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Other Cloth Insignia Not Shoulder Sleeve Insignia

Second World War

Airborne Unit Pocket Patches

A series of pocket patches exist for many of the various World War Two airborne units. These were originally modeled on aviation pocket patches. Airborne officers noted the jacket patches being worn by the personnel of the troop carrier squadrons who were dropping them and decided that a similar insignia would the appropriate for the airborne. Original examples of these insignia are uncommon. They were never officially approved by the War Department. Officers wore them on A-2 leather jackets and enlisted men worn them on M-1941 field jackets and M-1942 jump jackets while in the U.S.

In 1941 Major William M. Miley, commander of the ground breaking 501st Parachute Battalion assigned Captain William P. Yarborough the task of producing the original pocket patch. Yarborough should be remembered as the man who created jump wings and also oval airborne background trimmings. The design he created was a patch with a thunderbird. However, it appears that this design was never produced, but is likely the same used for the 501st distinctive insignia. (1) The 501st Parachute Battalion was redesignated as the First Battalion of the 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment in February 1942 and sent to the Canal Zone and then to the Pacific. In November 1942 while in Australia that unit was deactivated and its personnel used to form the Second Battalion of the 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment and a new First Battalion created for the 501st PIR in the states. These designations and redesignations make for some confusion.

Yarborough’s design was followed by others. In 1941 Major George P. Howell of the 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment directed Captain Glenn J. McGowen to produce a pocket patch for that unit. He developed a design consisting of a skull flanked by bat wings superimposed on an open parachute and surround by red, white and blue circles. The original version was manufactured by a New York firm which made aviation pocket patches and was on leather. (2)

In 1942 the 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment (as opposed to the old 501st Battalion) was activated and its Colonel Howard R. (Jumpy) Johnson assigned a group of men with artistic ability to develop a pocket patch for the regiment. They developed a pocket patch with the head of an Indian chief holding a lightning bolt over his head and surmounted by an open parachute. A scroll on the bottom of the patch reads “Geronimo.”

As additional parachute units were activated they also adopted their own insignia until by the end of the war a series of these unique designs existed. After the war a number of firms marketed surplus patches to collectors. The best known of these firms was probably the Patch King (Sol Marks). They also manufactured new shoulder sleeve insignia sized facsimiles of some of the airborne pocket patch designs. These are found more commonly in collections than the originals which are rare. In more recent time downright faking of these pocket patches has flourished.

Some Examples of Airborne Pocket Patches

Parachute Infantry Regiments

503rd Parachute Infantry a 503rd Parachute Infantry b 503rd Parachute Infantry c
503 rd
First Design (British)
(Courtesy: Hans De Bree)
503 rd
First Design
Postwar Reproduction
503 rd
Second Design
Postwar Reproduction
506th Parachute Infantry 513th Parachute Infantry 513th Parachute Infantry 541st Parachute Infantry
506 th
(Courtesy: Hans De Bree)
513 th
(Courtesy: Hans De Bree)
515 th
(Courtesy: Hans De Bree)
541 st
(Courtesy: Lars Kleine)
If any viewer has examples of other insignia in this category please inform me so that these additional examples can be added.
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  1. Jones, Robert E., History of the 502nd Infantry Regimental Patch, in Martin, Rob, editor, 101st Airborne Screaming Eagles,(Paducah, KY: Turner Publishing , 1995) p. 139
  2. Hughes, Les Cloth Airborne Insignia: A Primer, The Trading Post, Winter 1995, p34.

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