"THE PATHFINDERS" 

HALO (High Altitude Low Opening) The Original way of British Military Free Falling

(circa 1967)

           by: Field Marshall the Viscount Montgomery of Alamein.  

''The Pathfinders''


The Pathfinder Role:


 Always at night the pathfinders initial role was to parachute into a secret drop DZ (drop zone) to establish the area, clearing  it of any enemy and  keeping it secure until the commencement of the main parachute drop by the Parachute Brigade. This usually took place the next day, but could vary due to severe weather conditions. Apart from clearing and holding the DZ of any enemy, the Pathfinders role was to set up a ground to air radio link to enable the DZ commanders to communicate with the aircraft pilots when on their final approach (''the run in'') for the main drop of The Parachute Brigade. This could involve as many as 15-20 aircraft, and sometimes more)

DZ Commanders:   They had to be aware that sometimes they would have to guide the aircraft in by the sound of the engines as weather conditions could suddenly change with mist and fog that could hamper the pilots view to the drop zone. As the main drop arrived the ''Pathfinders'' would make ready the DZ code letter, which was known only to the DZ Party and the RAF pilots (insuring that they dropped their cargo on the correct DZ) After the Parachute drop,and ''Heavy Drop'' had taken place The Pathfinders would then take up their normal role as forward Reconnaissance Patrols.

DZ Codes Letters:   These are illuminated by fire at the very last moment so as not to attract any nearby enemy and to also to give the pilots a visual of the code letter (depending on the weather) of the correct DZ to drop on. The code letter was a very  important factor, for as the Brigade drops it would also include a second drop minutes after the main assault called a ''Heavy Drop'' which  involved dropping vehicles such as Scout Cars and Land Rovers,and stores which could included some heavy weapons that were also parachuted in, but this time onto another DZ close by to the main drop zone. The code letters were the key to differentiate between the two DZ's. As already mentioned we now have two code letters, these code letter would be issued only to both Pathfinder DZ parties and the RAF Pilots, enabling them  to drop on the correct code letter applicable to their DZ as issued at their flying briefing prior to take off.


The Changing role after DZ Clearance:

The Pathfinders role, after the  Parachute Brigade had dropped and cleared the DZ was one of  forward recce, with four troops of highly trained patrols, usually with two Armoured Ferret  Scout Cars and two Landrovers per Troop, backed up by a forward and rear link communications centre attached to the HQ Troop which would follow behind. The four troops would enable a broad eye across the front of the Parachute Brigade. The Ferret Scout cars and Landrovers were dropped usually in the first three or four aircraft of the Heavy Drop, so as to enable the Guards Company to collect their vechicles and get away up front of the main assault to recce and report back to the spearhead of the Parachute Brigade following behind.


The Special Forces Role: (1964 &1965)

During this period in the 1960's The Guards Parachute Company formation changed to a specialised Company who were now working in the SAS role. The Guards Company changed from Pathfinder/Reconnaissance patrols, to four man deep penetration Jungle Patrols.


Training for the Special Forces roll:

In 1964 & again 1965 The Guards Parachute Company took on the Special Forces roll and were trained by 22nd SAS both in Hereford and In the jungles of Borneo. After intense Jungle Training near Brunei, they were then deployed into Sarawak as long range SAS type four man jungle patrols.

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The Training


 Training for Borneo:

Before arriving in the Far East, extensive courses for the company Medics were undertaken at major teaching hospitals throughout London and the Home Counties. This also included day and night shifts in A&E departments.The medics were also taught Dentistry, for many of the natives suffered with bad teeth due to chewing beetle nut which rotted their teeth away causing problems which had to be addressed when working in the villages on'' Hearts and Minds'' operations.The Medics also had to learn to give injections as a sick soldier in a four man patrol had to be treated on the spotas these patrols were working in areas one hundred miles or more away from their base in Brunei.

The linguists (Lead Scouts)  These were the first of the Guards Para soldiers to arrive in The Far East. They attended The Army Language School in Singapore, where they were taught to speak Malay, for at least one member of the four man patrol had to be able to communicate with the locals, especially when  in the villages or on the trading routes between Borneo and Indonesia.

