Military History Books
by Harold A. Skaarup   www.SilverHawkAuthor.com   
 
1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, 1st Special Service Force and Canadian Airborne Units before 1968

Canadian Airborne units before 1968

The Canadian Airborne Regiment (CAR) traces its origin to the Second World War–era 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion (1 Can Para Bn) and the First Special Service Force (FSSF) which was administratively known as the 2nd Canadian Parachute Battalion. The CAR bears battle honours on its Regimental Colours from both units, including Normandy Landing, Dives Crossing and Rhine in the case of the former, and Monte Camino, Monte Majo, Monte La Difensa/Monte La Remetanea, Anzio and Rome in the case of the latter.

Data current to 20 Feb 2019.

Pegasus Badge

Canadian Parachute Wings (before 1968)

The 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion was an airborne infantry battalion of the Canadian Army formed in July 1942.   After the end of hostilities in Europe, the battalion was returned to Canada where it was disbanded on 30 September 1945.

By the end of the war the battalion had gained a remarkable reputation: they never failed to complete a mission, and they never gave up an objective once taken. They were the only Canadians to participate in the Battle of the Bulge and had advanced deeper than any other Canadian unit into enemy territory.  Despite being a Canadian Army formation, it was assigned to the British 3rd Parachute Brigade, a British Army formation, which was itself assigned to the British 6th Airborne Division.

On 1 July 1942 the Department of National Defence authorized the raising of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion.  The battalion had an authorised strength of 26 officers and 590 other ranks, formed into a battalion headquarters, three rifle companies and a headquarters company.  Later in the year, volunteers were also requested for the recently formed 2nd Canadian Parachute Battalion, which formed the Canadian contingent of the 1st Special Service Force.

The 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion was Canada's original airborne unit, formed on 1 July 1942.  Volunteers completed jump training in England then underwent four months of training at Fort Benning, Georgia, and the Parachute Training Wing at Shilo, Manitoba.  Part airman, part commando, and part engineer, the paras underwent dangerously realistic exercises to learn demolition and fieldcraft in overcoming obstacles such as barbed wire, bridges, and pillboxes.  By March, Canada had its elite battalion, which returned to England to join the 6th Airborne Division as a unit of the Britain's 3rd Parachute Brigade.

 (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3302136)

1st Canadian Parachute Battalion paratroops taking part in British parachute training at the Royal Air Force Training School, Ringway, Cheshire, England, 4 Apr 1944.

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3298170)

1st Canadian Parachute Battalion paratroops getting dressed for a jump at the Royal Air Force Training School, Ringway, Cheshire, England, 4 Apr 1944.

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3579946)

1st Canadian Parachute Battalion paratroops getting dressed for a jump at the Royal Air Force Training School, Ringway, Cheshire, England, 4 Apr 1944.

 (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3302122)

1st Canadian Parachute Battalion paratroops preparing to make a balloon jump at the Royal Air Force Training School, Ringway, Cheshire, England, Oct 1943.

 (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3526685)

Major P.R. Griffin (left) of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion preparing to jump from a static balloon, England, October 1943.

  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3404622)

1st Canadian Parachute Battalion paratroops preparing to make a jump from an Armstrong-Whitworth Whitley bomber at the Royal Air Force Training School, Ringway, Cheshire, England, Oct 1943.

 (RAF Photo)

Armstrong Whitworth AW.38 Whitley, flown by RCAF aircrew serving with the RAF, used as a tow-plane for gliders and for dropping paratroops.  The Whitley was in service with the RAF at the outbreak of the Second World War.  It had been developed during the mid-1930s, and formally entered RAF squadron service in 1937.  Following the outbreak of war in Sep 1939, the Whitley participated in the first RAF bombing raid on German territory and remained an integral part of the early British bomber offensive.  By 1943, it was being superseded as a bomber by the larger four-engined heavy bombers such as the Avro Lancaster Its front line service included maritime reconnaissance with Coastal Command and second line roles including glider-tug, trainer and transport aircraft.  None have been preserved. 

 (IWM Photo, H22785)

Paratroopers inside the fuselage of a Whitley aircraft at RAF Ringway, in the UK, August 1942.  In 1940, the Whitley had been selected as the standard paratroop transport; in this role, the ventral turret aperture was commonly modified to be used for the egress of paratroopers.  Members of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion would have been jumping from these aircraft during their training in the UK at RAF Ringway.

Sergeants D.R. Christianson and W. Irvine, Royal Winnipeg Rifles, candidates who have completed training at No.1 Parachute Training School, Royal Air Force (RAF), Ringway, England, 12 September 1942.  They planned to serve with the First Special Service Force, but both men chose to serve with the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion and both jumped into Normandy on D-Day.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3587138)

 (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3581038)

Corporal N.R.V. Chapman, a member of the first group of Canadian parachute candidates, trains with the shock harness at the U.S. Army Parachute Training School, Fort Benning.

 (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3565537)

1st Canadian Parachute Battalion training at Fort Benning, Georgia, 8 Mar 1943.  Of the 60 other ranks who arrived at Fort Benning, Georgia (via Camp Shilo, Manitoba) from Ringway, England, only 18 opted to join the FSSF.  The majority remained with the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion.  These volunteers arrived at Fort William Henry Harrison, Helena, Montana, in Dec 1942.  This base as chosen as the primary training location, due to its flat terrain for airborne training and its close proximity to mountains for ski and winter training.

 (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3581036)

The first group of Canadian parachute candidates preparing to jump from a Douglas C-47 aircraft, Fort Benning, Georgia, United States, 7-11 September 1942.

 (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 4297798)

Canadian Paratrooper landing at Fort Benning, Georgia, 1955.

The initial training was carried out at Fort Benning in the USA and at RAF Ringway in the UK.  Groups of recruits were dispatched to both countries with the intention of getting the best out of both training systems prior to the development of the Canadian Parachute Training Wing at Camp Shilo, Manitoba.  The group that traveled to Fort Benning in the United States included the unit's first commanding officer, Major H. D. Proctor, who was killed in an accident when his parachute rigging lines were severed by a following aircraft.  He was replaced by Lieutenant Colonel G. F. P. Bradbrooke, who led the battalion until the end of operations in Normandy on 14 June 1944.

 (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3298165)

Lieutenant-Colonel G.F.P. Bradbrooke, Commanding Officer of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, and his Deputy Commander, Major Jeff A. Nicklin, outside Battalion Headquarters, Carter Barracks, Bulford, England, January 1944.

In July 1943, the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion was dispatched to the UK and came under the command of the 3rd Parachute Brigade of the British 6th Airborne Division.  The Battalion then spent the next year in training for airborne operations.  Major differences between their previous American training and the new regime included jumping with only one parachute, and doing it through a hole in the floor of the aircraft, instead of through the door of a Douglas C-47 Dakota.

 (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3302181)

Brigadier S. James L. Hill (right), Commander of the British 3rd Parachute Brigade, briefs officers of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, Carter Barracks, Bulford, England, 6 December 1943.

 (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3298167)

Paratroopers of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion training at Bulford, England, 5 Jan 1944.

 (Library and Archives Canada Photo, e002852749)

1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, May, 1944.

The Battalion served in North West Europe, including the Landing in Normany, France with the 6th Airborne Division, during Operation Tonga, in conjunction with the D-Day landings of 6 June 1944.  They were part of the 3rd Parachute Brigade which included the 8th and 9th Battalions and the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, and the 7th, 12th and 13th Battalions of the 5th Parachute Brigade were involved, with considerable casualties.

 (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3405879)

Paratroopers of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion in a transit camp staging area prior to D-Day, England, ca. 1-5 June 1944.

On the evening on 5 June 1944 the battalion was transported to France in fifty aircraft.  Each man carried a knife, toggle rope, escape kit with French currency, and two 24-hour ration packs in addition to their normal equipment, in all totalling 70 pounds.  The battalion landed one hour in advance of the rest of the brigade in order to secure the Drop Zone (DZ).  Thereafter they were ordered to destroy road bridges over the river Dives and its tributaries at Varaville, then neutralize strongpoints at the crossroads.  In addition, the Canadians were to protect the left (southern) flank of the 9th Battalion, Parachute Regiment during that unit's attack on the Merville Battery, afterwards seizing a position astride the Le Mesnil crossroads, a vital position at the centre of the ridge.  Lieutenant Colonel Bradbrooke issued the following orders to his company commanders:

C Company (Major H.M. MacLeod) was to secure the DZ, destroy the enemy headquarters (HQ), secure the SE corner of the DZ, destroy the radio station at Varaville, and blow the bridge over the Divette stream in Varaville. C Coy would then join the battalion at Le Mesnil cross roads.

