New Tasks and Problems, 1941-1942
To the Roof of the World: The Expedition to Spitsbergen
As we have said, 1941 brought the Canadians in Britain one piece of active employment. In August and September a small Canadian-British-Norwegian force commanded by Brigadier A. E. Potts of the 2nd Canadian Infantry Brigade carried out an expedition to the Arctic Archipelago of Spitsbergen, which lies only some 600 miles from the North Pole.
With the involvement of Russia in the war these distant islands (which are Norwegian territory) had suddenly assumed a new importance. Spitsbergen had valuable coal mines which it was desirable to deny to Germany; the archipelago also constituted a potential threat to the convoy route between Britain and North Russia. The possibility of an expedition was first discussed late in July 1941, when Sir John Dill offered the operation to General McNaughton and the latter accepted it. At this time the proposal was that Spitsbergen should be occupied by a military force adequate to the protection against seaborne and airborne raids of a naval anchorage and refuelling base which it was planned to establish there. It was intended to withdraw the force at the end of four months, prior to the winter freeze-up.
The plan was to send an infantry brigade less one battalion, with attached units; and Headquarters 2nd Infantry Brigade, with Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry and the Edmonton Regiment, plus a field company of Engineers, were designated for the task. Later a field battery was added. This force moved early in August from Sussex to Glasgow, and thence to the Combined Training Centre, Inveraray, where it did some amphibious training. Further discussions in London, however, led to doubts concerning the utility of the expedition as planned, and on 16 August a meeting of the Chiefs of Staff Committee which General McNaughton attended took a resolve to carry out a much more limited scheme, comprising merely the temporary landing of a force which would destroy or remove the mining facilities and wireless and meteorological stations. It was also to repatriate the considerable Russian community in the islands to Archangel, and remove all Norwegians to the United Kingdom.
In consequence the force was greatly reduced. "Force 111", as it was called, was now to consist of a skeleton brigade headquarters with
signal section, the 3rd Field Company Royal Canadian Enginers, a company of the Edmonton Regiment, a detachment of machine-gunners of the Saskatoon Light Infantry, and Medical and Pay detachments. In addition, a British Engineer detachment and other British specialists were included, as was also a Norwegian infantry party numbering 25 all ranks. The total strength of the military force which went to Spitsbergen was 46 officers and 599 other ranks, of whom 29 officers and 498 other ranks were Canadian.
This force could be carried on one transport, which could also find room for the entire civilian population of Spitsbergen. Most of the men waiting hopefully at Inveraray were now sent back to England; the fortunate few selected for the expedition sailed from the Clyde in the Empress of Canada on 19 August. That evening the transport made contact with Force "A", the naval squadron which was to escort her on her unique mission. It was commanded by Rear Admiral P. L. Vian, and consisted of the cruisers Nigeria and Aurora, and the destroyers Anthony, Antelope and Icarus. On 21 August the squadron reached Iceland, and here Brigadier Potts conferred with Admiral Vian and final plans were made. The ships sailed again that evening. Next day the soldiers were told their destination for the first time.
On the morning of 25 August the squadron was close to westward of Spitsbergen. An aircraft from Nigeria reconnoitred the Isfjord (Ice Sound), the great inlet, leading into the island of Vest Spitsbergen, on which the most important settlements lay. No enemy activity being discerned, the squadron closed in, and at 4:30 a.m. a small party of signallers and Norwegians landed from Icarus at the wireless station at Kap Linne at the mouth, of the inlet, and were cordially received by the Norwegian staff. The heavier ships now entered the Isfjord and steamed on into the arm of it called Green Bay, on which lay the Russian mining village of Barentsburg. Brigadier Potts went ashore to discuss the proposed evacuation with the Russian authorities, while military parties occupied the other Russian and Norwegian settlements along the Isfjord.
The first great task was the removal of the Russian inhabitants to Archangel. During 26 August the whole Russian population (some 2,000 souls) was embarked in the Empress of Canada, and that night the ship sailed for Archangel escorted by Nigeria and the three destroyers. Aurora remained at Spitsbergen to protect the expedition and assist in the liquidation of the more remote settlements, which was carried out during the next few days.
During the absence of the Empress, extensive demolitions were undertaken at Spitsbergen. The great dumps of free coal at the mines were set alight (it is estimated that 450,000 tons were thus destroyed). Mining machinery at. Barentsburg, Longyearby, and other settlements
was disabled or removed. Great stores of fuel oil were poured into the sea or burned.
