The Calgary Highlanders were mobilized in 1939 with the intention of employing them as part of a much larger field force. The infantry division was the basic building block of such forces. The Canadian Active Service Force was initially composed of two full divisions. The main fighting power of these divisions were their infantry brigades – three brigades per division, each composed of three infantry battalions (rifle) and one infantry battalion (Machine Gun). The divisions also comprised units of the supporting corps, including:
Royal Canadian Artillery
Royal Canadian Engineers
Royal Canadian Corps of Signals
Royal Canadian Army Service Corps
Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps
Royal Canadian Ordnance Corps
Canadian Postal Corps
Canadian Provost Corps
During the Second World War, other corps were created and their troops were also represented in each division, including the Royal Canadian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers and Canadian Intelligence Corps. As well, the Canadian Armoured Corps was greatly expanded during the war, and mobilized reconnaissance, armoured car and tank regiments for Canada’s overseas forces.
2nd Canadian Infantry Division – September 1939 – June 1945
The 2nd Canadian Division in 1939 was organized, like the 1st Canadian Division, along regional lines.
While the 1st Canadian Division was concentrated quickly and despatched to the United Kingdom in December 1939, it was be over a year before the 2nd Canadian Division as a whole would be assembled in one place; in that time many changes to the organization shown above would be made.
The first brigade concentrations were made in May and June of 1940; until that time all units trained in their own garrisons. The 4th Brigade assembled at Camp Borden in Ontario, the 5th concentrated at Valcartier Camp in Quebec, and the 6th at Camp Shilo in Manitoba.
The divisional artillery concentrated at Camp Petawawa in Ontario and at Shilo.
The divisional structure was changed in early 1940, reducing the number of Machine Gun battalions per division to one rather than three. The Camerons of Ottawa and Chaudières were reassigned to the 3rd Canadian Division, which was mobilized in May 1940 (with the Chaudières converting to a rifle battalion) and the Winnipeg Grenadiers were sent to Jamaica for garrison duty (after which they returned to Canada and redeployed to Hong Kong).
During the reorganization, some divisional units were detailed for garrison duty:
The entire division had in fact been earmarked, at least temporarily, for garrison duty until the intervention of Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister of Great Britain. The British Army in the United Kingdom was still badly in need of equipment and short of men – at a time when the German Air Force was embarking on the destruction of the Royal Air Force as a prelude to invasion of Great Britain. Churchill wrote to Anthony Eden, after visiting the 1st Canadian Division:
You shared my astonishment yesterday at the statement made to us by General McNaughton (commanding Canadian troops in the UK) that the whole of the 2nd Canadian Division was destined for Iceland. It would surely be a very great mistake to allow these fine troops to be employed in so distant a theatre. Apparently, the first three battalions have already gone there. No one was told anything about this. We require the two Canadian divisions to work as a corps as soon as possible…
The remaining units of the division were thus sent to the United Kingdom. The temporary absence of the Fusiliers Mont Royal in England in September allowed for the reassignment of The Calgary Highlanders to the 5th Brigade. There was a shortage of French-speaking staff officers, and General Odlum – who commanded the division – felt it desirable to give “French and English speaking Canadians wider contacts” by mixing the brigades. By war’s end, Canada produced only a handful of French-speaking brigade commanders, all of whom were required to command their brigades in English.
May of 1940 brought the appointment of the first General Officer Commanding. As the war progressed, the generals who commanded the Second Division (and indeed, the Canadian Army as a whole) would be men with a background in artillery. Of the seven generals given command of the 2ndDivision from 1940 to 1945, four of them were from the artillery.
Major General Victor Odlum was a decorated veteran of the First World War and had previous to his appointment as GOC been the Inspector General of the 2nd Division. By the end of 1941, Canada had begun the process of replacing older soldiers like Odlum with younger men, as they became available and trained. Many of the 1939 originals in The Calgary Highlanders were also replaced as a matter of policy, including Lieutenant Colonel J. Fred Scott.
Major General John Hamilton “Ham” Roberts had won the Military Cross in the First World War as a gunner, and was promoted rapidly after the fall of France. During the evacuation from France in 1940, as commanding officer of 1 Canadian Field Regiment (RCHA) he used his initiative to rescue his entire regiment of field guns from abandonment on the Continent, and was quickly promoted to various staff and command positions before assuming divisional command. He led the division at Dieppe, for which he was decorated with the Distinguished Service Order, but in the spring of 1943, after poor showings in formation level exercises by the 2nd Division, he was sent to command reinforcement units.
