Chapter 7: Command and Control of Canadian Forces in the United Kingdom
Problems of Control
The control of the military forces of Canada, a relatively small nation and only lately arrived at nationhood, in a world war in which she was a partner with great foreign powers as well as with her sister nations of the Commonwealth, naturally presented special problems.
In field operations, in which all other considerations are secondary to the defeat of the enemy, Canada inevitably surrendered a very large measure of operational control over her troops to the designated supreme Allied commanders in the theatres, and to the commanders of the higher formations in which her troops were serving. In “nonoperational areas” no such surrenders were made. The “external relations” of the Canadian Army, in theatres of war and in the United Kingdom, are dealt with elsewhere in this history: in subsequent chapters of the present volume, in the volumes dealing with major campaigns, and in the volume dealing with the military policies of the country. The Army, however, also had problems of control within itself: it was necessary to define the division of responsibility as between the static headquarters and the field headquarters overseas, and between the two overseas headquarters and National Defence Headquarters in Ottawa. These domestic questions are the matter of the present chapter.
Relationship Between CMHQ and Field Headquarters
From the outset it was important to establish clearly the relationship between Canadian Military Headquarters, London, and the senior Canadian field headquarters (originally Headquarters 1st Canadian Division and ultimately Headquarters First Canadian Army); and this of course affected the question of channels of communication between British and Canadian forces. The Senior Officer at CMHQ was obviously in a key position, because of his contacts with the War Office on the one hand and NDHQ on the other, but from the start General Crerar made it clear that he
recognized the preeminence of General McNaughton’s command in the Canadian Army Overseas, and the vital necessity of close and friendly relations between CMHQ and the Canadian forces in the field. In a memorandum written shortly after his arrival in England,1 he indicated that he was “being guided by recollections of the organization which was evolved during the period 1914–18”:
In the last Great War, it was endeavoured to solve the problem by setting up an Overseas Ministry (OMF of C) and appointing a General Officer Commanding Canadian Forces in the British Isles* as the Senior Military Officer of that Ministry with duties as indicated by his title.
* The appointment of the senior military officer in the Ministry of Overseas Military Forces was actually Chief of the General Staff, OMFC2
This arrangement proved to have grave disadvantages. Misunderstandings between the OMF of C, with its large Staff organization under the General Officer Commanding, and the Canadian Corps in France occurred, and there was a regrettable lack of cooperation, tending even to competition, between the personnel of the Canadian Staffs and Forces in the British Isles, and those in France. Thus the OMF of C became more of a barrier than a link between the two vital centres of Canadian military effort, i.e. the Department of National Defence in Ottawa, and the Canadian Corps in France.
Crerar strongly advocated establishing the principle that “the General Officer Commanding the Canadian Forces in the theatre of war shall have the last word in recommendations to the Department of National Defence on all questions of organization, personnel, and particularly appointments to Command and Staff of the forces” in both England and the theatre. In practice, indeed, there was no doubt about the preeminence of General McNaughton’s position; and in the course of time it was recognized that apart from his field command he acted in another capacity in which he became known as Senior Combatant Officer of the Canadian Army Overseas, a term which “grew into use by custom without becoming formally established by the issuance of any order”.3
The precise scope of the authority of the Senior Officer at CMHQ was defined by Crerar in a second memorandum, of 26 February 19404 (an interpretation of McNaughton’s instructions from the CGS, dated 9 December 1939), which McNaughton approved:
Canadian non-divisional troops, as detailed from time to time are under the command of the GOC 1st Canadian Division for all purposes. On departure from the United Kingdom of the 1st Canadian Division, they will come under the command of the Senior Officer, Canadian Military Headquarters, who will also command Canadian reinforcement depots and all Canadian units in the United Kingdom other than those forming part of the 1st Canadian Division or subsequently attached thereto by direction of the Department of National Defence.
The channels of communication to be followed by Canadian commanders in the United Kingdom, and their relationship to the Canadian High Commissioner in London, likewise required definition. Crerar defined them as follows:
2. The control of the organization and administration of Canadian Forces overseas, both in Great Britain and in the theatre of operations, will be exercised by the Minister of National Defence. His instructions will be issued through the
Chief of the General Staff to Commanders in the Field and in the United Kingdom, the latter including Canadian Military Headquarters. The channel for communications on policy will be through the High Commissioner for Canada in the United Kingdom, who will be advised in military matters by Canadian Military Headquarters as required.*
* The CGS queried some details of this memorandum, and took particular exception to the word “advised”, pointing out that his own memorandum limited the duty of CMHQ to giving information to the High Commissioner.5 For a later definition of the functions of CMHQ (June 1940) see above, page 195.
Similarly, on matters of policy, the channel of communication between the Minister of National Defence and the GOC 1st Canadian Division is through the High Commissioner. To preserve coordination, it has been arranged that copies of all communications on Policy questions to and from the Minister of National Defence will be inter-changed between 1st Canadian Division and Canadian Military Headquarters.
