Red Devils: How WWII paratroopers earned the nickname

Dropping from the skies for the last 80 years, the Parachute Regiment has been at the heart of almost every British conflict since, providing an aggressive, resilient airborne capability.

Credited with effectiveness in the recent Kabul evacuations, the Falklands conflict, Iraq and notably Operation Market Garden above Arnhem during the Second World War, the regiment is also to thank for the name of the Army's parachute display team.

While many would think the maroon red beret is behind the name 'Red Devils', who dropped into Colchester to mark 80 years of the regiment, it's a little more complicated.

"Actually, the nickname came from battles in North Africa," explained Jon Baker, curator at the Airbourne Forces Museum, rolling back the years to the first time the paratroopers were deployed as a brigade.

"It's stormy weather. The soil is a local red clay so, as these guys parachuted, in they got covered head to toe.

"They wore the famous Denison smock, which has a flap at the back to tie between your legs.

WATCH: Watch: Red Devils wow crowds for Parachute Regiment's 80th Birthday

"The local Arabs saw these red men with tails, this reputation got back to the Germans and the first time the PARAs went into action they were screaming, shouting – desperate to get at the enemy.

"All the Germans could see was red men with tails and they went, 'Oh my God, it's the rote Teufel, the rote Teufel. The Red Devils are here'."

The Parachute Regiment was formed in 1942 after Winston Churchill wanted a similar force to the one proving so effective for Nazi Germany in the opening years of the Second World War.

"The Parachute Regiment has always looked for soldiers who demonstrate ABI – Airborne initiative," Mr Baker said, explaining how Operation Market Garden solidified their reputation."

The daring mission saw the allies seize bridges in Arnhem to allow others to attempt to cross into northern Germany and liberate the Netherlands.

ABI means private soldiers may often have to operate without the officer behind enemy lines, showing their own initiative.

"That was demonstrated the most at Arnhem. Cut off, facing two German armoured divisions, just 10,000 men trying to hold the bridge with light weapons, fighting the Germans, tooth and nail, that's where their reputation was sealed," Mr Baker added.

Related topics

Join Our Newsletter


RAF C-17 becomes biggest aircraft to land on tiny remote island

Ukraine war: What we know about the destroyed Nova Kakhovka dam

Inside the world of an RAF fighter pilot policing Nato's Baltic skies