Hit the Ground Running: Escape and Evasion Behind Enemy Lines

Guiding Question:

How did paratroopers survive their first hours on the ground and lay the foundation for the success of the Allied war effort?


Using resources from the American Battlefield Monuments Commission as well as primary documents from the National Archives and Records Administration, students will explore what it was like to jump out of the C-47 troop transport plane as well as the “escape and evasion” resources and strategies that paratroopers and other airborne personnel used. Students will be cast into the role of a paratrooper who landed behind enemy lines and is attempting to avoid capture and find other paratroopers. Students will write a first-person account of their experiences.


Historical Context

The 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion’s jump into North Africa marked the first time that paratroopers were ever used in combat by the United States military. Paratroopers from the 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion were also used in campaigns in Italy, Belgium, and southern France. Paratroopers secured important targets, confused the enemy, cut enemy communication lines, and paved the way for the infantry units that followed.

The U.S. Army had to learn what resources paratroopers needed to survive on the ground and the paratroopers’ gear was the envy of other nations. As the Stars and Stripes reported in 1944, “American paratroopers' equipment was described in a German broadcast yesterday as a ‘luxury’ kit. No other unit in the world is so well equipped as the American paratroops.” Thanks to the innovations made, paratroopers were instrumental in securing victories for the Allies in both the European and Pacific theatres of World War II.


At the conclusion of this lesson, students will be able to

  • Describe the anticipation and action of jumping out of a C-47 transport plane;
  • Analyze the resources that paratroopers utilize in order to survive once they are on the ground;
  • Apply the escape and evasion techniques that paratroopers used; and
  • Evaluate the contributions made by paratroopers to the war as a whole.

Standards Connections

Connections to Common Core
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.6-8.2 Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of the source distinct from prior knowledge or opinions.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.6-8.7 Integrate visual information (e.g., in charts, graphs, photographs, videos, or maps) with other information in print and digital texts.

Connections to C3 Framework
D2.His.3.6-8. Use questions generated about individuals and groups to analyze why they, and the developments they shaped, are seen as historically significant.
D2.His.9.6-8. Classify the kinds of historical sources used in a secondary interpretation.
D2.His.13.6-8. Evaluate the relevancy and utility of a historical source based on information such as maker, date, place of origin, intended audience, and purpose.

Lesson Preparation


Activity One: Preparing to Jump (30 minutes)

  • Distribute one copy of the Escape and Evasion Behind Enemy Lines Prediction Sheet to each student.
    • Read the introduction with the students, answering questions as needed.
    • Ask students, What gear and supplies do you think paratroopers will need as they prepare to jump behind enemy lines?
    • Instruct students to predict ten items that paratroopers would bring with them on their jumps. Students can record their answers on the Escape and Evasion Behind Enemy Lines Prediction Sheet.
  • Encourage students to share their responses with the whole class. The teacher should not provide feedback during discussion but may record a list of student predictions.
  • Ask students to put the Escape and Evasion Behind Enemy Lines Prediction Sheet aside.
  • Project and play a short newsreel clip, U.S. Prepares More Paratroops for Battle, from August 4, 1944. Play from 0:25 to 1:53. Ask students, What attracted men to join the paratroopers?
    • Teacher Tip: Remind students that the paratrooper units were new and experimental. The units were filled by volunteers who were paid an additional stipend to account for the additional dangers.
  • Distribute the Hit the Ground Running Writing Prompt.
    • Review the prompt for Parts One, Two, and Three and ask students to create notes (bullets or phrases) on how they would respond to the prompts.
    • Allow students time to respond. Circulate and assist as needed. Encourage students to use all five senses to describe the experience.

Activity Two: Chance Cards (15 minutes)

  • Distribute one manila folder of the Escape and Evasion Kit to each group of four or five students.
  • Ask students to imagine that they just jumped behind enemy lines. Their folder contains the supplies with which they have jumped.
  • Distribute one set of Chance Cards to each group and instruct students to randomly shuffle the cards without looking at them.
    • Explain that they are paratroopers who have landed in southern France in support of Operation Dragoon. These cards will determine whether they make it to their first objective and meet up with the other paratroopers. Students should take turns drawing a card and reading the scenario to the person across from them. That student has up to ten seconds to pick the correct tool from the manila folder.
      • If the student gets the answer correct, he or she should follow the instructions on the card.
      • If the student gives a clearly incorrect answer, then he or she is captured by enemy forces. The student should then read the correct answer.
      • Continue the process until all students have participated.
      • Teacher Tip: Between students, the cards should be shuffled and drawn randomly.
  • Collect the Chance Cards and Escape and Evasion Kits for future use.
  • Ask students to respond to Part Four of the Hit the Ground Running Writing Prompt.

Activity Three: Reading and Writing About the Experience of Paratroopers (30 minutes)

  • Distribute one Paratrooper Experiences in France, 1944 handout to each student.
  • Ask students to read the account of Private Charles H. Frankenfield. Ask students,
    • What do you think happened next?
    • What tools or resources might be needed to survive on the ground?
  • Instruct students to read about the experiences of paratroopers who participated in airborne invasions in France in 1944.

Assessment Materials

  • Direct students to the synthesis section of the Hit the Ground Running Writing Prompt. Using their notes from sections 1–4 of the pre-writing activities, they will craft a fictional, first-person narrative. Each paragraph will be about a different phase of your experience (the jump, descending to the ground, the landing, and operating on the ground).
    • Teacher Tip: Remind students that in their first person account they should focus on the Chance Cards activity as well as the eyewitness accounts that they read. Students should also be reminded to focus on their five senses in their writing. What are they hearing, seeing, smelling, tasting, and touching?
  • The Hit the Ground Running Writing Prompt Rubric can be used to assess the writing piece.

Methods for Extension

  • Students can explore the Escape and Evasion reports available online from the National Archives and Records Administration.
  • Students can explore the PBS American Experience site on paratroopers.


  • Teachers can adjust the reading level by carefully selecting which Escape and Evasion reports are used.
  • Teachers can choose to read portions of the eyewitness accounts aloud to better ensure student understanding of the material.
  • Teachers can create content-specific language guides to assist with student reading and understanding.
  • Teachers can scaffold the written portion of the report to a more “fill in the blank” worksheet.


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Primary Sources

Secondary Sources

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