(1)- The object of this report is to describe the part played by the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, Canadian Infantry Corps, in the operations of the Allied Armies in Northwest Europa during the final phase of WW-2. The report will deal with a minor extent with the role of the unit as ground troop helping to hold the front line in Belgium, during the Ardennes counter-offensive, and in the Netherlands, during the Battle of the Rhineland. It will relate in greater detail the story of the Battalion parachuting east of the Rhine River on Mar 24, 1945, and subsequently fighting overland to meet the Red Army on May 2, 1945, at the Baltic Port of Wismar. First among the troops of the British 21st Army Group to join hands with the Russians, no other unit of the Canadian Army penetrated so deeply into Germany nor progressed so far eastward in that theater of operations.
(2)- This report supplements two reports produced by the Historical Officer, Canadian Military HQs. Report No 138 discusses the formation of the 1st Canadian Prcht Bn in Jul 1942, and its initial training in the USA, Canada, and England. Report No 139, deals exclusively with its participation in the allied invasion across the Channel as part of the airborne armada which descended upon Normandy that memorable morning of Jun 6, 1944, and thereafter fought as front-line troops during the summer campaign to expel the Germans from France. This third report is intended to conclude the series. It begins with a brief introductory account telling of further training undertaken in England upon the return of the Battalion from France on Sept 6, 1944. The main story of final operations is followed by a short account of the repatriation of the unit and its disbandment in Canada on Sept 30, 1945. The report concludes with a summary of the battle casualties suffered and decorations awarded.
(3-) The first two report were completed by Jul 7, 1946, at the Canadian Military HQs in London, whereas this concluding report has been written a year later at the Army HQs in Ottawa. Copies of the unit War Diary including original operational maps have been available, however, and have provided the chief source of information. The story of the parachute descent has been checked against a comprehensive report by American observers entitled Operation Varsity, the Airborne Crossing of the Rhine River, March 1945. Statements outlining higher strategy have been drawn largely from the published report of the Supreme Commander to the Combined Chief of Staff. Much use has also been made of the well-known books written by FM Montgomery, Commander-in-Chief of the UK 21-AG, and by Lt Gen Lewis H. Brereton, Commanding the 1-AAA (Airborne).
(4)- Map references throughout the report refer to the following G.S.G.S. maps: England & Wales, 1:63,360, sheet 107; Belgium & Northeast France, 1:100,000, sheets 4 and 13; Germany, 1:50,000, sheets 16 and 36 and Central Europe, 1:100,000, sheets K5, K6, L5, L6, M5, N2, N3, N4, P1, P2, and Q1
(5)- The 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion returned to England from France on Sept 6/7, 1944, at the time when the Allied Armies were sweeping into Belgium and the Germans were still in full rout from Falaise. The Battalion had received its baptism of fire in dropping from the skies upon Normandy between 0100 and 0130 on D-day. On that day alone the unit had suffered 117 casualties, and in three months of fighting that summer, its battle losses totaled 24 officers and 343 other ranks. Reinforcements had not been sufficient in the later stages to maintain the Battalion War Establishment of 31 officers and 587 other ranks; consequently, there were deficiencies of 5 officers and 242 other ranks when the unit returned to England. There internal reorganization was to be undertaken and hopes were high that further airborne operations were in prospect.
(6)- The 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion had trained and fought as the only Canadian element basically part of the 6th British Airborne Division, retaining this status when the entire Division was withdrawn from operations and returning to the United Kingdom with it. The Canadians remained brigaded with the 8th and 9th Parachute Battalions to form the 3rd Parachute Brigade, commanded by Brig S.J.L. Hill, D.S.O., M.C.
Just prior to this move from the Continent the Battalion’s first Commanding Officer, Lt Col G.F.P. Bradbrooke, received a staff appointment and Maj G.F. Eadie assumed the temporary command. Back in England, Maj J.A. Nicklin rejoined the unit on being appointed to command effective Sept 8, 1944, with the rank of lt col. The new CO an outstanding athlete, had established a reputation across Canada as a former rugby star of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. One of the original officers of the Battalion, he had parachuted with it into France on D-day as second-in-command but later had been evacuated (June 23) with multiple wounds. Maj Eadie now became second-in-command, with Maj C.E. Fuller, Maj P.R. Griffin (MC), Maj J.D. Hanson (MC), and Maj R. Hilborn as company commanders.