3. The Department of National Defence will communicate with Canadian Military Headquarters direct on matters of detail. The GOC 1st Canadian Division, and the Senior Officer Canadian Military Headquarters will maintain direct communication with each other on matters of mutual concern, and the former will transmit his observations and requirements to the Department of National Defence through Canadian Military Headquarters.
4. Canadian Military Headquarters will maintain close liaison with the War Office on behalf of the Department of National Defence and of the GOC 1st Canadian Division.
A good start had thus been made in the delicate business of establishing the relationship that was to exist between CMHQ and the field commander. General Crerar’s contribution, attested to by General McNaughton, is summed up in the following telegram of 9 July from the High Commissioner to the Prime Minister of Canada:6
On the conclusion of Crerar’s duties as Senior Officer, CMHQ, London,. McNaughton has stated to me that he feels under the deepest obligation to this Officer for the effective organization and set-up at Canadian Military Headquarters which relieved the GOC of much detailed work otherwise necessary, thereby freeing time and attention for the particular business of organizing and training Canadian troops. Fortunately no sharp line of demarcation between the duties of GOC and SO, CMHQ was laid down and in consequence burden has been adjusted as circumstances required. In all matters. Crerar has shown tact, discretion and has used good judgment. When, from time to time, as was inevitable, Division or CMHQ found themselves on wrong paths he was willing and anxious to re-assess position and correct it where necessary. McNaughton feels that Crerar returns to you with probably as good a knowledge of military position in Great Britain as anyone in London; that he has clear ideas of the requirements to be met in Canada both present and future and finally that if he is given sufficient authority he can make a contribution of the very greatest importance to the military administration of the Department.
After nine months in London Crerar was now brought back to Ottawa, where as we have seen he became Chief of the General Staff. It was of great advantage in the crucial formative period 1940–1941 to have a CGS who had personal experience of the military situation in the United Kingdom and who was on good terms with the senior Canadian officers there. At the same time continuity was maintained at CMHQ with the appointment of Brigadier Montague as Senior Officer with the rank of major general. A year
and a half later, with the main job of organization completed in Canada, Crerar of his own choice gave up the senior appointment in the Canadian Army to take a field command overseas. He arrived back in the United Kingdom in December 1941 to command the 2nd Division, but owing to the extended illness of General McNaughton he immediately assumed acting command of the Canadian Corps.* On his recovery McNaughton, after a visit to Canada, became GOC-in-C the newly-established First Canadian Army. Consequently General Crerar was confirmed in the command of the 1st Canadian Corps.7 He had been succeeded as Chief of the General Staff by Lieut.General Kenneth Stuart, formerly Vice Chief.
Relationship Between NDHQ and the Army Overseas
As the months passed and the Canadian Army Overseas expanded, it inevitably began to develop a somewhat independent outlook of its own. That the soldiers overseas tended to acquire a healthy contempt for those still at home was perhaps of no great consequence, since it meant little more than pride in their own units and formations. (They did not stop to think that a large number of General Service men, who would greatly have preferred overseas postings, were obliged to serve in humdrum tasks in Canada.) More serious was the growing lack of intimacy between the Canadian Government and National Defence Headquarters on the one hand and the Canadian Army Overseas on the other. ‘Even on the administrative side, despite the benefits of cable and telephone, the effort to bridge 3000 miles of ocean was fraught with difficulties. Geographical remoteness helped to produce different types of thinking on military problems and Canada’s military leaders became increasingly aware of the necessity of closer liaison between the staffs “on the spot” and those in Ottawa.
One of Crerar’s prime concerns as Chief of the General Staff was to maintain the soundest possible relationship with the Army overseas and his correspondence with McNaughton indicates that an intimate relationship continued to subsist between them. A quotation from a letter8 which Crerar wrote to McNaughton on 6 January 1941 serves to illustrate this point and the problem generally:
As you and I know, there is nothing more important than to build up a sense of mutual trust and evidence of whole-hearted cooperation between the Department of National Defence in Ottawa and the Canadian Corps and Canadian Military Headquarters overseas. If these physically separated portions of the Canadian Army organization develop antagonisms towards one another, then national unity will suffer and with it our capacity and energy to wage war.
* General McNaughton’s temporary respite from the duties of Corps Commander did not affect his status as Senior Combatant Officer and he continued to transact a considerable amount of business in his sickroom.
2. Since my return to Ottawa in my present appointment I have utilized every opportunity to impress on those about me, and under me, that our main responsibility is to assist the Canadian Forces overseas in every way that lies in our power. ...
3. 1 am hoping that you particularly, and also Price [Montague], can convince your subordinate Commanders and staff that the situation I have described above is indeed developing, if it is not already in being. I can’t imagine anything more to be deplored than a tendency towards division of the Canadian Army and its Headquarters into two “camps” on either side of the Atlantic; one “knocking” the efforts of the other in its endeavour successfully to get on with this business of waging war.
