SITE MENU / This Article Content

RENÉ CHARTRAND, ILLUSTRATED BY RON VOLSTAD
CANADIAN FORCES IN WORLD WAR II

THE CANADIAN ARMY

The small Canadian Army of 1939 had a good core of young Regular officers thanks to the Royal Military College in Kingston (Ontario), and some of the older officers were Great War veterans. However, command experience of anything above a few companies was lacking, as was experience of (he complex staff planning which was only possible in a huge military force. This is probably the main reason why, for most of the war, there were no really remarkable Canadian generals, although some were emerging in 1944-45.

With the outbreak of war existing training camps expanded and new ones appeared all over the country. Early on, before industry could produce arms and equipment, anything available was pressed into use. (Perhaps the most celebrated example was the 1940 purchase by Maj.Gen.Frank Worthington, commander of the armoured corps, of ancient Renault tanks as scrap metal from the USA - for training recruits he needed any kind of tank he could get.) War industries were soon performing impressively, however. For example, in 1941 the Montreal Locomotive Works invented a new tank model in three weeks by using the running gear of the American M3 Lee, adding a Canadian hull and turret and arming it with a British cannon - and thus the Ram I tank was born. (Later Canadian tank production mostly concentrated on licence-building US M4 Shermans of various marks. ) Considering the state of the army in 1939, the mobilisation, equipping and training of the hundreds of thousands of enlistees was accomplished with almost miraculous success.

The few Regular regiments of the pre-war Permanent Force were joined by the many Volunteer Militia units, nearly all of which were mobilised. Most Militia regiments would have one battalion on active duty serving in Canada or overseas, and a reserve component for recruiting and depot duties. The Canadian Active Service Force units were grouped into brigades and divisions. The 1st, 2nd and 3rd Infantry and 4th and 5th Armoured Divisions served in Europe; the 6th and 8th Infantry on Canada's Pacific coast, and the 7th on the Atlantic coast. In 1945 the 6th Division was being reorganised as an all-volunteer division to serve with the US forces in the planned invasion of Japan when the atomic bombs brought the Pacific campaign to an abrupt close.

Canadian infantrymen at Campochiaro, Italy, 23 October 1943. The foreground man wears the Mk II helmet with netting, a khaki collar-attached shirt possibly of US origin (interestingly, complete with 'CANADA' shoulder titles), KD slacks, 'ammo' boots with short puttees, and basic WE 37 battle order, and carries a No.4 rifle and No.36 grenade. (A.M.Sirton, National Archives of Canada, PA136198)

There were, of course, many other units besides those Regular and Militia regiments assigned to divisions and corps in Europe. A few corps mobilised older men for the Home Army: e.g. the Veterans' Guard of Canada, and the unique Pacific Coast Militia Rangers (see below, 'Home Service units').

Some armoured and recce regiments with traditional titles were given simplified numerical titles - e.g. Lord Strathcona's Horse were the 2nd Armoured Regiment on the table of organisation of 5th Armoured Division in Italy, but still referred to themselves as the Strathcona's.

In all some 368,000 Canadians served in Europe, 7,600 in the Pacific, and a few thousands in North Africa. The army overseas was divided into two distinct elements for most of the period 1943-45: I Canadian Corps in Sicily and Italy from July 1943, and II Canadian Corps in NW Europe from June 1944. These formations came under a unified Canadian command - about 165,000 strong - only in the last months of the war, with the transfer of I Corps from Italy to NW Europe to join Gen.Henry Crerar's 1st Canadian Army. This had been in existence since summer 1944, but bulked out with a number of non-Canadian divisions under command.

Overall, the Canadians proved to be very reliable troops, steady in the face of setbacks and casualties, and rather more dashing in the assault than their sometimes more stolid British comrades in arms. Like the Australians, their consciousness of being a national contingent gave them a special esprit de corps; it has been said of them that they represented a first rate balance between 'frontier' aggressiveness and initiative, and the professional steadiness inherited from British military tradition. (US Gen.George S.Patton paid tribute to them in his own, inimitably offensive way: 'The Canadians are the best troops Montgomery has, and they're American!')

Eyewitnesses in Normandy speak of their determination to get their own back for the losses suffered at Dieppe in 1942. It is also well attested that the murder of Canadian wounded by the Waffen-SS 12th Panzer Division 'Hitlerjugend' on 8 June lent a particular bitterness to their continuing encounters with that division in the bocage fighting - the 'Hitlerjugend' had been virtually wiped out by the time the Canadians finally took Caen four weeks later.

HOME SERVICE UNITS

A number of regiments were assigned to 'local protective duty' such as guarding factories, power plants and POW camps, running the recruiting system or manning coastal artillery. However, there were two large corps which were distinct organisations: the Veterans' Guard of Canada, and the Pacific Coast Militia Rangers, who mustered as many as 33,000 men between them.

Veterans' Guard of Canada

This was recruited from 23 May 1940 from Great War veterans aged between 40 and 65 years, for full-time and reserve service. It grew to 29 companies of 250 men each in 1942, and eventually to 10,000 men in 1944, with another 8,000 on part-time service. The VGC was posted throughout Canada, and a few companies also went to Newfoundland, to England, to Nassau in the Bahamas, and to Georgetown, Guyana. In summer 1944/ spring 1945 some veterans went to India, and eventually even to the jungles of Burma, where they were much needed as 'mule skinners' for the transportation system. However, the great majority served in Canada, and most of those as guards for the many POW and enemy aliens internment camps in Canada.

Most camps were built in remote areas, but some were near cities or in old forts, such as Fort Henry in Kingston or Fort Lennox south of Montreal. Throughout the war considerable numbers of mostly German POWs were shipped to Canada - at least 12,000 in 1942 alone - since its remoteness from any country except the USA made escape futile and serious misbehaviour unlikely. However, there would always be some danger for the guards; a few prisoners were Nazi fanatics who attempted to escape (after December 1941, their only hope was to try to reach Mexico), and some made weapons, such as a homemade crossbow once found by guards. Such hard-core Nazis were usually persuaded to calm down by their fellow prisoners before the guards could spot them and weed them out. Those identified as troublemakers were sent to an isolated camp at Nevs on the north-west shore of Lake Superior.

/ page 5 from 24 /
mobile version of the page

We have much more interesting information on this site.
Click MENU to check it out!

cartalana.com© 2013-2020 mailto: koshka@cartalana.org

Google+