The Battalion formed on 15th September 1941 from the 11th Special Air Service Battalion that had evolved from No 2 Commando. They were based at Hardwick Hall near Chesterfield having carried out parachute training at No 1 Parachute Training School at Ringway near Manchester. Jumps were made at Tatton Park from Whitley aircraft, for which soldiers were paid two shillings per day.
In November 1942 they sailed to North Africa as part of the newly formed 1st Parachute Brigade under Brigadier Richard Gale; commanded by Lt Col S J L Hill. Their first mission was to capture and hold Beja, an important road junction on the Souk el Khemis Plain. The jump made from American Dakota aircraft ahead of the 1st Army onto open ground at Souk el Arba was successful. For the rest of the campaign the battalion operated as line infantry. It was during this period the Parachute Regiment earned its nick-name, ‘The Red Devils’ from their German opponents.
The Battalion next saw intense action during the 1st Parachute Brigade parachute assault on the Primosole Bridge in Sicily on 13 July 1943. Commanded by Lt Col A S Pearson they were part of a scattered drop on the Catania Plain, with the 2nd and 3rd Battalions and had to fight a desperate battle for possession of the bridge until relieved by 8th Army. This was followed by the sea-borne attack on Taranto Harbour in Italy with the 1st Airborne Division on 11 September 1943. The Battalion probed as far north as Foggia before being withdrawn back to the UK in preparation for D-Day and was based at Grimsthorpe Castle in Lincolnshire.
On Sunday 17 September 1944 the battalion jumped onto the Renkum Heath west of Arnhem with the 1st Airborne Division during Operation MARKET-GARDEN. During the advance to capture the high ground north of Arnhem Lt Col D Dobie, commanding the Battalion was wounded and taken prisoner. Having sustained severe casualties in the area of Den Brink and the Queen Elizabeth Hospital trying to reach the 2nd Battalion cut-off at the Arnhem Bridge, 1 PARA was forced to retire to the Division perimeter that became besieged at Oosterbeek. Reduced to 100 officers and men they defended with Lonsdale Force, until withdrawing across the Rhine to Driel and then to Nijmegen with the survivors of the 1st Division.
It took considerable time before the remnants of the battalion was brought back to strength in the UK. At the end of hostilities in Europe the Battalion was sent to Denmark to assist in the liberation. The 1st Airborne Division was disbanded.
Despite reorganizations in the 6th Airborne Division to which the 1st Parachute Brigade became part, 1 PARA remained untouched, operating in Haifa during the Palestine Mandate troubles until British troops withdrew in 1948. It was then temporarily disbanded on return to the UK with the Division. Those with service to complete were absorbed into the 4th, 5th and 7th Parachute Battalions of the 2nd Parachute Brigade.
1 PARA was reconstituted from the 4th and 6th Parachute Battalions and re-designated 1st Battalion at Furness Barracks at Lubeck in Germany, returning to the UK in 1949.
From mid 1951 to 1954 it saw active service in Cyprus, the Canal Zone in Egypt and during counter-terrorist operations against EOKA in Cyprus in 1956. It participated in the amphibious landings at Suez during the crisis in November, before being back in Cyprus again in 1958.
During the 1960s 1 PARA served with the Bahrain garrison between 1962-3, a United Nations peace-keeping tour in Cyprus in early 1964 before returning to Bahrain again in 1965 and 1966. The Battalion covered the eventful withdrawal from Aden in 1967 after 127 years of British rule.
The first of its 12 Northern Ireland Op BANNER emergency tours began at the end of 1969, including the ‘Bloody Sunday’ riots in Londonderry on 30th January 1972. Tours were to continue intermittently and total 96 months up to September 2005. (See below for list).
In 1974 the Battalion was awarded new colours (the first since 1950) alongside the other three regular battalions and 4 PARA. After a further UN tour in Cyprus at the end of 1976 a two-year tour followed with the Berlin Garrison. When the 16th Parachute Brigade disbanded in 1977, 1 PARA became part of 6th Field Force on its return to the UK and completed an Emergency Tour in Hong Kong in 1980. Three years of public duties followed in Edinburgh until in January 1983 the Battalion moved to Bulford and took on the Ace Mobile Force Land (AMF(L)) role. Four winters in Norway as the Army’s Mountain and Arctic Battalion followed until May 1987 when the battalion returned to Aldershot, joining the 5th Airborne Brigade.