Crerar hoped to bring the two parts of the Army closer together by the exchange of staff officers, but McNaughton, not unnaturally, was worried about the effect of too many changes on the various staffs that he was building up. On 7 May 1941 Crerar gave the Ottawa point of view in a telegram9 to General Montague:
Am sure you appreciate that my one ambition is to enable GOC Cdn Corps and yourself to lean confidently and heavily on me which is reverse of what you suggest. It is essential to this purpose that from time to time well qualified Staff Officers with Overseas experience return to NDHQ in order that your difficulties may be constantly appreciated and steps taken to meet them. It is also important that similar gaff Offrs in Canada should be given occasional opportunity of filling appointments overseas.
Behind the problem of interchanging staff officers lay a more fundamental difference of opinion over the role of CMHQ, which the CGS regarded as a “forward extension of NDHQ” Crerar developed his views further in another communication to Montague:10
I would reiterate that I feel the answer to this problem lies in acceptance of the idea that NDHQ and CMHQ are two echelons of a single entity. We want above all to prevent any cleavage and we want to get the best officers into command and staff vacancies no matter where these officers happen to be serving. That means constant interchange on the lines I have indicated. If we were separated by 30 miles instead of 3,000 the problem would, I feel, seem simple. But I do not think geographical distance should be allowed to affect the principle.
While General McNaughton agreed to the general principle of exchanging personnel he held different views regarding the role of CMHQ This affected the question of his own position and the extent of his authority, which, as he said, had never been clearly defined. He took advantage of Mr. Mackenzie King’s visit to the United Kingdom in August and September of 1941 to broach the subject to him.* The following is an extract from General McNaughton’s memorandum11 of the interview, which includes a summary of the points made in the form of a letter to the Prime Minister; this may have been handed to Mr. King during the interview, but this is not specifically stated:
I think ... that it would be well if my authority as Senior Combatant Officer of the Canadian Army in the U.K. should be clarified so that I will not constantly be worried particularly by minor questions of my jurisdiction. ...
* It was during this visit, while speaking to men assembled for a sports day at Aldershot on 23 August, that Mr. King was “booed” by some of his audience.
I believe that the Government of Canada now look to me to see that all matters relating to our Army in the U.K. are kept right and it follows that there must be no doubt in anyone’s mind as to where the authority has been placed as regards the decision on policy. It being expected of course that in carrying out the details I would have the help and the assistance of the Senior Officer, CMHQ and the Staff which has been set up there for these purposes.
Recently, there has been evident an increasing tendency on the part of the authorities in Ottawa to develop CMHQ as a forward Echelon of NDHQ rather than to regard it as a most important part of the lines of communication of the Canadian Corps to NDHQ and to the government of Canada in Ottawa and as the agent of the Commander in all relations with the War Office specifically.
McNaughton recorded that he had asked for “a clear statement that CMHQ was primarily a link in my communications to Canada and not a forward echelon of NDHQ in England, except in a few special matters where they might act as an agency for NDHQ with the War Office in matters not concerning the Cdn Corps or other Cdn Troops in the U.K.” He also asked authority to fix establishments and to make promotions up to the rank of brigadier. “All of this,” he said, “is not a request for a ‘blank cheque’. It is a request for proper authority to implement established policies in consequential matters which can only be decided here for the reason that the information and experience is nowhere else available to Canada. The reason for this request is to enable decisions to be taken promptly on a vast variety of minor matters affecting detailed administration.” Constant reference of such matters to Ottawa led to endless delay and to choking the channels of communication with vexatious detail when “our minds should be kept clear for more effective development of policies”.
General McNaughton recorded that Mr. King expressed appreciation of his analysis and undertook to bring these matters before the Cabinet War Committee. He did so on 10 September, saying that the General felt the need of his authority being better defined. The point mainly dwelt upon in this connection, however, was another complaint made by McNaughton, relative to his authority to commit Canadian forces to operations outside the United Kingdom (see below, page 263). Six months later, in the course of discussions in Canada between Colonel Ralston and Generals McNaughton and Stuart, following the decision to form the First Canadian Army with McNaughton as its commander, agreement was reached as to the Army Commander’s powers in modifying war establishments and in making appointments and promotions.* In the latter regard he was to have power to make appointments and promotions up to the rank of colonel “to fill vacancies in War Establishments of all Staffs and Units in the U.K. under the control of Army Headquarters.” He was also to be consulted “in respect to the appointment of the Senior Officer of CMHQ and of any officer detailed to carry out the duties of this office.” Moreover it was agreed that
* The substance of these decisions was given in telegram GSD 602 to CMHQ (23 March 1942),12 which became the authority for using these powers.
