[ Sgt Michael Willetts & Sgt Walter Beard ]

History of British Airborne Forces

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This note from Winston Churchill to General Sir Hastings Ismay, the head of the Defence Office, began it all. The Central Landing School was established at the Ringway Civil Airport outside of Manchester, England on June 21, 1940 under the direction of Major John Rock of the Royal Engineers. The first recruits for the brand new British parachute units were all volunteers from the Commandos, mainly the newly formed No. 2 Commando. England was now ready to begin training their new paratroop forces. There was, however, a slight problem. Unlike the Germans, who were trained by the experienced Russian paratroopers, Great Britain was entering virgin territory. Never before has such an undertaking ever been attempted. There was no equipment, no training guides, no jump apparatus of any kind, nor any experienced jumpmasters to lean upon. All they had were a few hundred parachutes and some outdated bombers to jump out of. The Center Landing School had just six months to accomplish what it took the Germans six years to develop: an airborne unit comprised of experienced, elite paratroopers. 

Instructors for the new school were few and far between. None of them had ever witnessed the procedures for a mass airborne drop of a battle-ready combat force before. The Germans were with the Russians almost every step of the way during the development of the theory of "Vertical Invasion" (as the Soviets called it). To make matters even worse, the old Whitney Mk III bombers that were to be used as training planes had to be completely converted for the task. First the rear gun turrets had to be removed to allow for a jumping platform. In this configuration, the Parachute Jump Instructors (or "PJI") pulled the ripcord from the recruit and the slipstream pulled the chute open. This caused the recruits to fully wildly out of the airplane and into their descent. Not to mention the hazard for the PJI who had to stand in an open doorway during the entire jump procedure. It was then decided to cut a hole in the floor of the old bomber to allow the recruits to jump down and out of the airplane. This proved to be just as dangerous as many a recruit bashed his head on the floor while exiting the plane. It was finally decided to cut a door in the side of the plane in the fashion of the German paratroopers jumping out of the Ju88s.

By August of 1940, 290 recruits had progressed to regular jumps and, in a little over a month, completed almost 1,000 jumps between them. As the training progressed, it was soon discovered that the padded clothing they were originally issued was too bulky. This began the process of wearing the regular Battledress uniform under the parachutists' smock. Another problem was the amount of gear that could be carried by a parachutists without having too much weight forcing him to slam into the ground like a sack of wet potatoes. By the end of the first six month period, 488 men had completed their airborne training and started the 11th Special Air Service Battalion.

The beginning (above) & now


Fat Alberts. C130 ... Lockheed Hercules
Work horse of the RAF

'Fat Albert' is now nearly 50 years old - and it is small wonder that.

Hercules ...It is a nickname that local people use with some affection when talking of the C-130 Lockheed Hercules, a common sight in the skies over Swindon from their base at RAF Lyneham for nearly 50 years. Even though a day hardly seemed to go by without at least one Fat Albert swooping over the town, there are probably more of them than you might think.

RAF Lyneham was home to no less than 61 of them at one point - which is almost all of the Fat Alberts flying RAF colours - and the base was until 2011 operational for 24 hours a day and 365 days a year.

Since 2001 they have seen active service in the Gulf, where they have been invaluable in transporting troops and equipment to and from Afganistan and Iraq. Most unfortunately too often flying home victims of the conflict.

50 year anniversary
It's hard to believe, the first Fat Albert rolled off the production line in 1955 and are still the world's most popular transport aircraft. Their appeal lying in their tremendous versatility. The USAF has highly effective gunship versions called Spectres and if you replace a Fat Albert's undercarriage wheels with skis he will gladly land on ice in Antartica. But Fat Albert has earned himself and the RAF as much respect for work during peacetime as for military roles. He has proved a welcome sight for many Third World countries as he flies in to drop aid - and will surely always remain a welcome sight in the skies above Swindon, too.

Fat Alberts are 97ft (29m) long, but their wingspan is even greater - 132 feet (40m). They stand 38ft (11m) high. RAF Lyneham covers 2,500 acres and has 3.5 miles of runways.

