Canadian unit deployment in WW2 - our greatest mistake?

Discussion in 'Canadian' started by Seroster, Aug 20, 2017.

  1. Seroster

    Seroster Desert-mad!

    Ok, that's kind of a clickbait title, I apologize for that, but I wonder if it's true. The Dieppe anniversary and reading about some Canadians in Normandy got me thinking about this:

    In WW2 there was a government policy that our troops were not to be committed piecemeal to any theatre. This led to Canadian troops being stationed in Britain for a long time without any being deployed to North Africa.

    It also led to the army jumping at the opportunity of Dieppe to put some of the restless troops into battle. If it hadn't been for this restlessness, it's unclear to me whether Canadian troops would have been involved at all.

    The other issue is to the degree to which Canadian troops deployed in Normandy were still "green", both individual soldiers and most of the officers.

    In retrospect this feels like a mistake. Undoubtedly if we had gotten involved in the war in North Africa there would have been losses. But they might have been outweighed by fewer tactical errors in Normandy.

    Possibly this is an unanswerable question.
    17thDYRCH likes this.
  2. Sheldrake

    Sheldrake Gunner Tours

    Terry Copp argues the case that the Canadian Army was no more included to tactical errors than other British units or formations.
  3. idler

    idler GeneralList

    In that case, RUTTER could be seen as an opportunity for some Canadian troops to gain experience in a limited operation which could then be disseminated amongst the remainder. Presumably there's no record of such a decision, though, as it would have surfaced before now.
  4. Seroster

    Seroster Desert-mad!

    Sheldrake, that's true. But would there have been fewer? Was it the right decision to make?

    idler - yes, could have been, but it would have been a pretty terrible way to do it.
  5. canuck

    canuck Token Colonial Patron

    Canadians fought together in NW Europe but were deployed piece meal in France 1940, Hong Kong and to a degree, in Italy. The political resistance to split up Canadian formations into British units was a legacy of WW1 and the sheer number of Canadian men in uniform.
  6. JohnS

    JohnS Senior Member

    When did this policy come into act? It must have been after France and Hong Kong. I've often wondered why no Canadian units fought in North Africa. Maybe they should have to gain experience.
  7. Seroster

    Seroster Desert-mad!

    That's a very interesting point, JohnS! I was a little surprised to learn that the 48th Highlanders landed as part of the second Expeditionary Force (truth be told I don't know if I really knew about that Force!) and then withdrawn. And then as you say, there was Hong Kong. I wonder if the losses in Hong Kong were responsible for the policy.
  8. canuck

    canuck Token Colonial Patron

    The Statute of Westminster in 1931 had made Canada a fully independent nation but generally it aligned with Britain on most foreign affairs issues. Much of the friction between Crerar and Monty was the dual allegiance that Crerar maintained to the Allied coalition and the Canadian government. While the objectives and methods of the two were generally not mutually exclusive, Crerar's first obligation was always to Ottawa.
    I don't know if that was ever a formal policy but certainly, in practice, Canada did not relinquish it's right to discretion in the handling of Canadian soldiers. The bitter experience at Hong Kong and Dieppe, though fully approved by Canada, must have made this an acute sensitivity by 1944. In fact, Crerar bears much of the responsibility for the dispatch of Canadian troops to Hong Kong in November 1941.
    The reality is that it would have been politically suicidal and catastrophically damaging to the Canada/U.K. relationship if unfettered British direction of Canadian troops had led to another debacle.
    These issues did not begin with Crerar. His predecessor, Andy McNaughton, was dismissed from his role primarily at the instigation of senior British commanders over many of the same tensions. Ironically, Crerar was at that point seen as the more collaborative option.

    Terry Copp provides an interesting overview of the context in this Legion article.

    "Reviewing these political disputes with Gen. Sir Alan Brooke, the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, it is difficult not to have considerable sympathy for the Canadian general. McNaughton had a constitutional duty and a personal commitment to the autonomy of the Canadian Army while Brooke wanted to control all Commonwealth forces as if they were British units. Australia, New Zealand and South Africa accepted British direction, why were the Canadians so difficult?"

    Examining A General’s Dismissal: Army, Part 16 | Legion Magazine
    Last edited: Sep 13, 2017
  9. Seroster

    Seroster Desert-mad!

    Very interesting article - thanks Canuck!
  10. canuck

    canuck Token Colonial Patron

    To most Canadians, including me, the following quote from the article is quite stunning:

    "However, at the time, McNaughton was simply informed that he was denied permission to land in Sicily. On his return to England, McNaughton spoke to Brooke who denied that the Canadian commander had any right to visit Canadian troops."

    That a British senior officer would seek to deny access for a Canadian officer to visit Canadian troops speaks volumes about old colonial thinking and the lack of respect for an independent nation. If that attitude was pervasive in the British high command then it fully explains to me why Canadian leaders continued to push back and defend their autonomy. Rightly or wrongly, there was no shortage of Canadian veterans who returned with the bitter perception that the British were always willing to "fight to the last Canadian".
  11. Seroster

    Seroster Desert-mad!

    Not to mention the desire for them to have British generals in charge of Canadian divisions, referenced in that article.

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