of all packed parachutes. You will notice in the photograph above (not included here) that there is all expiration date for each bin or group of twelve parachutes. This is necessary in that present Air Force Technical Orders require that parachutes be repacked every sixty days here in the United States. The dates on the bins reveal when the parachute is due to go out of service for repacking. This aids in marking the parachutes that are to be used first so as to take advantage of the sixty-day repack period. Our packing schedules are so arranged that few, if any, parachutes are ever sent back for repacking due to the fact that they were not jumped.
During large-scale airborne operations involving twelve or more aircraft, the Parachute Maintenance Company delivers the parachutes to the jumpers at the planes. For small-scale operations, the parachutes are issued from one or more central issue points.
To aid in identifying the parachute rigger during the rigging of personnel and equipment for large-scale airborne operations, this organization has adopted the use of the red ski-type cap. The idea itself was borrowed from Navy handling personnel aboard aircraft carriers. We assign a minimum of one parachute rigger per aircraft during the loading phase of an airborne operation. The loading troops are working on a strict time schedule, and all assisting personnel should be readily available to handle any situation that could materially assist the loading troops. The red caps have already proven their value on such large operations as Exercise SWARMER. Experience has proved that when a parachute rigger is needed he should be located quickly; otherwise vital time is lost.
I think no better illustration could be given of the operation of an Airborne Parachute Maintenance Company than that of the following report, which was a follow-up or after-action report of the 11th Airborne Parachute Maintenance Company for Exercise SWARMER, which was conducted at Camp Mackall-Fort Bragg, N. C., during April and May (1950). This report will indicate the planning and preparation necessary for a large-scale airborne operation. The Operation HUDDLE mentioned in the following report was a full-dress rehearsal staged by the 11th Airborne Division early in April for Exercise SWARMER.
REPORT ON EXERCISE SWARMER
Section I: Mission.
The mission of the 11th Airborne Parachute Maintenance Company was to equip and supply the 11th Airborne Division with the necessary Air Force equipment in order for the division to accomplish its mission.
Section II: Planning.
Planning started when notification was first received in December 1949 of the Division’s participation in Exercise SWARMER. Estimates were made and all previous requisitions were reviewed, while new requisitions were prepared and submitted. Upon receipt of requests from the units, more concrete plans were made. These requests were evaluated by the Office of the Division Parachute Officer and went to the Air Force Supply Section of the 11th Airborne Parachute Maintenance Company for requisitions from Air Force channels. Many of the requests were improper and did not include items which this Office knew would be needed. The reasons for poor estimates were lack of experience on the part of unit commanders and failure to know their unit requirements. Due to the lack of information it was necessary – for this Office to estimate the equipment that would be needed for Exercise HUDDLE and Exercise SWARMER. This estimate was based upon our previous airborne experience.
The equipment actually used on the exercise had been requisitioned six months prior to D-day. The basis for those requisitions was to bring the division stocks of Air Force equipment to a combat level for two regimental combat teams. The receipt of items requested was never completed, and only shortly before SWARMER were certain critical items such as hardware and webbing received by the Air Force Supply Section.
A parachute maintenance schedule was prepared which included the fabrication of special airborne containers. The schedule depended upon the receipt of Air Force equipment. Various projects necessary for Exercise HUDDLE and Exercise SWARMER were given a project number and a project completion date. The only thing that would interfere with the planned priorities would be orders of an emergency nature, non-availability of equipment, or a last minute urgent request on the part of a participating unit. A maintenance project schedule was necessary in order for us to accomplish all of our work in time for both Exercise HUDDLE and SWARMER. The projects started as of the 1st of January and ran until the very last minute before Exercise SWARMER. We were able to complete all maintenance projects as we had planned.
A parachute-packing schedule was drawn up on the 1st of January and was followed until April, when the unit departed from Fort Campbell. Throughout the following mouths we were able to deliver all the necessary equipment, which included aerial delivery equipment as well as personnel parachutes. From 5 January to 1 April, the Packing Section packed 11,120 mains, 10,384 reserves, and 3,575 G-1’s. This was in addition to supporting normal training jumps. Of the above figures, 2,400 assemblies and 1,000 G-1’s were taken to the Division’s departure airfield at Greenville, South Carolina.
The planning for the heavy-equipment drop was not extensive because we did not know until February what was to be dropped. However we planned in January to send one officer and seven enlisted men to Army Field Forces Board No. 1, at Fort Bragg. to learn how to pack the N-1 parachute, 100-foot canopy, and how to load and eject the heavy equipment, which included the 105-mm. howitzer, the ¼-ton truck, the 3/4-ton truck, and the 40-mm AA gun. Also trained at Army Field Forces Board No. 1 in heavy-equipment drop technique was a detachment from Battery C, 675th Airborne Field Artillery Battalion.
An allied consideration in the planning phase included the problem of transportation. Additional transportation was required for personnel and for equipment. It was necessary to plan to use railroad box-cars for personnel parachutes, aerial delivery parachutes and containers, and some maintenance equipment, including two sewing-machines (one heavy and one medium). Changes were necessary in transportation requirements due to changes in commitments and changes in the over-all Division plan.
Section III: Preparation Phase.
In this phase of Exercise SWARMER the preliminary Exercise HUDDLE was not of great value to this organization because it only caused a repacking of parachutes for the final exercise and restricted the use of Air Force equipment for a short period. The lessons learned in HUDDLE were definitely valuable to the Division.
During the preparation period we attempted to carry out the schedule made during the planning phase. All parachute-packing quotas were met. However, the Maintenance Section was unable to continue its schedule as planned because certain Air Force items were not received .It therefore was necessary to condemn and salvage four hundred Bags, Equipment, Parachutist’s Adjustable, M-1948, for their hardware, felt, and webbing, as a source of supply.
