Canadian Troops Go to the Mediterranean
Canadians in North Africa
On 8 November 1942 came the Allied landings in French North Africa. No Canadian units as such took part in this great operation; the British troops sent from the United Kingdom were the First Army, commanded by Lieutenant-General K. A. N. Anderson. Clearly, however, the campaign in Tunisia which followed offered an opportunity for giving battle experience to selected Canadians, and this General McNaughton seized.
An arrangement was made for the immediate attachment to the First Army of 78 officers and 63 non-commissioned officers, who reached Algiers early in January 1943. They were treated as though they had been normal British reinforcements, and were "posted" to appropriate units. That is to say, a Canadian infantry Captain or Major might (and often did) find himself commanding a company of a British battalion; a Canadian medical officer might be placed in charge of a section of a Field Ambulance of the R.A.M.C.; while a Sergeant of the Royal Canadian Corps of Signals might be found performing the responsible duties of his rank in a Brigade Signal Section. At the time when these Canadians arrived, the First Army was hard pressed. It consisted, essentially, of only two British divisions, the 78th Infantry Division and the 6th Armoured Division. Most of the Canadians were assigned to these formations, and they saw plenty of service, for there were many casualties to be replaced. At one point an infantry unit of the 6th Armoured Division had a Canadian second-in-command and three Canadian company commanders.
Further groups of Canadians were subsequently dispatched to Africa, the procedure continuing until the end of the campaign. In all, 201 officers and 147 N.C.Os. were sent out for three-month periods, and what they learned was invaluable. However sound mere training may be, there is no final substitute for battle experience. These men, returning to England, brought a most useful leaven of such experience to the Canadian Army. The active manner in which they had been employed was reflected in their losses. Fourteen officers and 11 other ranks became casualties during the North African campaign. Four officers and four other ranks lost their lives.
It was not junior leaders only who profited by African experience. In February of 1943 General Crerar, with a group of British generals,
flew out from England and attended a four-day study period at General Montgomery's headquarters. In April, Brigadier G. G. Simonds went out similarly and watched the Wadi Akarit battle from the headquarters of the Eighth Army and of the 10th Corps. Immediately after his return, he was appointed to command the 2nd Canadian Division in succession to General Roberts (who now assumed command of the Canadian Reinforcement Units); but a few days later, following the death in an aircraft accident of Major-General H. L. N. Salmon, who had succeeded General Pearkes in the command of the 1st Division, General Simonds was transferred to that Division and found himself a prospective divisional commander in the Eighth Army, which he had so lately visited.1
The Training Goes On
For the Canadian Army in the United Kingdom the business of making ready for battle went on until battle was actually joined; and the attachment of individuals to gain field experience in Africa was only one of the expedients adopted to ensure that when Canadian formations as a whole were committed to action they would go in as fully prepared as was humanly possible. Training processes were constantly reviewed, and with the improvement of equipment and. the constant application of battle lessons from active theatres their realism and general effectiveness steadily improved. A notable development in this connection was the new system of "battle drill training", which first began to attract attention in the autumn of 1941.2
On 17 December 1942, the third anniversary of the landing of the first flight of the 1st Division in the United Kingdom, a demonstration took place which showed how one raw infantry division, armed mainly with the weapons of the last war, had evolved into an army of five divisions, equipped in the most modern manner and trained to the last detail. Thirty units and sub-units with their equipment, representing virtually every arm and service, rolled past a group of distinguished observers on a Sussex road. The display was symbolic of the extraordinary complexity of a modern army; of the impressive standard of efficiency which the Canadian Army Overseas had reached; and, not least, of the contribution which Canadian factories were making to winning the war. For a country possessing no pre-war munitions industry, industrial mobilization had inevitably been a painfully slow process, but now, more than three years after the outbreak of war, the fruits of the effort were apparent. With few exceptions, the equipment
seen in this display had been made in Canada. The infantrymen's No. 4 rifles, Sten machine-carbines, Bren guns and 2-pounder anti-tank guns (the last a recent addition to infantry equipment) were all products of Canadian factories, as were the artillery 25-pounders, the Ram tanks of the armoured units and an almost infinite variety of vehicles and special equipment. Most of this material was of British design; but certain items developed in Canada were also shown, the most notable weapon being the "Sexton", the self-propelled 25-pounder on a Ram chassis, which was to play a useful part in the final phase of the war.
