Personal account of Brig James Hill's experiences in Normandy
I was somehow in the right place at the right time and early in 1943 I was given command of the 3rd Parachute Brigade which was then in its infa
At the start of The Second World War, Canada, like many allied countries, did not appreciate the devastating effect airborne forces could have and had not developed their own. However, Col EM Burns of the Canadian was a strong proponent of parachute troops and highlighted how they would be useful as a force to deploy rapidly to remote parts of Canada in the event of invasion. This, combined with the setting up of airborne forces in the UK, led the Canadians to officially establish the 1 Parachute Battalion on 1 July 1942.
Training was initially undertaken at Fort Benning in the US alongside fledging US airborne troops, before the battalion was moved to the UK. Here they had to retrain using British X-Type parachutes and adapt the techniques they had learnt in the US to jump from a variety of British aircraft.
The battalion was used for the first time in combat during the allied invasion of Normandy. Emplaning on the evening of 5 June, they dropped into France at approx 0130 the following morning. The battalion had a number of tasks including destroying the radio station at Varaville, securing the DZ, protecting the flanks of 9th Parachute Battalions actions at Merville and destroying bridges at Varaville and Dives.
Their drop however saw the battalion widely dispersed, but they still managed to achieve all of their objectives by noon on 6 June.
The battalion remained in action until the end of August advancing across Normandy to the Seine, during which time it took over 300 casualties with 81 men killed. But, at the same time, they had secured a ferocious reputation for their fighting ability.
In the UK, the battalion was reinforced, and prepared for further training, but along with the rest of the 6 Airborne Division was rushed to Belgium over Christmas 1944 to blunt the German Ardennes offensive, known as The Battle of the Bulge. The battalion took part in a number of actions including the capture of the town of Bande.
The next major operation was Varsity - The Rhine Crossing. The battalions objectives were to assist 3rd Para Brigade clear the DZ and defend the western portion of the DZ and to seize the raised ground along the main road. The Canadians were heavily engaged in the wooded area of the DZ and fought against German airborne troops, soundly beating them and achieving their objectives. During this operation their commanding officer - Lt Col Nicklin - was killed. A medic of the battalion, Cpl Topham was awarded a VC for his rescue of several wounded men.
The battalion then advanced to the Baltic with the rest of 6 Airborne Division ending the war at Wismar on 2 May 1945.
Then battalion was initially returned to the UK, before arriving back in Canada on 21 June 1945 and then being disbanded on 30 Sept 1945, after an illustrious 3 years of fighting.
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