On Guard in Britain, 1940-1941
After the Fall of France
On 18 June, the day after the French asked the Germans for an armistice, Mr. Churchill delivered in the British House of Commons one of the greatest and bravest of his war speeches. He said:
What General Weygand called the "Battle of France" is over. I expect that the battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilisation. Upon it depends our own British life and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of a perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, "This was their finest hour".
There was need for courage. Britain's military position was well-nigh desperate. The last effort to save France had left it even worse than it had been immediately after Dunkirk. The 52nd Division had been extricated, but (like the 1st Canadian Infantry Brigade) only with the loss of most of its transport and equipment, which left it temporarily almost useless. The same was true of the 1st Armoured Division. Since the formations of the original B.E.F. were far from recovered from Dunkirk, the Canadian force (save for those units of it that had reached France and lost their transport there) was now, in point of training and equipment combined, the strongest element in a very weak fabric. Its closest competitor was Major-General B. L. Montgomery's 3rd Infantry Division, the most forward of the Dunkirk divisions, which it had been intended should follow the Canadians to France. As, however, this formation's War Diary had recorded that its strength on 6 June was only 4500, it still cannot have been in first-rate condition a fortnight later.
In these circumstances, "Canadian Force" was reconstituted as a self-contained formation on 20 June; and on the 23rd it began to move from Aldershot to a new "position of readiness" in the Oxford area, from which, in its role of mobile reserve directly under G.H.Q. Home Forces, it could strike effectively in any required direction. The force was again organized in brigade and battalion groups constituting mobile
columns capable of rapid and flexible action (an organization which was now imitated by the other divisions under Home Forces). General McNaughton set up his Advanced Headquarters on storied Shotover Hill, just outside Oxford. He had with him only two of his three brigade groups (the 1st Brigade, immobilized by the loss of its vehicles, remained in Aldershot until it could be re-equipped); but the ancillary troops (including three artillery regiments) formed an additional "reserve" group; and the whole force lay in the pleasant fields of Oxfordshire, reconnoitring routes to likely points of attack, and waiting for the word. Their commander described them as "a mobile reserve with a 360-degree front", which might have to operate "anywhere in Great Britain from the south coast to Scotland, or in Wales It was no inconsiderable responsibility.
Their stay in the Oxford area was short. As British formations improved in organization and equipment, it became possible to plan for one two-division mobile corps north of the Thames and a similar one south of the river. The latter was to be composed of the 1st Canadian and 1st Armoured Divisions; and on 2 July the Canadians broke camp and moved south-eastwards into Surrey. Their new position of readiness was the agreeable region of the North Downs. Here, in the Guildford-Reigate-Sevenoaks area, just south of the great metropolitan mass of London, they spent the next few months.
The 7th Corps and the Invasion Summer
The new Corps was not to be Canadian, but it was Anglo-Canadian. On 7 July the C.-in-C. Home Forces formally sought authority from the War Office for the formation of the 7th Corps, to be commanded by Major-General A. G. L. McNaughton with the rank of LieutenantGeneral. The Canadian Government concurred in this arrangement, and the Corps came into being on 21 July. General McNaughton set up his headquarters at Headley Court, a rambling but impressive Victorian mansion on the outskirts of Leatherhead, which was to house the senior Canadian field headquarters through almost the whole period until the First Canadian Army moved to France in 1944. His staff was partly British and partly Canadian. And the Corps in its composition was even more broadly imperial; for in addition to the 1st Canadian Division (now commanded by Major-General G. R. Pearkes, V.C.) and Major-General Roger Evans' 1st British Armoured. Division, it included the New Zealand Force (the greater part of the 2nd New Zealand Division) commanded by Major-General Bernard Freyberg, V.C. The Corps Troops consisted of the Canadian ancillary troops reinforced by numerous British units.
