RAF Support to Airborne Operations
The RAF have provided support to airborne operations for over 70 years.
Initially formed as No. 38 Wing RAF, on 15 January 1942 from 295, 296 and 297 Squadrons and based at RAF Netheravon, No. 38 (Airborne Force) Group was formed in August 1942, in Wiltshire under Group Captain Sir Nigel Norman. Adding to the initial force, Squadrons 570, 298, 299, 190, 196, 620 were added. 295, 296, 297, 570 squadrons were equipped with Albemarle aircraft and 298 with Halifax. 299, 190, 196, and 620 squadron with Short Sterling’s. In February 1944, a further Halifax Squadron was added.
During 1942, the first operations utilising the Group were Op Biting (Bruneval) and Op Freshman (Norway). The first was being deemed successful, but the second was the unsuccessful attempt to destroy the hydroelectric power station vital for German atomic research. From March to August, No. 38 Group was integral to Op Beggar (North Africa), Op Husky (Sicily) and Op Elaborate which involved 295 Sqn ferrying gliders to North Africa via Portugal. (see photos of Halifax DG396/QQ).
During 1943, changes to aircraft types and operational bases were made. During this time 295, 296 and 297 Squadrons were heavily involved in Op Beggar, where Handley Page Halifax bombers towing Airspeed Horsa gliders 3,200 miles to Tunisia, prior to the Allied invasion of Sicily. The British Horsas were needed to complement the smaller American Waco gliders, which did not have the capacity required for the operations planned by the 1st Airborne Division. Additionally, the Group took part in Op Ladbroke (Sicily) Op Fustian (Primosole)
By the 5th June 1944 the Group’s aircraft squadrons had been updated and had been redeployed between RAF Brize Norton, RAF Fairford, RAF Harwell, RAF Keevil and RAF Tarrant Rushton in preparation for Op Overlord, the allied invasion of Europe. From then to 16 June 38 Group was fully involved in Op Tonga and Op Mallard (The delivery of the main airborne forces and their equipment by glider). They were also involved in Op Rob Roy which was the daily ferrying of supplies and equipment to Major General Gale’s 6th Airborne Division in the days after the Op Tonga.
Three months later, the Group was utilised for the airborne part of Operation Market Garden (Arnhem)
In parallel, during 1944 numerous sorties were made over mainland Europe in support of the SOE and detachments of the SAS.
On 24th March 1945 38 group was fully employed in delivering airborne troops to the far bank of the Rhine (Operation “VARSITY”). It is of particular note that 60 RAF pilots were lost flying gliders in this action.
Development of the 38 Group support to airborne forces post WWII
Flying Hercules C-130J Hercules transport aircraft, 47 Squadron's Special Forces Flight fly airlift and re-supply operations for United Kingdom Special Forces (UKSF) and airborne units. The Squadron flies both the 'stretched' (C4) and normal-length (C5) variants of the C-130J Hercules. 47 squadron was re-formed at RAF Fairford, Gloucestershire, on 25 February 1968 to operate the Lockheed Hercules C130, moving to Lyneham in September 1971. During the Falklands War, the squadron airlifted supplies to Ascension Island and, later, air dropped men and supplies to ships of the British task force in the South Atlantic. To make the trip from Ascension to the Falklands, several Hercules were given additional fuel tanks and fitted with refuelling probes. 47 Squadron also prepared to fly elements of the Special Air Service(SAS) to Argentina for the aborted Operation MIKADO.
The squadron's Special Forces Flight were involved in the 1991 Gulf War, as well as regular airlift missions, the Hercules also flew missions behind Iraqi lines, landing on ad hoc desert air strips to resupply SAS fighting columns.
The squadron has supported UN and NATO operations in the Balkans in the 1990s, delivering aid to several besieged cities. It also support coalition forces in operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Following the 2012 closure of RAF Lyneham, Wiltshire, the squadron has been operating from RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire.
7 Squadron Chinooks
The unit was formed after the Falklands conflict 1982, during which a need for specialist helicopter support for SF operations was highlighted. 7 Squadron SF flight are based at RAF Odiham and form part of the Joint Special Forces Aviation Wing (JSFAW) along with AAC 657 Squadron. 7 Sqn SF flight operate twin-rotor Chinook HC6 Helicopters in support of SAS/SBS missions. The primary role of SF flight Chinooks is the Insertion, extraction and resupply of airborne and Special Forces, fast-rope and abseil support.
Joint Helicopter Command
Joint Helicopter Command (JHC) is a tri-service organisation uniting battlefield helicopters of the British Armed Forces for command and coordination purposes. The RAF has 7 squadrons within the JHC based at Benson and Odiham; 7 Sqn (Chinook), 18 Sqn (Chinook), 27 Sqn (Chinook), 28 Sqn (Chinook HC4 and Puma HC2), 33 Sqn (Puma HC2), 230 Sqn (Puma HC2).
A key element of the airborne forces capability, the parachute training school was formed at RAF Ringway on 21 June 1940 as the Central Landing School which from 1 October 1940 was designated as the Parachute Training Squadron of the Central Landing Establishment.
