The Parachute Regiment

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Parachute Regiment cap badge

The Parachute Regiment is the infantry element of the airborne troops of the British Army. In common with parachute troops of other armies it considers itself an elite unit by virtue of its stringent selection process.



The Parachute Regiment is currently organised into three regular and one TA battalions:

  • 1st Battalion, Parachute Regiment (1 PARA)
  • 2nd Battalion, Parachute Regiment (2 PARA)
  • 3rd Battalion, Parachute Regiment (3 PARA)
  • 4th (Volunteer) Battalion, Parachute Regiment (4 PARA)

In December 2004, it was announced that 1 PARA would form the core of a new formation, to be known as the Rangers, to act as a support formation for the SAS. The Parachute regiment sends more soldiers for SAS selection than any other regiment.


The Parachute Regiment has its origins in the elite force of Commandos set up by the British Army in response to Winston Churchill's request to "set Europe ablaze". After the Battle of Crete, it was agreed that Britain would need paratroopers for similar operations. No 2 Commando were tasked with specialising in air borne assault.

Britain’s first airborne assault took place on February 10, 1941, when, what was then known as 11th Special Air Service, introduced themselves to the enemy by jumping into Italy and blowing up an aqueduct in a daring raid named Operation Colossus.

More to follow...

Notable operations

World War II

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The Parachute Regiment's display team, the Red Devils at an American airshow

Operation Biting - France

A Wuerzburg radar on the coast of France was attacked by British Paratroopers in Operation Biting on February 27, 1942. The electronics of the system were brought back to Britain for examination so that counter measures could be devised.

Operation Husky - Sicily

As part of the Operation Husky four airborne operations were carried out, landing during the night of the 9/10 July; two were British and two American. The strong winds blew the dropping aircraft off course and scattered them widely. British glider-landed troops fared badly; only 12 out of 144 gliders landing on target, many landing in the sea. Nevertheless the scattered airborne troops maximised their opportunities, attacking patrols and creating confusion wherever possible.

It was during operations in North Africa that the maroon beret was first seen by German troops and within months they had christened them Rote Teufel - Red Devils.

Operation Slapstick - Southern Italy

During the Allied invasion of Italy the British 1st Airborne Division landed by sea near the port of Taranto in the 'heel' of Italy (Operation Slapstick). Their task was to capture the port and several nearby airfields and link with the British Eighth Army before pressing north to join the US Fifth Army near Foggia.

Operation Overlord - Normandy

There were many separate airborne operations during Operation Overlord on D-Day June 6 1944. But broadly the task of the airborne forces was to secure the flanks of the landing beaches in Normandy. The British secured the Eastern flank in Operation Tonga. There were other operations designed to take the specific hardened targets notably the guns of the Merville gun battery. Buried under 12ft-thick concrete, the four 105mm guns, just miles from the beaches of Sword, Juno and Gold, had the capability to engage warships out at sea and sink landing craft heading for the beaches. The task of putting them out of action fell to the ninth parachute brigade which they succeeded in doing for 36 hours by killing all but a handful of the gunners.

Operation Dragoon - Southern France

On August 15, 1944, parachute units, which included the 4th, 5th and 6th Para battalions and lst Indian Army Pathfinders, dropped into Southern France between Frejus and Cannes as part of Operation Dragoon. Their objective was to capture the area, destroy all enemy positions and hold the ground until the US Seventh Army came ashore. Once they had captured their initial targets, they were reinforced by three thousand soldiers and critical equipment carried in over three hundred gliders in an operation code named Dove. The drop was almost unopposed and within days the British parachute group was withdrawn by sea to Italy in readiness for future operations.

Operation Market-Garden - the Netherlands

Perhaps the most famous airborne operation of history is Operation Market Garden of September 1944, in which 35,000 troops were dropped 100 miles behind the German front lines in an attempt to capture a bridge over the Rhine at Arnhem. Three complete airborne divisions, the British 1st Airborne Division, and the US 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions, and the Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade were dropped at various points along Highway 69 in order to create a "carpet" over which the British XXX Corps could rapidly advance. German opposition was some three times that expected, including two under-strength but very experienced panzer divisions, and in the end the British 1st Airborne division was all but destroyed and the bridge at Arnhem remained in German hands.

Operation Varsity - Rhineland (Germany)

Operation Varsity - The Rhine Crossing was the biggest and most successful airborne operation in history and it marked the beginning of the end for Germany.