On the evening of 1 September the Empress of Canada and her escort again dropped anchor in Green Bay, having successfully completed their mission to the White Sea. During 2 September all the 800 or so Norwegians in Spitsbergen were embarked; and just before midnight on the night of 3-4 September the force sailed again for the United Kingdom, leaving the islands void of humanity. Along the shores of the Isfjord the fires in the coal-piles still blazed brightly. The whole occupation had lasted ten days less five or six hours; but the Canadians had found it hard to keep track of time, for owing to the midnight sun it was never wholly dark, and throughout the period the men worked hard in shifts, four hours on duty, four hours off.
A task of special value had been performed by the Signals detachment of the force with the aid of the Norwegian staffs of the islands' two wireless stations. These were both in touch with the Germancontrolled station at Tromso in Norway, and had been in the habit of sending out meteorological data. Thanks to the loyal cooperation of the Norwegians, it was possible to continue normal transmissions by way of concealing from the enemy the fact that anything unusual was going on in Spitsbergen. The data sent out, however, were in some respects mendacious. To discourage enemy air reconnaissance, fog conditions were reported from the arrival of the expedition until the departure of the Empress for Archangel. The same procedure was followed after her return until the final departure of the force. The last transmission went out at 8:00 p.m. on 3 September, after which the stations were put out of action. The deception appears to have been complete, for when the force was well out to sea on its homeward voyage Tromso was heard calling Spitsbergen and inquiring urgently why it did not answer.
On 6 September the cruisers Aurora and Nigeria parted company with the Empress, bound for an enterprise against enemy naval forces in Norwegian waters, which produced a very satisfactory little fight in which the German gunnery training ship Bremse and other vessels were sunk. The military force had an uneventful return voyage to Britain. The Empress of Canada re-entered the Clyde on the night of 7-8 September; and next day the Canadians were on their way back to the stations in Sussex from which they had been absent for more than a month. The expedition had successfully achieved all its modest objects. It had had no contact with the enemy, and had not lost a man from any cause. Far from interfering with the undertaking, the Germans had not even succeeded in discovering that it was in progress. In spite of the absence of action it had been an adventurous enterprise. Never before had a military force advanced so close to the North Pole; and
throughout the war no other Canadian detachment operated in an area so remote as that which fell to the lot of the expedition to Spitsbergen.
Tunnellers at the Rock
Only one other considerable group of Canadian soldiers left the United Kingdom during 1941 for employment abroad. This was No. 2 Tunnelling Company Royal Canadian Engineers, which embarked in March for Gibraltar, where it was to reinforce other Canadian tunnellers who had been working on and in the Rock since the previous autumn.
The collapse of France in June 1940 and the simultaneous entry of Italy into the war suddenly made the Mediterranean an active theatre of operations, placed British interests there in the utmost jeopardy and rendered the fortress of Gibraltar much more important than before. Its defences had long been comparatively neglected; now there was urgent need for improving them, and in particular for extending the tunnels within the Rock to provide bomb-proof accommodation. On 23 October 1940 the Secretary of State for the Dominions wrote to the High Commissioner for Canada asking "as a matter of urgency" that part of No. 1 Canadian Tunnelling Company, then in England, might be made available for work at Gibraltar. The Canadian Government at once agreed, and a detachment of 100 men with diamond drills disembarked at the fortress on 26 November and were soon hard at work. The British Government almost immediately asked for more Canadian tunnellers, and a new unit was raised from among qualified men in the United Kingdom. No. 2 Canadian Tunnelling Company reached Gibraltar on 10 March 1941, and remained there until the end of the following year.
The Canadians shared the work at the Rock with British tunnelling companies. They carried out several major mining projects, the best-known one being "Gort's Hospital", a system of commodious chambers cut out of the heart of the Rock to ensure thoroughly bombproof medical accommodation for the garrison in' case of siege. An even larger task, however, was the nearby tunnel known as "Harley Street", with its side-chambers for the hospital laundry, etc. All told, No. 2 Tunnelling Company, during its long stay at Gibraltar, mined and removed approximately 140,000 tons of solid rock. Apart from their main mining tasks the Canadians carried out much miscellaneous work on the defences. A "special detachment" of No. 1 Tunnelling Company which was sent out independently and arrived in February 1942 made a useful contribution to one of the most essential additions to the equipment of the fortress: the new aerodrome which had been created on the site of the racecourse on the North Front, This detachment had the task of providing the "fill" necessary for extending the runway out into the Bay of Algeciras sufficiently to enable heavy bombers to use
the field. The fill was brought down from the screes on the face of the Rock, first by diamond drilling and blasting, and, when this proved unsuitable, by hydraulic methods. The importance of this task became apparent in November 1942, when the Allies launched the invasion of French North Africa. Without the new runway at Gibraltar this great operation would have been far more difficult and perhaps impossible.
