British Airborne Forces were founded during World War II. On the 22nd June 1940 Winston Churchill sent a note to the War Office asking them to raise a Corps of at least 5000 parachutists. In two short years they grew from a small cadre of parachutist’s into a Division sized formation, able to make up an entire Airborne Army. However, such enormous growth was to prove short lived.

By the end of 1942 the 1st Airborne Division had been formed with a compliment of Supporting Arms and services, trained to land by parachute or glider. It was commanded by Major General FAM (Boy) Browning DSO, who had previously commanded 24th Guards Brigade. During the winter of 1942 the 1st Parachute Brigade fought in the Tunisian hills earning their reputation within the Army as ‘High Class Infantry’ and from their German opponents as ‘The Red Devils’.

In 1943 6th Airborne Division was created, based on the 3rd Battalion and two Air Landing Battalions. The 6th Airborne Division took part in the famous Airborne assault into Normandy to seize the important bridgeheads. This successful operation was followed in September 1944 by the largest airborne operation of World War II, when 1st Airborne Division, together with a Polish Brigade, carried out a surprise landing at Arnhem with the objective of seizing the road bridge over the Rhine and holding out until relieved by the 2nd Army advancing from the south.

The end of the war saw a massive reduction in the Armed Forces of all combatants, and Britain’s parachute forces shrank dramatically. British Airborne Forces were reduced to the 16th Independent Parachute Brigade, which was involved in maintaining security of the Suez Canal area. It also conducted an Airborne Intervention Operation to capture the airfield at Port Said in 1956.

The end of the empire and the dedication of the British Army to NATO meant that by the 1970’s the Parachute Regiment had shrunk to a 3 Battalion ghost of it’s former self. Airborne training was continued almost as a matter of tradition rather than need, since the Regiment’s role was to fight as a conventional Light Infantry, primarily in defence of the British Isle’s. In any case, the Royal Air Force did not have, or was not willing to allocate the transport assets necessary to support a major Airborne Operation.

In 1977 the Brigade was disbanded, although the Parachute Regiment itself was maintained.
The days of out of area operations were considered to be long past.

Then came the Argentine Invasion of The Falklands. 5th Infantry Brigade was deployed to Op CORPORATE, the highly successful capture of The Falkland Islands. Two Parachute battalions were attached to 3 Commando Brigade and distinguished themselves in the war that followed. It clearly showed that there was a place for a British rapid reaction force, ready at short notice for operations outside the NATO area.

In 1983 5th Infantry Brigade was enlarged and redesignated 5 Airborne Brigade. 5 Airborne Brigade is not one of Britains famous Brigades. It does not have centuries of history to it’s name. Yet the brigade was one of the most elite formations of the British Army. It was a fighting unit which was the heart of Britains rapid intervention capability, and it lead NATO’s rapid reaction force in the 1990’s.

The Brigade consisted of two Parachute Battalions, two Infantry Battalions trained in the air assault role, an Artillery Regiment and a light Armoured Regiment. It also had under it’s command such vital support units as an Engineer Regiment, a Field Ambulance, and a Logistics Battalion consisting of a REME field workshop, an Ordnance Company and a Transport Squadron. Many of the support units were also parachute qualified. Immediate air support was provided by an Army Air Corp squadron equipped with Lynx and Gazelle helicopters, but if large scale movement was required the Brigade could call on the much larger Chinooks and Puma’s of the Royal Air Force.

Every piece of equipment in the Brigade was air portable in the RAF’s C-130 Hercules aircraft. These flew out to the theatre of operations, establishing an airhead from which the fighting units would move onto the ojectives.

Troops could be parachuted in, or helicopters could be used to mount an Air Assault. In certain circumstances the Brigade could carry out a Tactical Air Landing Operation, flying directly into action in the C-130s.

In an Airborne Operation the first people in would be the Pathfinder Platoon, using HALO thechniques to make clandestine landings 12 to 24 hours ahead of the main assault. They make a reconnaissance of the drop zone. The LPBG, (Lead Parachute Battalion Group) would follow, accompanied by the Brigade staff together with a Light Artillery Battery and a number of vehicles. Flown in on 21 C-130s, the LPBG will jump low level, all troops being on the ground within four minutes. The LPBG’s task was to suppress local opposition and establish an airhead so that reinforcements and equipment can be flown in.
While the LPBG is setting up the air head, the Follow-Up Parachute Battalion Group, or FUPBG, either junps or is flown in.

With two battalions on the ground it was then possible to move out towards the objective, while follow-on, Infantry Battalion Groups and heavy equipment are flown in to the air head. The heavy equipment includes the remainder of the Artillery as well as Scorpion Light tanks and Fox Armoured cars.

5 Airborne Brigade was based at Aldershot in the south of England, and was theortically at five days notice for out of area operations, Known as 'Spearhead'. The Brigade could be up and running at much shorter notice. It was a lightly armed, lightly equipped formation designed to perform swift ‘smash and grab’ missions, and was expected to operate on it’s own without major support. The brigade would rely upon surprise to achieve success.

While it was possible that the Brigade was used as the 'Spearhead' of a British force in war , as happened in the Falklands, it was more likely to be used in an evacuation or a rescue mission. Such has been the case during the mid-late 90's.

British Nationals are working in large numbers all round the world, and each one is a potential hostage. In the best case operations, 5 Airborne Brigade would have been used to organise or supervise an evacuation, while the worst case scenario would see elements of the Brigade fighting it’s way into hostile territory, rescuing hostages and getting them safely out of the country.


Though recognised predominantly as “The Para’s” and indeed the three Parachute Battalions (1,2 &3 Para) made up the vast majority of the Brigade strength. The Brigade was as with all other Brigades and Divisions constructed from every trade background within the Army. Many of the ancillary trades had completed “P company”, the pre - parachute selection test and were therefore entitled to wear the coveted maroon beret and go onto earn their wings. They could then wear the maroon beret of the Airborne Forces with their own cap badge.

Some of the Corps that formed part of 5 Airborne included:

7 Para Battalion Royal Horse Artillery (RHA.)
The “Airborne Gunners” to provide artillery cover in support of operations.

9 Squadron, Royal Engineers (RE’s).
To provide engineering support for the brigade in the form of bridging and EOD etc.

23 Para field ambulance, Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC).
To provide medical support in the field and off.

160 Provost Company, Royal Military Police (RMP).
To provide the military police cover required.

216 Signals Squadron, Royal Signals
Tasked with communications.

Field Workshops, Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME)
As the name suggests.

Logistics Regt, Royal Corps of Transport (now RLC)
Log Regt, drivers and transport.

Also within the group were:
Pioneer Staff
PTI’s (physical train instructors)
Pay staff and storemen.

With the forming of 16 Air Assault Brigade in 1999 and a move from the almost permanent address of Aldershot, many of the corps denotations changed. This was also due to Corps amalgamations in recent years such as the recently formed RLC (Royal Logistics Corps).
This corps is a mixture of the former, RCT (Royal Corp of Transport), RAOC (Royal Army Ordnance Corps), ACC (Army Catering Corps) and the Pioneer Corps.
160 Pro Coy RMP handed over Para Provost commitments to 156 Provost Company, the unit serving Colchester garrison before the renaming. 160 Pro Coy still polices Aldershot today.