During WW2 after the formations of the Airborne Divisions it was found that recognaisnce units or scout squads were needed to be on the ground before any major attack was commenced, hence the idea of the "Pathfinder units" was formed. These small groups were to parachute ahead of the main force and their tasks were to mark out any drop or landing zone, establish contact with the incoming air traffic and establish radio beacons so the incoming aircraft making a drop or coming into land could "home" in on the exact LZ or DZ. The Pathfinders job was also to clear and protect these areas free of enemy before the main forces arrived, also they acted as an early warning incase the selected area was heavily defended there would be an earlier possibility of enabling an alternative drop or landing site and preventing loss of further men and equipment, once the main force had landed the Pathfinders were engaged as either a small reserve or used as a recon force, or in many cases used as ground troops.
The British Airborne had two such Pathfinder units, the 21st and 22nd Independent Parachute Companies, we start with the "21st Independent Parachute Company" who were attatched to the 1st Airborne Div and formed in 1942. The 21st were trained in N-Africa and parachuted into Scilly on the 13th and 14th July 1943 for the attack on the Primosle Bridge. The 21st Company were also sea landed at Taranto in Italy on 9th Sept 43 and fought as ground troops before returning to the UK in Dec 43 leaving one platoon behind containing 32 men and one Officer who were attatched to the 2nd Parachute Brigade, this platoon jumped behind enemy lines in "Operation Hasty" in June 1944 and were used as Pathfinders by the 2nd Para Brigade.
The main 21st Pathfinder force who had been transported to the UK remained on standby for a series of cancelled ops while their sister Company the 22nd jumped into Normandy as part of the D-Day landings on the 6th June 1944. However on the 17th Sept 1944 the 21st Company parachuted into Holland for "Operation Market Garden", it ended up being trapped within the Oosterbeek perimeter with the survivors of the 1st Airborne Div and suffered heavy casualties. The platoon left in Italy belonging to the 21st Company was brought up to strength and became the "1st independent Parachute Company", they fought in the occupation of Athens during 1944-45. The rest of the 21st Company who had been evacuated from Arnhem were brought up to strength and were attatched to the 1st Airborne Division for the liberation of Norway between May-Oct 1945. The 21st Company then were assigned to the 6th Airborne Div in Palestine in late 45, it was eventually disbanded in Sept 1946.
Company Commanders of the 21st were Maj J Lander 1942-43, Maj BA Wilson DSO MC 1943-45, Maj RE Spivey 1945-46.
The 22nd Independent Parachute Company were formed between May and Sept 1943 in the UK and served with the 6th Airborne Division. Like its elder sister the 21st Company it consisted of an HQ and three platoons, each one had 32 men and were commanded by an Officer. Each platoon was split into 3 sticks each one had ten men each and was commanded by an NCO.
Each stick operated the "Eureka" ground to air beacon which was received by the "Rebecca receiver" which every operational aircraft carried. Coloured pieces of silk were used as markers during the day and 6v powered holophane lamps by night.
The first combat jump that the 22nd did was at D-Day on the 5th 6th June 1944 while its sister company the 21st Company was thought it deserved a rest and were kept in reserve on standby. The 22nd achieved limited success with the incoming scattered insertion and did what they were trained and guided in the aircraft to make their airdrops. After the insertion the 22nd were used as ground troops and fought around Breville until relieved, they continued in the role of ground troops in Normandy until the break out to the Seine in Aug 1944. On the 17th of Sept 1944 "Operation Market Garden" the attack into occupied Holland had begun, unlike its sister Company the 21st the 22nd Company did not take part in "Op Market Garden" but instead went on to fight in the Ardennes in the ground troop role again during the winter of 44. The 22nd eventually was taken out of Belguim and took part in "Operation Varsity", the Rhine crossing in Mar 45. When the War in Europe ended the 22nd Company were attatched to the 5th Para Brigade in the Far East from 1945-46, eventually the Company was disbanded in July 1946.
22nd Company Commanders list : Maj F Lennox-Boyd 1943-44, Maj N Stockwell 1944, Maj J de Vischer 1944-45, Maj MG Dolden 1945-46, Maj JHS Lane 1946, Maj DD Campbell MC 1946.
Below are two maps showing the WW2 Airborne drop zones at "Operation Overlord" (D-Day Landings) and "Operation Market Garden" in Holland.