Pathfinder Platoon

Pathfinder Platoon

] . The company was sent to Borneo in 1963 and its personnel later formed the nucleus of G Sqn, SAS [cite book|title=Who Dares Wins|author=Tony Geraghty|publisher=Arms and Armour Press|date=1980|page=52|quote=-while the Parachute Brigade's Guards Independent (Pathfinder) Company was sent to Borneo to learn something like an SAS role on the job (as was the 2nd Battalion, The Parachute Regiment). Later the Guards Company would provide the nucleus of the new G Squadron.] on its formation in 1966 [cite book|title=Secret War In South East Asia|author=Peter Dickens|Publisher=Greenhill Books|page=211|quote=In September, however, the Guards Independent Parachute Company under Major L.G.S. Head were allowed across the Sabah border to act offensively... ...This professional performance and others were to result in the formation of 'G' Squadron in 1966] . The Company was disbanded in October 1975 [cite web|url=|title=1st Parachute Battalion|publisher=Pegasus Archive|quote= In 1948 the battalion was reduced to company strength and renamed 16 (Gds) Independent Coy PARA, before finally becoming No.1 (Gds) Independent Coy PARA. The Company was disbanded in October 1975.] on the breakup of 16 Independent Parachute Brigade.

Post "Operation Corporate"

Following the 1982 Falklands War (Operation Corporate) 5 Airborne Brigade was established as a light, rapid reaction force for similar requirements. The brigade was formed from the Parachute Regiment, and associated airborne support assets. The Brigade Commander identified a requirement for an independent intelligence collection capability, deployable into a hostile or non-permissive environment ahead of the main force. In 1985 the Pathfinder Platoon was established with personnel drawn initially from the patrols platoon of each of the three Parachute Battalions. For many years it was not an officially established unit, being financed from other parts of the Brigade's budget (the so-called 'Black Economy'). The primary role of the platoon was battlefield preparation, identification and marking of airborne insertion points (parachute Drop Zones and Landing Zone/Point) and carry out reconnaissance tasks on targets prior to the delivery of the main body.

In 1999, 5 Airborne Brigade merged with 24 Airmobile Brigade to form 16 Air Assault Brigade with the platoon remaining attached to the Brigade headquarters. In 2006 a new rate of Parachute Pay (High Altitude Parachute Pay) was introduced for members of the Pathfinder Platoon following the recommendations of the Armed Forces’ Pay Review Body [cite web|url=|title=Armed Forces’ Pay Review Body THIRTY-FOURTH REPORT 2005|quote=As part of the periodic review, MOD proposed the introduction of a new rate for High Altitude Parachuting. The new rate will apply to members of the Pathfinder Platoon who MOD regards as a fundamental component of the UK’s airborne capability. We were told that Pathfinders act as the “eyes and ears” of the Brigade, deploying up to seven days ahead of the main force. Their recent operational tempo included five operations in the last five years, plus an average of 28 weeks per year spent on related courses, six weeks on Brigade exercises and six weeks on career courses. This tempo involved high levels of separation and threatened retention. Many personnel also transferred to Special Forces who had a better remuneration package and saw Pathfinders as highly desirable recruits based on their qualifications and training. These retention issues were confirmed on our visit by members of the Pathfinder Platoon who also acknowledged the attraction of the civilian market. We are content, therefore, to recommend the new rate, linked to completion of the High Attitude Parachute qualification, which will recognise the particular contribution of Pathfinders.]


Operation Agricola, Kosovo

June 1999, the platoon is deployed into Kosovo providing reconnaissance and the forward air control of air assets, behind enemy lines, for NATO command several days prior to the main land offensive. Once NATO forces had entered Kosovo, the Platoon were re-tasked to provided a defensive screen around Pristina International Airport prior to the arrival of the Russian forces. [ [ MOD Briefing, 17 June 1999 ] ]

Operation Palliser, Sierra Leone

The Pathfinder Platoon deployed into Freetown in May 7 2000 to assist the UNAMSIL efforts and gained the world's attention for a gun battle that took place in the village of Lungi Loi located 40 miles (60 km) from the main UN base at Lungi International Airport. [A Dirty War in West Africa: the RUF and the destruction of Sierra Leone] Revolutionary United Front guerrillas, numbering between 40-100 men, [ [ Four rebels die as the Pathfinders see action ] ] approached the village under the cover of darkness unaware of the number of Pathfinders located in defensive positions in and around the village. Using their Night vision goggles (NVG's) the Pathfinders instantly killed four men.

