The Parachute Regiment's display team, the Red Devils
at an American airshow
The Parachute Regiment is the main body of elite airborne troops of the British Army.
The Parachute Regiment is currently organised into three regular and one TA battalions:
- 1st Battalion, Parachute Regiment (1 PARA)
- 2nd Battalion, Parachute Regiment (2 PARA)
- 3rd Battalion, Parachute Regiment (3 PARA)
- 4th (Volunteer) Battalion, Parachute Regiment (4 PARA)
In December 2004, it was announced that 1 PARA would form the core of a new formation, to be known as the Rangers, to act as a support formation for the SAS.
The Parachute Regiment has its origins in the elite force of Commandos set up by the British Army in response to Winston Churchill's request to "set Europe ablaze". After the Battle of Crete, it was agreed that Britain would need paratroopers for similar operations. No 2 Commando were tasked with specialising in air born assault.
Britain’s first airborne assault took place on February 10, 1941, when, what was then known as 11th Special Air Service, introduced themselves to the enemy by jumping into Italy and blowing up an aqueduct in a daring raid named Operation Colossus.
More to follow...
World War II
A Wuerzburg radar on the coast of France was attacked by British Paratroopers in Operation Biting on February 27, 1942. The electronics of the system were brought back to Britain for examination so that counter measures could be devised.
As part of the Operation Husky four airborne operations were carried out, landing during the night of the 9/10 July; two were British and two American. The strong winds blew the dropping aircraft off course and scattered them widely. British glider-landed troops fared badly; only 12 out of 144 gliders landing on target, many landing in the sea. Nevertheless the scattered airborne troops maximised their opportunities, attacking patrols and creating confusion wherever possible.
It was during operations in North Africa that The maroon beret was first seen by German troops and within months they had christened them Rote Teufel - Red Devils.
During the Allied invasion of Italy the British 1st Airborne Division landed by sea near the port of Taranto in the 'heel' of Italy (Operation Slapstick). Their task was to capture the port and several nearby airfields and link with the British Eighth Army before pressing north to join the US Fifth Army near Foggia.
There were many separate Air born operations during Operation Overlord on D-Day June 6 1944. But broadly the task of the airborne forces secured the flanks of the landing beaches in Normandy. The British secured the Eastern flank in Operation Tonga. There were other operatoins designed to take our specific hardend targets notably the guns of the Merville gun battery. Buried under 12ft-thick concrete, the four 105mm guns, just miles from the beaches of Sword, Juno and Gold, had the capability to engage warships out at sea and sink landing craft heading for the beaches. The task of putting them out of action fell to the ninth parachute brigade which they succeded in doing for 36 hours by killing all but a handful of the gunners.
On August 15, 1944, parachute units, which included the 4th, 5th and 6th Para battalions and lst Indian Army Pathfinders, dropped into Southern France between Frejus and Cannes as part of Operation Dragoon. Their objective was to capture the area, destroy all enemy positions and hold the ground until the US Seventh Army came ashore. Once they had captured their initial targets, they were reinforecd by three thousand soldiers and critical equipment carried in over three hundred gliders in an operation code named Dove. The drop was almost unopposed and within days the British parachute group was withdrawn by sea to Italy in readiness for future operations.
Perhaps the most famous airborne operation of history is Operation Market Garden of September 1944, in which 35,000 troops were dropped 100 miles behind the German front lines in an attempt to capture a bridge over the Rhine at Arnham. Three complete airborne divisions, the British 1st Airborne Division, and the US 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions, and the Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade were dropped at various points along Highway 69 in order to create a "carpet" over which the British XXX Corps could rapidly advance. German opposition was some three times that expected, including two under-strength but very experienced panzer divisions, and in the end the British 1st Airborne division was all but destroyed and the bridge at Arnham remained in German hands.
Operation Varsity - The Rhine Crossing was the biggest and most successful airborne operation in history and it marked the beginning of the end for Germany.
1946 – 1966
In the Suez Crisis, Operation Musketeer needed the element of total surprise to succeed, and all 660 men had to be on the ground at El Gamil airfield and ready for action within four and a half minutes. At 04.15 hours on November 5, 1956, 3 Para jumped in and although opposition was heavy, casualties were few.
Operated in Borneo,Malaya and Aden
1966 – 1996
They played a prominent part in the Falklands War, and also served in Northern Ireland, and the former Yugoslavia. In 1972, while assisting the police, they shot 13 civilians dead in Derry, an event which became known as Bloody Sunday.
1996 – current
Operated in Sierra Leone.
- Regimental Website (http://www.parachute-regiment.com/)
- British Army site (http://www.army.mod.uk/para/index.html)
- British Army regiments (http://www.regiments.org/milhist/uk/specfor/para.htm)