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Airborne Football Match (1943?)


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#1 RORO

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Posted 15 February 2012 - 10:46 AM

Has anyone heard about the Parachute Regiment dropping out of a plane to play a game of football as a PR stunt circa December 1943? I've come across the newspaper clipping below (as usual - date and newspaper title chopped off!!)...

“Airborne Brigade becomes Light Infantry” (c. 1943/44)
"Throughout all the time Brigade was actively employed in the line airborne training and recruiting were being considered without pause, and at this time it was decided to concentrate 1 Independent Glider Pilot Squadron, 1 Independent Parachute Platoon and 300 Air landing Anti-Tank Battery, RA in Sicily for airborne training. Further training was carried out and recruits were taught parachuting and rehabilitation course was held for men coming back to the Brigade from hospital whilst, in addition, the base was responsible under 15 Army Group for supply dropping for one battalion. A method used on one occasion by the base to stimulate interested in parachuting was the dropping of the football team as well as a few spectators, on the away ground by air. The team changed in the plane and landed, complete with ball ready to play their opponents."

I bit of digging has led me to believe that this potentially occurred in Sicily, as that's where those units seem to have been based at the end of 1943, early 1944. And the gentleman who kept the clipping joined the Para's in October 1943 and he had mentioned it many years ago that he was involved in the match. Sadly, he's no longer with us to expand on the story but I'm keen to find out more if possible.

Many thanks for your help!
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#2 Cee

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Posted 16 February 2012 - 12:19 AM

RORO,

Am I correct in assuming this would be 2nd Parachute Brigade which became independent when the Ist Airborne Division was withdrawn to England (December 1943?).
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#3 RORO

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Posted 16 February 2012 - 12:30 PM

Hi Cee,

Yes, I believe it would have been 2nd Independent Parachute Brigade.

Thanks.
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#4 Cee

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Posted 16 February 2012 - 11:35 PM

Yo ROHO,

I came across this photo of a para training school which ParaData thinks may be in Italy. For a better view go here:

Paratroopers at a training school, probably Italy, 1943

You may get some clues from this page devoted to 216 Parachute Signal Squadron. As you say there was a 2nd Para Brigade base somewhere in southern Italy devoted to training, rehabilitation and recruitment. I'm sorry I can't find anything more specific at this time. You may have better luck running down info on the individual units of the Brigade. I can't find any books devoted to them which surprises me as they saw action in Italy, Southern France and Greece.

Entirely unrelated to your query but interesting is this rather fine quality colour video of a 2nd Para Brigade unit leaving for Greece where they landed unopposed.

Britain At War (1st Battalion, 2nd Independent Parachute Brigade dropped on Megara, Greece 1944) - YouTube

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#5 Cee

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Posted 18 February 2012 - 07:16 PM

I was just looking at Sicilian airfields during WW2 and got quite lost in the process. If the 2nd Independent Parachute Brigade's Training School was in Sicily a good choice for location would be the airfield at Catania on the east coast. Pure speculation only, of course, at this point.

Interestingly there is an annual football match played to this very day in celebration of the taking of Pachino by the RCR.

Pachino Day Soccer Game

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#6 Cee

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Posted 19 February 2012 - 03:46 PM

Gioia Del Colle?

A number of parachute schools set up in southern Italy are mentioned by Gregor Ferguson in his book, The Paras - British Airborne Forces 1940-1984.


The 2nd Ind. Para Bde. fought as infantry of the
line throughout the long, wet Italian winter of
1943-44, taking steady casualties but receiving few-
replacements. A training unit and parachute school
were eventually set up, first at Gioia and later, after
the fall of Rome, at Lido di Roma. Volunteers from
8th Army units passed through these facilities before
joining the brigade in the front line. A smaller
parachute school set up near Monopoli on the
Adriatic coast was used mainly by the special forces,
SOE and commandos who inserted beach-marking
and reconnaissance parties into occupied Yugo-
slavia prior to amphibious operations. One veteran
of the Monopoli school remembers the weekend's
course well. Only three jumps were required to
qualify for parachute wings; but as these were made
after only one day's instruction, without jumping
helmets, and with ordinary bergen rucksacks and
lengths of rope instead of proper kit bags, more than
three jumps was reckoned to be pushing one's luck!



