216 Parachute Signal Squadron
2nd Independent Parachute Brigade Group Signal Company 1943-1945    

"LA TUM IN AETHERA"

Independence from 1st Airborne Division 1943

2nd Parachute Brigade started to form on 17 July 1942. The Signal Section (K), commanded by Captain A. Deane-Drummond MC, started to form in October and came together for the first time in a corrugated iron billet known as 'Five Winds' in Bulford at the outskirts of the main Camp on the Tidworth road. 2nd Parachute Brigade, as part of 1st Airborne Division, moved with the remainder of the Division to North Africa in April 1943. The Brigade's activities in North Africa are related in the notes on 1st Airborne Divisional Signals. However, when 1st Airborne Division was withdrawn from Italy back to UK in November 1943, 2nd Parachute Brigade remained in Italy under command 15 Army Group so that a balanced force remained in the theatre. The Brigade was immediately warned for future airborne operations in support of ground forces in Italy.

On 22 November 1943, 2nd Parachute Brigade was re-designated 2nd Independent Parachute Brigade Group. The Brigade had been enlarged to a brigade group size as a result of lessons learnt during the independent deployment of 1st Parachute Brigade to North Africa in 1942. The Signal Section was also enlarged to become a Signal Company and commanded now by Major R S Roberson.

Operations in Italy 1943-1944

On 2 December 1943, 2nd Independent Parachute Brigade Group came under command 2nd New Zealand Division and was placed on the Division's left flank as conventional infantry during the advance towards Orsogna. The Brigade, however, was on lighter scales than other brigades in theatre and command and control posed special problems particularly during an advance. Communications were achieved by making WS No 22 into mobile stations.

2nd New Zealand Division were relieved by 8th Indian Division on 16 January 1944 and the Brigade came under the command of the new Division. Parachute training was not forgotten and time was found to keep these skills up to date. In February the Brigade had a few days as Divisional Reserve near Castelfrentano. After a further spell back in the line, the Brigade Group left 8th Indian Division on the Sangro front on 26 March and went into reserve at Guardia.

The Brigade returned to under command 2nd New Zealand Division on 4 April and moved forward to the Cassino front. It was during this period that a Company of 4th Parachute Battalion mounted a diversionary attack behind the German lines. The Company Group, including signallers, were all taken prisoner. After a further period under 8th Indian Division, the Brigade was relieved from the line by 21st Independent Infantry Brigade on 16 April.

Rome fell in June 1944 and the Germans withdrew to defend the Gothic Line which crossed the country between Pesaro and Pisa. This withdrawal gave an opportunity for the Brigade to be deployed in an airborne role to harass the German withdrawal routes. Operation HASTY was carried out on 1 June 1944 and involved a group from 6th (Royal Welch) Parachute Battalion with men of the Brigade Signal Company. The group made an unopposed landing and successfully harassed the enemy on its withdrawal route to the east of Rome from Sora to Avezzano.

Operations in Southern France 1944

The strategic plan for the invasion of Europe included a delayed subsidiary attack through Southern France. 2nd Independent Parachute Brigade Group was selected to form, with certain American units, the 1st Airborne Task Force to carry out this operation (Operation ANVIL). On 12 July 1944 the Brigade was moved to Rome and released from its Eighth Army commitments.

Parachute and glider landings took place in the Cannes-Fayence area of Southern France on 15 August 1944. The Brigade Signal Company established communications on landing with 36 US Division who were leading the seaborne assault. By 17 August, 36 US Division had joined up with the Airborne Task Force; the operation had been highly successful.

Return to Italy 1944

On 24 August, 2nd Independent Parachute Brigade Group left France and returned to Italy by sea aboard an American liberty ship via Naples and arrived back at its airborne base in Rome on 3 September. Five days later the Brigade flew from Rome to a camp near San Pancrazio, near Taranto, in preparation for a possible operation in Greece.

Operations in Greece 1944

Plate 12. 2nd Parachute Brigade Signallers in Greece October 1944.

Taken on Megara airstrip, Greece, shortly after the landings. In the background is a WACO CG4A glider. Lance Corporal Auld is seen standing wearing a beret. Lance Corporal Haworth is seen kneeling with his WS No 18. The Greek boy in the foreground is wearing the denim over jacket used by parachutists to keep their kit from becoming entangled.

By courtesy of R Harrison Esq
Click on the picture to enlarge it.

The possibility of a German withdrawal from Greece gave rise to fears by the Allies that law and order would break down in the country, particularly in Athens. In anticipation of the events, the Brigade took off from Brindisi and landed on Megara airfield (Operation MANNA) west of Athens, on 17 October 1944 following the German withdrawal. The advance company of 4th Parachute Battalion, including a Signal Detachment, parachuted into Megara prior to the follow up of the remainder of the Brigade. Weather conditions were so bad that a vital message had to be passed back to the airborne base to postpone the arrival of the Brigade. Lance Corporal Stephenson with the Company and Sergeant Roberts at the airborne base in Brindisi were subsequently awarded BEMs for getting this vital message through. Brigade tasks included the occupation of Athens, maintenance of law and order and provision of supplies to the Greek people. The Brigade, with 23rd Armoured Brigade, remained in Greece in a policing role although they were involved in the early weeks in chasing the Germans in their withdrawal northwards. At one stage the Brigade returned to Rome leaving one battalion group in Greece. As soon as they arrived back in Rome, they were ordered to return to Greece on the outbreak of the Civil War. In December the Brigade were involved in street fighting in Athens against insurgents until the rebels were driven from the capital in January.

Return to England 1945

Later in January 1945, the whole Brigade left Greece and returned by sea to Italy.
On 6 May the Brigade was finally released from I5 Army Group on the conclusion of the final offensive which saw the link up between the Eighth Army and Yugoslav forces near Udine.

The Brigade returned to the Newbury-Hungerford area by sea in June and set about reorganising itself into a more conventional parachute brigade again. The Signal Company established itself in Hungerford at Littlecote House. It had originally been planned that the Brigade would deploy to the Far East and join 44th Indian Airborne Division. In the event, 2nd Parachute Brigade was regrouped in September with 6th Airborne Division and joined the Division in Palestine in early October. The Brigade moved by sea to Haifa in Palestine and established itself in Gaza. The notes on 6th Airborne Division in Palestine cover 2nd Parachute Brigade during this period.

Plate 13. Shows 6th Airborne Divisional Signals in May 1944
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