Training and four more Northern Ireland tours preceded the Battalion’s first conventional deployment since Suez in 1956. The 1 PARA Battle Group secured the Kacanik Defile on the Macedonian border in an air-mobile helicopter insertion spearheading the entry of the NATO KFOR Peace Keeping Force into Kosovo in 1999. Thereafter the Battalion assumed responsibility to restore order in the anarchic conditions that prevailed in the capital of Pristina, when the operation transitioned to peace-keeping.
In May 2000 a 1 PARA Battle Group conducted a rapid deployment to Freetown Sierra Leone to protect a Services Evacuation of UK and other civilian nationals threatened by rebel forces. Their firm action during Operation PALLISER stabilised the situation. Another rapid operation was conducted the following September when A Company Group was suddenly deployed for Operation BARRAS, a joint SAS rescue mission to save British military hostages held by a rebel group called the west side Boys. The mission was completely successful.
Three years later the 16th Air Assault Brigade advanced into Iraq in February 2003 as part of the Anglo-American Coalition to secure the Rumaylah and West Qurnah Oil Fields during the second Iraq War. Both 1 and 3 PARA Battle Groups secured the main south –north route to Basra and 1 PARA took control of Al Amarah in the northern part of the Iraqi Maysan Province. It returned to the UK in July 2003.
More recently the Battalion has been re-designated a specialist role as infantry support to UK Special Forces operations in various theatres throughout the world.
Northern Ireland Tours:
Op BANNER Oct 69 – Feb 70 4 Months
Residential Sep 70 – May 72 20 Months
Op MOTORMAN Jul – Nov 72 4 Months
Op BANNER Apr – Jul 78 4 Months
Spearhead Reinforcement Nov 81 - Jan 82 2 Months
Op BANNER May – Oct 82 4 Months
Op BANNER Jul – Nov 88 4 Months
Residential Feb 91 – Jul 93 30 Months
Op BANNER Dec 94 – Jun 95 6 Months
Op BANNER Jun – Dec 97 6 Months
Op BANNER (RRB) Dec 2000 – Jun 01 6 Months
Op NIBAT 1 Mar – Sep 05 6 Months
1st Parachute Battalion
1941-2 Lt Col EE Down
1942 Lt Col SJL Hill, MC
1942-3 Lt Col AS Pearson, DSO, MC
1943-4 Lt Col P Cleasby-Thompson, MBE, MC
1944 Lt Col KT Darling, DSO
1944-5 Lt Col DT Dobie, DSO
1945-6 Lt Col TCH Pearson, DSO
1946-8 Lt Col EJB Nelson, DSO, MC
(Formed Jul 48 from 4th/6th Para Bn)
1948-50 Lt Col JH Cubbon, OBE
1950-1 Lt Col CHP Harrington, DSO, MC
1951-2 Lt Col DW Jackson
1952-4 Lt Col HLEC Leask, DSO, MC
1954-56 Lt Col Jackson
1956 Lt Col JSS Gratton
1957-9 Lt Col GG Reinhold, MC
1959-61 Lt Col J Awdry
1961-2 Lt Col TJ Pine-Coffin, DSO
1962-4 Lt Col PDF Thursby OBE
1964-6 Lt Col JDC Graham, OBE
1966-8 Lt Col MJH Walsh, DSO
1969-71 Lt Col MS Gray, OBE
1971-3 Lt Col D Wilford, OBE
1973-6 Lt Col PS Field, MC
1976-9 Lt Col JB Brierley, OBE
1979-81 Lt Col DMG Charles
1981-4 Lt Col I McLeod, OBE, MC
1984-6 Lt Col MD Jackson, MBE
1986-8 Lt Col JG Reith, OBE
1988-90 Lt Col RW Trigger MBE
1990-93 Lt Col AWJ Kennett
1993-95 Lt Col G McFall
1995-98 Lt Col J James, MBE
1998-00 Lt Col P Gibson, DSO, MBE
2000-2 Lt Col N Davies, MBE, MC
2002-5 Lt Col T Beckett
2005-7 Lt Col MP Christie, MBE