A Company (Major D. Wilkins) would protect the left flank of 9th Btn during their attack on the Merville Battery and then cover 9th Battalion's advance to the Le Plein feature. They would seize and hold the Le Mesnil cross roads.

B Company (Major C. Fuller) was to destroy the bridge over the river Dives within two hours of landing and deny the area to the enemy until ordered to withdraw to Le Mesnil cross roads.

The Battalion landed between 0100 and 0130 hours on 6 June 1944, becoming the first Canadian unit on the ground in France.  For different reasons, including adverse weather conditions and poor visibility, the soldiers were scattered, at times quite far from the planned drop zone.  By mid-day, and in spite of German resistance, the men of the battalion had achieved all their objectives; the bridges on the Dives and Divette in Varaville and Robehomme were cut, the left flank of the 9th Parachute Battalion at Merville was secure, and the crossroads at Le Mesnil was taken.  In the following days, the Canadians were later involved in ground operations to strengthen the bridgehead and support the advance of Allied troops towards the Seine River.

 (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3215223)

Lieutenant-Colonel G.F. Eadie inspecting "C" Company, 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, Kolkhagen, Germany, 24 April 1945. 

On 23 August 1944 Lieutenant Colonel Bradbrooke was appointed to the General Staff at Canadian Military Headquarters in London with Major G.F. Eadie taking temporary control of the battalion.  Three days later, on 26 August 1944, the 6th Airborne Division was pulled from the line in Normandy.  27 officers and 516 men from the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion took part in the Battle of Normandy and the unit suffered 367 casualties.  Of those casualties, 5 officers and 76 men were killed or died or wounds.  The unit had to be re-organized and retrained in order to regain its strength and combat-readiness.  The Battle of Normandy had brought a major change to the way the war was fought.  Airborne troops needed new training to prepare for an offensive role, including street fighting and capturing enemy positions.  On 6 September the Battalion left Normandy and returned to the Bulford training camp in the United Kingdom.  While there, Lieutenant Colonel Jeff Nicklin became the battalion commander.

 (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3527074)

General Sir Bernard Montgomery decorating Captain John P. Hanson, "C" Company, 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, with the Military Cross, France, 16 July 1944.

 (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3533720)

General Sir Bernard L. Montgomery decorating Lance-Corporal Russell A. Geddes, 6 Platoon, "B" Company, 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, with the Military Medal in the Normandy beachhead, France, 16 July 1944. 

In December 1944, the Battalion was again sent to mainland Europe.  On Christmas Day they sailed for Belgium, to counter the German offensive in the Ardennes, in what became known as the Battle of the Bulge.

On 2 January 1945, the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion was again committed to ground operations on the continent, arriving at the front during the last days of the Battle of the Bulge.  They were positioned to patrol during both day and night and defend against any enemy attempts to infiltrate their area.  The Battalion also took part in a general advance, taking them through the towns of Aye, Marche, Roy and Bande.  The capture of Bande marked the end of the fight for the Bulge and the Battalion's participation in the operation.

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3526680)

Paratroopers of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion preparing for a patrol, Bande, Belgium, 15 January 1945.

The Battalion was next moved into the Netherlands in preparation for the crossing of the River Rhine.  They were active in carrying out patrols and raids and to establish bridge heads where and when suitable . Despite the heavy shelling of the Canadian positions, there were very few casualties considering the length of time they were there and the strength of the enemy positions.  During this time, the Battalion maintained an active defence as well as considerable patrol activity until its return to the United Kingdom on 23 February 1945.

 (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3191613)

1st Canadian Parachute Battalion paratroops taking part in a mass drop from C-47s, 6 Feb 1944.

 (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3586536)

Three paratroopers of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, Carter Barracks, Bulford, England, 13 February 1944.

 (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3565512)

Lieutenants Joseph Philippe Rousseau (left) and Joseph Maurice Rousseau, 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, at a transit camp near Down Ampney, England, 13 February 1944. Both officers were later killed in action, Philippe on 7 June 1944 and Maurice on 20 September 1944.

Following this action, the Battalion took part in a short reinforcement stint in Belgium and the Netherlands.  On 7 March 1945, the Battalion returned from leave to start training for what would be the last major airborne operation of the war, Operation Varsity, the crossing of the Rhine.

The 17th US Airborne and 6th British Airborne divisions were tasked to capture Wesel across the Rhine River, to be completed as a combined paratrooper and glider operation conducted in daylight.

The 3rd Parachute Brigade was tasked to clear the DZ and establish a defensive position road at the west end of the drop zone and, to seize the Schnappenburg feature astride the main road running north and south of this feature.

The 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion was ordered to seize and hold the central area on the western edge of the woods, where there was a main road running north from the Wesel to Emmerich, and to a number of houses.  It was believed this area was held by German paratroopers.  "C" Company would clear the northern part of the woods near the junction of the roads to Rees and Emmerich.  Once this area was secure, "A" Company would advance through the position and seize the houses located near the DZ.  "B" Company would clear the South-Western part of the woods and secure the battalion's flank.  Despite some of the paratroopers being dropped some distance from their landing zone, the Battalion managed to secure its objectives quickly.  The battalion lost its commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Jeff Nicklin, who was killed during the initial jump on 24 March 1945.  Following the death of Nicklin, the last unit commander was Lt. Col. G.F. Eadie until the Battalion's disbandment.

 (IWM Photo, E 59364A)

Crossing the Rhine 24 -31 March 1945, Douglas C-47 Dakota transport aircraft release hundreds of paratroops and their supplies over the Rees-Wesel area to the east of the Rhine.  This was the greatest airborne operation of the war.  Some 40,000 paratroops were dropped by 1,500 troop-carrying planes and gliders during Operation Varsity, part of Operation Plunder. 

The airborne assault over the Rhine, Operation Varsity, was the largest single airborne operation in the history of airborne warfare and also involved the US 17th Airborne Division.  Five battalions of the 6th Airborne Division took part.  The first unit to land was the  The brigade suffered a number of casualties as it engaged the German forces in the Diersfordter Wald, but by 11:00, the DZ was almost cleared of German forces.  The key town of Schnappenberg was captured by the 9th Battalion in conjunction with the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion.  Despite taking casualties, the brigade cleared the area of German forces, and by 13:45, the brigade reported it had secured all of its objectives.

 (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3227293)

Lance-Corporal Gordon A. Comeau, 7 Platoon, "C" Company, 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, and Corporal Lewis G. Wiseman dug in as protection against German shellfire and mortar fire, Bergerfurth Wald, Germany, 24 March 1945.

The outcome of this operation was the defeat of the I. Fallschirmkorps in a day and a half.  In the following 37 days, the Battalion advanced 285 miles (459 km) as part of the British 6th Airborne Division, encountering the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp on 15 April 1945 and taking the city of Wismar on 2 May 1945 to prevent the Soviets from advancing too far West.  It was at Wismar that the battalion met up with the Red Army (the only Canadian army unit to do so during hostilities, other than a Canadian Film and Photo Unit detachment).  The armistice was signed on 8 May and the battalion returned to England.

 (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3524486)

Personnel of the 8th Royal Scots linking up with personnel of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion after crossing the Rhine River, Bergerfarth, Germany, 25 Mar 1945. 

With victory in Europe and the Pacific War ending in August, the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, the Battalion sailed for Canada on the Isle de France on 31 May 1945, and arrived in Halifax on 21 June.  They were the first unit of the Canadian Army to be repatriated and on 30 September the battalion was officially disbanded.  The battalion was perpetuated in the infantry commandos of The Canadian Airborne Regiment (1968-1995), whose colours carried the battle honours: Normandy Landing, Dives Crossing, The Rhine, and North-west Europe 1944–1945.

