A soldier of the 2nd Parachute Brigade poses for a photograph to help identify British parachutists to American units


In June 1944, the 2nd Parachute Brigade, less the 60 men of the 6th Battalion who were engaged on Operation Hasty, embarked upon a period of intense training for the invasion, beginning with a number of parachute drops for the troops to reacquaint themselves with the techniques which they had not put into practice for many months. Conventional training followed in July and numerous exercises were held, usually preceded by a TEWT (Tactical Exercise Without Troops), where the officers would test the theory before putting it into practice with the men. For the parachute battalions, much of the training was left to the discretion of individual company commanders, but besides the usual route marches and tactical manoeuvres, particular emphasis was placed on map reading and signal exercises.


The Brigade's supporting elements trained according to their area of expertise. The 2nd Parachute Squadron practiced mine-laying, bridge reconnaissance and setting up road blocks, while the 64th Airlanding Light and 300th Airlanding Anti-Tank Batteries fired their guns on the range and rehearsed loading them into and removing them from gliders. They also had their first experience of glider flight courtesy of the 1st Independent Glider Pilot Squadron, who had been based in Sicily since December 1943 and had only recently joined the Brigade. The pathfinders of the 1st Independent Parachute Platoon completed a successful trial of the new Crest beacon, which they would use in France alongside the more familiar Eureka, and in early July carried out a night exercise, accurately directing a supply drop onto their position. On the 19th July, they joined the American pathfinders at Marcigliano, and began training with the specialist aircrews who would be flying them to France.


As the 2nd Parachute Brigade was now a part of the 1st Airborne Task Force, and by extension the 7th US Army, Brigadier Pritchard and his staff held several meetings with their American counterparts to discuss the forthcoming operation and to better acquaint themselves with each other and their procedures. Some in the Brigade also had the chance to familiarise themselves with American weapons, should they have to use them on the battlefield. In early July, a group of officers and NCO's from the 4th Battalion attended a weapons course with the 45th Infantry Division, and later in the month the 5th Battalion were visited by men of the 2nd Battalion, 517th Parachute Infantry Regiment, who swapped firearms and no doubt had a jolly time becoming accustomed to them.


Despite all of this activity, there were still ample opportunities for recreation. Sporting events were held including regular football matches, and each unit was permitted to send a detachment into Rome every day to sample its delights.


The culmination of this training came on the 4th August with Exercise Thistledown; a full scale dress rehearsal for the invasion with the entire parachute element of the Brigade scheduled to drop in a valley near Lake Bracciano. The 1st Independent Parachute Platoon, who had spent what would prove to be several extremely valuable weeks carrying out night navigational exercises with their dedicated pathfinder aircrews, landed on target even though a thick covering of fog had completely obscured the drop zone. They successfully set up their lights and beacons in time for the arrival of the main lift, only to discover that it had been cancelled due to the weather. Despite this anti-climax, Thistledown had nevertheless been a useful exercise as it had achieved its primary purpose of rehearsing the move to the airfields, the organisation of these, and liaison with the aircrews prior to take-off.


As the Brigade was the only British Army unit to take part in Operation Dragoon, every man was issued with a Union Flag armband to wear on their right arm as an identification aid to distinguish friend from foe.