View Full Version : Canadian Airborne Regiment

05-26-2004, 18:48
It is a matter of some disappointment that Jean Cretien disbanded the Canadian Airborne Regiment a couple years ago, as these quiet warriors were the Canadian Special Forces.
I, and many like me, were deeply saddened to see such a fine regiment be torn apart by pol;itics, and I can't help but wonder just what Canada (meaning our elected officials) were thinking at the time.
I am a firm believer that it is necessary for ANY country to have a force of highly trained and motivated persons ready to deploy to anywhere, and conduct operations that simply cannot be handled in a conventional manner. Unfortunately, that capability is now lacking in our military, save for JTF-2 ( Joint Task Force 2) which, to be fair, is an impressive unit in its own right, but lacks the capabilities that our Airborne Regiment had.
I would be very interested in hearing other thoughts on this subject, and am very interested in your thoughts and insights.
Do you agree?

A Little History here:
The Canadian Airborne Regiment had its roots in two fighting units, the 1st and 2nd Canadian Parachute Battalions. The Minister of Defence approved the formation of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion in July 1942, largely because of the effectiveness of airborne units earlier in the war. The battalion fought under British command with the 6th British Airborne Division and took part in the D-Day invasion, landing behind the lines to attack enemy positions and secure captured areas. It also fought in the Battle of the Bulge, crossed the Rhine and, on May 2, 1945, became the first Allied unit to meet the Russian army on German soil, in Wismar. The battalion returned to Canada after V-E day and was disbanded as the war in the Pacific was drawing to a close.1

The 2nd Canadian Parachute Battalion, formed on July 10, 1943 (and renamed the First Canadian Special Service Battalion in 1943), along with a U.S. parachute battalion, formed the First Special Service Force. Known as the Devil's Brigade, this force was unique, in that the two nationalities were not separated into different units or sub-units. The First Special Service Force fought in Italy; its members were the first Allied troops to enter Rome in June 1944. The Force was disbanded in December 1944, and the Canadian battalion was disbanded after the war.2

For a short time after the war, the army had no parachute capability. Then, in 1946, parachuting skills were revived by the formation of a Canadian Special Air Service Company (SAS). In 1948, an airborne brigade group was established. Called the Mobile Striking Force, its assigned task was Canadian defence, particularly in the north. It consisted, in part, of battalions from The Royal Canadian Regiment, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, and the Royal 22e Regiment. In 1958, the Mobile Striking Force was reduced in size to one infantry company group from each infantry regiment and renamed the Defence of Canada Force.3

In 1966, the Chief of the Defence Staff, General J.V Allard, began plans for an airborne capability in the form of a radically different, specialized unit.4 Out of this initiative, the Canadian Airborne Regiment (CAR) was established on April 8, 1968. Located at CFB Edmonton, the Regiment's principal roles were defence of Canada operations against small-scale enemy incursions in the north, provision of short-notice response to United Nations requests for peace operations, and operations in limited or general war within the context of a larger allied force, particularly a variety of 'special service' missions, including pathfinders, deep patrolling and winter operations, and domestic operations in response to civil authorities.5

The CAR was organized as a unit of the Canadian Forces within Mobile Command. Generally, membership in the Regiment was about 900 in all ranks, with a regimental headquarters and six units: the airborne headquarters and signal squadron, which provided the normal communications and headquarters function; two infantry commandos -- 1er Commando Aéroporté and 2nd Airborne Commando; 1st Airborne Battery, which provided field artillery; 1st Airborne Field Engineer Squadron, providing combat support; and 1st Airborne Service Company, providing service support. Second- and third-line support was provided by 1st Field Service Support Unit (1FSSU), a special unit that, although not part of the Regiment, was created to support the Regiment. Service support was brought entirely into the CAR in 1975 with the amalgamation of 1 FSSU and 1st Airborne Service Company to form 1st Airborne Service Support Unit.6 The regimental commander, having the rank of colonel, exercised the powers of a commander of a formation.7 One of the two airborne infantry units (ler Commando) was francophone. This unit was eventually manned entirely by volunteers from the Royal 22e Regiment and moved from Valcartier to Edmonton in 1970.

