During the Second World War it was found necessary and advantageous to form small groups of parachute soldiers into ‘pathfinder’ units, to parachute onto the selected drop zone ahead of the main force. Their tasks were to mark the drop zone, establish directional radio beacons to enable the coming transport aircraft to ‘home’ in on the exact drop point and to clear and protect the area as the main force parachuted or air landed.
The Pathfinder Company also acted as an early warning if the selected drop zone was heavily defended, possibly enabling diversion to an alternative. Once the main force was down the pathfinders were employed as a small reserve or reconnaissance force.
The 21st Independent Company the Parachute Regiment pathfinders served the 1st Airborne Division and formed in June 1942. It trained in North Africa and parachuted ahead of the main force against the Primosle Bridge in Sicily on 13/14th July 1943. The Company was sea-landed at Taranto Italy on 9th September and fought in the ground role, returning to the UK in December. One Independent Platoon was left behind in Italy with the 2nd Independent Parachute Brigade.
Elements of the 1st Independent Platoon jumped behind enemy lines in Italy during Operation HASTY in June 1944, while the rest of the company remained on stand-by for a series of cancelled operations in Normandy after D-Day.
On 17th September the Company jumped at Arnhem during Operation MARKET-GARDEN marking the DZs and LSs for the first lift. One platoon marked the abortive landing site for the Polish gliders, who landed amid the battle under heavy fire. The Company was trapped within the Oosterbeek Perimeter with the survivors of the 1st airborne Division and experienced heavy casualties.
The 1st Independent Parachute Platoon became involved in the occupation and street fighting in Athens during the winter of 1944-5.
21st Independent Company accompanied the 1st Airborne Division Liberation of Norway between May to October 1945. It subsequently joined the 6th Airborne Division in Palestine after the war, where it was disbanded in September 1946.
1942-3 Maj J Lander TD
1943-5 Maj BA Wilson, DSO, MC
1945-6 Maj RE Spivey