Discussion in 'Canadian' started by Philip Reinders, Jun 3, 2008.
Can anyone tell me in which places in Holland the fought?
In the Gunners of Canada it mentions the 1st Medium Regiment, along with the 2nd, and 5th Medium Regiments being in action on Easter Day near Elst on the Nijmegen "island," in support of Operation "Destroyer". It mentions "As batteries settled into their positions, veterans of the Italian Campaign, long accustomed to roughing it in tents and home-made bivvies, were agreaably surprised at the rlative magnificence of their accommodation in abandoned houses." As the 1st Medium was with the 1st Canadian Division, I assume that they were also in Apeldoorn.
Thanks for the info MIchelle
Michelle/ Phillip ....
Strange..... I cannot find a listing for 1st Med RCA in 1st Inf Div landing in Sicily - nor at Cassino or Liri Valley - not even with 5th Armoured Div - don't think they were at the Gothic either although I can't find a decent listing for that Battle = they may have just joined when 1st & 5th got to Belgium in Feb '45..although your message states that they were in Italy - in tents etc..... ?
Looks as if all the 1st & 5th had in Italy were field regts - some from RCHA
Weren't Medium Regiments at Corps Level?
of course your'e right as Mediums were the 4.5 and 5.5 big guns - it appears that they went out with 5th Armoured Div in Nov '43 although 5th and 7th medium appear to get all the type space - 5th Armoured Div then joined up with 1st Inf Div to make a corps - much to Monty's disgust as he didn't need another bunch of staff wallahs and their first battle was at Ortona where they met up with the German 1st Para Div - the three Mediums appear to have joined 1st AGRA and fought their way up until going off to the South of France up to Belgium catching up with the rest of the Canadian Divisions - 2nd - 3rd inf. and 4th Armoured in 2nd Corps making the 1st Canadian army - along with the Polish Divs.
Hi Tom and Phillip,
For the past 4 or so hours I've been going through The Gunners of Canada typing up all the entries on the 1st Medium Regiment - starting from mobilization. So far I'm on page 15 and I'm just going into the breaking of the Hitler Line. I'll be going on to finish through NW Europe. It's apparent that there is not much out there about this Artillery Regiment.
Tom, these artillery regiments were treated despicably by the powers that be - particularly on their arrival in Sicily and Italy. They were told by the War Office that they would be supplied by the departing British units and not to bring equipment and upon arrival there were no quarters or preparations for them, no equipment, and when they did get it it was equipment on its last legs - sometimes having been swapped with other units for their rejects to pass to the Canadians.
The 1st Medium Regiment was actually the first of the Medum Regiments in combat - for most of December it was in action with US 5th Army at Cassino. And in the footnote:
The only recognition by the Fifth Army History of the attachment of the 1st Medium Regiment is an oblique reference in a table of ammunition expenditures which records among the “VI Corps Supporting Fires” for the 48-hour period ending 1800 hours, 4 December 1943, out of a total of 18,586 rounds for the whole Corps, 489 rounds fired by sixteen 5.5-inch guns”
Anyhow, I'll post in a series - hopefully there are no rules here regarging how many posts I use up in a thread to add this information. The initial ones may lack the glamour of combat but show the training and time spent in England.
From The Gunners of Canada by Colonel G.W.L. Nicholson, C.D.
Shortly after the outbreak of war the British Government had asked Canada to supply certain technical unites in addition to an infantry division. The original list of some 6,000 troops included no artillery; but in November General McNaughton, stressing the desirability of having the 1st Canadian Division well supported by Canadian ancillary troops in a “balanced” force, asked that some artillery units be added. The revised British list sent to Canada on 18 November 1939 included a regiment of medium artillery, and an army field regiment; and it was ultimately agreed that a medium and two army field regiments should be sent.
With a view to ensuring that “requirements for essential arms and services for the 1st Division might be available,” McNaughton was insistent that all the Canadian ancillary troops should come under the command of the G.O.C. 1st Canadian Division. The War Office agreed that the Canadian units would normally be employed in the same corps as the 1st Canadian Division, and that administrative matters “should pass through G.O.C. 1st Division.” This reopened the question of the cost of equipping the troops, the War Office disclaiming that responsibility on the grounds that they were now in effect under the command of a Canadian formation. It was finally settled that Ottawa would take over full financial responsibility for the Canadian non-divisional troops, effective 1 September, 1940.
The three artillery units that had been the subject of much of these deliberations had been mobilized in Canada as the 1st Medium Brigade, and the 3rd and 4th Army Field Brigades. It was on 1 December 1939 that authority was issued for a medium brigade to be organized, under the command of Lt.-Co. R.J. Leach , who had commanded the 2nd Canadian Heavy Battery in France in the First World War. He did not meet his new batteries until they were boarding the Aquitania for the voyage to Britain. They were the 3rd Medium Battery (Permanent Force) from Kingston, the 7th Medium Battery from Montreal, the 2nd from Charlottetown, and the 23rd from Toronto.
The 3rd Medium Battery brought to the Brigade the experience of its peacetime role of providing instruction for the militia artillery at the annual summer camps…..During the Atlantic crossing, Lt.-Col. Leach had grouped his four batteries to conform with the existing establishment of a medium regiment – two batteries each having two troops of four guns each. The batteries from Prince Edward Island and Montreal were paired to form the 2/7 Battery R.C.A.; the Kingston and Toronto units became the 3/23 Battery.
