Canadian Military Parachute Riggers “I Will Be Sure Always”
Canadian Military Parachute Riggers
For Canadian military riggers of all eras of our history – the lives you have saved are too numerous to count. For those of us who made use of the parachutes and equipment you packed in order to arrive safely to the ground, we are eternally grateful.
In addition to taking part in operations and training exercises and the rigours of being in the field in all seasons and all weather, riggers are needed on numerous overseas deployments these days for both the Army and RCAF. Whether or not you have experienced it, I am sure you can well imagine what it is like to train and work in the heat, the dust and the mosquitoes in summer, the wind, the rain, and the mud in the spring and fall, the snow, and the cold in the winter and of course the routine day-to-day challenges of combat exercises in the training areas at home and on operations overseas.
For most in the Canadian Forces, this has included 2 Canadian Division Support Base (2 CDSB)Valcartier, 3 CDSB Edmonton, 4 CDSB Petawawa, 5 CDSB Gagetown, Canadian Forces Base (CFB) Bagotville, CFB Borden, CFB Cold Lake, CFB Comox, CFB Esquimalt, CFB Gander, CFB Goose Bay, CFB Greenwood, CFB Halifax, CFB Kingston, CFB Moose Jaw, CFB North Bay, CFB Shilo, CFB Suffield, CFB Trenton, CFB Winnipeg, Canadian Forces Station (CFS) Alert, CFS Leitrim and Canadian Forces Support Unit (CFSU) Colorado Springs, CFSU Europe and Canadian Forces Support Group (CFSG) Ottawa-Gatineau.
The aim of this web page is to record the history of Canadian military parachute riggers and the effect they have had on making Canadian Forces parachute operations the safest in the world. It is also designed to preserve our military heritage.
If you have a story about our military riggers not recorded here, please contact me via e-mail at email@example.com and I will add your information to my website at www.silverhawkauthor.com.
The data concerning all military rigging activities in Canada is divided into chapters covering the history in peacetime and war, and where to see some of their record and examples of their work in various museums in Canada.
Putting this historical record together involves a tremendous amount of work by interested colleagues in the hunt for the story of our riggers. There are a great many contributors.
I am not a military rigger but hold a Canadian Sport Parachuting Association rigger’s licence and have been packing parachutes for sport jumpers since 1972. I have certainly made good use of many parachutes packed by our military riggers as a military jumper since 1975 and as a member of the Canadian Forces Parachute Team, the Sky Hawks, and a test jumper for the Canadian Airborne Centre in Edmonton for a number of years. I have had the privilege of jumping with soldiers from a number of other countries and earning wings with a few of them. I am now a retired Army Officer and amateur historian. I really miss jumping as a serving soldier, but must be content with being active in the sport, packing my own chutes when I can. What I also have, is a good number of colleagues and friends with similar interests. They have provided me with invaluable help when it comes to telling this story. Each one of them has a generous willingness to find answers to interesting questions and to help make these records as accurate as possible.
Colin Beatty is the master record keeper, and this story is built on the foundation of the records he has put together. We share what we discover and in so doing, help to preserve our military history.
The cross-referencing of data has resulted in a great many surprising and often wonderful new discoveries. It has often led to new contacts with well known riggers not heard from in some time, and their stories have helped us keep the record accurate.
Although many of the photos found here have been gleaned from the Library and Archives of Canada files and records, as well as various DND records and files. You will find many of the photos are personal and have been provided by my colleagues. Should you choose to use them, please credit them as annotated.
Thank you to all who are giving their support, time, assistance and expertise on the parachute equipment and history provided here, your patience and assistance has been invaluable. There is much more to follow.
During my service as an officer in the Canadian Forces, I was taught to use the combat arms radio call signs whenever the message traffic being relayed referred to classified radio traffic. For the interested reader, “Acorn” was my call sign as the Regimental and later Brigade Intelligence Officer.
(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3583556)
Airing out parachutes at RCAF Station Rockcliffe, Ontario, 4 Nov 1944.
(We need a narrative somewhat like this for riggers to go with an eventual book on the subject)
Throughout our military training at home and abroad and during preparations for operations in around the world on missions in places like Bosnia-Herzegovina and Afghanistan, we have had to become familiar with how effective our own equipment was and what we were likely come up against in engagements with opposition forces. We often saw the damage that could be and often was inflicted by the wide variety of artillery ordnance we had to confront. All of you who watched the events unfolding in the Ukraine in 2022, know very well the conflicts aren't going away any time soon. These experiences and observations bring home the very real need to ensure our troops are well-trained, properly equipped. When our parachutists are expertly jump-mastered from Canadian Forces and allied transport, they know full well they can have absolute confidence in the packing and handling of they kit they are jumping with. It is my sincere hope that the record Canada’s military riggers is preserved and will continue to grow as more of the story unfolds.
Major (Retired) Harold Aage Skaarup
Former Honorary Lieutenant-Colonel for 3 Intelligence Company (Halifax), and a former military parachutist
Canadian Military Parachute Rigging
A parachute rigger is a person who is trained or licensed to pack, maintain or repair parachutes. A rigger is required to understand fabrics, hardware, webbing, regulations, sewing, packing, and other aspects related to the building, packing, repair, and maintenance of parachutes. Riggers in the Canadian Forces train at the Canadian Army Advanced Warfare Centre at CFB Trenton, Ontario.
The first operational military parachute jump from 1600 feet was logged in the night of 8/9 August 1918 by Italian assault troops. Arditi Lieutenant Alessandro Tandura jumped from a Savoia-Pomillio SP.4 aircraft of the Gruppo speciale Aviazione Ipiloted by Canadian Major William George Barker and British Captain William Wedgewood Benn (both Royal Air Force pilots), when Tandura dropped behind Austro-Hungarian lines near on a reconnaissance and sabotage mission, followed on later nights by Lts. Ferruccio Nicoloso and Pier Arrigo Barnaba. (Alun Wyburn-Powell Political Wings: William Wedgewood Benn, First Viscount Stansgate. (Pen and Sword Military, 2015). p. 248.
William George Barker, VC, DSO & Bar, MC & Two Bars (3 November 1894 – 12 March 1930) was a Canadian First World War fighter ace and Victoria Cross recipient. He is the most decorated serviceman in the history of Canada.
The first extensive use of paratroopers (Fallschirmjäger) was by the Germans during the Second World War. Later in the conflict paratroopers were used extensively by the Allied Forces. Cargo aircraft of the period (for example the German Junkers Ju 52 and the Douglas Dakota being small, they rarely, if ever, jumped in groups much larger than 20 from one aircraft. This load of paratroopers is called a "stick", while any load of soldiers gathered for air movement is known as a "chalk". The terms come from the common use of white chalk on the sides of aircraft and vehicles to mark and update numbers of personnel and equipment being emplaned.
Canada entered the airborne world with the creation of two airborne battalions in 1942, all the would-be jumpers were trained at Fort Benning, Georgia or Ringway, UK. Later, however, the flow of reinforcements for the parachute battalions posed an acute problem and it was decided to remedy this situation by training paratroopers in Canada. In May 1943, a Canadian Parachute Training Centre was formed in Shilo, Manitoba. With background knowledge in American and British parachuting techniques, Canadian trainers were able to develop a truly Canadian method of parachuting by incorporating the best features of both the American and British systems. Following several name and location changes, the school was moved to Edmonton in 1970 as the Canadian Airborne Centre (CABC) and then moved to Trenton in August 1996, becoming the Canadian Parachute Centre (CPC). On 1April 1998, the former Canadian Forces Parachute Maintenance Depot (CFPMD) was amalgamated into CPC as Support Company.
