1944 - 1945
The equivalent of a British and American airborne two-division corps parachutes into Normandy on D-Day. Allied Airborne Armies conduct parachute and air-land operations in North West Europe between 1944-5.
Normandy (Operation Overlord)
The 6th Airborne Division had been formed in May 1943 for the Invasion. It was called the ‘6th’ to fool the Germans into believing there were five other airborne divisions already in existence, but in reality there was only the 1st in addition.
South France (Operation Dragoon)
The airborne assault was mounted alongside five US Parachute Battalions and one US Air Landing Brigade. The 51st US Troop Carrier Wing provided the lift for what was essentially an American-heavy operation.
Arnhem (Operation Market Garden)
1st Allied Airborne Corps, which included the American 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions, was tasked to secure the main canal and river crossings between Eindhoven and Arnhem. The aim was to provide an ‘airborne carpet’ along which the ground forces spearheaded by 30 Corps would break into the Ruhr and end the war.
The 1st British Airborne Division, which included the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 10th, 11th and 156th battalions of The Parachute Regiment under the command of Major General R E Urquhart was dropped near Arnhem to seize the road bridge over the Neder Rijn.
Greece (Operation Manna)
One company of the 4th Para Battalion was dropped in high winds at Megara airfield 40 miles from Athens suffering numerous casualties. The remainder of the brigade group under Brig CHV Pritchard followed up having been ordered to secure Athens, maintain law and order and provide necessary relief to the Greek people.
4th Para Bn incurred some casualties in the force harrying the German retreat through Lamio, Larissa and Kosani. 6 Para Bn was engaged on internal security in Athens and Attica and 5th Para Bn arrived at Salonika in November.
Advance to the Baltic
The airborne soldiers were well suited to exploit the fluid situation that occurred following the collapse of the Rhine barrier defence. Short fierce actions were fought from the tanks of the 4th Tank Battalion of the Grenadier Guards and whatever transport could be purloined.
They advanced past Osnabrück, Minden, Celle and crossed the Elbe. The 3rd Parachute Brigade reached Wismar on 2nd May, racing just ahead of the Russians. Many soldiers had completed the 350 miles on foot. The Russians were deterred from entering Lubeck. On the 8 May 1945 the war in Europe ended.
After the Allied landings in Normandy and subsequent advance through France and Belgium, the German Army had succeeded in stalling the Allied offensive along their line of defence at the German border - the ‘Siegfried Line’.
Rhine Crossing (Operation Varsity)
The 6th Airborne Division was tasked to seize the high ground of the Diersfort Wood, overlooking part of the Rhine to be crossed by the British 21st Army Group. 540 aircraft towing some 1,300 gliders flew into the teeth of German defensive fire, enveloping enemy defences and gun emplacements from above and suffering initial heavy casualties as a consequence. Within five and a half hours all objectives were taken. Despite tenacious resistance from the German 1st Fallschirmjäger Army the link up with ground forces ferrying the river was achieved.
Norway (Operation Doomsday)
Maj Gen Urquhart received his orders in the midst of a Division reorganization. The 1st Parachute Brigade had been despatched to Denmark on 5th May, 1st Polish Brigade was alerted for an overseas move and the Special Air Service Brigade, then in Germany, was attached to the Division to compensate. Despite the chaos attendant within the fluid situation of the German defeat, 1st Airborne Division prepared and launched the Norwegian mission within four days of receiving the Warning Order.
Unknown to Japanese intelligence 50th Indian Brigade battalions were exercising and patrolling with light equipment around Kohima. The Japanese 15th and 31st Divisions found them in their path while conducting an east-west infiltration attack across the jungle covered Naga Hills beyond the River Chindwin, heading towards India.
C Company 152 Parachute Battalion was overrun on a high plateau near Ukhrul. Only 20 men survived but they killed 450 Japanese.
They were involved in clearing up the Japanese in Northern Malaya and in Internal Security duties in Singapore until December 1945. They were then despatched to restore law and order and civil government in Semerang in North Java now torn by civil strife and rival political extremist factions. This task was completed by May 1946 and subsequently the brigade returned to the UK and was disbanded; its 7th Battalion replacing the 17th (in 1st Brigade). The 17th together with the 12th and 13th Battalions then ceased to exist in the Regular Army.
The purpose of gliders was to set a body of airborne soldiers or heavy equipment down in one place, rather than being scattered by the wind. They could deliver Jeeps, trailers, anti-tank and AA guns, complete with ammuntion and crews, into restricted spaces. In WW2, such gliders were the only way of delivering such large loads. The Horsa was made up of thirty separate parts primarily made out of wood, so was built by furniture manufacturers all over the country and the parts were assembled by 41 Group RAF Maintenance Units.Read More
Having parachuted nine miles to the west of Arnhem during the early afternoon of 17th September 1944 2 PARA reinforced by elements from the 1st Parachute Brigade reached the road bridge at dusk. German guards were surprised and overwhelmed at the north end of the bridge but an attack by A company to capture the opposite bank was repulsed. Lt Col Frost commanding 2 PARA established a tight perimeter in houses overlooking the northern bridge exit. Until the Germans appreciated what was going on, uncoordinated crossings and attacks were easily beaten off during the night.Read More