Chapter 8: Training the Army Overseas
(See Sketch 1)
The machinery for training the Army in Canada has already been described. The main training task there was preparing individual soldiers to carry out their duties when posted to field units. The collective training of units for battle was almost entirely conducted in the United Kingdom. To it we must now turn our attention. The story can be told only in outline.
The Beginning of Overseas Training
At a very early date the principle was established that the responsibility for supervising the training of the Canadian force overseas rested with the Canadian commander in Britain, and not with the military authorities of the United Kingdom. The instructions1 handed to Major General McNaughton before he sailed from Canada in December 1939 briefly indicated that “training and administration of personnel” were matters to be dealt with through Canadian channels. The question was raised in the following month when the British Army Council, designating the 1st Canadian Division as part of the “3rd Contingent” of the British Expeditionary Force, proceeded to state that the General Officer Commanding the 4th Corps would be “responsible direct to the War Office for the training of all the troops in the 3rd Contingent from the date of his appointment”.2 Canadian Military Headquarters, London, pointed out to the War Office that this was inconsistent with General McNaughton’s instructions and with the existing legal status of the Canadian force in the United Kingdom, which was governed by the Visiting Forces Act;3 the Canadians, under that act, were at the moment “serving together” with the British forces, but had not been placed “in combination” with them and were not under British command.*
The matter was clarified on 15 March in a conference at the War Office with the Chief of the Imperial General Staff (General Sir Edmund Ironside). who, it transpired, had not fully appreciated the legal position of the Canadian
* See below, pages 255–6.
forces. On 21 March the Army Council issued to the C-in-C Home Forces and the Aldershot Command new orders4 clearing up the question of the respective British and Canadian responsibilities:
All arrangements in connection with movements, quartering, sanitation, passive air defence and the allocation of training facilities will be the responsibility of the General Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Command in the United Kingdom [in which Canadian forces may be located]. Control in all matters relating to training policy, discipline and internal administration of the Canadian Forces is reserved for the appropriate Canadian Service Authorities.
Although Canadian control of training policy was thus vindicated, the Canadian commander, whose troops were to serve as part of a British force in the field and to use British equipment, inevitably shaped that policy in close general conformance with British practice; and the Canadians leaned heavily upon British training establishments and other facilities, to whose generous assistance throughout the war the Canadian Army owes a very heavy debt. This began to accumulate even before the arrival of the main body of the 1st Division. In November 1939 two groups of officers and non-commissioned officers, totalling 118 all ranks, reached England and began courses in British schools to fit them for duty as instructors in the Division when it arrived.5
At the time when the Division landed in Britain it had attained only the most elementary standard of training, having made a small beginning on the first stage – that of individual training. As we have seen (above, page 50), roughly 50 per cent of the men who joined the Canadian Active Service Force in September 1939 had no military training or experience whatever, while of the balance the majority had had only the limited training received by the pre-war Non-Permanent Active Militia. Thus there was much to do. General McNaughton discussed his programme with the Chief of the Imperial General Staff on 22 December, explaining that he proposed to devote the period down to 28 February to individual training; March would be used for unit collective training and April for formation training, i.e. exercises at brigade or divisional level. The
CIGS said this would be satisfactory, as it was not expected that the Division would be required on the Continent “until early May”; and he told McNaughton that he had given orders that it should be given priority in supply of training equipment.6 The 1st Division’s “Training Instruction No. 1” was issued on 26 December,7 and at the beginning of the second week in January 1940, with the units well settled in at Aldershot and disembarkation leave completed, work began in earnest.8 A feature of the individual training thus undertaken was the divisional commander’s insistence upon a high standard of musketry.9 Since Bren guns (like many other items) were in very short supply, light machinegun instruction had to be given on the obsolescent Lewis. Full advantage was taken of the courses offered by the British authorities. Under arrangements made by Canadian Military Headquarters, vacancies
were allotted to Canadians, as time passed, in artillery courses at Larkhill; engineer courses at Chatham; signal courses at Catterick; and anti-gas courses at Winterbourne Gunner and Tregantle. Instructors in physical training and platoon weapons were trained at Hythe; armourers at the Royal Army Ordnance Corps School at Portsmouth; armament artificers at Chilwell; mechanics at the Central Motor Institute in London; men for sanitary duties at the Army School of Hygiene, Mytchett (near Aldershot); men of the Provost Corps at the Corps of Military Police depot, Mytchett; and cooks at the Army School of Cookery, Aldershot. At the same time, selected NCOs. were attached to the Guards for courses as drill instructors.10 Special arrangements were made for training tradesmen. The British Army had adopted a plan of training artificers and other specialists by having them work under supervision in civil workshops. During February, General McNaughton asked the War Office to arrange for vacancies for his troops in this scheme.11 Every assistance was given and as a result Canadian tradesmen received training in a wide variety of civil firms.
Officer training got due attention. Divisional Headquarters prepared and directed a number of map and sand-table exercises followed by outdoor schemes, to demonstrate the fundamental principles of attack and defence.12 Exercises for senior officers were arranged by the War Office.13 Specialist officers were given opportunities to improve themselves; Ordnance officers, for instance, attended courses at the Military College of Science.14 From time to time there were lectures and demonstrations. Among the former was a talk by the CIGS in April which touched on the implications of the German invasion of Norway, then just beginning.*
* His appreciation proved over-optimistic, for he termed it “a strategical blunder by the enemy giving us our first opening”.15
Provision of trained staff officers was a problem; there was only a small pool of Permanent Force officers having such qualifications, although these were reinforced by Non-Permanent Active Militia officers who had passed the Militia Staff Course. Arrangements were accordingly made, in due time, for Canadian candidates to attend the special war courses of the Staff College at Camberley.16
It soon became evident that it would be impossible to maintain the rate of progress required by Training Instruction No. 1. There were various reasons: ceremonial parades and the time required to prepare for them;17 the unusually severe winter (“the coldest conditions since 1894”),18 which necessitated conducting much of the instruction indoors;19 and shortage of equipment, very acute in the beginning. Lack of transport was particularly felt.20 Wet boots and clothing also caused wasted time (a second pair of boots and a second suit of battledress .were not issued until February and March 1940).21 Acordingly it was necessary to extend the period of
individual training from the end of February until the middle of March 1940.22
As soon as this period ended, General McNaughton began a very thorough inspection of all the units under his command. Beginning on 18 March, it was not completed until the end of April.23 The G.O.C set out to gain first-hand knowledge of the degree of efficiency reached by the individual man. He selected men at random from the ranks to be examined in the various subjects in which they were supposed to be proficient. Equipment, stores, kitchens, messes and orderly rooms were all subjected to scrutiny. At the conclusion of his inspection, McNaughton expressed himself as generally satisfied that conditions were as good as could be expected.24 He considered his troops ready to proceed with the next stage of training, but warned all units that individual training did not end with the individual training period, but continued progressively throughout the soldier’s service.25
The second Training Instruction had been issued on 9 March and unit collective training had already begun before General McNaughton’s inspection was completed.26 This Instruction allotted the weeks between 18 March and 27 April to unit collective training; first by squadrons, batteries and companies, then by regiments and battalions. The various headquarters within the Division were to be exercised in their war functions during the same period. The GOC laid special emphasis on mobility, which he interpreted in the widest sense “as including all those elements of quick decision, good organization and good discipline which enable a unit to move rapidly and without confusion at short notice.”27
The troops welcomed the better weather and the more advanced training that came with spring. The Division now approached its tasks with new interest.28 Beginning early in April, the infantry units each spent a 24-hour period in a model trench system that had been constructed at Pirbright. Here they practised the various activities, such as patrolling, raiding, standing-to and improving defences, which had been so important in the First World War, and which the dash of the German armoured columns across France was so soon to cast into the discard.29 Shortage of transport still plagued the Canadians, but infantry units pooled their vehicles so that they could carry out mobile exercises in turn.30
The artillery regiments were equally busy. The army field regiments began to receive 18/25 pounders* at this time.
