The 2nd Battalion was formed on the 1st October 1941 under the command of Lt-Colonel Flavell. Many of the men had been drawn from Scottish units and the battalion maintained this character throughout the war; C Company in particular comprised largely of Scots.


The Bruneval Raid


In January 1942, the 2nd Battalion learned that one of its Companies was to be chosen for a raid on the French coast. The honour fell to Major John Frost's C Company, and their task was to attack the radar installation near the village of Bruneval, 12 miles north of Le Havre, and steal essential components of the new German narrow-beam radar. The Company, who but for John Frost were unaware of the task that awaited them, trained extensively on Salisbury Plain, and later on the banks of Loch Fyne near Inverary. The raid took place during the night of the 27th February, where the men jumped from their 12 Whitley's and fell towards the snow-covered ground, 600 feet below them. Attached to C Company were a number of additional men from B Company, 9 sappers of the 1st Para Squadron, 4 signallers, and an RAF radar expert, Flight Sergeant Cox. Split into five parties, the Company secured the radar station and the surrounding area, while another group dealt with German sea defences. Cox and the sappers dismantled the radar equipment, loaded it onto trolleys, and then took it to the embarkation point. As they approached the cliff face a German machinegun opened fire, and it became abundantly clear that sea defences had still not been overcome. Frost allocated another group to help sweep this resistance aside, while others were involved in engagements with several German patrols moving towards the area. By 02:15, C Company were ready to be evacuated, but there was no sign of their landing craft out to sea. Attempts to signal them by radio and flares were made but to no avail. Sometime later the six craft arrived, and it was learned that they had narrowly avoided being spotted by a German destroyer and two E-boats, and so had to maintain absolute silence until this threat had drifted out of sight. By 03:30, C Company had left the beach and headed for home, and were met at dawn by an escort of a number of destroyers and a squadron of Spitfires, who led them safely to Portsmouth. The Bruneval Raid was both a great tactical success and a public relations coup at a most depressing stage of the war for Britain. In addition to the radio equipment, two prisoners were also taken, one of which was a radar expert who was able to provide valuable information. Of C Company, casualties had been comparatively light given the level of resistance encountered; 2 men had been killed, 6 were wounded, and a further 6 were captured.




The 2nd Battalion was called to North Africa with the rest of the 1st Para Brigade towards the end of 1942. Shortly before setting sail, Lt-Colonel Gofton-Salmond fell ill, but was determined that this should not prevent him from leading the 2nd Battalion in battle. In spite of this, it soon became clear that he was in no fit state to continue and so was put ashore at the order of Brigadier Down, who promoted and gave command of the battalion to John Frost.


In Africa, two drops had been planned for the battalion but both were cancelled. However on the 27th November, they, together with a troop and section of the 1st Para Squadron and 16 Field Ambulance, were put on standby for an operation. They were to drop at Pont du Fahs and attack the airfield in the vicinity, and from here march 12 miles north and do likewise at Depienne, and finally move a further 12 miles north towards the airfield at Oudna. Once they had destroyed all the planes in these areas, the 2nd Battalion was then to withdraw 12 miles north-west to St Cyprien, where they hoped to meet up with an armoured drive on behalf of the 1st British Army.


Shortly before take off at midday on the 29th November, Lt-Colonel Frost was informed that the aircraft at Pont du Fahs and Depienne had left the area, and so it was decided that the battalion would advance on Oudna from a drop zone that Frost hoped to improvise somewhere around Depienne. Luckily, a suitable area was found and the daylight drop was unopposed, but had been witnessed by a German patrol. It had also been seen by the local Arabs, who were determined to pilfer the contents of the supply canisters, even when the paratroopers fired upon them. With the injured sustained on the drop left in the care of the attentive French inhabitants of Depienne, and a platoon left behind to, as ordered by Brigade HQ, retrieve all their parachutes and canisters, the battalion was able to set off on its long march to Oudna before midnight. Heavily laden with equipment, they kept moving across hilly terrain and through the biting cold until they arrived within sight of the Oudna airfield by late morning. But for a solitary wreck, the area appeared to be deserted of planes. Nevertheless A Company began to make their way forward, while C and HQ Companies moved around their left. Enemy machinegun and mortar fire opened up from the airfield and caused a few casualties amongst the advancing companies. A Company managed to reach the airstrip, but as they did so, six large German tanks appeared, together with a number of Messerschmitt fighters which strafed the battalion, and this was followed up by attacks from six Stuka dive bombers. However, due to the battalion's adept camouflage, no casualties were sustained by the attacks from the air and the tanks were beaten off. As dusk fell, Lt-Colonel Frost withdrew his men onto some nearby high ground that was better suited to a defence. In the morning, the battalion received an artillery bombardment and distant machinegun fire, while their mortars returned the favour and eventually persuaded the enemy to withdraw, though occasional shots were fired during the day. The 2nd Battalion's radios had so far been unable to contact the 1st British Army, but when they finally did establish a link they received the dismal news that the drive by their relieving force had been postponed, and so the battalion was entirely alone and deep inside enemy territory. The Germans sent a captured paratrooper to Frost to inform him that he was surrounded and that it would be futile for any action other than surrender. Frost was not inclined, and instead as dusk fell he decided to move the battalion to fresh positions on a hill a mile to the south. The Germans followed this move up with infantry, tanks, and artillery, and throughout the following day of the 1st December, they savagely pounded the exposed 2nd Battalion, who by now were low on ammunition, medical supplies, and water.


