|History of the 7th Battalion (Light Infantry
"What you get by stealth and guts you must hold with skill and determination."
With these words, Major General Richard Gale sent the British 6th Airborne Division to their
planes and into the history books as part of the greatest airborne invasion in history, D-Day,
June 6, 1944.
One of Gale's two Parachute Brigades jumping into Normandy in those early hours was the
5th Parachute Brigade commanded by Brigadier J. H. N. Poett. The senior battalion of this
brigade was the 7th Parachute Battalion (Light Infantry), commanded by Lieutenant Colonel
R. G. Pine-Coffin, MC.
In 1942, the 10th Battalion of the Somerset Light Infantry was stationed at Berkhamstead.
The Somerset Light Infantry had been a regiment since 1668 and had numerous battle
honours all the way through the Great War and into the present conflict. On November 8,
1942, the lads of the 10th were told they were being renamed as the 7th Battalion (Light
Infantry) of the Parachute Regiment. Those who decided not to go through parachute
training were allowed to transfer to other units. Most decided to stay and try it. The
Battalion was transferred to Gordon Barracks, Bulford, for training. By the spring of 1943,
the 7th, 8th and 9th Battalions formed the 3rd Parachute Brigade. By that summer, the 1st
Canadian Parachute Battalion came over and replaced the 7th. The 7th became the senior
battalion in the newly formed 5th Parachute Brigade, where she was joined by the 12th and
13th Parachute Battalions to round out the Brigade.
In the evening hours of 5 June, the paratroopers were awakened and led out to board trucks
which would carry them to their 33 Stirling bombers. They paused briefly for a Communion
service led by the battalion almoner, Reverend Parry, and took enough time for a cup of tea
and to blacken their faces. Loaded with the extra weight of rubber dinghies, they struggled
aboard the tightly packed bombers. A coup de main force of Oxfordshire and Buckingham
glider troops under Major Howard was to land at the Orne River Bridge and take the bridge
intact. If the attack failed, the 7th Battalion was tasked with crossing the river in rubber
dinghies to take the bridge and reinforce Major Howard's company.
Thirty-one of the Stirlings made it across the channel and through the flak barrage to drop
the battalion on Dropping Zone N. Two were shot down with loss of all aboard. Due to the
flak, many troopers landed well away from the DZ and had to make their way to the
rendezvous point (RV). With Private Chambers sounding the regimental call on his bugle,
men made their way to the RV. When only about 70 had shown up by 0215 hours, they
headed for the bridges, reaching Major Howard's position around 0300 hours. Daylight
found the battalion holding a line from Benouville to Le Port and Ranville. Numerous German
armored and infantry assaults were repulsed in those hours before the invasion by sea.
Expecting to be relieved and reinforced for future airborne assaults, the lads of the 7th found
themselves still in the line, still fighting and pushing the Germans back. By August they had
advanced as far as Port Avdemer. The Battalion was recalled to Bulford for refit, training
and replacements. The German Ardennes offensive thrust the Battalion back into combat.
On Christmas Eve, the entire 6th Airborne Division was landed at Calais and was in position
between Dinant and Namur by Boxing Day. The 7th Battalion attacked Wareville, and then
seized Celles-Sur-Lesse and Veve. The Battalion was not recalled to Bulford until 23
February 1945. This was no rest break, though.
24 March, 1945 found the 7th again making airborne history. The jump across the Rhine,
Operation Varsity, saw the Battalion playing a critical role. Two days after helping to secure
the Diersfordter Wald, the 7th broke out of the bridgehead. The Battalion covered 350 miles
(mostly on foot) between 26 March and 2 May, reaching the Baltic port of Wismar just eight
hours ahead of the Russians.
During the campaign in Europe, the 7th Battalion lost 212 killed in action and some 400
wounded. Although the war ended in Europe, there was still war raging in the Pacific. The
Battalion returned yet again to Bulford on 21 May and turned in their serge BD for tropical
green battle dress. No airplanes this time, they sailed to India, disembarking at Bombay on 7
August, 1945. The Battalion commenced jungle training in preparation for the operations to
recapture Malay and Singapore, set for September 1945.
After the Japanese surrendered, the Battalion landed at Morib Beach and took up security
operations in Singapore and Java, having landed on Batavia 15 December, 1945. They
returned to Port Dixon, Malaya on 19 March, 1946. Their next move was to Palestine in
August where the 17th Parachute Battalion was added to augment their strength.
In 1948, the 7th Battalion was renamed the 3rd Parachute Battalion, the Parachute Regiment.
To this day, the 3rd Battalion, The Parachute Regiment, wears a green flash on their
shoulder as a reminder of their direct lineage to the "Old Thirteenth".