Canadian unit deployment in WW2 - our greatest mistake?

Discussion in 'Canadian' started by Chris C, Aug 20, 2017.

  1. TTH

    TTH Senior Member

    I can certainly sympathize with the Canadian desire to retain some control of how their troops were used and to ensure that they were used together. The US Army had to deal with the same challenge in the First World War, when General Pershing had to fight hard to create an American force when the other Allies wanted American formations to strengthen their own armies. However, the crisis of spring and summer 1918 forced Pershing to compromise and a number of American divisions went into the line under British and French command to stem the German offensive. It was well that they did so in the end, not only to prevent Allied defeat but to give the US Army some much needed battle experience and tactical knowledge without which it could not have played such an effective role when it fought under its own commanders in the final offensive. The Canadian Army faced the same sort of dilemma in WWII. Should the force be held together to fight only as a body and under the most favorable circumstances, or should some formations be blooded under British command in order to gain vital experience? There is a lot to be said in favor of the latter course, which is the one which was finally taken. JUBILEE was a mess and a disgrace and you can quarrel with the decision to commit Canadian troops to THAT particular operation, but if Canadian troops and commanders were ever going to be effective then they were going to have to face the music and take the chance of the dance sometime. Given the development of operations in the West, I don't see where there was any real opportunity to put the 1st Canadian Army as a whole into action prior to OVERLORD. That being the case, only single divisions and eventually a Canadian corps could be employed. Incidentally, the US Army did not deploy a full army command until HUSKY; in TORCH and Tunisia, II US Corps operated under command of British 1st Army. Neither we nor the British were entirely happy with that arrangement and it left some sour feelings afterwards, but four US divisions got into action to gain experience and they contributed strongly to the Tunisian victory as well.
    Last edited: Feb 5, 2018
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  2. TTH

    TTH Senior Member

    Double-posted, sorry...
    Last edited: Feb 4, 2018
  3. canuck

    canuck Closed Account

    It wasn't until July, 1943 before both the 1st Canadian Infantry Division and the 1st Canadian Armoured Brigade became operational with the invasion of Sicily. North Africa was probably the only logical deployment prior to that, Dieppe excepted, but I've not read where that was considered or proposed.
  4. TTH

    TTH Senior Member

    I read somewhere (Stacey?) that some personnel of 1st Canadian Div were attached to units of British 1st Army in Tunisia to gain experience, I don't know why the whole division was not sent as well. I think it would have been an excellent idea to send a Canadian division to 8th Army, especially in the summer of 1942. The South Africans had lost a whole division in Tobruk and were struggling to provide white manpower to the remaining division, the 2nd NZ Div lost most of a brigade at 1st Alamein and NZ was also trying to maintain a division in the Pacific, while 9th Australian Div was also hard pressed to replace losses and the Australian govt would dearly have liked to bring it home to fight the Japs. A fresh and full-strength Canadian division would have been an asset to 8th Army at that time. It would have been raw, yes, but no more so than the 44th and 51st British divisions which were sent out.
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  5. Sheldrake

    Sheldrake All over the place....

    I know where you are coming from. I agree that all of the men and women who fell were all victims and every much a human and anyone else. Nevertheless, there are qualitative differences in both the solders' experience and in how we perceive them and their loss. The battles of 1916 were fought by citizen armies largely new to the fray and with a sense that they would deliver the big push that would end the war. There was a false dawn in 1917 with Vimy Ridge and Arras, but by Passchendaele the British and commonwealth armies had lost their sense of optimism. Their losses in retrospect have been seen as an almost biblical sacrifice. "what passing bell tolls for those who die like cattle?" -" I died in Hell men called it "Passchendaele."

    The men who fought and fell in the last hundred days took part in an unrelenting battle. They did not know that the war would end imminently. Many in authority thought it would continue to 1919 or 1920. Some of the soldiers' letters refer to the thought that they had the Germans on the run and would try to finish them off before winter weather gave the Germans a respite. Unlike the attritional battles where units would be relieved after losses, the broad front advance led to units fighting until almost destroyed. I was struck by the row of men from the 8th CEf in Vis en Artios cemetery. Almost every other man had a decoration or two. These men had already done their bit and went back to finish the job, even in the knowledge that they might mot live to see the peace.
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  6. canuck

    canuck Closed Account

    A case in point, from Vis en Artios:

