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.
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:
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.
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:
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
J.R. Gaunt & Son Ltd., London
N.S. Meyer, Inc., New York
V-21 (post war)
I came across this list on a site called World War II Paratroopers where the author lists all known makers of US jump wings and glider qualification badges. The list includes a lot of manufacturers of which I do not yet have any photos in my article, so I would be grateful for any missing photos that people could send me!
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
Gemsco wing in box
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.
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
I stand corrected on a note I made here about cloth jump wings. Pierre-Antoine Vlimant rightly pointed out to me that the practice of wearing cloth jump wings was already discussed by Mark Bando here. These did indeed started to appear during the war on both khaki and OD7 cloth and continued to be used afterwards. In fact, paratroopers can be seen wearing them in photos of Operation Dragoon.
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
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.
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.
Jump wings with loops
Kamil, a collector from Poland bought these very peculiar jump wings off a roof repair company who found it at an attic in France.
The holes are at the top and bottom seem to have been intended for sewing the wings onto fabric. I haven’t seen this before. The holes (or loops rather) don’t look like they have been welded on, but seem to be integral part of the wings. The latter would mean that these wings were cast with the loops, which would surprise me because then, why would they have kept the attachments of the clasp at the back if it was intended for sewing on?
It looks like the badge is made of silver. It’s quite dark in the photos so it could well be.
If anyone has ever seen similar jumpwings or has more information or ideas about this, please comment.
Screw-back jump wings
Chris Brown sent me these photos of jump wings with a screw-back. Something I had never come across. He tells me these were worn on helmet liners by troopers on guard duty, parades, and ceremonial events. They are full size, but with one threaded post. As you can see, these aren’t modified; they were produced this way for this soecific purpose. He says he acquired several like this from an estate in Vermont. They were accompanied by a sterling “GP” marked wing. They are very scarce and it was also the first time Chris had seen any in his 50 years of collecting.
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.
When 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.”
This question has ended my article about jump wings for a long time. Recently I was contacted by Joe Weingarten who was able to shed some light on this.
The US Army changed to clutch back in late 1944 for all wings, badges etc. However many manufacturers continued to make pin back until the start of the Vietnam era. The pin back badges were sold in Base and Post Exchanges as these are considered private sales and not government contract.
The Army has never stopped issuing the WWII design which is still in use today. But by 1950 they were issuing only clutch backs. During the Vietman era they moved to the plated badges and by 1974 silver filled were no longer issued.
Joe is the author of the book “Field Guide to US Paratrooper Badges“, which you can buy at Amazon. Joe also has a web site selling very nice reproduction sterling jump wings. His BB&B reproduction has already been discussed on this site, but he has them with almost all the different hallmarks you can think of.
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.