The 3rd Parachute Brigade was formed on the 5th November 1942, under the command of Brigadier Gerald Lathbury, who had previously commanded the 3rd Parachute Battalion. The Brigade's three battalions, the 7th, 8th and 9th, had been formed from a nucleus of existing Regiments and then reinforced by men from similar units; the 7th (Light Infantry) Parachute Battalion largely consisted of Light Infantrymen. The Brigade had been formed to become a part of the 1st Airborne Division, which had recently lost the 1st Parachute Brigade when it was dispatched to North Africa as an independent formation. On the 1st May 1943, however, the Division was summoned to that region to rejoin the Brigade and to take part in the invasions of Sicily and Italy. The 3rd Parachute Brigade, which also lost Brigadier Lathbury to the 1st Airborne, was left behind to form the basis of the 6th Airborne Division. Its new commander was Brigadier James Hill, an experienced parachutist who had seen action in North Africa and most recently commanded the 9th Parachute Battalion.


The Brigade had suffered a further loss to the 1st Airborne Division, a substantial proportion of its infantry strength had been posted to the 1st Parachute Brigade to replace the many casualties that they had suffered during five months of heavy fighting in North Africa. Worse was to follow in July when the 7th Battalion was transferred to the newly formed 5th Parachute Brigade. Hill was very sorry to lose them, although he was delighted with their replacement, the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, who joined the Brigade on the 11th August 1943. Canadian soldiers had acquired a fine reputation for their fighting ability, and as these men were the only airborne soldiers that Canada possessed, they were amongst their best.




When Major-General Gale was first informed of the role that the 6th Airborne Division was to play in the Normandy landings, he was asked to select just a single Brigade to capture the Bénouville and Ranville bridges. Based on their seniority, Gale immediately recommended the 3rd Parachute Brigade, but he was worried that this would be too small a force to hold such an objective. Nevertheless Brigadier Hill commenced planning the operation and quickly concluded that a coup-de-main raid on the bridge using glider troops was essential, and so "D" Company and two platoons of "B" Company the 2nd Oxford & Bucks Light Infantry were placed under his command. Very soon, however, the decision was made to commit the 6th Airborne Division in its entirety to the operation, and so the capture of the bridges fell to other troops and the 3rd Parachute Brigade was assigned the new role of holding the Division's eastern flank.


Of all the units of the 6th Airborne Division, the 3rd Parachute Brigade were the most seriously tested during the first week of the landings. Their losses incurred on the drop zones on the first night had been severe, and were further worsened by the casualties suffered by the 9th Parachute Battalion when assaulting the Merville Battery. Thereafter the Brigade's position, along the ridge to the east of Ranville, became the main focus of enemy attacks. Although weak and spread thinly along a wide front, they stubbornly clung to its positions and bloodily repulsed every attack that was made on its lines. Their magnificent performance during these days is frequently overlooked, yet it surely ranks as one of the more remarkable achievements in the history of the Parachute Regiment.


Upon their withdrawal to England in September 1944, the primary concern of the 6th Airborne Division was the replacement of the heavy losses that it had sustained in the previous three months. The proportion of dead, wounded and missing in the 3rd Parachute Brigade may be put at about 75%. Over the coming months its strength was restored and the men were trained back to a full state of physical fitness, something which had unavoidably slipped as a result of several months of static defence in Normandy.




The 6th Airborne Division was called to intervene in the German offensive through the Ardennes on the 20th December 1944. On the 29th of that month they attacked the tip of the German thrust and the 3rd Parachute Brigade was given responsibility for the Rochefort sector, which they took after meeting stiff resistance. After several months of heavy patrolling, in Belgium and, in February, Holland, the Division was withdrawn to England.


The Rhine Crossing


On the 24th March 1945, the 6th Airborne Division took part in Operation Varsity, the largest single lift of Airborne troops in history. The 3rd Para Brigade descended on DZ-A, the western-most and smallest zone, some two miles from the main concentration of the Division. They arrived nine minutes ahead of schedule and, having surprised the Germans, the leading aircraft were able to drop their parachutists without too much interference from anti-aircraft fire. The 8th Parachute Battalion landed first and immediately went about their task of securing the zone. Brigade Headquarters, the 1st Canadian and lastly the 9th Parachute Battalions followed, by which time the anti-aircraft fire had intensified and losses were sustained. For the most part the 8th Battalion quickly overran opposition on the drop zone, however "B" Company landed in an unfavourable position and suffered many casualties whilst overcoming two German parachute platoons dug in on their woodland objective.