“provisional appointments at CMHQ up to and including the rank of Colonel may, with the agreement of the Senior Officer, CMHQ, be made by Army Headquarters subject to confirmation by NDHQ”
The problem of sending staff officers from Canada to the United Kingdom was settled by an agreement that the CGS might send such officers as he deemed suitable, for attachment either to CMHQ or Army Headquarters. Definite appointments for these officers were to be dealt with by the Selection Board established at CMHQ With respect to the modification of war establishments the Army Commander was given, with certain limitations, “authority to set up Provisional War Establishments to cover experimental and temporary organizations and special courses of instruction.” Other powers in this respect were defined by an Order in Council13 which gave him power (a) to amend existing Canadian war establishments by additions up to five per cent of the total strength in the case of units of 100 or more all ranks, or by adding not more than five other ranks in the case of smaller units, and (b) to amend establishments to conform with British amendments by additions up to 10 per cent of the total strength in the case of units of 100 or more all ranks and up to an increase of 10 all ranks in the case of smaller units. Authorization for these increases included “consequential changes” in equipment.*
The formation of First Canadian Army also raised questions concerning CMHQ’s role after the Army Headquarters was set up. As a result of the discussions between Ralston, McNaughton and Stuart a division of responsibilities between the two headquarters was worked out in general terms. Army Headquarters, of course, assumed many responsibilities formerly exercised by Corps Headquarters. It was also to administer Line of Communication, Army and Base units, which had hitherto been looked after by CMHQ, but, on the request of the Army Commander, it was agreed that CMHQ might continue to administer such units while the Army remained in the United Kingdom, and also those units that the Army might leave behind when it proceeded abroad. Significantly it was decided that CMHQ was to “continue to be the advanced echelon of NDHQ” in
* Previously, as indicated in the lengthy preamble to the Order, changes involving not more than five per cent of the cost of the existing establishment had been allowed “subject, however, to confirmation by the Minister of National Defence and to the final approval of the Governor-in-Council”. Changes involving not more than 10 per cent increase in cost could “be put into effect on the authority of the Minister of National Defence, subject to the final approval of the Governor-in-Council.” Experience showed that reserving all cases for the Minister’s approval led to unnecessary delays, while tying the limitation to a percentage of the increase in cost was impracticable because of the difficulty in making firm financial estimates. Moreover, it was felt that “His Excellency in Council should not be encumbered” by such a flow of insignificant amendments for approval as had developed in the past year.
Additional powers regarding the modification of war establishments, along much the same lines as those indicated above, were granted the Army Commander by telegrams CGS 139, 6 March 1943, and CGS 149, 13 March 1943.14
which capacity it was to act as NDHQ’s agent with the War Office and, through the High Commissioner, with other Departments of the British Government.15 Subsequently General McNaughton explained to the Director of Staff Duties at the War Office that it was desirable that on all matters of ordinary business CMHQ should continue to deal with the War Office only and that Headquarters First Canadian Army should communicate with GHQ Home Forces only. However, when policy matters arose with the War Office that required his personal attention, he would, he said, attend at the War Office, “accompanied by the appropriate staff officers from CMHQ”16 On matters of detail, he proposed to deal directly with South Eastern Command.
On General McNaughton’s instructions a committee, consisting of the DA&QMG at Army Headquarters and the heads of the three branches at CMHQ, was formed to work out a more detailed allocation of duties between the two headquarters. It was recognized that should the Canadian Army operate in a theatre “independently from other formations” it would be necessary to reconstruct the Headquarters on a GHQ basis and probably to appoint Commanders of the Line of Communication and the Base Sub Area. The more likely contingency, however, and the one which actually developed, was that “the Canadian Army would be under the operational control of a British or other Allied General Headquarters,” which would look after all rearward services. This would and did necessitate the setting up of Canadian Sections 1st and 2nd Echelons at General (Army Group) Headquarters to handle Canadian business. It seemed preferable to leave the “detailed administration of Canadian L. of C. and Base Establishments” to the care of CMHQ It was further agreed that where it was deemed advisable matters of detailed administration involving all Canadian field formations should be routed directly to CMHQ17 The accompanying chart, which was drawn up by the Committee, indicates the complexity of the channels of communication. At the same time a detailed table was prepared showing the actual allocation of duties as between CMHQ and Army Headquarters. Army Headquarters, as the staff of the Army Commander, who was also Senior Combatant Officer of the Canadian Army Overseas, was generally responsible for the formation of policy, liaison with GHQ Home Forces (subsequently with 21st Army Group), and the training and subsequently the operations of its own units and formations. CMHQ was primarily concerned with the detailed application of policy in the administrative field, liaison with the War Office and other British governmental agencies, and the training of troops under its command, particularly the reinforcement units.18
Theoretically the formation of a Canadian Army Headquarters should have reduced the responsibilities and consequently the size of CMHQ
Therefore the committee’s final report19 tackled this fundamental question of whether the functions of CMHQ might now be curtailed in the interests of efficiency and economy. The answer was in the negative. Matters of high policy, which always had to be discussed with the authorities in Canada, were the concern of the Army Commander as Senior Combatant Officer of the Canadian Army Overseas. In dealing with such matters of policy, the memorandum observed, “considerable explanation is usually required and it follows that the necessary staff must be available somewhere to study, appreciate and prepare the required submissions, and to preserve the record for posterity”. The committee therefore came to the following conclusion:–
The organization required to fulfil the above functions if added to Army Headquarters or other Headquarters exercising command over Canadian troops, would result in a most cumbersome unit, and undoubtedly would seriously affect the operational efficiency of the Headquarters concerned. It follows that such a staff must be separately established in the form of a static Headquarters equipped with complete facilities to enable it to perform its varied functions. It has been and still is the policy of the Army Commander to free all Operational Headquarters of unnecessary detail by unloading as many items as possible upon CMHQ. Therefore, any reduction in the Establishment of the latter would appear to be a retrograde step if Army or Corps Headquarters were thereby caused to reassume duties now discarded.