    Died 30/08/1918
    Aged 25
    3rd Bn.
    Canadian Infantry

    M C and Bar

    Son of Capt. G. J. Cliff, of 201, Parkside Drive, Toronto.
    Enlisted Aug., 1914, reached France Feb., 1915.
    Wounded in 1915, accidentally injured May 16, 1917. KIA at Drocourt-Queant Line
    Office Manager of the Toronto Salt Works.
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  7. minden1759

    minden1759 Senior Member


    You are wrong to compare the employment of Canadian battalions in the way that the British employed Indian battalions. The policy of having one British, and where possible one Gurkha battalion, alongside two Indian battalions in an Indian Infantry Brigade, was the result of hard lessons learnt at the Indian Mutiny of 1857. This single event compelled the British, for their own security, to insist on a reliable British unit to always be available to butcher any future mutinous Indian soldiers if the occasion required it. The East India Company only had locally recruited indigenous units - officered by the British and so were quickly outnumbered and outgunned if those indigenous units mutinied.

    The Canadians could never be put in the same bracket. They were never mutinous.


  8. canuck

    canuck Closed Account

    Only when provoked.
    I know many WW2 vets, all volunteers, were highly impatient with authorities over their demobilization. The job was done, they had done their part and they badly wanted to recover some lost youth after, in many cases, 4-5 years given of military service.

    Kinmel Park mutiny - Wikipedia

    "The post war repatriation of 267,813 Canadian soldiers and an estimated 54,000 dependents was an enormous logistical challenge. Trans-Atlantic shipping had been allotted to the Canadians for up to 50,000 departures per month, but some of the first vessels available were far from adequate and their arrival in Canada created a minor scandal. The ensuing demand for better ships resulted in delays and cancellations overseas as the authorities searched for more suitable vessels. Exceptionally bad winter weather and a rash of strikes by dock workers, police officers, and railway employees in Great Britain worsened the mood of waiting troops.
    A further difficulty was the capacity of Canadian ports and railways to handle the influx of people. The railroads could initially promise only 25,000 spaces per month, exactly half the number of soldiers and dependents expected to arrive. Saint John and Halifax were the only large, ice-free Canadian ports, and the latter was still rebuilding from a massive explosion the previous year that had destroyed most dockside facilities."
    Veterans - Repatriation and Demobilization | Canada and the First World War
    Last edited: Feb 6, 2018
  9. A-58

    A-58 Not so senior Member Patron

    Canadian troops were involved in the Aleutian Campaign also. Read all about it, courtesy of Wiki.

    On 15 August 1943, an invasion force of 34,426 Canadian and American troops landed on Kiska. Castner's Cutthroats were part of the force, but the invasion consisted mainly of units from the U.S. 7th Infantry Division. The force also included about 5,300 Canadians, mostly from the 13th Canadian Infantry Brigade of the 6th Canadian Infantry Division, and the 1st Special Service Force, later known as the "Devil's Brigade," a 2,000 man Canadian-American commando unit formed in 1942 in Montana and trained in winter warfare techniques. The Brigade included three regiments: the 1st was to go ashore in the first wave at Kiska Harbor, the 2nd was to be held in reserve to parachute where needed, and the 3rd was to land on the north side of Kiska on the second day of the assault. The 87th Regiment of the 10th Mountain Division, the only major U.S. force specifically trained for mountain warfare, was also part of the operation. The only casualties were from friendly fire when a Canadian soldier mistakenly shot at American forces, starting a shooting match in the dense fog.

    Royal Canadian Air Force No. 111 and No. 14 Squadrons saw active service in the Aleutian skies and scored at least one aerial kill on a Japanese aircraft. Additionally, three Canadian armed merchant cruisers and two corvettes served in the Aleutian campaign but did not encounter enemy forces.

    This was the first time that Canadian draftees were sent out of Canada. I believe that Canadian conscripts were not to be deployed outside of North America. But since the Aleutians were the farthest part of northwest North America, the draftees were fair game.
    Last edited: Feb 6, 2018
  10. Sheldrake

    Sheldrake All over the place....

    Hmmm Aldershot 1941-42... Boredom and disciplinary problems are one reason why the Canadian Army was so keen to take part in the Dieppe Raid.
  11. minden1759

    minden1759 Senior Member

    The breaking of a few windows is not comparable to the slaughter meated out by the Indians in 1857.

    1857 so shocked the British that their retaliation was on an even more brutal scale and led to the demise of the East India Company and the transfer of its powers to a properly constituted colonial government.
  12. canuck

    canuck Closed Account

    Has the 'mistakenly' been verified? :sleep:
  13. A-58

    A-58 Not so senior Member Patron

    That concept was a source of spirited debate over on WW2F. It was left at “mistakenly”.
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