In 1974, the Canadian Airborne Regiment, deployed for the first time in its history on a peacekeeping mission, rotated to Cyprus to become Canada's 450-man contingent with the United Nations Force in Cyprus. In July, Greek Cypriots intent on uniting Cyprus with Greece staged a coup d'etat. Turkey reacted to protect the Turk Cypriot minority by invading Cyprus with an amphibious landing on the north coast. Within hours, Turkish troops had reached the northern suburbs of Nicosia.

Part of the Canadian contingent was deployed to the Nicosia airport on the northwestern outskirts of the city. The airport, which was directly in the path of the Turkish invading forces, really was the key to the whole city. If the airport fell, Nicosia itself might have fallen. The UN command in Cyprus, which included as its chief of staff Canada's Colonel Clay Beattie, decided that the loss of Nicosia would be an unacceptable blow to UN peacekeeping credibility. The Canadian contingent was ordered to stand its ground. The Turks clearly had sufficient force to overrun the Canadian paratroopers but to do so they would have suffered the world press reporting them mauling a UN peacekeeping contingent. Faced with the evident professionalism and determination of Canada's paratroopers, the Turks halted their advance. Nicosia remained in Greek Cypriot hands.

At the time of the Turkish invasion, only part of the Canadian Airborne Regiment was in Cyprus. The remainder of the regiment, however, was quickly flown in. The crisis endured for some weeks. This successful action, among the finest in Canadian military history, was won at the price of two airborne soldiers killed and over 30 wounded by shrapnel and small arms fire. These casualties are all the more poignant because they occurred during a "routine" peacekeeping mission.

 

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