(7-) Once re-established in their old quarters at Carter Barracks, Bulford, Wiltshire, all personnel were given 12 days leave ending Sept 4, 1944. General training then began in earnest, with the battalion restored to full strength by reinforcements from the 1st Canadian Parachute Training Company. During the month of October 1944, each of the three rifle companies was sent in turn to street fighting courses at Southampton and in the Battersea area of London, while the training company attended a similar course at Birmingham.
(8-) On Oct 9/10, the entire Battalion participated in a 3rd Paratrooper Brigade scheme termed Exercise Fog, whose objects were (1) Detail practice for large scale drop on a Brigade DZ; (2) Practice movement by night; (3) Practice of evacuation of casualties. The operation order for the exercise stated that the 3rd Paratrooper Brigade will seize and hold Shrewton – a main center of communication, and detailed the following tasks to the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion (1) Make contact with Glider Elements and conduct them to the Brigade Objective; (2) Seize and hold feature East of Shrewton; (3) Prevent Enemy movement south. Poor visibility caused a 24-hour delay, but at 1645, on Oct 9, 1944, the Battalion em-planed at Walford, Northampton, in aircraft of the 9th Troop Carrying Command (USAAF). The unit diarist records Objective. The Rendezvous area was cleared in 2020, and the objective reached at 2335. Small parties of enemy were encountered and dealt with successfully on the way to the objective and upon arrival there, the Battalion took up defensive positions and dug in].
The 1st Canadian Parachute Training Company took part in the role of the enemy, jumping from Stirlings, but unfortunately, the jump was made with 8 non-fatal casualties caused by a plane flying at 150′ while dropping men. The scheme ended the following morning and a 0230 route march brought the troops back to the barracks, where officers and men began a thorough study of the tactics employed. Baker Co, had a follow-up exercise of its own two days later in which men were dropped from trucks by pairs every 100 yards and ordered to move to the rendezvous, advancing from there towards the objective. This was the village of Cholderton, with the way barred by an enemy platoon provided by Charlie Co, but the assaulting troops won through in a mock battle lasting 18 minutes.
(9-) Although these courses and exercises served to enliven routine training, the men were for a time in a very unsettled state, perhaps due to sudden release from the tension of the summer months’ fighting. The following entries in the unit War Diary are evidence of this unusual attitude, Oct 20, 1944, On evening supper parade great confusion was caused when the men refused to eat. The complaint lay not in the food but in the treatment of the men by the Commanding Officer; Oct 21, 1944, General training during the day. Personnel still not eating. Platoon Commanders spoke to platoons to ascertain complaints and in the afternoon changes in Orders heretofore laid down were made but only 60 men ate supper; Oct 22, 1944, Sunday. Personnel still in camp refused to eat again today; Oct 23, 1944, Approximately 60 men ate their breakfast. General training in the morning and a lecture from Brigadier Hill who promised there would be an investigation into all grievances. Personnel all ate dinner and supper.
Personnel of the 1st Canadian Parachute Training Company also took part in the hunger strike, advancing numerous grievances the chief of which were concerned with dress regulations both around camp and walking out. Refusal to eat was the only sign of dissatisfaction, and no further trouble was encountered after the Brigadier’s investigation. All grievances were brought forward at the Brigade Commander’s inspection on Nov 16, 1944, but no drastic action was necessary and training activities soon absorbed the attention of all ranks.
(10-) During the month of November the short courses on street fighting were concluded and emphasis shifted to weapon training, Rifle, Sten Gun, Bren, Vickers MG, PIAT (Projectile Infantry Antitank), Mortar, Hand Grenade, Bangalore torpedo, Mines and Booby Traps (our own and enemy). The Mortar Platoon continued training with the 3″ mortar but stressed drills with the American 60-MM mortar, giving several demonstrations in handling this weapon. The Vickers, the PIAT, and the Signal Platoons were also busy in their specialized fields, the Intelligence Section held a two-day exercise of their own prepared by the Intelligence Officer, and the rifle companies made a considerable amount of range work. Route marches increased from 10 to 20 miles and long-distance runs from 2 to 3 miles. Recreation included films, concerts, tabloid sports, and a 36-hour pass for all personnel November 11/12, with a special train to London.
