On Thursday 5th May, I arrived in Berlin to join ‘Operation Eagle’ to jump for the Polish and Japanese wings. For those with space to spare on their uniforms, Slovakian and U.S. wings were also on offer. The initial RV was at the Airport Novotel and fifteen minutes later I alighted in the sunshine outside the main entrance with all my kit. It wasn’t easy, as the bus didn’t stop there. After the introductions, we sat in Reception talking and the time passed easily until Bernd arrived with the transport for departure at 12:00. Due to unforeseen circumstances, the DZ had been changed and we now had a thirteen-hour journey ahead of us to our base just over the Polish border in Slovakia.

Leaving Germany, we travelled down through the Czech Republic where attractive young blondes ran out of small houses in villages wearing implausibly short skirts and tried to entice us inside. Knowing our luck they were probably doing it on behalf of their ancient grandmothers so we passed up the opportunity and tooted the horn and gave them a cheery wave as we drove past much to their disgust. Putting the time to productive use, I memorised essential Slovakian phrases such as “Jedno pivo prosim” - A beer please! We arrived in Prague at 20:00hrs to pick up a stray recruit at the Central Station. This is a magnificent structure, rather like a cathedral inside, with stained glass windows and stone carvings, but sadly has an air of faded elegance.

On the road again, we stopped at gas stations every few hours to stretch our legs and buy something to eat. When the going gets tough, the tough get chocolate. Considerably heavier, we finally arrived in Dubnica long after midnight and finding our final destination proved quite difficult. Our accommodation was in four man rooms with bathroom. These were fairly basic but clean and comfortable. Within 10 minutes we’d spread kit everywhere and it was impossible to move. Working on the policy that ‘Tomorrow is the first day of the rest of this mess’ we were soon asleep.

Friday dawned sunny with a fair amount of upper wind. Our HQ for the duration had a full sized soccer pitch, complete with covered stand, round the back. An ideal spot for a game of footy as it overlooked the hills. Unfortunately, footy was relegated to third place behind parachuting and beer so we didn’t manage to play in the end. The 40 members of our group represented nine nations and introductions and photos were in order before we boarded the transport for the ten-minute drive to the DZ for breakfast. Next it was time to deal with the paperwork – the curse of the visiting foreign paratrooper! Experienced parachutists were then given a 90 minute briefing including familiarisation with the AN-2 aircraft and were cleared to jump while the less experienced started their ground training.

The DZ was beautifully situated between two sets of green rolling hills but the wind direction, directly across the runway, offered some subtle challenges. The airfield buildings and village gardens were on one side and (inevitably downwind) the tree lined river on the other. The latter was fairly wide and appeared to be flowing quite fast, but we were informed that it was only two feet deep. Even so, anyone landing in it would require a spare pair of trousers and possibly a lifeguard. For the cognoscenti, a combined tree and water landing could be attempted and in some cases was.

Chutes included Polish Kadetts, a nice steerable chute with good forward drive, and the good old Czech/Slovak OVP-68 workhorse. This is also steerable, but had less forward speed and needs firm riser input to put it in the right place if there is any wind. The upper winds were still quite brisk and the first lift resulted in an OVP-68 stuck in the top of a tree but there were no injuries. I’d jumped AN-2’s many times before with all sorts of static-line/jumpmaster drills e.g. static-line in left land, static-line in right hand, jumpmaster in front of door, jumpmaster on far side of door and all combinations in between, but the system we trained on was yet another variation. This was based on the former USSR system whereby parachutists do not touch the static-line or aircraft door. Instead, the Jumpmaster hooks them up after takeoff and then they stand up and cross their arms gripping both risers, leaving the Jumpmaster to sort out the static-line as the parachutist exits the aircraft.

This seemed to work well on my first jump with an OVP-68 although I had to strongly resist the urge to touch anything! Under canopy, I was surprised to see the river fairly close over my right shoulder. The dispatch had definitely been a bit hot on the target. Grabbing both front risers and pulling them down stopped the canopy travelling backwards and I had a comfortable landing on the soft DZ. Just to add interest, there was also a large pool of water in the middle of the DZ left over from the rain but I managed to avoid this too although it added a bit of excitement on subsequent jumps.