It became an independent unit as the Parachute Training School on 15 February 1942. Following the formation of a second school in India, the current name of No 1 Parachute Training School was adopted on 27 July 1944.
No 1 Parachute Training School (PTS) was formed at a critical time in the nation’s history and over the years No 1 PTS has been directly involved in the airborne assaults in Sicily, Normandy, Arnhem and Suez and had the mandate of ’ rapidly inserting troops into areas where they couldn’t get by any other means of transport’.
CIS and airfield activation
Following operation MUSKETEER in 1956 it was recognised that communications and force enablers were a significant element in the success of joint operations. To meet this change in requirements, a number of amalgamations and re-organisations within the RAF and 38 Group to place, culminating in the formation of a signals element (Tactical Signals Unit) and a supply capability (Tactical Supply Wing).
Formed In 1962, Tactical Signals Unit was organised into 3 elements: Long Range Communications, Base Communications and Brigade Air Support Operations.
Base Communications Flight handled the Airhead local area communications such as Flight Watch for the tactically deployed aircraft and localised communications on airfields.
Brigade Air Support Operations were responsible for supporting Airborne and Air Mobile Brigades and carried out airfield communication between aircraft and ground units. Nine members of this team were parachute qualified and often jumped with the Brigade Air Liaison Officer as communications support. In addition to brigade Air to Ground communications the team also looked to provide air navigational aids and airfield activation facilities.
Tactical Communications Wing, Tactical Air Traffic Control
Formed in 1969 TCW, the force element dedicated to support airborne operations was Tactical Air Traffic Control, predecessor to TACATCU, TACATC provided tactical air traffic control and landing zone safety for airborne exercises; primarily deployed as part of Tactical Air Land Operation, TALO, the team were parachute qualified and able to operate with 5 Airborne Brigade and Special Forces to set up tactical airstrips in support of forward operations.
Tactical Air Traffic Control was the last parachute trained section on the Tactical Communications Wing. It was formed after the Falklands Conflict to provide Visual Flight Rules air traffic services to aircraft operating from bare or forward operating bases, or from Tactical Landing Zones worldwide.
The Flight contained 20 personnel, with two Air Traffic officers in charge. Their original remit was to support 5 Airborne Brigade and Special Forces units with Tactical Air Traffic Control, airfield coordination and tasking and deployment of the Tactical Flare Path and PAGAL systems. During this time the flight took part in numerous operational and exercise evaluations such as, Red, Blue and Green Lanyards, Roaring Lion, Chameleon, OSEX, Purple Warrior to name only a few.
In recent times Tactical Air Traffic Control has been at the forefront of tasking, locating and establishing the initial airheads in support of major operations, to ensure the safe and expeditious flow of aircraft that are supporting troops on the ground. Operations have included Pristina airfield in the Balkans and Bagram, Kabul and Camp Bastion in Afghanistan.
Members of the unit can also be dropped into enemy occupied airfields as part of a 16 Airborne Brigade assault by either Tactical Air Landing Operations where staff are flown directly onto the runways, or via tandem parachute, to assist in the establishment of operational airheads within a tight time frame.
The aircraft controlled by Tactical Air Traffic Control are usually RAF Hercules C130 or the C-17 transport aircraft. However a Tactical Air Traffic Control controller can expect to control a wide variety of aircraft, such as Harriers, Chinooks, Lynxes, Apaches or the ‘stretched’ Hercules C130, in an even wider variety of locations. They also provide controllers to oversee Special Forces exercises. More recently Tactical Air Traffic Control controllers have been used to support operations with Special Forces, conducting reconnaissance for Tactical Landing Zones in hostile environments.
While training in peacetime, Tactical Air Traffic Control provide day and night Visual Flight Rules services at disused airfields or act as Tactical Landing Zone Safety Officers to aircraft operating from natural strips. All Tactical Air Traffic Control staff are expected to take every opportunity to fly with the Squadrons at RAF Brize Norton to gain invaluable insights into the roles of the Squadrons and the high crew work rate throughout the flight. Tactical Air Traffic Control personnel are also required to train a variety of members of all three armed services in the role of Tactical Landing Zone Safety Officers – this extends to foreign armed forces and UK Special Forces.
Tactical Supply Wing TSW
The Tactical Supply Wing (TSW), a/k/a "Tiswas" was formed at RAF Stafford in late 1970 and became operational in January 1971.
TSW primary role is supporting the deployment of helicopter operations, specialising in providing rotors-turning refuelling to helicopters and field refuelling of fixed-wing aircraft such as the RAF’s C130 Hercules aircraft. This can done from the back of a transport aircraft, or deploy-able storage facilities, such as bowsers or pillow tanks, often in the field or at austere temporary sites. To that end TSW have an ongoing commitment to both Airborne and helicopter born forces.
With information supplied by Geordie SRead More
Quite early in the war the Germans were known to be working towards the production of an atomic bomb; it was thought they had made considerable progress in the production of Heavy Water, an essential component.
Make a donation to Airborne Assault ParaData to help preserve the history of The Parachute Regiment and Airborne Forces