Peacekeeping under fire: Cyprus and Operation SNOWGOOSE

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Article / March 15, 2017 / Project number: 16-1054

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Canada’s military history is filled with courage and sacrifice. Since Confederation, two million Canadian sailors, soldiers, airmen and airwomen of many backgrounds have served Canada with distinction overseas. More than 100,000 of them have made the ultimate sacrifice. To help commemorate that heritage and mark Canada’s 150th year as a nation, we are presenting a series of stories to salute the bravery of our military predecessors who fought to defend Canadian values at home and abroad. In this installment, we look back at the Cyprus peacekeeping mission.

By Steven Fouchard, Army Public Affairs

Ottawa, Ontario — More than 25,000 Canadian military personnel have served on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus since United Nations peacekeeping operations began there in 1964. While Canada’s role has been reduced since 1993, when its battalion-scale contingent withdrew, it continues to support the ongoing mission to ease tensions between the Greek and Turkish ethnic groups that call Cyprus home.

Cyprus had been part of the Ottoman Empire, also known as the Turkish Empire, for centuries but fell under British control following the First World War. Cyprus officially became a British colony in 1925 and was granted independence in 1960. Tensions began to develop at this time between Greek Cypriots, wanting closer political ties to Greece, and their Turkish counterparts, as well as the nation of Turkey itself, whose officials kept a close eye on the island.

By 1963, violence had erupted across the island and Cypriot lawmakers requested assistance from the UN. A fragile peace was reached but undone in 1974 following a coup by Greek Cypriots and the reaction of the Turkish government, which sent troops in and seized control of the island’s northern region.

Canada’s response to the invasion was dubbed Operation SNOWGOOSE. The initial Canadian contingent of 1 Commando, Canadian Airborne Regiment, and the Airborne Field Squadron (the combat engineer element of the Canadian Airborne Regiment) was reinforced by 2 Commando and 3 Commando.

Canadians distinguished themselves during the invasion by successfully defending the airport in the Cypriot capital of Nicosia. With only a few heavy machine guns and anti-tank weapons between them, they moved quickly around the airport by night to create the illusion of a heavily-defended position.

Corporal Joseph Whelan and Privates Joseph Plouffe, Joseph Belley and Joseph Pelletier were all decorated for braving enemy fire to rescue wounded comrades.

Another ceasefire was reached after several weeks of fighting, which claimed the lives of three Canadians. The UN established a 180 kilometre-long buffer zone between the Greek and Turkish factions known as the “Green Line.”

Canada and its allies on the island patrolled the Green Line and often came under fire as they worked to keep the uneasy peace. By the time Canada’s part in the Cyprus mission had wound down, 28 Canadians had lost their lives and every infantry battalion of the Canadian Army’s Regular Force had served there.

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