* The new 25-pounder gun-howitzer did not come into the hands of the British Army before the outbreak of war, but in September 1939 a fair number of converted 18-pounders were already available.31
They had formerly had 18-pounders,32 whereas the divisional field regiments had begun to receive 18/25 pounders in December 1939.33 During the latter part of April and the beginning of May, the three divisional field regiments carried out
firing practice at Larkhill, the British field artillery school.34 General McNaughton, himself a gunner officer of unusual technical attainments, required that all battery commanders become efficient in the use of “airburst ranging” as a normal method.35 The other technical arms worked at their own specialties; the engineer companies, for instance, engaged in bridging practice during April and May.36
As the second phase of training advanced, events on the Continent suddenly began to interfere with progress. The German invasion of Norway broke in upon the training of the 2nd Infantry Brigade, a great part of which was mobilized and moved north in readiness to embark, although it was not actually employed (see below, pages 258–61). The fact that the 2nd Brigade had to “borrow” for this enterprise all 3-inch mortar stores held by the 1st37 throws some light on the equipment situation. Towards the end of April the 1st Division’s third Training Instruction38 was issued, prescribing for the period of unit and formation collective training from 28 April to 5 June. Unit training was to continue; brigade schemes were planned in conjunction with British armoured and infantry formations; and it was hoped to obtain air force cooperation. Divisional exercises were to commence about 6 June. This programme was never completed. Like many others, it was deranged by developments in France and Flanders.
Training to Defeat Invasion, 1940–1941
The story of the feverish activity of the 1st Canadian Division and ancillary troops during the summer of 1940, in connection with the unsuccessful attempt to keep France in the war and the preparations to resist what seemed an imminent German invasion of Britain, is told in the succeeding chapter. These events marked the beginning of a new phase in the history of the Army Overseas. Instead of preparing to take part in a continental campaign, the Canadian field force now faced the probability of fighting its first battle in the English countryside. The Commonwealth, left without effective allies, was thrown back on the defensive; and for two and a half years Canadian training overseas was very largely directed to fitting the troops for the immediate task of defending Britain.
This was particularly true in the summer of 1940 itself. The deliberate programme planned in April went by the board. With the 1st Division organized in brigade groups to meet the imminent threat, training was necessarily conducted mainly at brigade group level. There was no opportunity for divisional exercises. Emphasis was laid upon the training of brigade and battalion groups in rapid movement by motor transport, and units practised night moves. On 18 August General McNaughton, now commanding the 7th Corps, reported to the Minister of National Defence that all battalions
had completed “dawn attack exercises” with armoured and air cooperation.39 Earlier he had mentioned that No. 110 Squadron RCAF (which had arrived in England in February) was “cooperating in tactical exercises with all formations of 7 Corps”.40 Particular attention was given to cooperation of infantry with tanks. The 1st Division had been almost completed with its basic weapons and transport at the time of the June crisis when it was preparing to move to France; but technical equipment and special vehicles were still short.41
We have already mentioned the gradual concentration of the 2nd Canadian Division in the United Kingdom, beginning in the summer of 1940, and have made it clear that, through no fault of the Division itself, it was very incompletely trained at this time. One of the handicaps under which the 1st Division had had to labour was the inadequate supply of instructors. That division’s headquarters accordingly recommended to Canadian Military Headquarters that representatives of the units and formations of the 2nd Division should be sent to the United Kingdom in time to complete courses at British schools before the Division’s main body arrived.42 This was done, these potential instructors reaching England in the Fourth and Fifth Flights in June and July, in advance of the bulk of their formation.43 In spite of this foresight, many circumstances retarded the 2nd Divison’s progress. Particularly influential were the slowness of its concentration in the United Kingdom, covering the months from May to December, and the very great shortage of all military equipment after Dunkirk.
In September Major General Odium issued his first Training Instruction.44 This reveals that the level of training within the 2nd Division at this time was very uneven, and that considerable individual training had yet to be done. This was, of course, due in great part to the fact that such equipment as Bren guns and 25-pounders was not available in Canada. Odium directed, therefore, that individual training be completed and that in addition all units in his formation finish their own collective instruction by the end of December. Although the GOC 2nd Canadian Division had been granted the right of independent command by the Canadian Government, he stated on 8 August that in certain matters, including training, he would seek Lieut. General McNaughton’s approval.45 Thus training policy for all Canadian troops overseas remained in the hands of the senior Canadian officer in the United Kingdom. In these circumstances, the 2nd Division’s training generally followed the course already outlined for the 1st Division, and there is little purpose in describing it except to mention certain special points.
In an endeavour to make certain that all sub-units down to platoon or equivalent level got practice in independent action, General Odium directed that every subaltern should take his men on an overnight “scheme” to any
location, except the London area, which was between 25 and 50 miles from his unit’s area.46 The artillery was severely handicapped by lack of guns,* but by October the various batteries began going in turn to Larkhill for ten-day periods.