Gibraltar is a fascinating place to visit, but under war conditions the Canadians found the tiny colony a confined and tiresome station. There was no more action there than in England; and virtually the whole of the normal civilian population had been evacuated. As the months passed, the men grew increasingly anxious to rejoin their comrades in the United Kingdom. It was finally found possible to relieve them late in 1942. The main body sailed from Gibraltar on 16 December. They left behind them permanent monuments, the chambers they had hollowed, which will serve the garrison of the Rock as long as the British flag flies there.
Fighting the Luftwaffe
The only contact with the enemy vouchsafed to the Canadian troops in Britain previous to 1942 took the form of a limited amount of antiaircraft action against German raiders.
During the great air attacks in 1940, Canadian units frequently engaged the enemy with their machine-guns, and the destruction of two aircraft was claimed--one shot down by Lewis gunners of No. 1 Tunnelling Company near Canterbury on 18 August, and one by the Toronto Scottish near Portslade, Sussex on 26 November. Earlier, in the spring of 1940, a number of anti-aircraft Lewis gun teams from the 1st Division had been lent to the Admiralty for the protection of trawlers in the North Sea. They performed this service until June; but they seldom saw the enemy, and only one hit on a German aircraft is recorded.
As the great "blitz" had ended by the time Canadian anti-aircraft artillery units were organized, trained and ready for battle, these units saw less action than they had hoped for. As soon as the batteries had attained a sufficient standard of training they were lent to Anti-Aircraft Command for temporary employment on gunsites in "A.D.G.B." (Air Defence of Great Britain). The first actual success credited to a Canadian artillery unit was achieved by a detachment of the 3rd Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment (which actually had not yet graduated to A.D.G.B.) near Frinton on the East Coast on the night of 6-7 August 1941, when a JU 88 was shot down into the sea. German raids at this time were hit-and-run affairs, often by single machines, in which a small and difficult target was presented to the guns for perhaps a very few seconds; and even such a target might appear only after weeks or months of fruitless waiting on an isolated and uncomfortable gunsite.
The Corps Moves Into Sussex
Since the collapse of France in June 1940, and indeed for a few weeks before that event, the Canadian field force in England had been, as we have seen, in "G.H.Q. Reserve", charged with the responsible task of counter-attack against any attempted invasion of southeastern England. It remained in this role for a year and a half, and throughout this period its normal stations were in Surrey, with elements in eastern Hampshire and western Kent--convenient positions from which to move against an enemy assailing any part of the coast between Margate and Southampton. In the autumn of 1941, however, the Canadian Corps assumed a different tactical function; it ceased to be a mobile reserve and assumed the direct defence of an important sector of England's front line--the coast of Sussex.
During the summer of 1941 the 2nd Canadian Division had anticipated the larger move by temporarily relieving the 55th British Division on the Sussex beaches between Peacehaven and Rye. It remained here from the first week in July until nearly the middle of August, under the operational control of the 4th British Corps. The 55th took its place in Aldershot and served temporarily as a formation of the Canadian Corps. The change of scene was very agreeable to the men of the 2nd Division, who had been a long time in Aldershot.
The Corps move, though under discussion from early in the spring, did not actually begin until 15 October, when the 2nd Canadian Division returned to Sussex, relieving the 55th for a second time. The Canadian Division was again under the 4th Corps until 17 November, when the Canadian Corps took over the coastal area. By 1 December the 1st Canadian Division had taken over from the 38th and the 3rd Canadian Division, which was now considered ready for an operational role, from the 47th. Finally, the 1st Canadian Army Tank Brigade came into Sussex in mid-December. In the cases of both the 3rd Division and the Tank Brigade the move to Sussex may be said to mark the end of the period of preparation and the emergence of the Brigade and the Division as fully operational formations. The Canadian Corps, now entirely concentrated in Sussex, had become a very formidable military factor.
The Corps Headquarters was established in the first instance at Worth Priory, south-east of Crawley, but Advanced Headquarters was subsequently set up at Wakehurst Place, a delightful Elizabethan house a few miles away. A considerable number of British units, including the batteries of Royal Artillery manning the fixed coastal defences, came under Canadian Corps command. The Canadian Corps itself passed as from 17 November under the "operational control" of South Eastern Command.
