This essay is part of the the Antoni Paszkiewicz project.
Since writing this in March 2015, I have obtained a copy of the History of the Polish Parachute Badge by Jan Lorys. As a result, some minor amendments have been made.
Toni Paszkiewicz arrived at RAF Ringway near Manchester in the late summer of 1943 for parachute training.
This was not the first training for his new role that he had undertaken. The Poles had a rigorous pre-parachute training regime at Largo House in Fife. From his conception of the idea of a Polish Parachute Brigade in early 1941, Colonel Stanislaw Sosabowski had placed great emphasis on fitness and preparing his men for the jumps course at Ringway and the rigours of war in the liberation of Poland.
Largo House became the training centre for Colonel Sosabowski’s brigade in February 1941. Built in the 1750s for landowner James Durham, the impressive house and its outbuildings were ideal for indoor instruction and the surrounding park became the focus for physical training. Engineers built an obstacle and confidence course in the woods that soon became known as Małpi Gaj—the Monkey Grove. One of Sosabowski’s officers wrote:
‘Jump, skip, hop. Stand, lie, fall. Arms, legs, heads. Swinging, bending, stretching. Aching, sighing, moaning, groaning. Into a mad Monkey Grove, shouted at by monkey-like men. Jump from fallen trees; somersault forwards, backwards, sideways. Fall gently—GO!—use angle of bones and limbs, fall side of calves, side of knees, thighs, roll onto back of shoulders. Stand up, fall down, stand up and get knocked down. Jump from tree trucks, fall out of windows…swing from trees…get thrown from trees…play monkey’s upside down…GO! GO! GO! Every other word is GO!
This emphasis on physical training was particularly important for the men who arrived from the Middle-East. Colonel Sosabowski was not impressed by the first to arrive in the late summer of 1942:
‘…I was appalled by their condition. Many were unfit to be in the army, let alone in a Parachute Brigade. Their physical condition after months of starvation and lack of exercise in concentration camps had left them weak and skinny.’
One of the most valuable training facilities was ‘the Tower’. This steel construction, which allowed instructors to train the men in the practical aspects of a parachute descent and landing, was the first of its kind to be built in the United Kingdom.
After two weeks’ in the Monkey Grove and on the tower the men were sent to RAF Ringway for the next phase of their training.
Manchester (Ringway) Airport had been opened in 1937 and part of it had become RAF Ringway in 1940. In June 1940 it became the home of the Central Landing School. This new establishment became the Parachute Training Squadron of the Central Landing Establishment in October 1940. In February 1941 it became an independent unit and was renamed the Parachute Training School.
The school was responsible for the initial training of all allied paratroopers trained in Europe. The airfield itself was not suitable for a drop zone and a suitable site was found at nearby Tatton Park, the estate of the Egerton family since the 16thC, five miles from the airfield. The first jump by instructors there took place on 13 July 1940 from a converted Whitley bomber, with the first trainees jumping the next day.
The jumps course at RAF Ringway comprised instruction in exiting the aircraft, controlling descent and landing techniques. This was followed by the first jumps from a balloon at Tatton Park. These were converted barrage balloons with a cage fitted underneath; the cage had a hole in the floor, to replicate the hole in the floor of the Whitley bomber, and a bar to which was attached the static line for the parachute. Having been bused to Tatton Park from Ringway, the trainees climbed into the cage in a group of four or five with an instructor. The balloon was then allowed to rise, tethered by steel cable, to 800 feet. The trainee then sat on the edge of the hole with his parachute’s static line connected to the bar. On the command “GO!” the trainee jumped, being careful not to lean forward, which would result in a bashed face, or lean back, which would result in his parachute catching on the rim of the hole, throwing him forward and, again, risking a broken nose. After a short fall the static line pulled the parachute out and the trainee descended, with an instructor on the ground giving instructions. The process was repeated until everyone had completed their two balloon jumps. Next was the real thing.
When Toni went through his training at Ringway, the aircraft used by the PTS was the Armstrong Whitworth Whitley. The Whitley was a medium bomber that had been in service with the RAF on the outbreak of war but which had been withdrawn from front-line bomber service at the end of 1942. It remained in service as a transport aircraft, for parachute training and towing gliders, and in a specialist electronic warfare role in 100 (Bomber Support) Group.
The converted bombers had an exit hole in the floor of the fuselage through which the trainee exited; they carried ten trainees and an instructor. Tom Hicks, who served with the Royal Engineers and fought at Arnhem, wrote about his training at Ringway:
‘Jumping from a Whitley bomber is a different kettle of fish to jumping from a balloon, as inside they are long, narrow, windowless and dark with no room to stand up straight. The floor on which we had to sit was hard decking as the Whitley didn’t have any seats. We sat alternately opposite one another down the sides of the aircraft with our legs out straight, five before and five aft of the hatch that covered the hole…
…On approaching the Drop Zone (DZ) the hinged doors of the hole were folded back and the first man positioned himself on the rim with his legs in the hole, the next man sat directly opposite with his legs askance ready to swing his legs into the hole to follow. The green light came on and we were out. As practised many times in simulated training, the approach to the hole was made alternately on our backsides from either side of the aircraft. The whistle and cold blast of air from the hole was ignored as all concentration was on getting out fast. As you dropped out of the hole the strength of the slipstream threw you almost horizontal until clear of the aircraft and then you started to drop.’
