Jump wings

The ‘parachutist’s badge’ – more commonly referred to as jump wings – was the mark of a paratrooper, and it still is today. Over the years, I acquired a number of them, but really collecting jump wings can be an expensive hobby in it’s own right. So this article is meant to be a virtual reference, drawing on several collections to give you the completest possible overview of the many different variations and makes that exist. If you have wings you don’t see here, send me a picture and I will add it.

History

Much has been written about the history of the badge. What follows is a text I have found on many sites, so I have no idea who originally wrote it. If anyone can tell me who did, I will gladly quote the author. Through further research, I found some other interesting facts to add. My additions are marked in italics:

Yarborough's drawing

The first Parachute badge was designed during World War II by Captain (later Lieutenant General) William P. Yarborough of the 501st Parachute Battalion. A memorandum of record written by Captain Yarborough on April 22, 1941, tells the story of the birth of the parachute badge “On March 3, 1941, I was ordered to Washington to report to the Adjutant General for temporary duty in the Office of the Chief of Infantry. My mission was the procurement of a suitable parachutist badge which would meet with the approval both of the War Department and the Commanding Officer of the 501st Parachute Battalion. Major Miley (commander of the 501st), before my departure, gave me full authority to approve any design that I considered acceptable, and to do so in his name. The same authority was delegated to me in the name of the Chief of Infantry. “I drew the original sketch in the office of Lieutenant Colonel Beuchner, G-3; a finished copy of my original sketch was prepared in the office of the Quartermaster General (he came up with the eventual design after dozens of sketches). Through the help of Mr. A.E. Dubois, in the Quartermaster General’s office, 350 of the badges were procured from the Bailey, Banks & Biddle Company in Philadelphia and were in the hands of the Commanding Officer of the 501st Parachute Battalion by March 14, 1941. This is believed to have been an all time speed record for War Department Procurement.” “I personally took the correspondence relative to the badge’s approval from one office to another until the transaction was complete. This operation took me one entire week, eight hours a day.”

Captain Yarborough even applied for a patent to protect the design from unauthorized reproduction. On February 2, 1943, Patent #D134963 was granted for “A Parachutist’s Badge” for a period of three and one-half years. I surfed to the US Patent Office and looked it up. Sure enough, it’s all there online. Click on the pictures below to enlarge.

Cover page

Sketch

The Parachutist’s Badge was formally approved on 10 March 1941. The senior and master parachutist’s badges were authorized by Headquarters, Department of the Army in 1949 and were announced by Change 4, Army Regulation 600-70, dated 24 January 1950. For more information on these post-war wings, check the list of related links at the bottom of this page.

Later, as a retired Lieutenant General, Yarborough would recall how it all came about in a letter to “Static Line” – a monthly publication by Don Lasson, thus ending all speculation on the subject. So here it is from the horse’s mouth:

Letter Yarborough

The wings could be worn by soldiers who has passed the parachutist’s training or who had made a combat jump without prior training.

Different types of wings

Size-wise, all types of wartime wings are pretty much identical (1 13/64 inches in height and 1 1/2 inches in width is the official size), and all are silver. The main differences are found in the attachments and the country of manufacture. When you have collected those main varieties, and you still have money to burn, you can start collecting the different manufacturers and wings with devices attached (stars, arrowhead, cross, …). I grouped all the pictures in categories. These are not official categories, because officially, there was only one approved design.

Attachments

There are 3 main types of fastening devices: the US-made pinback with rolling lock; the British made pinback; and finally the clutch back. I’m not sure if screw back wings existed, but I haven’t seen any yet.

Pinback British made Clutch back

The US-made pinback as per Yarborough’s original specifications is the most intricate type. “Pin stem, hinge and catck to be made of nickel silver, silver plated. Pin stem to be 1.45” long. Hinge to be flat joint type. Catch to be the ball shaped safety type. Hinge and catch to be soldered to badge with silver solder”. The Britsh-made pinback is a more basic hook and clasp affair. The needle is much thicker than on American wings, as is common on other British insignia. Clutch backs were introduced late in the war and are still used today. As a result, it is very difficult for the untrained eye to identify a clutchback as WWII issue. Actually, at the time, clutch back fasteners cost more and they were prefered by many because it was much easier to put them on straight! WWII wings should be silver, but they don’t have to be marked ‘sterling’. It is possible that they also don’t bear a manufacturer’s hallmark. WWII badges were often polished smooth to better stand out on the uniform. If you want to buy WWII clutchback wings, you want to look for that authentic old patina, or be certain of their provenance. Which is why many collectors reject them out of hand. Incidentally, my very first wings were clutchbacks (which was more thanks to luck than wisdom).

