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Greenlight for Jump: Paratroopers and D-Day

2021-06-06 11:02 | Anonymous
 

"B" Company, 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, January 1944.


On June 5th, 1944, many soldiers anxiously awaiting their deployment over enemy lines. The development of aviation made it possible to have soldiers flown in over the enemy. Planes were crowded with soldiers and equipment. Soldiers did not have much to hold onto in the back of the aircraft. As soon as the coast of Normandy became visible, so did the artillery fire on the airplanes. The plane took evasive maneuvers to avoid being hit. Men were falling out of the aircraft too soon, chaos ensued. The plane's evasive maneuvers also meant that the aircraft was not on the designated drop zones. When the red light came on, the soldiers could not think about anything other than to escape the death trap. When the Greenlight flashed to jump, so activated the training they received months prior.


Jump training from the 75-meter tower at Fort Benning, Georgia, 12 March, 1943. Photo by Ed. Smith.
Department of National Defence / National Archives of Canada, PA-141396


The 1st Canadians Parachute Battalion was established on July 1st, 1942, and was made up of an elite unit of men. Paratroopers were tasked with putting themselves in dangerous scenarios because their job was to be behind enemy lines. When the paratroopers made their descent to land, they became infantry soldiers. However, these airborne forces were not like other infantry but were highly trained soldiers with a unique set of skills.

Paratroopers would undergo a four-week-long training programme. These recruits would have to build physical and mental stamina as they could be behind enemy lines for days without relief. They were then trained how to use the equipment and different jumping techniques. The recruits would jump out of a 10-meter tower and then move to a 75-meter tower. Finally, the recruits would have to jump from an airplane five times successfully. The training prepared them for their descent from the aircraft and how to organize themselves once on the ground.

The soldiers jumped out of the planes that night; it was not like any training they had received. Despite all their training, they could not have been prepared for the chaos that was their deployment that night. When the green light went off, they all made the irrevocable decision to jump, and there was no going back.

As the paratroopers made their descent, they were trying to navigate their landing in the dark. Many would die or would sustain severe injuries. The Germans had flooded fields to discourage planes from landing in the areas. Nevertheless, if a paratrooper landed in one of these fields, the weight of the equipment could hold them down, and they would drown. There was also the hazard of trees, and many soldiers who landed in trees became severely injured or died. Even if you managed to land safely, this did not mean you were safe. There were about 82 paratroopers who got captured by the Germans upon their landing and became prisoners of war.

 

Mass drop of the 1st Battalion from Douglas Dakota aircrafts, Salisbury Plain, England, February 6th, 1944.

Photo by Ed. Smith. Department of National Defence / National Archives of Canada, PA- 132785


Many paratroopers became lost as the key navigation system, the "Eureka" homing beacons, failed to perform correctly. Because of the chaos of the deployment, many soldiers found themselves alone and lost. However, the Germans were also unable to confirm the actual drop zone of the troops, and German commanders held off on deploying their reserve units for many hours. Dazed and confused, these soldiers got it together in the chaos and managed to collect themselves, get organized and activate their unique skill sets. Canadian Paratroopers were able to recuperate and reassemble with their units if they could. Despite every obstacle put in the paratrooper's path, the battalion accomplished all its assigned D-Day objectives.

There were about 541 paratroopers that jumped into Normandy. There was a large number of soldiers that went missing after they jumped. Paratroopers who landed far from the drop zone and sustained severe injuries would not be found soon enough and would die alone. Paratroopers experimented with a new kind of warfare. D-Day demonstrated that airborne soldiers could play a significant role in modern warfare. Many veterans were proud to be a part of the 1st Canadian Paratrooper Battalion as their overall efforts helped to distract and weaken the German defences allowing the landing forces on the beaches a better chance of success.

Post by Alexandra Lyons

Bibliography 

Horne, Bernd and Wyczynski, Michel. “A Most Irrevocable Step: Canadian Paratroopers on D-Day, The first 24 hours, 5-6 June 1944.” Canadian Military History 13, 3 (2004): 15-32.

“Canada In the Second Word War: 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion.” Juno Beach Centre. https://www.junobeach.org/canada-in-wwii/articles/1st-canadian-parachute-battalion/.

Horn, Bernd and Wyczynski, Micheal. Paras Versus the Reich: Canada’s Paratroopers at War, 1942-45. Toronto: The Dundurn Group, 2003


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