When soldiers of the 27th Canadian Infantry Brigade arrived at the Port of Rotterdam aboard the transport ship Fairsea in November, 1951, they didn’t realize they were the vanguard of a decades-long commitment to the defence of freedom and stability in Europe.
But the current drawing down of Canadian troops and the Change of Command parade on 1 September in Banja Luka mark the first time the Army has been below battalion strength on the continent since 1951. These events by no means spell the end of Army operations in Europe.
But as most of the Army comes home temporarily for a long overdue period of regeneration, it seems fitting to look back briefly at the more than five decades of service in Europe by generations of soldiers and officers.
They served with 4 CMBG in Central Europe beside the NATO allies and maintained an uneasy peace for three decades in Cyprus. Just as their service in Central Europe was nearing an end, the Balkans erupted, leading to a seemingly endless series of rotations that saw many serve five, six or seven tours and taxed the Army’s people and resources to the limit.
Then it was on to Afghanistan to help stabilize that country and assist in the hunt for those who had subjugated its people to a terrorist regime. Over 1,000 Canadians have served as observers or trainers in a myriad of European missions, with Canadian officers and senior NCOs holding a disproportionate number of command positions in scores of smaller operations such as Bolster, Noble, Speaker and Justice.
"There’s a certain irony to the fact that for 40 years, Canadian defence policy attempted to prepare for a war in Europe," noted Major Mat Joost, who serves with the Directorate of History and Heritage (DHH). "Then, with the end of the Cold War, the cries for a ’peace dividend,’ and the downsizing of the Canadian Forces, the closest thing to war in Europe (and elsewhere) did come, just when we least expected it. For the past decade, the Army has been more operationally active in Europe, with smaller forces, than it was for the preceeding 40 years."
Known as a Panda Brigade (for Pacific AND Atlantic), the 27th Canadian Infantry Brigade (27 CIB) was drawn mainly from militia personnel recruited for OP Panda. Some units, such as C Sqn, RCD, were from the Regular Force.
27 CIB was succeeded in Germany by 1 Canadian Infantry Brigade Group in October 1953. 1 CIBG included personnel that had served with 27 CIB but was primarily formed from units from LdSH (RC), PPCLI, RCR and R22eR and included many soldiers who had served in Korea. After a two-year tour, it was replaced by 2 CIBG which was in turn replaced in November 1957 with 4 CIBG, a stronger presence that included an armoured regiment of 47 Centurion tanks and an independent recce squadron with Ferret Mk 1 scout cars.
In 1962, following the Berlin Crisis the previous year, 4 CIBG was further bolstered with the addition of nine CH 112 Nomad helicopters, the Royal Canadian Armoured Corps Helicopter Recce Troop.
With strength peaking at just over 6,700 men in the mid-1960s, the brigade was often referred to as a "light division" by the British. It possessed a full armoured regiment, three mechanized infantry battalions of four rifle companies each, an artillery regiment, an independent recce squadron with armoured vehicles and helicopters, nuclear firepower suitable for a division and extensive logistical support.
4 CIBG became 4 Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group on 1 May 1968, but its strength was substantially reduced into the next decade. It moved from CFB Soest in northeastern Germany to CFB Lahr in the southwest in June 1971.
The Canadian Government planned to improve the state of the Army in the Central Region in the 1980s, particularly given NATO’s alarm over the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. But with the crumbling of the Soviet Union and the advent of perestroika and glasnost, the Army’s Cold War posture in Europe came to an end; the close-out of 4 CMBG took place in August 1993.
Over 100,000 Canadian soldiers had served in the Central Region to preserve freedom in Europe.
Article by Paul Mooney
Photos by DND
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