Following the German Wehrmacht's successes in "blitzkrieg" warfare early in World War II, and especially the ground-breaking German airborne assaults on Fort Eben-Emael in Belgium and on the island of Crete, the Allies saw the potential value of conducting large-scale airborne assaults themselves and began creating division-size units designed to drop behind enemy lines in gliders and parachutes to disrupt enemy operations and restrict their ability to react to conventional maneuvers.
Because of the payload restrictions and limited navigational capabilities of WWII transport aircraft, paratroopers of that era could not drop with heavy equipment and could expect to be spread out over a wide area of the battlefield. Paratroopers therefore had to be in excellent physical condition to carry their own weapons and equipment on foot with little or no vehicular support and had to have excellent small-arms skills and and aggressive leadership at the small unit level because squad, platoon leaders and company commanders would have to execute missions in comparative isolation from larger units.
For U.S. Army paratroopers, the first parachuting school was opened at Fort Benning, Georgia, in 1942 -- where the U.S. Army Airborne School is still located today. The program of instruction there today is very similar to the program of instruction there in WWII: The first week consists of intensive training in the care and wearing of the parachute harness, extensive physical training and exhaustive repetitive drilling of landing techniques. The second week, the so-called "tower week," involved simulated jumps from towers, using cables and pulleys to prevent injuries to students. The third week was devoted to jumping from aircraft.
Small Unit Training
In addition to their training on parachuting, WWII paratroopers of all nations underwent grueling physical training, including ruck marches of up to 20 miles per day in some instances, and long distance runs. In addition, these units trained on common small unit infantry tasks, such as performing ambushes, raids, reconnaissance missions and breaking contact against a superior force. Each of these tasks were carefully rehearsed before these units saw combat.
Because of the nature of airborne warfare, these units required the very best in small-unit infantry leaders. Officers in American airborne units underwent a thorough selection process, as did noncommissioned officers, and many washed out during the training. Small unit leaders were placed in positions of stress and were expected to perform. Those who could not perform were transferred back to "leg" units, or non-airborne units, elsewhere in the Army.