On 1 April 2006, the renaming of CPC to CFLAWC began a transformation that was more than just another name change. CFLAWC became the Centre of Excellence (CoE) for Land Advanced Warfare, in addition to its previous focus on delivery of training. To meet the new challenges and added responsibilities, CFLAWC is currently organized with a Command team, Training Company, Support Company with the Canadian Forces Parachute Team (CFPT - the Sky Hawks) and a Headquarters Company that includes the Standards Section, the Airborne Trials and Evaluation Section (ATES) and the Unit Orderly Room (UOR). Training Company is organized into four subject matter expert (SME) platoons for the conduct of the majority of the courses at CFLAWC. Support Company is based on the old CFPMD structure and provides the CF with parachute packing and maintenance services including the major repair of parachutes and associated aerial delivery equipment. Support Company is also responsible for training all parachute rigger specialists in the CF. It traces its roots to1943 as part of the Canadian Army Parachute Training Centre. In those early days, parachute trainees were taught to pack their own parachutes, but this system was soon discarded as impractical, and the packing and maintenance of parachutes became a centralized operation. Since its formation, Support Company has changed its name from 28 Central Ordnance Depot to 28 Canadian Forces Supply Depot in 1968, and upon the move from Camp Shilo, MB to Edmonton, AB in1970, was given the name Canadian Forces Parachute Maintenance Depot. All riggers are jumpers and can be asked at any time to jump with a parachute they have packed.
CFLAWC currently delivers, as part of the Army National Individual Training Calendar, the following courses: the Arctic Operations Advisor Course, Drop Zone/ Landing Zone Controller, Aerial Delivery, Basic Helicopter Operations, Basic Parachuting, Jump Master, Parachute Instructor, Static Line Square Parachuting, the three different phases of Parachute Rigger training, the Advanced Mountain Operations Course, the Helicopter Insertion Instructor Course, Military Freefall Parachuting, Military Freefall Jump Master, Military Freefall Parachute Instructor and a revised Patrol Pathfinder Course.
Parachute Riggers/Packers in training attend the 15-day Basic Parachute qualification course at CFB Trenton, and then for approximately 2.5-3 years undertake 3 different 45-day courses, that cover Maintaining parachutes, packing parachutes, and quality control of parachutes.
In Canada, civilian parachute rigger ratings are issued by the Canadian Sport Parachuting Association (CSPA) Technical Committee. CSPA issues two levels of rigger ratings: A and B.
The CSPA rigger A rating has an A1 and A2 sub-class allowing progressively more privileges. The basic rigger A requirements are that the applicant have minimum of CSPA "B" Certificate of Proficiency, be the age of majority in the province where the course is given and have packed ten reserves under supervision of a CSPA Rigger A-Continuous or greater. Applicants then attend a one-week course given by a CSPA Rigger Instructor.
Canadian Rigger As are limited to assembling and packing sport parachutes. They can replace components and do simple hand-sewing. At the end of the Rigger A Course candidates can choose to be tested on round or square parachutes and they can choose which type of container for their practical test (one-pin sport, two-pin sport, Pop-Top or chest). New CSPA Rigger A licensees are issued a temporary rating and must pack 10 reserves within the next 12 months to earn their" continuous" rating. Additional certifications are available to permit rigger As to pack tandem and Pilot Emergency Parachutes (PEP). The RiggerA1 and A2 sub-classes allow use of sewing machines to patch parachutes and change lines.
Two more years of experience, including learning sewing machine operation, is needed before riggers can challenge for Rigger B ratings. The SOLO program includes sewing a bag of samples and submitting them to CSPA's Technical Committee. CSPA Rigger Bs enjoy the same privileges as American Master Riggers and are allowed to do most majorrepairs that can be done outside of a factory.
Canadian Armed Forces Parachute Riggers: Who We Areand What We Do “I Will Be Sure Always” by Pte A.L. Devlin, Parachute Packer, CAAWC.
Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) Parachute Riggers are renowned worldwide for their work. It is a specialty that holds a lot of pride, dedication and a commitment to Be Sure Always. Located at Canadian Force Base (CFB) Trenton at the Canadian Army Advanced Warfare Centre (CAAWC) the Support Company (Sp Coy) is where parachutes for the CAF are assembled, tested, packed, and maintained by highly trained Parachute Riggers. Parachute Riggers are the Subject Matter Experts on every parachute system used by the CAF with the exception of aircraft ejector seats.
“Riggers” provide logistical support to the Advanced Warfare Center, as well as other units within the CAF by providing Round,Square, Reserve, Emergency and Extraction parachutes. The training process for soldiers to become a Parachute Rigger takes approximately 3 years and they alsomust maintain a high physical fitness standard. Initially, newly recruited candidates will be sent on their Basic Parachutist course which will test themphysically and mentally while instilling the pride and confidence needed to besuccessful in each phase of training. Once the soldier is a qualified jumperwithin the CAF they will continue training becoming qualified to pack, maintainand test all parachute systems and equipment.
The parachute packer will complete several OJE (On the Job Experience) periods applying their acquired knowledge to the workplace under strict supervision. The final phase of training qualifies the soldier asa Parachute Rigger able to supervise Packers and conduct safety checks on parachutes as well as donned personnel. Once training is completed at Sp Coy, Riggers will be posted across the CAF. These can include positions within CAAWC, the Canadian Armed Forces Parachute Team (Skyhawks), Search and Rescue Squadrons, Light Infantry Battalions or Canadian Special Operations Forces units (CANSOF).
Field Riggers are responsible for working closely with the unit’s chain of command on advising and maintaining parachute stores. Riggers will deploy with their unit both for training and operational purposes ensuring jumping conditions are as safe as possible and winds are within limitations. Sp Coy is where about half of the Parachute Riggers across the CAF work. The Company is split up into: Airborne Trials and Evaluations Section(ATES), Maintenance Platoon, Production Platoon, the Parachute Depot andQuartermaster Platoon. All these sections have different roles in ensuring availability of the best possible parachuting systems for the CAF.
ATES: Airborne Trials and Evaluations Section is responsible for researching, testing and evaluating new airdrop equipment for use by the CAF. This section collects information on user evaluations from how to wear and secure equipment to jumping and deploying parachute systems. Maintenance Platoon: Assembly of new parachutes is a task primarily completed by Maintenance Platoon. Parachutes used by the CAF have a 12 to 24-year lifecycle and as they time expire new systems are assembled at Sp Coy to maintain necessary stores levels.
The main types of parachutes worked with are Cargo, Personnel Round and Personnel Square. Production Platoon: Production provides support for all training and operations related to parachute systems across the CAF. The primary round parachute used by the CAF is the Canadian Troop 1 (CT-1)parachute, used for Basic Parachutist courses and Light Infantry Battalions for mass insertion of troops.
The CSAR-7(A) Square canopy parachute’s purpose is to succour Para Rescue by Search and Rescue Technicians and disaster response. The CT-6 square canopy is used extensively at infantry battalions and internally for CAAWC courses; its main function is for precision insertion of specialists. Approximately, 28,000 CT-1 equivalent parachutes are packed annually at Sp Coy.
Parachute Depot: While the Supply Depot does notemploy any Parachute Riggers, it has a vital role in properly storing andshipping parachutes and related equipment. The Depot houses all item related toany air drop activity in the CAF.
