The Remnants of 1 & 2 Can Para, 80 Years on

The 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion was formed in July 1942 with an authorized strength of 26 officers and 590 other ranks, formed into a battalion headquarters, three rifle companies, and an HHC. Incidentally, 2 Can Para was formed shortly after and shipped south to Montana to join a U.S. force to form the First Special Service Force (aka The Devil’s Brigade).

1st Canadian Parachute Battalion shakes hands with Russian officer Wismar Germany on May 4 1945. Source: Photo by Charles H. Richer Department of National Defence / National Archives of Canada, PA-150930.

1 Can Para jumped into Normandy during Overlord/Tonga alongside the 6th British Airborne division– the first Canadian unit on the ground in France since Dieppe– and after reforming (the battalion suffered 367 casualties in the D-Day operation) would fight in the Ardennes and jump across the Rhine in Operation Varsity.

32 Canadian paras with 22IPC Pathfinders, were the first Canadians in France on D Day

Uniform and equipment worn by the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion paratrooper via Legion Magazine, note his helmet and toggle rope

2 Can Para would fight with the Devils Brigade up the length of Italy earning battle honors at Monte Camino, Monte Majo, Monte La Difensa/Monte La Remetanea, Anzio, and Rome.

Devils Brigade…

Post War

With its battalion-sized parachute units disbanded after WWII in favor of a few smaller units dispersed through its infantry regiments, the Canadian Airborne Regiment was stood up in 1968, composed of two “commando” battalions (one English speaking, one partially French) at Edmonton, Alberta, then later shifted to Petawawa, Ontario. The Regiment was soon at work in Cyprus in 1974 (and would return there several times in future years).

By 1977, this changed to an airborne-capable commando company in each of Canada’s three active infantry regiments (The Royal Canadian Regiment, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, and the “Van Doos” of the Royal 22e Régiment), seen as capable of landing at a remote strip in the Canadian far wilderness (or Greenland, Iceland, or Alaska) and setting up for fly-in units in the event of a Soviet incursion over the North Pole, while the Canadian Airborne Regiment was reduced to a battalion-sized rump.

Today

Following a terrible scandal stemming from the Canadian Airborne Regiment’s 1992 tour in Somalia, the regiment was disbanded. However, that doesn’t mean the canucks don’t still maintain an airborne capability.

The 1977 program, with the 3rd Battalion of the RCR, PPCLI, and The Van Doos all maintaining a parachute-certified company, typically the “M” company, persisted. Further, the Canadian Special Operations Regiment (CSOR), carrying the lineage of the old Devil’s Brigade, was formed in 2006 to pull off the sort of ops that the old Canadian Airborne Regiment was tasked with from 1968-1995. In short, the Canadians could put together a reinforced airborne battalion combat team if needed, i.e. the old 1 Can Para. 

As the RCAF only has 29 active CC-130J/CC-130H Hercules and a few elderly CC-130Es in storage, they could only combat drop a battalion-sized force in one go anyway, so the size fits what the Air Force can deliver. 

Today, M(3)PPCLI and M(3)R22R are airborne-capable while the entire 3rd Battalion, RCR, is rated as airmobile/air assault and includes a paratrooper company as well, and they recently got some canvas time in, conducting parachute and helocast maneuvers in Petawawa, Ontario as part of Exercise Royal Trident.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.