Other factors were also to be considered. Although the “operational duties” of the General Staff at CMHQ were necessarily curtailed, increased business in connection with the allocation of equipment led to an expansion of the technical side of its responsibilities. Moreover the eventual withdrawal of the Army from the United Kingdom would require the setting up of new “intermediate” base units to look after the needs of Canadian troops remaining in the country. At the same time it appeared likely that it would be necessary to increase the strength of the reinforcement units, involving the Senior Officer, CMHQ. in the command, administration and training of some 60,000 troops. Consequently the committee came to the unanimous conclusion that “the time has not yet arrived when it would be in the public interest to effect any considerable reduction” in CMHQ’s establishment. On the contrary it was considered that certain increases asked for by the General Staff were fully justified “by the volume and importance of the work presently undertaken.”
Changes and Reorganization, 1943–1944
By the autumn of 1943 the war was four years old, and Canada’s original overseas force of one division had been transformed into a small but well-organized and well-trained Army. In June one of its five divisions had been sent to the Mediterranean to take part in the Sicilian campaign. It was then considered likely that this division would return in time to join in the invasion
of France in 1944. In October, however, as the result of circumstances described in the volume of this History dealing with the Italian campaign, it was decided to build up a Canadian Corps in the Mediterranean theatre. Shortly afterwards, and partly as a result of disagreement with the. Canadian Government on this issue, General McNaughton relinquished the command of the First Canadian Army.
In December 1943, when this took place, Lieut. General Stuart, Chief of the General Staff, took command of the Army in an acting capacity and at the same time became Chief of Staff, Canadian Military Headquarters (a new appointment replacing that of Senior Officer).20 Major General Montague was appointed to the newly-created office of Major General in Charge of Administration, CMHQ* This arrangement lasted until General Stuart was relieved in November, 1944, when General Montague became Chief of Staff and Major General E. G. Weeks became MGA.21 For a time after the dispatch of the 1st Canadian Corps to Italy and General McNaughton’s retirement, the future of the First Canadian Army seemed to hang in the balance. The decision, arrived at after consultation with the military authorities of the United Kingdom, was to keep the Army’s headquarters in existence, to place British or Allied formations under its command for the coming campaign in North-West Europe to replace the Canadian divisions which had been sent to Italy, and to bring back General Crerar from the 1st Corps to become Army Commander. The survival of the First Canadian Army will be discussed in the forthcoming volume of this history on the North-West Europe campaign.
The changes consequent on McNaughton’s departure inevitably caused some readjustments. The arrival of Stuart as Chief of Staff created an entirely new situation. Technically he had stepped down from the senior appointment in the Canadian Army but in a sense it might be said that the Chief of the General Staff had simply moved his office from Slater Street in Ottawa to Cockspur Street in London. His appointment to the new post had been made in order to meet a special crisis, but in recommending it to the Prime Minister Colonel Ralston also wrote, “as Chief Staff Officer at Canadian Military Headquarters he would take on... questions of policy and of ‘G’ [General Staff] matters particularly, which have been gradually gravitating to the Army Commander”.22 The War Committee approved the appointment on 21 December. Simultaneously the war was at last approaching its climax. The long preparations were almost completed and the final year of battle was about to begin in Europe. From this time on the staff in Canada would be chiefly concerned with administrative matters and
* At the same time, under authority of PC 9701 of 20 December 1943, General Montague was formally given the title of Judge Advocate General Canadian Army Overseas. Previously he had been authorized to exercise “the powers, duties and functions of the Judge Advocate General”.
consequently the office of CGS would no longer be as important as it had been under Crerar and Stuart in the formative years. Indeed some months later Stuart and Crerar were to suggest that General Murchie, Stuart’s successor as CGS, should be made Adjutant General, since they considered that was now “the most important military appointment at NDHQ”23 Nevertheless this suggestion was not acted upon, and there were occasions when Murchie, who had previously been Stuart’s VCGS, made it clear that as CGS he held the senior office.
One English newspaper made an acute comment on Stuart’s appointment. On 29 December 1943 the Manchester Guardian observed: “General Stuart comes to England as Colonel Ralston’s senior service lieutenant and thus will bring Canadian troops overseas under the direct control of the Minister.” The underlying rivalry between National Defence Headquarters and Canadian Military Headquarters seemed to have been decided in favour of the former. The personal correspondence between the Minister and General Stuart indicates that they understood each other very well; yet even now the 3000 miles of ocean soon began to exert their influence.