In preparation for SWARMER we sent a detachment as planned to Fort Bragg, to be trained in heavy-equipment drop technique. These men returned with some equipment, including one condemned 100-foot parachute (N4).
Air Force Supply continually sent tracers to expedite shipments on order that were to be utilized in the exercise. Numerous letters were written, and, in several instances command action had to be taken.
In summarizing the preparation stage, it may be stated that everything during this phase except actual packing of parachutes depended entirely upon the availability of vital Air Force equipment. It was late in coming as a result our projects were delayed until the last minute. The cooperation experienced on the Division level and within company sessions was excellent.
The matter of training is not covered in detail since anyone who packed a parachute for the exercise was properly trained. It was, however, a problem during that period, in that we had to train men to replace normal attrition. Therefore we trained twenty-six packers, from 15 January to 15 March, in the Company Packing School. Also during that approximate period there were fifteen men attending the Fort Benning Rigger School. Throughout the exercise we lost the services of fifteen other men who were scheduled to depart for the Fort Benning Rigger School during maneuvers. These men could not participate in the actual exercise.
Section IV: Execution
The execution roughly falls into various categories, the first of which is personnel. The company was divided into many sections. We left a base camp at Fort Campbell of approximately 25 per cent of the company, which included two thirds of the Maintenance Section. It was necessary to leave behind a large section of this type and size, due to discharge of personnel, personnel changes, attendance at schools, and other administrative requirements. We sent one section composed of one officer and fifteen men to Greenville Air Force Base, to be attached to the Departure Airfield Control Group for aerial resupply missions. One officer and seven enlisted men, comprising the heavy-equipment section, were sent to Laurinburg-Maxton Air Force Base along with Battery C, 675th Airborne Field Artillery, in order that they might execute the heavy-drop requirements of the 11th Airborne Division in Exercise SWARMER. The main body of the company moved to Greenville Air Force Base. One third of the Maintenance Platoon was with this group, and, in general, the unit at Greenville received the equipment from the railhead at that point set up the camp, and inspected the parachutes prior to the airborne operation (D-4). It was necessary to send a small detachment consisting of four officers and approximately thirty-five men to Camp Mackall to handle the administrative recovery of all Air Force equipment from the drop zone. Three of the officers were used as Safety Officers on the drop zone during the drop. The movement was accomplished by separate moves on the part of the aerial resupply going to Greenville, the heavy-equipment-drop people going to Laurinburg-Maxton, and the eighteen enlisted men moving to Greenville Air Force Base prior to the main body of the company. The company, less detachments moved to the Departure Airfield under command of the company commander. Four days prior to D-day the second group left for Camp Mackall.
Elements of the company were located at the following places during the exercise Base Section, Fort Campbell; Departure Airfield, Greenville Air Force Base; Departure Airfield, Lanrinburg-Maxton Air Force Base; and Drop Zone, Camp Mackall (non-tactical recovery group)
This illustrates the flexibility of the company, and the point to which it can be extended.
The Parachute Maintenance D-day activities at Greenville included the following: 1,900 T-7 assemblies were issued; 1,897 jumpers were rigged and inspected; sixty-two plane-loads of equipment were checked.
D-day activities at Laurinburg-Maxton Air Force Base consisted of final rigging, inspection, loading, and dropping of the heavy equipment. This included four 105-mm howitzers, one 40-mm AA gun, seven 1/4-ton trucks, and a 3,000-pound load of ammunition.
At Camp Mackall the activities included observation of the drop and recovery of the parachutes and other Air Force equipment. The parachute recovery commenced only after the drop zone was cleared of maneuver personnel, and was performed non-tactically. The recovery was completed on D+3 and was 99 per cent effective. The recovery was accomplished with an additional 65-man detail for two days.
There were no serious personnel parachute malfunctions on D-day, although there was one fatality. Corporal George W. Cooley, 11th Airborne Parachute Maintenance Company, who was with the detachment at Laurinburg-Maxton, was killed when he was knocked out the rear end of a C-82 aircraft without clam-shell doors after he had corrected a malfunction of a pilot parachute, thereby starting the chain of events which ejected the load. He did not use the parachute he was wearing as he was apparently unconscious when he left the aircraft. Corporal Cooley was recently awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (posthumously).
All heavy equipment that dropped was in operating condition. This method of dropping supplies is advocated by this Office as the most desirable. Aerial delivery in less than 1,000-pound increments is uneconomical and unsatisfactory.
The resupply phase was not performed. It was cancelled on D+2 since it was not tactically sound after the airhead had been captured.
Transportation of the parachutes from Fort Campbell to Greenville and from Camp Mackall to Fort Campbell was by railway car.
Upon the return of the equipment and personnel to the home station, an immediate program was undertaken to process all equipment employed in order to ready it for future jumps. That equipment, even at this writing, is still being inspected.
I hope that this article has in some small way, been able to identify and explain the new Airborne Quartermaster Parachute Maintenance Company, its mission and its capabilities. We who have been closely associated with airborne activities for nearly a decade feel that the airborne concept is finally coming into its own.
This in itself is highly encouraging, and it was singularly gratifying to see the way in which the Quartermaster Corps took the problems of parachute maintenance to heart and did much toward solving them.. There is still much room for research and development in this new field of Quartermaster endeavor, but I feel that the Corps is more than capable of handling this.
In closing may I express my profound pleasure at working with such a congenial and open-minded group. The cooperation experienced oh the highest levels has been a source of much satisfaction, and we will do our utmost beneficial relationship.