Pinbacks of the late Col. Archie Hyle

The latest addition to my collection are these pinbacks I was able to buy these clutchback wings from the estate of the late Colonel Archie Hyle. He was a paratrooper in WWII and went on to command the 1st Aviation Brigade in Vietnam. These are full size, and sterling marked and have been polished down so most details have faded away – an attempt to exemplify the wearer is an old salt!

Countries of manufacture

Other than by their fastening devices, US- and British made badges can be recognized by the different design of the front side. The British design is more ‘outlined’. I have no idea why they didn’t just copy a US made wing. Maybe they thought it would be more fun for collectors.

One American (left) and two British-made badges by Gaunt and Ludlow. Note the outlined design.

Stars and arrowheads

Combat stars and invasion arrowheads were not official, but were accepted and worn with great pride. This does not mean that it was such common practice that everyone who qualified also had their badges modified. Many badges were probably only modified just after the war, the same way that special insignia weren’t sewn onto uniforms until after the war. Each star equals a combat jump and an arrowhead stands for a jump on June 6, 1944. The maximum number of stars allowed was 5, and it still is. Yarborough himself earned 4 stars on his wings. The same practice applies to glider wings, but I’m keeping that for another article.

Wings with 1 combat star - Collection Henri van Meel

These wings belonged to Earl Kenneth Rosebury, 11th ABN, 511th PIR. The combat star must be for a jump into the Philippines or mainland Japan. Massive pin, no visible hallmarks.

Wings with 2 combat stars and invasion arrow Collection Henri van Meel

These wings belonged to Gordan W. Yates, 101st ABN, 506 PIR, 3rd Bn, Co H – winner silver star, bronze star 3 times, purple heart 3 times. The bronze arrowhead is for participation in the Normandy invasion. The bronze stars are for combat jumps in Normandy and Holland. Hollow pin.

Cross of Lorraine modified by French nationals

These wings belonged to William “Willie” Ubinger, 82nd ABN (HQ), 504th PIR. The bronze arrowhead is for participation in the Normandy invasion. The bronze stars are for combat jumps in Sicily, Normandy, Holland and the Rhine.

Other devices

A special hobby can be made of collecting wings decorated with other unofficial devices, such as a chaplain’s cross, a rabbi’s star of David, a Cross of Lorraine, a rigger ‘R’, a unit number, etc. Click on the pictures belowed for a detailed view.


Chaplain (‘Padre wings’)
Collection Henri van Meel

Rabbi Collection Henri van Meel

Cross of Lorraine modified by
French nationals

Rigger

Medic

Quartermaster

503rd PIR (later split into 505th and
509th PIR) Collection Henri van Meel

11th Airborne Reportedly
Japanese made

11th Airborne
(marked 11 A/B)

Don’t take the pictures above as gospel. For example, different chaplain’s wings may look different, just as chaplain’s crosses varied in style and size. Such wings are merely combinations of existing insignia.

Combined parachute and glider wings

This is also an unofficial insignia. It seems that this practice came out of the 11th Airborne Division. I don’t know more about it. They are quite rare today. Beware of replicas.


US made – Collection Henri van Meel

British made

Makers

The makers of the first 350: Bailey, Banks & Biddle Company in Philadelphia All of these first wings bear BB&B on the back and they are a rare collector’s item. Other makers I know of:


A.E. Co., Utica, NY

Angus & Coote, Sydney

Bailey, Banks & Biddle Company, Philadelphia

Durocharm, NY

Firmin, London

Gemsco

J.R. Gaunt & Son Ltd., London

Ludlow, London

N.S. Meyer, Inc., New York

Norsid Co.

Robins

Simco

V-21

Packaging

Most wings were probably sold without any packaging, and today very few examples remain complete in their original box, wrap or presentation card.


J.R. Gaunt presentation card
Collection Henri Van Meel

Wing on card in wrap only
marked ‘Sterling’

Gemsco wing in box

Parachutist’s patch

Parachutist cap patches Collection Mark Bando

Wikipedia tells us that the parachutist’s badge replaced the parachutist cap patch. In all my research I haven’t managed to find another source to confirm this. If anything, this word ‘replaced’ is inaccurate, because the cap patch did not disappear when the badge was introduced. However, the cap patch with the parachute design was gradually replaced by a combined para/glider cap patch later in the war.