In 1976, the Chief of the Defence Staff, General Jacques Dextraze, concluded that the Canadian land forces, with a combat group and an airborne regiment in the west, a small combat group in central Canada, a combat group in Quebec, and an independent battalion in the Maritimes, were deployed in an unbalanced manner. His plan was to have a brigade group in the west, a brigade group in the east, and a quick-reaction regimental combat group in the centre. The result was the creation of a quick-reaction combat group in central Canada, an airborne/air transportable formation created by combining units of the CAR with those of 2 Combat Group at CFB Petawawa.8

Thus, in 1977, the CAR became part of the new Special Service Force (SSF), a brigade-sized command with a strength of 3,500, created to provide a small, highly mobile, general-purpose force that could be inserted quickly into any national or international theatre of operations.9 The Regiment moved from CFB Edmonton to CFB Petawawa and was downsized in the process, losing its gunners and engineers. It also lost its field support unit; logistic support would now come instead from the SSF's service battalion.

In 1979, 3 Commando was established as a new airborne unit. This resulted in a ceiling of about 750 members in all ranks, organized into three smaller company-sized commandos.10 The three infantry commandos now took shape around the three regimental affiliations: 1 Commando with the Royal 22e Régiment, 2 Commando with Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, and 3 Commando with The Royal Canadian Regiment.

With the move to CFB Petawawa, the regiment's chain of command lengthened, because it was now a unit under the Special Service Force and one link further from the most senior army commander. On the other hand, the move to CFB Petawawa did allow for closer supervision of the CAR, because it was now under the direction of the commander of the Special Service Force. Moreover, the reorganization had the effect of diluting the CAR's former uniqueness in the army, since it was now shared with the rest of the new parent formation, the SSF.

In 1974, in a pivotal event in its history, the CAR was assigned its first peacekeeping mission. In March 1974, about half the Regiment was deployed to Cyprus to fulfil Canada's commitment to a 450-member battalion there. In July, however, a coup by the Greek Cypriot National Guard toppled the government of Archbishop Makarios and, in response to the coup, the Turkish army invaded the island. The CAR members assigned to Cyprus were present on the island at the time of the coup. The Regiment's soldiers thus found themselves in the middle of a shooting war. The remaining half of the Regiment was deployed after the Turkish invasion. The UN forces, principally the Canadians with British support, positioned themselves in the Nicosia International Airport to deny it to both sides and prevent escalation of the conflict. Their primary role was to patrol, report, and try to maintain order without taking sides. The CAR did so with significant help from the British forces in Cyprus.11 The Regiment performed well in peace-restoring operations. By the end of the operation, more than 30 men had been wounded and two had been killed.12

In 1976, the CAR supported successful security arrangements during the Montreal Olympics, designed to prevent a situation similar to the terrorist attack against Israeli athletes that occurred during the 1972 Olympics at Munich.

The 1980s
The Canadian Airborne Regiment had peacekeeping rotations in Cyprus in 1981 and 1986-7. It served as the 35th Canadian Contingent in Cyprus from March 19 to September 30, 1981, and as the 47th Canadian Contingent there from September 1, 1986 to March 9, 1987.

The 1990s before Somalia
On July 18, 1991, the Secretary of State for External Affairs, the Honourable Barbara McDougall, and the Minister of National Defence, the Honourable Marcel Masse, announced that Canada was to participate in the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara. The United Nations mandate was to establish the conditions for a referendum on the future of the Western Sahara by identifying and registering qualified voters and by supervising the repatriation of refugees and non-residents before the vote.

Canada's contribution of 740 troops was based on the Canadian Airborne Regiment. It was to be the largest contingent of the 1,700 military personnel, 900 civilian staff, and 300 civilian police provided by 36 nations. The name given to the Canadian operation was Operation Python. Their role was to monitor the cease-fire and ensure that troop reductions and POW exchanges were agreed to by Frente Polisario guerrillas and the Moroccan army.

Roguish Lawyer
05-26-2004, 19:17
Canada issues! I love it.

How 'bout them Flames, eh? Oh wait, how aboot those Flames? LOL

05-26-2004, 22:15
Although, like US Special Forces, the Canadian Airborne Regiment traced its lineage at least in part to the 1st Special Service Force, it was not properly a special forces or special operations unit.

The CF's concept of employment for the Regiment went through various changes over the period of its existence, but essentially the Regiment's mission was "to provide rapid deployment airborne/air transportable forces for operations in accordance with assigned tasks, primarily to participate in support of national security and international peacekeeping." The original missions included: (i) defense of Canada against small-scale Soviet incursions, (ii) peacekeeping operations, (iii) pathfinder, deep patrolling and winter operations in wartime and (iv) support to civil authorities. Units were generally expected to be deployable within 24-96 hours notice (depending on the nature of the mission). As a designated UN standby peacekeeping battalion, the Regiment was expected to be world-wide deployable on seven days' notice.