Corporal Frederick George Topham, a medical orderly in the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, was awarded the Victoria Cross, for action he took part in east of the River Rhine, near Wesel, Germany, on 24 March 1945.  His citation reads:

Department of National Defence, Ottawa. 3rd August, 1945.

THE CANADIAN ARMY.

The KING has been graciously pleased to approve the award of the VICTORIA CROSS to: —

No. B.39039 Corporal Frederick George TOPHAM, 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion.

On 24th March, 1945, Corporal Topham, a medical orderly, parachuted with his Battalion on to a strongly defended area east of the Rhine.  At about 1100 hours, whilst treating casualties sustained in the drop, a cry for help came from a wounded man in the open.  Two medical orderlies from a field ambulance went out to this man in succession but both were killed as they knelt beside the casualty.

Without, hesitation and on his own initiative, Corporal Topham went forward through intense fire to replace the orderlies who had been killed before his eyes.  As he worked on the wounded man, he was himself shot through the nose.  In spite of severe bleeding and intense pain, he never faltered in his task.  Having completed immediate first aid, he carried the wounded man steadily and slowly back through continuous fire to the shelter of a wood.

During the next two hours Corporal Topham refused all offers of medical help for his own wound.  He worked most devotedly throughout this period to bring in wounded, showing complete disregard for the heavy and accurate enemy fire.  It was only when all casualties had been cleared that he consented to his own wound being treated.

His immediate evacuation was ordered, but he interceded so earnestly on his own behalf that he was eventually allowed to return to duty.

On his way back to his company he came across a carrier, which had received a direct hit.   Enemy mortar bombs were still dropping around, the carrier itself was burning fiercely and its own mortar ammunition was exploding.  An experienced officer on the spot had warned all not to approach the carrier.

Corporal Topham, however, immediately went out alone in spite of the blasting ammunition and enemy fire, and rescued the three occupants of the carrier.   He brought these men back across the open and although one died almost immediately afterwards, he arranged for the evacuation of the other two, who undoubtedly owe their lives to him.

This N.C.O. showed sustained gallantry of the highest order.  For six hours, most of the time in great pain, he performed a series of acts of outstanding bravery and his magnificent and selfless courage inspired all those who witnessed it.

Note: His medals are currently held in the Army Museum at the Halifax Citadel, Nova Scotia.

Most of the data presented here has been drawn from Wikipedia, with extracts from: 

  • John A. Willes, Out of the Clouds: The History of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, 1995.
  • Dan Hartigan, A Rising of Courage: Canada's Paratroops in the Liberation of Normandy, Calgary, Drop Zone Publishers, 2000.
  • Bernd Horn & Michael Wyczynski, Tip of the Spear: An Intimate Account of 1 Canadian Parachute Battalion, Dundurn Press 2002.
  • Gary Boegel, Boys of the Clouds: An Oral History of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion 1942–45, Trafford, 2005

Background

The initial idea for these Airborne forces was based on a plan submitted by Geoffrey Pike, a British inventor working for the British Combined Operations.  Pyke devised a plan for the creation of a small, élite force capable of fighting behind enemy lines in winter conditions.  This was to have been a commando unit that could be landed, by sea or air, into occupied Norway, Romania and/or the Italian Alps on sabotage missions against hydroelectric plants and oil fields.  Allied commandos were to be parachuted into the Norwegian mountains to establish a covert base on the Jostedalsbreen, a large glacier plateau in German-occupied Norway, for guerrilla actions against the German army of occupation.

In May 1942, the concept papers for Plough were scrutinized by Lieutenant Colonel Robert T. Frederick, a young officer in the Operations Division of the U.S. General Staff.  Frederick was given the task of creating a fighting unit for Project Plough and was promoted to Colonel to command it.

 (Author Photo)

M29 Weasel on display inside the Camp Mabry Military Museum, Austin, Texas.

The Airborne units needed a suitable oversnow vehicle.   In April 1942, since no suitable vehicle existed, the U.S. government therefore asked automobile manufacturers to look into such a design.  Studebaker subsequently created the T-15 cargo carrier, which later became the M29 Weasel.  

The T-15 snowmobile vehicle was capable of carrying four men, and was used by the FSSF in the Aleutians.  A larger vehicle known as the T-24 (later standardized as the M29), was used by the Force in Italy, although in limited numbers.

In January 1944, 12 of the 100 T-24 Weasels the Force had brought to Italy were uncrated for the first time.  The Force found it preferred mules in much of the terrain it found in Italy, due to the rugged hills they were forced to operate in.  A few Weasels were used by the Canadian Army in Europe.

 (NWT Archives Photo, Henry Busse, N-1979-052-4716)

In Canada the Department of Munitions and Supply was asked to develop a snowmobile, and did produce an effective vehicle, the Canadian Armoured Snowmobile Mk. I.  The "Penguin" was originally open topped with a two-man crew, a driver in front and commander in the rear.  An aluminum cab gave more room and could be heated.  With these modifications the Penguin gave good service in the Army's post-war Arctic exercises.  This photo is of one of 15 Penguin snowmobiles, on Operation Muskox, which took place on Great Bear Lake in the Northwest Territories in 1946.  They travelled in the dead of winter from Churchill, Manitoba up through the Arctic.  Three machines were diverted to Cambridge Bay where the RCMP supply vessel St. Roch was frozen in for the winter.  One of the three Penguins, No. 8, was commanded by Captain Bob Inglis, Canadian Army. They ended up in Edmonton, Alberta.  Machine No. 8 survived and was sent to the Bombardier Museum but because they didn't build it, they scrapped it.  (Colin MacGregor Stevens)

In July 1942, the Canadian Minister of National Defence, James Ralston, approved the assignment of 697 officers and enlisted men for Project Plough, under the guise that they were forming Canada's first airborne unit, the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion.

Due to a decision to raise an actual Canadian parachute battalion, the Canadian volunteers for Project Plough were also sometimes known unofficially as the "2nd Canadian Parachute Battalion".  The Canadian element did not officially become a unit until April–May 1943, under the designation, 1st Canadian Special Service Battalion.  On 1 May 1943, the commander of the Canadian contingent began signing the unit's war diary as the CO of the "1st Canadian Special Service Battalion."

While its members remained part of the Canadian Army, subject to its code of discipline and paid by the Canadian government, they were to be supplied with uniforms, equipment, food, shelter and travel expenses by the U.S. Army.  It was agreed that a Canadian would serve as second in command of the force and that half of the officers and one third of the enlisted men would be Canadian. 

Lieutenant Colonel McQueen, formerly in command of The Calgary Highlanders in the United Kingdom, had returned to North America to accept the position of senior Canadian in the Force.  He broke his leg in parachute training on 13 August 1942 and left the Force shortly afterwards, going to Washington, D.C. in a liaison role for the force.  He later commanded The Lincoln and Welland Regiment in Normandy.   Lieutenant Colonel Don Williamson of The Dufferin and Haldimand Rifles took over as senior Canadian and executive officer (second-in-command) of the FSSF.  Approximately half the leadership positions in this force were occupied by Canadians, with about 1/3 of the unit's personnel drawn from the Canadian Army.

The combat force was to be made up of three regiments.  Each regiment was led by a lieutenant colonel and 32 officers and boasted a force of 385 men.  The regiments were divided into two battalions with three companies in each battalion and three platoons in each company. The platoon was then broken up into two sections.  Following initial training period in Montana, the FSSF relocated to Camp Bradford, Virginia, on 15 April 1943, and to Fort Ethan Allen, Vermont, on 23 May 1943.

 (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3579997)

Private Tom J. Phelan, 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, who was wounded on 16 June 1944 at Le Mesnil, rides his airborne folding bicycle at the battalion's reinforcement camp, England, 1944.  Note he is armed with a Sten gun with wooden stock.

 (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3298166)

Sergeant Gordon Davis of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, riding a Welbike lightweight motorcycle used by airborne forces, Carter Barracks, Bulford, England, 5 January 1944.

 (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3231124)

Company Sergeant-Major W.I. Blair of "C" Company, 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, Bulford, England, with .45 calibre Automatic Colt Pistol (ACP) M1911, 5 January 1944.  The paras also used the 9-mm Browning automatic pistol.