The summer of 1940 was lovely but ominous; and in England it was a time of anxious expectation and feverish activity. The invasion of
Britain was the logical military sequel to the German victory in France; and the immediate means for combatting such an invasion were so slender that unlimited courage, ingenuity and effort were required to improve and supplement them. Nor were these qualities lacking that summer,--among the indefatigable but almost unarmed Local Defence Volunteers who later became the Home Guard; among the factory workers who laboured at their lathes until they were ready to drop, making arms to replace those lost in France; among the local authorities who busied themselves with removing road-signs, obstructing possible landing-grounds and warning the citizens against fifth-columnists and the effects of careless talk; among those indomitable matrons who wrote to the War Office demanding hand grenades. And certainly there was no lack of activity in the regular services--the men who fought the enemy in the clear skies over Kent, who patrolled the waters of the North Sea and the Channel, or who prepared to meet on the ground in England such German soldiers as might get past the Navy and the R.A.F.
Not the least busy were the men of the 7th Corps. Training was intensive, and in exercises special emphasis was laid on practising brigade and battalion groups in rapid movement by road, and on cooperation of ground forces with aircraft and of infantry with tanks. Reconnaissance squadrons, equipped as a stopgap measure with motorcycle combinations, had been organized to increase the mobility of the Canadian formations; they were designed to operate on the front, flanks and rear of fast-moving columns. The Corps Commander and officers of his staff made constant trips to acquaint themselves with those parts of England over which they might have to fight. And Canadian engineers were active in constructing defences at many points and improving road communications for military purposes; Canadian artillerymen, organized into two Super-Heavy Batteries, manned 9.2-inch guns on railway mountings on the Kentish coast; and much experimentation was carried on in novel and special methods of warfare.
While these things went on in Southern England, the first phase of the invasion battle was actually being fought out overhead. The sudden collapse of France had found the Germans unprepared for an immediate attack upon England; shipping had not been gathered, and the German military forces were not appropriately grouped or trained for the task. Hitler, moreover, seems to have been uncertain in his own mind as to the next step, and senior German officers believe that he continued to cling to the idea that he could make a satisfactory arrangement with Britain without invading her. On 16 July he issued a belated directive whose terms give colour to this theory: "Since England, in spite of her militarily hopeless situation, shows no signs of coming to terms, I have decided to prepare a landing operation against England and, if necessary, to carry it out". Preparations were now pushed forward rapidly,
These things were pretty clearly the prelude to the main operation. and were visible to our air reconnaissance. Vessels were collected; troops practised amphibious operations all along the coast; airfields in Northern France and the Low Countries were enlarged and multiplied; and heavy batteries were constructed on the Straits of Dover. As late as the first week of August, activity seen on the continental coasts was still not such as to indicate "a serious threat" of immediate invasion; but on the 8th of the month the German began heavy bombing attacks upon England. Another portent was the beginning of cross-Channel shelling on the 12th.
The Air Battle of Britain
Relatively small,1 incompletely organized and ill-armed as the military force in Britain was, it was nevertheless in one sense the crux of the Germans' problem. They knew how hard it would fight; and its existence meant that the island could be successfully invaded only by an army which on arrival on British soil was strong enough to engage and beat it. Britain still had very formidable sea and air forces ready for action against any cross-Channel movement. The Germans' own navy was weak, and they had just one instrument which could possibly ensure such movement against disaster: their powerful air weapon. Now, accordingly, they threw the Luftwaffe into a great preliminary offensive designed to clear the way. During July there were attacks on Channel convoys intended to bring the R.A.F. to battle.2 For ten days after 8 August, when strong raids on land objectives began, shipping, naval bases and ports were the targets; then the attack was switched to the inland fighter aerodromes in southern and south-eastern England. The enemy's offensive was met by the R.A.F. Fighter Command with magnificent skill and courage. In the skies above the southern counties the Germans sustained a series of great defeats, losing far more aircraft than the defenders: on 15 August, for instance, they lost 76 against 34 of ours.3 Nevertheless, despite this disparity, the situation of the R.A.F. was far from satisfactory. Its resources in planes and pilots were severely taxed; an injured pilot or a damaged aircraft were as much out
of the battle, for the moment, as if the man were dead or the machine destroyed; and there were many injured pilots and damaged aircraft.
