The 5 Airborne Brigade's Pathfinder Platoon
The original Pathfinder unit was formed during formed during World War II. It's main role was to jump ahead of the main force and secure a DZ (or Drop Zone)for allied Paratroopers. In September of 1944 Pathfinders of the 21st Independent Company dropped into Arnhem to clear and secure a DZ. The operations went off with out a hitch. After the war the pathfinder unit was disbanded and all members were sent to other units.
In 1981 2 Para again saw the need for a pathfinder platoon. Although it was officially called C Company, it strength was only that of a platoon.16 soldiers took part in the first Selection process for the new Pathfinder Platoon. It had the same role as the original pathfinders of WWII. They were tasked with dropping in and securing a DZ, they would then dig in and perform reconnaissance duties. They became the Regiments "eyes and ears".
In 1982 2 Para's Pathfinders platoon was broken up into two platoons (
it was now at Company strength
): the Patrol Platoon and the Recce Platoon. Both units were trained the same and held much of the same duty as they did as Pathfinders.
In 1985 5 Airborne Brigade formed the current Pathfinder Platoon. Again it would reach Company level but still retain the title of "platoon". Any male in the British Army can apply for the Pathfinders, however the core is taken from units in 5 Airborne Brigade. Selection is currently 5 weeks long. It is held in Okehampton and in the Brecon Beacons qualified, many will also continue on to become HAHO qualified. The soldiers are then split up into two platoons: Air and Mountain platoons. Their they will be posted to one of the five 4-man platoons, the building block of the Pathfinders. The main difference between the two unit is the Air Platoon troops are all trained in both HALO and HAHO, while the Mountain Platoon is only trained in HALO and specializes in arctic warfare. The 4-man teams will work together in all aspects of training. The patrols are expected to be proficient in the use of their basic weapons as well as heavy weapons. They are taught about demolitions and sabotage ( such as how to blow rail way lines and bridges ). The Pathfinders also become proficient in mobility operations and ambushes. They are taught about survival and E&E. Last but certainly not least they are expected to keep up to speed on insertion methods. Each soldier is to serve 3 years, but officers only serve two years before going back to their parent unit ( usually to help spread their new knowledge ). After 3 years soldiers can decide to stay on for another 3 years if they wish.
Some Pathfinders don't stay on again. They try something new;
. This is now always the case, but increasing numbers of Paras are joining the SAS. In 1981 the first Pathfinder left to join the SAS (
Steve Devereux, author of
). After him 8 more left within 18 months of his leaving. All passed SAS Selection.
The Pathfinders have special ties with many foreign units. They have worked with the Jordanian Special Forces. They also maintain close ties to US Army Rangers and the Pathfinders ( or LRS ) of the 82nd Airborne. Another close tie is with the GCP ( formerly CRAP; yes that is its real name ) of the 2nd REP, French Foreign Legion.
The Pathfinders use a variety of equipment to preform their job. First, the standard British Army issued SA-80 and the heavier LSW version of the weapon are usually not desired. They have found that these weapons preform poorly, to say the least, in pretty much every environment that the pathfinders work in. Instead the M-16A2 is the standard rifle for the soldiers. I can also be fitted with the M-203 40mm grenade launcher, which results in a deadly package. The CAR-15 (
or Colt Commando as the British call it
) is also in limited use, primarily for Op work. The standard 7.62 GPMG (or
as it is known) is the primary support weapon. Although heavy (
about 25 pounds
), it is a very important weapon as it is normally used as a "suppressive" weapon. The Browning 9mm Hi-Power is their primary side-arm. The Pathfinders also employ 15 Land Rover 90s. Known as "dinkies" by the SAS, they are smaller than the Land Rover 110s. The Land Rovers carry an assortment of weapons including the GPMG, Mk-19 40mm Automatic grenade launcher, and the Browning .50 machine gun. These Rovers provide heavy fire power were needed. The standard parachute used in HALO is the GQ360 Ram Air Parachute. It provides them with a great amount of control. The chute will automatically deploy at the set altitude using the Hitefinder opening instrument.
The standard heights for the HALO operations are 25,000 feet for deployment and it will open at about 2500 feet. This allows the aircraft to be high enough to avoid radar and also allows the soldier to have time to deploy his reserve chute, should the first not open correctly. For HAHO the soldier will jump at about 30,000 feet and and deploy his chute almost immediately. This allows the soldier to glide into a spot up 15 miles away from the point of exit from the aircraft. The glide usually lasts about an hour and a half long.