* By 5 November 1940 the Division’s three field regiments, which had been two months in England, had received a total of 28 guns as against an establishment of 72; and these guns were the obsolescent 75-mm. type. The first six 25pounders were received during the week ending 1 February 1941, and the regiments were not complete with them until September 1941.47
Here, for the first time, they were able to handle the 25-pounder.48 As this training period drew to a close, it was possible to conduct limited formation exercises. On 22 November, the complete division (less engineers) carried out a move by motor transport, and on 12 December the 4th Infantry Brigade conducted a twenty-four-hour scheme involving night driving through fog and rain.49 Thus the 2nd Division was considered sufficiently ready for active employment to take its place in the Canadian Corps when that formation was set up on Christmas Day 1940.50
An important development during 1940 was the planning of a Canadian Training School overseas and the establishment of its officers’ training component. As we have mentioned before, one of the weaknesses of the 1st Division and ancillary troops, on arrival in England, was the lack of trained and experienced instructors. We have also noted the arrangements made for the admission of Canadians to British schools. Since, however, the British were rapidly expanding their own army, it was not possible to allot an adequate number of such vacancies. For example, during the period January to April 1940 it was only possible to train regimental instructors in platoon weapons on the basis of one per platoon, while both Canadian and British authorities considered it advisable that at least one man per section should be so trained.51 To overcome the difficulty, it was natural to consider forming a Canadian training establishment in the United Kingdom. A proposal to this effect was put before the then Minister of National Defence, Mr. Rogers, during his visit to England in April 1940. No immediate action was taken, but since the situation showed no improvement in May and June, and the arrival of 2nd Division units was making the matter more urgent, Canadian Military Headquarters in June prepared a tentative establishment for a training group, to consist of two wings with a possible third to take care of officer training.52
At this point officer training policy became the most urgent aspect. During Mr. Rogers’ visit it had been agreed that while it was desirable that about 25 per cent of the officer reinforcements required overseas should come from the ranks of the units, only in exceptional cases† would commissions be granted to other ranks of the Canadian Army before it had been in
† A few direct commissions were granted to soldiers with special technical qualifications, and some men with university degrees and former officers went to British Officer Cadet Training Units before August 1940. In all, about a dozen were commissioned in these ways.53
action.54 This meant postponing setting up an officers’ training unit until after the 1st Division had gone to France. However, the decision to replace Warrant Officers Class III by subaltern officers (above, page 128) altered the situation. This meant that more officers were needed; and many of the W.Os. III were officer material. Simultaneously came the collapse of France and the commitment of the Canadians to the defence of Britain. Headquarters 1st Division now suggested that the officers’ wing of the proposed Training School be established at an early date.55 Consideration was given to the possible advisability of using British schools and thus avoiding adding to the Canadian financial overhead. However, General McNaughton was “strongly of the opinion that all officer cadets for infantry and machine-gun battalions should be trained in Canadian schools”;56 and on 12 July 1940 National Defence Headquarters approved in principle the immediate formation of the officer cadet portion of a Canadian Training School.57 Accordingly, the Cadet Wing began its first course on 5 August.58 The general policy for training Canadian officer cadets was that all should take the basic portion, “common to all arms”, at this Canadian Officer Cadet Training Unit. Infantry and machine-gun candidates remained there for the training special to their own arms. Candidates from other arms or services went on to British OCTUs for this training.59
There was considerable delay before the other wings of the Training School began to function, as no suitable accommodation could be found for them.60 The need for driving and maintenance instruction was so pressing, however, that arrangements were made for training a limited number of Canadians at the London Passenger Transport Board shops at Chiswick.61 Officer training remained the sole activity of the Canadian Training School during the rest of 1940. Its later growth is dealt with below.
Steps were also taken to provide staff training for officers. General McNaughton proposed that a Junior Staff College be established, based on and near Corps Headquarters.62 The Chief of the General Staff (General Crerar) questioned the suggestion, since there was a plan to institute a staff college in Canada. It was ultimately agreed that one course only would be conducted in England, and that future ones would take place in Canada.63 On 2 January 1941 the Canadian Junior War Staff Course opened at Ford Manor, Lingfield, Surrey, with Lt. Col. G. G. Simonds as Commandant. The majority of the instructors came from the Canadian force in the United Kingdom, but the War Office lent three British officers with recent battle experience.64
As the year 1940 drew to a close and the danger of invasion temporarily receded, the Canadian troops in Britain reverted to individual training. (This was forecast in an instruction issued as early as 27 September.)65 Emphasis was placed on route marching, infantry units carrying out a march of twenty miles each week. The occupation of a sector of the Sussex coast by successive
brigade groups* was a welcome change from training routine. The brigades also did exercises in cooperation with the 1st British Armoured Division and their staffs had indoor map exercises. There were still many equipment shortages, particularly in the 2nd Division. Canadian tank training overseas began with the arrival of members of the 1st Army Tank Brigade for British attachments and courses.66
With the opening of 1941 the stage was set for the large-scale exercises which had been impossible in 1940 but which were to be a feature of training for the next three years.
Throughout 1941 and the early part of 1942, all major exercises had one thing in common: the anti-invasion theme. Exercises FOX, in February 1941, and DOG, in March, were intended to practise the 1st and 2nd Divisions respectively, with Corps Troops, in a move by road transport to a concentration area, an advance to contact with a hostile force, and the issuing of orders for deployment and attack. In addition, the schemes gave the two divisions opportunities to familiarize themselves with areas likely to be battlefields in the event of a German attempt on England. FOX was staged immediately west of Dover, the action being directed against a theoretical enemy who had landed in the Dover peninsula. DOG was directed against German troops supposed to have got ashore farther west, in the South Downs area.
These exercises showed that neither division was as yet very efficient in acting as a formed body. The greatest faults appearing were lack of adequate traffic control and failure to get orders down to subordinates in time to be acted upon. Monumental traffic-jams occurred, and artillery could not get forward to support infantry attacks. General McNaughton remarked after FOX that the exercise had “shaken the complacency of everyone participating, from the Corps Commander to the lowest private soldier”. He prescribed the remedies – primarily, “traffic-mindedness” – and left no doubt in any mind of the need for improvement.67 Exercise HARE, 9–11 April, which involved the 1st Division and Corps Troops, and the 2nd Division’s Exercise BENITO, 16–19 April, indicated that improvement was in fact taking place.68
Manoeuvres on the Grand Scale, 1941
The first exercise in which the Canadian Corps as a whole took part was WATERLOO, held by Headquarters South Eastern Command on 14–16 June 1941. This exercise, while based on much the same general idea as those previously described, was on a larger scale, involving about half the troops
* Below, Chap. IX.
in the South Eastern Command. The main object was to practise ‘the Canadian Corps and the 8th Armoured Division in a mobile counter-attack role. The 4th Corps also took part, and there was a “live enemy”. WATERLOO was staged in the central coastal region of Sussex and the countryside behind it, the operations being dominated by the splendid ridge of the South Downs. Very briefly, it assumed enemy parachute drops and glider landings on the northern face of the Downs, combined with seaborne landings on the coast. The “defending” forces developed an attack against the “German” positions on the Downs and were eventually held to have been successful in their attempts to drive the invaders back into the sea.69
From 29 September to 3 October 1941 very extensive army manoeuvres, known as Exercise BUMPER, were carried on north and west of London. The whole of the operational portion of the Canadian Corps, under General McNaughton’s command, took part in this, probably the largest exercise ever staged in Great Britain. Two army headquarters, four corps, and twelve divisions (of which three were armoured) were involved, in addition to two army tank brigades and large numbers of ancillary troops. The forces engaged amounted to about a quarter of a million men.