Quartermaster Platoon: Provides 1st line support to CAAWC with a main effort in enabling the conduct of National Calendar Courses. As a Parachute Rigger there are many opportunities annually for courses, tasks and travel out of country where skills can be improved and mastered. There are possibilities to travel, work and jump with military members from other countries as well as civilian specialists. As experts in their vocation Canadian Armed Forces Riggers are proud and confident in their work. Duty, loyalty, integrity and courage are exemplified in the daily responsibilities of a Parachute Rigger. Their motto “I Will Be Sure Always” is instilled in every parachute packed, repair made, or inspection completed. (https://publications.gc.ca/collections/collection_2021/mdn-dnd/D3-35-4-4-eng.pdf)
A brief history of parachutes
In 1617, Faust Vrancic, a man from Croatia, jumped from a tower in Venice with a parachute modeled on a diagram illustrated by Leonardo Da Vinci.In 1793, a Frenchman named Jean-Pierre Blanchard claimed to have jumped with a parachute from a hot air balloon to escape an explosion. Though he is credited with the first foldable silk parachute, there were no witnesses to his jump. In 1797, Andrew Garnerin became the first person recorded to utilize a soft parachute, jumping from a hot air balloon at an altitude of 3,200 feet. During his first descent, his parachute did not have a vent in the top, which caused him to oscillate wildly all the way down. Despite this, he managed to land unhurt. His wife would later become the first female parachutist in 1799.
In 1890, Kathchen Paulus helped invent the first method of packing a parachute into a backpack. She also created the basic pilot chute which is used to deploy the main canopy. Although the first aircraft flight took place in 1903, it would be 1911 before parachutes were associated with aircraft. In that year, Grant Morton and Captain Albert Berry became the first two to parachute from an airplane. The first freefall jump was made by Georgia “Tiny” Broadwick in 1914.
The Germans began experimenting with parachutes for their pilots during the First World War. Although a few pilots were saved, in most instances the lines of the chute would become entangled with the spinning aircraft. Allied commanders did not issue parachutes to pilots, fearing they would simply jump from their damaged aircraft rather than trying to save it.After the war, advances were made in the designs of parachute systems that enabled pilots to escape from a damaged aircraft safely. Since static-line parachutes attached to the aircraft fuselage could be caught up in a spinning aircraft, members of the U.S. Army developed the Airplane Parachute Type-A. This design incorporated the best elements of past parachute designs, such as storing the parachute in a soft pack worn on the pilot’s back, and the use of a ripcord to deploy the parachute once the pilot was safely away from the plane. The design included a pilot chute used to draw the main parachute from the aviator's backpack. In 1919, Leslie Irvin, one of the developers of the Type-A, parachute, became the first to intentionally free-fall by parachute from an aircraft.
In the 1920s, several countries began to experiment with airborne troops. In 1927, the Italians conducted the first real drop of airborne forces. In 1935, the Russians dropped a corps-sized military unit with no less than 1,188 airborne troops. The Soviet Union was the first to drop airborne troops into battle. During the Second World War, the Germans used airborne troops to capture Norway in April 1940 and then France in May 1940. The Japanese dropped airborne troops during several battles in the Dutch East Indies during 1941-1942. Allied parachute operations were conducted In North Africa in 1942 during Operation Torch and during the Normandy landings in 1944 during Operation Overlord.
Essential elements of a parachute
A parachute needs to be light (to carry), foldable (for packing) and flexible (for steering), but also strong and tear-resistant (for safety). It also has to be carefully folded - or packed - to ensure that it will open reliably. If a parachute is not packed properly it can result in a malfunction where the main parachute - or canopy - fails to deploy correctly or fully.
With fast-moving and high altitude jets, pilots needed help escaping their damaged planes. Instead of a pilot simply jumping off the edge of a plane, ejection seats would be developed that fire the pilot’s seat out of the aircraft and then an attached parachute would help bring them to the ground. The first operational use of a propulsive element to help a pilot escape their aircraft was by Germany during the Second World War. The Germans began testing their ejection systems in 1938 and had 60 successful ejections of pilots from German aircraft during the war. Today’s ejections seats accelerate up to 20 Gs to get the pilot out. The ejection seat system is able to determine that the pilot’s seat is moving slow enough to deploy the parachute while avoiding having it ripped off. Aircraft that have more than one seat will deploy at two different angles or at an interval of a second to keep the two seats from colliding.
Parachutes in the First World War
First World War observation crews were the first to use parachutes, long before they were adopted by fixed-wing aircrews. These were a primitive type, where the main part was in a bag suspended from the balloon, with the pilot only wearing a simple body harness around his waist, with lines from the harness attached to the main parachute in the bag. When the balloonist jumped, the main part of the parachute was pulled from the bag, with the shroud lines first, followed by the main canopy. This type of parachute was first adopted by the Germans and then later by the British and French for their observation balloon crews.
(Australian War Memorial Photo collection, H13483)
A German soldier jumping from his observation balloon. German observers followed this procedure when their balloon was attacked by Allied aircraft.
Barrage balloons are attached to cables fixed to the ground or vehicles for observation and to provide an obstacle to attacking aircraft. Kite balloons have a "bomb-like" appearance that reduces drag and are more stable in high winds. During the First World War, the armies of England, France, Germany and Italy made extensive use of barrage balloons. In some cases, such as in the defence of London, steel cables were hung from several balloons connected to form a "barrage net" that could be raised as high as (4.5 km or roughly 15,000 ft), effective against the bombers of the era.
These balloons were primarily employed as an aerial platform for intelligence gathering and artillery spotting. The First World War kite balloons were fabric envelopes filled with hydrogen gas. Unfortunately, the flammability of the gas led to the destruction of hundreds of balloons on both sides. Observers manning these observation balloons frequently had to use a parachute to escape when their balloons were attacked. To avoid the potentially flammable consequences of hydrogen, observation balloons after the First World War were often filled with non-flammable helium.
Balloons were usually tethered to a steel cable attached to a winch that reeled the gasbag to its desired height (usually 1,000-1,500 metres) and retrieved it at the end of an observation session. Canadian soldiers would often see Kite balloons in use for observation over their sector of the Western front.
"The balloon's going up!" was an expression for impending battle. It is derived from the fact that an observation balloon's ascent likely signaled a preparatory bombardment for an offensive.
(IWM Photo, Q12026)
The basket of a kite balloon, showing the observer's parachute attached to it, and the parachute harness attached to the officer. Photograph taken on 2 May 1918, Gosnay, France.
(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3395244)
Kite Balloon operators donning parachutes and checking cameras before ascending, May 1917.
(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3395204)
Kite Balloon over the Western Front, October 1916.
Because of their importance as observation platforms, balloons were defended by anti-aircraft guns, groups of machine guns for low altitude defence and patrolling fighter aircraft. Attacking a balloon was a risky venture but some pilots relished the challenge. The most successful were known as balloon busters, including such notables as Belgium's Willy Coppens, Germany's Friedrich Ritter von Röth, America's Frank Luke, and the Frenchmen Léon Bourjade, Michel Coiffard and Maurice Boyau. Many expert balloon busters were careful not to go below 1,000 feet (300 m) in order to avoid exposure to anti-aircraft guns and machine-guns.
Between the wars
(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3579980)
RCAF parachute jump, Wing Commander Anderson, 16 January 1928.
(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3580868)
Parachute descent over RCAF Station Rockcliffe, Ontario, 14 July 1934.
Parachutes in the Second World War
The 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion was an airborne infantry battalion of the Canadian Army formed in July 1942. After the end of hostilities in Europe, the battalion was returned to Canada where it was disbanded on 30 September 1945.
By the end of the war the battalion had gained a remarkable reputation: they never failed to complete a mission, and they never gave up an objective once taken. They were the only Canadians to participate in the Battle of the Bulge and had advanced deeper than any other Canadian unit into enemy territory. Despite being a Canadian Army formation, it was assigned to the British 3rd Parachute Brigade, a British Army formation, which was itself assigned to the British 6th Airborne Division.
