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23 Parachute Engineer Regiment provides, close and general engineer support to 16 Air Assault Brigade. The Regiment is held at a very high state of readiness and regularly called upon to deploy on operations across the globe. Insertion can be by parachute, helicopter or fixed wing aircraft.
Based in its flagship barracks (Rock Barracks) just outside Woodbridge in Suffolk, the Regiment consists of 2 Regular parachute squadrons and a Reserve parachute squadron, all of which are air assault capable.
Arduous training conditions the Regiment's soldiers for the challenges of operations. Much is asked of every member of the Regiment and in turn they are all highly valued for the roles they play.
With an overall strength of 543 personnel, 375 of which are to be filled with parachute trained personnel. There is therefore always a need for volunteers to attempt ‘P’ Company and go on to become an Airborne Sappers.
Airborne Engineer Reserve
The Regiment includes 299 Parachute Squadron Royal Engineers, a Reserve unit who are based across the North West of England providing close and general engineer support to 23 Parachute Engineer Regiment, the dedicated Regular Army Engineer unit in 16 Air Assault Brigade.
In order to carry out this highly specialist role, the Squadron needs well trained, physically and mentally robust soldiers who are capable of passing the famous parachute forces selection course ‘Pegasus Company’ (P Coy).
Upon successful completion of 'P’ Coy, soldiers are eligible to attend the Basic Parachute Course and qualify to wear the parachute wings and the coveted maroon beret of the British Airborne Forces.
Now based at Rock Barracks in Woodbridge, Suffolk with the rest of 23 Engineer Regiment (Air Assault), the squadron's history goes back to 1787, when the Chatham Company of " 'Royall Military Artificers' " was raised at Chatham, which, in 1806, was numbered 9 Field Company in Gibraltar.
The next hundred years of the squadron's history is rather meagre, but it is known to have served in the Kaffir Wars, the Crimean War, Bermuda, Halifax, Nova Scotia and Hong Kong. It was under the command of the 7th Division during the Boer War. During the First World War the company served with the 4th Infantry Division, bridging the Rivers Marne and Aisne, as well as taking part in the Battle of the Somme.
Second World War
The outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 saw 9th Field Company RE in France once again, still as part of the 4th Division. It took part in the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force from Dunkirk.
In May 1942, it was reorganised as 9 Field Company RE (Airborne). 9 Field Company RE (Airborne) became the engineer support for the newly formed 1st Air Landing Brigade, with about one third of the company being trained in the use of parachutes while the rest were trained as gliderborne troops.
The unit's first airborne operation was in Norway in 1942 when they were sent to destroy a heavy water plant. However, both gliders crash landed, and the few survivors were executed by the Gestapo. In 1943 9 Field Company RE (Airborne) also took part in further airborne operations in North Africa, Sicily and Italy.
Operation Market Garden
9 Field Company RE (Airborne) returned to the UK in November 1943 to prepare for D Day. In September 1944 the company took part in Operation Market Garden. With the exception of two gliders that crash landed, the remainder of the unit landed safely at Arnhem, where they played an important role in the defence of the bridge. The platoon was used as the counter-attack force by Lt Col John Frost, the Commanding Officer of 2nd Battalion The Parachute Regiment, and fought with great bravery in the infantry role. However, they took heavy casualties, with just 57 of the original company of 215 men returning to the UK, the rest being captured or killed.
Post Second World War
On VE Day, 1st Airborne Division was ordered to Norway to accept the surrender of the 400,000 German soldiers there. After VJ Day 9th Airborne Squadron went to Palestine with the 6th Airborne Division. The squadron had a difficult time in Palestine, being sent to clear the King David Hotel in Jerusalem after a horrific bomb attack. In Palestine the squadron lost three men killed in action.
9 Independent Airborne Squadron RE accompanied the Division to Germany, returning to the UK in 1950, since when the squadron has served on active service in countries such as Egypt, Cyprus, Jordan, Kuwait, Bahrain, Aden, Radfan, Borneo, Rhodesia as well as six full tours and two spearhead tours of duty in Northern Ireland.
Falklands War 1982
1976, 16 Independent Parachute Brigade disbanded and 9 Independent Parachute Squadron RE lost its independence and became part of 36 Engineer Regiment, based at Maidstone. 9 Parachute Squadron RE, as it was now called, was to remain in Aldershot to support the Parachute Battalions. In April 1982, the squadron embarked for the Falkland Islands as part of 5 Infantry Brigade. In true sapper tradition, the squadron was involved in the thick of the action from clearing minefields to repairing bridges. Sergeant Ron Wrega, Sergeant Pete Colclough and Corporal John Foran won the Military Medal during the conflict.
After the Falklands War, the squadron had tours in Belize, Kenya, the Falklands and Canada. In 1987, in the Royal Engineers 200th Anniversary Year, the squadron was selected to provide the Royal Guard. After six weeks of intense training, the squadron provided the guard for Buckingham Palace, St. James's Palace and for the Tower of London. They were also given the duty of guarding the Royal London Palaces in 2009, 21 years after first performing the task.
July and November 1994, the squadron served in Rwanda as part of the UNAMIR mission, for which it was jointly awarded the Wilkinson Sword of Peace. In Rwanda, the squadron contributed to the stabilising of the difficult situation and to the rebuilding of the country’s infrastructure. This was achieved by providing sterilised water, constructing roads and bridges (including the longest operationally constructed Bailey Bridge since the Second World War), providing support to medical and dental facilities, general artisan trade work and mine clearance.
September 1998 squadron was deployed to Bosnia, being involved in repairing, reinforcing and replacing camp structures. In June 1999, 100 soldiers from the squadron were deployed to Kosovo, where they were involved in the clearing and securing of the mountain corridor to Kaçanik to enable 4 Brigade to pass through. In addition, members of the squadron deployed on a UN mission to Cyprus.
Between April – October 2000, the squadron deployed on another tour to Northern Ireland, carrying out various tasks across the province and dismantling the famous golf towers of South Armagh.
August 2001, the squadron deployed to the Republic of Macedonia as part of the Multi National Force on Operation BESSEMER. The main squadron task was in support of the weapons collection operation. Members of the squadron also provided the vital infrastructure required to sustain such an operation, as well as constructing extensive force protection measures. During the operation, Recce Troop, on their debut deployment, carried out vital route reconnaissance and with the assistance of geo technicians, produced mapping of routes throughout the country. During this operation, Sapper Ian Collins was killed by Macedonian youths.
December 2001 saw a very quick deployment to Afghanistan, having only just returned from Macedonia. The squadron had an integral part to play in the International Security Assistance Force on Operation FINGAL. The squadron, based out of Kabul, provided vital infrastructure and force protection in support of 2 PARA Battlegroup, as part of the Multi National Engineer Group.
Since 1976 the squadron had been under command of 36 Engineer Regiment, However, January 2003 saw the formation of 23 Engineer Regiment (Air Assault) and with it the command change of 9 Parachute Squadron to the new RHQ. The squadron currently serves as part of 23 Engineer Regiment (Air Assault) in Woodbridge (Suffolk) and provides close engineer support to 16 Air Assault Brigade. The squadron remains the longest continually serving in-role fighting unit in Airborne Forces.
squadron recently returned home with the rest of 23 Engineer (Air Assault) from Afghanistan. They absorbed the tasks of 12 (Nova Scotia) Headquarters and Support (Air Assault) Squadron which was placed in suspended animation.