(11-) The main training feature of November was Exercise Eve, a 6th British Airborne Division scheme in which the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion as a whole and the Intelligence Section of 1st Canadian Parachute Training Company participated. Personnel traveled by lorry a day’s journey to the transit camp, where bad weather once again caused a 24-hour delay. The exercise finally took place on Nov 21 and included a daylight parachute jump followed by an assault on the enemy positions with preparations for counterattacks. Rehearsals such as Exercises Gog and Eve doubtless raised hopes that airborne operations would soon follow and served as some measure of compensation for exclusion of the Division from the descent on Arnhem in Sept 1944.
(12-) From Dec 1 to Dec 10, the personnel of the Battalion and the Training Company were on privilege leave, extended 24 hours in certain instances by the G.O.C as a reward for the cleanliness of barracks. During the month three drafts totaling 3 officers and 256 other ranks arrived from Canada to join the Training Co, whose strength at the beginning of the new year stood at 694 all ranks. It was possible now to maintain the Battalion at full strength, vacancies as they occurred being filled with qualified jumpers. Extensive range practice with all types of weapons on establishment kept officers and men fully occupied and keen for action.
(13-) Finally, on Dec 20, the Commanding Officer warned all ranks that the 1-CPB was returning overseas for active duty. The advance party left that day and the unit was placed on six hours’ notice, continuing in that state for more than three days. A Christmas dinner was served in Carter Barracks on Dec 22, and another in the transit camp on Dec 25.
On Christmas Eve the Battalion proceeded by train to Folkestone, embarking there on the SS Canterbury at 1830 on Christmas Day for Ostende, Belgium. Crossing the English Channel by boat must have been a bitter disappointment to trained paratroopers, but at least they were getting back into a fighting role.
(14-)The return of the 6-A/B (UK) to the Continent at this stage of the war was part of a mass movement of troops urgently required to help stem the Ardennes counter-offensive launched by the Germans on Dec 16, against Gen Omar N. Bradley’s 12-AG.
The enemy’s general plan was to break through the thin line of defenses in a sudden blitz drive to the Meuse River in the Liège-Namur area of Belgium and continue on to Antwerp in order to seize or destroy this great port of supply and split the Allied Armies. Assembling all available reserves of armor and infantry to meet the threat, General Eisenhower decided to make extensive use of troops from airborne formations. Reinforcements had to be rushed to the Ardennes.
The Supreme Commander immediately called upon the 82-A/B and the 101-A/B, which had been through a bitter campaign in Holland and were being refitted and reequipped in the Reims area (France) for future airborne operations. Farthest from their minds was a commitment to return to action. The Supreme Commander directed that the movement by Air of the 17-A/B begin as soon as weather permits. He also directed that the British 6-A/B (UK) be moved to the Continent by water with first priority.
(15-) The enemy’s wedge separated the left flank of Gen Bradley’s forces so badly from his right that it was necessary to divide his command on Dec 19, allowing him to give full attention to the southern part of the salient. There, the 101-A/B, reinforced by armor, was given the task of holding Bastogne, hub of seven highways and three railways, and maintained there a magnificent defense although completely surrounded for 5 days and under constant attack by forces many times superior in strength.
All forces north of the Bulge, including the US 1-A and the US 9-A, were placed under the operational command of FM Bernard Montgomery, who concentrated the British 30th Corps in 3 strategic reserve position east of Brussels. The Krauts failed to reach even their initial objectives on the Meuse River, although they made a 45-mile gap and penetrated over 60 miles westward to within 4miles of the Meuse near Celles. The Allied Forces brought the German counter-offensive under control by Dec 26, and shortly thereafter were able to resume the initiative with pincer-like attacks by the US 1-A from the north and the US 3-A from the south. It was at this stage that the British 6th Airborne Division was brought into action as part of the British 30th Corps, which Montgomery directed against the eastern edge of tho Bulge between the major attacking forces. It had not yet however, been possible to form a reserve American corps available for offensive operations in the US 1-A, and I now decided to commit the British troops south and east of the Meuse in order to relieve US VII Corps for the purpose. My plan was to employ the UK 30th Corps on the right flank of the US 1-A taking over the sector Givet, Hotton.