The platoon swept the area at day break following the large number of blood trails but to no avail. Intelligence reports [ [ Analysis: Sierra Leone, Sierra Leone's rebels under pressure ] ] found that the number of dead was far greater than initially reported and military analysts estimated that it was this engagement that led the ceasing of hostilities from the rebels in the country. []

There were no British casualties although one villager was hit by RUF fire but whose life was saved by a PF medic. [ [ Sierra Leone News Archives - May 2000 - Sierra Leone Web ] ] A member of the platoon was awarded the Military Cross (MC) for his actions in the gun battle. [ [ No medal for SAS man killed in hostage rescue - Telegraph ] ]

Operation Essential Harvest, Macedonia

With the rise in ethnic tension overspilling in to violence in Republic of Macedonia between ethnic Albanian, National Liberation Army (NLA) and Macedonian security forces, the British Government sent a force consisting of troops from United Kingdom Special Forces and 16 Air Assault Brigade to oversee a NATO-led ceasefire. [] The Pathfinders, alongside UKSF [ [ Macedonia strife threatens Nato mission - Telegraph ] ] , oversaw the uneasy truce in the mountainous regions over-watching the capital, Skopje and were used to establish links between the warring factions and monitor any hostile activities.

Operation Veritas, Afghanistan

The platoon deployed into Bagram Air Base Airfield on December 2001 to assist NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). The platoon were believed to have assisted the SAS and SBS in the hunt for Osama Bin Laden [ [ BBC News | UK POLITICS | 'Net closing' on Bin Laden ] ]

Operation Telic, Iraq

The primary mission for the teams was to conduct mobile surveillance/fighting patrols behind enemy lines into the Iraqi provinces of Dhi Qar, Maysan and Al Basrah in support of UK and US forces. After the hostilities, the unit were re-roled onto the Iraq/Iraq border as well as 'snatch squad' tasks on suspected Ba'athist war criminals in Maysan.

Operation Herrick, Afghanistan

The Platoon was deployed to the southern Afghan province of Helmand alongside the British 3 Para Battle Group in 2006. The Pathfinders first mission was a five day deployment on a pursuit of Taliban militants across the rugged landscape. The hunt culminated in their first engagement with the Taliban since 3,300 British troops arrived in Helmand province. On May 17, they received a distress call from a local Afghan National Police force consisting of 100 in the town of Musa Qala who had been cornered by a much greater force of Taliban fighters.

By May 19, the Pathfinders joined the Afghan National Police (ANP) in a counterattack in Taliban held territory. From there, a US B-1 Lancer bomber and A-10's were directed by PF Forward Air Controllers (FACs) onto Taliban positions. They were then supplemented by French Super Etendards from the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier in the Indian Ocean. The men then set out on a four-day mission to a town in the north of Helmand province in Afghanistan ended up spending 52 days under siege by the Taliban. 25 men, who have been first into several Taliban-held areas during the British deployment in southern Afghanistan, came under such ferocious attack that they were forced to stay in Musa Qala fighting almost daily battles. The group was supposed to be reinforced by a company of 120 paratroopers but they had to be diverted to the town of Sangin when they came under heavy assault by Taliban insurgents. The platoon were finally replaced in Musa Qala when 500 British troops, in a mission codenamed Operation Snakebite — the largest so far in Helmand — broke through Taliban lines. [ [ British troops in 5-day chase of Taliban - Times Online ] ]

Command, control and organisation

The platoon work under the command of the Brigade Headquarters in Colchester, Essex. Officer Commanding Pathfinder Platoon is a senior Captain or Major with an Operations Warrant Officer (OPSWO) is his second in command. The Platoon can operate independently or as part of a larger forward element under a field headquarters headed by a captain, supported by a sergeant. The teams operate with 4-6 persons and are commanded a by senior patrol commander whose rank can range from sergeant to private.