Major General Henry Duncan Graham “Harry” Crerar was also an artilleryman who had served in the First World War. He would never actually command the Second Division despite being named its commander in December of 1941. He would go on to command I Canadian Corps, and in August 1944 landed in Normandy as commander of First Canadian Army, to whom the II Canadian Corps and 2nd Canadian Division belonged.
Major General Guy Granville Simonds was born to a Major of the Royal Artillery in 1903, and upon graduation from Royal Military College elected to join the Royal Canadian Horse Artillery. After he left the Second Division, he would serve in Italy and return to command II Canadian Corps in Normandy, the formation to which the Second Canadian Division belonged. Simonds would be regarded, by British officers, Canadian officers, and historians alike, as the greatest commander Canada produced in the Second World War.
Major General Edson Louis Millard “Tommy” Burns was a veteran of the Great War who had served in signals units, being decorated for bravery under fire. He was also a scholar, who was published in both fiction and non-fiction. Between the wars, he served with the Royal Canadian Engineers. In 1939 he assumed the first of a string of senior staff positions, but was reduced from Brigadier to Colonel in 1941 when a letter to a married woman in Montreal – with whom he was having an affair – was found to contain many frank opinions of senior war leadership in Britain. He assumed an administrative post with the new Canadian Armoured Corps, commanded a brigade in the 4th Division (which he helped create), and eventually was given command of the 2nd Canadian Division. He would leave the division to assume command of a corps in Italy where he oversaw some of Canada’s greatest military successes in that theatre – the Hitler Line and the Gothic Line.
Major General Charles Foulkes was a prewar Permanent Force officer, who became Brigadier, General Staff of First Canadian Army, and assumed command of the Second Canadian Division in January 1944. He left the division to take over I Canadian Corps from E.L.M. Burns, who – despite his tactical successes in the field – was considered not to have the personality required of a corps commander. Foulkes was a comparative rarity among senior commanders in the Canadian Army in the Second World War in that his background was as an infantry officer.
Major General Albert Bruce Matthews was also a gunner, and moreover, had been a Militia officer before the war rather than a full time Permanent Force officer. He commanded a battery of field guns in Toronto, and after Mobilization held positions as battery and later field regiment commander. In January 1943 he was named Commander Royal Artillery of the 1st Canadian Division (Hamilton Roberts had held the exact same appointment earlier in the war). The CRA commanded the divisional artillery (three field regiments, an anti-tank regiment and an anti-aircraft regiment) and served as the GOC’s artillery advisor in combat in Sicily and Italy. He returned to the UK and became CCRA (Commander Corps Royal Artillery) of II Canadian Corps – meaning he now commanded the artillery of not just one division, but of all units in the corps (including the artillery of the Second Canadian Division when II Canadian Corps Headquarters moved to Normandy in August 1944).
When Charles Foulkes left for Italy to assume command of I Canadian Corps, Matthews was selected to replace him. Commanders in NW Europe were dubious at first – fearing that the perception would be that artillerymen were favouring each other for top appointments – but Matthews brought a unique perspective to the job of division commander. Canadian doctrine had evolved to be very much artillery based in any event, and the division benefited from having a gunner in command.
Changes in Organization
In 1941, the Toronto Scottish Regiment were moved from the First Canadian Division to become the Machine Gun battalion of the Second Division. As well, the 8th Reconnaissance Regiment (14th Canadian Hussars) was created from 2nd Division personnel and reinforcements from Canada. They would become the “eyes” of the Division. In early 1941, the 3rd Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment also arrived in the United Kingdom and was assigned to the Division.
The official Canadian Army historian, Charles P. Stacey, wrote that “Equipping the 2nd Canadian Division, in the conditions existing in England in 1940, had been a discouraging business.” Artillery pieces were ancient 75mm guns with steel tires. A lack of anti-aircraft guns (at the height of the Battle of Britain) left Canadian units to fend for themselves with small arms. By February 1941, enough Bren guns were issued for all the infantry units, and by September enough 25-pounder howitzers were available for the artillery. Signals equipment and transport were still lacking, and anti-tank guns were dangerously scarce. On the whole, however, the division was felt to be a “better division” than the First, especially in terms of discipline and staff work. A frequent point of comparison was higher incidence of traffic accidents occuring in First Division.