Jumping continued throughout the day interspersed with the odd entertaining encounter with a tree or the river. At one point, Curtis fearlessly plunged into the river to rescue a jumper at which point he made two interesting discoveries; firstly, no one had landed in the river after all and secondly the water was actually nearer 5 feet deep. But then as we pointed out, if he couldn’t take a joke he shouldn’t have joined. All those who had completed their first jump were lined up, made to touch their toes and initiated in the inimitable German fashion, but at least they didn’t use a bucket of water on this occasion! Dinner was then served at the DZ and we headed back to the accommodation to shower and change before having a few beers. Well, that was the intention but as usual on these trips we kicked the backside out of it drinking and talking.

Saturday was much like Friday; bright sunny spells with wind and scattered showers not to mention jumpers. Breakfast and indeed all meals were served as usual at the DZ. Today I was jumping a Kadett, an excellent chute with compact pack size and good control. Gérard, in front of me on the stick landed in an elderly resident’s back garden, but missed the apple tree, after we were dispatched rather deep. Unfortunately, the Polish Jumpmaster ambushed him upon his return to the DZ and chastised him severely for taking photos under canopy! As luck would have it, although also guilty, I’d managed to run the airfield buildings on the faster and slower descending Kadett and land on the DZ without attracting any attention.

During the day, training was given in the U.S. system, using an MC1-1C (or ‘Dash One Charlie’) by Bernie our American Jumpmaster and Captain Takanori Ikeda, our Japanese Jumpmaster from the Airborne Ranger School in Tokyo, gave instruction with his sergeant on the Japanese system. Fascinating, but difficult for the average western paratrooper to memorise.

Interestingly, a malfunction occurred on one of the Kadetts when a riser disconnected on opening. Good reserve drills and a safe landing in an open field ensured no harm was done however. The afternoon became progressively sunnier and by the end of the day all jumpers had qualified for the available wing sets. A wings parade was then convened in the hangar where wings and certificates were presented. The Japanese certificate, in particular, is worthy of mention. It’s a very nice example in any case, but each one had been hand finished by Capt. Ikeda inscribing the recipient’s name and rank in Japanese using calligraphy. No running them through an inkjet printer here. Opportunities to find out about the Japanese system and gain the Japanese wings are extremely rare and it was a genuine pleasure to be able to jump with Capt. Ikeda who proved to be extremely interesting and an excellent ambassador for the Japanese Self Defence Force.

After the Wings Parade, dinner was served at the DZ and a few more beers consumed. Back at the accommodation, a number of us decided to stay in and wash our hair, or what was left of it, as we had to be up at 05:30hrs to drive to Poprad for the Mi-8 helicopter jump.

Sunday started bright but the wind had definitely freshened. After a final breakfast at the DZ, we set off on a two-hour drive to Poprad. This was a good opportunity to see a lot of the countryside and we enjoyed varied scenery before arriving at the DZ with the pleasant backdrop of the snow covered Tatry Mountains. Unfortunately, the wind was gusting strongly and we were unable to complete the jump but we did take the Mi-8, or ‘Flying Bomb’ as we christened it due to the huge fuel tank in the middle of the floor, for a spin through the hills. Bernie found a broom behind the fuel tank and entertained the troops with Harry Potter impressions but the photos look a bit suspect as the broom appears to be sticking out of his backside.

All too soon it was time to begin the thirteen-hour haul back to Berlin. We drove up through the snowy High Tatra (Vysoke Tatry) which form a natural border between Slovakia and Poland, and stopped in a blizzard to buy duty frees at the little shops on the border. After an additional stop to buy cheeses from a roadside stall we continued back through Novy Targ, Krakow and Wroclaw. It was a long drive into the night but Bernd did an excellent job. We found that making him stand in a freezing wind at a gas station every two hours, while we bought yet more chocolate was excellent for keeping him awake! We finally arrived back in Berlin at 02:00hrs and it was off to the Novotel again to catch a few hours sleep before the flight back on Monday morning.

Despite being unable to jump the Mi-8, the trip was a great success with everyone gaining his wings. Good as the wings are, this is probably not the most important consideration for most of us if we’re honest. The real reason we do it is for the jumping, the camaraderie, the opportunity to experience new countries and cultures and to meet old comrades and forge new friendships. We were particularly fortunate to have such a good group on this occasion and it resulted in a highly enjoyable event.

Remember though, if you ever receive a cunningly worded invitation to bend over and touch your toes on the DZ, from a group of smiling fellows with buckets of water, run like hell!

by 'Spook'

Back to Overview of Reports