All the artillery units arriving on the Third Flight went to Borden Camp, about two miles southwest of Aldershot. The redesignated 1st Medium Regiment was fortunate in drawing accommodation in St. Lucia Barracks…
The move to Northamptonshire coincided with the beginning of “Dunkirk Week.” When the great evacuation over the beached ended on 4 June, the destroyers, cross-Channel steamers and the innumerable “little ships” had brought back in safety to England more than 338,000 British and Allied soldiers – but without their guns and heavy equipment. The sudden arrival in England of these troops from many different formations and units created a major administrative problem. Reception camps were hurriedly established to provide temporary accommodation for the Dunkirk survivors. On its return from Redesdale the 1st Medium Regiment set up and operated two of these camps at Mytchett, just outside Aldershot. Here the gunners (including some 40 members of the Canadian Survey Battery) looked after about 10,000 weary, battle-stained British soldiers, checking their identity, feeding and resting them, and then putting them on the train for their own home stations….
But the Canadian stay in the Oxford area would be almost as brief as the earlier visit to Northamptonshire. It was about this time that some wit came up with the nickname, “McNaughton’s Travelling Circus,” as the Canadians’ role continued to take them to one position after another throughout southern England. A revision of anti-invasion plans led to the creation of a mobile corps to be stationed north of the Thames, comprising the 2nd Armoured and 43 Divisions; and one corps south of the river, to consist of the 1st Armoured and 1st Canadian Divisions. The latter was organized as the 7th Corps, with McNaughton being appointed to command in the rand of Lieutenant-General. Maj.-Gen. G.R. Pearkes succeeded him as G.O.C. 1st Canadian Division….
Throughout the rest of that invasion summer the Anglo-Canadian 7th Corps continued in its role in the defence of southern England. In September it was joined by the 2nd Canadian Division, which arrived from Canada and took over the Aldershot barracks vacated by the 1st Division. By the end of the year, when winter had temporarily lessened the threat of a cross-Channel attack, it became practicable to implement a decision taken by the Canadian Government in May 1940; and on Christmas Day the Canadian Corps officially replaced the 7th Corps, which was dissolved. The 1st Armoured Division passed from Lt.-Gen. McNaughton’s command. His artillery order of battle now consisted of the 1st and 2nd Canadian Divisional Artillery (commanded respectively by Brigadier J.H. Roberts and Brigadier R.A. Fraser), and the corps troops artillery – comprising the 8th and 11th Army Field Regiments, the 1st Medium Regiment, and the 1st Canadian Survey Regiment….
When on 15 September 1941 Lt.-Gen. McNaughton appointed Brigadier R.J. Leach to be Commander Corps Medium Artillery, with Headquarters at Bordon, Hants, the G.O.C. Canadian Corps was departing from current British Army policy. After Dunkirk the British had deleted from their establishments C.C.M.A.’s and their staffs, on the grounds that there would be no room in the battle for the employment of large masses of medium and heavy artillery, even if such were available. For the next two years it was the practice in the British army to farm out its medium and army field regiments, sub-allotting them to various divisions. But the Canadian decision was to prove amply justified, if only from an administrative point of view. By the middle of October 1941 Headquarters C.C.M.A. had under command the 8th and 11th Canadian Army Field Regiments, the 1st and 5th Medium, and the 7th Anti-Tank Regiment, besides the 1st Survey Regiment and the 1st Canadian Calibration Troop. Shortly afterwards, H.Q. C.C.M.A. moved to Headley Court, near Leatherhead, where it took over command of the Canadian Corps Area (the county of Surrey).
In the months that followed, Brigadier Leach’s staff administered and trained, for varying lengths of time, a large number of units of all arms which had not completed full mobilization or organization, many of them being army troops that had been brought over from Canada pending the formation of Headquarters First Canadian Army. By the spring of 1942 most of these units were ready to join their proper formations, and it now became possible for the Medium Headquarters to devote more attention to training its own artillery. Early in May it took part in “Vulture,” a two-day exercise staged by the 1st Canadian Corps in the Alfriston area. For “Vulture” the C.C.M.A. had under command two British units, the 69th Medium and the 56th Heavy Regiments – both of which would later serve in Italy under the same (though by that time renamed) Canadian headquarters…
By the summer of 1942 the practice had grown up of calling Brigadier Leach’s Headquarters, H.Q. Medium Artillery, 1st Canadian Corps, and it emerged in October as H.Q. 1st Canadian Artillery Group R.C.A. – a nomenclature which was later changed to H.Q. 1st Canadian Army Group R.A. (or 1 Canadian AGRA).
Earlier that year the War Office had begun forming Army Groups Royal Artillery – H.Q. 1 AGRA (British) came into existence on 1 September 1942, and H.Q. 2 AGRA a week later. The composition of these groups varied, but in general an AGRA brought together under one headquarters one or two field regiments, usually three medium regiments, and one heavy regiment. In the Canadian Army, which had no heavy artillery, an AGRA would come to contain one army field regiment and three medium regiments, with usually one or more British medium and heavy regiments attached. These new formations would in time each develop an esprit de corps that had not been possible in the former loose association under a Commander Corps Medium Artillery. Medium regiments, now part of a definite formation, no longer had cause to feel themselves “itinerant rascals, always being elbowed out by the solid corporation of the divisional artilleries.” Of much greater significance was the important contribution that the creation of the AGRA would make towards perfecting the rapid concentration of artillery fire – a contribution that would rank high among the factors which led to final victory….
Yet, as things turned out, the 1st Canadian AGRA would not support the Poles in Normandy. Shortly after the conclusion of “Victor-Blast I,” Brigadier Leach received “most secret” orders for the move of his AGRA to Italy as part of Operation “Timberwolf.” The impending departure meant the realignment of units in the two Army Groups. During the summer the Canadian medium regiments under Leach’s command had been the 1st, 3rd, and 4th. But the 3rd Medium Regiment now found itself “held back for the invasion of France.” The 4th Medium, which also found itself transferred to 2nd AGRA, explained the situation a little more frankly in its regimental history. “It meant to us we were not sufficiently trained to be employed in the First Canadian AGRA who were going to Italy.”
