Appendix G: Note on the Equipment of the Canadian Army Overseas, 1939–1945
This very brief note deals only with the most important items of armament and equipment used during the Second World War; the object is to give the general reader a non-technical bird’s-eye view of the subject, indicating very briefly how the weapons of 1918 pattern with which the Canadian Militia was equipped in 1939 gradually gave place to modern equipment, much of it manufactured and some of it developed in Canada.
Only weapons and armoured fighting vehicles are dealt with, and even in these fields only items issued generally and in large numbers. In the interest of brevity, transport vehicles are omitted, as is also Engineer, Signals and other specialized technical equipment.
Rifles. Until November 1942 the rifle of the Canadian Army was the .303-inch Short Magazine Lee-Enfield No. 1 (Marks III and III*) as used in the First World War; during the following months it was replaced by the No. 4, which in June 1943 became available from Canadian sources. Features of the new rifle were greater simplicity of design, the aperture battle-sight which allowed quicker aim, an improved distribution of weight, and the shorter spike type bayonet. The No. 4 rifle was generally, though by no means universally, preferred to the No. 1; the chief objection was to the battle sight, which could be set only at 300 and 600 yards. In July 1944 this device began to be replaced by the more satisfactory aperture leaf sight.
Machine Carbines (Sub-Machine-Guns). The machine carbine issued to the Canadian Army early in the war was the American Thompson (.45-inch). In 1942 the 9-millimetre Sten was introduced, and in June 1943 the Canadian-made Sten was adopted as standard issue. The Sten was cheap, light, and extremely simple; it had a greater magazine capacity than the Thompson, and could fire captured 9-millimetre ammunition. The Sten was first used by Canadians at Dieppe. It was not, especially at first, a particularly popular weapon; but many cases of unsatisfactory performance were attributable to inadequate training. In conformity with British practice Canadian formations in the Mediterranean used the Thompson, but on rejoining the First Canadian Army in 1945 they were again given the Sten.
Light Machine-Guns. The light machine-gun was a basic weapon of the infantry. It used the same ammunition as the service rifle. Until early in 1940 Canadian units overseas were still equipped with the Lewis, which had been used in the First World War; only gradually during 1940–41 was this gun replaced by the Bren. The first Canadian-made Brens arrived overseas in November 1940. The Bren was a very satisfactory weapon.
Medium Machine-Guns. The medium machine-gun is an infantry support weapon capable of more accurate and sustained fire than the light machine-gun, and at longer range. It has been effectively employed mounted on a carrier, but is normally fired from a tripod. The medium machine-gun of the Canadian Army was the .303 Vickers which had been used during the First World War; a dial sight had been added to it and with the introduction of new ammunition its range had been considerably increased. It was a first-class weapon in spite of its age.
Mortars. The Canadian Army used three types of mortar: the 4.2-inch (firing a 20-pound bomb), adopted in December 1942; the 3-inch, firing a 10-pound bomb; and the 2-inch, an infantry platoon weapon using a 21/2-pound bomb. In the summer of 1941 the issue of Canadian-made 2-inch and 3-inch mortars commenced. In the winter of 1943–44 the range of the 3-inch mortar was increased from 1600 to 2800 yards.
Infantry Anti-Tank Weapons. In the autumn of 1942 infantry anti-tank platoons were equipped with the 2-pounder gun; this was replaced in the summer of 1943 by the 6-pounder. Other anti-tank devices of the infantry included the No. 68 grenade and
the .55-inch Boys anti-tank rifle (which in 1942 became available in considerable quantity from Canadian sources); both these weapons were replaced early in 1943 by the Projector Infantry Anti-Tank. This PIAT was a shoulder-controlled weapon firing a hollow-charge bomb designed to penetrate armour. Despite its short range it proved highly effective against buildings, pillboxes and all types of tank. The incidence of failure of the bomb to explode on an oblique hit was greatly reduced by the adoption of the “graze” fuse early in 1944.
Flame. Late in 1942 the Ronson flame-thrower, developed in the United Kingdom with Canadian cooperation and manufactured in Canada, was received. This weapon, mounted on a specially modified Universal carrier, was subsequently replaced by the Wasp, a similar device with longer range. The Canadian variant of the Wasp known as the Wasp Mark IIC proved effective in operations, as did the Badger, a Canadian development consisting of a “Kangaroo” armoured personnel carrier mounting a Wasp II flame gun.
General. In distinguishing between “field” and “medium” artillery, it is convenient to think of a field gun as projecting a 25-pound shell up to seven miles, and a medium as firing an 80-to 100-pound shell up to ten miles.
Field Artillery. In 1939 the new 25-pounder gun-howitzer* was not yet available, but field regiments of the Royal Canadian Artillery overseas were equipped from British stocks with 18/25 pounders (converted 18-pounders); of necessity, obsolescent 18-pounder and 75-millimetre guns were also used for a time. These were replaced during 1941 by the 25-pounder. Commencing 1 July 1941 this weapon was received from Canadian sources. It was an excellent gun.
