— The Official Story

W H Smith Exclusive video — Castle Communications.

Narrated by Michael Aspel. Running time approximately 82 minutes, £12.99.

A RATHER DIFFERENT title from the usual for me, but interesting and informative none the less. The video describes the history of airborne troops in the British Army, from their inception in 1940 (on Churchill’s instructions) to the present day. It is an officially sanctioned production with an introduction by the Parachute Regiment’s Colonel-in-Chief, HRH the Prince of Wales, and the narration, by Michael Aspel, is excellent throughout.

The British Army came rather late into paratroops with the USA leading the way in 1912, followed very actively by the USSR in the 1930s and we see some terrifying early footage of unfortunate Russians clambering along the wing of a transport aircraft to leap or fall into the slipstream. The Germans were highly impressed with a large scale demonstration by the USSR and formed their own well-known units.

The initial volunteer force used primitive training methods and equipment but the practicality of the techniques was proved in early raids in Italy in 1941 and a highly successful raid on a radar station on the Channel in 1942. A large combined US/British Airborne force was despatched to North Africa where they demonstrated some of the drawbacks (poor navigation and intelligence being the main ones) but their subsequent use in Sicily and Italy achieved some notable successes as well as equally notable failures.

The famous action at Arnhem in Operation Market Garden (better known as A Bridge Too Far) is described in some detail as airborne troops were the principal players, as well as the ultimate losers. In this historic action five VCs were won, but subsequent deployments in the Far East and Europe were equally significant and more successful, including Operation Varsity in March 1945 where 22,000 Allied troops were transported across the Rhine in a single airlift!

After the war the Paras suffered severe cutbacks but served extensively all over the world in the numerous large and small actions which characterised this period of our history. They proved immensely adaptable and served from the frozen wastes and mountains of Norway to the steaming jungles of Malaya and Borneo. And more recently, the equally inhospitable urban warfare of Northern Ireland, where they have been sent on and off since the early days. The Falklands conflict is covered in some detail with much of the footage being familiar to those who lived through this war.

The final portion of the video describes the extremely arduous training methods and selection process for this most respected of units. The technology has also advanced apace, with developments such as LLP (low-level parachuting) from 250ft (76m)! The opposite extreme is HALO (high altitude, low opening) and HAHO (high altitude, high opening) in which they leave the aircraft at 25,000ft (7,600m) and either free-fall to 2,500ft (760m), or glide from high altitude with steerable ‘chutes.

All this is well compiled with interesting archive material, a good commentary and unobtrusive music, recommended for anyone interested in this aspect of military history.

Philip Belsham

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