As before, a basic object of the exercise was to practise the army in Great Britain in its anti-invasion role. The Commander-in-Chief, Home Forces (General Sir Alan Brooke) explained that it was intended to give commanders, including Army Commanders, the opportunity of handling large forces; it embodied the experiment of “picking up a whole Command” and using it as a striking force to destroy an enemy lodgement in England; but at the same time it served “to test the organization with a view to possible action across the Channel”.70 German landings in East Anglia were assumed to have been successful, and the forces of Southern Command, with some formations from GHQ Reserve and South Eastern Command, having cleared up other landings on the south coast, were ordered to destroy the advancing enemy. The “British” forces were commanded by Lieut. General H. R. L. G. Alexander, C-in-C Southern Command; the Germans were represented by the troops of Eastern Command, commanded by Lieut.General L. Carr. The main action took place in the area of the Chiltern Hills, north-west of London. The weather was pleasant, though the nights were cool, and the troops on the whole enjoyed the experience.71
The exercise ended in the discomfiture of the “Germans”, who were withdrawing rapidly when the operations ceased. Without attempting a detailed narrative, it is enough to outline the points made at the post-exercise conference. Among the satisfactory results was the obvious progress made in motorized movement, for despite the large numbers involved there was little congestion. The main criticisms concerned the positions of corps and army headquarters, which were considered to be too far back; the failure to pass information; and the continued use of the brigade-group system of
handling divisions. It was emphasized that all corps headquarters must be able to direct armoured divisions. There was no particular comment on the handling of the Canadian Corps, though its unit administration was praised; but the Chief Umpire (Lieut. General
B. L. Montgomery) criticized two divisions (the 2nd Canadian Division and the 6th British Armoured Division) for missing opportunities.72
Improvements in Organization and Methods
During 1941 the Canadian Training School began work in earnest. We have seen that lack of accommodation had prevented the opening of any portion of it except No. 1 (Officer Cadet Training Unit) Wing in 1940. Now, on 1 May 1941, the Training School took over Havannah Barracks, Bordon. On 5 May No. 2 (Technical) Wing began a course for drivers at No. 1 Canadian Engineers Holding Unit.73 By September all the wings were functioning. In addition to officer cadet training, No. 1 Wing conducted an infantry company commanders’ school. No. 2 Wing, while concentrating on driving and maintenance, ran courses for unit anti-gas instructors and (for a time) regimental clerks. No. 3 (Weapons) Wing was giving training in the 3-inch mortar and platoon weapons by September, expanding later to include NCOs’, Vickers medium machine-gun, snipers’, assault and range-takers’ courses.74 On 1 October a new wing, No. 4 (Regimental Officers) was formed. This took over the functions of the company commanders’ portion of No. 1 Wing and some of those of the Canadian Corps Junior Leaders School. No. 4 Wing was organized to give courses of six weeks’ duration for ten company commanders and thirty platoon commanders at a time.75 There was also an Administrative Wing.
The year 1941 saw the inception of a new and much more realistic type of training. This was known as “Battle Drill” and “Battle Drill Training”. Battle Drill was the reduction of military tactics to bare essentials which were taught to a platoon as a team drill, with clear explanations regarding the objects to be achieved, the principles involved and the individual task of each member of the team. Battle Drill Training, on the other hand, was more comprehensive.76 It comprised special physical training, fieldcraft, battle drill proper, battle discipline and “battle inoculation”.* Since there is some tendency to confuse battle drill training with “Commando” training, it should be noted that Battle Drill Training
* Battle inoculation meant exposing the soldier in training to the sights and noises of battle. It involved the use of “live ammunition” both by the soldier himself and by the simulated enemy, represented by “reliable shots” who could place their bullets “realistically close to the troops” without causing serious danger.
was not a specialized form of assault training, but merely the normal prebattle type given to all Canadian or British infantrymen.
The seeds of battle drill training can perhaps be found in Military Training Pamphlet No. 33, Training in Fieldcraft and Elementary Tactics, published by the British War Office in March 1940. It attempted to prescribe more interesting methods of teaching “minor tactics”, and to introduce the team idea into field exercises; there was, however, no provision for the use of live ammunition. From this beginning in 1940, individual battle training developed further during 1941. The Canadian Training School’s syllabus for July, for instance, shows the following subjects being taught: assault over obstacles, unarmed combat, tank hunting and booby traps.77 About this time the 47th (London) Division, commanded by Major General J. E. Utterson-Kelso, began experimenting with a procedure which it termed battle drill, in which absolute physical fitness was essential. This factor, with the addition of the concepts of ruthlessness and battle inoculation, made the break from the older type of tactical training complete. Drills for movement in battle were taught: first on the parade square, and later in the field with live ammunition. Enemy fire was simulated by bullets from small arms aimed over the heads of the assaulting troops, while mortar fire and shelling were represented by thunderflashes, No. 69 grenades* and buried, electrically-fired charges of gun-cotton.
The introduction of battle drill training into the Canadian Army began through the association of the 2nd Canadian Division with the 47th Division in the 4th British Corps during the summer of 1941. In September The Calgary Highlanders began a school in “battle procedure” for subalterns and senior NCOs., and in October they sent three officers to attend battle drill exercises at the 47th Division’s school. On returning to their unit, these officers immediately set up a similar course of instruction, and each platoon of the battalion was put through it.78 From this beginning, the battle drill idea spread to other units and formations in the Canadian Corps. In November the 1st Division sent two company commanders from most infantry units and one from the reconnaissance battalion to the 47th Division’s Battle School.79 By December all infantry units of the Corps were conducting their own battle drill training.80
Late in 1941 a small beginning was made with amphibious training. It was planned at this time to train one company per brigade and ultimately one company per battalion in the technique of raiding an enemy-held coast, using the South Eastern Command Assault Landing Craft School at Havant in Hampshire, where Canadian Corps units were already sending men for this purpose.81 This was a result of the Corps’ movement to the south coast in the autumn (below, page 297). Such developments as this helped to
* A bakelite grenade designed to produce great blast effect and little or no fragmentation.
maintain interest in training among troops who had been overseas for two years and yet had seen no action.
This year saw the arrival in the United Kingdom of, successively, the 1st Army Tank Brigade, the 3rd Division, and the 5th Armoured Division. The circumstances under which these formations began their overseas training were different from those of earlier days. In particular, equipment became much easier to obtain in 1941 than it had been during 1939–40. The 1st Army Tank Brigade began to receive tanks on a training scale during July and by January 1942 had 157 Churchills and nearly its full establishment of other vehicles and equipment.82 The 3rd Division had a similar experience; for example, it had received its full complement of 25-pounders by November 1941.83 This division arrived in England in a relatively high state of efficiency; it had been in existence for over a year, and some of its units had been mobilized in 1939. The 5th Armoured Division had unfortunately to wait a long time for its cruiser tanks, only a few, of American type, being delivered before the end of the year. However, a large proportion of its other equipment, including guns, was readily available.84 Thanks to these conditions, these formations were able to make rapid progress with training.