Only one unit--the last--passed the saluting base on foot: it was a company of marching riflemen. How fitting it was that the foot-soldier should have a place of honour even in this parade of mechanized and armoured might, two long and bitter campaigns were amply to show.
A significant incident of this final period of preparation was Exercise SPARTAN, the great army manoeuvres conducted in March of 1943. In this exercise Headquarters First Canadian Army was termed "Headquarters Second Army"; and General McNaughton directed an army of three corps (1st Canadian, 2nd Canadian and 12th British). The 2nd Canadian Corps, commanded by Lieutenant-General E. W. Sansom,3 had finally come into existence only on 15 January, and its headquarters was thus committed to this extremely important exercise before it had had time to shake down and before its Corps Signals was fully equipped or adequately trained. The exercise consisted, for the Canadians, of an advance from a theoretical bridgehead on the south coast of England, which represented the enemy-held coast of Europe. In the opening phase things were made difficult for the Second Army by a surprise action of G.H.Q. Home Forces, which was directing the exercise: the opposing "German" army, was thrown forward twenty-four hours before the time previously notified to General McNaughton for his own advance, and for some hours after the enemy moved the "British" army was tied to its ground by orders from "G.H.Q. B.E.F." The two armoured divisions under the 2nd Canadian Corps on General McNaughton's left flank did not get forward, when released, as rapidly as had been hoped, and very extensive "demolitions" by the "enemy" slowed the general advance of the Army. In the centre General Crerar's Corps gave an excellent account of itself. Despite its difficulties, the "Second Army" by the end of the exercise had advanced deeply into enemy territory and was in position on a line running north-west from London towards Rugby.
By the spring of 1943 the Canadian field army in the United Kingdom had reached, in broad outline at least, its final form. It consisted of an army headquarters, two corps headquarters, two armoured divisions,
three infantry divisions, and two independent army tank brigades. The force was trained to the nines.4 The future employment of this army continued to be a matter of deep official and public interest.
Uncertainty on this point was closely related to problems of organization which can be treated here only in a most brief and inadequate fashion. It is sometimes not realized that the fighting divisions, the parts of an army most in the public eye, are in fact only the smaller portion of it. Corps Troops and Army Troops, G.H.Q. and L. of C. Troops, together amounted in 1939-45 to more than the strength of the divisions they backed; it was calculated that, while the actual strength of an infantry division was only about 18,000 all ranks, keeping such a formation in the line required an actually larger total of men in these other categories. The overall strength of troops in a theatre of war could in fact be calculated on a rough basis of 40,000 all ranks per infantry division, with proportionately smaller totals for armoured divisions and armoured brigades. These rearward units were of many types. Among them were numerous artillery units (particularly medium and heavy regiments) available for commitment in situations to which the normal resources of divisional artillery were not equal. Many engineer units were likewise required. As for administrative units designed to serve and supply the front-line troops, their name was legion.
Canadian manpower resources were not equal to providing all the Army, G.H.Q. and L. of C. Troops required for an army of five divisions and two armoured brigades; and some of these ancillary troops were furnished by the British forces. What it boiled down to was that Canada would provide a high proportion of forward fighting troops, while the United Kingdom would find a considerable proportion of the men required for the support and the services of the First Canadian Army. The War Office had manpower problems of its own, and the matter required much detailed negotiation and calculation; but in December of 1942 the British authorities agreed to provide a proportion of up to 9000 Army, G.H.Q. and L. of C. Troops for each Canadian division.5 As a result of later modifications, the number finally provided was actually rather higher. This is not to say that Canada did not find a great many; the establishment strength of the Army Troops she finally provided for the 21st Army Group was over 28,000 all ranks, that of the G.H.Q. and L. of C. Troops and Base Units over 24,000. And she of course provided all her own Corps Troops, amounting to nearly 8000
for each of the two Corps.