On 1 July 1942 the Department of National Defence authorized the raising of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion. The battalion had an authorised strength of 26 officers and 590 other ranks, formed into a battalion headquarters, three rifle companies and a headquarters company. Later in the year, volunteers were also requested for the recently formed 2nd Canadian Parachute Battalion, which formed the Canadian contingent of the 1st Special Service Force.
The 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion was Canada's original airborne unit, formed on 1 July 1942. Volunteers completed jump training in England then underwent four months of training at Fort Benning, Georgia, and the Parachute Training Wing at Shilo, Manitoba. Part airman, part commando, and part engineer, the paras underwent dangerously realistic exercises to learn demolition and fieldcraft in overcoming obstacles such as barbed wire, bridges, and pillboxes. By March, Canada had its elite battalion, which returned to England to join the 6th Airborne Division as a unit of the Britain's 3rd Parachute Brigade..
Canadian Parachute Wings (before 1968).
(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3302136)
1st Canadian Parachute Battalion paratroops taking part in British parachute training at the Royal Air Force Training School, Ringway, Cheshire, England, 4 Apr 1944.
(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3298170)
1st Canadian Parachute Battalion paratroops getting dressed for a jump at the Royal Air Force Training School, Ringway, Cheshire, England, 4 Apr 1944.
(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3579946)
1st Canadian Parachute Battalion paratroops getting dressed for a jump at the Royal Air Force Training School, Ringway, Cheshire, England, 4 Apr 1944.
(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3302122)
1st Canadian Parachute Battalion paratroops preparing to make a balloon jump at the Royal Air Force Training School, Ringway, Cheshire, England, Oct 1943.
(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3526685)
Major P.R. Griffin (left) of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion preparing to jump from a static balloon, England, October 1943.
(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3404622)
Private L.H. Carter of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion ready to jump from an RAF Armstrong-Whitworth Whitley bomber. Parachute Training School, RAF Station, Ringway, Cheshire, England, 4 April 1944. (Also reported as Oct 1943)
Armstrong Whitworth AW.38 Whitley, flown by RCAF aircrew serving with the RAF, used as a tow-plane for gliders and for dropping paratroops. The Whitley was in service with the RAF at the outbreak of the Second World War. It had been developed during the mid-1930s, and formally entered RAF squadron service in 1937. Following the outbreak of war in Sep 1939, the Whitley participated in the first RAF bombing raid on German territory and remained an integral part of the early British bomber offensive. By 1943, it was being superseded as a bomber by the larger four-engined heavy bombers such as the Avro Lancaster. Its front line service included maritime reconnaissance with Coastal Command and second line roles including glider-tug, trainer and transport aircraft. None have been preserved.
(IWM Photo, H22785)
Paratroopers inside the fuselage of a Whitley aircraft at RAF Ringway, in the UK, August 1942. In 1940, the Whitley had been selected as the standard paratroop transport; in this role, the ventral turret aperture was commonly modified to be used for the egress of paratroopers. Members of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion would have been jumping from these aircraft during their training in the UK at RAF Ringway.
(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3581761)
Freider type parachute, c1941.
(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3583064)
RCAF Airwomen demonstrating parachute packing technique, RCAF Station Rockcliffe, Ontario, 27 October 1943.
(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3583065)
RCAF Airwoman demonstrating parachute packing technique, RCAF Station Rockcliffe, Ontario, 27 October 1943.
(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3583066)
Parachute packing technique, 27 October 1943.
(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3583067)
Parachute packing technique, 27 October 1943.
(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 5255958)
Two members of the Women's Division RCAF, packing parachutes at No. 1 Service Flying Training School (1 SFTS), Camp Borden, Ontario.
(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 4327720)
G.D. Philpott instructs students at the J.P. Senecal and H.J. Mitchell Technical Training School on how to fold parachutes, 24 July 1940
(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3582192)
RCAF Airman wearing an emergency pack and parachute, Test and Development Establishment, R.C.A.F. Station Rockcliffe, Ontario, Canada, 1942
(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3581038)
Corporal N.R.V. Chapman, a member of the first group of Canadian parachute candidates, trains with the shock harness at the U.S. Army Parachute Training School, Fort Benning.
(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3565537)
1st Canadian Parachute Battalion training at Fort Benning, Georgia, 8 Mar 1943. Of the 60 other ranks who arrived at Fort Benning, Georgia (via Camp Shilo, Manitoba) from Ringway, England, only 18 opted to join the FSSF. The majority remained with the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion. These volunteers arrived at Fort William Henry Harrison, Helena, Montana, in Dec 1942. This base as chosen as the primary training location, due to its flat terrain for airborne training and its close proximity to mountains for ski and winter training.
(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3581036)
The first group of Canadian parachute candidates preparing to jump from a Douglas C-47 aircraft, Fort Benning, Georgia, United States, 7-11 September 1942.
(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 4297798)
Canadian Paratrooper landing at Fort Benning, Georgia, 1955.
The initial training was carried out at Fort Benning in the USA and at RAF Ringway in the UK. Groups of recruits were dispatched to both countries with the intention of getting the best out of both training systems prior to the development of the Canadian Parachute Training Wing at Camp Shilo, Manitoba. The group that traveled to Fort Benning in the United States included the unit's first commanding officer, Major H. D. Proctor, who was killed in an accident when his parachute rigging lines were severed by a following aircraft. He was replaced by Lieutenant Colonel G. F. P. Bradbrooke, who led the battalion until the end of operations in Normandy on 14 June 1944.
(IWM Photo, E 59364A)
Crossing the Rhine 24 -31 March 1945, Douglas C-47 Dakota transport aircraft release hundreds of paratroops and their supplies over the Rees-Wesel area to the east of the Rhine. This was the greatest airborne operation of the war. Some 40,000 paratroops were dropped by 1,500 troop-carrying planes and gliders during Operation Varsity, part of Operation Plunder.
The airborne assault over the Rhine, Operation Varsity, was the largest single airborne operation in the history of airborne warfare and also involved the US 17th Airborne Division. Five battalions of the 6th Airborne Division took part. The first unit to land was the The brigade suffered a number of casualties as it engaged the German forces in the Diersfordter Wald, but by 11:00, the DZ was almost cleared of German forces. The key town of Schnappenberg was captured by the 9th Battalion in conjunction with the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion. Despite taking casualties, the brigade cleared the area of German forces, and by 13:45, the brigade reported it had secured all of its objectives.
The A-35 Canadian Parachute Training Centre, Camp Shilo, Manitoba, was formed in 1942.
(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 35160970)
Parachute training at the A-35 Canadian Parachute Training Centre, Camp Shilo, 15 February 1944.
(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3516165)
Parachute training at the A35 Canadian Parachute Training Centre, Camp Shilo, 20 March 1945.
(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3516167)
Paratrooper with Sten gun preparing for a jump at the A35 Canadian Parachute Training Centre, Camp Shilo, 20 March 1945.
(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3607643)
Lieutenant Tom Brier, 1 Canadian Parachute Battalion, wearing American Parachute equipment, Helmet, 7-5 Parachute Assembly and reverse, Jump Boots, Parachute Jackett and Pants.
(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3516169)
Paratrooper with Sten gun preparing for a jump at the A35 Canadian Parachute Training Centre, Camp Shilo, 20 March 1945.
(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3591161)
Corporal D.L. Harris, a member of the first group of Canadian Army personnel selected for parachute training, wrestling with a parachute canopy deployed by a wind machine, August 1942.
(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3574085)
1st Canadian Parachute Battalion paratroopers preparing to board a Lockheed Lodestar (Serial No. 560), "The Gremlin Castle", No. 165 Squadron, RCAF, at Rivers, Manitoba, 11 Aug 1943.
Canada's first military Jumpmasters, standing in front of a Lockheed Lodestar at Rivers, Manitoba, 1944.
