The 1st Airborne Division was a military formation that was raised and fought during World War II. It suffered terrible casualties throughout the operations it undertook, especially during Operation Market Garden, the operation which made the division famous for its defence of Arnhem Bridge. The division was the first to use the maroon beret, now an internationally recognised symbol of elite airborne forces.
Formation, North Africa, and Sicily
The 1st Airborne was formed on October 31, 1941, placed under the command of Major General Frederick Browning. At first, it consisted of the British 1st Parachute Brigade and the 1st Airlanding Brigade, but in July of 1942, it received the 2nd Parachute Brigade, bringing its strength to a full division. However, in late 1942, the 1st Para was sent to North Africa, again depleting the division’s strength. The 3rd Parachute Brigade was attached in its absence.
On May 1, 1943, the division, under the command of Maj. Gen. George F. Hopkinson was sent to North Africa, joining the 1st Para. It left 3rd Para behind, which formed the basis of the 6th Airborne Division. 1st Airborne was then used in the invasion of Sicily, but only the 1st Para and 1st Airlanding participated in that action.
On September 9, the unit was given orders to advance on Taranto, Italy. After immediately taking the port, 2nd and 4th Paras (the 4th Parachute Brigade had been attached soon before) advanced inland. However, Maj. Gen. Hopkinson was killed by enemy machine gun fire, and command passed to Brigadier Ernest Down, commanding 1st Para. In November, 1st Airborne was given orders to return to England, although 2nd Parachute Brigade was detached and remained in Italy as a separate unit.