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Canadian Special Forces

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Special Forces duties in Canada are shared between three Parachute companies attached to light infantry battalions in the regiments of the regular force, plus an elite counter-terrorism unit known as JTF2 (Joint Task Force 2.) The lineage of today's special forces is detailed below:

  • JTF2 (1993 - present)
  • Canadian Airborne Regiment (1968-1992)
  • 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion (1942-1945)
  • 1st Special Service Forces (1942-1944)

Table of contents

Joint Task Force-2 Until 1993, counter-terrorism in Canada was the responsibility of the Special Emergency Response Team (SERT) of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Although the 49-man unit was never deployed, its leadership believed that its mission ran contrary to the professional culture of the Mounties. SERT was disbanded and Canadian Forces was tasked to create a new military unit for anti-terrorism and hostage rescue. Recruiting from all branches of Canada's armed forces, the new elite unit was established as Joint Task Force 2. Its declared mission is "to respond as a force of last resort to terrorist events or major disturbances of the peace affecting national security."

Modelled closely on the British Special Air Service (SAS), JTF-2 is operated under an unusual degree of secrecy for Canadian services. Its actual composition, training and its deployment have never been disclosed through official channels. It strength is estimated at 250 to 300 troops with a lieutenant-colonel commanding; plans are in place to double its size by 2007. JTF2 is based on a 200-acre compound at Dwyer Hill Training Centre outside of Ottawa, Ontario. JTF-2 is commandeered by a Lt. Colonel of one of the branches.

As a quick reaction force, JTF2 minimizes its reliance on other elements of the Canadian Forces. In its recruitment information, JTF2 identifies 3 categories of troop requirements: special operations assaulters (ASLTRS); tactical mobility and technical specialists; and service support specialists.

JTF2 is rumoured to have deployed to Bosnia when Canadian troops were taken hostage by Serb forces in 1995 but, if so, they were not called into action before the troops were released. JTF2 was also sent to Bosnia to hunt down snipers who threatened peacekeeping troops. Other reports claim that JTF2 operated in Kosovo to designate targets for NATO bombers but DND would not confirm their participation or location at the time. Members of the unit did escort Gen. Maurice Baril[?] across the Rwanda-Zaire border during the aborted plan to rescue Rwandan refugees. Teams provided SWAT training to Haiti and deployed to Peru when guerrillas took Canadians hostage there. JTF2 is known to have provided surveillance and strike teams for "Task Force K-Bar" in the war against Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan.

The Canadian Airborne Regiment The Canadian Airborne Regiment traced its origin to two distinguished units formed during World War II, the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion (1CanPara) and the 1st Special Service Force (1SSF).

In 1947, the Canadian Special Air Service (SAS) company was created with former members of the 1CanPara and 1SSF at its core. The troops endured several reorganizations over the next 20 years, including the "Mobile Strike Force" and the "Defence of Canada Force." In 1968, these troops were brought together as the Canadian Airborne Regiment, based at CFB Edmonton, Alberta.

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

The Airborne deployed twice at home in the 1970s: once in response to the "October Crisis" in Quebec in 1970, then in 1976 to provide counter-terrorist support at the Montreal Olympics. In 1974, the regiment undertook its first peacekeeping[?] mission.. Shortly after its arrival in Cyprus, a coup overthrew the government and, in response, the Turkish army invaded. The Airborne, with British support, took command of the international airport to deny further troop movement, then intervened with patrols to prevent escalation of the conflict. Operating "between the lines," two Airborne troops were killed in action and 30 wounded.

The Airborne continued its peacekeeping rotations in Cyprus through the 1980s. In 1991, the regiment was in Western Sahara to monitor the cease-fire and enforce agreements between guerrilla forces and the Moroccan army.

In 1992, the Airborne was reorganized again, downsized to battalion strength. It was deployed for the last time in 1993, as part of the United Nations' "peace enforcement" effort protecting humanitarian operations in Somalia. Sadly, the battalion became embroiled in controversy over "the Somalia incident" and questionable hazing conduct, which ultimately led to the disbanding of the Airborne.

The final parade of the Canadian Airborne Regiment was held at CFB Petawawa in March of 1995. The honoured traditions of the regiment are carried forward by the independent parachute companies now attached to three of the CF light infantry battalions.

1st Canadian Parachute Battalion The 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion was Canada's original airborne unit, formed on July 1, 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.

The Battalion's service in the European theatre included the Airborne invasion on D-Day, a short reinforcement stint in Belgium and the Netherlands, the Airborne crossing of the Rhine and the subsequent advance to Wismar where they met the Russians.

With victory in Europe and the Pacific War ending in August, the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion was disbanded. The battalion was perpetuated in the infantry commandos of the Canadian Airborne Regiment, whose Colours carried the battle honours: Normandy Landing, Dives Crossing, The Rhine, and North-west Europe 1944 - 1945.

1st Special Service Force The 1st Special Service Force was a unique joint formation of Canadian and American troops assigned to perform sabotage operations in Europe in World War II. Simply named "special forces" to conceal its "commando" or "ranger" purpose, this unit later gained fame as the "Devil's Brigade".

Members were handpicked and sent to 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.

The first deployment of 1SSF to the Aleutian island of Kiska[?] disappointed the troops when it was found that the Japanese[?] forces expected there had already evacuated, but the exercise was considered good experience. The force was next sent to Italy, where German forces entrenched in two mountains were inflicting heavy casualties on the 5th US Army. The first regiment, 600 men, scaled a 1000-foot cliff by night to surprise the enemy posiition. Planned as a 3 to 4 day assault, the battle was won in just 2 hours. The force remained for 3 days, packing in supplies for defensive positions and fighting frostbite, then moved on to the second mountain, which was soon overtaken. In the end, 1SSF suffered 511 casualties including 73 dead and 116 exhaustion cases. The commander, Col. Robert Frederick, was wounded twice himself.

1SSF saw continued action throughout the Mediterranean, at Monte Sammucro[?], Radicosa[?], and Anzio[?]. For the final advance on Rome, 1SSF was given the honour of being the lead force in the assault and became the first Allied unit to enter the "Eternal City." Their success later continued in Southern France and then at the France-Italian border. Often mis-used as line troops, the force suffered continuously high casualties until it was finally withdrawn from combat.

On the 5th of December, 1944, in Southern France, the First Special Service Force was disbanded. Its battle honors included Monte Camino, Monte La Difensa, Monte La Remetanea, Monte Majo, Anzio, Rome, Advance to the Tiber, Italy 1943 - 44, Southern France and Northwest Europe. The Canadians rejoined their home units and the Americans were assigned to either Airborne units or the newly formed 474th Infantry Regiment. Col Frederick became the youngest Major-General ever in the American army, at the age of 37, and took command of the 45th Division.

The success, esprit and discipline of 1SSF became a template for building modern Special Forces worldwide.

See also: Special Forces

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