 (Author Photo)

Canada, 9-mm Browning Hi-Power Pistol, (Serial No. 4T1374), New Brunswick Military History Museum, 5 Canadian Division Support Base Gagetown, New Brunswick.

 (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3852579)

Members of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, Private L.J. Goulet from Sudbury, Ontario and R.E. Heath from Windsor, Ontario, riding a motorcycle on March 1945 during the Battalion advance through Lembeck, Germany.

 (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3588776)

Lieutenant G. Murray Williams of Headquarters Company, 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, riding a Norton Model 1G-H motorcycle during the battalion's advance from Lembeck through Coesfeld, Germany, 30 March 1945. 

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 35160970)

Parachute training at the A35 Canadian Parachute Training Centre, Camp Shilo, 15 Feb 1944.

  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3516165)

Parachute training at the A35 Canadian Parachute Training Centre, Camp Shilo, 20 Mar 1945.

 (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3516167)

Paratrooper with Sten gun preparing for a jump at the A35 Canadian Parachute Training Centre, Camp Shilo, 20 Mar 1945.

 (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3607643)

Lieutenant Tom Brier, 1 Canadian Parachute Battalion, wearing American Parachute equipment, Helmet, 7-5 Parachute Assembly and reverse, Jump Boots, Parachute Jackett and Pants.

 (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3516169)

Paratrooper with Sten gun preparing for a jump at the A35 Canadian Parachute Training Centre, Camp Shilo, 20 Mar 1945.

 (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3592064)

Canadian parachute-qualified personnel armed with .303 Lee Enfield rifles, shortly before they were posted to the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion undertaking winter infantry training at A-35 Canadian Parachute Training Centre (Canadian Army Training Centres and Schools), Camp Shilo, Manitoba, Canada, 20 March 1945.

 (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3592070)

Canadian parachute-qualified soldier armed with a portable infantry anti-tank (PIAT) weapon, undertaking winter infantry training at A-35 Canadian Parachute Training Centre (Canadian Army Training Centres and Schools), Camp Shilo, Manitoba, Canada, 20 March 1945.

 (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3405881)

Private L.H. Johnson and Sergeant D.R. Fairborn of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion with a PIAT anti-tank weapon, Lembeck, Germany, 29 March 1945.

 (Author Photo)

Portable infantry anti-tank (PIAT) weapon, private collection, Fredericton, New Brunswick.

 (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3298173)

1st Canadian parachute Bn snipers in ghillie suits, during an inspection by King George VI, Queen Elizabeth and Princess Elizabeth, Salisbury Plain, England, 17 May 1944.

 (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3526696)

H.M. King George VI meeting Major D.J. Wilkins, 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, Salisbury Plain, England, 19 May 1944.

 (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3405882)

1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, Greven, Germany, 4 April 1945. 

 (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 5053653)

1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, 1944.

 (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3592068)

Canadian parachute-qualified personnel armed with .45 cal Thompson SMG and .303 Lee Enfield rifles on the range.  They were posted to the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion undertaking winter infantry training at A-35 Canadian Parachute Training Centre (Canadian Army Training Centres and Schools), Camp Shilo, Manitoba, Canada, 20 March 1945.

 (Author Photo)

.45 calibre Thompson submachine gun (SMG), on display in the New Brunswick Military History Museum, 5 Canadian Division Support Base Gagetown, New Brunswick.  The M1 and M1A1 had a barrel without cooling fins, a simplified rear sight, provisions only for box magazines, employed a straight blowback action and the charging handle was on the side of the receiver.

 (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3591161)

Corporal D.L. Harris, a member of the first group of Canadian Army personnel selected for parachute training, wrestling with a parachute canopy deployed by a wind machine, August 1942.

 (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3574085)

1st Canadian Parachute Battalion paratroopers preparing to board a Lockheed Lodestar (Serial No. 560), Rivers, Manitoba, 11 Aug 1943.

 (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3591141)

Lieutenant-General Kenneth Stuart (left), Chief of the General Staff, talking with Lieutenant Al Liddiard, who explains the deployment of a reserve parachute's suspension lines, S-14 Canadian Parachute Training School (Canadian Army Training Centres and Schools), Camp Shilo, Manitoba, 13 September 1943.

 (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3405883)

Sergeant D.F. Wright of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, Kolkhagen, Germany, 30 April 1945.

CANLOAN Officers serving with the British 6th Airborne Division during the Second World War

 (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3231889)

CANLOAN officers serving with the 2nd Battalion, South Staffordshire Regiment (British Army), London, England, ca. October 1944.  6th Airborne Division.

 (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3591583)

Lieutenant McWilliams, 21 June 1944. Lieutenant D.I. McWilliams, of Toronto, photographed in Ottawa on 21 June 1944.  He wears Canadian Service Dress with Canadian parachute wings, the red, white and blue fourragere (braided shoulder cord/lanyard), and the arrowhead FSSF insignia.  He wears a Sam Browne cros belt, and his cap, of Canadian design, bears the cap badge of the Canadian Parachute Corps.  His collar badges are also for the Canadian Parachute Corps,  as well as the American collar badges of the First Special Service Force.  Research published by Ken Joyce has shown that some officers had attempted to obtain badges of the Canadian Parachute Corps, having no time to design their own Force badges.  The Corps, however, was nominal - it did not exist in reality, and the Force was so informed by National Defence Headquarters in Ottawa.  The 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion nonetheless used the badges of the non-existent corps as its insignia, (as were parachute school staff in Canada), and so a number of Force officers purchased the insignia directly from the manufacturer (William Scully) in Montreal.

First Special Service Force

The Canadian Airborne Regiment also drew much inspiration from the history of the First Special Service Force. The Regiment bears the FSSF battle honours Monte Camino, Monte Majo, Monte La Difensa/Monte La Remetanea, Anzio and Rome on its Regimental Colour. As well the unconventional nature of the First Special Service Force, similar to the British SAS and the current U.S. Army Special Forces and elsewhere, was not replicated in the more conventional role of the Canadian Airborne Regiment. Nevertheless, its accomplishments served as a model for many members of the new "Airborne".

The First Special Service Force was a unique joint formation of Canadian and American troops assigned to perform sabotage operations in Europe in the Second World War. Simply named "special forces" to conceal its "commando" or "ranger" purpose, this unit later gained fame as the "Devil's Brigade". The Canadians were designated the "2nd Canadian Parachute Battalion".

Members were handpicked and sent to Fort William Henry Harrison, Helena, Montana, for special training. The Canadians wore American uniforms and equivalent ranks to eliminate any questions of command among the troops. Their work-up took place in three phases, with extensive physical training throughout the program. The first phase included parachute training, small unit tactics and weapons handling—all officers and ranks were required to master the full range of infantry weapons from pistols and carbines to bazookas and flame throwers. Next came explosives handling and demolition techniques, then a final phase consisted of skiing, rock climbing, adapting to cold weather, and operation of the Weasel combat vehicle. Exercises in amphibious landings and beach assaults were added later.

 (US Army Photo)

Canadian and American paratroopers of the First Special Service Force undergoing parachute training at Fort William Henry Harrison, Montana, in 1942.

 (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3378674)

First Special Service Force paratroopers boarding a Douglas C-47 Skytrain for a jump at Fort William Henry Harrison, Montana, in 1942.

 (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3378685)

Forceman of the First Special Service Force preparing rations in an improvised shelter during cold weather survival training, Blossburg, Montana, United States, January 1943.

Canadian Infantrymen of the 13th Infantry Brigade Group, landing at Kiska in the Aleutian Islands, Alaska on Op COTTAGE, 16 Aug 1943.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3211083)

It was decided that the FSSF would be blooded against the Japanese forse occupying the Aleutian island of Kiska.  The FSSF arrived at the San Francisco Port of Embarkation on 4 July 1943, and sailed for the Aleutian Islands on 10 July 1943.  On 15 August 1943, 1st SSF was part of the invasion force of the island of Kiska, but after discovering the island was recently evacuated by Japanese forces, it re-embarked and left ship at Camp Stoneman, California.  The FSSF returned to Fort Ethan Allen, arriving 9 September 1944.