Ovals

Cloth ovals were introduced shortly after the introduction of the first wings. Quoting Gen. Yarborough from his letter to “Static Line”: “Feeling that the wings needed a little color and that perhaps they were on the small side, I designed the first felt backgrounds. For the 501st the background was Infantry Blue with Artillery Red superimposed so as to leave a narrow blue border”. Such felt backgrounds are now very hard to find (and hard to identify as originals). More common, but still rare, are the ovals made of cotton twill with a cheescloth backing and a narrow contrasting embroidered border. The center color can also be embroidered, which is usually the case when the center has a pattern (e.g. 506 PIR or Special Service Force). The border can also be wider, like the second pair below. They both have a cut-edge and cheesecloth backing, but I am not sure if these aren’t post-war issue. The one one the left is still in it’s original packaging, a transparent pod.


Parachute and glider infantry – 507th Parachute Regiment

501st Parachute Regiment – 501st Parachute Battalion and Regiment

501st Parachute Regiment with embroidered wing

1st Special Service Force enamelled oval with wing – British made

For all the varieties, or most of them, I refer to “America’s Finest”, by Gary Howard. Ovals are still used in today’s military, and by now countless variations exist. Special Force wing A special wing was worn by OSS operatives in the ETO. It is the only other wing approved for wear by American personnel in WWII besides the wings described above. Since many collectors like extending their collections into other special units such as Rangers and the OSS, I thought it might be interesting to mention it here. I found this great article by Les Hughes on insigne.org. He explains the history, variants and repros, so be sure to check it out.


Special Force wing

Cloth wings

Wings (hand-) embroidered on ovals or British made bullion wings did exist. However, the practice of jump wings embroidered khaki or OD fabric to be sewn onto uniforms, as was done for pilot’s and glider pilot’s wings, dates from after the war. Sweetheart pins Smaller wings do exist, but these miniatures not for wear on the uniform. They are called sweetheart pins and existed in many sizes. Some may be found with other devices attached, such as the examples below.


Wing with 675th Field Artillery Battalion pin

Wing with 82nd Airborne Division miniature DI

Repros

I talk a lot about repros on this site, but for this article I am going a bit more in depth because for this item there are more repros than originals. I figure that if you buy a repro as a ‘filler’ for your collection, at least it should be perfectly made, and reasonably priced. If you can’t be sure it’s original, assume it’s a very good repro, and don’t pay too much. The more stars, the rarer, so a whole cottage industry has arisen to supply us with what we want. As repros go, some are honest (which doesn’t necessarily mean they are well made), others are real forgers who combine genuine wings with genuine stars, and invent a bullshit story for eBay, and others again will flog you any old scrap you are willing to believe are ‘experimental pathfinder wings’. The same applies to wings with other devices, such as a chaplain’s cross. Originals are very rare, so beware. Nice repro wings can often be found sold as ‘recasts’. This means an imprint of an original wing was made to cast a new one. Often these recasts use silver filling to obtain the same authentic patina. By using a ‘used’ wing to make the cast, the recasts also get a nice worn and aged look. Generally, such wings look great from the front. At the rear they are smooth, but not really flat, and never hollow. However, the rear may be marked with the name of a manufacturer, which is of course fake.

This is a nice repro Chaplain’s wing I bought from Garcia Aviation. On display, the front looks just as authentic as my original badges, but the reverse side gives it away as a repro.

Unidentified

These pictures were sent to me in May (2008). This badge appears to be Australian or British-made by the wing pattern and pin/hook clasp. However the parachute has been removed and replaced by a “rampant lion” of some type. I have no idea if this is insignia or jewelry, but it’s sterling, well made, and old. Does anyone recognize the lion-devise? It looks like a Dutch or Belgium cap badge, but I can’t find any reference of it.

Bronze JR Gaunt jump wings

Paul Matlock sent me these pictures of jumpwings made by JR Gaunt. Identical to the ones pictured above, but in bronze instead of silver plated. It doesn’t look like the plating has been worn or polished off. It looks authentic to me, but the first time I see one like that. If anyone has one like this or knows more about it, please comment.