The Goia here would be Gioia Del Colle which was captured by the 1st Airborne Division on September 18th 1943. The airfields at Lido di Roma and nearby were used as training and planning centres for Operation Dragoon under American command. There's an interesting article from the Assyrian Times that mentions both Monopoli and Gioia Del Colle being used by the Assyrian Levies Parachute company:

Assyrian Paratroopers in Albania and Greece


Of course that doesn't solve the actual location of the football match but I'm leaning towards Gioia Del Colle (and environs) at the moment.
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#7 RORO

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Posted 20 February 2012 - 04:25 PM

Hi Cee,

Once again, many thanks for all that information - it is incredibly useful.

The location of this football match has proven to be a bit of a mystery! I have been trawling the newspaper archive around Dec 1943/Early 1944 in the hope that it may crop up in a newspaper report, especially since it appears to be a PR stunt so should be fairly well documented. No luck thus far though.

As one further clue, in the 2nd Ind. Para Bde. war diaries I have uncovered a paragraph that discusses the current training situation in Jan 44 and hopefully helps us narrow down the date and location of the football match even further:


January 14th 1944
Reports were received from our Base HQ on the progress being made in the airborne training at this time underway in APULIA and SICILY. The parachute training school at GICIA was dealing efficiently with all the recruits it received, although an eventual shortage of material to train was foreseen. Once of out sub units which had been left behind to perfect itself in its peculiar technique was the Indep Para Pl; their business was to ensure that the aircraft’s allotted to us in any future parachute or glider operation was have ample guides to help them in finding the dropping or landing zones, and to this end, experiments were constantly being made with radio devices, which, in the hands of pathfinders, could lead the main body of the aircraft by the nose to the required spot. Apart from the loss we suffered in December [1944] by losing our best Pathfinder Pilots, this branch of the activities of 2 Para Bde seemed to be going well. The Glider Pilots, too, were getting in plenty of flying of the right type, so that previous failures resulting from a lack of experience would not be repeated. Arrangements were made for 300 Airlanding Atk Bty to move to SICILY on 20 Jan to train with the Glider Pilot Sqn, and details were tied up regarding the visits and reports which the Bde Comd required from these rather distant units of his, so that he could exercise control, and ensure that training was proceeding on the correct lines.



As you can see it mentions the 300 Airlanding Anti-Tank Battery being moved to Sicily on 20th Jan 44 - the same 300 Airlanding Anti-Tank Battery as in the original newspaper article I quoted.
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#8 RORO

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Posted 20 February 2012 - 04:31 PM

Someone has also uncovered the following newspaper article for me, which again mentions the football game. I am working on the presumption it is the same match and the one previously mention. Frustratingly, once again the date and newspaper title have been chopped off the cutting!

“Airborne Brigade becomes Light Infantry”
"Throughout all the time Brigade was actively employed in the line airborne training and recruiting were being considered without pause, and at this time it was decided to concentrate 1 Independent Glider Pilot Squadron, 1 Independent Parachute Platoon and 300 Air landing Anti-Tank Battery, RA in Sicily for airborne training. Further training was carried out and recruits were taught parachuting and rehabilitation course was held for men coming back to the Brigade from hospital whilst, in addition, the base was responsible under 15 Army Group for supply dropping for one battalion. A method used on one occasion by the base to stimulate interested in parachuting was the dropping of the football team as well as a few spectators, on the away ground by air. The team changed in the plane and landed, complete with ball ready to play their opponents."
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#9 Cee

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Posted 21 February 2012 - 06:12 AM

RORO,

That's a telling and helpful bit from the 2nd Ind. Para Bde war diary. Both Monopoli and Gioia Del Colle are in the Apulia region of Italy. I was confused at first by GICIA, but it could possibly be a misspelling for GIOIA. So my reading is that there was a jump school at Gioia Del Colle, but training for the glider side was taking place in Sicily. Catania and the cluster of airfields at Gerbini would seem a good choice as previously mentioned. The 300 Airlanding Atk Bty moved to Sicily on the 20th of January to train with the Glider Pilot Squadron.