The artillery units placed under the command of H.Q. 1st AGRA for operations in the Mediterranean Theatre were the 11th Army Field Regiment, and the 1st, 2nd, and 5th Medium Regiments R.C.A. In the United Kingdom 2nd AGRA was beginning to assume the form with which it would go into action in the forthcoming cross-Channel offensive….
… When Lt.-Col. Dick Leach left the 1st Medium at the end of 1940 to take command of No. 1 Canadian Artillery Holding Unit, his successor had been Lt.-Col. G.W.F. Johnston, who had brought the 1st Anti-Tank Regiment overseas. During 1941, the training of the 1st Medium progressed through battery and regimental schemes to such bigger manoeuvres as “Fox” and “Dog,” “Horse” and “Waterloo,” to reach the year’s climax with Exercise “Bumper.” Early in December, the Regiment left its palatial home at West Horsley to take up reserve positions in the western part of Sussex near the Channel coast. Shortly before Christmas, Lt.-Col. Johnston went into hospital, and on recovery was posted to the command of No. 2 C.A.R.U. The 1st Medium was then briefly commanded by Lt.-Col. E.R. Suttie; and towards the end of February the Regiment welcomed a new C.O., Lt.-Col. D.K. Todd, who was to be with the unit for the next three years.
There followed an intensive period of schemes engineered by South Eastern Command. Their chief architect, General Montgomery, would later write of these with a certain complacency: “Some of the training exercises I organized and staged were tougher and harder than anything previously known in England.” Few Canadian gunners who participated in “Tiger” – Montgomery’s final effort before leaving for Africa to take command of the Eighth Army – would dispute the General’s claim….
…in July the 1st Medium was shifted to Dunley Hill, near Dorking, to begin a “smartening-up” phase. “Other than the NAAFI” the regimental history records with regret, “the place had little amusement to offer, and the unit settled down to hard work.”…and finally exercises “Victor” and “Blast” – from which the Regiment emerged with a sufficiently high rating to pronounce it ready for action. Entry into operations would not long be delayed. On 23 October 1943 the Regiment headed north to Geenock, to become part of Operation “Timberwolf” – a move overseas to a destination not yet disclosed to the gunners.
While the 1st Canadian Division had been actively engaged in the Eighth Army’s advance up the Adriatic coast, as major movement of troops from the United Kingdom to the Mediterranean Theatre had increased the Canadian strength in Italy to a force of two division, with a corps headquarters and the requisite corps troops. The 1st Canadian Corps would not become operational in Italy as a formation until the end of January 1944, though one of its artillery units, the 1st Medium Regiment R.C.A., was to find itself in action as early as 1 December, 1943.
A request made by the Canadian Government in August 1943 for a Canadian corps headquarters and additional Canadian troops to be sent to the Mediterranean had been turned down, mainly because the build-up of United States forces in Britain in preparation for a cross-Channel invasion prevented shipping from being made available for the transfer of such a force and all its equipment to Italy. Early in October, however, the question was reopened on the basis of an interchange of personnel only. The problem of the shortage of shipping was met by a decision that the Canadians would not take any vehicles or other than personal equipment with them. On arrival in Italy they would inherit the guns and transport of British formations slated to return to the United Kingdom.
It was a legacy that was to bring the recipients much unhappiness.
Upon the decision being taken to proceed with Operation “Timberwolf” – the code-name given the transfer of the Canadians to the Mediterranean – General McNaughton nominated the Headquarters of the 1st Canadian Corps, commanded by Lt.-Gen. H.D.G. Crerar; 1st Canadian Corps Troops; and the 5th Canadian Armoured Division, the command of which Maj.-Gen. G.G. Simonds was taking over from Maj.-Gen. C.R.S. Stein, who had been found medically unfit for further service overseas. Elements of Army Troops and of General Headquarters and Lines of Communication Troops brought to more than 200 the number of units and detachments that sailed in the “Timberwolf” convoy.
The corps artillery was under the command of Brigadier H.O.N. Brownfield, who had temporarily left his appointment as the First Canadian Army’s Brigadier Royal Artillery to serve as C.C.R.A. during the illness of Brigadier E.C. Plow. Under Headquarters R.C.A.. 1st Canadian Corps were the 1st Counter Battery Officer’s Staff, the 7th Anti-Tank Regiment, and the 1st L.A.A. Regiment R.C.A. [note from Michelle Rusk: my friend’s father was RSM Champagne of this regiment]. The 1st Canadian AGRA, commanded by Brigadier R.J. Leach, included the 11th Army Field Regiment, and the 1st, 2nd, and 5th Medium Regiments R.C.A. The artillery of the 5th Canadian Armoured Division under the command of Brigadier R.O.G. Morton, included the 8th Field Regiment (S.P.), the 17th Field Regiment, the 4th Anti-Tank Regiment, and the 5th L.A.A. Regiment R.C.A.
…It was late in the evening of 13 October when the heads of all branches and services, and staff officers down to G.S.O. III, attended a conference at Corps Headquarters at which General Crerar gave out the details of “Timberwolf.” For the members of the many of the units the first intimation of an impending move was the cancellation of all privilege leave. Then officers were told that the 1st Canadian Corps and the 5th Armoured Division were going to Northern Ireland for training before moving to a theatre of war. Units would leave all equipment behind, and on reaching their destination would be fitted out with American equipment or American-made British equipment. This announcement, plausible though it might seem, was received with some scepticism. “While we are officially told it is Ireland,” recorded the diary of Headquarters R.C.A. 5th Division, “we feel likely it will be North Africa.”
During the fourth week of October troops trains carried the artillery units for “Timberwolf” to ports on the Clyde and the Mersey. The gunners embarked in four troopships for the voyage to the Mediterranean. At Greenock and Gouroch, the C.C.R.A.’s Headquarters boarded the U.S.A.T. Edmund B. Alexander, accompanied by the 1st C.B.O. Staff, the 1st L.A.A. Regiment, and the 1st Medium Regiment, as well as by units and detachments of other arms and services of the corps….
