Paras Versus the Reich: Canada's Paratroopers at War, 1942–45


352 pages
Contains Photos, Illustrations, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 1-55002-470-1
DDC 940.54'1271





Reviewed by Dave Bennett

David Bennett is the national director of the Department of Workplace Health, Safety and Environment at the Canadian Labour Congress in Ottawa.


Paras Versus the Reich is essentially a history of the First Canadian
Parachute Battalion from its establishment in July 1942 until it was
disbanded in September 1945. The home base of the battalion was Camp
Shilo in Manitoba. However, since Shilo was not fully developed until
late 1943, most Canadians trained at Fort Benning, Georgia, completed
their courses at Shilo, then underwent a parachute conversion course at
Ringway in England.

The battalion was attached to the Third Parachute Brigade of the
British Sixth Airborne Division, which led to some loss of Canadian
identity but was otherwise a happy arrangement. The Canadians were
arguably the best unit in a first-class division. The battalion was
dropped in Normandy on June 5–6, 1944, then fought as ground troops
until August 26. They fought as infantry in the Battle of the Bulge in
January 1945, then in Holland. Finally, on March 24, 1945, they were
dropped in Operation Varsity, the air component of the British crossing
of the Rhine, then fought on the ground until the end of World War II on
May 8, 1945. The battalion began with about 500 men: 122 were killed,
286 wounded, and 87 made prisoner.

Most unit histories were written within about 10 years of the end of
the war; this one has been well worth waiting for. There is only one
criticism. The book starts with what is essentially the best short
account of the development of the parachute arm in the 19th and early
20th centuries, particularly in Russia and Germany, then jumps to the
Canadians without any discussion of British, Polish, and American
doctrine and tactics. The result is that we do not know whether the
Canadians developed their own character as paratroopers, which the Poles
certainly did, or whether they remained a blend of British and American.


Horn, Bernd, and Michel Wyczynski., “Paras Versus the Reich: Canada's Paratroopers at War, 1942–45,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed April 20, 2024,