On 18 November it was announced that General Sir Alan Brooke was to replace General Sir John Dill as Chief of the Imperial General Staff;
Lieutenant-General Sir Bernard Paget became C.-in-C. Home Forces in succession to Brooke, and Lieutenant-General B. L. Montgomery succeeded Paget as G.O.C.-in-C. South Eastern Command. The movement into Sussex thus brought the Canadian Corps under General Montgomery's dynamic direction. Almost simultaneously there were important changes in Canadian command. General Odium was appointed High Commissioner in Australia, and was succeeded in the command of the 2nd Division (at first in an acting capacity) by Brigadier J. H. Roberts. Lieutenant-General H. D. G. Crerar, who was anxious for employment in the field, now handed over the appointment of Chief of the General Staff at Ottawa to Major-General K. Stuart and returned to the United Kingdom to assume, it was announced, the command of the 2nd Division, reverting to Major-General to do so. Although gazetted to command this formation, he never actually took over. Before he reached England General McNaughton had been obliged by illness to relinquish the command of the Corps for a time. Major-General Pearkes acted as Corps Commander until the arrival of General Crerar. Crerar, who was senior to Pearkes, took command of the Corps as of 23 December, resuming the rank of Lieutenant-General. General McNaughton never in fact returned to the Corps; when recovered he left for a visit to Canada, and on coming back to England took up the new appointment of G.O.C.-in-C. First Canadian Army.
The Corps front in Sussex extended from the Hampshire border on the right to Fairlight Church (a couple of miles east of Hastings) on the left. Immediately after taking over the sector, the Canadian commanders undertook an overhaul of the defensive arrangements. Instructions were issued providing in detail against every likely emergency, whether of the nature of raid or invasion; the possibility of large-scale airborne attack received particular attention. When the plans were complete, the troops fell to work on reconstructing the actual defences, and much time and effort were expended on improving the positions along the beaches and about the Downs. Had the enemy obliged by attacking, he would have found the Sussex coast, in this condition, a difficult military proposition. But he never did attack; in spite of a considerable number of false alarms and a great many rumours, the Germans never attempted anything in the nature of a seaborne or airborne raid on even the smallest scale.
The winter of 1941-42 was a rather difficult period. The Canadian troops were tired of inaction, and in the circumstances of the day, with the Germans fully occupied in Russia, they now saw little possibility of being actually called upon to do battle in defence of the shores of England. The fact that British (and some Canadian) troops were now engaged against the Japanese in the Pacific, while the fight against the Germans in Africa still went on, made the waiting still harder to bear; and and the cessation of heavy air attacks on Britain heightened the sense of being in a backwater. Under such conditions there were bound to be some
GUARDING THE SUSSEX COAST
From a watercolour by Major C. F. Comfort, 1943 The Gun is a 40-millimetre Bofors of the 3PrdP Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment, R.C.A., in position above West Beach, Selsey. In the background can be seen two types of obstacles intended to prevent the landing of tanks: concrete blocks and "tubular scaffolding".
difficulties, and inevitably there were local complaints of soldiers' behaviour. Yet the actual number of offences recorded is rather surprisingly small; and the spirit of the men remained much higher than might have been expected in the circumstances.
The First Canadian Army
By the autumn of 1941 the Canadian force in Britain had grown considerably beyond the proportions of a normal army corps. It now amounted to four divisions, an army tank brigade and large numbers of ancillary troops; and there remained in Canada the 4th Division, which was to come overseas in due time. In these circumstances, the formation of a Canadian headquarters higher than the corps level was a natural development. There was much discussion of the subject during 1941. In August, for instance, General Crerar (then still C.G.S.) wrote to General McNaughton suggesting the possibility of forming a Canadian army comprising two corps, each of two infantry and one armoured divisions. This he admitted was an ambitious proposal, but at the time it was believed that the necessary manpower could be found. Discussions with British military authorities elicited the fact that they agreed that the Canadian force was growing too large to be handled by one Corps Commander; and in due course it was resolved to set up an Army Headquarters and a second Corps Headquarters. Further manpower study, however, did not appear to justify the provision of a sixth division for overseas service, and instead of raising a new armoured division it was decided to convert the existing 4th Infantry Division to armour.
Before General McNaughton left for Canada on 23 January 1942, the essential decisions had been made; and on 26 January the Prime Minister outlined the Army Programme for 1942 to the Canadian House of Commons in the following terms:
During 1942 ... it is proposed to create overseas a Canadian army of two army corps: one army corps to comprise three infantry divisions and two army tank brigades; the other to consist of two armoured divisions. In addition, all necessary ancillary units to serve these two corps will be provided.
To reach this objective it will be necessary: first to convert the present 4th Division into an armoured division and train and equip it for this special role and dispatch it overseas in due course; second, to raise, equip, train and dispatch overseas another army tank brigade for use with the infantry divisions of the Canadian Corps; third, to raise, equip, train and dispatch additional ancillary troops both for the infantry corps and the new armoured corps; fourth, to maintain and reinforce these two corps; fifth, to provide headquarters staff organizations for an army and an armoured corps.
This project was modified in one respect in practice. Experience had indicated the undesirability of grouping armoured divisions under the control of specific armoured corps headquarters; it was considered
that every corps headquarters should be capable of controlling either infantry or armoured divisions, and on these lines Canadian as well as British organization henceforth proceeded.