After five jumps from the Whitley in daylight and a final night jump, Toni had qualified as a parachutist, a few weeks before his 22nd birthday.
The symbol of Toni’s qualification was the Znak Spadochronowy—the paratrooper’s badge. The idea for such a badge was conceived in June 1941. Its design was based on an illustration by the well regarded graphic artist Marian Walentynowicz. The badge was formally established by order of General Władysław Sikorski, Commander-in-Chief of the Polish Armed Forces, on 20 June 1941. This order laid out the basic regulations for its design and award. A short but comprehensive history of parachuting in pre-war Poland, the evolution of Polish parachute forces in the Second World War, and the history of the parachute badge was written by Jan Lorys and published in 1993. It also includes a complete list of badges awarded. Although now out of print, it is highly recommended.
The silver-plated and oxidized alloy badge is a representation of an attacking eagle, diving with its talons extended. On the reverse is stamped a unique serial number—Toni’s is 3767—and the motto ‘TOBIE OJCZYZNO’ (For You Motherland). It was made firstly in-house by Gr. Techn. and latterly by Kirkwood & Son, a well regarded medalist in Edinburgh. The badge is attached to the tunic by a threaded metal post pushed through a hole in the tunic and secured by a brass ‘spinner’.
Following the airborne assault at Arnhem, the order regulating the combat parachute badge was amended—a gilded, laurel wreath held in the eagle’s claws replaced the golden beak and talons. Toni Paszkiewicz did not receive the wreath—he was injured in a parachute jump prior to the Arnhem operation and did not parachute again.
This short news clip from British Pathé shows British and Polish troops training in 1943 (prior to Toni Paszkiewicz’s jumps training).
The Bridgeford Family for the photographs of parachute training at RAF Ringway (from the estate of Captain R A Bridgeford RE).
British Pathé for the clip of paratroopers training.
1. (Back) Sosabowski, S. (2013). Freely I Served. p 100. Barnsley: Pen & Sword.
2. (Back) Sosabowski. Op. Cit. p 108.
3. (Back) Hicks, N. (2013 ) Captured at Arnhem: From Railwayman to Paratrooper. Barnsley: Pen & Sword.
4. (Back) In addition to his many illustraions in popular children’s books, Marian Walentynowicz had designed the cover of the war-time edition of Ziemia gromadzi prochy (Earth Gathers the Ashes) by Joseph Kisielewski. Published in 1939, the book described Kisielewski’s travels in Germany and predicted the imminent outbreak of war. It was banned subsequently by the German occupation administration but proved to be immensley popular in Poland and amongst the Poles in exile.
5. (Back) I have attempted to make this translation accurate in meaning, using correct military terminology of the time, rather than provide a literal translation. The regulations regarding responsibility for awarding the badge changed as the war progressed, being delegated further than detailed here.
- The approved badge is in the shape of an attacking eagle. (There then follows a patriotic statement about exile and return to Poland.)
- I establish two types of parachute badge: combat and ordinary. The combat parachute badge differs from the ordinary badge in that the eagle has a golden beak and talons. The badge is to be worn on the left breast above decorations. On the inner side of the badge is inscribed the motto: FOR YOU MOTHERLAND – and the registration number of the badge.
- Only soldiers who have taken part in a combat parachute action have the right to wear the combat badge. Parachute troops having undertaken the relevant training have the right to wear the ordinary badge.
- The combat parachute badge is awarded by the Commander-in-Chief on the recommendation of the Chief-of-Staff to the C-in-C. A Corps Commander, or equivalent, has the authority to award the ordinary badge. Awards of the combat badge will be announced in the orders of the Commander-in-Chief, ordinary badges in Corps Commander’s orders. The registration number of the badge is to be shown on the personal identity card.
- The right to wear the parachute badge will be withdrawn for conduct unworthy of a Polish soldier’s uniform. Such decisions in relation to the combat badge are the responsibility of the Commander-in-Chief, and the Corps Commander or equivalent in relation to the ordinary badge.
- Honorary parachute badges may not be awarded.
6. (Back) Lorys, J. (1993). Historia Polskiego Znaku Spadochronowego (History of the Polish Parachute Badge). London: The Polish Institute and Sikorski Museum.
7. (Back) Grupa Techniczna Ośrodka Radio Sztabu Naczelnego Wodza w Londynie (The Technical Division of the Radio Unit of the Commander-in-Chief in London).