From top to bottom and from left to right.
Major General Browning.
Major General Richard N. Gale.
Brigadier James Hill, Brigadier Nigel Poett.
Lieutenant-Colonel Alastair Pearson, Lieutenant-Colonel Terence Otway, Lieutenant-Colonel George Bradbrooke.
June 1940, Winston Churchill wanted a British Airborne Capability.
In accordance with Winston Churchill’s directive, the first parachute school was formed at Ringway, near Manchester, The Central Landing School.
The officer directed to create the School was Major JF Rock, Royal Engineers.
End of 1941, Major General Browning becomes Commander 1st Parachute Brigade.
It is thanks to him that the Paras wore the famous maroon beret and the mythical winged horse Pegasus, emblem of airborne troops.
Brigadier Richard N. Gale becomes Commander 1st Parachute Brigade.
The Brigade comprised 1st, 2nd and 3rd Parachute Battalion. In Summer 1942, Brigadier Gale returns to the War-Office on promotion to Major General. The new Commander of 1st Parachute Brigade is Lieutenant Colonel James Hill with Brigade Major Alastair Pearson. The Second in Command is Major Pine-Coffin. All of these officers would jump into Normandy on the night of 5th/6th June 1944 as part of 6th Airborne Division.
Early 1942, the successful airborne assault on the radar station at Bruneval, near to Le Havre, was noted by the German High Command.
Summer 1942, the Parachute Regiment is formed. A second Brigade of three battalions is formed. The aim is set: an Airborne Division is near to being created. This would be on completion of operations in Sicily, which followed on from those in North Africa.
First quarter, the War-Office decides against a 1st Airborne Division and decides that the new Division will be called 6th Airborne Division.
The Division was given to Major General Richard N. Gale who through force of personality, immediately installed a demanding training regime, intended to make the 6th an élite Division. In mid 1943, the 6th Airborne Division lined up its three Brigades. Canadians paratroops reinforced the ranks of the 6th Airborne Division.
In the organisation chart shown below can be seen the HQ of the 6th Airborne Division with 3rd Parachute Brigade commanded by Brigadier James Hill and 5th Parachute Brigade commanded by Brigadier Poett.
The other brigade, the 6th Airlanding Brigade is not shown on the chart.
In summer 1943, Brigadier James Hill, Commander of 3rd Parachute Brigade, had the 8th Parachute Battalion commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Alastair Pearson, the 9th Parachute Battalion commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Terence Otway and 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion commanded by Lieutenant Colonel George Bradbrooke.
– The 3rd Parachute Brigade.
Brigadier James Hill commanded 3 Parachute Battalions including the 9th.
Lieutenant Colonel Terence Otway commanded the 9th Parachute Battalion.
A Parachute Battalion comprises approximately 750 men.
The 9th Battalion is made up of a Headquarters and companies.
Below we can see Lieutenant Colonel Terence Otway with his officers.
The 9th Battalion like other battalions, is made up of 3 parachute companies (5 officers and 120 men per company) called A, B, and C, each with 3 sections.
The basic group is the Section comprising 8 men, a corporal and a sergeant.
This group was sometimes called a “stick” (so called because of the shape made by men jumping out quickly, one after the other.
Dakotas contained 2 sticks with their personal containers.
Also in the 9th Battalion were the Pathfinders, signallers, intelligence, engineers, medics, glider-borne troops, and two sections with Vickers machine guns and 3 inch mortars.
– The units of the 6th Airborne Division.
In 1944, the 6th Airborne Division was made up of:
3rd Parachute Brigade with its 3 battalions;
5th Parachute Brigade with its 3 battalions;
6th Airlanding Brigade transported in gliders;
6th Airborne Armoured Reconnaissance Regiment;
– The training camps of the 6th Airborne Division.
The ground at Hardwick Hall and the air at Ringway.
The first contact with airborne troops was at Hardwick Hall near Chesterfield.