Plastic clutch back jump wings

This set of jump wings is for sale at paratrooper.fr. At first sight, they look like normal silver plated clutch back jump wings, but they are in fact made of plastic and painted. These are said to be a rare British Made late war economy model, although they are unmarked. They come from a veteran of the 501st PIR, 101st Airborne. It’s the first time I see one like this, so they must be rare, but they are priced accordingly. Photos courtesy and copyright of paratrooper.fr.

SAARF wing

This new addition to the jump wings page is very special in that it was issued to maybe only 100 Americans for a unit that existed for only a few months. The Special Allied Airborne Reconnaissance Force was formed in March 1945 and disbanded in July. I had never heard of it before until I did some research when I saw this lot offered on eBay (see pictures below). It included an original SAARF wing, a reproduction SAARF title and an original SHAEF patch. The wing looks good to me, but I don’t have any good reference pictures.

More information about the history of the SAARF and its insignia can be found here on insignia.org.

Post-war jump wings

various types of post-war jump wingsWhen did the Army stop issuing the Sterling jump wings, and when did they stop issuing the  silver plated wings?

Steve Curlee raised this very interesting question to me, and he came up with the answer too. I had been wondering about this myself, so I thought I’d share this information here.

From the Institute of Heraldry, he got this reply: “We have the Military Specification Sheet which is dated 25 September 1964 for the US Army Parachutist Badge. The material was Sterling Silver.”

“The military specification sheet dated 11 July 1968: the material was changed to 1/20 Silver filled (Front Only) over a commercial copper base alloy for the non-subdued badges, and Red Brass was used for the subdued badges.” Steve himself was issued this type of Parachutist Badge in 1970 (see photo).

“The military specification sheet dated 10 February 1988: the material was changed to Red Brass or Nickel Silver. The brass was finished with a nickel plate, then silver plated with an oxidized, relieved matte finish. There was an option for commercial sale only using Sterling Silver.”

This means no Sterling silver wings were issued after 11 July 1968. Although there was some silver after the change on 10 February 1988, to say that they were silver plated is a stretch, but this does make it confusing to properly date jump wings marked ‘Sterling’.

If we would know when the Army changed from the pin back (jewelers clasp) to the clutch back jump wings,  we’ll know when the U.S. Army stopped issuing the original WWII era design and silver composition jump wings. So if anyone can enlighten us here, we’d be much obliged.

Related links

Special Force wing
Post-war jump wings
Gen. Yarborough’s Patent application
Static Line magazine
Interview with Gen. Yarborough by Andrew Reed

You can contribute too:
This article describes the jump wings that I own or have pictures of. You are welcome to contribute with any additional pictures and information you may have. I am particularly interested in completing the list of manufacturers.

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27 Responses to Jump wings

  1. MArk Pounds says:

    I have come across a wing with 11th airborne DI. sterling silver. I have seen others as the one posted above. This is the first 11th Airborne I have seen. I believe this to be WW2 era. Can you give me any information on this item?

  2. chad maguran says:

    I graduated from jump school in march of 1991. At the time there was a store called Ranger Joe’s. That sold a set of jump wings called the Yarborough jump wings. They were highly detailed. From what I can remember even the feathers were highly detailed. During one of our formations, our 1stSgt told us we could not wear this set of jump wings. They were not authorized by the army, So I never bought a set. They cost about 14.95 at the time. Does anyone have any info on this set of wings?
    thanks Chad

  3. Sandeep Kumar says:

    The rampant lion resembles the family crest of Sir Henry Russel, 2nd Baronet and the person who raised a regiment of the Indian Army presently known as Kumaon Regiment. The cap badge of the regiment is also the rampant lion similar to the one on the wing. I do hope that sheds light on the query.

    • Wouter Has says:

      Indeed, I see some important similarities. However, the lion on this jumpwing doesn’t hold a cross as in the crest Kumaon Regiment. Still, it’s an interesting lead. Hopefully more people will come forward with information or similar badges.

  4. Charles Cundiff says:

    The background oval next to the 501st is that of the 503rd Parachute Regiment. In WW II, various battalions made combat jumps on Noemfoor Island and Corregidor. The 1st and 2nd battalions composed the infantry force of the 173rd Airborne when it deployed to RVN in 1965. I went over as attached to 4/503rd in 1966 (it had been 1/501). The third battalion was formed at Fort Bragg and deployed to 173rd in late 1967. The first and second battalions are now the infantry element of the 173rd Airborne Brigade. These have had numerous deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.