1946 – 1966

In the Suez Crisis, Operation Musketeer needed the element of total surprise to succeed, and all 660 men had to be on the ground at El Gamil airfield and ready for action within four and a half minutes. At 04.15 hours on November 5, 1956, 3 Para jumped in and although opposition was heavy, casualties were few.

Operated in Borneo,Malaya and Aden

1966 – 1996

Throughout "The Troubles" in Northern Ireland, the regiment's battalions undertook many tours-of-duty. In 1972, while assisting the police, they shot 13 unarmed men and boys dead in Derry, an event which became known as Bloody Sunday. Despite claims by some paratroopers that they were fired upon, none were injured in the engagement. No-one was ever prosecuted.

After the Falklands War began in April 1982, 2 and 3 PARA were used to bring 3 Commando Brigade up to war-strength . The regiment played a prominent part in the conflict, two of its soldiers being awarded the Victoria Cross. The two recipients were Lieutenant-Colonel H. Jones and Sergeant Ian McKay.

Due to defence cuts after the end of the Cold War (Options for Change), the 15th (Scottish) Battalion was reduced to a company, transferring to the 4th Battalion.

Served in the former Yugoslavia in 1993.

1996 – current

The 1st Battalion, augmented by a company of 3 PARA, took part in the Kosovo War in 1999.

After the civil war in Sierra Leone deteriorated further, 1 PARA landed at the country's capital, Freetown, on 7 May 2000 to evacuate foreign nationals. The battalion was the lead element of a large naval task groupd, centred around HMS Ocean, that was heading for Sierra Leone as part of Operation Palliser. After the evacuation was completed, 1 PARA was tasked with retaining control of Freetown airport to ensure that UN supplies could be brought into the country, while also patrolling in the capital city. The rebel leader, Foday Sankoh, had been captured by government forces on 17 May. Operation Palliser ended on 15 June.

After 11 soldiers of the 1st Royal Irish Regiment (RIR) and a Sierra Leonean soldier were taken hostage by a rebel faction known as the West Side Boys (or the West Side Niggaz as they were preffered to be called) on 25 August, "A" Company of 1 PARA was deployed to Dakar, Senegal on 5 September, then onto Freetown. Five RIR soldiers had been released on 30 August but after the rebels carried out mock executions, "A Company and the Special Air Service, supported by two Army Air Corps helicopters, launched a rescue attempt (Operation Barras) on 10 September, successfully releasing the soldiers and capturing many rebels, including their leader, Foday Kallay.

2 PARA took part in NATO's intervention in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to disarm the rebel National Liberation Army in August 2001 (Operation Essential Harvest.

The 1st and 3rd Battalions took part in Operation Telic, Britain's contribution to the 2003 invasion of Iraq that began on 20 March. The two battalions were part of 16 Air Assault Brigade. In addition to this, 120 soldiers of the Territorial 4 PARA were used to augment the regulars.

The regiment was actively involved in operations leading upto the capture of Iraq's second largest city, Basra. After 7 Armoured Brigade pushed into the city on 6 April, 3 PARA cleared the 'old quarter' that was inaccessible to vehicles

The war officially ended on 1 May. 1 and 3 PARA remained in Iraq, operating in the British area in the south of the country. The Parachute Regiment was based in Maysan Province, mostly quiet though they did have sporadic encounters with Iraqi guerillas. A patrol of six Royal Military Policemen attached to 1 PARA were surrounded and killed on 24 June by an Iraqi mob in Majar Al-Kabir. A patrol of 1 PARA was also in the same city when it was ambushed by Iraqi guerillas, coming under very heavy attack that wounded a Para'. Scimitar light tanks and a Chinook helicopter came to their assistance; the helicopter came under heavy attack, seven passengers inside being wounded.

Sergeant Gordon Robertson, who was part of the patrol, was awarded the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross -- the second highest award for bravery in the face of the enemy after the Victoria Cross -- as part of the awards list in October. It was the first CGC to be awarded to the Parachute Regiment.

1 and 3 PARA left with the rest of 16 Air Assault Brigade left in June. The regiment lost one soldier in Iraq, Private Andrew Kelly of 3 PARA. Controversy surrounded 3 PARA's deployment to Iraq when seven of its soldiers were charged to in February 2005 with killing an Iraqi civilian in May 2003 at Al U'Zayra and will face a court martial.

The 2nd Battalion deployed to Iraq in November 2003 as part of 20 Armoured Brigade on a 6-month tour-of-duty.

Battle honours

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