South of London the Canadians waited, watching the twisting white vapour-trails that marked the manoeuvres of the combatants "grappling in the central blue", and momentarily expecting the call to action. By the end of August military preparations for invasion were unmistakably apparent; on the 31st a 7th Corps Intelligence Summary noted "an advanced stage of land-preparedness for an expedition" and observed that an attempt might be made during the first half of September. The German Army was making ready to play its part. The German Air Force was very far from having obtained the success for which it had hoped; nevertheless, it obstinately determined to initiate the third phase of its plan in spite of the relative failure of: the first two. On the lovely afternoon of Saturday, 7 September, it began the assault upon the British capital which had evidently been planned as the culminating stage of the air offensive. It was London's one really damaging daylight attack. Early that evening, while the fires still raged in the city, G.H.Q. Home Forces sent out the code word "Cromwell", signifying "invasion imminent" and bringing the defending armies in Southern and Eastern England to the final stage of alert. Next day the 7th Corps was placed on four hours' notice to move, with the units "standing to" at dusk and dawn. These were exciting nights, full of alarms and rumours, when roadblocks were manned and sentries kept their fingers on the trigger, and no Canadian doubted that "the real thing" was just around the corner.
The middle of September brought the height of anxiety. The ports across the Straits of Dover were crammed with shippingMr. Churchill told the secret session of the Commons on 17 September that "upwards of 1700 self-propelled barges and more than 200 sea-going ships" could be seen. On the 15th of the month the Luftwaffe made one of its greatest efforts. The result was another heavy defeat: 56 aircraft destroyed against only 25 of the defenders'. This, plus effective R.A.F. blows at his barges, helped the enemy decide not to attempt invasion.4 By 21 September his shipping was observed to be moving away from the Channel; and before the end of the month it was fairly clear that the immediate crisis was over. It is now known that the Germans had ordered the dispersal of shipping on 19 September. General Gunther
Blumentritt, who then and later was one of Rundstedt's senior staff officers, claims that although Rundstedt was to direct the operation no one at his headquarters had taken it very seriously. It may well have been a political rather than a military project. But if Hitler's aim was to frighten Britain into submission, the project was a notable failure.
It is worth while to outline here the German operation plans as they appear in captured documents and in the evidence of German officers. After long uncertainty, D Day for the invasion (Operation "Sea Lion") was finally fixed at 21 September. On 14 September, however, it was decided not to attack on this date, but to continue preparations. On 17 September Hitler decided to postpone the operation indefinitely. On 12 October a formal directive advised that it would not take place before the spring. The plan had contemplated an attack on England in precisely that area which was the counter-attack responsibility of the 7th Corps. The Germans intended to land two armies, in the first instance, on the south coast from Margate to Portsmouth (the first bridgeheads were to be established between Folkestone and Worthing), and to advance northwards with a view to making good the line of the North Downs as a base for further operations. It was somewhat tentatively proposed to commit a third army subsequently, well to the west in the Lyme Regis area. Later phases were not planned in detail, for the Germans anticipated that the decisive battle would be fought before the North Downs were reached, and all further planning would depend upon its outcome. Had the invasion come to pass, the Canadians would thus have been in the forefront of the fight. As it was, they had suffered one more disappointment.
It has frequently been said that the Germans were guilty of a fundamental error of judgement in not attempting the invasion of England in 1940. Yet it can be argued that the decision not to do so in September was militarily sound. As we have seen, their air weapon was all they had to rely upon to open the way across the Channel, and it had been tried and had failed. The defending military forces in September were more formidable, alike in organization and equipment, than they had been in June; by the end of the month about 1000 tanks of all types were available. To attempt invasion, without established air superiority, in the face of the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force, could only mean that the military assault forces would be certain to suffer heavy losses during the sea passage and would arrive on the English beaches weakened and shaken and with their communications in the gravest danger. Under such conditions the enterprise would have been an invitation to disaster.
"ALL THE RIFLES OF CANADA"
Rear-Admiral Riiser-Larsen, who in 1940 was engaged in organizing the Norwegian air training scheme in Canada, once told how at that time he paid his first visit to the airport on Toronto Island which was soon to be "Little Norway". The gate was guarded by a sentry; and the sentry's weapon was a shotgun. At this sight the Admiral exclaimed, "Thank God!" A companion not unaturally inquired the reason for the exclamation. Riiser-Larsen replied, "All the rifles of Canada are on the way to England!"
