The Canadian Airborne Regiment

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The Canadian Airborne Regiment
Airborne logo.jpg
Headquarters: Edmonton, AB (To Petawawa 1977)
Predecessor: None
Perpetuates: 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion
First Special Service Force
Raised: 8 Apr 1968
Disbanded: 5 Mar 1995

The Canadian Airborne Regiment traced its origin to two units formed during the Second World War, the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion and the 1st Canadian Special Service Battalion, which was the administrative name for the Canadian-American First Special Service Force.

In 1947, a Canadian Special Air Service (SAS) Company was created with former members of the wartime parachute units at its core; various reorganizations were made over the twenty years subsqeqent, including being renamed the "Mobile Strike Force" and the "Defence of Canada Force." In 1968, these troops were brought together as The Canadian Airborne Regiment, based at Canadian Forces Base Edmonton.

The regiment was founded as an independent brigade command with two infantry commandos, one artillery battery, one engineer field squadron, one signal squadron, and a service company. In the 1970s a mechanized infantry battalion was added to the Regiment, known as 3 Canadian Mechanized Commando, but this unit was later retasked as 3rd Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment. At that time, the regiment became the core of the Airborne Battle Group within the new Special Service Force based at Canadian Forces Base Petawawa, while its artillery and engineer elements were reassigned to other CF units. The total peacetime strength of the regiment was 750 all ranks.

The Airborne deployed twice at home in the 1970s; during the "October Crisis" in Quebec in 1970, then in 1976 to provide counter-terrorist support at the Montreal Olympics.

Nicosia - 1974

On 1 Apr 1974, 1 Commando Group (1 Commando and 1 Airborne Field Squadron, Canadian Military Engineers), were sent on the Regiment's first peacekeeping mission, a 9-month tour of duty on Cyprus as the Canadian contingent of United Nations Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP). On 6 Apr the Group was tasked with the Nicosia sector. In Canada, 2 Commando and 3 Mechanized Commando continued normal training.

On 15 Jul, the Greek Cypriot National Guard staged a coup and overthrowing president Archbishop Makarios III; UNFICYP forces were placed on alert. Five days later, on 20 Jul 1964, the Turkish army invaded in response to the overthrow, officially claiming they wished to protect the Turkish minority on the island. Airborne and amphibious operations (including 1,000 Turkish paratroopers) landed Turk soldiers near Nicosia and Kyrenia; Greek forces used the positions of the United Nations peacekeepers to shield themselves while conducting defensive operations, and UN observation posts were necessarily abandoned as Turkish forces opened fire on them.

The Airborne soldiers, with British support, took command of the international airport to deny further troop movement, then intervened with patrols to prevent escalation of the conflict. The remainder of the Canadian Airborne were deployed to Cyprus as the UN forces tried to establish a cease-fire. On 2 Aug 1974, Colonel Lessard, the Commanding Officer of the Canadian Airborne Regiment, established a heavy patrol schedule, along with re-establishment of UN observation posts and where necessary the removal of both Greek and Turkish roadblocks.

On 14 Aug 1974, a new invasion by the Turks began to actively target the UN soldiers; after two days a ceasefire was established with both Greeks and Turks preparing defensive positions. The Airborne continued their patrols, between the soldiers of both sides, as well as assisting with aid to civilian refugees and the prisoner of war exchanges between the two sides.

During the hostilities, Private Lionel Gilbert Perron, age 20, and Private Joseph Jean Claude Berger, age 21 both of 1 Commando, were killed and 30 Airborne soldiers were wounded. Perron was killed on 6 Aug 1974 and Berger on 10 Sep 1974. They were the first combat casualties suffered by the Canadian Army since the Korean War but unfortunately not the last Canadian soldiers to die on operations in the 20th Century.

Eventually, two Stars of Courage and six Medals of Bravery were awarded for actions during this operation. Five members of 1 Airborne Field Squadron were also made Members of the Order of Military Merit. Their work had involved reconstruction and repair duties, as well as the clearance of mines and creation of safe lanes through minefields. The last members of 1 Commando returned to Canada on 12 Dec 1974.

Post Cyprus

The Airborne continued its peacekeeping rotations in Cyprus through the 1980s.

Regimental Alliance

In 1986, the Regiment formed a Regimental Alliance with The Parachute Regiment of the British Army. The official ceremony related to the alliance was conducted on Cyprus, with a Guard of Honour under Lieutenant David J. Marshall being reviewed by the Colonel-in-Chief of the British Parachute Regiment, His Royal Highness Prince Charles.

1990s

In 1991, the regiment was in Western Sahara to monitor the cease-fire and enforce agreements between guerrilla forces and the Moroccan army.

In 1992, the Airborne was reorganized again, downsized to battalion strength with a Commando (or company) provided by each of the three regular force infantry regiments (RCR, PPCLI, and R22eR).

