The History of 131 Independant Commando Squadron RE _v_

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					The History of 131 Independent Commando Squadron
RE (v)


The Squadron
The 131 Independent Commando Squadron was first raised in 1947 as an airborne
engineer regiment, with a strength of over 1000 trained parachute engineers. Since 1978
the unit has been an independent squadron of Commandos providing engineering support
to the Royal Marines.

As a Commando unit the majority of personnel have completed the Territorial Army All
Arms Commando Course, run by the Royal Marines at Lympstone. This demanding
course is the foundation for all further training.

As an engineer unit the Squadron trains for a variety of tasks from demolitions to
construction. The unit has its own chefs, clerks and mechanics to sustain personnel and
equipment.

The unit frequently deploys on tasks with, or to support, the Regular Forces in both the
UK and abroad. In recent years the Squadron has deployed personnel to Iraq,
Afghanistan, Oman, the USA, Norway, France, Malawi, the Falkland Islands, Romania
and Egypt on exercises and training with 3 Commando Brigade units.

131 Squadron has sent teams to the annual Exercise Cambrian Patrol competition held at
the Sennybridge Training Area and has won the Courage Trophy competition a record
five times (1977, 1978, 1992, 1993 and 1994). Over the last 15 years the unit has also
built up a strong cross-country skiing pedigree, winning several races in the UK Land
Command and TA Ski Championships.

Organisation
The Squadron consists of four troops in the following locations around the UK:

      Headquarters and Support Troop (Kingsbury in North West London)
      300 Troop (Plymouth)
      301 Troop (Sheldon in Birmingham)
      302 Troop (Bath)

Hull-based 299 Troop, who used to be a part of 131 until 2006, have now gone on to
become part of a new Air Assault Engineer Squadron (299 Parachute Squadron, RE(V)).

History
1940s: Airborne Forces Role

With the reformation of the Territorial Army in 1947, the unit was raised as 131 Airborne
Engineer Regiment in support of 16 Airborne Division. The division, taking its number
from the wartime 1st and 6th Airborne Divisions, was commanded by Major-General
Roy Urquhart and consisted of three TA parachute brigades, (44, 45 and 46 Parachute
Brigades) each containing three parachute battalions. With all volunteers going through
'P Company' to gain their Red Berets and earning their Parachute Wings at RAF
Abingdon, the Regiment provided a squadron of parachute engineers to support each
Brigade: 299 Airborne Field Squadron in Hull; 300 Airborne Field Squadron in
Liverpool, later Glasgow; and 301 Airborne Field Squadron in Croydon. The regimental
headquarters was in Pont Street in Knightsbridge, with 302 Airborne Field Park Squadron
based in Hendon. Manning a Regiment of this size presented no problems, with many
recently demobilised World War II soldiers, including many former paratroopers, willing
to join the regiment. Experienced leadership was in no short supply either - for example,
299 Squadron was 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.

1950s

Territorial Army reorganistions took place in 1956, with 16 Airborne Division disbanded
and replaced by a single TA Parachute Brigade, 44 Independent Parachute Brigade
Group. 131 Regiment was sufficiently well established to ensure that it was retained in
size but changed to 131 Parachute Engineer Regiment, with all squadron titles replacing
the term 'Airborne' with 'Parachute'. RHQ moved half a mile down the road to the Duke
of Yorks' Headquarters in the Kings' Road, co-located with Brigade HQ. Troop locations
evolved through the 1950s too, with 301 Squadron moving to Guildford and gaining a
Birmingham based troop as a result of the demise of 18 Para. The Liverpool-based troop
also went on to become part of 299 Squadron, whilst 300 Squadron, gained troops in
Edinburgh and Falkirk to become wholly Scottish. One final change saw 302 Squadron
move from Hendon to nearby Kingsbury, with its Luton-based Plant Troop also
relocating to Kingsbury, in 1959.

In the early 1960s, 131 was the biggest unit in the British Army[citation needed]. It fielded
over 1,000 trained parachute engineers and was believed to have the largest amount of
men earning their annual bounty in the whole of the Territorial Army. Many of the unit's
members were also members of the Emergency Reserve, giving them a higher call-out
obligation. Basic training was only beginning to be introduced because, up until this time,
all unit members were either ex-regulars, ex-WW2 volunteers or ex-National
Servicemen. Throughout the period of the Regiment's existence, squadron-sized
detachments served their annual camps in many overseas theatres, carrying out close
support and construction engineer tasks as well as parachuting with United States,
Canadian, French and Italian forces. A popular event on the Regimental calendar was
Exercise Sea Splash, where its soldiers would parachute into the harbour in St Peter Port
in Guernsey, awaited by a fleet of small boats and cheering islanders. 131's first
Honorary Colonel, Lt General Sir Philip Neame VC, KBE, CB, DSO, had initiated the
Regiment's involvement with the island when he served as its governor after the War, and
the parachute foray was always treated as a celebration of the liberation from German
control in 1945.

1960s

In 1964, the bulk of the Regiment carried out its Annual Camp in Aden Protectorate and
in 1965 and 1966 elements of the Regiment deployed to the country again. During the
1965 camp, on the night of 12 April, 300 Parachute Squadron was attacked by guerrillas
whilst working with 24 Field Squadron on the construction of the Dhala Road at Al-
Milah near the Yemen frontier. Squadron Sergeant Major John Lonergan of 300
Squadron and Sgt Atfield, the Pay Sgt of 24 Field Squadron, were both killed during the
action and are buried at the Ma-Allah Cemetery, now within the Republic of Yemen. The
Regimental Medical Officer, who risked his life to attend to those who had been
wounded and to rescue two badly injured men caught out in the open, was awarded the
MBE for gallantry. He was recommended for the award of the Military Cross but that
award could not be made, as the Regiment had not been mobilised for active service.

