On 16 August 1940, a volunteer group of 48 Soldiers from the U.S. 29th Infantry Regiment became the Army’s first parachute test platoon and stepped from a few perfectly good airplanes– B18 bombers– at Fort Benning. They were behind the times as a small force of Italian Arditi assault troops had already gone into combat behind Austrian lines in 1918 and Kurt Student’s Fallschirmjäger troops had been all over Denmark, Norway, Belguim and Holland already in 1940, seizing key points just ahead of the panzers.
Speaking of panzers, the business of riding a parachute into combat translated into very lightly armed troops. The Fallschirmjägers, for instance, typically just dropped with a handgun and gravity knife, marring up with their rifles, LMGs and Schmeissers from canisters dropped separately once on the ground. Hell, the British Paras still only went into battle in 1982 in the Falklands with Sterling SMGs as the L1A1 (semi-auto inch-pattern FALs) were considered too bulky for airborne work.
In WWII, armed Jeeps and light armor– such as the Light Tank Mk VII Tetrarch, of which 22 were landed at D-Day by the British– had to be brought in by gliders. By the end of the war, the 7-ton M22 Locust light tank was developed and, capable of being carried by a C-54, was instead carried by Hamilcar gliders into the Operation Varsity drop across the Rhine just a couple weeks before Hitler sucked on his Walther.
Throughout the 1950s and early 1960s, with the development of the para-capable T92 Light Tank stalled and the M41A1 Walker just too heavy to strap a parachute too, about the best the 82nd Airborne could term as mechanized units were teams of Jeeps carrying recoilless rifles, which could be air-dropped.
This ended when the much-maligned but very niche M551 Sheridan
light tank err, “Airborne Assault Vehicle” entered service in 1967. The 15-ton tracked vehicle could be penetrated by 12.7mm (.50 cal) gunfire, but in theory, could zap an enemy T-34/55 with its innovative M81E1 Rifled 152 mm Gun/ Shillelagh missile launcher.
The 82nd used a battalion of these, some 51 vehicles, as the 4th Bn/68th Armored Rgt 22 March 1968 until 7 February 1984, when it was reflagged as 3rd Battalion, 73rd Armor, later dropping a platoon of Sheridans in a combat jump in 1989 in Panama and deploying the whole battalion to Saudi Arabia for Desert Shield the next year (where the Shillelagh missile was finally used in combat to plink Iraqi bunkers and T-55s in the follow-on Desert Storm.)
While the M8 “Buford” Armored Gun System (light tank) was to replace the Sheridan, it never went into production and in 1997 3-73 AR was stripped of its tanks. While since then an Immediate Ready Company (IRC) consisting of Abrams tanks and Bradley armored fighting vehicles from the 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Stewart, Georgia has been “on call” to deploy with the 82nd, it has to be landed by C-5s at a strip, and can’t be airdropped.
But now, after 21 years without it, the All Americans have organic armor again in the form of a battalion of surplus Marine LAV25A2s.
The 4th Battalion, 68th Armored Rgt was reactivated this week at Bragg.
From the Army’s presser:
“We now have the capability to counter lightly armored threats on the battlefield with something more than missile systems,” said Cpt. Aram M. Hatfield, company commander of the newly activated 4th Battalion, 68th Armor Regiment in the division.
IBCTs constitute the Army’s “light” ground forces and are an important part of the nation’s ability to project forces overseas. They can get there fast with low logistics demand and they can work in severely restricted terrain.
“There’s nothing in the division right now with that amount of firepower and speed,” said Hatfield.
The LAVs have been drop certified earlier this year.
Rock Island has this great Israeli M606A2 Jeep up for auction. A militarized version of the Willys CJ-5, it served in an anti-tank role through the 1960s and 70s using its Willys Hurricane I-4 engine along with an M70 106 mm recoilless rifle to zip around the desert Rat Patrol style and take pot-shots at T-55s.
The concept is similar in concept to U.S. Army and Marine light anti-tank vehicles common from WWII through the 1970s that basically amounted to a Jeep with a recoilless rifle.
The final version of this was the M-825 Weapons Platform, which used the 1/4 ton Ford M-151A2 MUTT with an M40 106mm Recoilless Rifle on an M79 mount. Carrying a two-man crew and six rounds of ammunition for the M40, the RR was later swapped out for a TOW launcher, although overseas allies and some National Guard units kept the M-825 on inventory through the 1980s.
However, the Iranian Safir jeep equipped with their own locally-produced version of the M40-type is still going strong around the world, such as this one seen recently in Kirkuk in the hands of insurgents.