Birth of an Elite – 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion

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Appendix A
Historical Section, Canadian Military Headquarter Report #138; Further Material Relating to the Organization and Training of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion

(40) This appendix supplement the information contained in those sections of Report N°138 which deal with the background, the formation and the early training of the 1-CPB. The chief sources of information have been the relevant files at A.H.G. Other material consulted included the War Diary of General A.G.L. McNaughton, various directorate diaries at A.H.Q, and the unit War Diary. For convenience in reference, the paragraphs are numbered consecutively with those of Report N°138.

Background to Formation of the Unit

(41) Although the memorandum prepared by Colonel Burns in November 1940 was the first to be brought to attention of the Overseas authorities (para #3/1-CPB/UK to Combat), that officer had put forward similar proposals 3 months earlier, Aug 13. This earlier memorandum was examined by Colonel (later Lt Gen) J.C. Murchie, D.M.O. & I., N.D.H.Q., who expressed the opinion that although the value of the parachute troops in certain situations was very great, the provision of such troops by Canada would be a project of doubtful value to the combined Empire war effort in view of the expenditure of time, money, and equipment which would be involved. Further, having regard to the probable operational roles of the Airborne Forces, it would be likely that any Canadian parachute units would form part of a United Kingdom Parachute Corps, would be difficult to administer and would be largely out of Canadian control during operations. For these reasons Col Murchie did not recommend the formation of a Parachute Battalion, but considered, rather, the the Canadian war effort should be directed towards the maintenance of such commitments as had already been accepted. ‘If any additional commitments are accepted these should be limited to the formation of units to which Canadians are particularly adapted by reason of nature of this country’. (H.Q.S. 8846: Memorandum by D.M.O & I. for D/C.G.S.,August 16 1940).

Canadian-Soldiers


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(42) Col Burns continued, however, to press his view on the subject, and on August 28, submitted a further memorandum for consideration by the C.G.S. on the desirability of creating a body of Canadian airborne troops. In this memorandum he pointed out that, apart from the advantages to be gained by the use of such troops for employment in Canada as a highly mobile internal security force. He stated that :

In the defense of Canada against raids or a serious attempt at invasion, they would be the quickest means of buildings up a front against the attacker, and also could harass his communications. We have often thought of the problem of preventing an enemy from establishing a base fro supplying submarines in remote sections of the coast which could not easily be reached by land. If we had even a battalion of Paratroops who could be landed to counter-attack such bases, it would make their establishment very more difficult for an enemy; it would probably be necessary for him to send about a brigade of troop for land defense. (ibid, Memoradun by Col Burns, C.G.S. August 28 1940).

Col Burns also mentioned that simulating effect that the commencement of paratroop training would have on the morale of both the service and the public. General Crerar expressed agreement with the long term aspects of Col Burns’ proposal but felt that :

It is not a project of importance to the winning of the war just now.

(ibid). Further, a paratroop training program would mean a heavy commitment in machinery and organization (such as a provision of a transport squadron) for the Royal Canadian Air Force, which he was loathe to introduce. He suggested that Col Burns bring the matter to his attention in 3 months. (ibid).

(43) In November, Col Burns prepared a further memorandum for the C.G.S. in which he reiterated the points raised in his earlier submissions, and when in December the C.G.S. visited the Canadian Military Headquarter, he took stops to ascertain the view of Overseas Commander and the War Office on this subject. (For policy discussions during the visit of the C.G.S. to London and subsequent to November 1941, see para #3-7/1-CPB/UK to Combat).

1st Canadian Parachute Battalion graduates being inspected by U.S. Brigadier General Walter S. Fulton, Commanding General of Fort Benning. Courtesy of ACME.
1st Canadian Parachute Battalion graduates being inspected by U.S. Brigadier General Walter S. Fulton, Commanding General of Fort Benning. Courtesy of ACME.