(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3643717)
Lockheed Lodestar, RCAF (Serial No. 555), No. 164 (Transport) Squadron, RCAF Station Rockcliffe, Ontario, 23 Nov 1943.
(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3591141)
Lieutenant-General Kenneth Stuart (left), Chief of the General Staff, talking with Lieutenant Al Liddiard, who explains the deployment of a reserve parachute's suspension lines, S-14 Canadian Parachute Training School (Canadian Army Training Centres and Schools), Camp Shilo, Manitoba, 13 September 1943.
The S-14 Canadian Parachute Training School was formed at Camp Shilo, Manitoba, in 1943. Training at Camp Shilo ceased in 1945.
(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3191613)
Mass drop of 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion paratroopers from Douglas Dakota transports, 6 February 1944.
1st Special Service Force
The Canadian Airborne Regiment drew much inspiration from the history of the First Special Service Force. The Regiment bears the FSSF battle honours Monte Camino, Monte Majo, Monte La Difensa/Monte La Remetanea, Anzio and Rome on its Regimental Colour. As well the unconventional nature of the First Special Service Force, similar to the British SAS and the current U.S. Army Special Forces and elsewhere, was not replicated in the more conventional role of the Canadian Airborne Regiment. Nevertheless, its accomplishments served as a model for many members of the new "Airborne".
The First Special Service Force was a unique joint formation of Canadian and American troops assigned to perform sabotage operations in Europe in the Second World War. Simply named "special forces" to conceal its "commando" or "ranger" purpose, this unit later gained fame as the "Devil's Brigade". The Canadians were designated the "2nd Canadian Parachute Battalion".
Members were handpicked and sent to Fort William Henry Harrison, Helena, Montana, for special training. The Canadians wore American uniforms and equivalent ranks to eliminate any questions of command among the troops. Their work-up took place in three phases, with extensive physical training throughout the program. The first phase included parachute training, small unit tactics and weapons handling—all officers and ranks were required to master the full range of infantry weapons from pistols and carbines to bazookas and flame throwers. Next came explosives handling and demolition techniques, then a final phase consisted of skiing, rock climbing, adapting to cold weather, and operation of the Weasel combat vehicle. Exercises in amphibious landings and beach assaults were added later.
(US Army Photo)
Canadian and American paratroopers of the First Special Service Force undergoing parachute training at Fort William Henry Harrison, Montana, in 1942.
(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3378674)
First Special Service Force paratroopers boarding a Douglas C-47 Skytrain for a jump at Fort William Henry Harrison, Montana, in 1942.
(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3583668)
Rear view of a main parachute rig worn by an RCAF airman, 19 February 1945.
Military Rigging and the early Post-War Years
Canadian parachute units after the end of the Second World War
The 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion existed from 1942 to 1945. The First Special Service Forces existed from 1942 to 1944. For a few years after the Second World War there were no official parachute units in Canada. The Special Air Service Company existed from 1947 to 1949. The Mobile Striking Force existed from 1948 to 1958. The Defence of Canada Force served from 1958 to 1968. The Canadian Airborne Regiment and Battle Group existed from 1968 to 1995. These units were supported by the Canadian Airborne Centre (CABC) School and the Canadian Forces Parachute Maintenance Depot (CFPMD). Today, there are four Canadian Forces Jump Companies actively engaged in military Parachuting.
In 1947, the Canadian Special Air Service Company (CSASC) was created with former members of the 1st Can Para and FSSF at its core. It was commanded by Major Guy D'Artois, a Canadian veteran of the Royal 22e Regiment, First Special Service Force and "F" Section Special Operations Executive with battle experience alongside the French Maquis.
In 1947 the Joint Air School (JAS) was formed at RCAF Station Rivers, Manitoba, as a (Canadian Joint Army/Air Training Centre). In 1949, the JAS was renamed the Canadian Joint Air Training Centre (CJATC). In 1949 a (nominal) Mobile Striking Force (MSF) was formed (also know as the airborne/air transportable Active Brigade Group, which absorbed the Canadian SAS Company. In 1957, the CJATC was renamed the Canadian Airborne Centre (CABC). and located at CFB Edmonton, Alberta. In 1958, the MSF was restructured and re-named the Defence of Canada Force (DCF). In 1968, the Canadian Airborne Regiment (CAR) at Griesbach Barracks in Edmonton. In 1977, the CAR moved to CFB Petawawa, Ontario and became part of the Special Service Force (SSF). The CAR was disbanded in 1995. In 1996, CABC was renamed the Canadian Parachute Centre (CPC) and moved to CFB Trenton, Ontario. In 1998, the CPC was amalgamated with the Canadian Forces Parachute Maintenance Depot (CFPMD). In 2006, the CPC was renamed the Canadian Forces Land Advanced Warfare Centre (CFLAWC). In 2013, the CFLAWC was renamed the Canadian Army Advanced Warfare Centre (CAAWC)
(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3584036)
B6 British type parachute, 29 July 1946.
(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3584152)
Douglas CC-129 Dakota with Canadian paratroops, Rockcliffe, Ontario, 19 July 1948.
In 1950, Canada was once again mobilizing, this time for Korea and NATO Europe. Each of Canada's three traditional Regular Force regiments (The Royal Canadian Regiment, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry and Royal 22e Régiment) expanded to three battalions. A brigade commitment, consisting of airborne and air-delivered troops to defend Canada's North, was undertaken. Battalions of this Brigade were all airborne. It was structured, over the next 20 years, into the "Mobile Strike Force" and subsequently reduced in size to the "Defence of Canada Force". This parachute role, was switched from one battalion to another within each of Canada's regular infantry regiments, as they rotated to and from Korea and, subsequently, to Europe. The brigade's elements remained garrisoned in their respective bases across the country and seldom exercised as a complete brigade.
Each of the battalions was trained to fly into Canada's North, and seize an airhead or location that could be developed for airlanded operations. When the role changed from one battalion to another, within each regiment, a small nucleus of specialized instructor-planners and riggers generally transferred over to the new battalion; however, the rest of the unit quickly undertook the requisite parachutist qualifications, generally with much enthusiasm; the requirement that parachutists be "volunteers" was rarely an issue in converting these tightly-knit infantry units. There were also airborne artillery, signals, medics, and engineer elements in the brigade.
In 1958 the "Mobile Strike Force" was restructured as "The Defence of Canada Force", resulting in a reduction to one parachute company in each battalion. At this time the airborne artillery was disbanded and other support elements reduced. The parachute component in each battalion consisted of battalion tactical headquarters, and a large company group (i.e. four platoons) with support detachments of mortars, machine guns, pioneers and reconnaissance detachments. A large reserve of trained parachutists was built up in the other companies.
In 1968, many of the officers and soldiers of the "Defence of Canada Force" provided the nucleus of expertise for the new Canadian Airborne Regiment, being created at CFB Edmonton, Alberta, with its French-speaking element at CFB Valcartier, Quebec.
(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 4234443)
Jump Tower training at RCAF Station Rivers, Manitoba in the 1960s.
(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 4234634)
Parachute training, Mock Tower, RCAF Station Rivers, Manitoba.
(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 4234636)
Parachute training, RCAF Station Rivers, Manitoba.
(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 4234635)
Parachute training, RCAF Station Rivers, Manitoba.
(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 4234630)
Parachute training, RCAF Station Rivers, Manitoba.
(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 4234633)
Parachute Training, rear door of a Fairchild C-119 Flying Boxcar at RCAF Station Rivers, Manitoba, c1950s.
(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 4234442)
Canadian Army Parachutists preparing to board a Fairchild C-119 Flying Boxcar at RCAF Station Rivers, Manitoba, in the 1960s.
Fairchild C-119 Flying Boxcars taxi out for take off loaded with paratroops during Op Char I, at Goose Bay, Labrador.
