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Thursday, October 3, 2013

The US Airborne and Special Operations Museum at Fayetteville

This is a very nice museum that I literally ran into during a recent trip down the US east coast. It is located in Fayetteville, North Carolina and it was a real pleasure to visit. The collection is vast, the life-size dioramas, which in some cases include vehicles, are quite realistic and impressive and to top it all, there is no admission fee to enter! Hard to beat that. The museum chronicles the history of the US Airborne troops, beginning with the second world war, the subsequent formation of Special Operation Units, and their roles in the armed conflicts since WWII up to modern day. So there is quite a bit more to see than just WWII-related content. Unfortunately, I could not stay as long as I would have liked in order to be able to read everything in detail, but I still managed to walk through all of it and snap a few pictures. Let's take a look. 

A life-size paratrooper performing a jump welcomes you as you walk into the lobby of the museum.

This display is so large, that I could not capture both the man and the parachute in a single shot, so here is the chute from below.

Uniform of a German Paratrooper. The early successes of the German Airborne units at the outset of WWII urged the US to develop its own Airborne force.

Early US Para uniform.

An early trooper holding his packed chute. Notice the unique type of headgear.

An early trooper holding his submachine gun. Rapid fire small arms were the hallmark of airborne units, giving them greater firepower to compensate for their potential smaller numbers and isolation when dropped behind enemy lines.

A trooper ready for a combat jump.

A huge picture of a 'stick' of paras, mounted inside a cross section of a real-size transport airplane.

Uniform of the Afrika Korps.
Even though the paratroopers did not fight in North Africa, the museum covers in decent detail the other WWII participants. The paras did fight in Sicily, their first combat jump, so perhaps they encountered some DAK troops which had managed to escape? Considering the allied air superiority over the mediterranean at this stage of the war, I doubt many DAK troops managed to escape from North Africa.

French Adrian helmet and carbine.

US airborne jacket. Notice the number of pockets and their size. Useful to carry extra ammo and any supplies which might be needed in the field during an operation.

German infantry helmet and carbine. 

Close up of the markings on the German helmet.

US bazooka and German MG34 with ammo drum.

Airborne jacket with cammo color scheme.

German helmet with cammo cover and a Johnson M1941 light machine gun.

Close up of the German helmet with cammo cover.
Looks like platanenmuster to me.

Looks like a US M1A1 Carbine with folding stock, issued to airborne troops. 

A winter parka.

US para advancing.

Looks like a Sten MK V British Sub MG

A Fairbairn British commando knife.

A US Ranger. One of the early special forces units in the US Army.

US Army field jacket, and part of the Ranger uniform.

A German para. Like the other figures, life-size.

The 1942 model of the para jacket.

A Mae-West life vest.
Not sure when paras would wear these...

A trooper jumping out of a real plane hanging from the ceiling of the museum.

A wider angle.

A US Ranger, with the equipment that he would have brought ashore on D-Day. 

A couple of US paras engaged in urban combat.

A frontal view. Notice that one is a screaming eagle from the 101st and the other one is from the 82nd. Probably trying to represent the mix up of units that existed during the D-Day jump.

The weapon on the bottom is the famous BAR - Browning Automatic Rifle.

This is one of the 'cricket' devices used by the US paras during the D-Day jump to recognize each other in the dark.

US Army infantryman fighting in the Pacific theater of operations. I suspect that given the nature of jungle warfare, they  have received a special spot in this museum.

Based on the folded hat, this guy looks like an Australian to me, as opposed to a New Zealander. The Australians did a good deal of fighting against the Japanese around New Guinea.

Another US soldier. Not sure what unit he belongs to. Could be one of Merrill's Marauders.

 US Army long coat of the kind the US troops would have needed around the siege of Bastogne.

This looks like a variation of the 30 cal machine gun, with a bipod and a shoulder butt.

A US M3 SubMG 

Right side of the diorama depicting the German 'offer' to let the US Paras surrounded at Bastogne surrender.

Right side of the diorama showing General McAuliffe giving his terse reply: 'Nuts!'

A Paratrooper form the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion, the first African American para unit.

The unique looking submachine gun below seems to be the M42 made by United Defense

A Japanese shirt

Japanese flag, sabre and other items, most likely taken as war trophies.

Another shot of the sabre and a rifle with a detachable barrel, which was very convenient for para units.

Japanese helmet and light machine gun

Close up of Japanese helmet

A Willys jeep being unloaded from a Horsa glider. Horsa gliders were used in operations like D-Day and Market Garden to bring additional troops and materiel.

Side view of the Horsa glider

Looks like small bulldozers could also be transported this way

and even howitzers

A foldable German bicycle

Looks like a shirt from the 82nd Airborne

The helicopter brought along the advent of the Air Cavalry during the Vietnam War

Larger pieces of ordnance could be dropped from the sky using large parachutes and cargo planes

Airborne units during the Vietnam War.

Another nice diorama, this time including a tank

Scene depicting modern special forces operating in Iraq and Afghanistan


  1. This looks great. If only we had such an abundance of museums in the UK.

    The weapon you identified as an MP44 is, I think, a Johnson M1941 MG, which is the same in concept as the BAR. At first glance it looked like an FG42.

    Paratroopers engaged in any form of operation where they were deployed over water could expect to be issued life jackets. Think how useful they would be in the Sicily invasion, where many paratroopers were forced to bail out over the sea.

  2. You are quite right! In fact, If I had paid close attention to the picture, there is a small sign with the description confirming what you are saying. Thanks a lot for pointing it out!

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