On the evening of 27 October the troopships in the Clyde weighed anchor and put to sea, being joined during the night by the vessels which had loaded in the Mersey. The 24 transports and freighters with their escorting naval units received a rude welcome from the North Atlantic as they headed westward to round the northern tip of Ireland. There was a good deal of suffering from sea-sickness, but in a couple of days stormy skies cleared, and the convoy sailed south into glorious weather. One of the gunner’s first and most pleasant impression of life on an American transport was the excellent food served in all the messes. After English rations, chicken, steaks and eggs indeed seemed luxurious fare. By the second day out from the Clyde the myth of a stay in Northern Ireland had been disposed of. All ranks were given a copy of “Notes for Troops Proceeding to North Africa.” Men were busy sewing on their identifying patches and shoulder titles, which for security reasons had been taken down before the moves to the ports of embarkation began. The weather got steadily warmer, and the men took advantage of the brilliant sunshine…
…During the voyage through the Atlantic occasional submarine alerts had sent all ranks hurrying to emergency stations, though none of these alarms had materialized in any action. But on 6 November, when the convoy had drawn opposite Philippeville, it was attacked by a dozen torpedo-bombers. The S.S. Santa Elena, a troopship carrying more than 1,800 Canadian personnel, including No. 14 Canadian General Hospital, was struck simultaneously by an aerial torpedo and a bomb. She was abandoned (fortunately with no loss of life) and sank while and attempt was being made to tow her to Philippeville. Two other vessels, neither of them carrying Canadians, were lost in the same attack. No further incident marred the remainder of the voyage, which ended on 8 November. The ships carrying the majority of the Army and Corps Troops went to ports in Sicily. The Edmund B. Alexander [including the 1st Medium Regiment RCA]and the Argentina came to anchor off Augusta, on the east coast, the men being ferried ashore in landing craft…..
The units which landed at Augusta spent a night under canvas in a staging camp outside the city, and then moved north by rail to find accommodation in villages along the coast at the eastern base of Mount Etna…..Units of the Corps Artillery found temporary homes from 10 to 10 miles down the coast:…the 1st Medium (Lt.-Col. D.K. Todd) at Giarre; Headquarters 1st AGRA at Aci Trezza; …Farthest removed was the 1st Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment, which Lt. –Col. F.J. Thorne took north to Messina, some 30 miles distant from Brigadier Brownfield’s Headquarters.
…The Canadians had hardly set foot on shore before they were being besieged by persistent native peddlers asking for cigarettes in exchange for oranges and figs, dates and nuts – luxuries that most of the troops had not tasted since leaving Canada. Unmindful of the danger of these delicacies being contaminated by the peasant’s unhygienic handling, many of the Canadians devoured large quantities of fruit, with the consequence that dysentery claimed numerous victims….
Following is descriptions of the various units introduction to Sicily/Italy:
"Over at Palermo the introduction of Lt.-Col. Suttie's 5th Medium Regiment to Sicily was anything but pleasant. The staging area three miles outside the city allotted to the gunners by the United States military authorities was a swampy field, from which, before any tents or rations wer issued, heavy rain drove them to a comparately dry nearby quarry. Here, as they settled down for the night, hungry and dispirite, a small rockslide crushed one man to death, and necessitated teh amputaion of another man's foot. After two days in the Palermo area, the Regiment headed eastward by rail in two groups across Sicily.
...On disembarking at Naples early in November, Brigadier Morton's Headquarters, together with the 17th Field Regiment, commanded by Lt.-Col. R.W. Armstrong, and the 5th L.A.A. Regiemnt marched a dozen miles out of the city to a "staging camp" whcih had bene marked out among the vineyards and olive groves near the unprepossessing little village of Afragola. Tents arrived on the second day, and here teh gunners spent the next two weeks in weather that varied only "from foul to worls" and effecually rid them of any preconceived illusions about "sunny Italy." Almost daily rains turned the ground to mud. Many tents were flooded, and the 17th Field reported 17 1/2 inches of water in the Officer's Mess.
The takeover of trnasport, guns and stores from the British 7th Armoured Division began almost immediately. As the "Desert Rats" took train to the Sorrento peninsula to await return to England, it is doubtful that they shed many tears at parting from their vehicles. Some of these had been with them sice the previous February, when they wer obtained second-hand from the 4th Indian Division. Subsequent tarvel of several thousand miles, mostly over open desert, had not improved them. Futhermore, it quickly became apparent that ther had been unofficial "swapping" of the 7th Armoured Division's better vehicles for the worst in other units and formation of the Eighth Army; and thse latter finished up in the hands of the Canadians.
The 8th Field Regiment...and the 4th Anti-Tank Regiment...which as part of "Timberwolf II" did not reach Italy until early in December, found their vehicles awaiting them at Afragola. "had our first big surprise on seeing equipment we had taken over from teh 7th Armed Div," recorded the 4th Anti-Tank diarist. The 8th Field Regiment having spent the day looking over the equipment which its advance party had received was equally unimpressed. "It is in poor shape and still has the sand of Africa in gas tanks, etc."
Transfer to the Italian mainland began in January. Headquarters R.C.A., crossing the Messina Straits and moving by rail from Reggio to Altamura on 7 January, was concerned to find on arrival in the new area that advance parties of its artillery units had been hurried over to the west coast ports of Salerno and Castellammare to set up transit camps for the troops fo fthe 1st and 5th British Division that were to take part in the landings at Anzio. The 15th Army Group's request for 1,600 Canadian officers and men was eventually met by sending one or more batteries from each of the 7th Anti-Tank, the 1st Light Anti-Aircraft, the 11th Army Field, and the 2nd Medium Regiments. The last two named regiments went as virtually complete units, leaving behind at Altamura only small parties to draw equipment.
