The South African Army’s 1 Parachute Battalion (1 Para Bn) is celebrating its 50th anniversary today with a series of ceremonies, including a trooping of the colours parade at 2pm.
In 1960, 15 South African Defence Force volunteers were carefully selected and sent to the United Kingdom for parachute training. On their return to South Africa, this nucleus of men set about establishing the country’s first airborne unit. Commandant (Lieutenant Colonel) WP Louw was the Officer Commanding of what was then called “2 Mobile Watch”. On April 1, 1961, this composite unit was converted into 1 Para Bn.
1 Para Bn is the only regular Parachute Battalion in the South African National Defence Force. Currently the battalion serves under 44 Parachute Regiment, along with the Reserve Force 3 Para Bn. 1 Para Bn forms part of the CSANDF Strategic Reserve and is at all times ready to be rapidly deployed anywhere within Sub-Saharan Africa.
In 1990, the first intake of full-time black recruits into 1 Para Bn was trained as B Company. The battalion was involved in stabilising the internal unrest situation prior to 1990 and continued until to the historic elections that took place in April 1994. Towards the end 1991, 1 Para Bn received the status of battalion group with the placing of artillery, anti-aircraft and engineer elements in its ranks. These elements remained in their ranks until 1997.
With the disbanding of 32 Battalion in 1993, most of its parachute qualified members were integrated in 1 Para Bn Group and with the closure of the former homeland’s defence forces their paratroopers were also integrated in 1995.
Since 1998, 1 Para Bn has participated in numerous multinational exercises with different foreign armies, both in South Africa and abroad. The members of 1 Para Bn took part in Operation Boleas in Lesotho as part of a SADC force. Several members were lost. In 1999, they were the very first members who deployed to Burundi as part of Operation Fibre and they again contributed in ensuring that the Comoros held a free and fair election in 2006. In 2009, they participated in the first multi-force SADC Brigade exercise, Exercise Golfinho that took place at the Combat Training Centre at Lohatla. One company of 1 Para Bn is presently deployed to the Sudan with 5 South African Infantry Bn.