(44) As the Army Program was under discussion during the closing weeks of 1941 and since it was not desired to bring forward the matter of paratroop training at that time, the implications of Gen McNaughton’s cable of November 3 (para #7/1-CPB/UK to Combat) were considered at N.D.H.Q until January 1942. On January 5, Maj Gen M.A. Pope, V.C.G.S., in a memorandum prepared for Lt Gen K. Stuart, C.G.S., stated that although he found it difficult to reconcile the Corps Commander’s statement of policy in August 1941 (para #5/1-CPB/UK to Combat) with his subsequent statement in November, he felt that the latter’s intention was to initiate paratroop training only as and when prospective operations indicated a need for such troops. For this reason, and because he could not see that the operations of the home army provided any scope for the employment of parachute troops, the V.C.G.S. felt that N.D.H.Q. could afford to deffer action on the matter for the time being. (ibid: Memorandum by VCGS for CGS., Jan 5 1942). In reply, Gen Stuart ordered ordered that C.M.H.Q. be advised that he would discuss the matter with Gen McNaughton in the near future. (ibid: Minute by CGS for VCGS, Jan 6 1943).

(45) During then following months the theory continued to be held at N.D.H.Q. that when the need for parachute units arose the could be rapidly and easily formed by the conversion of existing infantry units. This was clearly revealed in a statement made by Mr. Ralston in the House of Commons on April 22.

It is probable that the C.G.S. discussed the Paratroops question with Gen McNaughton during the latter’s visit to Canada in February and in March 1942,, but neither the relevant files at A.H.Q. nor the War Diaries or files of Gen McNaughton, make any mention of the matter. The formation of a paratroops unit is not being gone ahead with at the present moment, but rather the training of the men so they can be used as paratroopers when time comes, with this additional to be done with aircraft, except the preliminary jumps which are done from a tower. (Debate – House of Commons, 1942 Session, Vol2, p. 1852).

(46) In June, N.D.H.Q. sent Lt Col R.H. Keefler or D.M.T. to the USA to obtain up-to-date information respecting the training of paratroops as carried out at the US Parachute School at Fort Benning, Georgia, and to investigate the possibility of obtaining for the Canadian Army, parachute jump towers of the type used in USA. Col Keefer’s findings in the USA, were instrumental in bringing about a complete reversal in the policy at N.D.H.Q. One of the principal conclusions arrived at in his report was that once paratroop training was started, it was necessary to carry it through – if excessive wastage of personnel through refusal was to be avoided – to the ultimate step of jumping from an aircraft. Many personnel, he felt, who would make the grade initially on the basis that they ‘would not quit’ might be reluctant to volunteer a second time in interruption of training made this necessary. Another factor, which would operate to reduce wastage of personnel and to increase the number of volunteer, was the attraction of belonging to a Corps d’Elite. He recommended that a unit of some sort, complete with all equipment and aircraft, be organized from the start or, if this wad not possible, that the project be postponed until this could be done. (HQS 8446-1, Vol 21: Report of Visit to USA of Lt Col RH Keefler, MT (L) NDHQ, 1-14 Jan 1942).

(47) On the basis of this report and from discussions with A.V.M. Steadman, Royal Canadian Air Force, who had recently returned from a visit to the 6th British Airborne in the UK, the decision was taken to organize, train, and equip a parachute battalion for employment in Canada with the operational role of recapture of aerodromes or reinforcing remote localities (HQS 8846/1, Vol 5: Tel Murchie to Stuart, June 20 1942). In view of the facilities available in the USA for initial training and of instructors and as the unit was for operational employment in Canada, it was intended to follow the US training system. This involved the use of jump towers for initial training and the employment of Army personnel for all training, exclusive of the operation and maintenance of aircraft. The battalion would be organized, however, on the basis of a British War Establishment (para #8/1-CPB/UK to Combat). On June 26, the proposal was placed before the Minister and on July 8 received his approval. (ibid: Memorandum by Maj Gen J.C. Murchie for Minister, Jan 26 1942).