On 27 March 1941 came a Royal Visit, described as a “tonic” to morale in the division. At right, His Majesty King George VI, in military uniform at centre, is shown around the Calgary Highlanders’ area by Lieutenant Colonel J. Fred Scott, in helmet and respirator case to the right. The man behind Scott is Major General Victor Odlum. Behind the King can be seen Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, with back to the camera. The Calgary Highlanders’ War Diary related that:
5th Canadian Inf. Bde. proceeded to HORNLEY COMMON and formed up in a concentration area to be inspected by their Majesties King George and Queen Elizabeth. The King and Queen seemed to be very pleased with the turn out of the Bttn. The Carriers demonstrated their ability to go into action quickly. Each Company did a different type of training while the band marched up and down the road to the skirl of the pipes. The officers and men of the unit feel highly honoured to have been inspected by their Majesties.
General Odlum expressed a desire to revive the blue battle patches worn in the First World War as early as September 1940 and these patches were adopted in April 1941. These battle patches designated the various battalions within the division through the use of coloured geometric shapes atop the blue rectangular division patch; the same system that had been used in the Great War.
The Calgary Highlanders wore a red triangular patch atop the division patch, identifying them as members of the 5th Brigade. The triangle shape identified them as the junior battalion in the brigade. Seniority was based on when the Regiment from which the battalion had been drawn was formed.
The Division also adopted a gold maple leaf on blue background as its vehicle insignia. Individual units came to be denoted by unit signs which were consistent from division to division. As junior infantry battalion in the middle brigade of an infantry division, the Calgary Highlanders used the number 62 in white on a green coloured square.
1941 – Continued Training
When the division was not engaged in coastal defence duties or unit training, formation level training took the form of increasingly larger exercises. Exercise WATERLOO conducted 14-16 June 1941 would be the largest in the United Kingdom to date, with I Canadian Corps counter-attacking an imagined German sea and air landing. Exercise BUMPER from 29 September to 3 October 1941 was larger than WATERLOO, involving 250,000 men. These exercises tended to concentrate on traffic control, communications and logistical concerns and were of little practical value to the infantry.
On 30 December 1941, the Calgary Highlanders introduced “Battle Drill” to the Division. This new type of training emphasized small unit tactics as well as “hardening” training through use of live ammunition, slaughterhouse visits, and obstacle courses, and was adopted throughout the Army.
1942 – Zenith and Reconstruction
Several exercises in early 1942 under the new divisional commander, General Roberts, included BEAVER II in February, BEAVER III in April and BEAVER IV in May. These all aimed at gauging the the ability of the division to repel an enemy invasion of Britain. Exercise TIGER from 19 to 30 May was slightly smaller than BUMPER but was incredibly physically demanding. As a result of this exercise, the 2nd Canadian Division was judged one of the four best divisions in the United Kingdom; this reputation caused the division to be selected for Operation RUTTER.
RUTTER was a raid by two infantry brigades of the French port of Dieppe, planned to capture the dock facilities as well as nearby radar equipment and a German divisional headquarters, and withdraw the same day. Hard training and exercises commenced on the Isle of Wight, but the raid, set for July, was cancelled. Normal training resumed while RUTTER was secretly revived as JUBILEE. The surprised men of the division went into action on 19 August 1942
While British Commando units landed on the flanks, Second Division men landed on four beaches. The easternmost, Blue, presented the most difficulties. Situated at the foot of a cliff, the Royal Regiment of Canada, with a company of Black Watch, was held at bay by just two platoons of Germans. Of the men that landed, few returned to England.
The main beaches, White and Red, lay in front of Dieppe itself. Small penetrations into town were made by the attacking infantry but the majority of troops were pinned down on the beach, despite the covering fire of several troops of the Calgary Tank Regiment. The Fusiliers Mont-Royal were landed to reinforce to little effect. As at Blue Beach, casualties were heavy.
At Green Beach to the west, the South Saskatchewan Regiment was landed on the wrong side of the Scie River forcing an assault on the bridge there as well as German emplacements on the hillside and in the town of Pourville. The Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders reinforced, but neither battalion was able to reach its objective. Here, too, many men were left behind as prisoners after the withdrawal.
The Division After Dieppe 1942-1944
It would take a full year for the 2nd Division to rebuild itself after Dieppe; all told some 50% of the participants had been killed, wounded, or captured. The Division went from an enviable reputation as one of the best trained divisions in the United Kingdom to practically having to start over again from scratch.