There the men stayed for two weeks. This initial period was principally to test and select men with the required mental and physical aptitudes.
Even if the training was intensive, harsh and more rigorous than in traditional training depots, it was nothing compared to what was waiting these volunteers for parachute soldiering.
Once the ground training had finished, (the Airborne Corps was controlled by the Army and the RAF) the training at Ringway Airport (near to Manchester) could commence.
Objective – jumping. Each paratrooper had to make two jumps from a balloon and six from an aircraft. The right to wear the maroon beret and the Pegasus badge was not conferred until one successful balloon jump had been made.
The first jump, from a balloon. Height approximately 250 metres (800 ft)
Free fall 40 m (130 ft) before the opening (hopefully) of the canopy. Effect: all the bodyweight drops vertically like a stone.
Then came the jumps from twin engined Whitley aircraft. It was necessary to drop through a hole in the aircraft’s floor behind the cockpit.
This was no mean feat and added to the ordeal of the jump itself because troops had to launch themselves without getting snagged on the rim of the hole… this was more harsh and intensive training.
At the end of the training, Wings Day awaited the successful candidates. This was an important day in the life of a paratrooper, the day he received his sacred insignia, his wings. On Wings Day the oath was sworn. A condition of accepting the wings was that the paratrooper could not refuse to parachute in future. Following Wings Day, paratroopers were posted to their battalions
But they were far from realising, despite what they had just experienced, what was waiting for them to perfect their training…
– Bulford training camp.
Bulford near Andover in Whiltshire
Now Brigadier James Hill would train the men in his Brigade, the 3rd Parachute Brigade, based at Bulford. As will be seen later this base was not too far from the location selected by Lieutenant Colonel Otway for the mission-specific training that the 9th Battalion would undertake.
The primary objective of Brigadier James Hill was to get the best out of his men. He knew very well, having been seriously wounded in North Africa, that the paratrooper on the ground was only lightly armed and must count on himself to survive and fulfill his mission. For this he put in place a harsh training regime to turn his men into elite troops, capable of surpassing the normal limits of endurance. It will be seen later that if
Brigadier Hill had not asked so much of his Brigade, and especially of Lieutenant Colonel’s 9th Battalion, history would perhaps not have unfolded in the manner that it did.
Shaped by his experience, Brigadier Hill said to his officers and NCOs before departure: “Gentlemen, despite the excellence of your orders and your preparation do not be surprised if chaos reigns, it undoubtedly will.”
Let us return to the training programme. Brigadier James Hill was given the nickname “Speedy”. And speed was indeed the central theme of his training programme. For him, the paratrooper on the ground should not only go faster, but much faster than the norm. Endurance, as already stated, was a major feature of his training regime. James Hill never ceased to push for the fastest possible le movement in order to protect the paratrooper’s life and lead to successful achievement of the mission.
The training is hard, testing and of an extraordinarily severe. Brigadier Hill is in the lead of a 25 Km march beating the drum, leading his men. He was always at the front, leading by example.
Elsewhere he sought excellence in each of his men in his own area of speciality. Even there nothing was spared for the men of the 3rd Parachute Brigade. The various techniques required for combat were practiced day and night.
There also, Brigadier Hill knew perfectly well that his men, isolated behind enemy lines, needed more to confront the darkness. They would need to be capable of dealing with obscurity if they were to survive.
And all his men knew it. Brigadier Hill considered his men would be ready for operations when they were capable of marching 200 kilometres in three days carrying their equipment on their back, a load of around 35 kg (77 lb).
For Brigadier James Hill, even in total chaos, a paratrooper must never admit defeat, never. He sought constantly to instill in his men, the inner strength they would need in those Dantesque moments when no one would come to their aid.
They could only count on their endurance and their inner strength to fight, sometimes hand to hand, having had little or no sleep, on the long hard days ahead. They would come face to face with a numerically superior enemy; they would take heavy fire from small arms, from mortars tanks and artillery.
But they had been trained to survive and to win.