In 1960 fifteen volunteers from the SADF were sent to England at RAF Abington, the majority to train as parachute instructors, some as parachute-packers and one SAAF pilot in the dropping of paratroopers. These men together with a older unit called 2 Mobile Watch formed the nucleus of 1 Parachute Battalion at Tempe in Bloemfontein in April 1961.
The first paratroopers were Permanent Force men, but soon the training of Citizen Force (similar to the National Guard of the United States) paratroopers commenced.
Members of 1 Parachute Battalion were the first S.A. Army men to see action after World War II when, in 1966, they participated, with the South African Police, against insurgents in S.W.A. (now Namibia).
In 1966, members of 1 Parachute Battalion participated in the first action in the war in South West Africa during a heliborne assault on an insurgent base. Thereafter, they were involved in operations in SWA/Namibia, Angola, Zambia, Mozambique and Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and elsewhere on an almost constant basis for over 20 years.
1 Parachute Bn. was organised as follows:Permanent Force:
H.Q. Coy and
A and B Coy's;
C Coy Cape Town,
D Coy Durban,
E Coy Pretoria and
F Coy Johannesburg
Further battalions were added: 2 Para Bn in 1971 and 3 Para Bn in 1977.
In 1974 and 1975 1 Parachute Battalion operated along the Angolan border with S.W.A; along the Caprivi Strip; a platoon jumped near Luiana (September 1975), Angola to relieve a group of "Bushmen" trapped by a SWAPO force; and 3 platoons Joined Operation Savannah at Sá da Bandeira the day after the airport was taken (October 1975). The two platoons withdrew in February/March Operation Savannah during the Angolan Civil War in July 1975 when 1 string of 1 Parachute Battalion were flown to Ondangwa and travelled by Unimog to Ruancana on the northern border of SWA at Ruacana and Santa Clara in Angola to relieve two Portuguese communities trapped by the MPLA.
With the coming of 44 Parachute Brigade in April 1978, under the leadership of Brigadier M J du Plessis and Colonel Jan Breytenbach, a co-founder of the brigade. it became a powerful force. The first large airborne exercise of the Parachute Battalion Group took place in 1987 in the Northwestern Transvaal (now North West Province). With the eventual disbanding of 44 Parachute Brigade its full-time personnel were moved to Bloemfontein and incorporated into the 1 Parachute Battalion Group.
In 1986, the unit embarked on its first HALO/HAHO (High altitude Low Opening/High Altitude High Opening) course in Bloemfontein. This would enable the troops to drop into enemy territory from aircraft following commercial routes.
In 2001 battalion personnel formed the spearhead of the South African Protection Support Detachment deploying to Burundi.
In 2012, 1 Parachute Battalion participated in the South African military assistance to the Central African Republic operation, where the unit suffered 13 killed, with 27 injured and one missing in action in an ambush conducted by Séléka rebels. In 2014 it was announced that 1 Parachute Battalion would receive Battle Honours for this operation.
In 2013, the battalion contributed one company, under command of Major Vic Vrolik, to the FIB which fought a number of engagements in the DRC.
1 Parachute Battalion is the sole military parachute training institution in South Africa, with its parachute School being responsible for all training. The school has had only four fatalities in its existence. 1 Parachute Battalion is a full-time unit which in addition to parachute training also conducts force training to national servicemen inducted into the unit and other units in the South African Army.
The average age ranges in the mid-twenties. The selection and training of today's paratroops remains exceptionally rigorous to ensure that the standard of combat efficiency is retained at a high level. Generally, members of 1 Parachute Battalion visit the various battalions each year early in the training cycle to look for volunteers. These must then pass a physical test at their unit prior to appearing before a selection board, which examines their character and motivation.
To give would-be members the endurance and the fitness they will need for operations in the harsh African conditions, the instructors of 44 Parachute Brigade place particular emphasis on basic physical training. Young men volunteering for service with the parachute forces first undergo a battery of medical tests – as stringent as that for flying personnel – before setting off on a 5 kilometres (3.1 mi) timed run. Before they can recover their breath, they tackle the second test: 200 metres (0.12 mi) run in which each man carries a comrade on his back.
The applicants are then put through various psychological and physical tests – though these are usually well within the reach of anyone with sufficient motivation and willpower. The real ordeal will then start: for four long months, the recruits Bats will endure forced marches, physical exercises, shooting sessions and inspections — all this barracked by the screams of their eagle-eyed instructors. The South African paratroop instructors, like their British counterparts, enforce strict discipline. For example, trainees always take their grooming kit along with them on 30 kilometres (19 mi) marches and at dawn, when back at the base with aching bones, devote whatever little time is left they have to rest to 'spit and polish'.
