Hoffy's Mighty Maroon Machine - Major General Bert Hoffmeister

Discussion in 'Canadian' started by fgairdner, Jan 23, 2009.

  1. fgairdner

    fgairdner Junior Member

    Hello All,

    My Great Uncle was Bert Hoffmeister. I still remember some of his stories, and he actually showed me his collection of WW2 guns.

    In October '43 he was promoted to Brigadier General and was given command of the 2nd Canadian Infantry Brigade. The 2nd CIB had been assigned the capture of a small town on the Adriatic called, Ortona. The 2CIB under my Uncle Bert Hoffmeister's leadership ultimately prevailed but at great cost in what was to become known as "Canada's Stalingrad". He was again promoted to Major-General and in May '44 took command of the 5th Armoured Division.

    He, and the 1st Canadian Army took part in the liberation of the Netherlands.

    I am wondering if anyone on this forum served with him and or has any stories. They would be great to hear.

    Thanks for your time.

    canuck likes this.
  2. Tom Canning

    Tom Canning WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    fgairdner -
    yes Bert hoffo was a goer and did a lot of good with 5th Armoured - the Ortona battle kept the Seaforths and Loyal Eddies busy for while over the christmas '43 losing far too many men......

    Then it was on to the Liri valley where they got a bit mixed up with the British 6th Amoured Div .. and took a pasting at Ceprano and Frosinione - next big one was the Gothic where they claimed that they knocked down Tuvallu ( Tomba de Pesaro) - so we had to go in and clean it up !

    I was with the 21st tank Bde supporting 1st Div and just to-day I have had a review of Gerry Chester's new book wherin he covers the 21st Action at the Gothic - should give you some idea of what went on in thoses days

  3. militarycross

    militarycross Very Senior Member

    I have a friend who worked for Bert as a clerk. He speaks of him very highly. Glad to see you at the forum. Welcome.
  4. canuck

    canuck Token Colonial Patron

    I recently completed reading The Soldier's General, an absolutely excellent biography of Bert Hoffmeister by Douglas Delaney. It was published in 2005 so I was remiss in not finding it sooner.

    Hoffmeister was arguably the most capable and successful Canadian commander of the war. Indeed, at thirty eight years old, he was selected by Crerar to lead the Canadian Army Pacific Force.
    He began the war, by his own admission, as a poorly trained militia Captain, arrived in England in 1939 as a company commander and, as noted, by May 1944 took command of the 5th Armoured Division as a Major General.

    As illustrated in the book, Hoffy's maturation as a military commander and the manner in which he achieved excellence in many ways a mirrored the Canadian Army itself. Initially lacking the skills, knowledge and experience required to reach full potential, it took several years of training, evaluation, adjustment and finally combat experience in order to hit his full potential. Having been a business manager and executive for the past 36 years, I was continually struck by the many parallels in the book to the principles of leadership and decision making which are commonplace in corporate environments. Hoffy began his early career as a business leader and that background is evident throughout his story. I have never served a day in the military but was easily able to identify with Hoffmeister's methods and approach as they so clearly came from business practices with which I am so familiar. Perhaps more importantly, his ability to lead and motivate people, learned in a civilian setting, is evident at every point in his military career. He empowered and delegated authority to his subordinates in a manner that was atypical of many military organizations. He was inclusive as well in his planning and coordination so everyone under his command was part of the plan. In fact, he continually sought to improve the command and control of his formations and relentlessly trained his troops in mastering the technical aspects of battlefield management. He gave a great deal of credit to the culture and practices of the British 8th army commanders where he observed an "informal professionalism and competence". I believe his North American roots may have taken this to an even deeper level as appeared not to be rigidly tied to established doctrine. In some quarters his style of leadership was viewed as radical and was unquestionably less authoritarian than Simonds or Vokes.
    Again, his business background made for a more objective and pragmatic acceptance of what changes were required and what actually worked. Hoffmeister led from the front, with a mobile command center, and directed the operations while his subordinates took care of administrative tasks. He thought ahead, planned for eventualities and reacted quickly to changing circumstances or opportunities. When many Allied commanders were accused of being slow and ponderous, Hoffy made speed a priority. His masterful and bold penetration of the Gothic Line in August/September 1944 caught the German command completely off guard.
    When so much criticism has leveled over the suspect competence of Canadian WW2 commanders, the story of Bert Hoffmeister is a refreshing change. Bert Hoffmeister was an amateur who became an accomplished professional, in under 4 years. He learned from the likes of Montgomery, cared deeply for his soldiers and tried to preserve their lives through rigorous training, careful planning and simple orders. He led and inspired them to perform at a high level. He should rightly be a household name in Canada.

    To repeat what I posted on another thread, the comment attributed to Guderian's son, Heinz Gunther Guderian, was to the effect that, "Hoffmeister was the most capable commander produced by any of the Allied nations in WW2 and the only Allied officer who would have risen to the rank of Major-General in the Wehrmacht." High praise.

    Last edited: Oct 12, 2016
  5. canuck

    canuck Token Colonial Patron

  6. canuck

    canuck Token Colonial Patron

  7. gpo son

    gpo son Senior Member

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