Under ther over-all command of the C.O. of the 11th Army Field Regiment, Lt.-Col. H.E. Wright, the gunners worked hard with the Royal Engineers preparing big personnel camps outside the two towns for the reception of the unitis assembling for Operation "Shingle," and the British troops expressed sruprise and gratification at the arrangements for their feeding and quartering. After the last transients had passed through thet camps, organized tours gave the Canadian gunners an opportunity of seeing the beautiful Sorrento coast and visiting the ancient ruins of Pompeii. The return to Altamura was completed by the beginning of February. In the meanime a demand came for teh 1st Canadian Corps to furnish 1,700 all ranks for guard duties and refugee control at Bari and Bridisi. The artillery provided two batteries from teh 7th Anti-Tank Regiment and one from the 1st L.A.A. Regiment to protect various installations and public utilities in Bari. Subsequently, General Alexander passed on to General Crerar a tribute paid to the gunners by the G.O.C. 1st British Division: "The Canadian units who ran the Assembly Areas did a marvelous job and gave the troops the send off which is so invaluable."
….In common with other Canadian artillery units in Sicily, the Regiment [the 5th Medium] began a programme of such training as its lack of guns and vehicles would permit. Routine marches, P.T., and swimming parades, plus four mepacrine tablets taken each week, helped to keep the men fit. The rest of their training was pretty well narrowed down to musketry, parade ground drill, and lectures. An enterprising battery of the 11th Army Field Regiment, deciding to do standing gun drill, chopped reasonable facsimiles of 25 pounders out of telephone poles. The improvisation inspired one browned-off gunner, when asked during a map-reading exercise the easiest way of getting a gun to a certain hilltop, to reply: “Take an axe and cut a new one!”
There was likely to be a long wait for vehicles and equipment. The agreement reached with the War Office by which the Canadian Corps Troops should be re-equipped from the 30th Corps, which was returning to the United Kingdom, was found to have no practical basis. The light assault scales with which many of General Dempsey’s units had landed in Sicily had not been brought up to a full normal issue; and during the “Husky” operations vehicle mortality and deterioration had outstripped programmes of replacement and repair. A.F.H.Q. could make no vehicles or other equipment in North Africa available to meet this almost total deficiency. Indeed, British staff officers in conversation with their Canadian “opposite numbers” expressed not only surprise that the Canadian Corps should be coming to the Mediterranean at all, but “incredulity that we should be coming almost completely unequipped.” To meet the situation, arrangements were concluded with the War Office for Canadian Military Headquarters, which had undertaken to provide transport for the returning British units, to make available immediately 3,350 of these vehicles to equip the Canadian Corps Troops. Space for them was found in three convoys, the first of which arrived in the Italian theatre on 11 December….
It would be the latter part of February 1944 before most of the regiments of the Corps artillery and the 1st AGRA would find themselves in action. But by that time on unit, the 1st Medium Regiment R.C.A., had several weeks of active operations behind it, having gained the distinction of being the first of the Canadian medium regiments to see action in the Second World War.
The 1st Medium Regiment had spent less than a week in Sicily when on 14 November Lt.-Col. Dunc Todd was told by the Commander 1st Canadian AGRA that his unit had been picked for immediate service in Italy with the Eighth Army, which needed more medium guns to support the forthcoming attack across the Sangro – at that time planned to begin on the night of 19/20 November. It later transpired that the selection of this particular unit had been largely fortuitous.
On 8 November, even before the first “Timberwolf” units had disembarked at Augusta, H.Q. 15th Army Group addressed an action signal to H.Q. No. 1 District at Cantania, which began:
Equip from resources in SICILY 1 CDN MED REGT OF 16 5.5 guns plus SIGNAL LAD AND ARTY PL and despatch to reach area NORTH OF FOGGIA NOT PRT NO later than 19 Nov.
The message, repeated to the 1st Canadian Corps for information, not unnaturally made General Crerar somewhat less than happy. He did not approve of his headquarters being bypassed by an order affecting a unit of the 1st Canadian AGRA, which formation was under his administrative command. In a personal letter to General Alexander, while expressing delight that one of his units would be so soon in action, he protested against the procedure that had been adopted. “I hold the definite view, “ he wrote
that the instructions from your HQ should have been addressed to my own HQ, as well as to HQ No. 1 District. I also consider that, as a matter of principle, I should have been given the opportunity of nominating the particular Cdn Med Regt for this operational responsibility. While, in fact, 1 Cdn Med Regt is a suitable selection, conditions unknown to your HQ might well have indicated otherwise.
General Alexander’s reply clarified the situation. He assured Crerar that there had been
no question of nominating 1 Cdn Med Regt. Some corruption in course of transmission must have occurred as the original message read “one” Cdn Med Regt.
The 1st Medium Regiment, virtually without equipment, began immediately to rectify this condition, drawing stores, transport, and fourteen battle-worn 5.5.-inch guns from British depots in Sicily. Long hours of toil by M.T. personnel brought vehicles to as roadworthy a state as possible, and on 17th November a somewhat ramshackle convoy headed north to Messina, for the crossing to the mainland.
A long and difficult five-day march took the Regiment up the west coast of the Italian toe to Nicastro and then over the mountains, with steep grades and hairpin turns making nerve-wracking demands on the drivers, to Taranto and its destination at Casamassima – a small town ten miles inland from Bari. During the next two days the 1st Medium was able to draw two more guns and considerably improve its holdings of gun stores and signal equipment. On the morning of the 25th, Lt.-Col. Todd visited Main Headquarters Eighth Army, where he was confronted by an impatient B.R.A., Brigadier A.H. Hornby, who informed him that his Regiment should have been in action on the mainland by 18 November. The Sangro operation had been postponed for three days by bad weather but was due to start that evening – without the Canadian unit. In the circumstances it was settled that the Regiment should remain where it was to complete re-equipping, before moving to the front. Then, on 28 November, orders came for the 1st Medium to move across Italy to the Cassino front, where it would go into action with the Fifth Army. A number of British artillery regiments which had been supporting General Mark Clark’s formations had been brought east to join the 5th Corps for its attack at Sangro, and it was to replace one of these that the Canadian unit, itself too late to participate in Montgomery’s “colossal crack,” was sent to a sector of the American front.