Lt-Colonel Frost led his men away as night approached, however the many wounded had to be abandoned, as was one of B Company's platoons which was left behind to search the area for any such men. C Company had all but ceased to exist, and as there was no sign of them at the rendezvous point, they too were left behind. The Germans were not keen fighters by night, and so they made no attempt to challenge the paratroopers during the darkness, but as dawn drew near it was obvious that some sort of defence would be needed or they would be annihilated if caught out in the open. A reconnaissance patrol was sent forward and returned with news that the El Fedja Farm lay ahead, and it transpired that this area was just what they required, not least because the Arab owner was keen to provide the paratroopers with fresh food and water. Signs of German activity and an encirclement of the farm commenced at dawn. The attack was a long time in coming, but by the mid afternoon mortar bombs started to land and machine gunners swept the area, however these did very little damage as the battalion had been able to dig deep into the soft ground. A Company was challenged twice in the evening, but both attacks were completely broken up by their accurate fire. The main attack came at dusk, but this too was dealt with most comfortably, and the respite that followed enabled the 2nd Battalion to break away once more. Exhausted and now perilously low on ammunition, the men now headed to Medjez el Bab, 20 miles away, as it was the only place that they were certain Allied troops would be. On the way, Frost knew that the battalion was being tracked, and during the morning an armoured patrol came very close to his men, but did not see them. At last, in the afternoon on the 3rd December, the weary 2nd Battalion arrived at Medjez and marched past the French positions in good order.


Oudna had been a costly waste of a fine battalion through a mixture of hasty planning and poor intelligence, and it was only due to their skill and pure good fortune that any men managed to evade capture. However in total 16 Officers and 250 other ranks had been lost, and B and C Company's were decimated. 200 reinforcements arrived to replenish the lost numbers, however many of these men had previously been anti-aircraft gunners and so had no previous infantry experience, but the battalion soon whipped them into shape.


For the remainder of the 2nd Battalion's exploits in North Africa, followed by Sicily and Italy, see 1st Para Brigade.




In the time before Arnhem, the 2nd Battalion had managed to work itself into a very fine shape. During a divisional exercise in Yorkshire, the battalion managed to outpace even the Reconnaissance Squadron and, in his report after the exercise, Brigadier Lathbury described them as "a most formidable battalion".


However Arnhem saw the complete destruction of the battalion with only 16 of its men evacuated safely into the British lines on the 25th September, although a number succeeded in evading capture and rejoined the Battalion at a later date. John Marshall, who had been the Battalion Second-in-Command in North Africa, returned to take command and rebuild the Battalion with just nine officers, a few senior N.C.O.'s and 200 other ranks to hand. In January 1945 the Battalion moved out of Stoke Rochford Hall to a new camp at Oakham, near Cottesmore, Leicestershire. By the end of that same month 320 parachute qualified reinforcements, the full complement of Officers and S.N.C.O.'s had been sent to the Battalion. After full re-training and field exercises the Battalion was reported fit for action again in March/April 1945.


After the war, the battalion flew to Denmark with the 1st Para Brigade to oversee the surrender of German troops in that country. In October 1945, Lieutenant-Colonel Frost resumed command of the 2nd Battalion. In 1947, they and the Brigade served as part of the police force in Palestine. In December 1947, the 2nd Battalion was merged with the 3rd Battalion and was redesignated the 2nd/3rd Parachute Battalion, however it was disbanded in July 1948 as part of the shake up of the Airborne forces. It was immediately replaced with 2 PARA, formed from the 5th (Scottish) Parachute Battalion, and this unit still exists today.


Commanders of the 2nd Parachute Battalion



Lieutenant-Colonel Edward W. C. Flavell


Lieutenant-Colonel G. P. Gofton-Salmond


Lieutenant-Colonel John D. Frost


Lieutenant-Colonel John W. B. Marshall


Lieutenant-Colonel John D. Frost


Lieutenant-Colonel D. R. W. Webber


Commander of the 2nd/3rd Parachute Battalion



Lieutenant-Colonel T. H. Birkbeck