The 4th Parachute Squadron Royal Engineers

On 24 June 1940, Major (later Lieutenant Colonel) JF Rock, Royal Engineers, was ordered to take charge of the organization of airborne troops and to collaborate with the RAF in their training. By October 1940 the Central Landing School (CLS - later known as the No 1 Parachute Training School), a parachute training centre, was fully operational at Ringway airport, Manchester. Squadron Leader Louis Strange DSO MC DFC of the Royal Air Force was appointed as commanding officer and he arrived at Ringway on 21 June on the official formation of the CLS.

By October 1942 another training establishment was set up in Netheravon, Wiltshire.

Paratroop drop 1942
Paratroops on a training drop.
The aircraft is a Whitley
2 October 1942

In November 1941 the 1st Airborne Division was formed, Lieutentant Colonel (later Brigadier Sir) Mark "Honker" Henniker MC RE was appointed its CRE and its divisional engineers were:

  • 9th Airborne Field and 261st Airborne Field Park Companies (less a bridging section).

More airborne engineer units followed:

  • 1st Parachute Squadron (1942) - as part of 1st Airborne Division.
  • 2nd Parachute Squadron formed from the Holding Company, Kent Fortress, Royal Engineers. (1942).
  • 3rd Parachute Squadron formed from 280th Field Company (1943) - as part of 6th Airborne Division.
  • 4th Parachute Squadron formed from volunteers from the Corps (1943) - as part of 1st Airborne Division.
  • 591st (Antrim) Parachute Squadron, 249th Airborne Field Company and 286th Airborne Field Park Company all formed from existing units (1943) - as part of 6th Airborne Division.
  • 1st Airborne Division Postal Unit formed from volunteers from the Royal Engineers (Postal Section) (1942) - as part of 1st Airborne Division.
  • 6th Airborne Division Postal Unit formed from volunteers from the Royal Engineers (Postal Section) (1943) - as part of 6th Airborne Division.

Horsa glider
Paratroopers dismounting (24 June 1943) from a Airspeed Horsa, which became the standard assault glider. The 9th Airborne Field Company, Royal Engineers was deployed in this type of aircraft during the invasion of Sicily (10 July 1943).

In 1942 the Glider Pilot Regiment was formed. Lieutenant Colonel JF Rock, Royal Engineers was appointed its Commanding Officer, but unfortunately the following year he was tragically killed in a glider accident.
 

 

 

 


 

Operation Market: 4th Parachute Squadron DZ and LZ
18 September 1944

A basic outline:

After the succesfull landings in Normandy and the allied campaign through western europe.
the allied armies, still relying on supplies and reenforcements coming from Normandy, found themselves grinding to a halt.
A plan was devised by FieldMarshall Montgomery to secure the port of Antwerp and thus shorten supplylines.
At the same time a powerful thrust into occupied Holland made it possible to move around the siegfriedline and strike a blow at the heart of the german warindustry in the ruhr area.
If all went well the war would be ended before christmas.

The plan consisted of a corridor cracked open by 3 Airborne divisions. They were to secure crucial bridges at Eindhoven, Nijmegen and Arnhem.=The Airborne troops were to be relieved in a few days by the British XXX corps.

The US 101st division was scheduled to be dropped around Eindhoven, the US 82nd around Nijmegen, and the grandprize befell the British 1st airborne division; the Arnhem bridges.

4 Para Sqn RE commanded by Major AJM Perkins RE, was part of Brigadier "Shan" Hackett's 4 Para Brigade.
Leaving the base at Uppingham on the 18th to depart from Spanhoe Airfield in 9 C47 Dakota's
4 Horsa gliders were towed in by Stirlings of 196 and 299 Sqn RAF from Keevil airfield in Wiltshire

 


 

The Second Lift on the 18th brought the 4th Parachute Brigade with 4th Parachute Squadron RE and elements of 9th (Airborne) Field Company RE and 261 (Airborne) Field Park Company RE to theatre.

Unfortunately the element of surprise had been lost by the time this Brigade arrived and so both the parachutists and gliders were fired upon as they descended or attempted to land. At the DZ the Squadron's Officer Commander, Major AJM Perkins RE dislocated his shoulder on landing.

Operation Market Garden - Dropping Zone
One of the dropzones near Arnhem.

Battle of Arnhem map (115kb)
Map showing the British and Polish Dropping Zones (DZ) at Arnhem - 17-21 September 1944.
In the upper left corner the 4th Para Brigade DZ and LZ

 

 


 

4th Parachute Brigade activities
18-20 September

 

Meanwhile, on 17th September the 1st Airlanding Brigade remained in the vicinity of the landing areas to guard them for the arrival of 4th Parachute Brigade with 4th Parachute Squadron RE on the 18th.

The arrival of 4th Parachute Brigade was delayed by fog in England and it did not appear till late in the afternoon by which time the situation of 1st Parachute Brigade was serious. The two battalions with the balance of 1st Parachute Squadron RE had suffered heavy casualties and, owing to a breakdown in wireless communication, were somewhat disorganized.
After they had landed the 4th Parachute Brigade, tried to force an entry into Arnhem by a route to the north, but were stopped by German forces and suffered heavily. During this action 4th Parachute Squadron RE acted as the Brigade's rear guard.

By the 19th, it was clear that no further ground could be gained in Arnhem and that the bridge could not be fully captured intact. It was decided that it was only possible to hold an area around Oosterbeek and await the arrival of XXX Corps from the south.

During the 4th Parachute Brigade's withdrawal into Oosterbeek, Major AJM Perkins RE, Officer Commanding 4th Parachute Squadron RE was sent ahead to find appropriate routes into the village, which he did.

 



Oosterbeek Perimeter defence
20-25 September 1944

Oosterbeek, a village located on the north bank of the Neder Rijn a couple of miles west of Arnhem,  was chosen as a consolidation area for 1 Airborne Division. A defensive perimeter was accordingly formed (see Map) and the Royal Engineer units, along with other troops, were allotted sectors in its defence.

(Only a couple of those Royal Engineers engaged in the battle of Arnhem bridge managed to get to Oosterbeek).
 

The 4th Parachute Squadron guarded the north-west tip of the perimeter, with a detechment of glider-pilots on their left-, and KOSB elements on their right flank.
They were basically dug in the front yard of  "Ommershof house" which served has HQ for Major "Boy" Wilson and the 21st independent parachute company.

They were able to resist numerous attacks from the north and west.
And managed to destroy at least one german self propelled gun, before withdrawing to positions around Hartenstein and utlimately evacuation across the river.

 

 

 

 



Epilogue

 

The 4th Parachute Squadron Royal Engineers went into combat
with 155 men in total. After 8 days of combat
19 were killed,
72 reported missing or taken prisoner
64 were evacuated to the southern bank of the river Rhine.


The rescued airborne troops were immediately returned to Britain. General Urquhart, who stayed with Field Marshal Montgomery on his way home, was given a letter by Montgomery to be read out to all the airborne troops on his return, it contained the following sentence:

In the years to come
it will be a great thing for a man
to be able to say: 'I fought at Arnhem'.