While in Canada General McNaughton conferred with the Minister of National Defence aitd the Chief of the General Staff on the implementation of this programme; and on 6 March he attended a meeting of the Cabinet War Committee and gave a detailed exposition of his plans for the development of the army. He returned to the United Kingdom late in March.
On Easter Monday, 6 April 1942, Headquarters First Canadian Army came into existence at Headley Court, with Lieutenant-General A. G. L. McNaughton as General Officer Commanding-in-Chief. Its staff was all-Canadian. The Canadian Corps (now to be designated the 1st Canadian Corps) remained in Sussex under General Crerar's command and under the operational direction of General Montgomery as G.O.C.in-C. South Eastern Command. Organization of the Headquarters of the 2nd Canadian Corps was long delayed, mainly by the shortage of trained staff officers. Although it had originally been considered that it could be formed about 1 July 1942, it did not actually come into existence until early in 1943.
Defensive Measures in Canada
Steps taken for the local security of the actual territory of Canada lie largely outside the scope of this Summary. Essentially, the country was being defended abroad; the best policy was to defeat the aggressor before he reached Canadian soil; and, as explained in the Preface, defensive measures taken on that soil can be only briefly mentioned here.
In the precautions taken in pre-war years, the defences of the Pacific coast had received rather more attention than those on the Atlantic--a situation which doubtless reflected the contemporary distribution of British naval strength as well as the fact that the only first-class sea-power which could possibly be considered a menace to Canada was Japan. Coastal batteries and air bases on a very considerable scale were planned and executed. When war came, however, it came in the Atlantic, and the Pacific remained in some degree true to its name for over two years. Protective measures in the Maritime Provinces, which had been accelerated after the 1938 crisis, were now given higher priority, and the area became still more important after the disaster of 1940 in France and the resultant heightened anxiety of the United States for the security of North America. The defences of the eastern ports were strengthened accordingly.
Newfoundland--not a part of Canada in the political sense, but vitally important to her strategically--deserves special notice. There
was close co-operation between the Canadian and Newfoundland governments from the outbreak of war. Newfoundland afforded all facilities to the R.C.A.F.; Canada provided Newfoundland with equipment including some coast-defence guns; and when France collapsed in June 1940 steps were immediately taken to safeguard the great airport at Gander and the seaplane base at Botwood. An infantry battalion and a flight of bomber reconnaissance aircraft, now hastily despatched, were only the vanguard of larger forces. In the following August a Canadian delegation headed by the Air Minister (Mr. C. G. Power) visited the Island and arrangements were made for comprehensive co-operation in defence. Canada took responsibility for the security of Newfoundland soil, and when in the same month the Dominion instituted an Atlantic Command under a G.O.C.-in-C. (Major-General W. H. P. Elkins) responsible for all military measures in the east coast area, Newfoundland was included within it along with the provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and the greater part of Quebec. Canadian units garrisoned Newfoundland throughout the war, co-operating with the local authorities and with the United States forces to whom the British Government had accorded base facilities there as part of the arrangement on bases announced in August 1940.
In the autumn of 1941 work began, and progressed with great rapidity, on another giant trans-Atlantic airport in Newfoundland territory--at Goose Bay on Lake Melville in Labrador. A Canadian garrison was stationed here from the beginning for the protection of what rapidly became one of the great centres of world air transport.1
In October, 1940, came the authorization of a Pacific Command parallel to that already set up on the Atlantic. The first G.O.C.-in-C. was Major-General R.O. Alexander. This command comprehended the whole of Military Districts Nos. 11 and 13 (that is, the provinces of British Columbia and Alberta, the Yukod and the adjacent portions of the North-West Territories). Considerable forces had been maintained on and near the Pacific coast since the beginning of the war with Germany; but after Japan entered the war in December 1941 further measures were taken.