General McNaughton’s departure was followed by other command changes in the First Canadian Army preparatory to its participation in Operation “Overlord”. A number of senior commanders were replaced. This problem was one of the most important facing General Stuart when he took over his new duties. On 5 January Stuart signalled to Crerar, then still in Italy, saying that he felt that General Simonds would have to replace General Sansom in command of the 2nd Corps and asking for Crerar’s comments.24 Since Ralston had previously told Stuart that he doubted the wisdom of “bringing Simonds to England and sending Burns out there” (he thought it might be more appropriate for the former to take command of the 1st Corps in Italy), the Minister felt that he should have been consulted about the change in plan before a wire was sent to Crerar. He wrote privately25 to Stuart in frank but friendly terms:–
Now that is all there is to that particular incident; but speaking generally, I would like it, particularly in matters on these high levels where questions are bound to be a mixture of policy and military consideration, if we could have an exchange of views and comments before the matter becomes “set” in a definite recommendation. We have been doing that for two years and I think we have both found it a pretty constructive course in reaching the ultimate decision as to the action to be taken. It doesn’t affect your arriving at any recommendations you ultimately feel you should make, but it obviates later queries and explanations which are generally necessary when the recommendation comes out of the “blue”.
I am sure you would be the first to say yourself that it is just good teamwork anyway, quite apart from any “drill”, for us here to be kept up-to-date and even ahead of time if possible with information in which we would be interested. As a matter of fact, I believe that probably your sending me a copy of your wire to Crerar was with that very idea in mind, but as I have said, I think that a direct wire here for my comments before you sent the wire to Crerar would have been better. Please don’t think for a moment that I question the regularity of your
ascertaining Crerar’s views, without committing yourself in the matter, but your telegram to him seemed to go somewhat farther than that.
Now, having spelled it out, I shall just leave it to your sense of responsibility to us here to take the course in the light of what I have said which you think the circumstances call for. Of this you can be sure, that you never can err on the side of giving us too much or too early information.
You know without my saying it, I am sure, that at all times I want you and me to be completely en rapport, and I shall try to show that. We have recently gone through a pretty difficult time together, and, as I told you in London, I cannot express adequately the full measure of my appreciation of your counsel and help. That you have my fullest confidence is apparent from what I have asked you to do. I have no doubt of your complete cooperation or of your ability, and I think it is grand of you to carry on, handicapped temporarily as you have been by this unexpected ailment. I only hope devoutly that your health and strength will enable you to apply these qualities as wholeheartedly as I know you want to do it to the heavy and worrisome task we have assigned you.
With my warmest personal regards and heartfelt wishes for health and great success...
The relationship between the Minister and the Chief of Staff in London was not damaged by this incident, but differences between the staffs in Ottawa and London, specifically in regard to manpower requirements,* continued to worry them.
* There was already some apprehension over the availability of infantry reinforcements, especially in the light of a sudden intimation from Headquarters 21st Army Group that infantry casualties in the initial phases of the coming invasion would probably be higher than those normally calculated for periods of “intense” action. General Stuart had in fact issued instructions on 14 March that no important communication on reinforcements was to be sent to NDHQ without being seen by himself.26
Towards the end of March Ralston wrote to Stuart,27
I am afraid that the telegrams that have passed within the last week or two have appeared more like those emanating from partisans on opposite sides than from co-workers in a common cause. I am not suggesting where the fault lies, because I don’t know, but we are seeing to it here that no time is lost in getting to the bottom of it. ...
I feel myself that there is a tremendous waste of nervous energy and time and good talent in the discussion as to whose figures are right and endeavours to reconcile them.
Shortly afterwards Stuart sent a telegram to General Murchie in which he said that, having handed the Army command over to General Crerar, it was now possible for him “to look around and adjust certain matters that have been causing trouble.”28 Regarding relations with NDHQ he made the following observations:
I have already spoken to all senior staff officers at CMHQ on the NDHQ viewpoint in connection with such matters as reinforcements and equipment of CAO [Canadian Army Overseas]. I propose early next week to speak to all officers above rank major at CMHQ on this subject. I shall continue to watch this matter closely and am confident that satisfactory results will be obtained.
I must point out that there are two sides to this question. At CMHQ we are merely an advanced element of NDHQ. In the past CMHQ has not understood and has not been sufficiently sympathetic to the broad problems and repercussions other than military that face NDHQ. CMHQ has concentrated on a presentation of the administrative military problems confronting the CAO. In some cases
this presentation has been unnecessarily alarming. NDHQ on the other hand has I think tended to emphasize the broader aspects of the problem at issue. Both of these are perfectly natural developments and both are perhaps aggravated by the fact that the two parts of NDHQ are 3000 miles apart. The problem is not only to reconcile the figures involved but of greater importance to reconcile the two points of view. Representatives from NDHQ are now here and are engaged in the process of reconciling the figures involved and I am in the process of attempting to broaden the viewpoint of CMHQ in order to bring it as close as possible to that of NDHQ. I am confident of success at this end provided there is some give and take at both ends. CMHQ has at times been unnecessarily alarming in its presentation of alleged facts and I suggest that NDHQ has perhaps been unnecessarily violent [in] its unexpressed but implied reactions.