Those who are accepted are then transferred to 1 Para, where they first complete the normal three-month basic training course, with some differences: PT three times a day, no walking in camp under any circumstances and a 10 to 15 kilometres (6.2 to 9.3 mi) run to end each day. 20 kilometres (12 mi) runs carrying tar poles; car tyres attached to the candidates by a long rope; or the dreaded 25 kilograms (55 lb) concrete slab that has to be carried everywhere the candidate goes. Some 10 to 20 percent drop out during this phase, returning to their original units. All this builds up to what is called the koeikamp ('cow camp'). It is 3 days of the ultimate challenge of physical and psychological endurance.
The would-be paratroops get a 24-hour ration pack or "rat pack" for the duration of the selection. During these days, they are given several tasks to perform in an allocated time: Several 20 to 30 kilometres (12 to 19 mi) Night marches/runs with 25 kilograms (55 lb) bergens, boxing, 75 kilograms (165 lb) stretcher run over 20 kilometres (12 mi), digging trenches and the carrying of artillery canisters over 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) during a timed run are just a few of the tasks that has to be completed. On top of all this the candidates are out in the African bush with no showers, hot meals or beds after each gruelling day. Each year the sequence of what "tests" will be done to get the strongest out of the "wannabees" changes, so it comes as quite a surprise each year. Due to lack of sleep, hunger and extreme physical tasks many of the men give up. After all the above tests, the few remaining soldiers head back to camp where they have to complete an obstacle course called the "Elephant". Some foreign Elite soldiers claimed this to be one of the hardest bone breaking obstacle courses ever. Again, this is a timed exercise, which has to be completed several times, it is also done with full battle kit. Again the instructors are looking for any hesitant students during the high obstacles and underwater swim through a narrow tunnel. At the end of the "Elephant" several more students drop out due to injury or not completing the course in the required time. At this point the course has been completed. However, there is always the 'bad surprise" which has historically become part of the Selection Phase.
After a six-month ordeal, the selected few (about 40% of the original intake), make the 12 jumps required to obtain their wings. During this time, the chances of being disqualified are still very high. This phase is followed by some advanced individual training, during which such subjects as advanced driving, demolitions, tactics and patrolling, unarmed combat, survival skills, escape and evasion, aspects of guerrilla warfare, tracking, raiding, counter-insurgency operations, fast rope skills, ambush and anti-ambush techniques and foreign weapons and techniques are covered.
Their instructors, however, always find that something is left to be desired with the inspection which invariably follows. To harden their muscles, trainees are made to carry a telegraph pole for two days, at a rate of 20 kilometres (12 mi) daily. Back at base, the 'marble', a stone weighing about 25 kilograms (55 lb) which the soldier must carry wherever he goes, is used as a substitute for the same purpose. The detailed training programme is listed below:Musketry
Physical Training – Very important
Parachute Selection – 2 Weeks (8 hours Physical Training every day for 2 weeks)
Running 9 kilometres (5.6 mi) and more with boots
Running up to 21 kilometres (13 mi) with logs
Battle PT with Logs, Concrete Blocks and Rifles
Route Marches of 14 kilometres (8.7 mi) with full kit
Boxing, Soccer, Wrestling, Rugby with Car Tyre as ball
Qualification Tests (60% must be attained after the 2 weeks Parachute Selection)
3.2 kilometres (2.0 mi) with full kit in 18 minutes
40 Shuttle Runs in 90 seconds
200 metres (0.12 mi) fireman's lift with full kit
Climb a 6-metre rope
Climb over a 2-metre wall with full kit
50 pushups without resting
67 sit-ups in 2 minutes
120 squat kicks without resting
Parachute training – 3 weeks following successful parachute selection
Ground training in hangar
Jumping from "aapkas" (Outdoor exit trainer)
Jumping from Dakota Aircraft
Jumping from C130 / C160 Transall Aircraft
Jumping includes day and night jumps, with and without kit using standard and steerable parachutes
A total of 8 jumps must be completed before the sought after paratrooper wings are awarded
Current Day Selection and Training for the Physical portion of the Parachute Course
Until 1991 the physical portion of the Parachute Qualifying course was 2 weeks, but due to national service being shortened to one year, the army had a need to change and make the training more compact and fast paced. However some of the 'older' paratroops still do physical training courses to ensure that standards do not drop.
Specialist Training (in one of the following mustering)
Cooperation with Armoured, Artillery, Air Force etc.
Airborne Operations including Air Assault battle handling on sub-unit level
Bush Warfare Techniques
Reaction Force Operations
Specialized Air Operations
Once a paratroop is fully trained, he takes part in the normal operational and training activities of the unit.
Specialist Parachute and other Training Courses include:Pathfinder Training
Basic fast-roping/rapelling skills
Static Line dispatchers course
Basic Parachute instructors course
Advance static line jump course
Basic Free Fall Course
Free fall dispatchers course
Free fall instructors course
Advanced free fall course
Advanced free fall instructors course
Drop zone safety officers course
Parachute Packing and checking course