Canadian Paratroopers : Formation and Early Training

(48) Meanwhile the Army had gone ahead with preliminary planing for the organization and training of the parachute battalion. On June 27,Brigadier (later Maj Gen) E.G. Weeks, D.C.G.S. (B), announced at an Army Royal Canadian Air Force conference called to discuss the training of airborne troops, that in order that training could commences immediately, the Army intended to follow the training methods of the US Parachute School rather than those of the British Army. By taking advantage of the US Army facilities it was hoped to train a cadre and if necessary a limited number of personnel with a minimum of delay. (HQS 8846-1, Vol 2: Memorandum by DCGS (B) for CGS, June 27 1942). At a subsequent inter-service meeting it was decided that on the return of its cadre to Canada, the unit would be assembled at Shilo Camp where individual training would be carried out. This camp which was located within easy reach of 2 aerodromes, at Douglas (12 miles) and at Brandon (18 miles), had been selected on the recommendations of the Royal Canadian Air Force. When the battalion had completed individual training, it would move to an area to be selected at a later date, to carry out advanced training. (ibid: Meeting Inter-service Committee, July 25 1942).

(49) On July 16, N.D.H.Q. requested, through the Military Attaché in Washington, vacancies at Fort Benning Parachute School for 6 officers and 20 NCOs. It was anticipated that this personnel would be concentrated and ready to proceed to Fort Benning on or after August 15. On the 21, word was received from Washington that the US authorities had granted the required of vacancies for the course at Fort Benning commencing August 17 (HQS 8846-1: CGS to Military Attaché, Washington,July 16 1942; Tel Military Attaché Washington, to NDHQ, July 21 1942).

(50) Originally it was intended that the training in Canada would commence on October 12 (HQS 8846-1 Vol 4: AG Circular Letter Aug 12 1942). In September, however, it became apparent from the difficulties being encountered in the preparation of certain items of the training equipment, particularly the jump towers, that it would not be possible to commence training at Shilo Camp before December at the earliest. In the light of this situation the training plan had to be revised. On September 24, N.D.H.Q. directed the Military Attaché at Washington to seek permission from the US Army for 55 personnel to be sent to Fort Benning for the full course starting October 12, these to be followed by the same number each week until the course started December 14. (ibid: Tel CGS to Military Attaché, Washington, September 24 1942). On the 28, N.D.H.Q. received word that the US Army Ground Forces had approved the scheme. (ibid: Tel Military Attaché Washington, to NDHQ, September 28 1942).

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(51) On October 3, however, a further change occurred in the situation with regard to Shilo Camp. On that day, representatives of the Canadian Army and the US Army , meeting at Ottawa, selected Shilo as a suitable site for cold weather testing of US and Canadian Army vehicles. (HQS, 8846-1 Vol10: Minutes of a Meeting held in connection with the selection of a Suitable Site for Cold Weather Tests of US and Canadian Army Vehicles, Oct 2 1942). Since these tests were to commence on November 15 and continue until March 15 1943, and as the accommodation and training facilities at Shilo would not be available during that time, it was necessary to find a suitable alternative accommodation for the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion. (HQS, 8846-1, Vol11: Minutes of the Directors Coordinating Meeting, Oct 14 1942). Agreement was reached with the US Army Ground Forces for the extension of the existing arrangements for training at Fort Benning and for provision of facilities for the concentration of the battalion in the US. (ibid: US Military Attaché, Ottawa, to DMO & P, NDHQ, Oct 28 1942).

(52) The recruiting plan for the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion was based on the rate of intake at Fort Benning. Volunteers were to be concentrated in Canada in sufficient numbers to ensure the maintenance of the weekly quota for 55 dispatch to Fort Benning. (HQS, 8446-1: AG Circular Letter, Aug 10 1942). This plan, which was based on an estimate wastage of 10 per week, would, it was estimated;bring the battalion up to full strength by the end of the training scheme. (HQS, 8846-1, Vol 2: Minutes of a Meeting called to discuss the Organization and Administration of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, Aug 6 1943). At the beginning it was laid down that only personnel who had had both basic and advanced training would be eligible. (HQS, 8846-1, AG Circular Letter Aug 10 1942). On September 30, however, it was decided that in the future, personnel would need to only complete their basic training. (ibid: Vol 4: Minutes of Directors Coordinating Meetings, Sept 20 1942). If possible, 30% of the volunteers were to be found among bilingual French-Canadian personnel. As the battalion was being raised for operational duty in Canada,Home Defense (NRMA) as well as active personnel were permitted to volunteer. In the event, by October 15, some 30 Home Defense personnel had volunteered for service with the Parachute Battalion and of these, 13 had been included in the first two quotas while 17 other were being held in reserve for future quotas. To enable these personnel to serve outside of Canada, an Order-in-Council was passed (P.C. 10003) on November 3 1942. This order specifically authorized the dispatch of H.D. personnel to the USA for the purpose of training with the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion. (HQS, 8846-1, Vol 10: DMT to DCGS(B), Oct 15 1942).

