21st Independent Parachute Company
The raising of the 21st Independent Parachute Company commenced in July 1942. Major John Lander, appointed by General Browning, had carte blanche for selecting
volunteers for the Pathfinder Company. He set extremely high standards which he deemed necessary for the specialised tasks of the unit.
All ranks were expected to achieve the highest standards of physical fitness, to be proficient in all methods of signalling techniques, navigation and a wide range of weaponry.
Volunteers who wanted to join the Independent Company were required to relinquish their acting rank and revert to a lower rank.
An integral part of the Company was a contingent of German speakers, many of whom were Jews who had escaped from Nazi Germany. These so-called ‘Aliens’ were fervent anti Nazi’s and proved both their fighting qualities and loyalty to their adopted country.
The 21st were involved in the 'trial and error' development of equipment such as the leg kit-bag (Landers bag) and visual and electronic navigational aids (marker panels, light systems and Eureka/Rebecca homing devices).
The initial training took place in the UK and when the unit was moved to North Africa in May 1943, the fighting had ended and more training followed.
In July 1943 small numbers of men, operating in pairs, took part in Operation Husky in Sicily. During this operation the Company's founder, John Lander, was killed and replaced by Major 'Boy' Wilson.
In September 1943, along with the British 1st Airborne Division, the unit landed in Italy. When shortly after Christmas, the remainder of the Company returned to England a Platoon was left behind to serve as a Pathfinder unit for the 2nd Independent Parachute Brigade.
This platoon, 'the 1st Independent Parachute Platoon', was to see action in Italy, the South of France and Greece, before being reunited with their mother Company.
After the return to the UK the 21st Independent Parachute Company was reformed into a unit of 186 men which took part in those nine days of bitter fighting at Oosterbeek in Holland.
On September 17th, 1944, the Pathfinders were dropped in Holland as the vanguard for the 1st Airborne Division.
During the first three days of the battle the Independent Company had to mark and defend the different dropping, landing and resupply zones.
When the battle progressed and the Arnhem road bridge was lost to the British, the Division was forced into a defensive role at Oosterbeek.
At this stage of the operation the Independent Company was used as an infantry fighting unit.
In this capacity the Company filled in gaps in the shrinking Northern and Eastern sector of the defensive perimeter.
The Pathfinders stood their ground until the remnants of the 1st Airborne Division withdrew across the Rhine on the night of 25/26 September.
Of 185 officers and other ranks who parachuted into the target area (plus one man delivered by glider), 120 were successfully evacuated across the river, with the remainder killed or taken prisoner.
After repatriation from Holland the wounded and missing men were replaced and the Independent Company was sent to Norway as part of a liberation force.
With the war now over, the Pathfinders were moved to Palestine where the unit was disbanded in 1946.