The remark was almost literally true, for that summer Canada was pouring across the Atlantic, to strengthen the beleaguered fortress of Britain, virtually all her disposable resources--still, unfortunately, relatively slender--in both men and equipment. Among the weapons sent were 75,000 Ross rifles--arms which had been discarded by the Canadian military forces during the war of 1914-18. These rifles were in good order and were a welcome addition to the armament of the British Home Guard.5
On 10 May, the same day on which the Germans broke into the Low Countries, a telegram from Ottawa advised Canada House in London that a special meeting of the War Committee of the Canadian Cabinet had that day been considering the means of immediate further co-operation with the Government of the United Kingdom in the common cause. British suggestions were invited; and in the meantime the Canadian Ministers indicated certain immediate measures -naval, military and air Ñ which they proposed to--take. Among those affecting the military forces were the decisions to accelerate the movement overseas of the 2nd Division and to send a Canadian battalion to replace British troops in the West Indies. As a result of the latter decision, the Winnipeg Grenadiers disembarked in Jamaica on 20 June; the former produced a large augmentation of the Canadian force in the United Kingdom later in the summer.
As already noted, the 2nd Division had been mobilized simultaneously with the 1st; but the latter, being slated for early service overseas, had received priority in almost everything. It had already been in the United Kingdom about a month when the decision to sent the 2nd Division overseas also was announced in Ottawa. Not until 6 April 1940 was Major-General V. W. Odium, who had served with distinction in both the South African and Great Wars, appointed Inspector General of its units with a view to becoming General Officer Commanding in due course. And the complete concentration of the Division in the United
Kingdom was long delayed by some of its units being despatched for garrison duty in Iceland.
Iceland, which in German hands would have constituted a most dangerous threat to the vital seaway between North America and Britain, was occupied by small British forces in May 1940. Immediately after receiving the Canadian telegram of 10 May mentioned above, the British authorities suggested that Canada might assume the responsibility of garrisoning Iceland with troops other than those required for the Canadian field force. Ottawa in reply offered to provide and maintain an infantry brigade. The only troops immediately available, however, were those of the 2nd Canadian Division. The first unit to arrive in Iceland was the Royal Regiment of Canada, which reached Reykjavik on 16 June, accompanied by the headquarters of the Canadian force ("Z" Force), which was commanded by Brigadier L. F. Page. The remainder of the force, consisting basically of Les Fusiliers Mont-Royal and a machine-gun battalion, the Cameron Highlanders of Ottawa (M.G.), arrived on 7 July. The changed situation following the French collapse had led the British Government to the conclusion that it was desirable to strengthen the garrison of Iceland, and they would have been glad to see the whole of the 2nd Canadian Division concentrated there. The Canadian Government felt, however, that in view of the uncertainty of the situation in the Pacific it was desirable, pending completion of the mobilization of new formations, to keep as large a proportion of this Division as possible in Canada unless there was a paramount need for it elsewhere; moreover, it was remarked that Canadian public opinion appeared unlikely to welcome the idea of Canadian forces being "permanently in garrison abroad". After further discussion it was agreed that the United Kingdom should provide troops to relieve the Canadians then in Iceland, and that the whole of the 2nd Division should be concentrated in England.
The strength of the Canadian force in Iceland amounted to close to 2700 all ranks. They remained in the island until the autumn, suffering considerable discomfort from rain, wind and inadequate accommodation. The greater part of the force sailed for England on 31 October; only the Camerons stayed in Iceland through the winter. This unit was now destined for the 3rd Canadian Division.
In these circumstances the assembly of the 2nd Canadian Division in Britain was a lengthy process. Its first unit to reach there was the 2nd Field Company, R.C.E., which disembarked on 22 May 1940; the first infantry units and Divisional Headquarters formed part of the Fifth Flight of Canadian troops, which reached the Clyde on 1 August; the main body arrived on 4 September with the Seventh Flight; and the last two infantry battalions came to the United Kingdom only with the Eighth Flight on Christmas Day.