Selection and training

The Cadre includes:

Fitness and navigation as a group

Phase 1 begins with the standard British Army fitness tests including Personal Finess Test (PFT) and Military Swimming Test (MST) and includes the tests undertaken during P Company; '2 Miler' (3 km), '8 Miler' (13 km) and '10 Miler' (16 km) speed marches carrying SA-80 rifle and Bergen but with more demanding time objectives and at greater weight loads.

Candidates are trained in navigation and signals in the HF, VHF and UHF ranges, enabling them to proceed onto the next phase.

Fitness and navigation as an individual

Phase 2 is similar to the hill phase of UKSF selection; a series of long, solo marches over the Brecon Beacons, Black Mountains and Elan Valley carrying personal equipment, leading to a heavy individual load. Routes are traversed at a minimum 4 km/h, covering an average of 29 km with a 60 pound bergen and rifle. Progress can be impeded by poor weather and poor conditions underfoot. Foot injuries and blisters are common, adding to the psychological challenge of individual performance. The loss rate at this stage in training is high. The final challenge in this phase is a 40 mile (60 km) tab taking in the highest peaks in the south Wales.

Patrol skills

Following the physical buildup candidates enter the skills phase which begins with revision of basic fieldcraft and tactics before progressing onto reconnaissance training. Candidates are introduced to the operation and mechanics of a 4-6 man team in a deep reconnaissance theatre whilst moving covertly inside hostile territory.

Live firing/demolition training

A consolidation of the patrolling and engagement skills is undertaken in the final operations phase, using live ammunition and munitions and introducing students to the Colt Canada C8 rifle and Sig P226 pistol. Live firing tactical training is undertaken starting with 1-2 man drills before moving to patrol drills of 4-6 and culminating in platoon-sized direct action assaults and ambush drills. Other skills taught include an introduction into basic demolition comprising of Claymore mines, entry, shaped and cutting charges.

Combat survival and resistance to interrogation

The final stage is a combat survival package, introducing personnel to survival skills, Escape and Evasion (E & E) tactics and resistance to interrogation (R2I). The initial phase shows the students how to live off the land, erect improvised shelters and navigate using the stars. The final element is an escape and evasion exercise where the troops are stripped of all their personal items then dressed in ill-fitting fatigues and greatcoats to slow them down. Personnel seek to avoid capture by the 'Hunter Force'. Personnel captured, or on reaching the objective, are subjected to questioning by MoD interrogators.


Personnel completing selection are placed on probation for 12 months and undergo specialist and continuation training appropriate to their employing troop or more general training such as languages or first aid. This training will include mountain, jungle, desert, urban and other specialist courses.

ecurity and secrecy

Pathfinders, similar to other 'prone to capture' troops, avoid publicity.Fact|date=June 2008|the picture of the Pl in Patrick Bishop's (approved) recent book would seem prima face to disprove this Medals awarded to personnel, such as the Military Cross (MC), are publicised in the normal manner; officially and formally via The London Gazette and attributed to their Corps or Regiment. The circumstances surrounding personnel killed in action are not routinely disseminated.Fact|date=June 2008. The platoon avoids publicity and keep serving soldiers faces out of the lens although in 1996 a number members of the unit due to leave the army were used in a BBC television production, Defence of the Realm: Phantom Platoon.Fact|date=June 2008

Insertion skills

Basic para

Upon completion of the Cadre, non-parachute trained troops are sent to RAF Brize Norton to complete the All Arms Basic Parachute course, jumping with the Irvin GQ L.L.P. (Low Level Parachute) at between 800 and 1,000 ft both day and night. Once passed, troops are awarded the Parachute Badge With Wings.

HALO Parachuting

Personnel attend the [ High Altitude Parachute Course (HAPC)] course to conduct 'High Altitude, Low Opening' (HALO) training alongside RAF jumpmasters and SAS Air Troop soldiers. This 6-week course takes place in the UK, South Africa or the USA and starts with an introduction into basic skydiving at 12,000 ft, before progressing onto the HALO phase where soldiers are dispatched out of a C-130 Hercules transport plane at an altitude of up to 25,000 ft, using an Irvin BT-80 multi-mission parachute carrying training loads of up to 80+ pounds of equipment. Due to the high altitudes, all the soldiers and the aircrew are fitted onto an oxygen system once they pass above 12,000 ft, with the soldiers moving onto their own bottled system prior to jumping. As the course advances, the soldiers master the ability of landing in tight groups at both day and night, in all weathers and increasingly heavier payloads. Upon completion of the HALO course, the Pathfinder then becomes an Advanced Military ParachutistFact|date=July 2008.