The Morse Signallers  Were also given extensive courses in morse code, training firstly with 22 SAS at Hereford then further courses at Pirbright in Surrey. Most signallers were soon capable of  20 words per minutes. This was the only means of communication with the ouside world for re-supply of food, or calling for back up in case of a fire fight (Contact). The morse radio set was also the only means of communication for evacuating  the Patrol from the jungle. ie, calling for a helicopter to pick up the patrol, as the patrols (except in very rare circumstances) never used the same DZ for drop offs and pick ups into and out of the jungle. The signaller (Radio Operator) carried the heaviest load. He had to carry the radio set and back up batteries including 14 days of rations although the other 3 members of the patrol did carry some of his food rations to lighten his load, even so his daily Bergan load always weighed about 80lbs. 

The Four Man Patrol:

No1---The Lead Scout (linguist) ----The most important job in the patrol as the ears and eyes at the front of the patrol, he had to be alert at all times, with eyes peeled into the dense jungle, and always with one finger on the trigger. His armoury was of his choice, some carried rifles, some carried rifles that could be used on automatic and others chose to use a shot gun, for they never knew what lay behind the next tree and their quick fire power was the key to a contact. 

No 2---The Commander- Normally a Officer or senior NCO with his three men they were dropped off by helicopter,  these patrols were then on their own, working in a hostile area some hundred's of miles  away from base or their comrades in the next nearest patrol to their area. -  The Commander kept the patrol together, It was his job to make sure that all members were trained in all aspects of jungle warfare, and to see that every member in the patrol passed information and training to the others members about their particular role in the patrol, ensuring that all members of the patrol could send a morse message, also to help the Medic especially when it came to pulling teeth in a jungle village. Finally-- The Lead Scout (linguist) would teach the other patrol members the local language so that they could speak words and sentences in Malay when meeting with local tribesmen.

The four man patrols would work in very dense and secondary jungle which sometimes was un passable. Patrols would sometimes find themselves walking in a river for day's on end, as there was no other place to go to complete their mission. These patrols had to be alert and always had one finger on the trigger, as a highly trained enemy could be waiting behind the next tree, as this jungle was so thick and dense and could also be very dark even during daylight hours, especially during the monsoon season or when a storm was starting. Under the canopy became their home for weeks or sometimes months. The patrols had to become as vigilant as the locals were in tracking and jungle skills. They never used tracks (because of booby traps and mines) they sometimes had to cross tracks and this was a worrying time, as the enemy would watch the tracks with ther own native trackers, but these patrols did not take long to get into jungle mode and became experts, thanks to their training by the SAS.

No 3---The Signaller---- His radio skills enabled him to send Sitreps (Situation Reports) and Contact Reports (XO) in  morse code back to the base station HQ in Brunei. Sitreps were sent twice a day, usually at first light and again at dusk, for this is the only time that the patrol would stay static long enough for the Sitreps to be sent. Contact reports would be sent from a safe distance if the patrol got into a fire fight. It was the signallers job to move off from the fight while the rest of the patrol covered him so as he could get away to send the ''Contact'' message, for this was a hostile jungle and the patrols had to be on their guard 24 hrs a day. The signaller had to be able to pick out his base operators touch on the keyboard with 20-30 other various morse stations all sending at the same time on the same frequency. The Para Coy patrols carried different operating frequencies. (applicable only to their Patrol) The Signaller's task was no mean feat --as he had to get it right in horrendous conditions in a in-hospitable jungle, in daily temperatures of over 100F 

No 4---The Medic-----He looked after the health of the patrol and also helped administer medical help to the locals in the villages. His position in the patrol was the last man of four. He mostly walked backwards or looked backwards for most of his time in the jungle, for his job was to cover the rear position of his patrol, but the lead Scout and the Medic did on occasions change roles, mainly to rest the lead scout from his arduous role at the front of the patrol, and also to give the medic a chance in a different role from constantly covering the patrols back door.


The Formation of "G" Squadron


1960's The return from Borneo  and the Formation of  ''G'' Squadron SAS: 

In 1965 The Guards Parachute Company returned from the second tour of Borneo, and were based at Combermere Barracks in Windsor. 

The 22nd SAS Regiment's Squadrons were being stretched as troubles heated up around the world. The Regiment were already short of one Squadron after ''C'' Sqdn  were disbanded some years earlier. 

From their location in Windsor in late 1965 and early 1966 G squadron 22 SAS started its formation. The ''G'' denoting Guards Squadron. It's initial members were from The Guards Parachute Company, all volunteers who  had served in the jungles of  Borneo. These were soon joined by other members of the Household Brigade after first passing SAS Selection at Hereford.