Although the strength of the Canadian Army Overseas in fighting formations was not increased beyond five divisions and two independent armoured brigades, three additional infantry divisions were in due course raised in Canada and retained there in a home-defence role. In the summer of 1941, with the 3rd and 5th Divisions both moving overseas shortly, it appeared that the 4th would soon be the only one
Division and the mobilization of the three brigade groups of the 7 Division. Later in March authority was given for the completion of the 7 in the same manner and for the organization of the brigade groups of the 8 Division, whose completion was in turn authorized in June. The three home defence divisions were all commanded by officers who had previously been brigade commanders overseas: the 6remaining in Canada. Authority was accordingly given in July for the mobilization of the three brigade groups of the 6th Canadian Division, utilizing some units already organized. On 18 March 1942 the War Committee of the Cabinet authorized the organization of the Headquarters and remaining units of the 6ththththth by MajorGeneral A. E. Potts, the 7th by Major-General P. E. Leclerc, and the 8th by Major-General H. N. Ganong. The 6th and 8th served in Pacific Command, the latter being responsible for Northern British Columbia; the 7th was allotted to Atlantic Command.2
Early in June 1942 the war came closer to British Columbia. The Japanese now occupied the islands of Kiska and Attu in the Aleutians. On the 20th of the month shells fell on Canadian soil when an enemy submarine fired at the wireless station and light at Estevan Point, Vancouver Island. There was much anxiety on the west coast, and General Stuart, the Chief of the General Staff, himself assumed for some time the duties of G.O.C.-in-C. Pacific Command. In September, General Pearkes, formerly G.O.C. 1st Canadian Division, returned from England to take over this appointment. The next year, as we shall see, troops from the Command participated in the expedition against Kiska.
The Question of the Employment of the Overseas Army
On 20 August 1941 the Prime Minister of Canada arrived in the United Kingdom to visit the Canadian forces overseas and to have the benefit of consultation with the British Government. On 23 August (incidentally one of the wettest days of the year) he attended the Canadian Army Sports at Aldershot and spoke to the men assembled as spectators. During his address there were some interruptions which received perhaps disproportionate attention in the press; a Canadian newspaper correspondent suggested that they were "symptomatic of a certain impatience to get into action". Mr. King spent 26 August with the 1st Division and spoke four times to the troops. The gist of these addresses was that, while he realized how difficult it was for men who had come overseas to fight the enemy to find the moment of battle
constantly postponed, they were in fact performing essential service in Britain. As reported in The Times, the Prime Minister said on one of these occasions:
Only a day or two ago Mr. Churchill told me that he hoped I would realise that the reason the Canadian forces were being retained in these Islands was that he and his colleagues regarded Britain itself as the most important of all parts of the Empire, and that the defence of Britain would be, above all else, the most significant of all the factors that would ultimately determine the outcome of the war.
Mr. Churchill understands, and I want you all to understand, that so far as the dispositions of the troops are concerned, the Canadian Government places no restriction whatever upon any decision that may be made, other than that the Government itself shall have the opportunity of knowing what is contemplated and an opportunity of expressing views.
All of us in Canada realise that, if you are being kept here in the British Isles rather than being sent to some other theatre of war, it is because the British Government itself regards the United Kingdom as the most important of all centres of liberty in the world. It is the citadel of liberty, and you have been given the honour of defending that citadel.
On 4 September, at a Mansion House luncheon in Mr. King's honour, Mr. Churchill himself spoke of the enforced inactivity of the Canadian troops in terms which should be set down here:
You have seen your gallant Canadian Corps and other troops who are here. We have felt very much for them that they have not yet had a chance of coming to close quarters with the enemy. It is not their fault; it is not our fault; but there they stand, and there they have stood through the whole of the critical period of the last fifteen months at the very point where they would be the first to be hurled into a counterstroke against an invader.
No greater service can be rendered to this country: no more important military duty can be performed by any troops in all the Allies. It seems to me that although they may have felt envious that Australian, New Zealand and South African troops have been in action, the part they have played in bringing about the final result is second to none.
The question of the employment of the Canadian force had indeed become one of burning interest. About its original role there had been no doubt: it was to fight in France with the B.E.F. When France collapsed, it slipped naturally into the new role of defender of Britain; this was the result of compelling circumstances, not of planning or negotiation. But when the invasion of Britain did not materialize, and the Germans turned instead against Russia, the future tasks of the increasing Canadian force in England inevitably became a matter for discussion by the public and consideration by statesmen and generals. It was quite clear, of course, that an attempt at the invasion of Britain was still a definite possibility, against which' solid insurance was required;
but it was equally clear that the Russian adventure had materially changed the aspect of the question.
On 30 June 1941, very shortly after that adventure began, Brigadier E. L. M. Burns, General McNaughton's Brigadier General Staff, discussed the Canadian role with Brigadier A. W. S. Mallaby, a Deputy Director of Military Operations at the War Office. The latter indicated that the War Office understood "that Canadian troops were not available for employment elsewhere than in the United Kingdom". Brigadier Burns hastened to explain that the Canadian Government had never taken any such stand; on the contrary, it would consider any proposals from the British Government for the commitment of its troops in another theatre. In such a case, he said, General McNaughton's advice would presumably be given great weight; and the General, while considering that it was not the business of the Canadian Army Overseas to initiate suggestions for its own employment, was always ready to advise his Government in favour of employing its forces at any point where the need for their services could be demonstrated by the British Chiefs of Staff Committee. Brigadier Burns added (the words are those of his memorandum of the conversation)
Lieutenant-General McNaughton, however, had always considered it a principle that the bulk of the Canadian Military Forces should be employed in one theatre, so that Canadian authority over our troops could be properly maintained, and would not favour any course of action that would involve splitting the Canadian Army Overseas into several packets.
