Impressed by the success of German airborne operations, during the Battle of France, the British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, directed the War Office to investigate the possibility of creating a corps of 5,000 parachute troops. On 22 June 1940, No. 2 Commando was turned over to parachute duties and on 21 November, re-designated the 11th Special Air Service Battalion, with a parachute and glider wing. It was these men who took part in the first British airborne operation, Operation Colossus, on 10 February 1941. In September, the battalion was re-designated the 1st Parachute Battalion and assigned to the 1st Parachute Brigade. To fill out the brigade, the 2nd, 3rd and 4th Parachute Battalions were raised by asking for volunteers from all units in the British Army.
The first operation by the Parachute Regiment was Operation Biting in February 1942. The objective was to capture a Wurzburg radar on the coast of France. The raid was carried out by 'C' Company, 2nd Parachute Battalion, under the command of Major John Frost.
The success of the raid prompted the War Office to expand the existing airborne force, setting up the Airborne Forces Depot and Battle School in Derbyshire in April 1942, and creating the Parachute Regiment as well as converting a number of infantry battalions into airborne battalions in August 1942. The 2nd Parachute Brigade was then formed from the 4th Battalion, and two of the converted infantry battalions. With two parachute brigades now in the order of battle, the 1st Airborne Division commanded by Major-General Frederick Browning was formed. By the end of the war, the regiment had raised 17 battalions. Most of them served in the 1st Airborne Division, 6th Airborne Division and the independent 2nd Parachute Brigade in Africa and Europe.
The Regiment wore the maroon beret and the nickname "red devils" was bestowed by the enemy forces during fierce fighting in North Africa.