The reliefs were to be completed by Jan 2, 1945, the British 30 Corps attacked on Jan 4, in a front of two divisions. In the south, the British 6th Airborne Division, which had been hurriedly brought over from the UK, had some fierce fighting in and ground Bure but secured the area on Jan 5, and on the left, the British 53d Division moved forward in touch with the US VII Corps.
(16-) Proceeding inland by lorry from Ostende, the 1-CPB had been billeted first in Belgian villages around Taintignies, south of Tournai, and then approximately 70 miles east at Maredret, near Namur. This week of waiting ended on Jan 2, when the unit moved to Rochefort, a Belgian village on a tributary east of the Meuse River, and took up battle positions there in the familiar role of infantry of the line. The heavy fighting et Bure was approximately five miles south of the Battalion’s front, which remained comparatively quiet. That first day no activity was reported other than the capture of a solitary PW identified as a deserter from the 304.Regiment of the 2.Panzer-Division. Minor changes of position within the area were assumed from day to day without serious trouble, patrols by day and night often reporting no sign of the enemy. On Jan 3, Able Co met some slight opposition in an advance but reached its objective and the next day sent out a fighting patrol to clear the neighboring woods. This company had had a last-minute change of commander just before leaving England when Maj P.R. Griffin was left behind with a broken wrist, Capt J.A. Clancy taking command as A/Maj. Throughout this second period of active service for the Battalion he led Able Co with the same gallantry which had previously won him the Military Cross in Normandy.
(17)- Finding the enemy had withdrawn from the Rochefort area after the battle to the south at Bure, the Battalion made a minor change of location on Jan 6, to the village of Aye, just west of Marche-en-Famenne, but observation posts set up by the Intelligence Section revealed no signs of enemy activity. Three days later, the 1-CPB moved east of Marche to relieve the Highland Light Infantry at Champlon-Famenne, the companies immediately taking up positions for all-round defense. After a quiet night, the Battalion received orders to advance to Roy, which Baker Co attacked at 1100 and took unopposed, all enemy having withdrawn. No casualties resulted from this operation, although a recon patrol previously had been severely mortared by the Krauts.
Defensive positions were taken up but patrols could not establish contact with the enemy. The following day, Baker Co took the neighboring village of Bande, also without opposition. The 1-CPB handed it over to 9th Canadian Parachute Battalion. An entry in the unit was diary reports a gruesome discovery made there. 37 civilians found beaten and shot to death in a cellar at Bande. One man from each Platoon in the Battalion was taken to Bande and shown the German cruelty. German aircraft bombed and strafed the area near midnight on Jan 13, but patrols reported all enemy ground troops had fled and there was little to do but search for their abandoned equipment. While awaiting the end of the Battle of the Bulge, the 3rd Paratrooper Brigade held a winter sports meet at Roy on Jan 14, with toboggan races and contests in building snowmen, log sawing, and wood chopping. On Jan 18, the Battalion departed for a rest area at Pondrome, thus ending the first phase of its reintroduction to active operations.
(18-) By then the junction of the US 1-A and US 3-A had enabled FM Montgomery to dispense with the British 30th Corps as a buffer between them.
I undertook the withdrawal of the British troops from the Ardennes with the greatest possible speed, in order to regroup for the battle of the Rhineland. Now was the opportunity to proceed with the utmost dispatch to carry out our plans, in order to take full advantage of the enemy’s failure. The enemy had been prevented from crossing the Meuse in the nick of time. The battle displayed many fine examples of Allied solidarity and teamwork. In particular, the passage of the British 30th Corps across to the south flank of the US 1-A and US 3-A, and its subsequent deployment east of the Meuse was an operation of tremendous complications achieved without serious difficulty.
Formations of 1st Canadien Army in Holland, although profoundly affected by the Ardennes counter-offensive, had not been required to assist directly in repelling it. Certain units of the Canadian Forestry Corps (HQs 8th Canadian Forestry District with under command Nos. 1, 9, 14, 16, 25 and 27 Companies), which had been cutting timber in the Ardennes Forest since Nov 1, 1944, were placed on Stand To but soon received orders to withdraw to Brussels. The 1-CPB, therefore, had the honor of being Canada’s sales representative unit to close with the enemy in that important battle.
