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The Fifth Army Airborne Training Center

by Les Hughes

© 2000 by author

 

 

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The Fifth Army Airborne Training Center was established in 1943 at Les Angades Aerodrome near Oujda, Morocco. Employing a training program modeled on that of the Parachute School at Ft. Benning, the Training Center’s mission was to provide parachute training in the Mediterranean Theater of Operations (MTO). In addition to training replacements for American airborne units, the facility provided training for the OSS and for French airborne units based in the MTO.

As the Germans were pushed north, out of Africa and into Italy, the Training Center relocated: In January 1944 to Trapani, Sicily, where it became Camp Kurtz, named in honor of Lt. Charles W. Kurtz, a member of the Staff who died in an air accident; then, in June 1944, to its final location near Rome. While at Rome, in preparation for Operation Dragoon, the invasion of Southern France, the Training Center added glider training to its course of instruction. After Operation Dragoon, the Training Center was disbanded and the staff reassigned to various units in the MTO.

The approved insigne for Training Center personnel was the Allied Force Headquarters or the Fifth Army shoulder  sleeve insignia with unattached AIRBORNE tab, gold-on-black with the former, white-on-blue with the latter. One of the Training Center’s officers designed and procured locally—in Sicily or in Italy—an unauthorized jacket patch that bears a representation of the US parachute qualification wing surmounted by the letters AF, all in bullion. Having spoken with a number of veterans of the Training Center, I have concluded that distribution of the jacket patch was very limited, probably going only to some of the officers. A US-made version of this patch exists that is usually identified as that of the Airborne Training Center, Sicily. Though apparently dating from the period, the evidence indicates—clearly, I feel—that the US-made version was made for veterans and/or collectors [1].

A few years ago, about a half-dozen examples of a different jacket patch attributed to the Training Center surfaced in the hands of a dealer. The dealer claimed the patches were purchased when an estate was liquidated. Although the details of construction of these patches appear to be without fatal flaw, and the insignia accompanying one of the patches are those one would expect [2], the individual from whose estate these patches supposedly came has never been identified, and the patches’ provenance remains a mystery.

Among the personnel who trained at the Center’s site near Rome in preparation for Operation Dragoon was  the 1st Pathfinder Group, the pathfinders of the 1st Airborne Task Force. Illustrated here is a jacket patch— featuring Bugs Bunny holding a flare—that was designed for these men. It is not clear whether these were worn. (This example was given to a member of the Training Center staff who worked with the pathfinders.)

Reproductions and fantasy insignia abound in the hobby today. Thus, the reader should know that the two insignia illustrated here were acquired by the author from former members of the Training Center staff and not from dealers or from collectors.

References

1. The Trading Post, Winter 1995, page 33, American Society of Military Insignia Collectors.

2. The Trading Post, Winter 1992, page 51, American Society of Military Insignia Collectors.