  5. Karen Thornhill says:

    I was looking around the internet for a picture of silver wings with a bronze star in the middle to flesh out some military information on my late father-in-law, James Wilfred Thornhill of the 101st Airborne, who fought in the Battle of the Bulge. In a letter he wrote home, dated 12 Jun 1945 he stated that he would be receiving a “little pair of silver wings with a bronze star in the middle for the combat drop in Holland.” The wings entitled him to $30 extra dollars a month. Sadly, the wings are no where to be found, but I thought you might like to know how much they were worth as far as pay for the soldiers. Thank you for the picture of just what I was looking for! Karen M. Thornhill (Army Brat all the way.)

  6. Aidan Devillier says:

    I have a pair of sterling wings and I was just wondering if you can help me find some spurt of date accossiated with the wings it would be awesome. I do ww2 reenactments and I don’t want to put a pair of ww2 jump wings on my dress uniform so please help if you can. Thank you

  7. chad says:

    My grandfather jumped on D day he was in the 507 his wings have 3 silver stars but no arrow head. Why would there be no arrow head?

  8. Steve Klick says:

    Hi Wouter Has, I was Out Metal detecting tonight and found my First set of Wings. They were burried about 5 inches in the Dirt. This was very exciting because I have seen other guys find them detecting and always had them on my “Want” List to find. Since I didnt see the one that I found on your list I figured I would write and see if maybe you might know about it. It is completely smooth on the front and is marked “Silver” on the reverse with no makers mark and is a Pinback with the rusty pin still attached. If you have any info or would like a pic as soon as I dug It and cleaned up I would be Happy to send the pic so you can post it on your site. Hope to Hear from You, steve

    • Wouter Has says:

      Hi Steve, that’s interesting. Sure, send over a photo and I’ll add it. Curious to find these in the ground as they weren’t worn in combat much. Grtz, Wouter

  9. brenda says:

    Just found your site today and have enjoyed every bit of the two hours I have spent here! I will be back on a regular basis.

  10. AK_John says:

    I am the grandson of a paratrooper of the 505 PIR. He jumped in Sicily, Italy, Normandy and Holland. He was also at the Bulge. I am attempting to put all of his decorations together in a shadow box so my children and my nephews and nieces can appreciate what their Great Grandfather did for them. Unfortunately, I am missing his jump wings. Where can I get a set of jump wings with four jump stars and the arrow head? I appreciate any assistance?

    John in AK

    • Wouter Has says:

      Hello John, on eBay you can regularly find good reproductions (assuming a nice reproduction is what you are after). I don’t know of any online dealers where you can buy them off the shelf. Alternatively, you could buy a pair without wings and arrowheads and source them separately and add them to the wings yourself. That will cost you less. I hope this helps. Regards, Wouter

  11. Sandy says:

    I bought a box of old vintage items to sell on line. It keeps me in cat food.. In the bottom there was a WWII paratrooper clutch back. It came in a baggy from an unknown jeweler with a paper saying it is sterling and sterling filled 1/20, 7.8 gr.. There is no sterling stamp on back. It has “Meyer, Inc., NY. It has 20 SIL. FLD. stamped. It has one small shield that is stamped 22/M. It has another small shield where the printing is too tiny for me to read. I would love to know how much it is worth. The patina is very old. May I send photos to your website? Address? I just had bypass surgery and could use the funds.

  12. Looking for black jump wings worn on fatigues in Vietnam 1969.

    • Wouter Has says:

      Hi George, you mean black metal jump wings, right? I have a pair that I would sell if you’re interested. I’ll send you an e-mail with a photo.
      Regards,
      Wouter

  13. Scott Davis says:

    Hi Wouter. I’am a high school student with a great interest in ww2 history. I hope to one day teach ww2 history and would love to start a collection that I could show my class to help bring the history to life. I’am looking for a pair of World War 2 jump wings with a combat star on them to start my collection. I would pay $100 for them. Thank you!
    Regards,
    Scott

  14. I bought 2 sets of wings off of eBay they stated that they were from WW2. One has the pin back type it has only sterling imprint on the back of the parachute. Don’t know who made that one, also the other has a hook type pin never seen one like that , it also has the sterling imprint and the back is flush . Can you tell me were their from.

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