159 Parachute Light Regiment RA

159 Parachute Light Regiment RA

1945 to 1947

159 Parachute Light Regiment RA was formed when 159 Field Regiment RA was re-roled and re-titled at Secunderabad, India in January 1945, having previously come under command of 44 Indian Airborne Division in December 1944.

159 Field Regiment was formed in India in April 1941. In October 1941 the regiment deployed to the Middle East, where it spent over 2 years in Persia and Iraq, in harsh terrain and extreme climates, as part of PAIFORCE. In 1944, after a short period of training in Lebanon  as mule-pack artillery, the regiment eventually returned to Secunderabad and joined 44 Indian Airborne Division. The regiment was well suited for conversion to the airborne role.

The regiment was re-armed with the American 75 mm pack howitzer. Guns, trailers and vehicles (jeeps) together with gun detachments and drivers deployed for war in Waco gliders. Some elements and individuals deployed by parachute. Single guns could be dropped in a stick of nine parachute loads, based on the mule-pack loads for which the weapon was originally designed. During the early months of 1945 intensive gunnery and deployment training was carried out at Secunderabad. Volunteers went on parachute training courses at Chaklala and in June the regiment moved to Bilaspur where most of 44 Indian Airborne Division was already located.

By August 1945 the regiment was ready for war, at full strength including first-line reinforcements, thanks to intakes from 123 Parachute Field Regiment (prior to being re-roled) and individual reinforcements from elsewhere in South East Asia Command. Many of these were already experienced airborne soldiers  --  ex-SAS, ex-Chindits etc. It was expected that there would be an airborne assault on Malaya and Singapore within the next few weeks. In the event, the atomic bomb was dropped and the war with Japan was over. A few individuals were parachuted into Singapore, Java etc as part of clear-up teams but otherwise the regiment took no part in operations during 1945.

Bilaspur was not a pleasant peacetime station and all ranks were pleased when in December 1945 the regiment moved to a hutted camp at Malir, in the Sindh Desert near Karachi, as part of an Airborne Division reorganisation. 159 Regiment gave up the short-axle 25 pounders it had held as a secondary armament at Bilaspur, the field artillery role being taken on by 158 Parachute Field Regiment. At about this time 44 Indian Airborne Division was re-titled 2 Indian Airborne Division.

In February 1946 the regiment took part in an operation to deal with a mutiny in the Royal Indian Navy. Mutineers had taken over a sloop, HMIS Hindustan, tied up alongside in Karachi docks. 15 (King’s) Parachute Battalion and other infantry were deployed in the dockside area. The mutineers were firing at troops and refused to surrender. On 22 February a 4-gun troop of 159 Regiment (C Troop) deployed on the dockside. One gun was sited to engage with direct fire over open sights, the other three being sited to fire indirectly. An OP was established in a prominent clock tower. The mutineers were given frequent chances to surrender, but at 1030 hours on 23 February the final ultimatum expired and at 1033 hrs the guns opened fire. The direct-fire gun in particular caused great damage to superstructure and gun turrets, and after a short time indirect fire was discontinued. At first the mutineers returned fire, including several near misses to the OP, but at 1051 hrs a white flag appeared through a hatchway. The regiment suffered no casualties, but the infantry had several wounded and the mutineers had many more including several killed.

In mid-1946, in preparation for Indian Independence, 2 Indian Airborne Division was "Indianized". The two British artillery regiments were replaced by Indian Parachute Artillery Regiments from the Indian Artillery. 159 Regiment was re-titled 159 (British) Parachute Light Regiment and moved to Quetta under command of 6 (British) Independent Airborne Brigade. 2 Indian Airborne Division became 2 Airborne Division.

Quetta was a superb peacetime station. Clear mountain air, warm sunshine in summer  and light snowfalls in winter. Barrack accommodation was the best in India, the entire station having been rebuilt after the 1935 earthquake. Live firing was possible in nearby Kalat and gunnery training reached a high standard. Operationally the regiment took part in patrolling the Tribal Regions of the North West Frontier. The regiment assisted in airborne demonstrations to the Indian Staff College, which was also located in Quetta. Despite continuous wastage due to the repatriation of long service soldiers, a good unit strength was maintained, mainly by intakes of Danish soldiers, already parachute-trained, courtesy of the King of Denmark in gratitude for the part played by the British Army in the recent liberation of his country.

In early 1947, with Indian Independence in sight, it was time to move on. Some officers and NCOs stayed in India to help with the creation of Indian parachute artillery. All ranks of 158 Parachute Field Regiment not due for repatriation were cross-posted to 159 Regiment prior to the disbandment of 158 Regiment. The amalgamated unit, retaining the title 159 Parachute Light Regiment, moved to Palestine in early 1947 to join 6 Airborne Division.

When the Royal Artillery reorganised on 1 April 1947, the regiment was briefly redesignated as 87 Parachute Light Regiment RA, with the batteries renumbered 248, 249 and 250, prior to further redesignation as 87 Airborne Field Regiment RA shortly after.

Commanding Officers
Lt Col Archdale
Lt Col FB Powell-Brett
Lt Col MI Gregson, MBE

Further reading
Maj AJK Newsham and Capt DMO Brigstocke (Eds) A Short History of the Airborne Gunners (2009) Force & Corporate Publishing Ltd

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