In January 1944, Major General Charles Foulkes – the first divisional commander not to have served in the First World War – replaced Burns. All traces of the First World War in terms of insignia, uniforms or equipment had been replaced by this time, also. The battle patches had been done away with after Dieppe, and the First World War pattern Enfield rifles with sword bayonet had also been replaced in 1943 with the new Number 4 Mark I rifle, as had the Great War style box respirators (in favour of the new Light Respirator with integral filter).
In February 1944, all three brigade commanders were replaced. Sweeping changes in command were coupled with large turnovers in personnel in 1943; by early 1944 reorganization plans and continual training for no immediate purpose all conspired to lower morale. Things began to change when Royal visits early in the year heralded the coming invasion season. The 2nd Division again received His Majesty on 9 March 1944, as he made the rounds to say farewell to Allied formations preparing to depart for France. By this time, 2nd Canadian Division numbered some 18,000 fully equipped men.
The main Canadian assault in Normandy was launched on 6 June by 3rd Canadian Division while the Second Division waited in the wings. A period of 90 days was considered likely before the Allies would have enough men ashore to be able to advance beyond the Seine River. The major city of Caen was to be taken on D-Day itself.
Summer, 1944 – Normandy
When the 2nd Division landed in France at the end of the first week of July, the beachhead had expanded little; patrol actions and defensive fighting against German armoured units had been predominant and Caen had still not fallen. As the Division assembled, the Third Division went ahead with Operation CHARNWOOD and finally cleared a path to the city of Caen which fell by 9 July. The role of the Second Division would be to push forward towards the Verrieres Ridge, dominating the road to Falaise, in order to keep pressure on the Germans and drawing troops away from events further west.
Operations ATLANTIC and GOODWOOD were launched simultaneously in July, the former a Canadian affair, the latter British. Some 35 square miles of territory was seized by the Canadians, but Verrieres Ridge remained in German hands. The 2nd Division’s role was a general advance south of the junction of the Odon and Orne rivers, but by the 19th, in the face of fierce resistance as well as poor weather, the division came to a halt. On the 20th, the 6th Brigade attacked the Verrieres Ridge with the Essex Scottish under command; the South Saskatchewan Regiment reached its objectives but was bloodily repulsed, as were the Essex who were counterattacked. The Fusiliers Mont-Royal was similarly treated when two companies made a foothold on the ridge and few survivors were left to report. On 21 July German attacks continued against the Essex. In two days of fighting, the division lost some 300 men. A new attack by the Black Watch re-established a small foothold on the lower slopes of the ridge.
On 22 July, Montgomery decided to attack full out rather than use the operations at Verrieres as a feint, and Operation SPRING – devised by II Canadian Corps – would be a three-phase operation with the same objectives as the unsuccessful GOODWOOD. The attack would be launched simultaneously with American attacks far to the west on 25 July. The 2nd Division’s attack was made over open ground, with enemy troops on the flank and in subterranean iron mines in which he took cover and from which he infiltrated the Canadian rear. The 4th Brigade attacked on the left to some degree of success, taking Verrieres itself but being rebuffed at Rocquancourt. The 5th Brigade on the right suffered heavily, and the Black Watch, attacking with some 350 men to St. Andre, was reduced to some 15 survivors; out of 324 recorded casualties, as many as 120 of were fatalities. The attack continues to be the ongoing subject of bitter controversy.adian Corps under command on the 31st.
21st Army Group decided now that the primary task on the Canadian front would be pinning the enemy down while the main effort would shift away from the great German strength opposite, to the British front east of the Orne. The start of August saw the Canadians (now serving under their own Army headquarters) delivering local attacks, but also saw German units – now realizing that no attack would come via Pas de Calais, as they feared – moving across the Seine and into the battle area. Armoured units opposite the Canadians were pulled out and redeployed to face the 3rd US Army. By 7 August only one German armoured formation remained on the Canadian front.
By this point, the British had made progress at the Vire and Orne Rivers, and the Canadians were ordered forward to Falaise. On 7 August, Operation TOTALIZE went forward, with heavy bomber support and the infantry using for the first time in history fully tracked armoured personnel carriers. While the 3rd Canadian Division attacked east of the Falaise road, the 2nd attacked to the west under cover of darkness. The newly arrived German 89th Division fought hard but the defensive line that had held out for two weeks was finally breached, and the heights of the Verrierres Ridge were finally seized. The second phase saw two armoured divisions – including the newly arrived 4th Canadian – pass through. Stiff fighting brought the Canadians to a halt – by 11 August, eight miles had been gained, but eight still remained between the Canadians and Falaise.