The possibility of using the Canadians in the Middle East was mentioned; and Burns suggested that, in view of the ease with which troops could be moved from Canada via Vancouver and Singapore to Suez, if any such project were contemplated a decision should be made before the 3rd Canadian Division and the Armoured Division were brought to the United Kingdom. The same day Mallaby wrote Burns telling him that he had subsequently discussed this question with the Director of Military Operations and Plans. The latter was interested in Burns' views on the possibility of employing Canadian troops in the Middle East. "He said, however, as I rather expected", wrote Mallaby, "that it would be premature to raise the issue now because our requirements for home defence against the possibility of an invasion in the Autumn preclude our sending further considerable forces overseas, and because, in any case, we could not transport such forces in the near future." The Canadian Corps remained in the United Kingdom, and the build-up of the force there went steadily on. General McNaughton's own view, expressed to the Minister of National Defence during the latter's visit to the United Kingdom later in 1941, was that the best employment for the Canadian Corps during the winter was in Britain; in
the spring, he thought, it might be practicable to participate in operations elsewhere "as a Corps".
While in North America early in 1942, General McNaughton visited Washington. On 9 March he visited President Roosevelt in company with the Canadian Ambassador, and described to him the task of the Canadian force in Britain as he saw it. McNaughton's notes of the conversation indicate that he explained that the purpose of the force was twofold:
First, that in the present period it was desired to contribute as well as we could to the security of the United Kingdom, which we considered to be underinsured, and to the maintenance of our foothold for an eventual attack on the Continent of Europe; secondly, that we never lost sight of the fact that we were part of an important strategical reserve, which sooner or later there would be an opportunity to employ against Hitler, and even in the meanwhile its very presence in England would continue to tie down German Divisions perhaps of greater total strength.
The following day General McNaughton had an interview with the Acting Chief of the War Plans Division of the War Department, Brigadier-General Dwight D. Eisenhower, who told him that "he had racked his mind to discover how we could present Germany with a second front, and that the more he thought it out the more firmly had he been driven to the conclusion that it would be possible to do so only by attacking Western Europe from the British Isles". With this McNaughton expressed the fullest agreement. His views as put to Eisenhower were thus recorded by Major-General M. A. Pope, who was present:
There could be no question but that the war could only be ended by the defeat of Hitler and the only way of doing so was to attack him from the West. He had never lost sight of this object and while he had had constantly to think in terms of the defence of the United Kingdom, he had always been convinced that an offensive would sooner or later have to be launched from the United Kingdom across the narrow seas. This view he had represented to the Canadian Government the previous week and he was glad to be able to say that it had been accepted.
The President, it is interesting to note, had questioned his Canadian visitor concerning the problem of morale among the troops in Britain during their long period of static employment. General McNaughton's reply was as follows:
I told him that I had no particular anxiety on this score at the moment nor would I have for some months to come. I told him that this was because the force was rapidly growing, there were ample outlets for promotion, that we had been working the men very hard, that we were constantly changing the scene of our activities, that we had paid attention to education, etc., and most importantly that I thought our soldiers were a highly intelligent body of men, who recognized that they were only there for the purpose of making a definite contribution to the defeat of the Axis. They were just as well aware as I was of the wisdom of deferring action until a proper opportunity developed for their
use, because what we wished to do was not to fight for the sake of fighting, but to bring the maximum possible continuing effect against the enemy.
The Completion of the Field Force
When Headquarters First Canadian Army was organized on 6 April 1942 the Army it was to control was incomplete. The 4th Canadian Armoured Division (lately converted from infantry) did not begin to arrive from Canada until early in the autumn; the greater part of it came in two convoys, on 1 September and 7 October. Major-General F. F. Worthington was in command.
The Canadian Army's adoption of a new British organization for armoured divisions, under which the division would consist of one armoured brigade and one infantry brigade instead of two armoured brigades, called for more infantry units but left the Canadian Army Overseas with several surplus armoured regiments. General McNaughton desired to utilize three of these to provide a third army tank brigade, and on 21 December 1942 he cabled Ottawa proposing "as a long term objective" that the Canadian Army should comprise two corps, with three infantry divisions (each of three infantry brigades), two armoured divisions (each of one infantry and one armoured brigade) and three army tank brigades. Although the War Committee of the Canadian Cabinet agreed to the organization of a third tank brigade headquarters to administer the surplus armoured regiments provisionally until their disposition was decided, the retention of the brigade was not finally approved. Manpower stringency was becoming a source of increasing anxiety. The 2nd Army Tank Brigade arrived in the United Kingdom from Canada in June 1943. This Brigade was now disbanded and the one organized overseas, heretofore called the 3rd, assumed its number; it also ceased to be an army tank brigade and was designated the 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade.