Six weeks later, Stuart reported to Ralston:
I feel that we are making considerable progress in respect to the CMHQ viewpoint, and in respect to the tendency to write alarmist cables. I feel that all are playing the game and are leaning over backwards to try and meet my wishes. I am not satisfied that we can win this battle in a day. I am, however, quite pleased with the progress we are making.
Ralston agreed: “I think”, he wrote, “there has been a marked improvement in understanding between CMHQ and ourselves.”29
At the same time the relationship between First Canadian Army and CMHQ required some redefinition. Although the office of Army Commander was still the senior appointment in the Canadian Army Overseas, the situation had changed considerably from the days of General McNaughton. The circumstances of Crerar’s appointment, and Stuart’s presence in the office of Chief of Staff at CMHQ, meant that to a certain extent these two officers shared the duties formerly carried out by McNaughton as Senior Combatant Officer of the Canadian Army Overseas. The Minister expected this. He wrote to Stuart on 15 January 1944:30
I spoke to Montague just before leaving about some terms of reference for you as Chief of Staff, and for him. He was going to get together with you, examine the “Charter” of the Army and let me have your and his suggestions. Probably there may be some readjustments necessary:
(a) between CMHQ and the Army which may have been found desirable as a result of experience;
(b) To re-allocate functions at CMHQ on account of your advent;
(c) to cover any matters of general policy or procedure which it might be advisable to specify.
Breadner [Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief, RCAF Overseas] has written terms of reference. Yours would be pretty general. and while doing it I would like to indicate in them something to strengthen your hand, as well as mine, by some reference expressly recognizing our responsibilities to the Canadian people. There will quite probably be some debate in which the question of our attitude towards the views of the War Office may come up and an expression of our self-dependence even in cooperation would help to make our attitude clear. As a matter of fact, I am quite satisfied that those in authority today at the War Office understand and recognize our position thoroughly, and also that in Government itself there is a great change from the days of the Great War when Sir Robert Borden had to become very forthright in his communications with them.
Nothing further appears to have been done about drawing up terms of reference for General Stuart’s appointment, but in various orders in council specific powers of his office were defined. Thus by PC 493 of 25 January 1944 certain administrative and disciplinary powers, particularly with regard to courts martial, were given to “the senior combatant officer of the Canadian Militia serving with those Military Forces of Canada which are controlled or administered by or through Canadian Military Headquarters in Great Britain,* or, the Chief of Staff at Canadian Military Headquarters in Great Britain, or the Major General in charge of Administration at Canadian Military Headquarters in Great Britain” in respect of “all the Military Forces of Canada which are controlled or administered by or through Canadian Military Headquarters”. Similar powers were given separately to the acting commander of the First Canadian Army in respect of that formation only.31 In a subsequent order in council dealing with the same matter the term “senior combatant officer” was dropped at General Stuart’s suggestion32 and the powers were simply given to “the General Officer of the Canadian Militia commanding 1st Canadian Army, the Chief of Staff and the Major General in charge of Administration at Canadian Military Headquarters in Great Britain.”33
Quite apart from these considerations, the imminence of active operations greatly altered the picture. The case is clearly stated in a memorandum34 prepared at CMHQ for the Chief of Staff:
It is abundantly clear that whereas in the past the Army Commander, in his capacity as Senior Combatant Officer, was primarily concerned with the organization, development and trg of the Canadian Army Overseas, he will now require to devote his whole effort to the function of comd during the planning and preparatory phases of forthcoming events and in the actual conduct of operations to follow. It follows, therefore, that he and his staff will wish to be freed of all possible detail in respect of routine administration which would otherwise constitute a serious burden upon his and their time and energies.
It was admitted that it would still be necessary to consult the Army Commander on more important matters of business such as senior appointments and major changes in organization, but it was suggested “that much time, energy and paper” might be saved if “his views and directions” were obtained in personal consultation by the Chief of Staff or the MGA. The memorandum continued: “it is suggested, however, that the time has come when CMHQ should in its several departments be regarded more as the advanced echelon of NDHQ than merely as a clearing house for military business between it and the Army Commander.” It then made proposals as to how these adjustments might be effected.
* This was to cover General Crerar, who was then commanding the Canadian forces in the Mediterranean area.
The Army Commander expressed general agreement with this memorandum, but took the occasion to reiterate his general views as to the relationships in question:35
Generally speaking, the proposed action, detailed in Para 11 of the memorandum, [is] in accordance with the views I have held, and frequently expressed in writing, since my appointment as Senior Officer, CMHQ, in November 1939. The proper conception of CMHQ is that it represents an “advanced echelon” of the Department of National Defence, established in London, so that departmental responsibilities concerning the Canadian Army Overseas can be effectively interpreted and implemented, functioning as a quite essential “link” between the Department, the GOC in C of the Canadian Army in the Field, and the War Office. CMHQ is also required to act, in many important ways, as a “rear echelon” of HQ First Cdn Army.