The FSSF was sent to Italy where it was reassigned to the United States 5th Army, which was fighting its way north through the rugged mountainous terrain of Italy.  German forces entrenched in two mountains were inflicting heavy casualties on the 5th US Army.  After a 12 day attack was stopped cold at Monte la Difensa, the Force went in and cleared the veteran German 104th Panzergrenadier Regiment from the summit, a feat immortalized in the 1968 motion picture The Devil's Brigade.

The first regiment with 600 men, had scaled a 1,000-foot (300 m) cliff by night to surprise the enemy position.  Planned as a three- to four-day assault, the battle was won in just two hours.  The force remained for three days, packing in supplies for defensive positions and fighting frostbite, then moved on to the second mountain, Monte Majo, which was soon overtaken.  In the end, FSSF suffered 511 casualties including 73 dead and 116 exhaustion cases. The commander, Colonel Robert Frederick, was wounded twice himself. 

 (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3397561)

Forcemen awaiting medical evacuation, near Venafro, Italy, January 1944. Left to right, Sgt. Roy Cooper (6-1 & 5-2), Portage LaPrairie, Manitoba, Sgt. Fred Hill (6-1), Havelock, Ontario, and Sgt. N.D. Torpe (5-1), Metiskow, Alberta.  The men are wearing with the tags to record the medications they have been given. 

By 8 January, after roughly two months in combat, the 1,800 men making up the combat strength of the Force had dropped to just over 500.  The FSSF received glowing praise from the corps and army commander in the wake of the fighting at Difensa and Remetanea.

Map of FSSF Operations in Italy, 2 Dec 1943 to 17 Jan 1944.

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3389676)

First Special Service Force. Lieutenant Joe Kostelec, Calgary, Alberta, wearing the distinctive FSSF patch on his shoulder, Nocci, Italy, January 1944.  Joe Kostelic was a former enlisted man and NCO who had joined the Loyal Edmonton Regiment on 4 Sep 1939.  He was wounded in Dec 1943 and received a commission in Jan 1944 after the attack on Mount la Difensa.  Joe Springer reported that Lt Kostelec was a natural leader.  Kostelic was listed as missing in action (MIA) after a night raid on Anzio. 

 (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3302126)

FSSF Sergeant, wearing the distinctive FSSF patch on his shoulder, Anzio, Italy, 20 Apr 1944.  He is armed with a  2.36-inch Bazooka man-portable recoilless anti-tank rocket launcher, widely fielded by the United States Army during the Second World War.  Also referred to as the "Stovepipe", the innovative bazooka was among the first generation of rocket-propelled anti-tank weapons used by infantry in combat.

FSSF shoulder patch.

 (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3396066)

Forcemen of the First Special Service Force being briefed before setting out on a patrol, Anzio beachhead, Italy, 20 April 1944.

 (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3378956)

A 6-2 Section of the First Special Service Force led by SSgt KS Chapman, during a battle drill in the Anzio beachhead, Italy, ca. 20-27 April 1944 Kenneth S Chapman (6-2), Thomas C Potenza (6-2, died of wounds 2 Nov 1944), Norman J Overall (6-2), Theodore F Olynyk (6-2) and Herman W McC, arthy (6-2, KIA 3 June 1944).

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3378968)

Sergeant Charles Shepard (6-2), Lieutenant Henry H. Rayner (5-2 &1-2), Private First Class James A. Jones (5-2 & 6-2), Forcemen of the First Special Service Force preparing to go on an evening patrol in the Anzio beachhead, Italy, ca. 20-27 April 1944.

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3378974)

Forcemen of 1st Regiment, 2nd Company, 2 Platoon, First Special Service Force, in an M-2 60mm mortar pit, Anzio beachhead, Italy, ca. 20-27 April 1944.  On the left is L.L. (Curly) Grew, wounded at Anzio, in the middle is J.F. Ball, and on the right is F.A. Murphy killed-in-action 29 May 1944.

First Special Service Force, 1-2 possibly along the Mussolini Canal near Anzio Beach, April 1944. (Library and Archives Canada Photo, PA128976)

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3395526)

First Special Service Force, preparing a meal, Anzio, ca 20 April 1944.

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3378957)

Cyril L. Sullivan on the left and his loader, Forcemen of the First Special Service Force manning a .30 cal general purpose machine gun (GPMG) on Anzio Beach, ca 20-27 April 1944.

 (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3378687)

L-R): Private Rorbert "Bruce" Aitken (1-3), Silver Star; Sergeants John A. Rich (3-3), Distinguished Service Cross, and Camille Gagnon (2-3), Silver Star; Private Norman E. Enberg (2-3), Silver Star.  Forcemen of the First Special Service Force who received medals in the Anzio beachhead, Italy, 20 April 1944.  

 (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3378967)

(L-R): Pvt Dan Lemaire (5-2 & 6-2), Pfc Richard Stealey (6-2), Sgt Charles Shepard (6-2), Lt H.H. Raynor (5-2 & 1-2), Pfc James A. Jones (5-2 & 6-2), Forcemen of 5-2, First Special Service Force, preparing to go on an evening patrol in the Anzio beachhead, Operation Shingle, Italy, ca. 31 March 1944.  The soldier on the left is carrying a .30 calibre M1941 Johnson Light Machine Gun (LMG) unique to the FSSF.

 (Fab-pe Photo)

.30 calibre M1941 Johnson Light Machine Gun (LMG)

 (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3378694)

Forcemen of the First Special Service Force, milking a cow near Anzio Beach, 20 April 1944.  The soldier doing the milking is wearing a V-42 Stiletto combat knife beside his .45 cal M1911 pistol.

 (John Gibson Photo)

V-42 Stiletto combat knife, issued to the FSSF during the Second World War.  Based on the Fairbairn-Sykes commando knife, the Fighting Commando Knife, Type V-42 used a narrow-profile, double-edged stiletto blade made of high carbon steel.  The V-42 was primarily designed by officers of the FSSF, including its commanding officer, Lt. Colonel Robert T. Frederick, who desired a close-quarters combat knife. The blade's design has been attributed to Col. Frederick, who had seen the Fairbairn–Sykes fighting knife while serving in Britain.  The thumb groove on the V-42's ricasso was designed to promote a flat grip with the thumb over the crossguard, which positioned the double-edged blade horizontally.  In this manner a user could slash an opponent with either a forehand or backhand stroke, while ensuring that his blade would slip between the ribs when used in a thrust or stab.

 (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3396041)

Lieutenant W.H. Langdon, carrying full kit, joins up with his unit, the First Special Service Force north of Venafro, Italy, January 1944.

 (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3396063)

Canadian and First Special Service Force soldiers with captured automatic weapons in the Anzio beachhead, Italy, 20 April 1944.  According to Ted Morin, there is a story about the colt shown in this picture.  One night a patrol was returning, when they came upon a mare that had been killed, when it had stepped on a mine.  As they drew closer, they noticed a small black colt nestled against it.  A man picked up the colt and carried it back to safety, where they built a corral and shelter for it.  Over the next two months, it was kept warm and dry, and cared for night and day.  When the breakout occurred, arrangements were made to have "Anzio", the name it was given, to be transported by truck and follow the Force advance.  In Rome, Anzio and the men were reunited.  When the Force moved to San Albano, the colt went with them.  There they came upon an Orphanage, for children, run by Catholic Nuns, and Anzio was turned over to the Nuns for the entertainment of the children.

The weapons captured by the FSSF include the following:

 (Author Photo)

MP 40 (Maschinenpistole 40) 9-mm submachine gun (SMG), developed in Germany and used extensively by the Axis powers during the Second World War.  This one is on display in the Canadian Military Engineer Museum, 5 Canadian Division Support Base Gagetown, New Brunswick.

 (Author Photo)

MAB 38 (Moschetto Automatico Beretta Modello 1938), Modello 38, or Model 38 and its variants were a series of 9-mm official submachine guns of the Royal Italian Army introduced in 1938 and used during the Second World War.  The guns were also used by the German, Romanian, and Argentine armies of the time.  This one is on display in the New Brunswick Military History Museum (Woolastook), New Maryland, New Brunswick.

 (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3509521)

Captured Italian 8-mm Breda M37 machine gun, being examined by Canadians near Syracuse, Italy, 11 August 1943.