The Flying Boxcar was designed to carry cargo, personnel, litter patients, and mechanized equipment, and to drop cargo and troops by parachute. The first C-119 made its initial flight in November 1947, and by the time production ceased in 1955, more than 1,100 C-119s had been built. Its cargo-hauling ability and unusual twin-boom design earned it the nickname "Flying Boxcar". The RCAF received 35 new C-119Fs delivered from 1953, later upgraded to C-119G standard.
Fairchild C-119F Flying Boxcar (Serial No. 22110), loading paratroopers for a cold winter drop.
Rigger Support for the Canadian Airborne Regiment
1969, 1st military freefall course (MFP qualification), Edmonton, Alberta.
Standing: Aircrew, Cpl McNaughton (DZ Control), Sgt John Michaud (DZ Control), Maj Caesar, Sgt John Debolt, Sgt Eric Selig, Cpl Bill Roll, Lt Dan Bird, Maj Ray Honig, Sgt Marty Clavette, aircrew (Co-pilot), Capt Bob Gillan, aircrew (Captain).
Kneeling: Capt John Hasek, Ken Martin, Maj Harry Tudor, Lt Paul Fisher, Cpl Doug Carleton, Sgt Lloyd Giles, Cpl Don Skipper, Sgt George Martin, Aircrew. Missing: MCpl Bob Gall (Instructor).
1971 CFPT: Standing left to right: Cpl Doug Harasymko/Hubbs, Cpl Roland Benoit, Mike Bedel, Cpl Tom Cook, Cpl Charles McNamee, Cpl Chuck Shaw, Cpl Gavin W. Bowman, Cpl Vince Hendry, Cpl Bob Gallant, Cpl Len Freeman, Cpl Gordon C. Batt. Kneeling left to right: Sgt Simon F. Wykeham-Martin, Cpl Don Skipper, Capt Frank ...unidentified, LCol Stu Northrup, Cpl R. Lucas, Sgt Gerry Vida, Sgt Paddy Gilmore. The team is standing in front of a de Havilland CC-115 Buffalo at CFB Summerside, Prince Edward Island, 1971.
The Canadian Airborne Regiment, 1968 - 1995
Flag and Crest of the Canadian Airborne Regiment
Canadian Airborne Regiment
The Canadian Airborne Regiment (CAR) was a tactical formation manned from other regiments and branches. It traced its origin to the Second World War–era 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion (1 Can Para) and the First Special Service Force (FSSF) which was administratively known as the 2nd Canadian Parachute Battalion. The regiment bears battle honours on its Regimental Colours from both units, including Normandy Landing, Dives Crossing and Rhine in the case of the former, and Monte Camino, Monte Majo, Monte La Difensa/Monte La Remetanea, Anzio and Rome in the case of the latter. The Canadian Airborne Regiment was created on 8 April 1968 and was disbanded in 1995.
Combat Wings (after 1968).
Special Service Force
In 1977, 2 Combat Group combined with the Canadian Airborne Regiment to form the Special Service Force, a formation of the Canadian Army. This latter-day Special Service Force represented a compromise between the general-purpose combat capabilities of a normal brigade and the strategic and tactical flexibility that derived from the lighter and more mobile capabilities of the Canadian Airborne Regiment.
The Force was a brigade-sized command with 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. To this end each unit in the Force had a parachute sub-unit that would be used to support the Canadian Airborne Regiment as the Airborne Battle Group. The 8th Canadian Hussars Armoured Regiment had 2 squadrons, "A" and "B," equipped with Cougar AVGP armoured vehicles, and "D" Squadron, an armoured reconnaissance squadron equipped with M113 C& R Lynx tracked recce vehicles. In 1987, the 8th Canadian Hussars deployed to Canadian Forces Base Lahr in the former West Germany, while the Royal Canadian Dragoons replaced them in the Special Service Force at Petawawa after redeploying from Lahr. The 2nd Regiment, Royal Canadian Horse Artillery (2 RCHA), had a parachute battery (E Battery) with 105-mm L5 Pack Howitzers and from 1991, an airborne air defence troop. 2 Combat Engineer Regiment (2 CER) provided an airborne engineer troop. Command and supporting elements of the SSF Headquarters and Signals Squadron (HQ & Sig Sqn) were airborne, as were a platoon provided from 2 Field Ambulance (2 Fd Amb) and a Tactical Air Movements Section (TAMS) from 2 Service Battalion (2 Svc Bn).
In keeping with the Total Force concept that evolved in the late 1980s a number of combat arms units of the Army Reserve were assigned operational taskings to provide subordinate units in order to augment the Special Service Force when required. These sub-units were provided by units from the Central Militia Area (later re-designated as Land Forces Central Area and now known as the 4th Canadian Division). Units tasked included the Queen's Own Rifles (QOR), elements of the 2nd Field Engineer Regiment, and a composite battery of Royal Canadian Artillery militia units. The Special Service Force's readiness and deployability were never tested as a formation, but its units and soldiers served in operations both at home and around the world. They served overseas in Cyprus, Somalia, the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, and Namibia.
The following Units were serving in the SSF on disbandment in 1995:
- Special Service Force Headquarters and Signals Squadron
- 2nd Regiment, Royal Canadian Horse Artillery
- Royal Canadian Dragoons
- 2 Combat Engineer Regiment
- 1st Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment
- Canadian Airborne Regiment (now disbanded)
- 2 Field Ambulance
- 2 Military Police Platoon
- 2 Service Battalion
- 2 Intelligence Platoon
- 427 Tactical Helicopter Squadron
With the addition of Leopard tanks for the RCD, M109 howitzers for 2 RCHA and the addition of the 2nd Battalion, the Royal Canadian Regiment, and the disbandment of the Canadian Airborne Regiment and the resulting reduction in the parachute capability, the Special Service Force was redesignated as 2 Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group (CMBG) by a ministerial order signed on 24 April 1995. This decision and the associated reorganizing and re-equipping of the formation was a reflection of the emphasis in Canadian defence policy on general purpose capabilities at that time. With a smaller force structure, a smaller defence budget and more frequent operational taskings, it became clear that general purpose capabilities provided the best return on investment in defence . Accordingly, 2 CMBG was designed to be a mirror image reflection of its two sister formations, 1 CMBG in Western Canada, and 5 CMBG in Quebec. 2 CMBG maintains the spirit and traditions of the Special Service Force, while mastering the equipment and tactical doctrine that give it wide employability in a range of possible taskings.
Paratrooper statue by Col (Retd) André D. Gauthier, presented to the author on his posting from the Canadian Airborne Regiment in 1989.
12-plane mass drop on an exercise over CFB Borden, 1988
Jumpers exiting a Lockheed CC-130 Hercules.
In our present time, there are often politically short-sighted reasons that a number of countries feel their military forces and defence networks do not need to be maintained. There is no quicker way to increase the vulnerability of your “fortress,” than to let your military arm be depleted to the point where it will be ineffective when you need it. Those who do so will clearly find their homelands unsafe and insecure, and highly vulnerable to attack – and there will always be some group or other who hopes to gain power over the weak. Paratroops are only one of many links in an army’s necessary suit of chain-mail. It is the spirit, élan and professionalism of these kinds of dedicated soldiers that will ensure a successful outcome to a defence or attack. To let such people be lost to the exigencies of political expedience is to diminish the chances of survival for the nations who make such decisions.
To understand how such men and women can be employed when conducting a modern operation, I would like to mention a typical exercise carried out by members of the Canadian Airborne Regiment during a training mission long before the regiment was disbanded. I would imagine that a number of similar preparations and plans have been made for operations ongoing even now around the world.