Beginning late in October, parts of the Canadian force assumed a
new role in the defence of England: the actual guarding of the beaches. The three brigades of the 1st Division and two of the 2nd successively held for three-week periods, under the 12th British Corps, the sector of the Sussex coast between Worthing and Newhaven. Their function was to guard against the possibility of reconnaissance raids by the enemy. No such raids materialized, however, and the episode served merely to alleviate the monotony of the garrison role in Surrey and Hampshire and to introduce the Canadians to a county with which they were subsequently to become identified in a very special manner.
The Canadian Corps
The passing of the invasion crisis in the autumn of 1940, and the completion of the concentration of the 2nd Division in the United Kingdom, made possible a basic change in organization: the replacement of the Anglo-Canadian 7th Corps by a Canadian Corps. The necessary arrangements having been made between the two governments, the 7th Corps officially ceased to exist on Christmas Day 1940. Simultaneously the Canadian Corps (later to be known as the 1st Canadian Corps) came into existence, and the 2nd Division (previously subject to his advice rather than his direction) came under Lieutenant-General McNaughton as Corps Commander.
The announcement by the Prime Minister on Christmas Eve that there was again to be a Canadian Corps was recognized as marking an epoch in the war effort of Canada. The phrase evoked memories, both proud and sorrowful, of the old Corps of 1915-1918, and of its sacrifices and its triumphs on a score of hard-fought battlefields. Even Canadians too young to remember that earlier war knew well the significance of these familiar words. The tradition which they embodied was to be part of the equipment of the new Corps, and of the Canadian Army that would come into existence in due course.
The headquarters organization of the 7th Corps was in general taken over by the new one; some British staff officers within it remained until they could be replaced by Canadians. Similarly, certain British units of Corps Troops would continue to serve the Corps until Canadian units could be provided to take their places. And the Canadian Corps inherited the tactical role of its predecessor: that of a counter-attack force in G.H.Q. Reserve6 south of the Thames. The 1st Division and Corps Troops remained in Surrey; the 2nd Division was in Aldershot, where it had moved, on its arrival, into the barracks lately vacated by the 1st. Aldershot was becoming an increasingly Canadian area; for the 6
Canadian Holding Units (later redesignated Reinforcement Units), created to accommodate and further train the quota of reinforcements which it was necessary to keep available to replace battle or other casualties in the field units, were being set up either in the town itself or in communities nearby.
Inevitably, it was with no great enthusiasm, after the excitement of the summer and autumn and so many disappointments, that the Canadian troops reverted to the essential but undeniably dull routine of individual training. And the fact that the winter of 1940-41, like the previous one, was unusually cold, and therefore unusually disagreeable, did not help. Nevertheless, however much the Canadians might grumble, their morale remained sound. There was, indeed, much to support it. The Commonwealth still stood proudly alone against the brutal conqueror who had overrun so many "great and famous states"; the weapon-pits along the English beaches were still the front line trenches of freedom; and throughout the winter and the spring the enemy's bombs screamed down intermittently upon the English towns and cities. Britain was certainly not a comfortable place in those days, but in this moment of humanity's crisis it was nevertheless a good place to be.
At the end of 1940, the Canadian military force in the United Kingdom had grown to nearly 57,000 all ranks. This was only a fraction of the total strength of the Army, for extensive mobilization measures had been taken in the Dominion during the year.
The Expansion of the Army During 1940
In the grim summer of 1940 the manhood of Canada was coming forward in a manner which reflected the country's consciousness of the desperate nature of the crisis, and which deserves to be recorded. During the three months of June, July and August, a total of 77,770 Canadians were voluntarily enlisted or appointed into the Active Service Force. These patriotic volunteers provided the material for a great expansion of the army.
