Calgary Highlanders undergo Battle Drill Training in the U.K
By the spring of 1944, Canadian forces in the U.K. had been training for several long years. Two divisions and an armoured brigade had all departed for Italy and combat against the Germans. Small numbers of troops had been loaned to the British Army for tours of duty in North Africa to gain battle experience – among them had been a Seaforth Highlander named Emil Laloge, who later returned to Europe and was assigned to the Calgary Highlanders where he was decorated twice for bravery in combat.
Organization and tactics changed during the period of training in the U.K. reflecting lessons learned by the British Army in France, Africa, and Italy. As had been the case in the First World War, doctrine for the employment of infantry in large scale battles remained tied to the employment of artillery, and once again scientific achievements had dictated how effectively the guns could be used. It was now possible to survey the location of a battery and fix it with respect to all the guns in an entire theatre with accuracy and speed. Communication by wireless (radio) had been perfected, and through the use of codewords, large volumes of fire could be called down on targets by relatively junior officers acting as forward observation officers (FOO).
An infantry division had three field regiments of 25-pounder guns, each regiment in turn fielding three batteries of eight guns. For defensive fire tasks, a FOO could call down fire from the 24 guns of a regiment by using the code words MIKE TARGET, the divisional artillery of 72 guns with the code words UNCLE TARGET, or the guns of an entire army corps (two or more divisions, generally 250 guns of various calibres, including medium artillery of 4.5 or 5.5 inches) by calling for a VICTOR TARGET, and in truly rare and desperate cases, every gun within range – a YOKE TARGET – which by the end of the war could mean as many as 500 gun barrels.
The Calgary Highlanders played a dramatic role in shaping infantry training for the entire Canadian Army in the United Kingdom in late 1941 when officers of the regiment visited a “Battle Drill” training school conducted by the British 47th (London) Division and immediately seized on the new training.
The training itself was simply a system of creating routine drills to create instant reactions to common tactical situations in the field at the level of the infantry section. The leader of a group of ten soldiers could teach these drills on the parade square, then drill reactions into his men so that in the field, they became second nature.
The Londoners took the training to the next level, however, and Battle Drill Training became more than just simple drills. It incorporated physical hardening, battle indoctrination, exposure to live ammunition (including automatic weapons and high explosive fired at close range), visits to animal slaughterhouses, endurance marches, speed marches, obstacle courses, and other challenges both physical and mental.
There were critics of the training at all levels; some felt it became a crutch; others felt it prepared the Canadian Army to face the Germans. First World War veteran J. Fred Scott, promoted to Colonel, took Battle Drill back to Canada where he became an instructor at a Battle Drill School in British Columbia. Command of the Calgary Highlanders, as per policy overseas, fell to a younger man.
The organizational structure of a Canadian infantry battalion was determined by a document known as a War Establishment which outlined the number of soldiers, their ranks/appointments, weapons and vehicles they were equipped with, etc. During the Second World War, there were several changes to the infantry battalion’s W.E. before Normandy. The Calgary Highlanders landed in France organized as a battalion with four rifle companies, a support company with several specialist platoons, a headquarters company, and a total official complement of 37 officers and 811 other ranks.
Mortar Platoon (six 3-inch mortars)
Anti-Tank Platoon (six 6-pounder guns)
Each rifle company had 5 officers and 122 men; battalion headquarters (containing command personnel, intelligence section, medical section, regimental police and orderly room) was authorized 5 officers and 45 men, HQ Company 5 officers and 93 men, and support company 7 officers and 185 men. As a highland unit, the Calgary Highlanders were also authorized six pipers (one a sergeant), over and above establishment. Snipers were concentrated in battalion HQ and one sniper was given the rank of sergeant – on the continent the battalions formed Scout & Sniper platoons under the command of an officer.
The number of soldiers holding specific ranks was:
Rank Distribution – War Establishment Cdn II/233/2
*13 Lance Sergeant appointments were permitted
**68 Lance Corporal appointments were permitted
A change to the W.E. permitted all rifle company commanders to be majors rather than just two of the four.
With this establishment the PIAT (Projector, Infantry, Anti-Tank) completely replaced the .55 cal anti-tank rifle. Other weapons included:
Forty-eight of the battalion’s sixty-three bren guns were personal weapons. These were the thirty-six bren guns in the rifle sections and twelve of the thirteen bren guns in the carrier platoon. The remaining fifteen guns were not assigned to a specific individual. The 811 other ranks in the battalion were equipped with either one of the 595 .303 rifles, 160 machine carbines, eight .303 sniper rifles or 48 individually assigned bren guns. All 37 officers were armed with a .38-calibre pistol. Also not assigned to specific individuals were the 22 PIATs.
Heavy Utility Pattern (HUP) truck
The battalion was authorized 38 carriers (wheeled and tracked), 81 motorized vehicles, 33 bicycles and one 20-cwt water trailer. Thirteen universal carriers were allocated to the carrier platoon and one each to battalion headquarters, the anti-tank platoon and the 4 rifle company headquarters. The majority of vehicles were built in Canada, and some were of Canadian design – the Canadian Military Pattern (CMP). Others were license built version of British or American vehicles.
The heart of the battalion’s fighting strength was the four rifle companies, though all told they accounted for only about 60% of the battalion’s manpower. Each rifle company headquarters had an officer commanding (Major) and a 2i/c (Captain). There was a company sergeant-major (WOII), a company quartermaster-sergeant (Staff-Sergeant), and two batman-drivers for the officers. For administration there was a clerk and a storeman and for messaging there were three orderlies each with a bicycle. There was a driver i/c and two driver mechanics (one of whom was a corporal). The company vehicles were a universal carrier, a 5-cwt car (jeep) and three 15-cwt trucks GS. The three rifle platoons in the company were commanded by lieutenants. The platoon headquarters consisted of the commander, a platoon sergeant, a batman for the officer, an orderly with a bicycle and a three man 2-inch mortar detachment under the command of a lance-corporal. Each rifle section consisted of a corporal in command, a lance-corporal 2i/c, a bren gunner and his assistant, and six riflemen for a total of 10. In combat the lance-corporal commanded the bren gun team and the corporal the rifle team.
The infantry battalion in action fought as part of an infantry brigade; the Calgary Highlanders were brigaded with The Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment) of Canada and Le Régiment de Maisonneuve. Attacks were generally made with heavy artillery support from the divisional artillery, and the regiment worked especially closely with the 5th Field Regiment, Royal Canadian Artillery. Tanks of the 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade were also often called on to support attacks, and Vickers heavy machine guns and 4.2-inch mortars of the divisional machine gun battalion, The Toronto Scottish, were a frequently used asset as well.