The German armour that moved away from the Canadian front was used to launch a desperate counter-attack towards Mortain beginning on 6 August. The attack ground to a halt within a day, and the Canadian advance on Falaise worried the German Field Marshall in command, who was prohibited by Hitler personally from redeploying his troops. The opportunity to encircle large parts of the German 7th Army now presented itself, as US armour rolled towards Argentan from the south. The Canadian Army was ordered south; while the armour made its preparations to move on the 14th, the 2nd Division busied itself with prepatory attacks, crossing the Laize River at Bretteville and southward for two days, recrossing the river at Clair Tizon and threatening the main German defensive line along the Falaise Road.
German capture of Canadian battle plans allowed for effective defences to be in place east of the road. Tractable was patterned after Totalize, except that instead of using darkness for cover, artillery would provide smoke screens and abandon a preliminary barrage in hopes of maintaining surprise. The Second Division did not have a part to play in this operation, however divisional troops entered Falaise on 16 August. By this time, the Germans had realized the trap was closing, and long columns began fleeing through the gap, exposed to Allied artillery and air power.
The 2nd Division then moved on 21 August, shifting eastward, into the valley of the Seine, where hard fighting in the Foret de la Londe awaited the 4th and 6th Brigades. Fierce forest fighting lasted from the morning of the 27th to the afternoon of the 29th against well equipped enemy troops present in strength.
August had been a pivotal month. Not only had the German 7th Army been virtually destroyed, but Allied landings in the south of France were coupled with the fall of Paris. The future looked bright, and as early as 20 August, all eyes turned northwest to that familiar stretch of coast which would be forever linked with the division. First Canadian Army was advised by an order on that day from 21st Army Group “I am sure that the 2nd Canadian Division will attend to Dieppe satisfactorily.”
Battle for the Ports – September-October 1944
The division’s role was now to capture vitally needed enemy ports, the first being Dieppe, where the Division was met with great joy. The Division paused to remember the sacrifice of the Division in 1942 on 3 September. The next day, Antwerp fell intact to the British – but the port was useless until the Scheldt Estuary was cleared. While Allied troops battled south of the Scheldt, the Second Division fought its way across the Belgian border, crossing the Albert Canal on 22 September (through a bridgehead opened by the Calgary Highlanders), then the Antwerp-Turnhout Canal, and by October were in a position to move forward to the South Beveland isthmus from where they could attack west and clear the north bank of the Scheldt.
Resistance stiffened, reinforcements were in short supply, and attacks had to be made over exposed terrain. A month of costly fighting saw the Division battle its way onto the isthmus, and as far west as Walcheren Island. The 2nd Division had lost 3,650 men in 33 days of fighting.
Winter and Renewed Offensive – November 1944 – March 1945
The Division moved to static positions in the Nijmegen Salient early in November 1944 under a new divisional commander and passed the winter quietly. Although rain, bitter cold and German flooding made December miserable, scattered shelling and patrols were the only major activities.
Operation VERITABLE, dalayed by the Ardennes offensive; was designed to bring the 21st Army Group to the west bank of the Rhine River; the last natural obstacle protecting Germany. Plans were made to breach the three German defence lines in turn: the outpost screen, then the Siegfried Line running through the Hochwald Forest, then the Hochwald Layback covering the approach to Xanten.
On 8 February the 2nd Division advanced in the wake of the largest artillery barrage to date, on the left of a four division front six miles wide, with flooded terrain proving a greater obstacle than the Germans – but only at first. The 5th Brigade secured the triangle of ground dominating the Nijmegen-Cleve road, though minefields caused many casualties. Six of the seven German battalions positioned up to 7000 yards ahead of the Siegfried Line had been shattered and 1300 prisoners taken. The first phase had been completed in a day.
During the next phase, four other divisions pressed the attack on the Siegfried Line and into the woods of the Reichswald. On 16 February 2nd Division went into action against German troops along the Goch-Calcar road. Again on 19 February, APCs were employed in an attack against fresh German troops including the crack Panzer Lehr division. By 21 February, the second phase was complete and British and Canadian divisions were prepared for the final push against the last obstacle barring the Canadians’ path to the Rhine.