The 56th Btry, 6th AT Regt, RCA, was placed under the command of the 51st (Highland) Division from approximately Dec 25, 1944, to Jan 15, 1945, but does not appear to have been called upon to play an active part in the Ardennes Campaign. This division was then in a reserve role as part of the US 1-A and the 56th Battery acted as a Division Antitank reserve. An undated sitrep of the 56th Battery states regarding this period, as Div reserve we have carried out extensive recons in this area but no guns have been deployed).
Operations in Holland
(19-) With von Rundstedt’s striking power expended, the task of Gen Eisenhower now, was to re-grasp the strategic initiative and resume the advance. In planning our forthcoming spring and summer offensives, I envisaged the operations which would lead to Germany’s collapse as falling into three phases: the first, the destruction of the enemy forces west of the Rhine River and closing to that river; the second, the seizure of bridgeheads over the Rhine from which to develop operations into Germany; and the third, the destruction of the remaining enemy east of the Rhine and the advance into the heart of the Reich. (Eisenhower)
Forces were regrouped and the major thrust made from the north, where the British 21-AG planned Operation Veritable and Operation Grenade to smash the enemy west of the Rhine. For this battle of the Rhineland the British 6-A/B left the British 30th Corps and was assigned a holding role as part of British 8th Corps within the British 2-A, to whom FM Montgomery had given certain responsibilities. The 2-A (UK) was to hold a firm front on the Meuse River facing east and to assist the Canadian operations by every means possible. At this stage of planning, I envisaged the 2-A (UK) crossing the Meuse to secure Venlo as part of Operation Veritable, though later this was canceled because it proved unnecessary. (Montgomery)
(20-) The 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion was permitted to remain in its rest area at Pondrome, Belgium, less than four days before being ordered to proceed to the Netherlands. (This brief pause in the winter campaign permitted all ranks to attend bath parades, draw clean clothing, and enabled the quartermaster to issue rubber boots and leather jerkins in preparation for rigorous field conditions. On Jan 22, the Battalion traveling all day by lorry, traversed the US 9-A area to reach the Dutch village of Roggel. Front-line positions on the west bank of the River Maas (the Meuse in Dutch) were taken over from elements of the British 15th Infantry Division the next morning, with the 1-CPB established at Haelen and the rifle companies in three neighboring villages: Able Co forward at Buggenum, Baker Co on the right at Broek, and Charlie Co on the left at Nunhem. Across the river, the Siegfried Line extended along a slight lip which overlooked the valley, and continuous trench systems stretched along the east bank connecting the strongly fortified areas of Venlo to the north and Roermond to the south.
The enemy held both these strong points, but south of the latter had been forced by the British 12th Corps (UK 2-A) to retreat across the Roer River, which joins the Meuse River from the southeast at Roermond. The US 9-A had taken over this Roermond triangle, from which it was intended to launch Operation Grenade on Feb 10. Away to the south. however, the Germans by releasing a huge volume of water from a dam on the upper Roer caused it to overflow its banks along the entire front of the 9-A. Therefore the 1st Canadian Army was forced to be in Operation Veritable in the north on Feb 8, without supporting attacks.
(21-) While stirring events were happening on the right and the left of the UK 2-A, the 1-CPB had to be content with the holding role demanded of its central position. Enemy shells and rockets fell into the unit area time after time yet caused surprisingly few casualties. Sporadic exchanges of mortar, rifle, and LMG fire were a daily occurrence, also without major damage. A standing patrol of Baker Co, located near a railway bridge (774933), repeatedly came under heavy enemy fire of all types in the first few days. Soon an enemy observation post was discovered directly across the river at that point and thereafter was given a daily drubbing by machine-gunners and snipers, aided one day by a number of rounds from a Sherman tank. On Feb 1, a German raiding party ventured across the Meuse to attack a standing patrol of Able Co at 0200, wounding two men but losing a prisoner of war. Almost every night the enemy lighted up the front with flares as though expecting attacks himself, and frequently during the day he could be seen digging trenches to improve his defensive position. Members of the Royal Engineers passed through the unit lines on Jan 25, and Jan 29, to reconnoiter the banks of the Meuse for a possible crossing, the Battalion affording protective troops, but in view of the changed plan no attempt was made to cross in force in that particular area.
5.5-inch howitzers, 236 Battery, 59th Medium Regiment, Royal Artillery, firing at dawn, before 12 Corps’ attack in the Sittard area of Holland, Jan 16, 1945