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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
5 AIRBORNE BRIGADE CORPS STRUCTURE
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.)
9 Squadron, Royal Engineers (RE’s).
23 Para field ambulance, Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC).
Provost Company, Royal Military Police (RMP).
216 Signals Squadron, Royal Signals
Field Workshops, Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers
Logistics Regt, Royal Corps of Transport (now RLC)
within the group were:
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).