Picture: Crown Copyright
Picture: Crown Copyright

Know your Parachute Regiment: The PARAs background and history explained

Picture: Crown Copyright
Picture: Crown Copyright

The Parachute Regiment, or PARAs, have solidified their reputation as the go-to combat unit within the British Army.

Established in 1942 in response to Nazi Germany's parachutist capability, the effectiveness of the regiment has led to its expansion and use in almost every conflict the UK has entered.

Here's a breakdown of the Army's premiere airborne fighting force:

Brief History

Witnessing the impact of Germany's paratroopers in the Second World War's first two years, then Prime Minister Winston Churchill wanted a similar force of his own.

Personnel from No.2 Commando retrained with a focus not only on parachute proficiency, but also aggression, physical resilience and arms handling.

Immediate success in a radar station raid in northern France saw four initial battalions of 1st Parachute Brigade expanded.

Other infantry battalions converted to airborne forces, all joining together in August 1942 to form the Parachute Regiment.

No time was wasted in putting the group to use across Africa, Italy, France and Greece, and by mid-1944 there were 17 battalions falling under five parachute brigades.

    Watch: Secrets from the parachute factory.

    Current Structure

    Today, the Parachute Regiment has three regular battalions and one reserve.

    • 1st Battalion Parachute Regiment (1 PARA) is under the control of UK Special Forces.
    • 2nd Battalion Parachute Regiment (2 PARA) and 3rd Battalion Parachute Regiment (3 PARA) are part of 16 Air Assault Brigade.
    • 4th Battalion Parachute Regiment (4 PARA) provides reserves to 2 PARA and 3 PARA.

    Separately, the Pathfinder Platoon is formed largely from the Parachute Regiment.

    It is a special reconnaissance force for 16 Air Assault Brigade Combat Team, the Army's Global Response Force used to respond to crises around the world – specialists in deploying from the air.

    Pathfinders relay intelligence back to base to assist mission planning.

    Major Missions

    • 1944 – Five battalions landed ahead of D-Day to destroy German assets and prevent German reinforcements to Normandy beaches.
    • 1944 – Six battalions were involved in the daring Operation Market Garden, seizing bridges in Arnhem to allow allies to attempt to cross into northern Germany and liberate the Netherlands.
    • 1945 – Battalions were also involved in the Battle of the Bulge when German forces launched a counter-attack to split the British and American forces through Ardennes and Antwerp.
    • 1945 – The Parachute Regiment and US forces dropped by parachute and glider behind enemy lines during the Rhine crossings.
    • 1945-1946 – The 5th Parachute Brigade helped fight Japanese forces in Malaya, before restoring law and order in North Java.
    • 1956 – Personnel from 2 and 3 PARA were deployed to regain control of the Suez Canal.
    • 1970s-90s – Operation Banner in Northern Ireland saw heavy Parachute Regiment involvement, particularly from 2 PARA, on policing and counter-terror missions.
    • 1982 – 2 PARA and 3 PARA fought in the Falklands Conflict at Mount Longdon, Goose Green and Wireless Ridge.
    • 2002-2014 – 2 PARA deployed to Afghanistan's capital, Kabul, as part of NATO duty to stabilise the country.
    • 2003-2011 – Operation Telic saw large numbers of paratroopers deploy with 16 Air Assault Brigade during the invasion of Iraq.
    • 2006 – Helmand Province saw 3 PARA deployment in Afghanistan on Operation Herrick

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