Red Devils War Time History - Taskforce

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Red Devils War Time History

World War II

North Africa
2nd Battalion officers Tunisia 26 December 1942.
In November 1942 the 1st Army, with the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Parachute Battalion (1st Parachute Brigade) attached, invaded lt French Morocco and Algeria (Operation Torch). The British airborne operations in North Africa started on 12 November, when the 3rd Battalion carried out the first battalion sized parachute drop, on Bone airfield between lt Algiers and Tunis. The remainder of the brigade arrived by sea the next day. On 15 November, the 1st Battalion were ordered to parachute and capture a vital road junction at lt Béja 90 miles (140 km) west of Tunis. The battalion captured both Béja and Mateur after an attack on a German armoured column and an Italian tank position. The 2nd Battalion, now commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel John Frost, carried out a parachute drop on Depienne Airfield 30 miles (48 km) south of Tunis. The airfield had been abandoned, so they marched 10 miles (16 km) to capture Oudna Airfield. There, they were supposed to have been relieved by advancing British forces, but they had been held up by unexpected German resistance. Frost contacted 1st Army, only to be informed that, as they were trapped 50 miles (80 km) behind the lines, they had been written off. The battalion headed for the British lines, but lost 266 men under constant German attack by the time they reached safety at Medjez el Bab. In February 1943, the brigade deployed as normal infantry, serving in the front lines for the rest of the Tunisian Campaign. They fought notable actions at Bou Arada and Tamerza against their German counterparts, the Fallschirmjäger, where they earned the nickname "Die Roten Teufel" (the Red Devils).

The 1st, 2nd and 3rd Battalions (1st Parachute Brigade) next took part in Operation Fustian. This was an airborne assault to seize and hold the Primosole Bridge over the River Simeto, south of Mount Etna on the island of lt Sicily, and hold until relieved by ground forces. Those that survived the flight landed on the same drop zone (DZ) chosen by the 1st Fallschirmjäger Division, which had landed moments before the British aircraft appeared. The two forces engaged in a bitter fight, and the Paras failed to secure the landing ground for the following glider force carrying their artillery and heavy equipment. Those gliders that did land were not unloaded before the bridge was captured at 04:40. Later that day, the Germans counter-attacked with artillery support and, within hours, the Paras were driven off the bridge.

In September the 4th, 5th and lt 6th Battalions (2nd Parachute Brigade) and the 10th, 11th and 156th Battalions (4th Parachute Brigade) took part in Operation Slapstick a landing from the sea near the port of Taranto in Italy. Their objective was to capture the port and several nearby airfields, and link up with the British Eighth Army, before pressing north to join the US Fifth Army near Foggia. They landed unopposed on 9 September 1943, the only losses being 58 men of the 6th Battalion, lost at sea when their ship struck a mine. Pushing inland, the Paras captured the town of Castellaneta and the town and airfield of Gioia del Colle before being withdrawn. On 14 September 1943, a company of the 11th Battalion carried out a parachute drop on the island of Kos. The Italian garrison surrendered, and the company was quickley reinforced by men from the Durham Light Infantry and RAF Regiment, before being withdrawn on 25 September and in December 1943, the 11th Battalion rejoined the division in England.

Normandy 7 June 1944, men of the 6th Airborne Division guarding a road junction near Ranville. Each is armed with a Mk V Sten submachine gun.
The next operation for the regiment was in Normandy France with the 6th Airborne Division. The 8th and 9th Battalion (3rd Parachute Brigade) and the 7th, 12th and 13th Battalions (5th Parachute Brigade) were involved. The mission was Operation Tonga, capturing bridges over the River Orne and Caen Canal, and destroying the Merville Gun Battery and several other bridges to prevent the Germans reaching the landing beaches. The 7th Battalion had so many missing, that by 03:00, only around 40 percent of the battalion had been accounted for. They did, however, reinforce the glider force that had captured the Caen and Orne bridges and held them until relieved by the 3rd Infantry Division. The 12th and 13th Battalions also had about 40 percent of their men go missing. The 12th had to capture the village of Le Bas de Ranville, whilst 13th was to take the town of Ranville. Both battalions then helped secure the area around the captured bridges until relieved. Only about 150 men of the 9th Battalion had assembled when the launched their assault on the Merville Gun Battaery. Their attack on the battery was successful, but with heavy casualties: 50 dead and 25 wounded. The 8th Battalion had to destroy two bridges near Bures and a third by Troarn. All bridges were destroyed and the battalion numbering around 190 men dug in around Troarn. The Paras held the left flank of the invasion area until going onto the offensive on the night of 16/17 August. In nine days, they advanced to the mouth of the River Seine, capturing over 1,000 German prisoners. On 27 August, the division was withdrawn from the front line and embarked for England in September. The divisions casualties were 821 killed, 2,709 wounded and 927 missing.