One difficult problem of 1941 was training the new anti-aircraft artillery units (below, Chap. IX). Throughout the year, 40-mm. Bofors guns, the weapon of light antiaircraft regiments, were almost non-existent. During February and March a special unit was set up at Colchester to train Canadian A.A. gunners. Accommodation difficulties led to a decision to add anti-tank training, with the result that the Colchester establishment became known as Canadian Anti-Aircraft and Anti-Tank Group. It was commanded by Lt. Col. G. A. McCarter.85 Subsequently Headquarters 1st Canadian Anti-Aircraft Brigade was formed at Colchester with McCarter (promoted Brigadier) in command, and took over direction of the activities there. But in March the Group possessed only eight Bofors guns with which to train eleven batteries.86 As late as 31 January 1942, the Canadian Army Overseas as a whole had only 58 Bofors against an establishment of 280.87 The situation was met, to a certain extent, by assigning the batteries from Colchester, as soon as they had been to practice camp, to temporary duty manning static anti-aircraft sites in the Air Defence of Great Britain, under the operational control of the British Anti-Aircraft Command and using equipment provided by it.88 Subsequently the units returned to Colchester for mobile training before joining their field formations. This plan, however, depended on the availability of equipment and did not get under way until early in 1942.89 Only brief mention can be made of training at .the Reinforcement Units.* These units were originally set up to hold a pool of reinforcements, and their staffs were inadequate to deal with the training problems that arose. Brigadier Page, on taking over command of the Canadian Base Units in January
* See above, Chap. VI.
1941, reported that the drafts arriving from Canada contained a proportion of “raw, or nearly raw recruits”.90 Consequently it was necessary to set up a syllabus of training and provide qualified instructors and a proper organization to carry it out. This was done during 1941 and a regular course of training became part of the normal routine at all Canadian Holding Units. During that year, however, equipment shortages interfered with progress as they did in field units.91
Offensive Training, 1942–1943
The German invasion of Russia in the summer of 1941, followed by the entrance of the United States into the war at the end of the year, opened the prospect of offensive action against Germany and led naturally to a new emphasis on offensive training during 1942.
The introduction of battle drill inevitably required that individual training be renewed and intensified. Canadian Corps Training Instructions Nos. 5 and 6,92 issued 21 November 1941 and 25 February 1942, prescribed a steady progression in training from the platoon level in December 1941 to divisional level by May 1942. In order to obtain as much realism as possible, exercises were to be two-sided wherever feasible.93 Late in December 1941 General Crerar took over the command of the Corps and threw himself with great intensity into the work of training it to meet the new situation, prescribing policy in a succession of circular letters. The first of these, dated 14 January,94 still spoke of preparation for the “invasion battle” in England as the Canadians’ main responsibility; but by March he was defining the aim as “to train all ranks up to that stage of mental, physical and professional fitness needed to engage successfully in offensive battle against the Germans”. He emphasized the need for the highest physical fitness, particularly on the part of infantrymen, since early operations on the Continent would see a drastically reduced scale of transport, with the consequence that the foot soldier would have to fight only with what he could carry.95
Exercises “BEAVER III” and “BEAVER IV” (“BEAVER I” and “BEAVER II” were exercises for headquarters staffs only) were planned to further this policy. Although these exercises were still “anti-invasion” in character, they were, at the same time, the first in which the Canadians participated on a large scale as an offensive force. “BEAVER III” was carried out on 22–24 April under Corps direction by the 1st and 2nd Divisions with the former in the role of a German invasion force attacking the latter. “BEAVER IV”, on 10–13 May, saw the 2nd Division assuming the offensive role, while the defending force was supplied by the 3rd Division. This was the latter’s first appearance in a Corps exercise. In “BEAVER III” the landing was assumed to have been made in the Littlehampton–Worthing area; that in “BEAVER IV”
was between Bexhill and Beachy Head. Both exercises involved the 1st Canadian Army Tank Brigade and details of Corps Troops. Special points emerging from them were the speed with which the 1st Division showed itself able to advance by march route, and the fact that the 3rd Division required further practice in traffic control. This is merely to say that this division was now going through the teething troubles that the 1st and 2nd had experienced during FOX and DOG early in 1941.96
Following closely after the BEAVER exercises came a much larger one called TIGER, conducted by South Eastern Command and lasting from 19 to 30 May. The Canadian Corps (now known as the 1st Canadian Corps), less the greater part of the 2nd Division and one battalion of the 1st Army Tank Brigade, took part under General Crerar.* The 3rd British Division, less one brigade and with the 5th Canadian Infantry Brigade under command, replaced the 2nd Division in the Corps order of battle. In all, six divisions as well as large numbers of other troops took part. For the purposes of TIGER, Kent and Sussex were assumed to be independent hostile countries, while lying adjacent was a powerful neutral state, Surrey, whose threats of intervention were utilized by the Director (Lieut. General B. L. Montgomery, GOC-in-C South Eastern Command) to influence the course of operations – particularly in the direction of making the troops cover ground. General Crerar commanded the Sussex forces, which were weak in armour but strong in artillery and infantry and in the air. The Kent forces were under Lieut.General J. A. H. Gammell, GOC 12th Corps. The exercise was not planned on an anti- invasion basis; the two armies advanced to contact and fought an “encounter battle”.
There is no space to detail the course of Exercise TIGER. We can only mention its results. In his report97 to the Chief of the General Staff in Ottawa, General McNaughton wrote:–
Minister and War Cabinet will like to know that in the opinion of both General Montgomery and myself results reflect the satisfactory state of tactical training and endurance now reached by Canadian units and formations taking part. This Exercise was specially designed to test capabilities to the limit. It lasted eleven days in all during which some units marched on foot as much as 250 miles which is about the life of army boots on English roads. Much of this marching was tactical at forced pace. Transport was cut to minimum and troops lived hard under conditions approximating active service. Hardships and heavy tasks accepted by troops most cheerfully and though now very tired they have come through these strenuous tests with enhanced morale and confidence in themselves. Staff work, road discipline and supply arrangements were on the whole excellent. I was particularly pleased with Crerar’s conduct of the operations of 1 Cdn Corps.
* The 2nd Division’s Headquarters and the 4th and 6th Brigades, together with the 14th Army Tank Battalion, had begun special training for the Dieppe operation and were, accordingly, not available for TIGER. The Dieppe training is described in Chap. X of this volume.