So there seems to be a split situation with regards training for the 2nd Ind. Para Bde at this time between Southern Italy (Gioia) and Sicily.

When I get time I'll take a wander through the The War Illustrated Archive.

... later
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#10 KevinT

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Posted 21 February 2012 - 07:13 PM

I came across the attached in a recent addition of the good old Bugle.

Just in case the names cannot be made out they are from the back

Bert Williams Sgt
( Wolves )
G. Hancock Sgt R. Mountford PO
( Middlesbrough + Eng ) ( Huddersfield + Eng )

F. SOO L/AC N. Franklin L/AC R. Burgess L/AC
( Stoke + Eng ) ( Stoke ) ( Spurs + Wales )

A.Kitchen F/ Sgt H.Carter Sgt E.Drake PO P.Doherty Sgt C. Lynam L/AC
(Ars + Eng) (Sund + Eng) (Ars + Eng) (Man.C + Eng) (Spurs)

Cheers
Kevin

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#11 Tom Canning

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Posted 21 February 2012 - 08:03 PM

RORO
Wouldn't surprise me one bit that the paras would pull that kind of stunt as they were always into something or other - my brother - Larry Canning -Aston Villa played with an RAF team out of Malta and they flew all over the Mid East and Italy just to play football as it kept up the morale of those who are doing the fighting.

One time he "borrowed a Pilot and bomber" to visit me in Vienna after the war - landing in the Russian sector..!
Cheers
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#12 RORO

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Posted 23 February 2012 - 09:35 AM

Thanks again for the replies.

Tom - what a great anecdote about borrowing 'a pilot and a bomber'!

I have now found in the house another newspaper clipping that relates to the match:

‘8th’ FOOTBALL PLAYERS WENT BY PARACHUTE
Eighth Army paratroops dropped in behind the lines for a game of football-by parachute. I watched the team with some of their supporters as they ‘chuted down from their transport ‘planes drifting out of the sky to keep a football date with some of their old pals, says Richard McMillan, British United Press war correspondent with the Eighth Army. They were mostly newly-trained paratroops. ‘Surely this is the first in history that football players have dropped in for a game in this way’ Sergeant-Major Instructor Joseph Smith, of London, said to me, as he climbed out of his harness after making what everyone agreed was a perfect jump. ‘It’s an idea for the Arsenal or the ‘Spurs, I guess,’ he grinned.

I know that these were newly trained paratroops and had no 'professional' pre-war footballing experience - at least my connection to the event certainly didn't have any footballing experience!! My connection was also definitely 2nd Ind. Para Bde. I was hoping I could tie down the whereabouts of either the aforementioned Sergeant-Major Instructor Joseph Smith or the correspondent Richard McMillan around December '43/January '44. No such look so far.
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#13 Cee

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Posted 23 February 2012 - 08:36 PM

Footballers Land by Parachute

Here's a small report from the Sydney Morning Herald, December 21, 1943. The original date is London, December 20, 1943. It says the game, "... was played on a battlefield which the Eighth Army had seized in its advance from the Sangro River."

Footballers Land by Parachute

We could be getting closer ... :)

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#14 Cee

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Posted 19 June 2012 - 01:13 AM

Here's another story of paratroopers dropping into a sports match as told briefly by Major I. R. Nelson.


Posted Image


A quote from an eyewitness who was a member of the team awaiting their arrival at the stadium.

Then followed service at Bombay and then New Delhi....

I enjoyed being a member of probably the first rugby team to play in the services at Defence HQ and the highlight was a match between members of a Parachute Regiment on training who dropped into the stadium from a Dacota A/C in rugby kit, the ball being kicked by the captain when he emerged from the plane.

C. H. Moir, Gosport

The para team consisting of paratroopers in training and their RAF handlers flew from the jump school in Rawalpindi to New Delhi to attend the game sometime in 1943.

Edited by Cee, 19 June 2012 - 01:25 AM.

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