South of France
Further information: 2nd Parachute Brigade in Southern France
The 4th, 5th and 6th Parachute Battalions (2nd Independent Parachute Brigade) had been left in Italy when the 1st Airborne Division returned to England. On 15 August 1944, the 1st Airborne Task Force (ATF), including the 2nd Independent Parachute Brigade, parachuted into the region between Frejus and Cannes in the south of France. Their objective was to destroy all enemy positions in the area and hold until the US Seventh Army came ashore. The ATF was preceded at 03:30 by nine pathfinder teams; only three teams, all from the 2nd Independent Parachute Brigade, landed on the correct DZs. When the brigade starting landing on 04:50, the drop was dispersed. Most of the 6th Battalion, half of the 4th, and one company of the 5th landed on their DZs. Most of the rest of the Paras were scattered over a 9 mile (14 km) area, but some landed 20 miles (32 km) away at Cannes. The battalions achieved all their objectives apart from the town of Le Muy on the first day. The brigade remained in France until 26 August and then returned to Italy.

Men of the 1st Battalion day one 17 September 1944.
The 1st, 2nd and 3rd Battalions (1st Parachute Brigade) and the 10th, 11th and 156th Battalions (4th Parachute Brigade) were next in action in Operation Market Garden in the Netherlands with the 1st Airborne Division. The resulting Battle of Arnhem has since become a byword for the fighting spirit of the British and set a standard for the Parachute Regiment. The division's mission was to capture intact the road, rail and pontoon bridges over the Lower Rhine at Arnhem and hold them until relieved, which was expected to occur two or three days later. A shortage of transport aircraft hindered operations, and it would take two days for all three of the division's brigades to arrive. It was decided that the 1st Parachute and the airlanding brigade would land on the first day. The DZs and LZs would be secured by the airlanding brigade, whilst the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Parachute Battalions would head into Arnhem and capture the bridges. On the second day, the 4th Parachute Brigade would arrive. These battalions would dig in north and north-west of Arnhem. On day one 17 September 1944, the 1st Parachute Brigade landed and headed towards Arnhem, but only the 2nd Battalion, largely unopposed, made it to the bridges. The railway bridge was blown up as they approached and the pontoon bridge was missing a section. By dusk, most of the 2nd Battalion and some supporting units, including the Brigade Headquarters, numbering about 740 men, had taken the northern end of the Arnhem road bridge. By the second day, the 9th SS Panzer Division arrived in Arnhem, deploying to the west of the city and cutting off access to the bridge.
On day two attempts by the 1st and 3rd Battalions to fight through to the bridge were unsuccessful and, by 10:00, they had been halted. At the bridge, the 2nd Battalion continued to hold out against German armoured and infantry attacks. Several hours later than expected, at 15:00, the 4th Parachute Brigade landed under fire from the Germans. The 11th Battalion was sent towards Arnhem to assist in the attempt to break through to the bridge, linking up with the 1st and 3rd Battalions after dark. The 10th and 156th Battalions moved to take up their planned positions north-west of Arnhem. En route, in the dark, the 156th Battalion came under fire and halted for the night.
In the morning of the third day, the 1st, 3rd, and 11th Battalions and the 2nd South Staffordshires tried to fight through to the bridge. Crossing open ground, the 1st Battalion was engaged by heavy fire from three sides. Trapped in the open, the 1st was decimated, and the 3rd had to withdraw. The 11th, which until then had not been heavily involved, were now exposed by the withdrawal and overwhelmed. Unable to break through the German line, the remaining men retreated towards the main force, now at Oosterbeek. In the north, the 10th and 156th Battalions were spotted as they attempted to seize the high ground in the woods north of Oosterbeek. Both battalions came under German fire and were unable to advance any further. Ordered to fall back on Wolfheze and Oosterbeek, they had to fight all the way, with the Germans in close pursuit. At the bridge, the 2nd Battalion still held out, but short of supplies, their position was becoming untenable. The Germans, had started destroying the buildings the battalion occupied with tank, artillery and mortar fire.