An independent unit not destined for service in the First Canadian Army arrived in the United Kingdom late in July 1943. This was the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion. Arrangements had been made to incorporate it in the 6th British Airborne Division, which it joined almost at once. With this division it was to fight through the campaign in North-West Europe.
The question of provision of the large number of rearward units required to support an army of five divisions is dealt with below.
The strength of the Canadian Army Overseas had grown steadily. At the end of 1942 it was 177,000 all ranks; by the end of 1943 it had risen to 242,000, and at 31 May 1944, on the eve of the invasion of Normandy, it was 251,000. Of these, about 75,000 men were in Italy.
Changing Policies on Manpower
Since manpower has been mentioned, the development of this question in Canada during this period may conveniently be briefly referred to here. Early in 1941 it was found necessary to call for recruits in a manner not before required, and in the spring an intensive recruiting campaign was launched. It' should be noted that Canada's available manpower was being subjected to a much greater degree of inter-service competition than had been the case in the last war, when her naval forces were very small and she had no Air Force of her own, but merely contributed men to the R.F.C. and R.A.F. She had now organized great Naval and Air services, both of which offered many attractions and thus complicated the Army's problem of obtaining volunteers.
With the expansion of Canada's effort, pressure on manpower steadily increased. There was considerable popular demand for general conscription to replace the policy of compulsion for home defence only, expressed in the National Resources Mobilization Act; this grew louder after Japan's attack in December 1941. The Government, while not convinced that the time had yet come for general conscription, now decided nevertheless to clear the way for the adoption of such a policy when and if it seemed desirable; and the Speech from the Throne at the opening of the Dominion Parliament on 22 January 1942 contained the following passage:
The government is of the opinion that, at this time of gravest crisis in the world's history, the administration, subject only to its responsibility to parliament, should in this connection and irrespective of any previous commitments, possess complete freedom to act in accordance with its judgment of the needs of the situation as they may arise.
My ministers accordingly will seek, from the people, by means of a plebiscite, release from any obligation arising out of any past commitments restricting the methods of raising men for military service.
The plebiscite was taken in April. The question presented was this "Are you in favour of releasing the Government from any obligation arising out of any past commitments3 restricting the methods of raising men for military service?" The result was a decisive "Yes" vote, with the Services voting somewhat more strongly in favour of release than civilians. Quebec was the only province to poll a majority against release.
The National Resources Mobilization Act was accordingly amended, the restriction on sending out of the country persons called up for military service being removed. The Government was now armed with full powers for general conscription; these were, however, held in reserve, not being invoked until November 1944. In the meantime the call-up for home
defence proceeded on an increasing scale; and it must be noted that a byproduct of this call-up was a steady flow of general service recruits for the Active Army, for a material proportion of the men warned for service under the N.R.M.A. invariably chose to "go active".
The Canadian Women's Army Corps
Until this period women had been able to serve in the military forces of Canada only in the traditional role of Nursing Sisters in the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps--a role in which, we may note in passing, 3633 women served in this war. Now, however, they were to be given wider opportunities. The possibility of employing female volunteers for static military duties and thereby releasing men for combatant service had been under discussion for some time; and on 26 June 1941 the Government announced its intention of forming a Canadian Women's Army Corps. The first recruits were enrolled in the following September.
The Corps had already proved itself in Canada, and a detachment had given good service in Washington, D.C., when the decision was taken to employ C.W.A.C. units in establishments overseas. The first C.W.A.C. draft arrived in the-United Kingdom on 5 November 1942. The Corps' assistance proved invaluable at C.M.H.Q. and at Headquarters, Canadian Reinforcement Units; and when Canadian forces were committed to active operations C.W.A.C. detachments served at the Canadian static headquarters in both Italy and North-West Europe. The tasks which the women of the Corps performed grew more and more various as time passed. Clerical work always accounted for the majority, but other forms of employment ranged from service in the concert parties which entertained our troops in Britain and the theatres of war to duty as staff officers at static headquarters.
At the time of the conclusion of hostilities in Europe in May, 1945, the strength of the Canadian Women's Army Corps was 652 officers and 13,282 other ranks. Of these, 101 officers and 1843 other ranks were overseas in the European zone.
The formation of the Canadian Women's Army Corps was one of the most striking innovations of Canadian military policy in the Second Great War. No one acquainted with the facts will deny that it was also one of the most successful.
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