In October 1975 No 1 (Guards) Independent Parachute Company was eventually disbanded (due to government cut backs)  most members returned to their parent regiments, although some Guards Para members went on to join their comrades in  'G' Squadron 22 SAS at Hereford.

From late 1965 Onwards:

After the Borneo Campaign, and the start of G Squadron SAS. The Company became proficient in underground surveillance which meant living accommodation for 2 or more soldiers, mostly underground mostly in the dark, in a dugout trench, which was then camouflaged. The men lived in these condition for days on end, taking notes and watching the enemy, then sending back the valuable information via radio to their HQ.

In 1967  some members of the Guards Company were now attending  FREE FALL parachuting courses,  with the French Army at ''the '' Ecole des Troupes Aeroportes'' in Pau (Southern France)  Upon their return from France two members of the company were sent to The Army School of Parachuting at Neatheravon for a Free Fall Parachuting Instructors Course. The Army had new ideas for these trained free fallers and so the advent of HALO (High Altitude Low Opening) parachuting  begun. 

The first HALO (High Altitude Low Opening) Course took place at Abingdon with four members of The Guards Para Company joining the free fall troops of A, C & D Squadrons of 22nd Special Air service. These courses were undertaken by the Parachute Instructors of the RAF's No1 Parachuting School at RAF ABINGDON.

However members of ''The RED DEVIL FREE FALL TEAM'' had tried and tested this new way of parachuting some time before.  Later in 1960's it was decided to have specialised troops to carry out this new way of parachuting. The planes carring the free fallers were undetected by ground radar because of their high altitude, and the free fall paratroopers would also arrive with stealth like precision on target. 

This was a new and very different way of parachuting. From these high altitudes, with the Bergen now carried on the back of the legs, and the rifle strapped to your side, was found to be the way to keep a stable position throughout the flight. 

Free fallers were classed as a flying object, so you had to (in those day's) have a Board of Trade Certificate to jump, for these free fallers were classed as  flying objects. Speeds of up to 120 MPH were the norm, although the free faller could regulate his speed by changing his arms and leg positions to put his body into different configurations which changed the body's surface area and therefore made him go faster or slower  

As troops were jumping from high altitude it was also necessary to have an oxygen bottle and mask, so now parachuting took on a whole new art, as the free fall soldiers now had to get to the destination on their own by means of free fall manoeuvres to get them across the sky as fast as they could, whilst at the same time dropping in height all the way. Upon opening  they could now use the steerable parachutes to get themselves to the target, although these HALO troops were not in the air for very long once the parachute had opened. (and that’s where the low opening bit came into play!!!

One Guards Para members can recall only being in the air for less than 5 seconds after the ''chute ''had opened.

This was classed as a very low opening!!


The Pathfinder Platoon:

*** Note: Some years later it was deemed by the then Government of the day, that The Elite Pathfinder Company should be re-initiated for the same role that it was disbanded for in 1975.

Today's Pathfinders are still to be found with the 3rd Battalion The Parachute Regiment. 

Within this Pathfinder Platoon, there are still Guardsmen, this being a highly specialised platoon of parachute trained Pathfinders. These Pathfinders are now part of the 3rd Battalion. 

Some Guardsmen also serve in 6 Platoon B Company of 3 Para, and all have served with distinction with 3 Para in Afghanistan.


'' D Squadron''  The Household Cavalry Armoured Regiment:

 ''D'' Squadron of The Household Cavalry's Armoured Regiment are today's Forward Recce Squadron for 16 Air Assault Brigade. These soldiers are parachute trained,and wear the ''Red Beret ''of the Parachute Regiment. This beret is still worn with the Blue, Red, Blue, flash of the Guards Brigade on the front, but with the Household Cavalry's own Cap badge instead of the Parachute Regiments winged badge. (as was worn by the Guards Parachute Company) This very highly trained Squadron, using their Scimitar and Scorpion Armoured Cars  were the first troops to spearhead into Iraq during the first Gulf War, and have also served in Afghanistan with great distinction. They can boast a number of Military Crosses, and also have the most decorated Soldier in the British Army amongst their ranks. The longest range shot ever recorded to date by a SNIPER (in Afghanistan) is also held by a member of this Squadron.They are based at Combermere Barracks Windsor, and are the ''Eye's and Ear's of the Parachute Brigade.

The Armoured Reconnaissance Regiment of the Household Cavalry was once described by 

a serving Army General as '' The finest Armoured Reconnaissance Regiment in the world ''


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