Appendix I: Newfoundland Army Units Overseas
Shortly after, the outbreak of the Second World War, the Newfoundland authorities agreed with the British War Office that one or more artillery regiments should be formed from men offering their services in Newfoundland. Accordingly, on 6 February 1940, a Proclamation by His Excellency the Governor of Newfoundland called for volunteers to “form one complete Heavy Royal Artillery Regiment, and, as far as possible, other Heavy Royal Artillery Regiments”. The call met a ready response. In March a recruiting party from the United Kingdom arrived in Newfoundland, and by the middle of April the first draft of 403 volunteers was on its way overseas. By the end of September 1940, 1373 men for the Royal Artillery had been dispatched from Newfoundland.
The first unit to be formed from these drafts was the 57th (Newfoundland) Heavy Regiment R.A. Two months later, on 15 June 1940, the 59th (Newfoundland) Heavy Regiment R.A. was formed. Both regiments were built around a small skilled core of English officers and other ranks, although it was not long before Newfoundland personnel were sufficiently trained to take over the duties of English NCOs. In due course some Newfoundlanders were commissioned.
In England in 1940 the two units played somewhat similar roles. The Newfoundlanders helped to man the heavy guns on England’s south-eastern coast. At the same time, the 59th Regiment was prepared to assume an infantry role and take over a sector of the Tunbridge Wells defences. As the threat of invasion lessened, more emphasis was placed on regular training as artillery units. The 59th Regiment remained in the Tunbridge Wells area for several years. Here it took part in many large-scale exercises, and early in 1944, with its four batteries newly equipped with 7.2-inch howitzers and 155-millimetre guns, it was undergoing intensive training for the part it would play in the Normandy invasion. Meanwhile, the new C.O. of the 57th Regiment, Lt. Col. H. G. Lambert. had “agitated on behalf of the men for a change to field guns so they could get real action.” As a result this unit became the 166th (Newfoundland) Field Regiment R.A. on 15 November 1941, and its former heavy equipment was replaced with 25-pounders.
In January 1943 the 166th Field Regiment left the United Kingdom for North Africa. By the end of February all its batteries were actively engaged on the central sector of the Tunisian front. The Newfoundlanders supported French and British units until the end of the Tunisian campaign. In October the Regiment was ordered to Italy, and upon arrival came under command of the 5th British Corps. Almost immediately it went into action supporting the 8th Indian Division’s 17th Brigade in the San Salvo area north of the Trigno River. Late in November the Regiment supported the attack on the Sangro River line at Mozzagrogna. Thereafter, together with the remainder of the 5th Corps artillery, it supported the 1st Canadian Division’s attack south of Ortona on 18 December. It took part in the famous “Morning Glory” barrage opening this operation, the second phase of which was recorded as “one of the biggest barrages which the Regiment had yet fired”.
After giving support to Canadian, Indian, British and other Eighth Army formations early in the New Year, the unit was given a short rest preparatory to moving to the Cassino front. Here it supported the 2nd New Zealand, 4th Indian and 78th British Divisions in turn. It returned to the 5th British Corps on 11 April and relieved the 11th Field Regiment at Castelfrentano where it suffered heavy casualties from shelling. Early in June the Regiment was given the role of supporting
the 184th Italian Infantry Brigade, but shortly afterwards was withdrawn for a rest and calibration of guns at Vinchiaturo.
After the fall of Rome the 166th moved north under command of the 10th British Corps, then fighting in the mountainous terrain west of Ancona. During the first weeks of August the Regiment was engaged in the Citta di Castello area north of Perugia. For the remainder of the month, still in the mountains south of Florence, it supported Indian infantry formations near Anghiari, troops of the 85th U.S. Infantry Division and later the 24th Guards Brigade. At the beginning of September the Regiment crossed the Arno River and continued the advance through Castiglione to a position near Vergato, south of Bologna. During the winter of 1944–45 the 166th remained in support of the 24th Guards Brigade, then serving in the Fifth U.S. Army. Snow and ice made living conditions miserable and movement in the Apennines was hazardous. On 19 February 1945 the Regiment was taken out of the line for a rest, so ending an 18-month period during which it had been almost continuously active on the various fronts. It saw no more action.
On 5 July 1944 the 59th (Newfoundland) Heavy Regiment R.A., commanded by Lt. Col. R. C. Longfield. landed at Courseulles in Normandy under the command of the 1st British Corps. Within 24 hours its batteries were engaging the enemy.
The 59th Regiment was very active during the Normandy campaign. On 7 August it supported the 2nd Canadian Division in the breakout attack towards Falaise, after which it occupied successive positions at Montigny, Angoville and Noron l’Abbaye before being moved up to cover the crossing of the Seine. On 28 August the 23rd Battery was detached to support the 12th British Corps’ advance. Its 155-mm. guns were in action at Nijmegen at the time of the airborne landing at Arnhem in September.
Late in September the Regiment came under command of the First Canadian Army. While one battery, under the 4th Canadian Armoured Division, was bombarding shipping in Flushing Harbour, the remaining two (the 23rd was still with the 12th British Corps and was not ordered to rejoin the Regiment until 6 November) gave support to the Canadians in Belgium and south-west Holland. In October, the Regiment took part in the fire plan supporting “Switchback”, the 3rd Canadian Division’s operation designed to clear the “Breskens pocket” south of the Scheldt. Subsequently it fired in support of the 2nd Canadian Division’s operation on South Beveland. On 6 November the 59th came under command of the Second British Army and supported various British formations eliminating enemy resistance west of the Meuse in the Venlo-Roermond area.
The beginning of 1945 found the Regiment divided again: two batteries were supporting the British and American units at the tip of the German bulge in the Ardennes sector while the two remaining batteries were still active on the Venlo–Roermond front. During January both groups were constantly engaged. Early in February the Regiment moved to the Grave area where it was to take part in the First Canadian Army’s opening attack of Operation “Veritable”. Supported by over 1000 guns, this operation was designed to clear the enemy west of the Rhine, and for the 59th Heavy Regiment it was the beginning of its most strenuous period in action. Throughout February and early March it gave valuable supporting fire to the 30th British and 2nd Canadian Corps in their struggle to clear the enemy from his well-fortified positions between the Maas and Rhine Rivers. After taking part in the battle in the Goch–Wesel area, the Regiment was moved to a less active position in preparation for the attack across the Rhine.
On 23 March it fired for eight hours in support of this attack. Four days later it went forward with the 12th British Corps attack near Wesel. The 59th Regiment subsequently took part in the final operations in the British sector of the Western front – the capture of Bremen and the crossing of the Elbe at Lauenburg.
A total of 2327 Newfoundlanders served overseas with the Regiments. Of these 72 lost their lives.
On the Newfoundland Overseas Forestry Unit, see Chapter VI, above.
The foregoing account is based mainly on the war diaries of the two artillery regiments; on an article on the 166th Field Regiment in the Eighth Army News, 2 January 1944; and on an unpublished draft history prepared on the initiative of the Newfoundland Government.