The Hochwald Gap lay between two national forests; the Hochwald and the Walberger Wald to the south. On 27 February, 2nd Division launched its attack into the former and secured a firm foothold in the face of intense defensive fires and counter-attacks. On 1 March, renewed attacks went forth to clear the northen half of the Hochwald. Here, Major Frederick Tilston – a staff officer of the Essex Scottish Regiment who had tired of paperwork and volunteered for company command – was severly wounded while leading his company, eventually losing an eye and both legs. Tilston was the third and last Second Division soldier awarded the Victoria Cross. His efforts allowed the brigade to maintain a firm base for further advances against the southern half of the forest. By the morning of the 4th, the enemy was pulling back.
The final act of Blockbuster was be the assault on Xanten, which lasted from the 8th of March to the 10th. As in Normandy, the British and Canadians had been obliged to fight the best German units available, and terrain and weather conspired to prevent any encircling movements or attempts to cut the enemy’s retreat. The Germans still knew how to retreat skillfully, and although Hitler’s decision to fight west of the Rhine ultimately cost him twenty divisions, there was no great haul of captured enemy equipment. The Second Division suffered the heaviest casualties of all the British and Canadian formations engaged in Blockbuster; from 26 Feb to 10 Mar some 300 men were killed and more than 1100 wounded.
The Final Phase North of the Rhine – March-May 1945
But a path to the Rhine River had been cleared; the division did not take part in the massive crossing operation, and crossed in peace in the last week of March 1945. After briefly moving through German territory they were again on Dutch soil, where Groningen loomed in their path. During the nine days preceding the attack on the city itself, German resistance was mainly unskilled; defence positions were not supported by guns and mortars, and co-ordinated withdrawals under cover of darkness were abandoned. The city itself, still occupied by its 140,000 civilians, had many solid 4 story apartment buildings which could not be bombed or shelled without killing many innocents. Most German units were willing to surrender quickly, however, die-hard Dutch SS were obliged to fight to the end, knowing their countrymen would have little sympathy for them if they surrendered. House to house fighting in the town raged from 13 to 16 April.
After Groningen, the division moved back to Germany, opposite Bremen but still the Germans resisted. On the 23rd, an attack near Hanover by the QOCH was met not only with fierce resistance, but a counter-attack “in traditional Wehrmacht style.” By 3 May advance units were in Oldenburg near the north coast. The last days of the war were miserable, with steady rain and, worse, continual losses in the infantry units to mortar fire. “Cease Fire” was declared on 5 May, with Victory in Europe Day declared 8 May. The war was over.
General Order 52/46 of October 1945 disbanded divisional headquarters. By December, the Second Canadian Division was no more.
Sometimes referred to as the “hard-luck outfit” of the Canadian Army, the 2ndDivision nonetheless consistently performed the tasks asked of it despite being noted for having the highest casualty rates in NW Europe.
5th Canadian Infantry Brigade
The 5th Brigade was originally intended as an all-Quebec brigade, with the majority of units under command speaking French. Canada’s only Francophone overseas formation commander, P.E. Leclerc, took command of the Brigade in the autumn of 1940. The units of the Brigade had been widely scattered after the trying period of initial mobilization and training at Valcartier. The Black Watch had been sent to Newfoundland and Les Fusiliers Mont-Royal to Iceland in the summer of 1940 as other units of the division were shipped to the United Kingdom.
As the brigade began to concentrate in the United Kingdom, the Brigadier worried that if the 5th Brigade were to be made up entirely of French Canadian units, it would appear to francophone officers that their only opportunity for higher command would be in the sole position of commander of that specific brigade. The decision was made to move the Calgary Highlanders into the 5th Brigade. The divisional commander, Victor Odlum, also thought it preferable for English and French soldiers to have wider opportunities for contact with each other. Les Fusiliers Mont-Royal went to the 6th Brigade upon their arrival from Iceland.
5th Field Regiment, Royal Canadian Artillery
The 5th Field Regiment mobilized in 1939, composed of two Quebec batteries and two New Brunswick batteries. Like the infantry, the artillery went through several re-organizations before finalizing the way it would go into battle in 1944. By then, three batteries of 25-pounder guns would be under command.
Brigadier Pierre Edouard Leclerc had served in the First World War with both the engineers and the infantry, winning the Military Medal for bravery and a battlefield commission. Between the wars, he rose to command Le Regiment de Joliette, and eventually an entire Militia Brigade. As one of a very few francophones who had completed the Militia Staff Course, he was selected as the brigadier of what was intended to be an all-Quebec brigade. Leclerc was popular with the divisional commander, but by April 1941, his corpulence (and resultant angina) finally led to his being released from active service overseas due to medical reasons. He returned to Canada to command a brigade and eventually won promotion to Major General and command of the 7th Canadian Division. For his “sound judgement” and “devotion to duty” he was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire. After the division’s disbandment in 1943, he commanded forces in Newfoundland before retiring on medical grounds. He had become the first French-speaking general to command a division in the Canadian Army.