Fat Alberts can carry over 17.6 tonnes (38,900lbs) of freight, or 17 cargo pallets, or 4 vehicles and trailers, or 128 troops, or 92 paratroops, or 97 stretcher cases. There are 690 operational buildings at RAF Lyneham and 1,000 married quarters.

Fat Alberts have a maximum cruising speed of 374mph (602kph).
RAF Lyneham uses 12 million gallons of aviation fuel a year.

Fat Alberts have a range of 2,356 miles (3,791km) with a maximum payload and have a ceiling of 42,900ft (13km). An average of 38 sorties are flown from RAF Lyneham in a typical day.

Fat Alberts carry around 150,000 passengers a year.
RAF Lyneham once had over 3,000 service and civilian personnel.

16 Air Assault Brigade was formed on 01 September 1999 following the Strategic Defence Review. It was born of an amalgamation of elements of 5 Airborne Brigade and 24 Airmobile Brigade, bringing together the agility and reach of airborne forces with the potency of the attack helicopter. The Brigade's name is derived from 1st and 6th Airborne Divisions, which saw distinguished service during the Second World War. 16 Air Assault Brigade's 'Striking Eagle' badge was adopted from the Special Training Centre in Lochailot, Scotland, where Special Forces and Airborne troops were trained between 1943 and 1945. The maroon and light blue colours of the badge represent the airborne and aviation elements of the Brigade respectively. As the British Army's premier rapid response formation, 16 Air Assault Brigade has served in the vanguard of recent operational deployments to Sierra Leone, Macedonia, Iraq and Afghanistan.

With 8,000 personnel, 16 Air Assault Brigade is the largest Brigade in the British Army. Its structure makes it highly flexible and capable. The Units, listed below, provide Air Assault Infantry, Parachute Battalions, Signals, Pathfinders, Attack and Utility Aviation, Artillery, Engineers, Armoured Recce, Logistic and Equipment Support, Medical and Provost capabilities. In combination with Offensive Air Support, Air Transport and Support Helicopters, the Brigade is a light, adaptable and potent force, packing a heavy punch wherever required around the world. It remains at high readiness as the UK's Airborne Task Force.


The Brigade has recently returned from its deployment on Operation HERRICK 13 in Afghanistan (Oct 2010-Apr 2011), where it was the lead formation in command of Task Force Helmand, in Lashkar Gah. It has now handed over control to 3 Commando Brigade, Royal Marines, supported by units of 7th Armoured Brigade. Based in Colchester, Essex, the Brigade Headquarters is formed from both Army and RAF personnel enabling it to integrate Air and Land operations. 16 Air Assault Brigade is the only Operational Brigade in the British Army capable of delivering Air Manoeuvre, Air Assault and Airborne operations.

Units and elements of 16 AIR ASSAULT BRIGADE:

216 (Parachute) Headquarters and Signal Squadron
1 Mechanized Brigade HQ and Signal Squadron (215)
102 Logistic Brigade
104 Logistic Support Brigade
7th Parachute Regiment Royal Horse Artillery
Household Cavalry Regiment
5th, 16th,32nd,39th and 47th Regiment Royal Artillery
23 Engineer Regiment (Air Assault)
1st Battalion Irish Guards
The Royal Highland Fusilier, 2nd Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland
The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, 5th Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland
1st Battalion, the Royal Irish Regiment
2nd Battalion, the Parachute Regiment
3rd Battalion, the Parachute Regiment
Pathfinder Group
1, 3, 4 and 9 Regiment Army Air Corps
9 Regiment Royal Logistic Corps
11 Explosive Ordnance Disposal Regiment, The Royal Logistic Corps
13 Air Assault Support Regiment Royal Logistic Corps
16 Medical Regiment, royal Army Medical Corps
7 (Air Assault) Battalion Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers
156 Provost Company, Royal Military Police
158 Provost Company, Royal Military Police
1st Military Working Dog Regiment
The Honourable Artillery Company

Reservist Regiments:
100-106 Regiment Royal Artillery
101 Engineer Regiment (EOD)
7th Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland
2 Royal Irish
The London Regiment
The Welsh Transport Regiment, RLC
166 Supply Regiment, RLC
168 Pioneer Regiment, RLC
101 Force Support Battalion, REME
103 Battalion, REME
Military Provost Staff

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