Overview of the Recce Squadron 1941 - 1946

The 1st Airborne Reconnaissance Squadron was formed in 1941 as a component of the new British 1st Airborne Division, a part of the response to Winston Churchill’s call for the formation of a corps of parachutists.

The role of the Recce Squadron was to scout ahead of the main body of the division and to ascertain and provide information about enemy strengths, positions and intentions. The unit travelled in jeeps, usually equipped with wireless sets. The jeeps were transported into action by gliders, some of the men travelling with their vehicles, whilst others arrived by parachute. The jeeps were not armoured, the occupants relying solely upon firepower and mobility to get them out of trouble. To this end, the jeeps carried a Vickers Gas Operated machine gun (the Vickers ‘K’ gun) a drum fed aircraft weapon with a high rate of fire, which was no longer needed by the Royal Air Force. The jeeps were specially modified for glider transportation and had to be unloaded on the drop-zone by means of removing the glider’s tail section and driving down a pair of ramps. This was not an easy job under ideal circumstances and perhaps impossible under enemy fire or if the glider had been damaged upon landing, which was often the case.Morale amongst the men was high, as every individual was a volunteer from other regiments of the British Army and had passed through the rigorous selection process for airborne and parachute training. Over all of them hung the threat of being returned to their parent unit if their conduct proved in any way unsatisfactory.The troops wore the distinctive parachutist’s camouflaged Denison Smock and the now-famous maroon beret. They carried .303 Lee Enfield No. 4 Rifles, STEN sub-machine guns and BREN light machine guns, with the automatic weapons in a higher proportion than for a normal infantry unit. Nonetheless, because airborne troops could only transport a limited amount of equipment, they lacked many of the heavy weapons possessed by more conventional units and unless they could swiftly link up with the ground troops, they were likely to be overwhelmed by the enemy.

Originally known as the “1st Airlanding Reconnaissance Squadron”, the unit served in North Africa and took part in the invasion of Italy in 1943. After its return home to England in early 1944, it became fully parachute trained and was re-named the “1st Airborne Reconnaissance Squadron”. Training for other operations was undertaken, but the squadron did not take part in the Normandy invasion of 6th June 1944. Following a long succession of cancelled operations (some even called off as the men boarded their aircraft) the squadron took part in Operation Market Garden, the battle for the Dutch town of Arnhem, in September of 1944.
This operation was intended to result in the seizure of several bridges over the River Rhine and thus facilitate an Allied thrust into Germany, which would bring the war in Europe to an end before Christmas. The squadron’s role was to seize the road bridge over the Rhine in Arnhem in a coup-de-main, in order to prevent the Germans from destroying it until the rest of the British parachutists arrived. Unfortunately, things did not go according to plan and the bulk of the unit never reached the bridge. With the rest of the 1st Airborne Division, they held out for nine days around Arnhem, against ever increasing odds, awaiting relief by the British 30 Corps, the ground based element of the operation. However, a link-up proved impossible and the Recce Squadron was evacuated along with the rest of the division’s survivors. The evacuation took place at night, across the Rhine, with 8,000 men being left behind as casualties or prisoners.

The Recce Squadron did not go into action again but moved to Norway at the end of the war, where they took part in an operation to disarm German troops there and to assist the resistance movement in the identification and segregation of known SS personnel and war criminals. The Squadron served in Palestine, before being disbanded in 1946.