131 Independent Commando Squadron Royal
131 Independent Commando Squadron RE(V) is an Army reserve unit of the
British Territorial Army which has been allocated to 24 Engineer Regiment.
Since 1978 the unit has been on the order of battle of 3 Commando Brigade Royal
Marines, providing combat engineer support to the Brigade. This role has seen the
Squadron exercise worldwide, often sending small sub-units or individual soldiers to
support the Brigade wherever it is training.
In January 2003 the Squadron was compulsorily mobilised and deployed in Iraq as
part of Op 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 Op JACANA in 2002, to Iraq on Op TELIC 4 in 2004/5 and once
again to Helmand in Spring 2008.
Today 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,
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.
131 Indep Cdo Sqn RE (V) History
With the reformation of the Territorial Army in 1947, the unit was raised as 131
Airborne Engineer Regiment (TA) in support of 16 Airborne Division (TA). The
Division, taking its number from the wartime 1st and 6th Airborne Divisions, was
commanded by Maj-Gen Roy Urquhart, of Arnhem fame and consisted of three TA
parachute brigades, each of three parachute battalions (44, 45 and 46 Parachute
Brigades). 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 RE (TA) in Hull; 300 Airborne Field Squadron RE (TA) in Liverpool; and
301 Airborne Field Squadron RE (TA) in Croydon. Regimental Headquarters was in
Pont Street in Knightsbridge, with 302 Airborne Field Park Squadron RE (TA) based
in Hendon. Each Squadron had one or more satellite Troop location, with 300
Squadron moving to Glasgow in the late forties. Manning a Regiment of this size
presented no problems, with many recently demobbed WW2 soldiers, including many
former paratroopers, willing to swell its ranks. Experienced leadership was in no short
supply either - for example, 299 Squadron was raised by Maj George Widdowson RE
(TA), previously of the Green Howards, who had fought at Arnhem as Second-in-
Command of the decimated 10th Battalion The Parachute Regiment.
By the time the first round of post-war Territorial Army reorganistions took place in
1956, 131 Regiment was already sufficiently well established to ensure that it was
retained in size despite the fact that 16 Airborne Division was disbanded and replaced
by a single TA Parachute Brigade (44 Independent Parachute Brigade Group (TA)).
The unit title changed at this time to 131 Parachute Engineer Regiment (TA), 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 the Luton-based Plant Troop relocating from Luton to Kingsbury in
the early 1960s.
By the early 1960s 131 was the biggest unit in the British Army. 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 (or 'Ever-Readies'), giving
them a higher call-out obligation (and higher bounty!). Basic training was only just
having 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-Gen 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.
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
The second major post-war reorganistation 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 in Kingsbury. The remaining locations,
ranging from Guildford to Glasgow, were lost along with a significant portion of the
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.
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. However, 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 pass the Army's
basic diving course for many years in 1995.