 (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3378973)

L-R): Privates Willie.P. LeLievre (5-2) and Ludger E. Roussy (5-2), Forcemen of 5-2, First Special Service Force, with an .30 cal M41 Johnson light machine gun, Anzio beachhead, Italy, ca. 20-27 April 1944.

The FSSF spent 90 days in the Anzio beachhead, occupying defensive positions whihc made up a large part of the entire perimeter.  They patrolled aggressively against the crack Hermann Goering Division opposite them.  Replacements arrived during their time in the beachhead, and on 23 May 1944 the now-recovered FSSF moved forward again, leading the advance of VI Corps to Rome and the Advance to the Tiber in June.

 (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3206400)

Entry of Allied Forces into Rome, 4 June 1944.  The vehicles unit markings have been edited out by the official censor.

The FSSF saw continued action throughout the Mediterranean, at Monte Sammucro, Radicosa, and Anzio. For the final advance on Rome, the FSSF was given the honour of being the lead force in the assault and became the first Allied unit to enter the "Eternal City".  Their success later continued in southern France and then at the France-Italian border.  Often misused as line troops, the force suffered continuously high casualties until it was finally withdrawn from combat.

In August 1944, the Force was able to use its amphibious skills during the landings on islands flanking the invasion beaches in Southern France as part of Operation DRAGOON.  The unit then fell under the operational control of the 1st Airborne Task Force, clearing the French coastline east to the Italian border. It was their last major mission, and in December 1944, with the need for specialized forces waning, the Force was disbanded. The Canadians went largely to the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, the Americans to the 474th Infantry (Separate) Regiment, or to US parachute units.  The parachute-trained and combat tested Canadians of the FSSF were seen as a valuable asset for the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion then training in England.

 (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3963983)

Here are four of the main figures in the invasion of the French islands of Port Cros and Levant which preceded the invasion of Southern France by a few hours in August 1944.  The photo was taken on the bridge of HMCS Prince Henry, a mother ship to Canadian assault craft.  Left to right, Capt. V.S. Godfrey, Victoria, B.C.; Rear Admiral T.E. Chandler, USN, Washington, D.C. whose pennant on the Canadian ship made her the flagship for the operation, which he commanded; Capt. G.E. Maynard, a veteran of the Normandy invasion directly in charge of the Levant assault; and Col. Edwin Walker, who commanded the First Special Service Force from June to Dec 1944, assaulted the islands.  Shown in the background are two Canadian sailors, A.B. Les Cole of Belleville, Ont. and Leading Torpedo Operator Rod Harris of Calgary.

 (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3963973)

First Special Service Force preparing to take part in the assault on the French islands of Port Cros and Levant which preceded the invasion of Southern France by a few hours, August 1944.

 (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3589291)

Sergeant G.A. Rainville, former Canadian member of the First Special Service Force, receiving the Silver Star from Brigadier-General E.F. Koenig, Commander of U.S. Forces in the United Kingdom, Canadian Repatriation Unit, England, 24 April 1945.

Generic CANADA shoulder titles.  When Canadians returned to the Canadian Army after the FSSF was disbanded, some interesting mixes of insignia were worn.  Some returned to their units and some transferred to 1 Canadian Parachute Battalion or its holding unit in the UK.  Some wore an FSSF collar badge (officer or enlisted) as a cap badge on their headgear.  The shiny vertical stripe on Sgt Rainville's lower left arm is a wound stripe.  Canada did not issue a medal for being wounded.

 (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3191549)

FSSF, LCol J.F.R. Akehurst CO 2 Bn & Sgt Tommy Prince, MM, London, 12 Feb 1945.

Organization

The FSSF was outfitted entirely by the US, with uniforms, equipment and weapons.  In some ways they were similarly outfitted to US parachute units, however, there were also major differences, as outlined below.  The Force itself was equal to an over-strength Canadian Infantry Brigade. consisting of three "Regiments" each divided into two battalions.

First Special Service Force

First Regiment

1st Battalion, No. 1 Company, No. 2 Company, No. 3 Company.

2nd Battalion, No. 4 Company, No. 5 Company, No. 6 Company.

Second Regiment

1st Battalion, No. 1 Company, No. 2 Company, No. 3 Company.

2nd Battalion, No. 4 Company, No. 5 Company, No. 6 Company.

Third Regiment

1st Battalion, No. 1 Company, No. 2 Company, No. 3 Company.

2nd Battalion, No. 4 Company, No. 5 Company, No. 6 Company.

Service Battalion,

Maintenance Company, Service Company, Military Police Platoon, Forward Air Controllers.

Each "Regiment" of two battalions generally consisted of about 600 men at full strength, with companies of about 100.  The Force was short on supply troops, although the integral Service Battalion was a unique concept at the time of its introduction in 1942.  The goal was to have all non-combat personnel at the Brigade headquarters.

FSSF Company

HQ Platoon, 1st Platoon, 2nd Platoon, 3rd Platoon

The platoon commander (a lieutenant) would be armed most likely with a .30 calibre M1 carbine and .45 calibre Automatic Colt Pistol (ACP) M1911, and would have two sections under his command.  The section was nominally comprised of twelve men led by a Staff Sergeant.  Each of the two sections had a section leader armed with a .45 calibre Thompson submachine gun (SMG), a .30 calibre M1918  Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR) Gunner, nine .30 calibre semi-automatic M-1 Garand rifles, a .30 calibre M1941 Johnson Light Machine Gun (LMG), and either a 2.36 inch Bazooka man-portable recoiless rocket launcher, or a 60-mm M19 Mortar.

 (Author Photo)

.30 calibre M1 carbine, on display in the New Brunswick Military History Museum, 5 Canadian Division Support Base Gagetown, New Brunswick.

 (Author Photo)

.45 calibre Automatic Colt Pistol (ACP) M1911, on display in the New Brunswick Military History Museum, 5 Canadian Division Support Base Gagetown, New Brunswick.

 (Author Photo)

.45 calibre Thompson submachine gun (SMG), on display in the New Brunswick Military History Museum, 5 Canadian Division Support Base Gagetown, New Brunswick.  The M1928A1 had provisions for box and drum magazines. It had a Cutts compensator, cooling fins on the barrel, employed a delayed blowback action and its charging handle was on the top of the receiver.

 (Author Photo)

30 calibre M1918  Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR), on display in the New Brunswick Military History Museum, 5 Canadian Division Support Base Gagetown, New Brunswick.

 (Author Photo)

.30 calibre semi-automatic M-1 Garand rifle, on display in the New Brunswick Military History Museum, 5 Canadian Division Support Base Gagetown, New Brunswick.

 (Author Photo)

.30 calibre M1941 Johnson Light Machine Gun (LMG), CFB Petawawa Military Museum, Ontario.

 (PD-USGOV-MILITARY-ARMY Photo)

Soldier holding a 2.36-inch M1 Bazooka man-portable recoilless anti-tank rocket launcher, 31 Dec 1942.

 (PD-USGOV-MILITARY-ARMY Photo)

60-mm M19 Mortar.

Support Units

As the FSSF was a light infantry unit, it required heavier support units on occasion.  The FSSF arrived on the Anzio beachhead in Italy with the 456th Parachute Artillery Battalion attached as "semi-Permanent fire support.  This battalion was comprised of three batteries, each equipped with four M1A1 75-mm pack howitzers.  It also had an anti-tank platoon equipped with four M3A1 37-mm anti-tank guns. 

Battalion Headquarters

Security Platoon equipped with two trucks and two .50 calibre Browning Heavy Machine Guns (HMG).

 (Author Photo)

.50 calibre Browning Heavy Machine Gun (HMG), on display in the New Brunswick Military History Museum, 5 Canadian Division Support Base Gagetown, New Brunswick.

Signals Platoon, Supply Platoon and Maintance Platoon.  NB

Three 75-mm Batteries, each with two sections equipped with two jeeps and two M1A1 75-mm pack howitzers.

 (Author Photo)

M1A1 75-mm pack howitzer, on display in the Royal Regiment of Canadian Artillery School, 5 Canadian Division Support Base Gagetown, New Brunswick.

Anti-Tank Platoon, equipped with four Jeeps and four M3A1 37-mm anti-tank (AT) Guns.

 (Author Photo)

M3A1 37-mm anti-tank Gun, on display in East Millinocket, Maine.