The clarification of the manpower situation, coupled with the considerable likelihood that it would be necessary for some Canadian formations to operate, at least for a time, detached from the main Canadian force and as parts of a British Army, produced a basic decision. Whereas the Canadian Army had hitherto taken a somewhat independent line in matters of organization, conforming to British practice generally, but not in detail, it was now resolved to adopt British war establishments throughout.6 It was anticipated that this would lead to some economy of manpower while also facilitating co-operation with British formations. In many cases the alterations were minor, but in others they were important; there were, in particular, extensive changes in the Ordnance services, and the Royal Canadian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers shortly came into existence in imitation of British organization. During the early part of 1943 this reorganization was actively in progress, and the composition of the Canadian field force was settled on a firmer basis than ever before: the arrangement by which the War Office provided a proportion of G.H.Q. and L. of C. troops; the adoption of British organization; and a "manpower ceiling" which was now fixed by the Canadian Government as indicating what Canada could provide--a figure of 232,100 all ranks (covering total establishment strength overseas and reinforcements equal to three months estimated battle casualties) plus a flow of 5000 men per month from Canada as replacements subsequent to 1 September 1943.
Meanwhile discussion of the future role of the Canadian formations had continued, and had had its due effect on these decisions on organization. From July through September 1942 much of General McNaughton's attention, and the energies of some of his best staff officers, were devoted to a project which he undertook to study at the request of the British authorities: the possibility of a large-scale military operation directed against the airfields in Northern Norway from which German aircraft were striking at our convoys to Russia. The scheme was a hazardous one, but it was finally abandoned only after long discussion and study. It was never specifically suggested that Canadian troops should be employed in the operation, should it take place, but this was obviously a likely development. And the Norwegian plan was not the only one proposed and cancelled at this period; 1942 was a year prolific of strategic projects, and some to which considerable Canadian thought and effort were devoted came in the end to nothing.
On 31 December 1942 General Brooke told General McNaughton that the Chiefs of Staff Committee were considering the possibility of
mounting an operation against Sardinia or Sicily, and suggested that one Canadian division might take part. After further discussions the 1st Canadian Division was earmarked for this possible employment and its brigades were consequently despatched in succession to Scotland for training in combined operations. As it turned out, this project also, for the moment, led nowhere. The Sardinian operation was cancelled, and the plan approved in January 1943 for Operation HUSKY (the invasion of Sicily) did not at first provide for the Canadians' participation. Nevertheless, in due course they were brought into it.
The Division of the Army and the Change in Command
In a volume which is primarily an account of the operations of the Canadian Army, it is not possible to discuss fully the changes in command which from time to time occurred within the Army. Mention is made of the retirement of General McNaughton as Army Commander in so far as that retirement was related to the Army's overall operational role.
For some time there had been a growing divergence of view on this question between the G.O.C.-in-C. and the political and military authorities at Ottawa. General McNaughton, while willing to authorize operations by detachments if and when it could be demonstrated that they would advance the common cause, was in general convinced of the desirability of the Canadians operating as far as possible as a national entity, and envisaged as their great task an important share in the ultimate invasion of North-West Europe. The Canadian Government, on the other hand, was being plied with reasons for getting its forces into action as soon as possible. It was urged that considerations of selfrespect, as well as regard for Canada's influence in the post-war world, which would be based largely upon her contribution to victory, dictated such a policy; while the powerful argument of the desirability of gaining large-scale battle experience before committing the army as a whole to operations was also employed. In due course the authorities became convinced that it was important to end the long inactivity; and inevitably their views prevailed over those of their field commander. It was as the result of discussions conducted directly between the two governments in Ottawa and London that a decision was made in April 1943 to detach the 1st Canadian Division and the 1st Canadian Army Tank Brigade to take part in the assault on Sicily.