A typical airborne operation begins with the Commander’s Orders Group (O Gp). The Lockheed CC-130 Hercules aircrews, the Company/Commando Commanders and all support staffs are briefed on where, when, and how the operation will take place. The objectives are defined, the drop points selected for the first group of pathfinders who will go in to mark the drop zone and a plan is presented on how it will be defended etc. Men and equipment are “cross-loaded.” The loading is planned and mounted to ensure that not all the personnel from any one unit are placed on the same aircraft. This is to ensure that if an aircraft breaks down or crashes, there will be enough troops spread out among the other aircraft to enable the survivors to continue the mission. For example, the mortar platoon is split into two fighting elements; the tube-launched, optically-tracked wire-guided anti-tank missile (TOW) platoon is split in two fighting teams; even the Intelligence platoon with four people went on three different aircraft; the regiment’s commander is on one aircraft and his deputy (the DCO) is on another etc.
Members of the Headquarters and Signals Squadron Intelligence platoon built terrain models and assembled maps and briefings to cover the objectives. In preparation, the Company Commanders would gather their Commandos, which were comprised of about 120 paratroops, with about 730 soldiers in the Regiment (a regular Infantry Company would have about 250 soldiers, an Infantry Battalion would have about 650, and there would normally be about 2,000 in an Infantry Regiment). The Commandos would gather together for a collective briefing on the operation to come. Each unit Commander would brief his individual Commando with all 120 men seated in front of the terrain model.
Every man is required to know every detail of the plan, because if some of them don’t make it to the drop-zone or the objective, others will have to fill in the gaps or carry out alternate plans. Some will have the task of covering the drop zone with heavy weapons, some will be designated to take out guard towers, sentries, control and access points, while others cover the entrances and exit or extraction points. Some will destroy buildings, aircraft, fuel and supply dumps and power sources, others may be designated to take prisoners, release hostages, carry out medical evacuations (Medevac) etc. If it is to be a combat extraction, the operation on the ground will last no more than a few hours. Every man participating in the briefing is expected to understand the plan, and if only a few get through, the plan still goes ahead.
For a night drop, the Battalion turns up at the “nose dock” (a hangar big enough for the entire front end of a Hercules except for the tail), early in the evening, with their small-arms (rifles, Karl Gustav and M-72 anti-tank weapons etc.), rucksacks and equipment ready to go. The order to get dressed is given, and the buddy system is applied as each paratrooper dons his parachutes and mounts his rucksack and any special equipment he may have to carry (extra mortar rounds, fuel, water, extra ammunition, radios, snowshoes and so on). Each jumper is then checked by a rigger, who examines the paratrooper's main and reserve parachutes, rigs his static-line and after his inspection is complete, declares him ready to go (usually with a solid slap on the butt of the jumper’s parachute harness and container). When all are dressed, the senior jumpmaster (JM) or his deputy will then order, “Listen up for the JM briefing.” He will then brief the sticks of men who have been prepared for their specific “chalk” load on the jump procedures appropriate to the type of aircraft they are using, such as the Hercules or Buffalo transport aircrat or Griffon helicopters, and on where, when and how the drop will take place, at what altitude, the likely wind conditions and potential hazards they may encounter on the drop zone, and a reminder of emergency procedures in the event of a hang-up (being towed behind the aircraft if the static-line doesn’t separate etc.) The JM will then complete his orders by stating, “You have now been manifested and will jump in accordance with these orders and instructions,” at which point all will shout “HuaaH!” in response.
(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 5056416
Lt Savard dressing for a static line jump, with Sgt Ralph Goebel in the background, likely at Namao, Alberta, 1978.
For a 12-plane drop, we have used fourteen Lockheed C-130 Hercules aircraft standing by with the props churning (two were back-up aircraft in case any broke down or otherwise become unserviceable). The order to embark is given, and you may imagine the picture of long lines of double rows of men marching out across the tarmac runway to board twelve separate aircraft. (Actually, waddling would be a better description than marching, as they are heavily weighed down with parachute equipment and their rucksacks mounted in front). The Pathfinder reconnaissance team will have flown out earlier, as they will be jumping in freefall from a higher altitude (about 10,000’ to 12,000’), and their rucksacks are mounted behind them. Their primary job is to mark the drop zone and to secure it with their weapons.
Military Free Fall Pathfinders exit a Lockheed CC-130 Hercules, c1979.
Pathfinder in freefall - note the MFP jumper's rucksack is mounted behind him, static line jumpers carry it mounted in front.
Once onboard the aircraft, all jumpers put their seatbelts on, white lights are extinguished and the aircraft's interior red lights are turned on to preserve night vision. All the aircraft taxi out in a long convoy-like line, and take off in “trail” formation. To prevent one long line of continuous targets presenting itself over the drop zone, the entire group of Hercules transports is split into four separate flights of three, which will approach the dropzone from different directions each flying in a "finger-three" V formation.
Each separate flight of Hercules will proceed to fly cross-country at a very low level until just before the run-in for the drop, and then ramp-up to the pre-determined jump altitude (1,000 feet to 1,200 feet in training, 650 feet to 700 feet over hostile terrain).
About ten minutes before the drop takes the jumpmaster (JM) on board each separate aircraft will issue the first of a sequence of commands, beginning with the attention-getting words, “Look this way!” Each paratrooper is anticipating this command and is particularly “focused” at this point, and on all succeeding commands given by the JM, which are shouted back, word for word, to ensure no one has missed hearing them. The next command shouted out by the JM is, “Seat belts off!” Every paratrooper reacts and complies in a coordinated and concerted action, and when ready, turns in his seat to face the JM again.
The next command is, “Stand Up!” at which point each jumper stands up and then removes his static line snap from where it had been stowed by the Rigger in an elastic band on his reserve and then he takes one step towards the heavy steel static line cable strung overhead, holds the open snap up to the cable and prepares to hook on. On the command, “Hook Up!”, the jumper snaps his static line onto the overhead cable which runs the length of the aircraft’s interior, and slides it to the rear for the person behind him to double check, at which point the JM shouts “Check Static Line!” Each jumper examines the snap and static line of the person in front of him to see that it is secure, then he traces a path with his hand down the yellow nylon cord to the back of the parachute on the man in front and tightens up the slack in the elastic bands holding the remaining static line stows in place. The second last and last men in the line make a half turn so they can check each other.
The next command is, “Check your equipment!” This is when a jumper takes the opportunity to move his testicles and other private parts out from underneath the leg straps and double checks every snap and strap including his helmet and the equipment that he is wearing. The JM then double checks the snaps and kit of every single man in the line, then returns to his position near the exit door and shouts, “Sound off for equipment check!” Starting with the last man, each man shouts out in succession, “1 OK, 2 OK” and so on, with the last man standing closest to the exit door pointing to the JM and shouting, “All OK,” when all have sounded off. About this time the red warning light over the jump door comes on. The JM and his deputy slide the doors up on each side of the Hercules, and stamp on the jump steps to ensure they are secure for “double-door exit.” In some cases the rear ramp may be lowered instead.
By now the three Hercules in each formation are in the process of moving from a line astern or “trail” formation into the finger-three formation. It is a spectacular sight if your are number one on the ramp of the lead Hercules watching the other two aircraft lined up behind your aircraft as they slide over to the left and right wings parallel with your aircraft.
The JM shouts, “Stand By!” and all jumpers step forward, sliding their static lines with them. When the green light flashes on, the JM shouts “GO!” At this moment each and every paratrooper immediately steps forward in a one-two movement (known as the mambo step), and as he reaches the door or the end of the ramp, he throws his static line forward, stamps down hard on the jump step to get a good “launch,” and exits smartly out the door, head down, feet together, hands on each side of his reserve, ready for the worst, hoping for the best, sounding out the count, “1,000, 2,000, 3,000, 4,000, 5,000, check canopy!”