(53) The initial response to the call for volunteers was disappointing, and on October 10, the V.C.G.S. cabled Gen Stuart, then in London, that he considered that the reason for this was probably because the unit was labeled for home defense and included in N.R.M.A. personnel, and suggested that the latter no longer be permitted to volunteers. The C.G.S. was not in favor of this proposal, however, replying that because of the manpower situation such personnel must continue to be used. (HQS, 8846-1, Vol 10: Tel Murchie to Stuart, Oct 1 1942; Tel Stuart to Murchie, Oct 5 1942).

(54) The inclusion of Home Defense personnel continued to be a matter for great dissatisfaction, particularly within the members of the unit itself. On November 2, Brigadier E.G. Weeks, in a memorandum prepared for the C.G.S., stated :

    There is a definite feeling that the inclusion of Home Defense personnel in the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion is having an undesirable effect in respect to the type of man who volunteered to serve in this unit. The inference is that the unit would be used from employment in Canada only, whereas the type of soldier required for parachute training is the aggressive individual who is anxious to serve overseas. (HQS 8846-7: Memo DCGS(B) for CGS, Nov 2 1943).

Brigadier Weeks strongly recommended that only active personnel be permitted to volunteer for service with the Canadian Parachute Battalion. He felt that it would not be necessary to announce that the unit was for service anywhere but that the restriction of volunteers to active personnel only would result in an improvement in the type of personnel obtained. (ibid). This proposal met with approval of the C.G.S., and on Nov 19, and instruction was issued to the effect that, commencing with the quota due on Nov 30, all parachute volunteers for the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion must be Active personnel; Home Defense personnel were to be accepted only if they ‘went active’ prior to their dispatch from their home district. (HQS, 8846-1, Vol 10: AG Circular Letter, Nov 19 1942).

(55) The qualifying course at Fort Benning took place in four weekly stages, with a new course commencing each week. The training cadre completed this course in September and, as planned, the first quota entered school on Oct 12. By early December 1942, a number of the Canadian personnel were being used as instructors at the school (HQS 8846-1 Vol 15: Parade State 1Canadian Parachute Battalion, December 5 1942). On February 1 1943, a Canadian school was set up within the American school and thereafter all training of Canadians was carried out by Canadian instructors. (HQS 8846-7: Progress Report, 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, to Secretary, DND, Feb 4 1943). Between August 1942 and March 1943, when the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion returned to Canada, 42 officers and 947 other ranks were dispatched from Canada to Fort Benning. Of these, 41 officers and 780 other ranks qualified as parachutists. Not all remained with the unit, however, 109 other ranks being posted to the 2nd Canadian Parachute Battalion (the Canadian component of the 1st Special Service Force). Of the remaining personnel 151 failed to qualify, while a number of others were s.o.s. for such reasons as desertion, hospitalization, detention etc. There were 2 accidental deaths, one of whom Maj H. D. Proctor, A/O.C., 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, was killed on Sept 7 1942 when making his first jump from an aircraft. (HQS 8846-1, Vol 22: Weekly Parade State, 1st Cdn Para Bn, March 20 1943, WD, DAG, NDHQ, September 1942: Appx 1 Memorandum by DAG, Sept 8 1942).

(56) When the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion returned to Canada on March 22 1943, it had a strength of 41 officers and 671 other ranks, of whom39 officers and 621 other ranks were qualified paratroopers. At this time, the battalion was carrying 15 officers and 81 other ranks supernumerary to establishment as the nucleus of a proposed training center in Canada. As all ranks were granted leave immediately on arrival in Canada, it was not until April 15 1943 that the battalion assembled at Shilo Camp and resumed training. Using an Royal Canadian Air Force Lockheed Lodestar, the unit carried out it’s first jump from aircraft in Canada on May 4 1943.



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