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Friday, June 11, 1999 Published at 13:59 GMT 14:59 UK


The Paras: Britain's elite fighters

Paratroopers undergo seriously tough training

In the 50 years since Winston Churchill called for the formation of a parachute regiment, the Paras have earned a reputation for being one of the toughest regiments in the British Army.

Kosovo: Special Report
The regiment is made up of three battalions, 1, 2 and 3 Para. One battalion is always in the Airborne Battlegroup, ready to be deployed anywhere in the world.

And now the focus of these world-famous crack troops is on Kosovo with around 700 ready for action.

Red Devils

During World War II, the Paras, wearing their traditional maroon-coloured berets, became known as the Red Devils after several successful campaigns in Europe and North Africa.

But their most famous exploit was the drop at Arnhem in 1944.

[ image: Proud to wear the Red Beret]
Proud to wear the Red Beret
This disastrous operation, which was dramatised in the film A Bridge Too Far, was an attempt to end the war early that went horribly wrong.

There were not enough planes to bring in the whole air-land bridgade, and the lightly armed 1st Parachute Brigade were left to secure the bridge over the Rhine until the second battalion came in.

Unknown to British intelligence, the German army had sent in extra troops of the SS Panzer Corps to protect the bridge.

Brits in Balkans
The second battalion along with soldiers from other regiments managed to secure the northern end for three days and four nights - they had expected to wait just 48 hours for ground reinforcements that failed to arrive on time.

Of the 10,000 men sent in from various regiments, just 3,000 returned. Five Victoria Crosses were awarded for bravery - two of them for members of the Parachute regiment.

[ image:  ]
Some 40 years on, the paras were sent in as part of a British task force to take back the Falkland Islands from Argentine forces in 1982.

The 3 Para and 2 Para battalions were the first troops to enter the capital, Port Stanley.

It was victory but at a price. They had sustained 40 dead and 93 wounded. The two battalions were honoured with 68 awards including two posthumous VCs.

More controversially, during a demonstration in Londonderry in January, 1972, 13 people were shot dead by soldiers from the First Parachute Regiment. The shootings are once again the subject of public inquiry.

'You don't have to be superman'

Training has been described as the toughest in the world.

Kosovo - Military hardware
But the British Army, eager for recruits, wants to reassure young hopefuls that they do not need superhuman strength to make the grade.

"You don't have to be superman to complete training - all you need is some guts and determination and the will to be a paratrooper!" says its Website.

Over a period of 19 weeks at a base in Catterick, North Yorkshire, new recruits are trained in marksmanship, field firing, trench warfare, and finally parachute training.

Those who have earned the Maroon Beret are based at Aldershot in Hampshire.

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