As we have seen, the original Canadian force organized in September 1939 was two infantry divisions and a proportion of ancillary troops; the majority of the units of the Non-Permanent Active Militia remained unmobilized. The disasters in France and the Low Countries brought about an immediate and important increase. As early as 20 May 1940 the formation of the 3rd Division was announced; simultaneously, the nine rifle battalions of the 4th were mobilized. During succeeding weeks the remaining units of this division were also ordered to mobilize, as were a large variety of miscellaneous units, including a considerable force of infantry for coast defence and other duties. A Veterans Home Guard (subsequently renamed the Veterans Guard of
Canada) was organized for protective duty within the country. At this time, too, the Canadian Forestry Corps came into being.
The summer crisis of 1940 also produced a significant change in Canadian manpower policy. Parliament proceeded to pass the National Resources Mobilization Act, a brief, highly generalized statute which gave the government the most sweeping powers over persons and property. Compulsory military service was thus authorized; but the proviso was included that these powers did not extend to obliging men to serve outside of Canada. (This proviso, we shall see, was removed from the Act in 1942, and in 1944 N.R.M.A. trainees were sent overseas.) Regulations made under the Act authorized calling up for training all men aged 21 to 45. In the first instance men were called up for 30 days only; in February of 1941, however, the period was increased to four months, and in April it was announced that trainees would be retained in the service indefinitely for home defence.
July 1940 saw important changes at Ottawa. On the 5th of the month Colonel J. L. Ralston, formerly Minister of Finance, became Minister of National Defence, succeeding Mr. Norman McL. Rogers, Minister since 19 September 1939, who was killed in an air accident on 10 June. During July also General Crerar returned from England to become Chief of the General Staff, succeeding MajorGeneral T. V. Anderson, who had borne the heavy responsibilities of this appointment during the opening phase. Major-General P. J. Montague took Crerar's place as Senior Officer at Canadian Military Headquarters, London, and had the important task of commanding the Reinforcement Units and other base establishments in England.
One of Crerar's first tasks at Ottawa was to prepare an appreciation of the military situation and a Canadian Army Programme for 1941 that would be adequate to its demands. He concluded, on the basis of the experience of the campaign in France, that an army of defensive type was bound to meet defeat; that, accordingly, the Canadian Army should be based on mechanized power, including artillery, armour and close-support aircraft; and that the Dominion's industrial capacity should be utilized to the fullest extent. No largescale attack on Canadian shores had to be seriously considered while the fortress of Britain held firm; the main Canadian effort, Crerar argued, should therefore be directed towards building up the Canadian force in Britain in a balanced and coordinated manner. He recommended that a Corps of three divisions should be completed in the United Kingdom early in 1941, and should be joined by an armoured brigade group as soon as possible The 4th Division should follow when required,--if necessary, in the latter part of 1941. It was desirable to make other provision for the home-defence role when the 3rd and 4th Divisions and the Armoured Brigade left Canada.
Following discussions held when the Minister of National Defence
and the Chief of the General Staff visited the United Kingdom late in 1940, modifications were introduced providing for a still larger armoured element, and the programme for 1941 finally emerged as the dispatch of the balance of the Corps Troops and an Army Tank Brigade early in the year, of the 3rd Division in the spring, and of a complete armoured division in the autumn. The 4th Division was to remain in Canada until 1942.
In the autumn of 1940 the units of the 3rd Canadian Division began to move into the Maritime Provinces, where great new camps were taking shape at Debert, N.S., and Sussex, N.B. At the same time the foundations of Canadian armoured forces were being laid at Camp Borden, Ontario. A General Order had called the Canadian Armoured Corps into existence as from 13 August, and simultaneously the organization of the 1st Canadian Armoured Brigade was authorized. Early in 1941 the 1st Canadian Army Tank Brigade was organized and took over two of the Armoured Brigade's units. Within a few months the Army Tank Brigade would arrive in England, the first Canadian armoured formation to serve overseas.
While Canada was rushing aid across the Atlantic to the United Kingdom, she was also concerting defensive measures with her great republican neighbour, even though the latter was still at peace. Following a conference between the Prime Minister and President Roosevelt at Ogdensburg in August 1940, the two countries set up a Permanent Joint Board on Defence. From this time, accordingly, an effective organ existed for continual international consultation upon and review of the problems of the joint defence of North America. From this flowed all the many measures of joint defence taken as the war progressed. There had been a time, long ago, when the defence of Canada had meant defence against the United States, pure and simple; now Canada and the United States stood shoulder to shoulder.