British paratroopers in Oosterbeek.
By day four, the battered division was too weak to make any attempt to reach the bridge. Of the nine infantry battalions, only the 1st, Border Regiment, still existed as a unit; the others were just remnants and battalions in name only. The division, unable to do anything for the 2nd Battalion at the bridge, dug in, forming a defensive perimeter around Oosterbeek with its base on the river. The remnants of the 10th and 156th Battalions at Wolfheze began to fall back, but several elements were surrounded and captured. Some 150 men of 156th Battalion were pinned down just west of the Oosterbeek. These men broke out in the late afternoon, with 90 of them making it into the perimeter. At the bridge, Lieutenant-Colonel Frost finally made radio contact with the division and was told that reinforcement was doubtful. Shortly afterwards, Frost was injured by a mortar bomb, and command passed to Major Frederick Gough. Gough arranged a two-hour truce to evacuate his wounded (including Frost), who were taken into captivity. That night, some units managed to hold out for a while and several tried to break out towards Oosterbeek, but by 05:00 on day five, all resistance at the bridge had ceased.
The division managed to hold on for nine days, until it was decided to withdraw back across the Rhine by rafts and boats. At 10:00 on the last day, the Germans launched an assault with infantry and tanks on the south-east portion of the perimeter. The assault penetrated the perimeter and threatened to cut off the division from the river. British counter-attacks, supported by artillery fire from south of the river, stopped the German assault. To prevent the Germans learning about the evacuation, the plan was kept secret until the afternoon, and some men (mainly wounded) remained behind to give covering fire through the night. By 05:00, 2,163 men had been rescued and the evacuation was ended.
The two parachute brigades had contained 3,082 men of the Parachute Regiment. Of these, 2,656 were killed or reported missing and only 426 made it to safety. The only awards of the Victoria Cross to the Parachute Regiment in the war were for the Battle of Arnhem. The two recipients were Captains John Hollington Grayburn and Lionel Queripel; both awards were posthumous.

Sniper from the 6th Airborne Division Ardennes, 14 January 1945.
On 16 December 1944, the German Army launched a surprise offensive against the 1st U.S Army through the Ardennes the Battle of the Bulge. The 6th Airborne Division, refitting in England, was flown to Belgium on 22 December to help stop the German attack. By 26 December, the division was in the Dinant and Namur area. On 29 December, they received orders to launch a counter-attack on the leading German units. The 13th Battalion, still part of the 5th Parachute Brigade, suffered the heaviest losses. Between 3–5 January, the battalion fought to capture the village of Bure. After they had taken the village, the battalion had to fight off a number of counter-attacks. By the end of the battle, their casualties were 68 dead and 121 wounded or missing.

Rhine crossing
The airborne assault over the Rhine (Operation Varsity), was the largest single airborne operation in the history of airborne warfare. Five battalions of the Parachute Regiment in the 6th Airborne Division took part.
The first unit to land was the 3rd Parachute Brigade (8th, 9th and 1st Canadian Battalions). The brigade suffered a number of casualties as it engaged the German forces in the Diersfordter Wald, but by 11:00, the DZ was almost cleared of German forces. The key town of Schnappenberg was captured by the 9th Battalion in conjunction with the 1st Canadian Battalion. Despite taking casualties, the brigade cleared the area of German forces, and by 13:45, the brigade reported it had secured all of its objectives.
The next unit to land was the 5th Parachute Brigade (7th, 12th and 13th Battalions). The poor visibility around the DZ made it difficult for the Paras to rally. The DZ came under heavy fire from German troops stationed nearby and was subjected to shellfire and mortaring which inflicted casualties in the battalion rendezvous areas. However, the 7th Battalion soon cleared the DZ of German troops, many of whom were situated in farms and houses, and the 12th and 13th secured the rest of the brigade's objectives. The brigade was then ordered to move due east and clear an area near Schnappenberg, as well as to engage German forces gathered to the west of the farmhouse where the 6th Airborne Division Headquarters was established. By 15:30, the brigade had secured all of its objectives and linked up with other British airborne units.

By nightfall of 24 March, out of the 7,220 men of the 6th Airborne Division who had taken part in the operation, 1,400 men had been reported killed, wounded or missing.
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