For most of its history it was essentially organized as an infantry battalion or a "pocket" brigade. It originally had an artillery battery and an engineer company, but lost these when it moved to CFB Petawawa in 1977 and was reorganized. In 1979 the Regiment's two infantry commandos were joined by a third, but each was reduced to company-strength, so from then on you had basically a typical 3-rifle company airborne infantry battalion.

In 1991-92, it was reduced even further, as the Regiment's Signal Squadron and its Service Commando were disbanded and each commando was allocated signals and service support. As a result of these reductions, the Regiment could no longer operate independently, but on deployment would rely on attached support to form a battle group.

The Regiment was organized as an airborne infantry battalion, but like the 75th Ranger Regiment, its entrance criteria and training regimen were more rigorous than a regular conventional infantry or airborne unit. The Regiment was all-volunteer, and in order to join soldiers had to have (i) served for at least 18 months in a parent infantry regiment, (ii) completed jump school, (iii) demonstrated a high level of physical fitness and (iv) qualified in a combat MOS. Until 1985, prospective members of the Regiment had to complete a 10-day Airborne Indoctrination Course (AIC), similar to the Ranger Indoctrination Program. By 1985, this had become a 5-day course. In 1990, a new regimental commander dispensed with AIC as a rite of passage for new paratroopers. Instead, AIC became a less-formal responsibility in each commando to acclimate new soldiers.

The unit was supposed to always be manned at at least 90% strength, and had a rigorous training schedule, but like the rest of the CF, it was underfunded and overcommitted. Battalion and brigade-level training exercises would often get cancelled or reduced in scope, and officers and NCOs were often tasked to train reserve units.

We used to occasionally conduct smaller joint exercises with the Canadians. This usually involved a company slice - three or so ODAs, along with support from our battalion support company - joining elements of one of the Regiment's commandos.

If the regiment had been properly funded, its esprit de corps, selectivity and training regimen might have made it comparable to a Ranger battalion. Its mission profile was more conventional, though, more like a battalion of the 82nd, and its actual operations were rarely what we would classify as special operations. JTF-2, by contrast, is a true special operations force.

Also, while the Regiment is gone, but airborne remains. Each commando was affiliated with a regular Canadian infantry regiment. Today, each of these regiments maintains an airborne company:
- A Company, 3rd Battalion, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry
- Parachute Company, 3rd Batallion, Royal Canadian Regiment
- compagnie A (Para), 3e Royal 22e Régiment

I recall that when the airborne companies were formed in 1996, it was envisioned that they would routinely train together, so there would be an airborne battalion in fact if not in name. Unfortunately, I understand that this has not occurred. So what it looks like you have are units too small to be effective airborne combat units, but too large to be regimental/battalion long range reconnaissance units (and the battalions do have regular recon platoons).

The airborne company of the Vandoos is in Afghanistan right now, but it does not appear that their mission is any different than the other infantry companies of the battle group. Here is the company commander, Maj. Stéphane Plante, with an Afghan National Army officer and an interpreter:

Roguish Lawyer
05-26-2004, 22:43
Hey AL:

Will you please reduce the size of that photo so I can read your post without moving the &^$*&^%^&% screen back and forth?

Thank you.



05-27-2004, 03:22
I am very impressed with the knowledge you have of the Canadian Airborne Regiment, and am pleased to know that the Canadian presence has been not without it's friends.
I agree that the CF Airborne Regiment never was a Special Forces unit on a par with the US Army Special Forces, or the US Navy SEALs, not to mention the USMC Force Recon, but for the sake of argument I would pose the argument that while not quite Special Forces in the commonly accepted sense, they were definitely not regular forces either.
I would suggest that the Canadian Airborne regiment filled a niche that nobody else could have in the Canadian military table of operations, and for that reason it could be considered an SF regiment per se, if not in actual fact.
My apologies if this offends anyone in the SF community, and any offence is certainly not intended.
Having said that, however, the CF Airborne Regiment was quite capable of working alongside the British SAS 22, and it had done so quite well on numerous training exercises. Not to mention, as you have , that it also performed well when working alongside our American counterparts.
While JTF-2 is indeed an SF unit to be proud of, and I have the utmost respect for their work and dedication, it is simply undermanned and underfinanced to be as effective as it should be.
It would make more sense, I think, to reinstate the Airborne Regiment, and then spend the time and money to further train these men and women ( must be politically correct ya know) to a standard that would , if not meet JTF-2 standards, at least allow the Airborne Regiment to operate as a 1st line of support and/or a pool of skilled individuals that the JTF could draw on for its personnel, as they would already be trained to a level that would dramatically reduce the amount of time and further training that would be needed to meet the JTF standards that the CF regular forces require.