Most notable amongst the losses that the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion suffered during the drop was their commander, Lieutenant-Colonel Nicklin, who was shot and killed when he landed in a tree directly over a German machine-gun position. Despite being handicapped by casualties, missing officers and fierce enemy resistance, the Battalion quickly secured its objectives and held them against counterattack and shellfire for the remainder of the day. The 9th Battalion did not suffer so heavily on the drop, and following a brisk action "A" Company secured an area of high ground to the south of DZ-A, whilst "B" Company overran an artillery position that was firing on the British ground troops crossing the Rhine. Resistance continued throughout the day but gradually slackened, and increasing numbers of German soldiers surrendered. A small Canadian patrol gathered in one hundred prisoners by themselves. The 3rd Parachute Brigade suffered the least of all the units in the 6th Airborne Division on this day, and during the mid-afternoon they had linked up with the advancing ground forces.


Once the bridgehead had been made secure, the Allied armies pushed deeper into Germany with the 6th Airborne Division leading the British advance. The 3rd Parachute Brigade were initially held in reserve, but on the 26th March they crossed the River Issel and on the following day pushed north-east with the tanks of the 3rd Battalion The Scots Guards in support. The 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion secured the village of Burch without much difficulty, however they soon came under shellfire and took numerous casualties. With only a few heavy machine-guns for support, "B" Company advanced across open ground to assault the woods from where the fire was coming, however the enemy fled without a struggle. On the same day the 9th Battalion secured Klosterlutherheim and in the process took one-hundred and eighty Germans prisoner.


On the 28th March, the 8th Battalion, accompanied by the 6th Airborne Armoured Reconnaissance Regiment, advanced towards the major town of Lembeck, where it became clear that the Germans intended to fight. To prevent an enemy withdrawal, the 9th Battalion secured the left flank of the town whilst the 8th Battalion attacked it. The latter soon became bogged down and a flanking attack by the Canadians was required to disentangle them. The 8th Battalion continued to encounter fierce enemy resistance as it pushed on, but by the end of the day they had routed this opposition and gained a firm foothold in the town.


On the 30th March, riding on the backs of the tanks of the 4th Battalion The Grenadier Guards, the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion made excellent progress as they led the Division's push to the crossing over the River Ems at Greven. According to their maps, the town had only one bridge, and during the night the Canadians thought they had captured it without much difficulty, however it soon became clear that there were in fact two bridges, and the one they had taken led only to an island in the middle of the river. The 9th Battalion discovered the correct bridge in time for it to be blown up by the Germans, but they managed to use a small footbridge to cross to the far bank, where they were locked in a sharp fight with the enemy until the following morning. Royal Engineers began the construction of a proper Bailey Bridge to ford the river, whilst the Division's own 249th Field Company strengthened another which enabled the 8th Battalion to cross and continue the Brigade's advance. They arrived at the Dortmund-Ems Canal to find bridges there had similarly been destroyed.


On the 3rd April, the Brigade, enjoying the luxury of motor transport for all of its units, made swift progress and by the end of the day the 9th Battalion, after a fierce action, took Wissingen. On the following day the Canadians took the town of Lubbecke without meeting resistance. The 8th Battalion then took over but became bogged down when they were halted near Minden. During the night the whole Brigade, together with the tanks of the Grenadier Guards, battled hard for control of the city and overcame final resistance during the early hours of the morning.


On the 30th April, the Division received orders to make with all haste to the town of Wismar, near the Baltic Sea, to head off the advancing Russians and to stop them from advancing into Denmark. The 5th Parachute Brigade was to lead the Division, but proceeding along a different route and with the tanks of the Royal Scots Greys in support, Brigadier James Hill insisted on racing them to this final objective. Both routes became blocked by fleeing refugees, but in the event the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion won the race and met only light resistance as they entered Wismar on the morning of the 2nd May. The Russians arrived in the late afternoon and Lieutenant-Colonel Napier Crookenden, commander of the 9th Battalion, was sent to greet them. With the assistance of a pair of Russian-speaking Canadians, he was speaking with his Russian counterpart when a column of Russian tanks overtook them and proceeded westward. He caught them up just as they came face to face with several of the Brigade's 17-pounder anti-tank guns.


Towards the end of May, the 3rd Parachute Brigade returned to England with the remainder of the Division. On the 31st May, the Brigade waved a sad farewell to the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, who had received their own orders to return home. Another unfortunate loss was that of Brigadier Hill, he was replaced by the Brigade's founding commander, Brigadier Gerald Lathbury.




To make up for the loss of the Canadians, the Brigade received the 3rd Parachute Battalion in time for its departure to Palestine in late 1945. The Division served here until 1948, and during this time the 3rd Parachute Brigade policed numerous hot spots, enforcing road blocks, curfews, weapons searches and putting down riots. The Brigade, however, only survived until October 1947, when it was disbanded and its battalions merged and assigned to other Brigades. Out of this were formed the 2nd/3rd and the 8th/9th Parachute Battalions, both of which were given to the 1st Parachute Brigade.


Commanders of the 3rd Parachute Brigade



Brigadier Gerald Lathbury DSO


Brigadier James Hill DSO MC


Brigadier Gerald Lathbury DSO


Brigadier F. D. Rome