Development of the Army Overseas, 1941
The year 1940 had brought the Canadians overseas no chance of coming to grips with the enemy; and yet it had been a year of excitement. There had been the constant promise of action, even though action never in fact materialized, and there had been the sense of living in the forefront of world-shaking events. The year 1941 was less exhilarating. Another year without battles, it was at the same time largely without its predecessor's other stimulations.
The spring, it is true, brought a revival of the expectation of invasion, and the Canadians again confronted the likelihood of fighting a campaign of unexampled bitterness across the countryside of Kent and Sussex. The probability of any such event, however, was clearly
considerably diminished by the German attack on Russia on 22 June. The enemy's main land forces now became involved in a stupendous campaign in Eastern Europe which Hitler had certainly expected would be short but which proved instead to be long, exhausting, and in the end disastrous. The year also witnessed heavy and fluctuating fighting in North Africa, the short and ill-starred campaigns in Greece and Crete, and operations in Irak and Syria. The last month of the year produced a further extension of the war. On 7 December the Japanese made their treacherous attack. As a result of this, two Canadian battalions, sent from Canada only a few weeks before, crossed bayonets with the Japanese at Hong Kong before the Canadians in Britain, who had waited so long, were given any opportunity of measuring themselves against the Germans.
General McNaughton's force had only one piece of active employment during 1941. This was the expedition to Spitsbergen, which as it turned out involved no contact with the enemy. Even the bombing of Britain, intense early in the year, greatly diminished after May. In these circumstances, the history of the Canadian Army Overseas during 1941 is largely a story of uninterrupted development. The year witnessed the conversion of the Canadian Corps from a two-division formation possessing no armour of its own into a powerful force of three infantry divisions and an army tank brigade; while before the winter a complete Canadian armoured division was also in Britain preparing to take its place in the order of battle.
First formation to move overseas as such in 1941 was the 1st Canadian Army Tank Brigade. Brigadier F. F. Worthington, well known to the Canadian public as a pioneer of armoured warfare, took command of the Brigade in March. The units' training in Canada was hampered by lack of equipment, most of the tanks available at Camp Borden being 6-ton Renaults, decrepit veterans of the last war acquired from the United States. The brigade arrived in the Clyde in the ships of the Eleventh Flight on 30 June and immediately moved into a tented camp on the northern edge of Salisbury Plain, where it trained until the autumn. A "training scale" of equipment was issued at once. Among the tanks received were some of the first Mark IV infantry tanks ("Churchills") to come off the assembly line. The 3rd Canadian Division had been commanded in the first instance by Major-General E. W. Sansom, but in March 1941 he was transferred to the command of the new armoured division and succeeded by Major-General C. B. Price, formerly commanding the 3rd Canadian Infantry Brigade. The greater part of the Division embarked in the Twelfth Flight, which reached the United Kingdom on 29 July; most of the remainder arrived at the beginning of September. The armoured division forming part of the Army Programme for 1941 was organized in Canada early in the spring,
the first step being the authorization of its two armoured brigades. In the beginning it was known as the 1st Canadian Armoured Division, but this designation was shortly altered to 5 Canadian (Armoured) Division. The Divisional Headquarters and most of the units arrived in the United Kingdom in the Fifteenth Flight of Canadian troops on 22 November. This was the largest single troop movement from Canada up to that date, the eight ships of the convoy carrying very nearly 14,000 all ranks. Thanks to these developments, the strength of the Canadian Army Overseas had grown by the close of 1941 to just under 125,000. In terms of the "build-up" of the Canadian forces, 1941 had been perhaps the most important year of the war.
This great overseas movement had been effected almost without the loss of a man. Indeed, not a man was lost from any Canadian troop convoy between North America and the United Kingdom in 1941 or in any other year of the war. The only actual casualties suffered by the Canadian Army in the Atlantic were 73 men lost in the sinking on 30 April 1941 of the S. S. Nerissa, a small vessel sailing unescorted with some soldiers among her passengers. Except for these, every one of the 370,135 all ranks of the Army who embarked in Canada for the United Kingdom before the end of hostilities in Europe in May 1945 reached Britain in safety.7 That so tremendous a task of marine transport was carried out with virtually no casualties in spite of the intensive efforts of enemy submarines and aircraft in and over the Atlantic is a remarkable tribute to the skill and determination of our naval and air forces and of the merchant service.