 (IWM Photo, TR 1925)

An American Army Jeep passing a demolished bridge under repair by American Army Engineers, 16 June 1944.  The Germans destroyed this bridge during their retreat from Rome.

Ranger Gun Company (Anzio)

 (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3607690)

While engaged in the fighting at Anzio, Italy in April 1944, the First Special Service Force (FSSF) acquired a Gun Company from an American Ranger  unit, "Darby's Rangers".  This unit was equipped with four T30 Howitzer Motor Carriage halftracks equipped with a 75-mm M1897A4 howitzer, aka "French 75", similar to the ones shown in this photo in service with the Canadian Army in Italy in 1944.

The Rangers called them Darby’s Aces.  Each gun shield was painted with a different suit of cards.  The Forcemen took the half tracks to Normandy and became the 474th Infantry Regiment’s Cannon Company. Later equipped with M7 “Priests”.

 (Author Photo)

3rd Cav Museum, M7 Priest 105-mm SP Gun on display at the 3rd Cavalry Museum, Fort Hood, Texas.

81st Reconnaissance Battalion

This battalion (part of the 1st US Armored Division) was sometimes used in support of the FSSF, and probably operated with one recce company in support of each FSSF battalion.  The 81st Reconnaissance Battalion used M8 Greyhound armoured cars, M5A1 Stuart light tanks, the M19 60-mm mortar, and the 1/4 ton truck (both armed and unarmed).

Recce Company

Armoured Car Platoon, equipped with three M8 Greyhound armoured cars, three Jeeps with machine guns (MG), and three Jeeps each equipped with a 60-mm Mortar.

 (Author Photo)

M8 Greyhound Light Armoured Scout Car, 1st Cavalry Museum, Fort Hood, Texas.

 (US National Archives and Records Administration Photo)

Fifth Army jeeps caught in a rain swollen stream.  Moments before the rain, the stream was only a few inches deep.  Volterra Sector, Italy, 9 July 1944.

Light Tank Platoon, equipped with five M5A1 Light Tanks

 (Author Photo)

M5A1 Light Tank, 3rd Cavalry Museum, Fort Hood, Texas.

Sardinian Mule Company

 (US Army Photo)

Soldiers adjust the straps that secure a machine gun to the back of a mule for transport.

Weasel

The T-15, an early snowmobile vehicle capable of carrying four men, was used by the FSSF in the Aleutians, and a larger vehicle known as the T-24 (later standardized as the M29) was used by the Force in Italy, although in limited numbers.

In January 1944, 12 of the 100 T-24 Weasels the Force had brought to Italy were uncrated for the first time. The Force found it preferred mules in much of the terrain it found in Italy, due to the rugged hills they were forced to operate in.  A few were used by the Canadian Army in Europe.

 (Author Photo)

M29 Weasel on display at CFB Petawawa, Ontario.

Disbandment, Menton, France

On 5 December 1944, in the town of Menton in southern France, the First Special Service Force was disbanded.  Its battle honours included Monte Camino, Monte La Difensa, Monte La Remetanea, Monte Majo, Anzio, Rome, Advance to the Tiber, Italy 1943–44, Southern France and Northwest Europe. The Canadians rejoined their home units and the Americans were assigned to either Airborne units or the newly formed 474th Infantry Regiment.  Their Commander, Frederick, became the youngest Major-General ever in the American army, at the age of 37, and took command of the 45th Division.

      Battle Honours As Awarded  By The American Government

Pacific Theater

Aleutians Campaign

Kiska-Little Kiska                      August 15-19, 1943 
Segula Island                             August 17, 1943

Mediterranean Theater

Naples-Foggia Campaign

Monte la Difensa                        December 3-6, 1943 
Monte la Remetanea                   December 6-9, 1943 
Height 720 (Monte Sammucro)    December 25, 1943 
Radicosa                                    January 4, 1944 
Monte Majo                               January 6, 1944 
Monte Vischiataro                       January 8, 1944 
Mussolin Canal (Anzio)               February 2 - May 10, 1944 
Monto Arrestino                         May 25, 1944 
Rocca Massima                          May 27, 1944 
Colle Ferro                                 June 2, 1944

Rome-Arno Campaign

Rome                                         June 4, 1944 
 

Southern France Campaign

Ille d'Hyeres                               August 14-17, 1944 
Grasse                                       August 27, 1944 
Villeneuve-Loubet                      August 30, 1944 
Vence                                        September 1, 1944 
Drap                                          September 3, 1944 
L'Escarene                                 September 5, 1944 
La Turbie                                  September 6, 1944 
Menton                                     September 7, 1944 
 

Battle Honours as Awarded by the Canadian Government

Monte Camino, Monte la Difensa, Monte la Remetanea, Monte Majo, Height 720 (Monte Samucro), 
Radicosa, Monte Vischiataro, Anzio, Rome, Advance to the Tiber, Monte Arrestino, Rocca Massima, 
Colle Ferro, Itally 1943-1944, Iles d'Hyeres, Grasse, Villeneuve-Loubet, Vence, Drap, L'Escarene, 
La Turbie, Menton, Southern France, Franco-Italian Border. 

(Data courtesy of Alistair Neely, for tremendous detail on the FSSF, visit his web page at: http://www.execulink.com/~kiska/FSSFHomepage.index.html)

"The First Special Service Force made no distinctions when it went into battle -- its men had the common cause of freedom at their side and the common denominator of courage in their hearts. They were neither Canadians nor Americans. They were in General Eisenhower's term, liberators."  President Ronald Reagan.

Major-General Robert T. Frederick

 (USGOV-PD Photo)

Major-General Robert Tryon Frederick, Distingushed Service Cross (DSC), Distinguished Service Medal (DSM), Silver Star, Legion of Merit and Bar, Bronze Star and Bar, Purple Heart (8).  (14 March 1907 - 29 November 1970)

Major-General Frederick was a highly decorated American combat commander during the Second World War.  He commanded the 1st Special Service Force, the 1st Airborne Task Force and the 45th Infantry Division.  When jumping began for the FSSF, he was one of the very first Officers, if not the first, to jump.  He thought that it was important to set the example for his men.  There is a legend that, after only 10 minutes of instruction, he said, to the Instructor: ''enough of that, lets go''.  Another legend was told that he made the jump in his slippers.  In fact, because his Force jump boots had not arrived, he made the jump in his shoes.

On 23 June 1944, Brigadier-General Frederick upon leaving the Force was promoted to Major-General and given the task of raising the 1st Airborne Task Force in preparation for the invasion of southern France, on "Operation Dragoon".  On 15 Aug 1944, in pitch darkness, he was the first to jump out of his plane.  When he landed he reinjured a 10'' wound, that had not completely healed.  Frederick always lead from the front. (Ted Morin)

The success, esprit and discipline of FSSF became a template for building modern special forces worldwide.

Most of the data presented here has been drawn from Wikipedia, with extracts from: 

Adleman, Robert H. The Devil's Brigade.  (Toronto, ON: Bantam Books of Canada, 1967).

Burhans, Robert D. The First Special Service Force: A War History of the North Americans 1942-1944.  (Nashville, Tennessee: Battery Press, 1981).

Horn, Bernd and Michel Wyczynski Hook-Up! The Canadian Airborne Compendium: A Summary of Major Airborne Activities, Exercises and Operations, 1940-2000.  (Vanwell Publishing Ltd., St. Catharine's, Ontario, 2003).

Peppard, Herb. The Lighthearted Soldier: A Canadian's Exploits with the Black Devils in WW II.  (Halifax, NS: Nimbus Publishing Ltd., 1994).

Ross, Robert Todd. The Supercommandos: First Special Service Force, 1942-1944 An Illustrated History, Atglen, PA: Schiffer, Publishing Ltd., 2000.

Post-war Canadian parachute units

Canadian Special Air Service Company

In 1947, the Canadian Special Air Service Company was created with former members of the 1st Can Para and FSSF at its core.  It was commanded by Major Guy D'Artois, a Canadian veteran of the Royal 22e Regiment, First Special Service Force and "F" Section Special Operations Executive with battle experience alongside the French Maquis.

 (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3586981) 

Captain Lionel Guy D'Artois, who served with the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, the First Special Service Force and with the Special Operations Executive (British Army), with Mrs. D'Artois, who also trained and served with the SOE, London, England, ca. 1944-1945.

