216 Parachute Signal Squadron
Our History - Introduction   

The success of German airborne forces in Denmark, Norway and Holland in the Spring of 1940 clearly demonstrated the tactical value of such operations. With this in mind, Mr Winston Churchill directed the War Office in June of that year to investigate the possibility of forming a British corps of at least 5,000 parachute troops. At this early stage in the war, great difficulty was encountered straightaway in identifying suitable aircraft for parachuting and, to make matters worse, it was still thought by some that glider operations offered greater tactical possibilities.

The Central Landing School, at Ringway Airfield, Manchester, nevertheless opened in June 1940 to train parachutists. By April 1941 sufficient training and development had been achieved for a parachute demonstration to be given to Mr Churchill at Ringway, albeit fairly scanty.

The German invasion of Crete in May 1941, which involved the successful use of German airborne forces yet again, prompted greater urgency for Britain to form and develop her own airborne units. The decision to form the first parachute brigade was taken in July 1941 and volunteers for duties involving parachuting were recruited from trained soldiers throughout the Army. In October 1941, 31st Independent Infantry Brigade Group, whose British battalions had just returned from India, was selected to form the first airlanding brigade, so called because it could be landed in gliders or aircraft. Also in October it was decided to create an Airborne Headquarters to co-ordinate the whole development and training of airborne forces, both parachute and glider.

Airborne Headquarters was first established in a basement in King Charles Street, London, and amongst the small number of officers (nicknamed the 'Dungeon Party') involved at this early stage of airborne forces development, was Major D Smallman-Tew in the appointment of Staff Officer Royal Signals.

It was from this relatively small number of officers and men in 1941 that British airborne forces subsequently developed and expanded. Over the next year more men were recruited from units throughout the Army to volunteer for airborne duties and were trained as parachutists or in gliderborne techniques. Equipment was designed, developed and brought into service so that by November 1942, 1st Parachute Brigade was ready for active service in North Africa.

It was also from these beginnings in 1941 that Airborne Signals came into existence. Airborne Brigade Signal Sections and their parent Airborne Divisional Signals were creations of the war. Men and equipment were gathered together in a hurry and their organisation evolved only with hard-won experience. Yet in spite of this, both 1st and 6th Airborne Divisional Signals earned a reputation second to none.

At Appendix 1 is a family tree which illustrates the genealogy of 6th Field Force HQ and Signal Squadron and is complementary to the individual regimental histories. Notes on parachute brigade and airlanding brigade signal sections have been included in the notes under their parent divisional signals, except where a brigade attained an independent status. In the latter case, separate notes are given under the appropriate brigade titles. An explanation is also given in the text when a unit title is changed. In this respect, it should be borne in mind that airborne signal units were obliged to conform with Royal Signals directives as well as those issued by airborne forces.