Brigadier A.V. Whitehead was described by General Montgomery in March of 1942 as having “a good brain” and the ability to “inspire confidence” but was also judged to have “no great training ability.” He was transferred ouf of the 5th Brigade in early 1944 due to his age – 45 years old was considered too old for active command.
Brigadier James Curry Jefferson was a veteran of the Italian Campaign. He had been decorated with the Distinguished Service Order for his command of the Edmonton Regiment at Leonforte in July 1943, and a Bar to his DSO at Ortona in December. He was only in brief command of the 5th Brigade before transferring to the 4th Canadian (Armoured) Division where he commanded the Algonquins and then the 10th Infantry Brigade. Jefferson was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1945 for his service with the 4th Division, in addition to being Mentioned in Despatches and receiving the French Croix de Guerre with Palm.
Brigadier William Jemmett “Bill” Megill served in the Royal Canadian Corps of Signals from 1923 to 1928, enlisting at the age of sixteen. He left the military to study engineering, then re-enlisted in 1930, accepting a commission along with a leave of absence to finish his degree. He held many posts in the RCCS in the 1930s, attended staff college in India, and returned to Canada after the outbreak of war to take a series of staff positions as a Lieutenant Colonel in 1942 as General Staff Officer I in the Third Division and then as a Brigadier as senior staff officer to I Canadian Corps. In October 1943, he reverted to Lieutenant Colonel to gain field experience commanding The Algonquin Regiment. While Crerar had rated his professional abilities high while serving as staff officer with I Canadian Corps, he was also thought to be unimaginative. Megill himself agreed with Crerar that he lacked field experience, and had hoped to gain combat experience as a battalion commander before his sudden, and personally shocking, appointment as Brigadier of the 5th Brigade in February 1944.
Megill was awarded the Distinguished Service Order in March 1945 for his command of the Brigade in Normandy, Belgium and The Netherlands. He also received a Mention in Despatches, as well as being made Officer of the Order of Leopold with Palm (a Belgian order) and was awarded the Belgian Croix de Guerre 1940 with Palm.
The Brigade trained with the rest of the Division on several exercises that were of more value to high level staff officers learning how to move large units of men than to the infantrymen in the brigade itself. By the end of 1941, with over a year’s worth of training interspersed with long periods of garrison and coastal duty (defending against possible German invasion), the Canadians came under the influence of British Lieutenant General Bernard Law Montgomery.
One of Montgomery’s first acts on being appointed commander of South East Command, where the Canadians were stationed, was to rename his command South East Army. He embarked on a series of inspection tours of the Canadians, and his recommendations were accepted by Canadian commanders gratefully, even though many of his decisions were based on extremely hasty inspections.
The visit of General Montgomery to the 5th Brigade on 3 March 1942 was described very simply in the Calgary Highlanders War Diary:
The Army Commander and his Aides arrived at Battalion Headquarters at 1108 hrs. He had a short conference with the Commanding Officer and then interviewed the Company Commanders one at a time. The talks were over at 1200 hrs. and the Army Commander proceeded to Brigade Headquarters without further inspection of the Battalion.
During this brief visit, he formed several opinions; the Brigadier he thought “had a good brain” and was able to “inspire confidence” but had “no great training ability.” The Calgary Highlanders, he felt, had “a very decent lot of company commanders without being outstanding. They have never been taught how to train their companies.” The men were “quite first class” but the Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel MacLauchlan who until the month previous had been a rifle company commander, was felt to be “completely out of his depth as a battalion commander.” The battalion commanders of both the Black Watch and Maisonneuves were also felt to have no idea of how to train a battalion for war, and for the most part, Montgomery described battalion command in the brigade as “an amateur show” and further felt that throughout the entire brigade “the art of training is not understood.”
Key among Montgomery’s objections was the reliance on Battle Drill to teach simple procedures, while at the same time apparently ignoring company level training dealing with the various phases of war. In other words, companies were not learning how to carry out company tasks, examples of which Montgomery gave in his written notes included as fighting a contact battle, offensive action in fluid conditions, the deliberate attack, re-organizing and holding ground once gained, counter-attacking, attacks in low light conditions (ie dusk or night), and forcing the passage of obstacles.