05-27-2004, 12:29
As I noted, when the Canadian Airborne Regiment (CAR) was at its best in strength and training, it might have been comparable to a Ranger battalion.

There were differences, though. First, while AIC was, at least early on, comparable to RIP, there was no other formal screening requirement. There was informal hazing, though, that many a battboy would recognize (the videos that leaked of that hazing were probably as responsible for disbandment as anything that went on in Somalia). Also, CF has no equivalent to Ranger School for junior infantry leaders (though quite a few went to US Army Ranger School or similar courses). On the other hand, unlike most RIPpies, new members of the CAR were more experienced soldiers, having served an average of 18 months in one of the feeder regiments (mainly RCR, R22eR and PPCLI).

Regarding leaders, when the CAR was downsized in 1991-92, commanders of the commandos went from being senior majors with previous infantry company command to junior majors on their first command. Company commanders in Ranger battalions are as a rule branch-qualified captains on their second command. For example, one of my OCS and IOBC buddies commanded a company in the 82nd before taking over a company in 3rd Ranger Battalion.

Since members of the CAR remained affiliated with their parent regiments, selection of NCOs and officers for assignment involved the regimental career managers of the RCR, R22eR and PPCLI. AFIK, the CAR generally didn't have a problem with the parent regiments "encouraging" volunteers to get rid of them, but this has happened often enough in SOF units to be a cliche. As the Somalia Inquiry Report notes, the "CAR commander always had the authority to return members to their original units if they did not measure up, but this was not done often. Essentially, the CAR had to trust the parent regiments to send the right people." The report does cite quite a few problems in the early 1990s with the quality of officers and soldiers being sent by the parent regiments.

Looking forward then, it would seem that even if the individual airborne companies in the three regiments routinely trained together, this informal airborne battalion would have problems. As part of JTF-2's expansion, it was planned to increase the parent battalions's special operations capabilities so they could be better feeder units for JTF-2, but this has apparently been scrapped as unaffordable.

The essential problem is one that Lewis MacKenzie has spoken about for several years. Canada has made a political decision to not really have a warfighting army. The army as a whole is consequently too small and too committed to peacekeeping operations to sustain a larger special operations capability and provide the pool of qualified volunteers to keep these units manned. The active battalions can't maintain their own strength, much less feed personnel to a larger JTF-2 or a reconstituted airborne battalion. And given Canada's foreign policy, even if a new high-speed SOF battalion were formed, it would likely be deployed more often for non-SOF missions, dulling its edge.

11-04-2005, 13:21
I'm not sure who, if anyone here monitors the Canadian forum over at socnet, but there's been some interesting announcements and developments in accordance with the new defense policy:

The facts:


The discussion:


A very positive step for the army and an excellent opportunity for those in the CF who still harbour the warrior spirit. watch and shoot.

11-04-2005, 14:43
Canadian Airborne=Hardest drinkers I ever met. Those boys were very serious about their inebriation. Also they were squared away troops.

11-04-2005, 16:06
With apologies to the former members of the Canadian Abn Rgt - Not no, but H*** NO! I don't want any socialist government - let alone one that shares a border with the U.S. - having competent warriors. Even if their government can be counted on to screw them over regularly and without excuse. Professional soldiers have been known to overcome worse handicaps. The Canadian government is already a French parody, how long before they become the staging area for blue helmets and black helicopters? Only partly in jest :p Peregrino

12-30-2005, 23:31
Say what you like, I'm still here after four and half years. :rolleyes: I don't have the perspective that some of the more experienced guys have, but I've seen things in the army get wussified and the I'm guardedly optimisitic when I say the CF is on the right track.

With that said, an official update concerning the new regiment:


Most of the useful info is in the latter part of the video, including something about a SF coy made up of 12 man teams. I'll step up and apologize for the horrible file footage as well.