216 Parachute Signal Squadron
1st Parachute Brigade Signal Section 1941-1943   

Forming Up 1941

The decision to raise the first British parachute brigade was made by the War Office in July 1941. A few months later it was decided to form the first airlanding brigade and an airborne headquarters. These elements formed the basic structure of an embryo airborne division but it was not until well into 1942 that the other two airborne brigades started to form. 1st Parachute Brigade Signal Section (1), commanded by Lieutenant 'Paddy' Lyske, formed in late 1941. The Section consisted of 28 men and was accommodated in a tented camp on Bulford Field. By late 1942 there was a pressing need to deploy an airborne formation to North Africa and so 1st Parachute Brigade was earmarked for this independent deployment. The Brigade was made up to strength from men of 2nd Parachute Brigade that had only started to form a few months before.

North Africa 1942

The Allied invasion of North Africa incorporated for the first time, on any scale, the use of airborne forces. The Anglo-American sea-borne invasion of Morocco and Algeria (Operation TORCH) took place on 8 November 1942. The operation aimed at clearing Axis forces from the North African coast and at linking up with Allied forces already in Libya. The final objective was Tunis, to be achieved by a long approach from the initial landings to the West. The advance to Tunis was to be something of a race, as Axis forces were also aiming for this vital area of Tunisia with its important ports and airfields. Five separate battalion parachute drops were made in the early stages of the offensive and were designed to seize vital installations ahead of the advancing ground forces.

The first operation was undertaken by 2nd Battalion US 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment who had been attached to 1st Parachute Brigade in England some weeks before. The American battalion flew from England on the night of 7 November and, after various mishaps, dropped on Lourmel airfield in Morocco. Two teams from 1st Parachute Brigade Signal Section dropped with the Battalion and established the only effective communications with HQ British First Army who were controlling the ground offensive. Communications were established using the Wireless Set (WS) No 62. Capt Rowlands commanded the Signal Section at this stage.

On 9 November, 3rd British Parachute Battalion arrived from England by air at Maison Blanche airfield near Algiers. Three days later this battalion carried out a successful parachute drop on Bone airfield on the coast close to the Algerian Tunisian border. The airfield was captured and handed over to the advancing ground forces. 3rd Parachute Battalion returned to Maison Blanche to regroup with 1st Parachute Brigade who had by this time arrived in Algeria by sea from England. The Brigade had arrived at Algiers and had concentrated at Maison Blanche airfield ready for future operations.

The British First Army launched its attack into Tunisia on 15 November. The US Parachute Battalion dropped on the airfield at Tebessa and Youks les Bains on the day of the attack. The next day, 16 November, 1st Parachute Battalion took off from Maison Blanche airfield and dropped near Souk el Arba. Wireless communications were maintained with the Battalion throughout.

The fifth airborne operation involved 2nd Parachute Battalion who had up to now been held in reserve at Maison Blanche. On 29 November this Battalion dropped near Depienne to the south of Tunis. At the same time as this operation took place, the advance of the ground forces came to a halt and the race for Tunis was abandoned. The 2nd Battalion subsequently were involved in a bloody withdrawal and were not able to rejoin 1st Parachute Brigade until five days later .

During December the Brigade was employed as conventional infantry. It was not until they were moved back to Algiers by rail on 7- 8 January 1943 that they were able to rest. However, this was short lived as 1st Parachute Brigade moved east again on 28 January and were placed under command 6th Armoured Division. Brigade HQ was established at Bou Arada some 40 miles southeast of Tunis. The Brigade again moved into reserve at Boufarik near Algiers on 18 April.

It was at this time that 1st Airborne Division was moved to North Africa as part of a strategic redeployment of airborne forces. 1st Parachute Brigade was therefore able to regroup with its parent Airborne Division in May 1943 and spend some time in reorganising after the events of the previous six months.

Subsequent deployments of 1st Parachute Brigade are covered in the notes on 1st Airborne Division.