The 1st Corps report for the final week observes, “After long marches throughout the course of the exercise, in the closing stages some infantry units marched as much as 38 miles in about 18 hours”.98 It is evident that the goals of Corps Training Instructions Nos. 5 and 6 had been largely achieved.99
Training in the 1st Canadian Corps for the remainder of the year was on a more detailed level. General Crerar, in a letter dated 4 June 1942,100 laid down the programme for the summer months, ordering all commanders to take every advantage of the opportunity (“possibly a brief one”) now presented for eliminating deficiencies. The emphasis was to be on individual weapon training, battle practice (field firing exercises with live ammunition, in areas on the South Downs acquired for the purpose),* combined operations, and command and staff exercises. On these lines the Corps worked during the rest of 1942. Field firing exercises were carried out up to the brigade group level and even higher. On 3 August, for instance, the 3rd Infantry Brigade and the 14th Army Tank Battalion conducted a scheme near the battlefield of Lewes (1264), supported by three regiments of field artillery firing live shell over the troops’ heads.101
There were some exceptions to the normal course of training during this period. The 3rd Division took part in the only divisional scheme, Exercise HAROLD, held in July under the direction of the 12th British Corps, in which the Canadians simulated an invasion force attacking the 46th British Division.102 The 2nd Canadian Division’s two Dieppe brigades, the 4th and 6th, lost so many men in that operation that they had to return to individual and platoon training.103 Finally, some small anti-invasion exercises, such as BLACKBOY in November, were conducted by the 1st Division. These were designed to keep the defence organization of the south coast efficient in order to deal with possible minor raids by the Germans.104
The 5th Canadian Armoured Division, whose arrival in the United Kingdom and difficulties in obtaining tanks have already been mentioned, was placed under Canadian Military Headquarters until such time as its training had progressed to the divisional collective stage. It finally came under command of the First Canadian Army on 25 June 1942. The arrival of tanks continued to be slow† until the end of the year, with the result that the armoured units’ progress was considerably slower than that of the artillery and infantry. A divisional Training Instruction issued in September mentioned this fact and extended the period of troop and squadron training
* General Crerar in this connection directed that all sensible safety precautions should be carefully enforced, but added, “the importance of practising actual fire support, with movement, is so great that legitimate risks must be run”. Inevitably, such exercises occasionally caused casualties.
† By the middle of June only 112 tanks had been received; these were a mixed lot, including light tanks and obsolescent types, and only 34 of the new Ram I tanks which were now coming in from Canada.105
for the armoured regiments from 31 August to 31 December, at the same time directing artillery and infantry units to undertake more advanced collective instruction.106 Training for commanders and staffs within the Division was carried on concurrently. There were wireless exercises without troops, on brigade and divisional levels, and one scheme in which all divisional troops and transport took part, the armoured regiments and infantry being represented by their respective headquarters and squadron or company rear communications wireless sets.107
To keep abreast of expanding needs, the Canadian Training School was enlarged during 1942. Early in the year, CMHQ took steps to organize a battle-drill wing, following a similar move by GHQ Home Forces. This was known as No. 5 (Battle) Wing and began operation on 1 May at Rowlands Castle, Hampshire. In July, it was reorganized into Rifle, Carrier and Mortar Sub-Wings.108 A further change, due to increased emphasis on chemical warfare (including flame projection) was the transfer of this type of training from No. 2 (Technical) Wing to No. 6 (Chemical Warfare) Wing, formed for the purpose in December.109 Thus the following wings were in operation at the end of the year:
No. 1, still giving officer-cadet training;*
* As the result of a decision to discontinue officer cadet training in the United Kingdom, Ottawa had informed CMHQ on 13 February that No. I Wing would cease operations after the courses then running had been completed. Later, however, General McNaughton obtained approval to re-open No. 1 Wing to provide a basic common-to-all-arms course for artillery, engineers, signals and ordnance cadets, who would then go on to British schools for their specialist training.110
No. 2, anti-gas courses and driving and maintenance for officers, and both wheeled and tracked (carrier) instruction for NCOs.;
No. 3 (Weapons) Wing, small arms courses generally, aircraft recognition, range-taking, and junior leaders’ training for prospective NCOs.;
No. 4 (Regimental Officers) Wing, six-week courses in tactics and administration for company and platoon commanders; and
Nos. 5 and 6 as just described.111
The availability of more equipment during the year somewhat eased the problems of anti-aircraft training, with the result that the light anti-aircraft regiments for the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 5th Divisions were able to complete their mobile training and join their formations.112 The Canadian Army also undertook the instruction of radar operators. Some Canadians had previously been trained in this work, but after qualification had been employed with British units. On General McNaughton’s initiative a radar unit, which he desired not to belong to any one arm of the service,113 was formed in January 1942 as No. 1 Canadian Radio Location Unit. After its personnel had completed training at various establishments, it was concentrated and moved to Colchester; and at the end of 1942 men of this unit were manning Canadianmade radar sets at many points on the south coast. Early in 1943 the unit was disbanded to conform with British organization.114 Late in 1942 the insufficiency of the vacancies available for Canadians
at the Royal Artillery School at Larkhill led to the institution of No. I Canadian School of Artillery Overseas, which at first was part of “C” Group, Canadian Reinforcement Units. It was organized into wings: Field; Medium; Anti-Tank; Anti-Aircraft; and Survey. To save manpower and equipment, these were set up as adjuncts to existing Artillery Reinforcement Units. A nucleus of instructors was obtained by posting gunnery instructors from field and reinforcement units to the new school. At the same time Larkhill agreed to increase the number of Canadian vacancies for the same purpose. The school’s first courses began on 3 January 1943. Later in the year it became an independent establishment and moved to Seaford, Sussex.115
The late summer and autumn of 1942 saw the arrival in the United Kingdom of the 4th Canadian Armoured Division. This division arrived overseas in a somewhat more advanced state of training than earlier armoured formations, mainly because a respectable number of tanks from Canadian production were now available in Canada for training use. Anticipating a delay in tank deliveries in England, arrangements were made to obtain universal carriers as substitutes. By October an initial issue of 255 carriers had been made, with the result that much useful training in troop and squadron tactics was possible.116 In October, a divisional training instruction117 laid down the state of training to be reached by 15 February 1943. Briefly, collective training was to reach squadron level, and headquarters of formations were to attain enough efficiency to enable them to handle their units by that date. Like the 5th, the 4th Division was under CMHQ command during its early days overseas. However, it passed under Headquarters First Canadian Army on 21 October 1942, when its training was still in a very early stage.
During 1942 arrangements were made for a considerable extension of combined operations training. This programme was related to the various operations under discussion for the Canadians at this period (below, pages 408–12). It was originally planned to begin on 27 November, but conditions at the Combined Training Centres necessitated a postponement to 16 December, at which time the 1st Infantry Brigade began its training at Inveraray.118 This, then, was the only formation to go to Scotland in 1942. However, other combined training was carried out. In November and December the units of the 8th and 9th Infantry Brigades of the 3rd Division had three days each on infantry landing ships at Southampton.119 During December 1942–February 1943 the 9th Brigade battalions went in turn to Dorlin, Scotland, where a limited number of naval craft were available.120 A combined training programme for drivers of all arms was started in December. There was a large representation from the 1st Division and selections from the 2nd and 3rd.121 Certain Corps and Army Troops, including engineers and army service corps, also took part in landing practice at the Scottish Combined Training Centres.122 And Combined Operations
Planning Courses were held at the Combined Training Centre, Largs, for the staffs of both the 1st and 3rd Divisions during December 1942 and January 1943.123
By March of 1943 the two remaining brigades of the 1st Division had completed their tours at Inveraray.124 Two squadrons of the 14th Army Tank Regiment, three companies of the Saskatoon Light Infantry and the 9th Field Ambulance also trained in Scotland during the same period.125 After the decision in April to send the 1st Division and 1st Army Tank Brigade to take part in the attack on Sicily, these formations had a further tour of amphibious training in Scotland.