At this time it was considered likely that when the Sicilian campaign was over the Division and attached troops would be brought back to the United Kingdom so that the knowledge and experience they had acquired might be disseminated through the First Canadian Army.
Early in October, however, a further and far-reaching decision was taken, when it was arranged that not only should these troops remain in Italy, but that the Headquarters of the 1st Canadian Corps and the 5th Canadian Armoured Division should move thither. The Canadian Army was divided. Army Headquarters, one Corps Headquarters, three Divisions and an Armoured Brigade remained in the United Kingdom; the other Corps Headquarters, two Divisions and the remaining Armoured Brigade were to operate in Italy.
General McNaughton's retirement came soon after the abandonment of the policy of concentration of national effort for which he had stood. It was arranged as the result of an exchange of telegrams between himself and Mr. King in mid-November, but it was agreed that he should remain in command until his successor could take over. Shortly, however, the state of the General's health forced him to the conclusion that he could not continue, and he asked for earlier release. On 26 December 1943, accordingly, General Stuart took over from him, in an acting capacity, the command of the Army, combining these duties with the new appointment of Chief of Staff, Canadian Military Headquarters.7 General McNaughton returned to Canada a few weeks later. The restless and incisive intelligence and the singularly compelling personality that had dominated the Canadian field army so long thus passed from the overseas stage. Melancholy as was the turn of events that deprived him of the opportunity of commanding the First Canadian Army in the field, McNaughton nevertheless bad the satisfaction of knowing that that great fighting force was to a very large extent his own creation. In May, 1945, after victory was won, Field-Marshal Montgomery recalled how he first came to know the Canadian Army, "when General McNaughton was forging the weapon--and right well he did his job". To draw an analogy from the American Civil War, it was McNaughton's fate to play McClellan to Crerar's Grant.
In March of 1944 General Crerar returned from Italy, where he had commanded his Corps in the line for several weeks, and took over the Army. The first Canadian senior officer to reach England in 1939 thus succeeded to the chief Canadian field command, and proceeded to apply to the decidedly complex problems of that appointment the resources of his ripe experience and his remarkably sound and certain judgement.
The End of the Long Wait
The history of the Canadian Army in the War of 1939-45 was curiously different from that of its participation in the First Great War. During the years 1914-18 the British Isles were a base for operations which were continuously in progress on the continent. The Canadian division which arrived in England in the autumn of 1914 went to France within a few months, and from that time onwards the main Canadian field force was actively engaged there.
In 1939-45, on the other hand, circumstances condemned the Canadian Army in the European theatre to a largely static role for more than three and a half years. Save for a few minor enterprises and the one day's bitter fighting at Dieppe in 1942, its task was garrison duty. For this army of volunteers, many of them enlisted in 1939 in the hope and expectation of early fighting, the many disappointments and the long inaction were an exacting and difficult experience. The years in England were in fact as severe a test of morale as has been faced by any Army in this generation; that the Canadian soldier surmounted it as he did, and that his fighting spirit when the day of battle came was as high as it had been when he first landed in the United Kingdom, are facts which redound to his lasting credit and that of his commanders. And the long delay served to turn the force into an exceptionally well-trained army.
The factors which maintained Canadian morale during the long wait cannot be analysed here. The active labours of the Auxiliary Services, the unremitting devotion of the Canadian Chaplain Service, a well-organized scheme of army education, all played their part along with other influences. General McNaughton's remarks to President Roosevelt may be recalled in this connection.8 Among the many generous and active benefactors of the Canadian soldier during these years the Canadian High Commissioner and Mrs. Massey were always particularly conspicuous. Perhaps the strongest force at work, however, was the limitless friendship and hospitality of the British people, who in the midst of many perils and embarrassments still found time and means to be kind to the strangers within their gates.