The heat and the prop wash from four churning propellers hits the jumper just as he drops below the aircraft and the big round green T-10 parachute seems to explode off his back (many times harder than the gentle openings one experiences from a helicopter jump). The tightened harness straps keep him from being squeezed the wrong way, and after his count he will immediately look up to check for a properly open canopy. It is extremely rare that it does not open properly, primarily due to the Canadian invention of netting that runs around the skirt of the canopy which prevents partial malfunctions. The jumper then quickly grabs his rear risers and begins looking sharply around him all directions to watch for other jumpers and to avoid a canopy collision. If necessary, he will slip in the opposite direction by pulling down on the pair of suspension risers in the direction he needs to steer. If it is as dark as the inside of a monkey’s nether end, he will look, listen and feel for the wind on his face to get an idea of which way it is taking him. If it is a moonlit night, he will watch for the wind blowing along the grass or snow which looks like waves of fur fluttering along the back of a woolly bear, to get an idea of where to land and what obstacles to avoid.
About 300 above the ground, each jumper lowers his rucksack by pulling a special release tab, which lets it drop to hang about 15 feet below him. It will swing somewhat, but if it is really dark, he will feel it thump first and have some warning of when he needs to prepare to make contact with the ground. He keeps his feet and knees together and his elbows in tight as he prepares to hit and roll, arcing his body in the direction he is swinging and hopefully not landing too hard or on anything sharp.
Once the jumper has completed his “parachute landing fall” (PLF) on the ground he has to quickly deflate his chute to keep from being dragged by pulling on one of the risers to draw it towards himself. He then quickly undoes his reserve, punches his quick release system to get out of the harness, and very quickly extricates his weapon. If it is his rifle, he may have to remove it from his snowshoes, and if it is a Sterling Sub-machinegun (SMG), clear it from under his reserve. To reduce his outline as a potential target, the paratrooper keeps low to the ground as he gathers the chute and stuffs it into the built-in bag it comes with, then dons his rucksack and he prepares to move off the Drop Zone to meet the rest of his section at a pre-determined rendezvous (RV) point. (In jtraining jumps you bring all your kit with you to the RV point, in exercises you drop the parachute bags at a collection point and then get on with the exercise). At all times he must keep a watchful eye out for other jumpers and their equipment as they descend above him from the following waves so they don’t land on him, particularly if they are dropping a platform with one of the Regiment’s Airborne Artillery Battery guns, or an M113 C & R Lynx armoured reconnaissance vehicle, an M113 armoured personnel carrier (APC), or a TOW missile mounted on a jeep.
Each Commando team is watching for the pathfinder’s markers. A soldier may have to wave a small blue, green or red light on a pole for a few seconds every few minutes to guide each group into their RV point if it is really dark. If there is moonlight, the jumper can use his compass to get to an observable RV. As soon the majority of each assault team is in place, they move on to the objective. Time is of the essence, and it is very hard to recover when it has been lost. In a hostage-freeing scenario, the terrorists are hit according to the plan. Sometimes changes have to be made on the spot, and paratroopers have a ready instinct for an alternate but workable plan when necessary. In this exercise, the enemy force was taken out or neutralized, the hostages were freed and collected along with the wounded, and all injured were brought to a pre-planned collection point.
If it is a long-range operation, the paratroopers walk out. If it is a combat extraction operation, all assemble at pre-determined points on a designated runway. Each aircraft will roar in to land, and taxi to the end of the runway lowering its ramp as it reaches the turn-around point to prepare for take-off. In the few seconds the non-stop turn around takes place, each stick will re-board an incoming aircraft. When the Hercules has turned 180° and is facing the opposite end of the runway, the ramp is raised whether all are on board or not, and the aircraft takes off.
Each empty aircraft will take a turn coming in until all on the ground have been collected. It gets trickier loading the wounded with all due care and assistance, and no dead are left behind, so the body bags have to be carried on board as well as the extra people including hostages and prisoners. On this exercise, which took place at CFB Borden, Ontario, more than 200 additional people were flown back, while a number on the ground made their way to vehicles hidden off-site. In spite of the hasty activity, no one wants to be left behind to hike 25 kilometres north to an alternate ground collection point, and in this last mission, everyone and everything except those role-playing the enemy force was onboard the tenth aircraft to land, leaving the last two pilots severely annoyed because they still had to practice their rapid extraction skills minus live bodies on the ground to load.
While airborne on the flight back, medics were very busy working to plant IV s, treat the wounded and manage triage. Everyone helped out. Within an hour or two, all were back on the ramp at CFB Petawawa, and very shortly afterwards slid into a debriefing room to go over what has been collected and to discuss the lessons learned during the operation. We will have gotten in, done the job and gotten out, as close to the schedule and plan as possible. We will also have proven once again, the Airborne gets the job done.
Current parachute capability of the Canadian Forces
After the disbandment of the Canadian Airborne Regiment in 1995, the Canadian army reverted to its former practice of maintaining a parachute company within one of the battalions of each of the regular infantry regiments. The commandos, at that time, returned to their regimental "homes" and became a company of the light battalion of each of their regiments (the 3rd Battalion The Royal Canadian Regiment, the 3rd Battalion Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry and the 3rd Battalion Royal 22e Régiment).
In April 2005, the Canadian government's new defence policy statement was made public. It included a concept of first responders for international tasks consisting of "special forces" (such as Joint Task Force 2) supported by one of the light battalions (presumably on a rotational basis), including the parachute capability of its integral para company.
As a result, the Canadian Special Operations Regiment (CSOR) was formed.
Cpl Al Janes, left.
Two riggers in free fall with the “anvil” flag.
Brian Weir front, Hugues Beaulieu center, and Rob LeBlanc.
Cpl Russ Brassor giving a packing demonstration to Col Smith.
Canadian Military Riggers Today
Airborne Rigging Abbreviations
I have found that the older I grow, the more I like to listen to people who don’t talk much. Quite often they have learned things the hard way that we can all benefit from. (We need to add some great rigging quotes here)
Books related to rigging and the Canadian Airborne Regiment
GOODSPEED, LCol D.J. The Armed Forces of Canada 1867-1967. (Directorate of History, Canadian Forces Headquarters, Ottawa, Ontario, 1967).
HORN, Bernd, and WYCZYNSKI, M. Elite 143: Canadian Airborne Forces Since 1942. (Oxford, Osprey Publishing, 2006).
KNIGHT, Doug and LAW, Clive M. Tools of the Trade, Equipping the Canadian Army. (Service Publications, Ottawa, Ontario, 2005).
Official History of the Canadian Army in the Second World War. (Queen’s Printer, Ottawa, Ontario, 1955).
STACEY, Colonel C.P. Official History of the Canadian Army in the Second World War, Volume I, Six Years of War, The Army in Canada, Britain and the Pacific. (Queens Printer, Ottawa, 1955).
Tucker, M. CAAWC Parachute Riggers. The Maroon Beret: The Voice of the Canadian Airborne Brotherhood (2013).
About the Author
Major (Retired)Harold “Hal” Aage Skaarup. From 1977 to 1979 he was a member of the Canadian Forces Parachute Team (CFPT), the Sky Hawks, based at the Canadian Airborne Centre (CABC), 3 CDSB Edmonton, Alberta. He later served as the Regimental Intelligence Officer with the Canadian Airborne Regiment from 1986 to 1989.
He retired in Aug 2011, having served 40 years of Reserve and Regular Force service with the Canadian Forces. On 1 Feb 2015 Harold was appointed Honorary Lieutenant-Colonel for 3 Intelligence Company, Halifax, Nova Scotia, serving to 1 Feb 2018.