Tuesday, March 2, 2010

131 Sqn Potted History

131 Sqn helped with this Potted History.

1947 .... With the Reformation of the Territorial Army, the Unit was raised as 131 Airborne Engineer Regiment (TA) in support of of 16 Airborne Division (TA).
The Division took its it number from the WW2 1st & 6th Airborne Divisions, now disbanded.The Division was commanded by Major-General Roy Urquhart, of Arnhem fame and consisted of three (TA) parachute brigades, each of three parachute battalions (44, 45 & 46 Parachute Brigades).
All volunteers had to undertake training with 'P' Company to gain their Red Berets and earn their Parachute Wings at RAF Abingdon.
The Regiment provided a Squadron of Parachute Engineers to support each Brigade:
299 Airborne Field Squadron RE (TA) based in Hull
300 Airborne Field Squadron RE (TA) based in Liverpool
301 Airborne Field Squadron RE (TA) based in Croydon
302 Airborne Field Squadron RE (TA) based in Hendon
RHQ based in Knightsbridge

Manning a Regiment of this size was no problem, with many demobbed WW2 soldiers, including many Paratroopers to swell the ranks. Experienced Leadership was also no problem, with 299 Squadron raised by Major George Widdowson previously of the Green Howards, who had fought at Arnhem, as Second-in-command of the decimated 10th Battalion - The Parachute Regiment.

1949 .... 300 Airborne Field Squadron RE (TA) moved to Glasgow, leaving a Troop in Liverpool.

1956 .... 16 Airborne Division disbanded, replaced by 44 Independent Parachute Brigade Group (TA).
131 title changed to 131 Parachute Engineer Regiment (TA), with all Squadrons titles changed to Parachute Field Squadron.
RHQ moved to the Duke of Yorks RHQ in Kings Road, co-locating with Brigade HQ.
301 Squadron moved to Guildford and gained a Birmingham Troop, when 18 Para disbanded.
The Liverpool based Troop, became part of 299 Squadron.
300 Squadron gained Troops in Edinburgh and Falkirk, to become wholly Scottish.
302 Squadron moved to Kinsbury.

1960 .... The Luton based Plant Troop, joined 302 Squadron in Kingsbury.

1960 .... 131 was commanded by Major John Cowtan MC MBE
On 31st May 1942, he was captured in Africa, shipped to Italy, where he escaped, joined the Partisans and helped carry out various Saboteur work, before finally making it back to England.

By the early 60's, 131 was the biggest unit in the British Army, fielding over 1000 trained Parachute Engineers.
Basic Training was started, for new recruits; up until then, all recruits came from Ex-Regulars, Ex-WW2 veterans, or Ex-National Servicemen.
Throughout the Regiments existence, Squadron-sized detachments served their annual Camps in many overseas theartres, carrying out close support and construction engineering tasks, as well as Parachuting with the USA, Canadian, French and Italian Forces.
Exercise "Sea Splash" was very popular, where the soldiers parachuted into the harbour of St. Peters Port, Guernsey, where a fleet of small boats awaited them and lots of cheering Islanders.
131's First Honorary Colonel - Lt-General Sir Philip Neame VC, KBE, CB, DSO , had initiated the Regiments involvement with the Island, when he served as its Governor after WW2. The Parachute foray was always treated as a celebration of the liberation from German Control in 1945.

1964 .... the bulk of the Regiment carried out its Annual Camp in Aden Protectorate and in 1965 & 1966, elements of the Regiment deployed to Aden again.

12th April 1965 .... 300 Parachute Squadron was attacked by guerrillas, whilst working with 24 Field Squadron RE, on the construction of the Dhala Road at Al-Milah, near the Yemen frontier.
Squadron Sergeant Major John Lonergan (300 Sqn) and Sgt Atfield (Pay Sgt - 24 Fd Sqn), were both killed during the action and are buried at the Ma-Allah Cemetry, now within Yemen.
The Regimental Medical Officer, risked his life to attend those who had been wounded and rescued two badly injured men caught out in the open, was awarded the MBE for Gallantry.

1967 .... The Regiment was reduced to One Squadron - 131 Independent Parachute Squadron RE (V), still supporting 44 Indep Parachute Brigade Group.
Troops were named after the Squadrons being disbanded.

SHQ & Support Troop based in Kingsbury
299 Field Troop (after 299 Sqn) based in Hull supporting 4th Battalion Para Regt (V)
300 Field Troop (after 300 Sqn) based in Grangemouth supporting 15th Battalion Para Regt (V)
301 Field Troop (after 301 Sqn) based in Birmingham supporting 10th Battalion Para Regt (V)
302 Field Troop (after 302 Sqn) based in in Kingsbury under SHQ & Support.

1973 .... Exercise Sacristan in United Arab Emirates.
The largest ambitious Camp of this period, saw 180 members of the Squadron, deploy for 2-6 weeks, carrying out Construction tasks and Desert training exercises.
Close ties with 9 Indep Para Sqn RE (based at Church Crookham) also continued throughout this period.

28th Sept 1975 .... The Squadron's saddest Day.
Exercise Trent Chase, its annual watermanship-based section competition on the River Trent, Notts.
During a freak Storm on the Saturday night, with low light levels made worse by downed power lines, an Assault boat with 11 Sappers were swept over the Cromwell Weir near Newark. Ten of the 11 men were drowned, including two brothers - Sprs Stuart & Peter Evenden.
Each man was given a Military Funeral and a Memorial Service held near the scene of the accident. A Scottish Granite Stone Plaque was set in a commerative garden, near the Lock, with names of all those killed written on it.

1977 .... Drastic reductions in Regular and TA Airborne forces announced.

31st March 1978 .... 44 Indep Para Brigade Group (V) was disbanded, in a Parade at Altcar Ranges, near Liverpool.
Though the 3 Para Battalions were retained, support arms and services were slashed.

1st April 1978 .... 3 Commando Brigade RM.
131 maintained an arduous selection procedure and the only Cap Badge they would wear was Royal Engineers, that on a Beret that had to be "Earned".
It was a great 'Honour', that 3 Commando Brigade RM, accepted 131 Sqn into its Order of Battle.
The Squadron undertook conversion training from Para to Commando.

July 1978 .... The Squadron had completed its conversion programme and was now fully Green Beret. The Squadron still maintained its Parachute capability.

1982 .... A new Troop was formed-up in Plymouth under 302 Troop.
This was to capitalise on the ex-Commandos (59 Sqn, 29 Artillery and Marines) living in the area.
S/Sgt Dave Quinn stepped in, when progress came to a halt and through his personal effort, the Troop was established, earning Dave the BEM for his efforts.

1983 .... 300 Troop based in Grangemouth was re-roled as a Royal Marines Reserve Assault Engineer Troop.
302 Troop in Plymouth, re-titled to 300 Troop.
36 years of the Scottish sub-unit, had seen it as the best recruited and attended and whilst all were happy to see the birth of a new troop in the South West, the loss of those North of the Border, with their idiosyncrasies, such as "Para-Grog" was a keen blow.

The 1980's and 1990's saw 131 Indep Sqn , become more involved with 3 Commando Brigade and with its "Sister Sqn - 59 Indep".
Artic Warfare Training in Norway and Amphibious Training were added to the skills of 131 Sqn, plus Diving - L/Cpl Arnold became the first TA soldier to pass the Army's Basic Diving Course in 1995.

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