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Book Review
Canadian Airborne Forces since 1942

by: Rowan Baylis [ MERLIN ]

It may be only 64 pages long, but this book is packed with a concisely written history of the Canadian airborne forces.The authors are uniquely-placed to make sense of the often bewildering twists and turns in the force's history - Bernd Horn is a former parachute forces Lt. Colonel and now a historian at Royal Military College of Canada, while Michael Wyczynski is an archivist with the National Archives of Canada, the Canadian Airborne Forces Museum and the Airborne Regiment Association.

The book breaks the history of Canadian airborne capability down into 3 broad sections:
1. Recognition during WW2 of the need and the formation of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion.
2. The struggle to maintain the force during the late 1940s through the 1950s.
3. The formation of the Canadian Airborne Regiment in 1968 and a brief period of stability before reorganization as the Special Service Force in the 1976 and its subsequent disbandment in 1995 and a return to parachute companies.

Backing up the text is an 8-page colour centre section, with plates showing the development of uniforms and equipment from the 1940s into the 21st century and, finally, a page devoted to insignia. The plates by Carlos Chagas mark something of a departure in style from what I've seen previously in Osprey titles in that they appear to be based very closely on photographs - something which has obvious benefits for modellers in ensuring authenticity.

Formation and into battle
The reader is left in no doubt of the military unpreparedness of the British Dominion forces at the outbreak of WW2, by token of the almost unbelievably small forces and equipment stocks the book lists as possessed by Canada. But perhaps even more disturbing is the fact that when these same troops arrived in Britain following Dunkirk, they were among the best equipped available for the defence against the expected invasion!

In the period following the Fall of France, Canadian troops, in particular Col. ELM Burns, were among the first of the Allies to recognise the true significance of the German's use of paratroops and gliders in 1940. Despite this early lead, it was to be some time before any start could be made on organising such a force in Canada and politics (the one continuous theme throughout this book) was largely responsible for the delay.

When the Canadian Parachute Battalion finally went into action in Normandy in June 1944, it served with particular distinction - and the harsh training designed to foster a spirit of aggression and independence paid immediate dividends; despite being badly dispersed during the drop, the unit accomplished all its objectives with less than 30% of the force allotted to the tasks. Through the Ardennes, where the Paras were the only Canadian unit to see action, and on into the drive into Germany to reach the Baltic and link up with the advancing Red Army, the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion served with distinction. Nevertheless, its life was cut short by the end of WW2 and the unit was disbanded in September 1945.

Clinging on to an airborne capability
For the next 20 years, Canadian proponents of airborne warfare faced an almost farcical struggle to maintain any capability in some form or other. Starting from a 1947 study that recommended that all military units should be air-transportable, policy promptly performed an about-face and, at one point, proposals were put forward for a kind of airborne civil defence/firefighting unit with almost no military function at all. No sooner had that idea come and gone, than it was replaced by the decision to form a small SAS-style unit of just 125 highly trained men. Typically, any hopes for some stability were short-lived and by 1949 it was all-change yet again in the face of changed perceptions of a supposed Soviet threat and the need to defend the most remote areas of Canada from expected pathfinder units.

Rebirth and disbandment
1966 saw a full-scale reorganisation of Canada's armed forces and, finally, the recognition of the need for airborne light troops ready to be deployed rapidly to danger zones throughout the world. This led to the formation of the Airborne Regiment which served both at home in the Quebec Crisis and in Cyprus in 1974, as well as securing the Montreal Olympics. But any hopes of long-term were once again dashed as economics took a hand and the unit was deemed too costly to maintain. In it's place came the SSF - a rapid-reaction specialist force, intended to take on worldwide responsibilities which tragically ended in scandal surrounding the behaviour of some of its troops some 20 years later.

The snapshot above represents just a small part of the detail contained in the book. It makes for fascinating reading - I've never heard of another force more at the whim of politicians and the changing nature of warfare. With so many short-lived units with various designations to contend with, the book does an admirable job in telling the history of Canadian parachute forces in a clear and concise manner. As such, it's usefulness as a historical source is beyond doubt. The real value for modellers lies in the colour plates and the corresponding notes. I have to admit I would have liked to see more of the text devoted to the personal equipment carried by the troops at each stage of the force's history, particularly since they seem to have at times sported a unique mixture of US and British gear. However, the photos chosen are extensively captioned and tie in nicely with the colour plates.

Contact details
Osprey Direct
PO Box 140
Northants, NN8 2FA
United Kingdom

(01933) 443 863

Please remember, when contacting retailers or manufacturers, to mention that you saw their products highlighted here - on AEROSCALE.
Throughout the history of airborne warfare in Canada, its troops have remained among the toughest and most highly-trained in the world. One of Osprey's latest titles covers the troubled and at times controversial history of the force.
  Scale: Other
  Mfg. ID: 1-84176-985-1
  Suggested Retail: 11.50 / $17.95
  PUBLISHED: Sep 30, 2006

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About Rowan Baylis (Merlin)

I've been modelling for about 40 years, on and off. While I'm happy to build anything, my interests lie primarily in 1/48 scale aircraft. I mostly concentrate on WW2 subjects, although I'm also interested in WW1, Golden Age aviation and the early Jet Age - and have even been known to build the occas...

Copyright 2020 text by Rowan Baylis [ MERLIN ]. Images also by copyright holder unless otherwise noted. Opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of AeroScale. All rights reserved.


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