In great secrecy, the 1st Medium Regiment crossed the Apennines to Piedmont d’Alife, at the foot of the great wall of the Matese Mountains. On the night of 1 December the guns were taken forward in the darkness and put in position on the right bank of the southward flowing Volturno, a couple of miles southeast of the town of Venafro. Shortly before 10:00 A.M. on the 2nd, “A” Troop fired the Regiment’s first round against the enemy.
During the latter part of November the Fifth Army had been preparing to renew the drive towards Rome which had come to a temporary halt in front of the tangle of mountains on which the Germans had anchored their Winter Line. General Clark planned a three-corps offensive designed in successive phases to capture the hill masses dominating the Mignano Gap at the southeastern end of the Liri Valley; and then to attack through this passage along Highway No. 6. In the initial stages of the Fifth Army’s offensive it was the task of the 6th U.S. Corps, in position on General Clark’s right from Venafro north to the boundary with the Eighth Army, to carry out harassing action in the mountains while preparing for its own drive to outflank the German positions near Cassino. It was in this harassing role that the 1st Medium Regiment was to find itself engaged as it became attached to the 35th Field Artillery Group of the 13th Field Artillery Brigade. Batteries were called on to fire only a few bombards each day. During the first 24 hours in action, the Canadian regiment’s ammunition expenditure totalled 492 rounds; and in the next 24 hours only 20 rounds were fired. [from the footnote: The only recognition by the Fifth Army History of the attachment of the 1st Medium Regiment is an oblique reference in a table of ammunition expenditures which records among the “VI Corps Supporting Fires” for the 48-hour period ending 1800 hours, 4 December 1943, out of a total of 18,586 rounds for the whole Corps, 489 rounds fired by sixteen 5.5-inch guns”]
On 12 December the 1st Medium Regiment ceased to be attached to the 35th Group, and came under command of the 178th Field Artillery Group. There was no change in position, but lines had to be relaid to the new Headquarters. An unusual opportunity to furnish close support to infantry came when the 6th Corps put in an attack on 15 December. When troops of the 2nd Moroccan Division on the Corps right flank were pinned down on the following afternoon, the Canadian regiment put down a quick barrage at short notice, firing 181 rounds to neutralize a concentration of enemy mortars holding up the Moroccan advance. The promptness and effectiveness with which this support was given drew praise from the American Group Headquarters, and won a Mention in Despatches for the Regimental Adjutant, Captain H.B. Trites.
The 1st Medium Regiment’s tour with the Fifth Army ended four days before Christmas. American bulldozers and multi-wheeled tractors were needed to pull the guns out of action when the Regiment’s own two-wheeled drive vehicles failed to overcome the mud. Back on the Adriatic side of Italy the Regiment went into a rest area near Larino for a fortnight. Its three week’s employment on the Cassino front had been a useful experience for the 1st Medium. Operationally this had not been a strenuous period. Batteries had fired 3,339 rounds, all but tow of these at Charge 4. Differences between American and British artillery methods and terminology had brought no serious problems though at first there was understandable surprise when a barrage was called for “about 500 yards wide and about 500 yards long.” Yet if the Canadians had not engaged in any vigorous fighting, they had learned at first hand how to live in actual battle conditions. That their efforts were appreciated by their American “hosts” was shown in the laudatory message which Lt.-Col. Dunc Todd received from Colonel Vernon T. Anderson, the Commander of the 178th Field Artillery extolling the “cheerful, spirit of cooperation” which the Canadian gunners had shown, and compliment the C.O. on “the soldierly appearance and attitudes of the members of your command.”
With the capture of Ortona the Eighth Army’s winter offensive came to a halt, as the enemy, aided by the weather, still held firm on the Orsogna-Guardiagrele ridge. At the end of the year General Montgomery handed over toe General Sir Oliver Leese, and left for the United Kingdome to take command of the 21st Army group…
At as conference called by the new Army Commander on 12 January 1944 it was agreed that General Crerar’s Headquarters should take over from H.Q. 5th Corps on the Eighth Army’s coastal flank as soon as the Canadian G.O.C. was in a position to do so, and that the Canadian Corps Troops would be brought forward whenever they were equipped and concentrated. In the meantime the Army’s most important task was to prevent the enemy from transferring forces away from the Adriatic sector to face the Fifth Army, which was being reinforced during January by three divisions of Leese’s command, with other formations slated to follow….By every means of deception, vigorous patrolling, and aggressive artillery attacks, the enemy was to be led to believe that the offensive would be resumed earlier by the Eighth Army than the Fifth Army….
The operation, to be carried out on 17 January in successive passes by the Perth Regiment on the left, and the Cape Breton Highlanders on the right, was assigned the support of “all artillery available” in the 5th Corps – whose C.C.R.A., Brigadier E.B. de Fonblanque, had an active part in planning the artillery programme. The operation order listed participation by one heavy, five medium, and nine field regiments. This total would include five Canadian regiments. The three field regiments of the 1st Division had been joined on the Adriatic front by the 5th Armoured Division’s 17th Field Regiment...and the 1st Medium Regiment R.C.A., which on 8 January had moved up from Larino to positions straddling the River Moro, coming under command of the 1st British AGRA. ….