Training and Equipping the Canadian Corps
While new formations and units poured in from Canada, those already overseas were hard at work. During the latter part of the winter of 1940-41 the new Canadian Corps carried out its first largescale "schemes". February and March saw the 1st and 2nd Divisions and Corps Troops engaged in exercises designed to practise them in the approach march and the attack, as required by their counterattack role; the difficult problem of traffic control on English roads received special attention. In June 1941 the Corps as a whole took part in important manoeuvres directed by South Eastern Command and known as Exercise "Waterloo". This, like all other large exercises of this period, was postulated upon a German invasion of England, and ended with the Canadian divisions attacking the northern escarpment of the South
Downs to evict the invaders.
In the early autumn came a still greater test, involving probably the largest forces ever to fight a mock war in Britain. This was Exercise "Bumper", in which twelve divisions took the field. General McNaughton's Canadian Corps, with the 1st and 2nd Canadian Divisions under command, "fought" under Lieutenant-General H.R.L.G. Alexander, G.O.C.-in-C. Southern Command. The earlier exercises had taken place in Kent and Sussex, but "Bumper" carried the Canadians into the Chiltern Hills, north-west of London, where they clashed with a "German" force assumed to have pushed inland from ports in East Anglia.8
Equipping the 2nd Canadian Division, in the conditions existing in England in 1940, had been a discouraging business; for even of the small quantities of equipment available the War Office, that autumn, was sending 60 per cent to theatres of war overseas. Few guns came to the Division's artillery before the end of the year, and those that did come were obsolescent 75-millimetre pieces, most of them with steel tires and therefore incapable of movement at any speed. During 1941 things gradually improved. Thanks to Canadian production, the infantry were complete in Bren guns before the end of February;9 but the field artillery did not get a full scale of 25-pounders until September, a whole year after arriving in Britain. Medium artillery weapons were a serious problem. In the autumn of 1941, however, the new 5.5-inch gun-howitzer began to become available. Anti-tank arms were in especially "short supply". At this time the infantry weapon against armour was the .55 Boys rifle, that of the artillery the 2-pounder; and the units of the Corps had only about half the proper number of these weapons in the late summer of 1941.
Anti-aircraft guns were likewise extremely difficult to get. For a long period the Canadian units had simply no anti-aircraft weapons except machine-guns. On 20 August 1940, with the Battle of Britain at its height, General McNaughton pointed out "the absolute lack of light anti-aircraft guns" in the Canadian forces or the British troops of the 7th Corps. "We are dependent entirely on small arms fire for local protection", he wrote. Early in 1941 a very few 40-millimetre Bofors guns began to come to hand and in consequence steps were taken to organize the Light Anti-Aircraft Regiments required for each Division and for Corps Troops under the new organization which had grown out of the previous year's experience in France.
Equipping the 3rd Canadian Division was very much easier than had
been the case with the 2nd, for now there had been a general improvement in the situation. The Division was fully supplied with 25-pounder guns almost immediately after its arrival in England, and most other equipment was equally readily come by. Anti-tank weapons, however, continued to be a problem.
The Canadian armoured formations began to receive equipment from the time of their landing. The 1st Army Tank Brigade, however, was completed much more rapidly than the 5th Canadian Armoured Division. Brigadier Worthington had faith in the Churchill, in spite of the many mechanical difficulties encountered with it in the beginning; and before the end of 1941 the Brigade was fully equipped with this tank. The Armoured Division was long in receiving its full "establishment" of tanks. It was intended to equip it with the Canadian-designed and Canadian-made "Ram", a vehicle combining what were considered the best features of British and American design; but the first Rams did not reach the United Kingdom until February 1942. In the meantime the War Office provided a certain number of American "General Lee" and "General Stuart" tanks, the former serving as a useful introduction to the Ram.
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