In the later phases of the war, those in which the Allies passed to the offensive and destroyed Adolf Hitler's guilty empire in a series of great campaigns, the Canadians had their fill of fighting. The divide between the years of waiting and the years of achievement was the tenth of July 1943: the day of the assault on Sicily. From that day forward Canadian troops went into battle in growing numbers, until the summer of 1944 found the Dominion's whole field army in action, part of it among the Italian mountains, part of it on the plains of France.
Off to Sicily
From the day in April 1943 when the decision was taken to substitute a Canadian formation for the 3rd British Division which had formerly been slated for the Sicilian enterprise, until the convoys sailed from the River Clyde in dune, there were busy and inspiriting days for the 1st Canadian Division and the 1st Canadian Army Tank Brigade. There was final training and much re-equipping to be done; and the Canadian planners had an exacting task, arranging the loading of each ship in a succession of convoys in such a way as to ensure that in Sicily every article of cargo would be available precisely at the time and place where it was required. Major-General Simonds and several of his officers flew out to Cairo for a brief visit at the beginning of May,9 and the General was able to have useful discussions with Lieutenant-General Sir Oliver Leese, the commander of the 30th British Corps, under which his Division was to be committed to battle.
Planning the Sicilian operation was a singularly complicated matter, for the various elements of the assaulting forces were drawn in literally from the ends of the earth. Most of the Americans embarked at the ports of Algeria and Northern Tunisia; the British came from the ports of the Eastern Mediterranean (particularly Egypt), Malta, and Southern Tunisia; but because of the limited facilities of the Mediterranean harbours it was necessary to bring one division (the 1st Canadian) direct from the United Kingdom, and one American division was brought direct from the United States. The whole enormous armament was to be concentrated at sea on the eve of the assault; and when the Canadians went ashore into their first battle they would find themselves part of an Army--General Sir Bernard Montgomery's all-but-legendary Eighth Army--which they had never seen before.
The plan, which had originally called for a double assault directed at the Palermo and Catania areas, had been altered to provide instead for a single concentrated blow at the south-eastern corner of the island. A significant feature of the scheme was the fact that it did not depend upon the immediate capture of a major port.10 The assault forces would be maintained in the first instance over open beaches, the process being facilitated by the many novel types of landing ships and craft now available. The successful attack on Sicily has been called a landmark in the development of the technique of combined operations, signalling the transition from the belief in the absolute essentiality of obtaining a port at the earliest possible moment (which, as we have seen, was to a large
extent at the bottom of the plan for the Dieppe raid) to the conception of "beach maintenance" which was adopted with such brilliant success in Lower Normandy in 1944.
The project as finally settled comprehended landings upon the section of the Sicilian coast extending from just south of Syracuse on the right to Licata on the left. It was to be carried out by two Task Forces. On the right, the Eastern or British Task Force would assault between Syracuse and Pozzallo; the military element in this force would be the Eighth Army. From Pozzallo to Licata the attack was delivered by the Western or American Task Force, in which the military element was the Seventh U.S. Army under Lieutenant-General George S. Patton, Jr. Both armies would be directed by General Sir Harold Alexander as Commander-in-Chief 15th Army Group. The attack was to be made before dawn on 10 July. The Canadian Division, forming the extreme left wing of the Eighth Army, was to go in on the beaches at the base of the west side of the Pachino Peninsula. Its first important objective was Pachino airfield.
Moving the Canadian Division and attached troops from the United Kingdom to Sicily was a task of quite extraordinary complexity. It took 92 ships (exclusive of naval escorts) to carry the force. They were organized in a fast assault convoy, a slow assault convoy (carrying the bulk of the transport and stores required to support the first attack) which was itself subdivided into two groups, and two "followup" convoys, which carried the Tank Brigade, except for one regiment intended for the assault, various portions of the Division not required for the assault itself, and the greater part of the transport and stores. The convoys left the United kingdom in succession from 19 June onwards; the fast assault convoy, which carried the bulk of the troops, was the last to sail, leaving the Clyde on the evening of 28 June--D minus 12.
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