The U.S. and British armies used different types of parachutes for their airborne forces, and many Americans regarded the British design as superior. The paratroopers of both armies jumped using a ‘‘static line’’; a fifteenfoot length of webbing was clipped to a cable in the aircraft, and the opposite end was affixed to the parachute. When the trooper exited the door, his weight brought the line taut, tearing the cover off his backpack main chute. A shorter, thinner line then extracted the parachute canopy, which opened to its full diameter.
The American T-5 parachute was extracted to its full length before fully deploying. Therefore, the rigging lines (commonly called ‘‘parachute cords’’) that attached the canopy to the parachute harness were fully withdrawn some twenty feet before the canopy blossomed. The substantial shock of opening—equivalent to five times normal gravity—separated the static line from the canopy. It was an unpleasant, potentially dangerous evolution, especially if the harness was not properly adjusted to the jumper. Furthermore, the abrupt deceleration of the T-5 chute often separated weapons and equipment from the trooper.
The British X parachute afforded a much softer opening. Its static line was attached to the rigging lines, which were withdrawn simultaneously with the canopy, so the soldier’s body was moving at approximately the same speed as the chute when it opened. Additionally, the British harness had quick-release snaps for immediate shedding of the parachute on the ground. The T-5’s harness used clasps that were difficult or impossible to unfasten quickly, especially one-handed.
At an average rate of descent of about eighteen feet per second, the paratrooper was in the air thirty-five seconds from the preferred drop height of six hundred feet. If the trooper’s main chute malfunctioned, he still had a chance of pulling the rip cord to deploy the reserve chute on his chest, but a harder landing was inevitable.
This article about paratroopers on D-Day is part of our larger selection of posts about the Normandy Invasion. To learn more, click here for our comprehensive guide to D-Day.