Mark Magreehan, Britain’s Airborne Forces of WWII (Frontline, 2020)
The Paras hold an iconic place in the pantheon of British army regiments. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine allied victory in World War II without them. But, as Mark Magreehan points out, they began their war as an experiment, only achieving their elevated status through hard work and sacrifice. Magreehan follows their development in this fascinating and lavishly illustrated book.
Magreehan’s numerous small chapters cover the evolution of the Paras and their battle highlights. They were formed in June 1940 as a small and poorly equipped unit, and first saw action in Italy in February 1941. That was a failure, but their next operation at Bruneval the following year was successful. The Paras, having proved their worth, expanded until they formed two divisions by the end of the war. Along the way, they fought in North Africa, Sicily, Italy, Greece, and France where they took part in the D-Day landings. The Paras arguably found their most glorious moment in the defeat at Arnhem in September 1944, though that was not the end of their active service. They took part in the Battle of the Bulge in January 1945 and the crossing of the Rhine two months later. They finished the war in mopping up operations in Norway and the Far East.
The text in Britain’s Airborne Forces of WWII conforms to standard histories of the Paras, but Magreehan tells the story well enough. It is the wonderful collection of photographs accompanying the text that makes this book stand out. Some of them are familiar, but many are not. Magreehan is also adept at highlighting developments in equipment and weaponry through his descriptions of the photographs. In doing so, he also underscores how the Paras rose from being an experiment to an essential component of the British war effort. His inclusion of Polish and Canadian Paras is an important contribution to the history of this force, lest we forget. Anyone with an interest in the Paras will enjoy this book, and modellers and wargamers will be particularly rewarded by adding this to their collection.