Battle Experience in North Africa
The last important development of 1942 was the decision, after the Allied landings in North Africa in November, to send Canadian officers and NCOs. to serve three-month attachments to the First British Army in Tunisia. This resulted from the desire to provide battle experience for as many Canadians as possible before the main body of the army was committed to action. Except for the two Dieppe brigades, such experience had been denied to the Canadian troops in Great Britain. Arrangements were made with the War Office accordingly, and the first group, 78 officers and 63 other ranks, reached Algiers on 3 January 1943. Four more parties were sent; the final total was 201 officers and 147 other ranks.126 These attachments took the form of employing the Canadians, as far as possible, in the jobs they were best qualified to fill; they went to appropriate units in the same way as British reinforcements. Thus, an armoured corps officer might find himself in charge of a squadron of tanks; an infantry captain commanded a rifle company; a sapper NCO cleared mines and a staff officer did the work of an appropriate staff appointment.127 That the service was very active is indicated by the fact that 25 of the Canadians became casualties, eight losing their lives.128
The value of this experiment is beyond question. Nothing can take the place of battle in the final moulding of the efficient soldier. A Canadian infantry officer wrote from North Africa, where he was attached to a battalion of the Buffs, “Our training in England since the introduction of battle drill has been pretty good but no scheme can approach the physical and mental discomfort of actual battle. If I am able to get across some ideas on my return it should make the initial impact of actual battle less severe on our troops.129 It is only to be regretted that more Canadians could not have had the same opportunity. But the was, of course, a definite limit to the number of Canadians the First *Army could take, and the campaign was not long. As it was, practically every major Canadian unit
had one or more of these North African men on its strength during the final period of preparation for battle, and their advice was most valuable.
Canadian senior officers also were able to improve their knowledge as a result of the Tunisian campaign. General Crerar flew out to Tripoli in February 1943 with a group of British generals and attended a very instructive study period conducted by General Montgomery at the headquarters of the victorious Eighth Army. In April Brigadier G. G. Simonds visited the same Army and watched the Wadi Akarit battle.130 On returning to England he was appointed to command the 2nd Division in succession to General Roberts (who now took over the Canadian Reinforcement Units), only to be transferred almost immediately to the 1st following the death of General Salmon. A few weeks later his division was fighting as part of the Eighth Army in Sicily.
Exercise SPARTAN, March 1943
The 1st Division’s combined training prevented it from taking part in the very large exercise called SPARTAN, which took place in March 1943 under the direction of GHQ Home Forces. This exercise closely approached Exercise BUMPER in size; ten divisions “fought” in it as against twelve in BUMPER. So far as the number of Canadians participating was concerned, SPARTAN was the largest exercise of the war.
The original plan was that in this exercise the Canadian army headquarters would control a force consisting of the 1st Canadian Corps; a British armoured corps including the 5th Canadian Armoured Division; one or two other British corps, and the 1st Canadian Army Tank Brigade.131 However, on 15 January 1943 Headquarters 2nd Canadian Corps came into existence; and four days later General McNaughton agreed with GHQ Home Forces that this corps would take part, with the 5th Canadian and Guards Armoured Divisions under command.132 The sequel indicated that it was perhaps over-optimistic to put a brand-new formation into so important an exercise before its headquarters had n chance to acquire its complete transport and signals equipment, and at least to carry out a staff exercise and an exercise without troops. (Signal equipment of various types, much of it on loan from British formations, arrived at Corps Headquarters when it was already in the assembly area, just a couple of days before the actual exercise commenced.)133 On the other hand, the training value of manoeuvres of this type, which happened so seldom, made SPARTAN an opportunity not to be missed. The unfortunate aspect of the matter was that a poor performance by any Army or Corps in such manoeuvres was likely to count heavily against its commander in the opinion of GHQ Home Forces and the War Office.
In SPARTAN, Headquarters First Canadian Army (styled for exercise purposes Headquarters Second Army) functioned for the first time in the field. General McNaughton commanded six divisions: the 2nd and 3rd Canadian Infantry Divisions, under General Crerar’s 1st Canadian Corps; the 5th Canadian and Guards Armoured Divisions, under General Sansom’s 2nd Canadian Corps; and the 43rd and 53rd British Divisions, under the 12th British Corps (Lieut. General M. G. N. Stopford). A Mobile Composite Group of nineteen RAF and RCAF squadrons cooperated with McNaughton’s army; this was the first test in the United Kingdom of a system of air support which had proved successful in North Africa. The “enemy” consisted of the forces of Eastern Command under Lieut. General J. A. H. Gammell: the 8th and 11th British Corps, with another composite air group, also including RCAF squadrons, cooperating. In accordance with the offensive strategic thinking of the day, the Second Army was assumed to be breaking out of a bridgehead established by another army on the Continent (represented by the south coast of England). This was the role contemplated at this time for the First Canadian Army and that, indeed, which it finally played. General McNaughton described SPARTAN as “designed as a strict test of the physical condition and endurance of the troops, their proficiency in movement and tactics and of the ability of commanders and staffs to administer, handle and fight their formations and units”.134
Only the highlights of the exercise can be given here. In the opening phase GHQ Home Forces, which was directing the exercise, made things hard for the Second Army by allowing the “German” army to advance twenty-four hours before the time (first light on 5 March) previously notified to General McNaughton for the beginning of his operations. The “British” force was not permitted to move until the Germans had been on their way for some hours. This enabled Gammell’s units to make contact with McNaughton’s farther south than the latter had appreciated to be probable, and incidentally they were able to “demolish” a great number of bridges.