Montgomery’s poor appraisal of the 5th Brigade was significant when troops were selected for the Dieppe Raid, originally to take place in July 1942. The 4th and 6th Brigades were assigned to the raiding force, as they were felt superior to the 5th. As Terry Copp, historian of the brigade points out in his book The Brigade, “This was one competition 5 Brigade was fortunate to have lost.”
In August 1942, the Brigade conducted their first field exercise in which infantry battalions were supported by tanks and had live artillery fired over their heads in support. This was done as the final preparations for the actual Dieppe Raid were being made.
One company of the Black Watch was included in the force that landed at Blue Beach on 19 August 1942. The Calgary Highlanders’ mortar platoon was embarked for the raid – without the knowledge of the battalion – but was not landed. One Calgary Highlander staff officer at Brigade Headquarters was killed on the main beach. Other than that, the brigade would be the only full strength brigade in the division for many months after the raid had decimated the 4th and 6th Brigades.
Much of the period from September 1942 to February 1943 was spent with further company and battalion training. The first divisional level exercise after Dieppe was Exercise ELM, on 21 February 1943. A week later, Exercise SPARTAN, the largest of the military exercises conducted in the UK during World War Two, was held.
SPARTAN revealed that the Division was not yet properly trained. While the Brigadier, and unit war diarists, felt that their performance had revealed many successes, it was noted by General Crerar that not enough attention was paid to co-ordination and entrenching after an attack. Senior commanders were, according to historian Terry Copp, “beginning to gain a clearer picture of what the war would actually be like.”
After SPARTAN, in addition to the coastal duties which still made up their routine, the battalions of the 2nd Division began to take part in more sophisticated, and realistic, training. Brigade Exercise OUTBURST in June 1943, for example, consisted of an advance to high ground, establishment of a defensive position, and then staged withdrawal. The Calgary Highlanders War Diary described the scenario as a “Force breaking out of a bridgehead to occupy a vital tactical locality.”
By late 1943, rumours were rampant that the Brigade would again be reorganized. The Maisonneuves and Calgary Highlanders were rated “below average” in October. Infantry battalions had gone through a major organizational change in May, and there was widespread turnover in officers, NCOs and men as the Fifth Brigade entered its third year in the United Kingdom with little to do but train.
January 1944 saw the infantry of the entire division go back to basics, starting with platoon training, followed by company training in February and battalion training in March. As the older commanding officers were replaced with younger men, Brigadier Megill still had many difficult decisions. The CO of both the Maisonneuves and Calgary Highlanders were good at administration and considered good soldiers, but the battalion second-in-command in each case were considered better leaders capable of holding the units together.
During 1944, precious little time was spent on training in tank-infantry co-operation, due to a shortage of armoured units with time to participate in that training.
In February 1944, the 5th Brigade mortar platoons were deemed better than those of other units, and the Calgary Highlanders’ mortarmen were deemed “well trained in every respect.”
Storm Boat Training
In April 1944 the brigade began training for what was envisioned as a primary mission in the upcoming invasion. The grand plan was to land in Normandy with the Third Canadian Division leading the way for the Canadians, with the support of the 2nd Armoured Brigade. The Second Division would follow as the bridgehead expanded. While some historians point out that the principle objective of D-Day itself – the city of Caen – did not fall for over a month, the overall plan for the Normandy invasion called for the Allies to reach the River Seine on D+90 (ninety days after the invasion).
The Allies, as it turned out, did this ahead of schedule. However, it was anticipated that the Seine would be used as a natural defensive obstacle by the Germans, and that an assault crossing of the river would be necessary. The 5th Brigade trained on the River Trent in April 1944 for this mission.
In actual fact, the Normandy battles turned out very different from what the planners envisioned. While April and May saw much useful training done in conjunction with divisional, corps and even army level engineers, it would bear little resemblance to the reality the Division would find south of Caen in July and August of 1944.
In October 1944, when the division was tasked with crossing the Slooe Channel in The Netherlands, the 5th Brigade would be selected due to the fact that they had received “stormboat training” in England. By that time, after the horrific casualties suffered both in Normandy in July and again in The Netherlands in October, few of the men who had undergone that training would be left.
On Dominion Day – 1 July 1944 – the Division began to move to the marshaling areas, where they would embark for France.