Soldiers of Airborne Forces form one of the elite services for the British Army. In order to function in such specialist role, continuous and demanding training is essential to maintain high performance levels. A constant programme of physical and tactical training ensures Airborne Forces personnel are always ready for action in peak condition.
During the Second World War, many units underwent specialist training to develop Battle techniques and parachuting equipment before formally joining Airborne forces. The skills and confidence required by Paratroopers was matched by the finetuning and technical development required by gliderborne Airborne units, and the Air Supply units from the Royal Army Service Corps.
During the early years, and in preparation for the invasion of North West Europe in June 1944 especially, Airborne troops of 1st and 6th Airborne Divisions embarked upon numerous training operations, including several enormous practice exercises on Salisbury Plain.
These continued into the post-war period and although the last operational parachute drop of the Parachute Regiment and Airborne Forces took place at Suez in November 1956, during Op Musketeer, the need for regular training exercises continued unabated. Common locations have been Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire, physical training at Brecon and during deployments in Germany, Kenya, the Gulf States and the Far East.
Over the years they have not always passed smoothly, although the development of reserve parachutes in the mid-1950s meant accidents were rare. In 1974 however, an exercise involving TA soldiers over the Kiel Canal in Germany resulted in a number of deaths from 15 PARA.
The necessity for training remains however, and have included operations with foriegn Airborne Forces (including Exercise Purple Star with US 82nd Airborne in 1996 - the biggest Airborne drop in peacetime) which served the dual purpose of providing operational experience alongside a crossover of skills and military expertise from other nations.
In more recent years, training parachute drops have become rarer. Operational commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan, combined with logistical limits to the amount of available aircraft have reduced the regularity of this valuable training experience. Parachute training is now co-ordinated closely with exercises for battle deployment by alternative delivery methods, including helicopters.
Their adaptability and proficiency in various delivery methods, infantry and patrol techniques and renowned physical fitness ensures Airborne Forces retain their key role in British Armed Forces strategy.