In spite of these initial disadvantages, General Crerar’s well-trained Corps in the centre got forward rapidly and on 5 March smashed the “hinge” in the Reading area on which General Gammell had planned to pivot his defence. The 2nd Canadian Corps was held back until 7 March, when General McNaughton ordered it to make a wide enveloping sweep to the westward. The armoured divisions’ progress, however, was disappointingly slow; there were bad traffic jams and petrol shortages; and for a time there was a complete breakdown in communications between Corps and Army Headquarters. This last was not surprising, since 2nd Canadian Corps Signals was neither fully equipped nor fully trained. It should moreover be remembered that this was the first occasion on which the whole of the 5th Division was actually exercised together as a formation. The Corps Commander regrouped the divisions on the night of 10–11 March with the two
armoured brigades under the Guards Division and the two infantry brigades under the 5th Division. General McNaughton at the time disapproved this regrouping and ordered it reversed. It was subsequently criticized by the C-in-C Home Forces.135
“Cease Fire” was signalled on the morning of 12 March, when General McNaughton’s army had begun to overcome its handicaps and victory was in sight. Since 8 March, in the words of the C-in-C, the situation had “swung steadily in favour of the British”. General McNaughton’s own comments on the exercise,136 cabled to Ottawa the following day, may be quoted in part:
As you know our Army staff was new and partly set up ad hoc. Nevertheless by the conclusion of the exercise it was working smoothly and efficiently and our officers have proved their capacity. Our Engineers, Signals, Supply and Transport, Medical, Ordnance, REME [Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers] and other administrative services were most satisfactory and the officers and staffs in charge showed a capacity to organize, conduct and administer those matters which was very satisfactory indeed particularly as this was the first occasion in which we have ever had an opportunity to give them actual practice full scale. ...
One of the important matters of organization tested was the new composite group of the Royal Air Force. In this for the first time I see a possibility of providing the Army with the air support which it requires. ...
The Final Stages, 1943–1944
In April 1943 came the decision to send the 1st Division and 1st Army Tank Brigade to Sicily; and in July the 3rd Division was selected as an assault formation to take part in the first phase of the invasion of North-West Europe. The specialized training undertaken with these tasks in view will be dealt with in connection with those campaigns.
For the rest of the Canadian field army the period to the end of 1943 was characterized by intensification in all spheres of training. Individual instruction was interspersed with exercises on every level from battalion to corps. Particularly noteworthy were wireless schemes for the staffs of army, corps and divisions, infantry-tank cooperation practice, street fighting, night training,*137 battle inoculation, range-firing for tanks and all branches of the artillery, and general training in supply, recovery and medical evacuation for the services.138
* During the summer the Battle Wing of the Canadian Training School conducted a series of Night Fighting Courses for senior officers, designed to produce a diffusion of such training throughout the army. The courses aroused wide interest.
The introduction of self-propelled artillery equipment and carrier flame-throwers required special instruction for drivers and operators.139 Canadian officers who had served with the First British Army in North Africa or with the Canadian forces in Sicily and Italy passed on their experience of operations in the form of lectures.140
During 1943 the training programme took the Canadian divisions into areas of England – notably Hampshire and East Anglia – of which they had hitherto seen little. The 2nd Division, it is true, spent most of the year in Sussex, mainly in exercising in the breakout battle from a bridgehead. The 5th Armoured Division moved to Norfolk in July and spent six weeks there engaged in a series of large-scale exercises. By October, when it left to join the 1st Division in the Mediterranean, the 5th had made much progress, but still had something to learn about armour in battle. The 4th Armoured Division, which had not been sufficiently advanced to take part in SPARTAN, moved to Norfolk in September, after the 5th’s departure thence. The following month it was exercised for the first time as a division with all arms and services functioning (Exercise “GRIZZLY II”); while in Exercise BRIDOON in November it was pitted against the 9th British Armoured Division. The Headquarters of the 2nd Canadian Corps also worked in East Anglia; it directed “GRIZZLY II” and in September commanded the 61st British Infantry Division and the 1st Polish Armoured Division in a large exercise called “LINK.”141
In August and September Exercise HARLEQUIN took the 2nd and 5th Divisions (and the 4th Division’s armoured brigade) into Hampshire under the 1st Canadian Corps. This exercise was designed to test administrative arrangements for moving the force for the invasion of North-West Europe through concentration and assembly areas in England to embarkation points. At the same time it formed part of Operation STARKEY, a great deception scheme designed to make the Germans believe that we intended an invasion of the Pas de Calais. This ended on 8 September 1943 with an “amphibious feint” in the Channel, a certain number of troops being embarked in the hope – which was not realized – of bringing the German Air Force to large-scale action as at Dieppe.142
As 1944 opened, the First Canadian Army in the United Kingdom, reduced to one corps headquarters, three divisions and one armoured brigade,* with ancillary troops, was making its final preparations for action. A directive143 issued at this time defined the purpose of training during the period January–March 1944 as “to prepare and perfect all ranks individually to reach the highest standard”. Unit commanders were reminded that this was “their last opportunity to make the men of their units fighting fit, and fit to fight”: this period of individual training was accordingly not to be treated as if it were part of a normal training cycle. As spring advanced and D Day drew nearer, various specialized exercises were undertaken, although the days of full-scale divisional “schemes” were past. Training for the breakout from a bridgehead on the Continent dominated the programme of the 2nd Corps; particularly notable was the practice in assault crossings of tidal estuaries,
* Of these, the 3rd Division and 2nd Armoured Brigade were under the 1st British Corps preparing for the assault.
carried out by the 2nd Division with elements of Corps and Army Troops on the River Trent in Yorkshire (Exercise KATE, April–May) and by 4th Division infantry and engineers on the River Medway in Kent. This training was in fact designed to prepare the units for the task of attacking across the Lower Seine. Field firing exercises, some on a considerable scale, were still in progress during May; but before the month was over such activities had ended.144 The Canadian formations in England had moved, or were moving, to their final positions, ready to play their parts in the tremendous drama that was impending.
Thus the long training process was over. What had been accomplished? A very great deal, but not everything. In 1948 Lieut. General Charles Foulkes, looking back upon the process and its sequel, made remarks145 which provide a commentary:–
In the last war it took us four years to get ready ... When I took the Second Division into Northwest Europe it had had four years of hard training. We trained day and night and I thought it was just about as perfect a fighting machine as we could get. When we went into battle at Falaise and Caen we found that when we bumped into battle-experienced German troops we were no match for them. We would not have been successful had it not been for our air and artillery support. We had had four years of real, hard going and it took about two months to get that Division so shaken down that we were really a machine that could fight.
There is no doubt that training can do just so much and no more; there is no umpire and no instructor like the bullet. Other things being equal, in an encounter between an army with battle experience and one without it the former will win. The Canadians did well in Normandy; they would have done better had they not been fighting their first battle and learning as they fought.
Availing ourselves once more of the historian’s precious privilege of hindsight, it is possible also to look back and say that the Canadian Army, though it got tremendous dividends from its long training period in England, still got rather less than it might have had. Time was lost in the early days through equipment shortages; and it was only gradually that the more realistic training methods which finally yielded such good results were evolved and adopted. It is the present writer’s impression, however, that the Canadian Army also suffered from possessing a proportion of regimental officers whose attitude towards training was casual and haphazard rather than urgent and scientific: like the traditional amateur actor, they were cheerfully confident that it would “be all right on the night” without their having to exert themselves too much. No doubt these people exist in every army; but it is worth while to observe that in modem war the army that has fewest of them will have a very great advantage.