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Old 04-02-23, 01:45 AM
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tcrown tcrown is offline
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Default A Story of the British Parachute Distinguished Insignias

A few years back, I planned a bit of research on the various patches worn by the parachute battalions during WW2

After analyzing a lot of photos mainly from the IWM and Para Data collections, I tried to summarize and share my findings. I don’t pretend to provide an exact story of the evolution of the British Airborne Forces insignias but to offer my contribution to research on this topic. An abundant and very well documented literature exists already on British Airborne uniforms but somehow these books lack details about the chronology of the various patches. I’ve tried to fill the blanks with a special focus on the Parachute units.

This first post will cover the 1940 to 1942 period up until the creation of the Parachute Regiment.

1- Initial Regulations in the British Army

ACI 419 issued in May 1940 stated that Divisional Signs or badges will not be worn by British divisions during the war. This coincided with the introduction of Battle-Dress which was to provide an utilitarian uniform with no particular means to identify arms of service.
General Gort, Commander in Chief of the British Expeditionary Force at the time disapproved the decision and objected that Esprit de Corps, particularly in the Infantry would suffer if soldiers in Battle-Dress were not allowed to wear an emblem showing the regiment to which they belong.

ACI 1118 published on 18 September 1940 finally approved certain distinguished marks. For the early parachute troops, this translated into the introduction and approval of a special badge for wear by qualified parachutists through ACI 1589 dated 28 December 1940. As for Regimental flashes or other formation signs, there were none for the only parachute unit at the time – the 11th SAS.

11th SAS Feb 24 1941.jpg
Members of the 11st SAS photographed in Feb 1941 (source IWM)[/SIZE]

2- Introduction of Additional Formation Badges

ACI 2587 dated 27 December 1941 set out formation patches as well as arm-of-service strips, rank badge backing and regimental badges to be worn at the top of both sleeves of the Battle-Dress blouse.
The Army Air Corps had just been formed on 21 Dec 1941 with the intend of overseeing all airborne forces that were under (glider, parachute and air landing activities).

Around the end of 1941, a group of airborne officers led by Gen “Boy” Browning formed the “Dungeon Party”, so named as they were located in the basement of GHQ Home Forces in Storeys Gate London, to create British airborne forces. Gen Browning was acutely aware that the then fledgling airborne forces needed a powerful, unifying symbol, taking advantage of the fact that formation patches had just been authorized to be worn on Battle-Dress. The myth of Bellerophon astride Pegasus was chosen as the symbol of airborne forces. The design of the now famous Pegasus flash was commissioned by General Browning to Major Edward Seago, a reputable artist.

Dungeon Party mid 1942.jpg
The “Dungeon Party” ca mid 1942. Lt Col JA Goshen can be seen on the far right front row. He was the G4 logistics staff officer under Gen Browning (source ParaData)

It is believed that the Airborne signs (both curved and strip) were designed at the same time as the Pegasus patch and started to be issued in the course of 1942.
An interesting photo taken immediately after the return of the raid party to Bruneval aboard Prins Albert, shows that both printed Pegasus and Airborne strip had already started to be issued in early 1942.

John Frost and Lcl John Goshen aboard Prins Albert Portsmouth 28 fev 1942 H 17349.JPG
Lt Col John Goshen, G4 of Airborne Forces Staff, with Major Frost aboard Prins Albert in Portsmouth on Feb 28th 1942 (source IWM)

3 – The Use of Airborne Signs in the Early Days

So far, Airborne forces haven’t been formed into Regiments: Parachutes forces grouped in battalions and their members were still wearing the cap badge of their original regiments which didn’t provide a sense of unity. Having no regimental designation yet established, it is believed that the curved airborne sign was used as a shoulder title for providing a mean of identification on top of the parachute wings. This was also the case for the glider pilots until the creation of the Glider Pilot Regiment with effect from 24th Feb 1942. However, photos of members of the GPR exist indicating that the Airborne strip was worn in 1943 (source IWM H28694 & H28695).

The situation was much different for the glider or airlanding troops as they had been transferred or converted into airborne forces by formed regiments with their own designation. They already had their shoulder titles, although unofficial. So, for these airborne troops who were not parachutists, the Airborne strip was introduced in early 1942 which was to be worn below the Pegasus patches. The Airborne strip would later be officially authorized by ACI 2816 on 31 Oct 1942.

Airborne Patches Aug 1942 H22753.JPG
Printed Airborne shoulder titles issued to Parachute forces and to Glider pilots in 1942 (source IWM)

It seems that Airborne shoulder titles had been issued at the same period to qualified and active parachutists as we can see in the following photographs. ACI 2587 of 27 Dec 1941 didn’t authorize regimental designations except for the Household Cavalry and the Foot Guards. The designation ‘Airborne’ was added to the exceptions for the members of the Airborne troops.

25 March 1942 3rd Bat Inspection CH 5187.JPG
Inspection by HM the King of 3rd Parachute Battalion on Mar 25, 1942 (source IWM)

21 May 1942 Bulford H 19952.JPG
Inspection by HM the King of members of the 5th (Scottish) Parachute Battalion at the time in formation, with Brigadier Flavell and Maj Gen Browning on May 21, 1942 at Bulford (source IWM)

As usual, I would value any opinion on this topic. I plan to address the introduction of the ‘Parachute’ shoulder title in another post.
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