The second major post-war reorganisation of the TA in 1967 saw the Regiment reduced
to a single independent squadron in 1967. 131 Independent Parachute Squadron Royal
Engineers (Volunteers) maintained its role in support of the three parachute battalions of
44 Independent Parachute Brigade Group (Volunteers). Squadron Headquarters and the
Support Troop was based in Kingsbury in London, with Troops in Birmingham, Hull and
Grangemouth. Troops took the names of the Squadrons they had replaced, with 299
Troop in Hull, 300 Troop in Grangemouth, 301 Troop in Birmingham and 302 Troop
(Support Troop to the whole Sqn) in Kingsbury. The remaining locations, ranging from
Guildford to Glasgow, were lost along with a significant portion of the unit's manpower.

1970s

The three field troops continued to support a TA parachute battalion each, with 299
Troop linked to the 4th (Volunteer) Battalion The Parachute Regiment, 300 Troop to the
15th (Scottish Volunteer) Battalion and 301 Troop to the 10th (Volunteer) Battalion.
Travel far and wide, with associated opportunities for engineer support, construction and
parachuting continued as ever. At times Troops would carry out annual camps in direct
support of their battalions, such as 299's 1972 camp with 4 Para in Jamaica, whilst on
other occasions the Squadron would exercise as a whole. Probably the most ambitious
camp of this period was the 1973 Exercise Sacristan in the United Arab Emirates, which
saw 180 members of the Squadron deploy for between 2 and 6 weeks, carrying out a
variety of construction tasks and desert training exercises. Close ties with 9 Independent
Parachute Squadron RE, then based at Church Crookham, also continued throughout the
period.

The Squadron's saddest day occurred on 28 September 1975 during Exercise Trent
Chase, its annual watermanship-based section competition on the River Trent in
Nottinghamshire. During a freak storm on the Saturday night, and with low-light levels
made worse by downed power lines, an assault boat containing eleven Sappers of 300
Troop was swept over the Cromwell Weir near Newark. Ten of the eleven men were
drowned, including two brothers, Sprs Stuart and Peter Evenden. After the military
funerals, which took place in various parishes around Scotland, a memorial service was
held at the site of the accident, and a stone of Scottish granite bearing the names of those
killed was laid in a small commemorative garden close to the lock. Another memorial
was established near Grangemouth, at Falkirk Cemetery, and the men are also
commemorated at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire.

1978: Commando Role

In 1977 drastic reductions in regular and TA Airborne Forces were announced and on 31
March 1978 44 Independent Parachute Brigade Group (Volunteers) was disbanded in a
parade at Altcar Ranges, near Liverpool. Though the three parachute battalions were
retained, support arms and services were to be slashed. The volunteer traditions of 131,
forged through its arduous selection procedure, were such that the only cap badge its
members would wear was that of the Royal Engineers, and this on a beret which had to
be 'earned'. It was a great honour for the Squadron that the Royal Marines accepted it into
the order of battle of 3 Commando Brigade on 1 April 1978. Following the Airborne
Engineers Commando Conversion Course in July 1978, the Squadron, now in Green
Berets but retaining a significant parachute capability, did not have to move from its four
locations.

1980s and 1990s

In 1982 it was decided to raise a Troop in Plymouth to capitalise on the significant
amount of ex-regular Commandos living in the area and the fact that 131's new sister-
Squadron, 59 Independent Commando Squadron RE, was based within the town at
Crownhill Fort. This sub-unit was to become the new 300 Troop, but whilst
Grangemouth and Plymouth were both on the Squadron's order of battle, Plymouth
temporarily used the old Support Troop number, 302. Recruiting at Plymouth was
buoyant, and the then-PSI, SSgt Dave Quinn, was awarded the BEM for his efforts in
helping to establish the new Troop. Finally, in 1983 at a ceremony in Grangemouth, the
Scottish 300 Troop was re-roled as a Royal Marines Reserve Assault Engineer Troop,
and Plymouth took on the 300 Troop title. 36 years of the Scottish sub-unit had seen it as
consistently the best recruited and the best attending 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 1980s and 1990s saw 131 more and more closely involved with 3 Commando
Brigade Royal Marines and with its regular sister-Squadron. Many members of the unit
had been ex-regular Commandos, the majority of them with 59, but always with a
smattering of former Royal Marines and Commando Gunners (from 29 Commando
Regiment Royal Artillery), plus the odd Commando 'Loggie' or Craftsman, within its
ranks. Arctic Warfare Training in Norway and amphibious training were added to the
skills which had to be absorbed by the Commando Engineer volunteers of the Squadron,
whilst parachute training, now taught at RAF Brize Norton, was still open to those
suitably qualified. In the mid-nineties, diving was added to the Squadron's capabilities
and LCpl Arnold from 131 became the first TA soldier to attend and pass the Army's
basic diving course for many years in 1995.

21st Century: Front Line Operations

In January 2003 the Squadron was compulsorily mobilised and deployed in Iraq as part of
Operation TELIC 1. Returning to the UK in May 2003, the Squadron was mobilised for a
second time in Autumn 2006 for service in Helmand Province in Afghanistan. This
deployment ended in Spring 2007. Smaller-scale deployments have seen sub-units and
individuals deploy to Cyprus (UN) and the Balkans during the 1990s, to Afghanistan on
Operation JACANA in 2002, to Iraq on Operation TELIC 4 in 2004/5, to Pakistan during
earthquake-relief operations in 2005 and, once again to Helmand, in Autumn 2008.

				
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