Personal account of Lt Col (later Brigadier) James Hill's experiences in North Africa
As an officer and a gentleman you have one perk in the army and that's having a good batman.
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 The Battalion probed as far north as Foggia before being withdrawn back to the UK in preparation for D-Day and was based at Grimsthorpe Castle in Lincolnshire.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.
The present day 1 PARA was reconstituted from the 4th and 6th Parachute Battalions and re-designated 1st Battalion, The Parachute Regiment at Furness Barracks at Lubeck in Germany, returning to the UK in 1949.
Arab intransigence over the surge of Jewish immigration that followed the Holocaust in Europe led to the forming of extreme dissident Zionist groups such as IZL (Irgun Zwai Leumi) and the Stern Gang, all seeking to promote their aims through violence.
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.
Speed was essential to prevent the consolidation of Italian and German defences facing a rapid pincer movement launched from the west and south east immediately after the amphibious landings. Key bridges and ports were to be captured by airborne assault.
Make a donation to Airborne Assault ParaData to help preserve the history of The Parachute Regiment and Airborne Forces