Early on the 17th an intensive 30-minute counter battery programme paved the way for the 11th Brigade’s attack, and at 5:30 A.M. the Perth Regiment moved off to ford the Riccio and ascend the Fendo ridge. The battalion was supported by three barrages progressing simultaneously, with heavy concentrations being fired on known enemy positions. Reports after the battle indicated that the artillery fire was “on the spot and there were no worries about short rounds. Careful registration, calibration and rested gunners, “ pronounced the Headquarters diary, “is the answer to successful shooting.”
Yet despite the overwhelming gun support, it was soon apparent that the assault was not going well. The Germans, having had ample opportunity in preceding weeks to survey the valley of the Riccio and register their targets, met the Perth companies with withering defensive shellfire, while at the same time fire from heavy and light machine-guns swept down the hillside. Forced to ground, the attacking infantry lost the supporting barrage. The 17th Field Regiment, which was providing close support for the 11th Brigade units, had three Forward Observation Officers wounded – a loss which together with the failure of wireless sets resulted in a lamentable dearth of information getting back to the guns. In an effort to restore the situation, early in the afternoon the 11th Brigade Commander committed the Cape Breton Highlanders; and at 4:00 P.M., Brigadier de Fonblanque ordered a 20-minuter concentration by all fifteen artillery regiments on a target where the Perth Regiment was meeting its trouble on the left flank. Thus powerfully aided, one Perth company got part way up the hill; but as darkness fell, Brigade Headquarters, on instructions from the G.O.C. 5th Corps, ordered a withdrawal of both battalions, and early next morning the Brigade passed into corps reserves…
At the end of January the artillery of 5th Corps and its formations was called on to support one more limited attack by Canadian troops – the last of the winter on the Adriatic. On the afternoon of the 30th, the Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment attacked along the road which led from Villa Grande to Tolle, a village on the far side of the Ariellie River. The fire plan….gave the infantry the support of the 2nd and 3rd Filed Regiments R.C.A., the 3rd and 53rd Regiments R.A. of the 8the Indian Division, and the guns of the 1st British AGRA, which included the 1st Medium Regiment R.C.A…..
The artillery programme called for counter battery firing and concentrations mainly from the mediums and heavies. The barrage to be laid down by field artillery and some medium guns on a front of 1,000 yards, was designed to support troops advancing 100 yards in two minutes – a rate which led the war diary of the 1st Division R.C.A. to observe : “Time alone will tell if our infantry can follow at such a pace, even though the ground is very favourable.” Aided by smoke shells dropped accurately on the opening line, the two assaulting companies of the Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment made a good start, keeping well up to a barrage which “fell beautifully.” But before the objectives were reached, German mortar and machine-gun fire, reaching through the barrage, slowed and then halted the attack. Shortly before dark another effort was made with fresh artillery support, but to no avail.
Artillery staffs worked through the night getting out orders for a renewed attack on the 31st. This time the barrage was slowed to fit an advance of 100 yards in three minutes. But when the attack went in at four that afternoon, the story of the previous day was repeated. Although the barrage paused a full 30 minutes on the final line, it could not cope with the enemy’s mortaring. By last light the Hastings and Prince Edward were back in their forming up positions, having suffered more than 90 casualties in the two days. If any lessons emerged from the costly operation, it was the realization of the limitations on the employment of the conventional rolling barrage in support of advancing infantry. In subsequent attacks of this nature greater emphasis would be placed on the use of the more flexible timed or “on call” concentrations fired on known or suspected enemy positions…..
….on 4 February, when H.Q.1st Canadian AGRA moved up from Lanciano to Ortona to release the 1st British AGRA for service on the Fifth Army’s front, thereby bringing back under Canadian command the 1st Medium Regiment R.C.A. In command now was Brigadier W.E. Huckvale, former Commander 2nd Canadian AGRA. Brigadier Leach, with whom General Montgomery’s policy of “youth and beauty” had finally caught up (Dick Leach had joined the Permanent Force from R.M.C. in 1913), returned to England to take an administrative appointment…..
Not until 1 March did the 1st Canadian AGRA have all three of its Canadian medium regiments in action. As noted already, the 1st Medium, after serving for most of January with the 1st British AGRA, had come under Brigadier Huckvale’s command early in February, and by that time only five of its sixteen worn guns were still firing. Local repair could not keep up; and by early February workshops were not accepting 5.5 or 4.5 inch guns since all spares for these were frozen. On 7 February Headquarters Eighth Army citing, “the urgent necessity for field and medium equipments and the present shortage of replacements,” limited daily ammunition expenditures to 25 rounds per gun for 4.5’s and 5.5’s, and 30 r.p.g. for 25-pounders. The 1st Medium’s shortage of guns was forcibly brought to the attention of the Eighth Army’s Commander when he visited the unit on February 23. When, in the course of his inspection, General Leese asked one Sgt. Trueman if he was happy in his work, the N.C.O. frankly declared that he was not, giving as his reason the fact that his detachment’s gun was badly worn and most unsatisfactory in its performance. At this Sir Oliver is said to have hummed a bit and slapped his leg with his stick.
The story goes that during the next 36 hours or so a large part of the Eighth Army Staff was frantically hunting all over southern Italy to find a new 5.5 for Sgt. Trueman. The search was successful, as shown by the entry in the 1st Medium Regiment’s diary for 27 February: “Sgt. Trueman, H. No. C9333 goes to Ordnance Field Park, Fossacesia, and brings back a new gun promised him by Lt.-General Sir Oliver Leese, CB, CBE, DSO.” Officially named “The General’s Gun,” the new acquisition had painted on it the Army Commander’s insignia, and it became the show-piece of the Regiment. Unfortunately it was to prove an unlucky gun, later sustaining damage from enemy shellfire, and then from a premature….