 (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3191621)

Sonja D'Artois and many other women in the Canadian, British and Allied forces served with the Special Operations Executive (SOE) during the war.  They took part in British parachute training at the Royal Air Force Training School, Ringway, Cheshire, England.

 (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3599776)

Seven repatriated parachute-qualified Canadian officers, who took part in Special Operations Executive (S.O.E.) missions prior to and following D-Day, on a troopship arriving at Halifax, Nova Scotia.

 (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3302137)

Parachute instructors from Camp Shilo, Manitoba's A-35 Canadian Parachute Training Centre (Canadian Army Training Centres and Schools) at Kingston, Ontario, Canada, 9 August 1945.

 (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3584152)

Douglas CC-129 Dakota with Canadian paratroops, Rockcliffe, Ontario, 19 July 1948.

In 1950, Canada was once again mobilizing, this time for Korea and NATO Europe. Each of Canada's three traditional Regular Force regiments (The Royal Canadian Regiment, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry and Royal 22e Régiment) expanded to three battalions. A brigade commitment, consisting of airborne and air-delivered troops to defend Canada's North, was undertaken. Battalions of this Brigade were all airborne. It was structured, over the next 20 years, into the "Mobile Strike Force" and subsequently reduced in size to the "Defence of Canada Force". This parachute role, was switched from one battalion to another within each of Canada's regular infantry regiments, as they rotated to and from Korea and, subsequently, to Europe. The brigade's elements remained garrisoned in their respective bases across the country and seldom exercised as a complete brigade.

Each of the battalions was trained to fly into Canada's North, and seize an airhead or location that could be developed for airlanded operations. When the role changed from one battalion to another, within each regiment, a small nucleus of specialized instructor-planners and riggers generally transferred over to the new battalion; however, the rest of the unit quickly undertook the requisite parachutist qualifications, generally with much enthusiasm; the requirement that parachutists be "volunteers" was rarely an issue in converting these tightly-knit infantry units. There were also airborne artillery, signals, medics, and engineer elements in the brigade.

In 1958 the "Mobile Strike Force" was restructured as "The Defence of Canada Force", resulting in a reduction to one parachute company in each battalion. At this time the airborne artillery was disbanded and other support elements reduced. The parachute component in each battalion consisted of battalion tactical headquarters, and a large company group (i.e. four platoons) with support detachments of mortars, machine guns, pioneers and reconnaissance detachments. A large reserve of trained parachutists was built up in the other companies.

In 1968, many of the officers and soldiers of the "Defence of Canada Force" provided the nucleus of expertise for the new Canadian Airborne Regiment, being created at CFB Edmonton, Alberta, with its French-speaking element at CFB Valcartier, Quebec.

 (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 4234443)

Jump Tower training at CFB Shilo, Manitoba in the 1960s.

Parachute training, RCAF Station Rivers, Manitoba.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 4234630)

 (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 4234442)

Canadian Army Parachutists preparing to board a Fairchild C-119 Flying Boxcar at RCAF Station Rivers, Manitoba, in the 1960s.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 4234442)

 (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 4234633)

Parachute exit position for a Fairchild C-119 Flying Boxcar, RCAF Station Rivers.

 (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 4234634)

Parachute training, Mock Tower, RCAF Station Rivers, Manitoba.

 (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 4234635)

Parachute training, RCAF Station Rivers.

 (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 4234636)

Parachute training, RCAF Station Rivers, Manitoba.

 (Jim Stanton Photo)

2 PPCLI soldiers serving as part of the Defence of Canada Force being briefed for parachute assault on Nome Alaska in February 1962.  They jumped out of US Air National Guard Fairchild C-119 Flying Boxcars, because they had not all been trained on the "new" Lockheed CC-130 Hercules.  Jim Stanton who provided the photo, noted that he is "the cold looking fellow on the far left.  I believe I am the only one still alive!"
  (DND Photo)

First Special Service Force paratrooper Tommy Prince, Canada's most decorated First Nations soldier.

Lieutenant General Stanley C. Waters (1920-1991), Honorary Colonel of the Canadian Airborne Regiment (1971-1976)

The Colonel of the Regiment is an honorary title reserved for former officers of distinguished service.  He is responsible for fostering esprit-de-corps in the Regiment, advising NDHQ on Regimental matters and advising the Regimental Commander on matters such as dress and custom within the Regiment.  The Colonel of the Regiment provides a link to previous generations of Airborne brothers and a measure of continuity within the Regiment.

Born 14 June 1920 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Stanley C. Waters received an education in Edmonton at Strathcona High School and the University of Alberta. In 1941 he received a commission with the 14th Army Tank Battalion and was then posted to the First Special Service Force. In 1943, while part of the FSSF, Waters led his unit up the Monte la Difensa to attack entrenched German forces. In February 1944 he landed at Anzio with Allied forces, where he temporarily took command of a battalion due to casualties sustained during the course of the battle. Deciding to remain in the post-war Canadian Army, Waters rose steadily through the ranks before ending his military career as Lieutenant-General (CD) and Commander of the Canadian Forces Mobile Command in 1975. In 1982 Waters became a founding member of the Reform Party of Canada, and while he did not run as a Reform Party candidate, he did become one of the party's most popular spokesmen. In 1990 Waters became the first person to be elected by a provincial population to be appointed by the Prime Minister to the Senate. Waters died September 25, 1991, of complications resulting from a brain tumor. He left behind his wife Barbara and four children, Claudia, Mark, Virginia, and Caroline.

 (Author Photo)

The last 100 yards statue, Combat Training Centre, 5 Canadian Division Support Base Gagetown, New Brunswick.

 (Author Photo)

The Airborne Forces Monument, located at the entrance to the Canadian Forces Base Petawawa, Ontario, was dedicated on 28 August 1988.  It was constructed in memory of the Canadian Airborne Forces, including the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, The Canada/USA Special Service Force, and Defence of Canada Parachute Units, on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the Canadian Airborne Regiment.

The Canadian Airborne Regiment commissioned this monument to mark its 20th anniversary and to honour all past and present Canadian operational parachute units.  Colonel Andre D. Gauthier (CF Ret'd) of Orleans, Ontario, designed and sculpted this 8 foot high bronze statue.  The artist named the sculpture "INTO ACTION" and it depicts a contemporary Paratrooper in winter gear who has just landed on a frozen lake drop zone, shed his parachute harness (seen at his feet), picked up his rifle and is heading "into action".  The dedication ceremony involved an Honour Guard from the Canadian Airborne Regiment, a Flag Party of Canadian and USA Veterans, a Canadian Forces band, and numerous guests and veterans of Airborne Forces.  Although the Canadian Airborne Regiment was disbanded in 1996, the Airborne role lives on in three Light Infantry battalions (3 PPCLI, 3 RCR and 3 R22eR) which each have a Parachute Company; the monument remains under the care of the Parachute Company of 3 RCR in Petawawa.

Airborne Coin

In the pocket of every member of the Airborne Regiment, if you are lucky enough to be allowed to see it, you will find his most prized possession, his coin. The Airborne coin is not something that is easily obtained, it must be earned.  An Airborne soldier must carry his coin with him at all times. At any time, another soldier can “coin” you by producing their coin. If you can’t produce your coin, you must buy a round of drinks for every soldier who produces a coin in response to the challenge. If however, everyone produces a coin, it falls on the challenger to buy the round.

 

Current parachute capability of the Canadian Forces

After the disbandment of the Canadian Airborne Regiment in 1995, the Canadian army reverted to its former practice of maintaining a parachute company within one of the battalions of each of the regular infantry regiments. The commandos, at that time, returned to their regimental "homes" and became a company of the light battalion of each of their regiments (the 3rd Battalion The Royal Canadian Regiment, the 3rd Battalion Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry and the 3rd Battalion Royal 22e Régiment).

In April 2005, the Canadian government's new defence policy statement was made public. It included a concept of first responders for international tasks consisting of "special forces" (such as Joint Task Force 2) supported by one of the light battalions (presumably on a rotational basis), including the parachute capability of its integral para company.

As a result, the Canadian Special Operations Regiment (CSOR) was formed.