As I have previously stated, the difficulties in carrying out these several functions will not arise so long as the Department of National Defence and HQ First Cdn Army, each appreciate, with understanding, the role CMHQ is required to fill. In practice, this role can only be successfully carried out if the “attitude” of the Department of National Defence is to regard CMHQ as, primarily, the “rear echelon” of the Cdn Army in the Field and that of the latter is to consider CMHQ as the “forward echelon” of the Department of National Defence. It is when either of the two “principal parties” consider and act as if CMHQ was, primarily, its own adjunct that troubles arise. CMHQ, at all times, must regard itself as the vital and understanding link between the two “principal parties”, and also [with] the War Office.
Specifically Crerar indicated that he would wish to be consulted on details of organizational changes only where they might be expected to have a definite bearing “on the operational function and tactical performance” of units or formations under his command. In the matter of appointments he considered his own approval required only for appointments of the rank of brigadier and above “throughout the Canadian Army Overseas” and first-grade staff appointments in formations under his own command. In effect by agreeing to the CMHQ proposals the Army Commander redelegated some of his powers to the Chief of Staff at CMHQ, while his special powers to modify establishments were eventually transferred to the Chief of Staff by order in council. Stuart reported that Crerar fully agreed that difficulties in coordinating and allocating priorities in manpower and equipment made it undesirable that the commanders in either theatre should exercise “organizational authority”. “Crerar freely acknowledges this function of Canmilitry,” he wired Murchie, “and furthermore stresses inability Army
HQ to deal with organizational matters of this nature due [to] complete preoccupation with operational comd and administration of field force.”36 At the same time Crerar considered himself fully responsible for all Canadian units in his own prospective theatre. He successfully resisted the suggestion that commanders of Canadian units or formations there not under his own operational command might exercise their emergency “right of reference” to the Canadian Government through the Chief of Staff at CMHQ rather than through himself.37
The special problems that arose in the control of the Canadian Army Overseas in 1940–44 were largely the product of an exceptional situation which no one had foreseen in 1939. The system of organization provided, with a static Canadian headquarters in London, had been based on the assumption that a Canadian field force would be operating on the Continent. As it turned out, however, the greater part of the field force remained in the United Kingdom for four and a half years, with its headquarters cheek-by-jowl with the London headquarters. In these circumstances the senior officer overseas (the commander of the field force) assumed, in the capacity of Senior Combatant Officer, Canadian Army Overseas, many responsibilities not directly connected with the actual work of training his army for action or directing it in operations.* Only in 1944, when the invasion of North-West Europe was in immediate prospect, did a clearer division of responsibilities emerge. The Army Commander then concentrated exclusively upon preparing his Army for its task, leaving static administration, matters of policy and quasi-political questions to the Chief of Staff, CMHQ; he was, however, prepared to give the latter firm and decided guidance whenever such questions affected the Army’s efficiency or welfare. That efficiency and that welfare were rightly regarded, throughout the war, as the primary object and concern of the whole organization, to which all else was subordinated. Throughout the war, also, the commander of the field army was the senior Canadian army officer overseas. Perhaps a more logical organization would have placed the senior officer at CMHQ. A strong case could indeed be made for this arrangement; but decisions in such matters will always be subject to control by contemporary circumstances, among which the seniority and personal qualifications of the available officers will be particularly influential.
As for the relationship between National Defence Headquarters and CMHQ, the question whether the latter was best described as a “forward echelon of NDHQ” or a part of the lines of communication of First Canadian Army seems largely academic. As General Crerar indicated, it
* In 1941 a staff officer at NDHQ suggested that the senior officer in the United Kingdom “should be called the GOC-in-C Canadian Army in the U.K.” and “should function as the SO [Senior Officer], CMHQ now does”. Commenting on this to the CGS, Brigadier M. A. Pope (ACGS) wrote:38
While I agree that the SO, CMHQ, should normally be the senior Canadian Army officer serving in the United Kingdom, I do not think that it would be wise to make any change because of the quite abnormal position in which the Canadian Army overseas now finds itself.
Our organization in the U.K. was based on the premise that the Corps would be serving in a theatre of operations beyond the United Kingdom. ... The position of Canadian Military Headquarters and the Canadian Corps in the U.K. is therefore an anomalous one, but with goodwill and understanding our present machinery set up for a quite different situation has been made to work, and is working. ...
was in fact both. Problems similar to those we have described will arise, in some degree, whenever a nation is obliged to set up a large military establishment thousands of miles from its own shores; there will always be a tendency for the home and the distant establishments to grow apart. This tendency became marked in the Second World War as a result of the long static period. Such tendencies require to be combatted by careful definition of channels of communication and echelons of authority, in the light of experience; but it is at least equally important to seek to ensure that the right personalities are in the right places; that personal liaison and exchange of officers are carried on constantly and on a liberal scale; and that all parties, everywhere, subordinate all other considerations to the military efficiency of the field army.