Military History Books
by Harold A. Skaarup   www.SilverHawkAuthor.com   
 
Canadian Airborne units before 1968

Canadian Airborne units before 1968

The Canadian Airborne Regiment traces its origin to the Second World War–era 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion (1 Can Para) and the First Special Service Force (FSSF) which was administratively known as the 2nd Canadian Parachute Battalion. The regiment 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.

1st Canadian Parachute Battalion

The 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion was Canada's original airborne unit, formed on July 1, 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.

The battalion's service in the European theatre included the airborne invasion on D-Day, a short reinforcement stint in Belgium and the Netherlands, the airborne crossing of the Rhine and the subsequent advance to Wismar where they met the Russians.

With victory in Europe and the Pacific War ending in August, the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion was disbanded. The battalion was perpetuated in the infantry commandos of The Canadian Airborne Regiment, whose colours carried the battle honours: Normandy Landing, Dives Crossing, The Rhine, and North-west Europe 1944–1945.

Pegasus Badge

Canadian Parachute Wings (before 1968)

Paratroopers of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion preparing for a patrol, Bande, Belgium, 15 January 1945.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3526680)

Paratroopers of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion training at Bulford, England, 5 Jan 1944.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3298167)

1st Canadian Parachute Battalion paratroops, 1944.  (Canadian Army Photo)

1st Canadian Parachute Battalion paratroops, 1944.  (Canadian Army Photo)

1st Canadian Parachute Battalion paratroops preparing to jump from a C-47 Skytrain at Fort Benning, Georgia, 11 Sep 1942.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3581036)

1st Canadian Parachute Battalion paratroops taking part in a mass drop from C-47s, 6 Feb 1944.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3191613)

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. 3302136)

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. 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 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. 3302122)

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

Women in the British forces (many served with the Special Operations Executive (SOE) during the war), taking part in British parachute training at the Royal Air Force Training School, Ringway, Cheshire, England.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3191621)

Parachute training at the A35 Canadian Parachute Training Centre, Camp Shilo, 15 Feb 1944.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 35160970)

Parachute training at the A35 Canadian Parachute Training Centre, Camp Shilo, 20 Mar 1945.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3516165)

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. 3516167)

Parachute training, Aug 1942.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3591161)

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. 3574085)

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 World War II. 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 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.

The first deployment of FSSF to the Aleutian island of Kiska disappointed the troops when it was found that the Japanese forces expected there had already evacuated, but the exercise was considered good experience. The force was next sent to Italy, where German forces entrenched in two mountains were inflicting heavy casualties on the 5th US Army. The first regiment, 600 men, 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, 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.

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. 3396066)

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 an M1941 Johnson light machine-gun unique to the FSSF.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3378967)

M1941 Johnson light machine-gun, CFB Petawawa Military Museum.

The FSSF saw continued action throughout the Mediterranean, at Monte Sammucro, Radicosa, and Anzio. For the final advance on Rome, 1SSF 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.

On the December 5, 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. Frederick became the youngest Major-General ever in the American army, at the age of 37, and took command of the 45th Division.

Robert Tryon Frederick (14 March 1907 - 29 November 1970) 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.  (USGOV-PD Photo)

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

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

1st Canadian Parachute Battalion training at Fort Benning, Georgia, 8 Mar 1943.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3563337)

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

Post-war Canadian parachute units

In 1947, the Canadian Special Air Service Company was created with former members of the 1 Can Para and FSSF at its core.  It was commanded by Major Guy D'Artois, a Canadian hero of the French Maquis.

Captain Lionel Guy D'Artois, London, UK ca. 1944.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3586981)

Douglas CC-129 Dakota with Canadian paratroops, Rockcliffe, Ontario, 19 July 1948.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3584152)

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.

Jump Tower training at CFB Shilo, Manitoba in the 1960s.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 4234443)

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

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)

Parachute exit position for a Fairchild C-119 Flying Boxcar, RCAF Station Rivers.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 4234633)

Parachute training, Mock Tower, RCAF Station Rivers.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 4234634)

Parachute training, RCAF Station Rivers.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 4234635)

Parachute training, RCAF Station Rivers.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 4234636)

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" C-130s.  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!"

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

The last 100 yards statue, Combat Training Centre, CFB Gagetown, New Brunswick.

"Into Action" (1988) by André Gauthier (sculptor) marks the 20th anniversary of the Canadian Airborne Regiment; the sculpture at the entrance to Canadian Forces Base Petawawa's Airborne Forces Museum depicts a Canadian paratrooper in winter combat gear.

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.