Somalia

The Canadian Airborne Regiment deployed for the last time in 1993 as part of the United Nations' peace enforcement mission in Somalia. The Regiment deployed as a battalion-group, organized as:

Corporal Michael David Abel, age 27, of the Canadian Airborne Regiment died on 3 May 1993 in Somalia.

An excellent account of the positive work done by the CF in Somalia, including the Airborne Battle Group, was published by DND/Vanwell Publishing in 1994 (see below).

Disbandment

The Regiment became embroiled in controversy over "the Somalia incident" wherein a civilian prisoner in custody was brutally beaten and murdered. The incident led to public scrutiny of the unit and other information came to light involving hazing rituals, questionable discipline and other shooting incidents in Somalia. The Regiment was disbanded, and the final parade of The Canadian Airborne Regiment was held at CFB Petawawa on 5 Mar 1995. Several farewell ceremonies were conducted, including:

  • 1 Mar 1995 - Special Service Force "Farewell to the Regiment" parade
  • 4 Mar 1995 - Canadian Airborne Regiment Disbandment Ceremony (mass parachute drop, Trooping of the Colours, and signing of disbandment documents).
  • 5 Mar 1995 - Church parade, laying up of Colours in the Canadian Airborne Forces Museum, final dismissal on Nicklin Parade Square. The Chief of the Defence Staff ordered that the Regiment be struck from the order of battle of the Canadian Forces with effect that date, in accordance with Ministerial Order 95003.

3 Commando was redesignated 3 Commando Group, and other personnel from the Airborne Regiment not yet reposted became known as the Canadian Airborne Holding Unit. All RCR members of the holding unit went to 3 Commando as augmentation, and 3 Commando Group became the only operationally active and tasked parachute-capable force in the CF. They were redesignated as RCR Parachute Company on 1 Sep 1995.

Posting out of airborne personnel was completed in Jun 1995, though the holding unit remained designated as such until renamed 2 CMBG Light Infantry Battalion (Advance Group) on 14 Dec 1995. During the months after disbandment, members of the holding group continued to serve; several members placed well in the 2 CMGB Iron Man Competition on 23 Jun 1995 and 17 members earned German jump wings on a course from 18-23 Dec 1995.

Inquiry

On 20 Mar 1995, Order in Council PC 1995-445 established a three-member Commission to study the deployment of the regiment to Somalia. Art Eggleton, Minister of National Defence, released the Somalia Inquiry Report on 2 Jul 1997.

The traditions of the regiment were carried forward by independent parachute companies belonging to the three remaining regular force infantry regiments.

Battle Honours

The Regiment inherited the Battle Honours of both the wartime 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion and the 2nd Canadian Parachute Battalion (the Canadian contingent of the First Special Service Force).

  • Normandy Landing
  • Dives Crossing
  • The Rhine
  • Monte Camino
  • Monte La Difensa-Monte Remetanea
  • Monte Majo
  • Advance to the Tiber
  • Anzio
  • Rome
  • Southern France
  • Ardennes
  • North-West Europe, 1944-45

Regimental Motto

Ex Coelis (Latin: From the Clouds)

Insignia

Airborne soldiers around the world traditionally enjoy distinctive uniform components that set them apart, as well as serve specific functions appropriate to their role. The Canadian Airborne Regiment was no exception.

Cap Badge

The official Armorial Description of the badge is thus:

An open parachute between two vertical wings with shroud lines issuant from a cloud resting between the bases of the wings. At the junction of the shroud lines and superimposed on the cloud, a single large maple leaf flanked by two smaller maple leaves on each side; the whole resting upon a riband scroll inscribed, AIRBORNE - CANADA - AEROPORTE. Wings of scroll in gold coloured finish. Parachute, clouds and maple leaves in silver colour finish.

Headdress

The maroon beret was adopted by Airborne soldiers of the British (and Canadian) Army in the Second World War.

Further Reading

  • Amaral, Rui. Eat Your Weakest Man - Inside the Canadian Airborne Regiment (Bunker to Bunker Publishing, Calgary, 2000). ISBN: 189425597 160pp.
  • Bercuson, David Jay. Significant Incident: Canada's Army, the Airborne, and the Murder in Somalia. (Toronto, McClelland and Stewart, 1996). ISBN: 077101113X
  • Clark, Thomas and Harry Pugh. Canadian Airborne Insignia, 1942-Present. (Arlington, VA, C&D Enterprises, 1994). ISBN: 096332313X
  • Grimshaw, Louis E. "Ex coelis": the Badges and Insignia of the Canadian Airborne Forces. (Edmonton, Lone Pine, 1981). ISBN: 0919433014
  • 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 ON, 2003) ISBN: 1551250713 252pp.
  • Pupetz, Ron (Editor). Canadian Joint Forces Somalia: In The Line of Duty 1992-1993 (National Defence, 1994).
  • Worthington, Peter and Kyle Brown. Scapegoat: How the Army Betrayed Kyle Brown (Toronto, Seal Books, 1997). ISBN: 0770427553