On 5 May General Alexander issued his operation order from the Allied offensive, which was to begin with a simultaneous frontal attack by both armies on the night of 11 May. The Eighth Army was to force an entry into the Liri Valley and advance up Highway 6 on Valmontone, while the Fifth Army on the left broke through the Aurunci Mountains and drove forward on a parallel axis. On General Leese’s right the 5th Corps, under command of H.Q. 15th Army Group, was to follow up the expected German withdrawal. General Clark’s forces on the Anzio front were to be ready by D plus four to break out of the bridgehead and join the main advance. The capture of Rome would be followed by a pursuit of the enemy north to the Rimini-Pisa line….
…The task of the Canadian Cors, in army reserve at the beginning of the offensive, would be one of two alternatives, depending on the progress of the battle. If General Kirkman’s 13th Corps should break both the Gustav and Hitler Lines, the Canadian would pass through and exploit along Highway 6. If however Kirkman’s forces met strong opposition after establishing the initial bridgehead – this was considered by General Leese the more likely possibility – the Canadian Corps would be called on to cross the Gari and enter the battle on the left of the 13th Corps.
It was not expected that infantry of the 1st Canadian Corps would be required before the night of 14/15 May (actually they were committed on the following night), but Canadian artillery and armour would be engaged from the very first. Towards the end of April and early May, from the staging areas where they had been training and refitting after their tour in the Ortona salient, the various Canadian artillery headquarters and units moved closer to the battle area. Leading the was Brigadier Huckvale’s Headquarters 1st Canadian AGRA, which on 15 April arrived in the Mignano area, to come under command of the 13th Corps. The three medium regiments followed before the end of the month as space could be found for them…As they arrived, batteries went into action, with guns silent, on the west side of the Migano Gap, from 6,000 to 9,000 yards east of the Gari. In the coming offensive all medium and heavy guns of the Fifth and Eighth Armies would join in a preliminary 40-minute counter battery programme. Then the 1st Medium R.C.A. would support the assaulting 8th Indian Division, while the 2nd and 5th Medium continued to fire counter battery. Headquarters 1st Canadian AGRA took great pains to ensure that there would be a proper flow to the read or information from it’s O.P.’s and Artillery Reps and L.O.s. The many briefing sessions on this particular point paid good dividends, and after the battle messages of commendation came from the 8th Indian Division and from the 30th Corps with respect to the considerable amount of intelligence passed to them.
...The 3rd Field, assigned to support the 8th Indian Division on the 13th Corps left, was between Highway 7 and the converted railway line that had been given the name “Speedy Express.” Here under command of the C.R.A. 78th Division, it was 6,000 yards east of the River Gari, sharing with the 1st Medium and other units the shelter of Mount Porchia….
At 11:00 P.M. the gigantic counter battery bombardment by the medium and heavy guns of the two Allied armies opened with and earth-shaking crash. For forty minutes the pounding of known or suspected hostile gunsites continued, and then the programme in the 13th Corps sector switched abruptly to a barrage as the two infantry divisions launched their first assault boats in the fast flowing river. It was a slow barrage, lifting every 100 yards every six minutes, and it came from the guns of seventeen field regiments and two medium batteries, as the rest of the mediums and the heavies kept up their efforts against the enemy’s guns….
Since the artillery had few F.O.O.’s out, news of the battle was slow in coming back, and had to be deduced from the ebb and flow of calls for supporting fire. Those observers who were forward did not lack action. Major. J.S. Dumphy of the 1st Medium, who was working with the Calgary Regiment, had three successive tanks in which he was riding immobilized by mines or shellfire. Standing beside the third one, he continued to direct fire, calling his corrections to L/Bdr. Foch E. MacDonald, who remained at his wireless set inside the tank. For his fine work on this night MacDonald was awarded the Military Medal.
The morning of 12 May brought work that the battle was going well, though the general situation was less favourable than had been hoped for. At the end of the first 24 hours of fighting the best gains had been made by the 8th Indian Division, whose bridgehead over the Gari was being enlarged with the help of Canadian tanks – the only armour yet across the river. During the 13th most of the Canadian batteries remained in action, firing a variety of targets on call. These included helping to maintain the gigantic smoke screen designed to blot out the view of German observers in the Monastery. During the next few days the contribution made to this shrouding by the 1st Field R.C.H.A. alone required from 5,000 to 7,000 rounds of smoke per day. Each field regiment with the 4th Division took on the assignment in rotation for one hour. Orders were given to continue this smoking at a rate of 25,000 rounds a day until the Monastery was taken.
All across the Allied front the tempo of the advance picked up South of the Liri the hill-trained African troops of General Alphonse Juin’s Corps Expeditionnaire Francais were making amazing progress through the Aurunci Mountains, with the 2nd U.S. Cops keeping pace on the coastal flank. Between the Liri and Highway 6 troops of the 13th Corps had taken Pignataro, more than two miles west of the Gari. The battered Cassino stronghold was the only part of the Gustav Line still in German possession. That evening, on Field Marshal Kesselring’s instructions, the Commander of the German Tenth Army, Colonel-General Heinrich von Vietinghoff, gave orders for a general withdrawal to the Senger Line. About the same time General Sir Oliver Leese was directing the 1st Canadian Corps to relieve the 8th Indian Division and maintain the advance in the south half of the valley while the 13th Corps joined with the 2dn Polish Corps to isolate Cassino and Monastery Hill. Lt.-Gen. Burns immediately ordered the 1st Canadian Division forward, and at 1:00 A.M. on the 16th the 1st and 2dn Field Regiments, having come again under Brigadier Ziegler’s command, crossed the Gari to positions in the Liri Appendix, where the two rivers joined….
An assignment to support a flanking attack which the 78th Division was launching early on 17 May in conjunction with the Polish Corps to encircle Monte Cassino delayed the move of the three Canadian medium regiments. Having completed its fire plan for the operation, the 1st Medium pushed forward in dense traffic and clouds of dust, followed next day by the 2nd and 5th Regiments. By the afternoon of the 18th all were in action again west of the Gari, just behind Pignataro….
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