HAHO parachuting

HAHO parachuting is a way of inserting airborne troops into a location where there was a possibility that enemy air defence assets were in place. The HAHO method of insertion allows troops to be dispatched from an aircraft at an altitude in excess of 30,000 ft (9000 m) and glide via GPS to a pre-designated position at distances of up to 40+ miles (60 km) (dependent on wind speeds).

Tandem parachuting

Experienced jumpers are then given the opportunity to attend the Military Tandem course upon completion of minimum of 200 descents. This course normally runs alongside the MFF package. Jumpers have to master jumping with other personnel and then progress onto increasingly larger and heavier loads both day and night.


Pathfinder troops are issued with the new British Army Jackal MWMIK . These were introduced into the order of battle (ORBAT) so as to keep up to speed with the modern battlefieldFact|date=June 2008 and has seen operational service in Afghanistan in 2008. These 'gunships' can be armed with 7.62 mm general purpose machine guns (GPMG), MILAN anti-Tank missiles, Mk 19 Grenade Launcher or .50 Cal L2A1 HMG; which enables the teams to defend against an aggressor or to be used as a mobile fighting platform in an assault or fire support mode.

Training is carried out in a number of areas including Mauritania, Canada, Egypt, Jordan, Oman and Kuwait.

Roll Of Honour

* 10 Dec 1993 - Lance Corporal P T Calaghan. Died in a climbing accident in Glencoe, Scotland [Pegasus Journal, 1994]
* 10 Dec 1993 - Private P F Reed. Died in a climbing accident in Glencoe, Scotland [Pegasus Journal, 1994]
* 15 Apr 1994 - Corporal F M Rennie. Died on operations in Gorazde, Bosnia [ [ Palace Barracks Memorial Garden - Northern Ireland, Falklands Islands, Felix Memorial Garden ] ]
* 08 May 1999 - Sergeant R D Lyon. Died in a road traffic accident outside Prozor, Bosnia [ [ BBC News | UK | Soldier killed in Bosnia named ] ]
* 20 Oct 1995 - Corporal N Bajic. Died in a road traffic accident outside Brecon, Wales [ Jail for Para who killed two soldiers in car crash ] ]
* 20 Oct 1995 - Corporal T J Melville. Died in a road traffic accident outside Brecon, Wales
* 21 Nov 1997 - Private Graham Carter. Died in a road traffic accident outside Staffordshire, England [ [
] [ [
* 20 Aug 2006 - Corporal B J Budd, VC. Died on operation in Helmand, Afghanistan.
* 05 Sep 2007 - Sergeant E Collins. Died on operations in Baghdad, Iraq [ [ SAS RAID HERO DIES SHOUTING OUT WARNING TO MUM & SON | Sunday Mirror | Find Articles at BNET ] ]
* 26 Ma 2008 - Trooper N Brown. Died on operations in Baghdad, Iraq [ [ SAS dead named in landmark decision - Home News, UK - The Independent ] ]


* - Jægerkorpset
* - Fallschirmspezialzüge
* - Fernspähkompanie
* - Fallskärmsjägarna
* - Särskilda Skyddsgruppen

External links

* [ Sky News: Afghanistan : on patrol with para Pathfinders]
* [ Sky News: taking on the Taliban : Para's on patrol]
* [ Sky News: Pathfinders in hostile country]
* [ BBC News: The battle for Musa Qala]
* [ Leaked Danish video of 2006 conflict at Musa Qala]


Additional Reading

*cite book
last = Kent
first = Ron
year = 1979
title = First in!: Parachute Pathfinder Company: a history of the 21st Independent Parachute Company
id = ISBN 0-7134-2199-1
publisher= B.T. Batsford

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