Self-Propelled Field Artillery. During 1943, two other types of field gun were adopted. These were “self-propelled” (mounted on tank chassis, rather than towed). One was the Canadian-designed and Canadian-manufactured 25-pounder Sexton, using a Ram chassis, received late in 1943; the other was the American 105-millimetre Priest. Self-propelled artillery was used in armoured formations, and by the 3rd Infantry Division in the assault landing in Normandy.
Medium Artillery. The original equipment of the Canadian medium artillery in the Second World War was the 6-inch howitzer. This began, in October 1941, to be replaced by the 5.5-inch gun-howitzer. In view of there being insufficient supplies of the 5.5 to meet increased demands, the 4.5-inch gun-howitzer was introduced in Italy in February 1944, as a stop-gap measure. This weapon, which had greater range and accuracy, proved quite popular and some were therefore retained, supplementing the 5.5.
Anti-Tank Artillery. In January 1942 it was decided that the 2-pounder gun should be completely replaced in anti-tank regiments by the 6-pounder. Other anti-tank guns subsequently used were the 17-pounder, the American self-propelled 3-inch M-10 and the self-propelled 17-pounder. The towed 17-pounder and 6-pounder were retained, but on a decreasing scale.
Anti-Aircraft Artillery. The light anti-aircraft gun of the Canadian Army was the Bofors (40-millimetre); the heavy equipment was the 3.7-inch. In view of the declining strength of the enemy air force, it was found possible – and effective – to employ both these weapons against ground targets. The Bofors was available from Canadian as well as British sources; in October 1943 the proportion of Canadian-made Bofors increased to almost 40%. Another weapon incorporated into light anti-aircraft regiments, brigade support groups and certain armoured formations was the 20-millimetre gun. Comparatively little need was found for this weapon in its primary role, and its mounting was not well suited to ground use; in August 1944 accordingly it was withdrawn from use. In light anti-aircraft, as in most other artillery, a trend developed in favour of self-propelled equipment.
* A “gun-howitzer” is a weapon capable of firing either at a low angle as a gun or the high angle characteristic of a howitzer.
Armoured Fighting Vehicles
General. The only vehicles dealt with are those employed in close contact with the enemy, and in considerable numbers; namely tanks, carriers, armoured personnel carriers, light tanks, armoured cars and scout cars. The last two are wheeled vehicles, the remainder are fully tracked; no “half-tracks” are included.
Tanks. On arrival in the United Kingdom Canadian armoured formations were equipped with the British Churchill and Matilda infantry tanks, and the American General Lee cruiser tank. The first intention was that the Churchill should become standard equipment for army tank brigades, and the Canadian Ram cruiser for armoured divisions. The Churchill was used at Dieppe, but even before that operation it had been decided to replace it with either the Ram or the American General Sherman. The Ram (which began to arrive from Canada early in 1942) did not promise to be as satisfactory an operational tank as the Sherman, which was of later design and may have been influenced by a “mock-up” model of the Ram; but it gave good service for training purposes, and some Rams served in the field as armoured personnel carriers, flame-throwers, observation post tanks or armoured gun towers.* The Sherman, a 30-ton “medium” cruiser tank, was adopted for all Canadian armoured formations and used in the campaigns in Italy and North-West Europe. Its armament normally consisted of a 75-millimetre gun and two .30-inch machine guns; later some Shermans mounted the British 17-pounder or the 105-millimetre. The Sherman was a good tank, particularly reliable mechanically, but its armour was vulnerable to the best German guns, to which moreover the 75-mm. gun was inferior.
Carriers. Uses of the carrier included the conveyance of infantry carrier platoon personnel and their weapons, carrying the 3-inch mortar and the medium machine-gun (and occasionally mounting the latter), towing the 6-pounder antitank gun and the 4.2-inch mortar, and mounting the Ronson and Wasp 2 flamethrowers. For towing purposes the American-made Universal T16 was used; otherwise the standard carrier of the Canadian Army was the Canadian-made Universal.
Armoured Personnel Carriers. The armoured personnel carrier (“Kangaroo”) was a modified tank or self-propelled gun, used for carrying infantry into battle with a minimum of casualties: its normal load was about 12 men. “Kangaroos” were first used in Operation TOTALIZE in Normandy (7–9 Aug. 44). The original armoured personnel carrier was a self-propelled Priest with the gun removed; this was succeeded by a modified Ram cruiser.
Miscellaneous. The standard light tank, used as a general-purpose vehicle in armoured formations, was the American General Stuart (“Honey”). Scout cars, employed in reconnaissance and liaison roles, included the Humber. Among other armoured vehicles of the Canadian Army were the American Staghound and the British Daimler armoured cars.
* See J. de N. Kennedy, History of the Department of Munitions and Supply (Ottawa, 1950), I, 99.