Page 623

Chapter 24: Administration, and Some Special Activities and Problems

The story of the campaign in North-West Europe has been told in this volume mainly in terms of what happened on the battlefield. But the events there were very largely controlled by administrative—“logistical”—considerations. In this chapter some brief and necessarily inadequate account is given of these matters. At the same time, mention must be made of a number of Canadians who were employed in North-West Europe on special tasks—some of them extremely hazardous-outside the Canadian field army.

Canadian Administration in North-West Europe

At times in the course of the narrative, the reader has been given at least a glimpse of the administrative foundations of victory. He has seen something of the logistical organization that supported the invasion of Normandy, the enormous supply and transport problem that complicated Allied strategy after our victory there, and the tremendous administrative “build-up” that prepared the way for the Battle of the Rhineland. Here something must be said in slightly more detail of the nature of the administrative machine.

In a theatre of war, military administration falls into two major categories, each of which, under the British-Canadian staff system, is the responsibility of a separate branch of the staff. The Adjutant-General’s Branch deals with the so-called A problems, which concern personnel-medical, dental and pay services,* postings, reinforcements, transfers, promotions, states and returns, welfare, decorations and awards, and other similar matters which affect the soldier as an individual. The Quartermaster-General’s Branch deals with Q matters-basically, movement, and maintenance of material-which in turn are subdivided into those which pertain to the organization and efficiency of the various services and those which concern the movement of stores.1 Although no detailed description of the work of the individual services can be undertaken here, Q matters will

* The work of the medical service in this campaign is dealt with in detail in Lt: Col. W. R. Feasby, ed., Official History of the Canadian Medical Services, 1939–1945, Vol. I, Organization and Campaigns (Ottawa, 1956). For the dental service, see Lt.-Col. H. M. Jackson, The Story of the Royal Canadian Dental Corps (n.p., 1956). On pay services, see Capt. J. D. Londerville, The Pay Services of the Canadian Army Overseas in the War of 1939-45 (Ottawa, 1950).

Page 624

nevertheless be dealt with first—not because they were the more important, but because they lend themselves to a unity of treatment which will do much to explain the general administrative background of the campaign.

As early as the beginning of 1943, it was evident that any concept of a completely self-contained Canadian Army, with its own supply-line stretching from the manufacturer in Canada to the troops in the field, would have to be abandoned. For one thing, a separate Canadian base organization, which would have been necessary under such a system, would have been too costly in terms of manpower.2 In addition, the exigencies of battle might make it necessary at any time for Canadian divisions to be placed under the command of a British corps or for British divisions to be placed under the command of a Canadian corps,3 and under any such arrangement dual lines of supply would have been a vexatious complication. Thus, throughout the campaign in North-West Europe, there was virtually no separate Canadian supply organization other than what existed within First Canadian Army itself. The great majority of Canadian requirements, including ordnance stores, ammunition, petroleum products, most engineer, medical and dental stores, rations, office machinery and other supplies, were provided through British channels. Canadian units indented for warlike stores direct to their division’s Ordnance Field Park, which carried stocks of spare parts for mechanical transport, small arms, armament, signal stores, and engineering equipment, as well as complete wireless sets and small arms. Bulk demands for artillery equipment, clothing and general stores were sent periodically by the formation’s RCOC staff to a British Advanced Ordnance Depot.

Canadian troops did indeed continue to receive certain items which were peculiar to the Canadian forces,4 but most of these went into British depots in the United Kingdom, whence they were sent forward against Canadian indents to be issued in the theatre to cover Canadian demands.5 Canadian liaison officers in British depots in North-West Europe had the task of supervising the issue of these items of “continuing Canadian supply”. “Soft-skinned”, or B vehicles, and certain types of armoured, or A vehicles, probably the most important items of Canadian supply, were a partial exception to this in that they were held in the vehicle companies of the Canadian Base Ordnance Depot in the United Kingdom, but they nevertheless moved from there into the British “pipeline”. Of course, Canadian vehicles in large numbers were also supplied to the British authorities for their own use, many of them under the terms of the War Appropriation (United Nations Mutual Aid) Act of May 1943. During the last two years of the war alone, Canada provided the British with more than 82,000 B vehicles and more than 3000 A vehicles under Mutual Aid. All the Canadian-made vehicles went into the British pipeline and the British authorities, after ensuring that Canadian formations were provided with Canadian types, issued the balance as they saw fit. Apart from vehicles, the major items of Canadian supply were clothing, various personal equipment, and some technical stores.6

It had been agreed that items of continuing Canadian supply, earmarked for Canadian formations, would not be issued to British units except in cases of operational emergency,7 but naturally under such an arrangement as this there were

Page 625

sometimes disagreements about the interpretation of the principle.8 When in the autumn of 1944, for instance, an attempt was made to have the holdings of Canadian and British B vehicles within 21st Army Group pooled, this was resisted by the GOC-in-C. First Canadian Army9 since most Canadian vehicles had four-wheel drive while a preponderance of British vehicles were two-wheel drive types. Yet on the whole the system worked satisfactorily, and it certainly conferred a degree of administrative flexibility which would not otherwise have been possible. The proof of this is that during the campaign in North-West Europe administrative problems of unparalleled scope and complexity were encountered, not once but several times, and each time were successfully solved.

The first, and probably the most critical of such problems, was of course the maintenance and supply of the troops who landed on the Normandy beaches between D Day and the time when a normal system of military administration could be established. However, the very uniqueness of this task was an incentive to the administrative planners, and a detailed and comprehensive, yet imaginative, solution was evolved. Before the invasion, a system of movement control known as BUCO (Build-Up Control Organization) was set up in the United Kingdom to supervise the flow of personnel and vehicles from the concentration and marshalling areas and of ships and craft to the Continent,10 and a representative of First Canadian Army was attached to this organization. From the outset administrative control was exercised at a high level. Initially the planning and administrative responsibility for the British invasion sector was delegated to Second British Army, but Headquarters 21st Army Group later assumed responsibility for ports, railways, and inland water transport, while Headquarters Lines of Communication controlled local administration and certain other installations.11

After D Day the entire invading force had to be supplied over the beaches until such time as sufficient ports were captured and developed. Initially formations were maintained from brigade and divisional beach maintenance “packs”, which had been especially improvised for this occasion, but as stores and vehicles were landed by amphibious load-carriers and all types of landing craft, a great system of open-air dumps and depots began to be organized on shore.12 In the British-Canadian sector, this beach maintenance was eventually supplemented by the four small ports of Courseulles, Port-en-Bessin, Caen, and Ouistreham, and by the artificial harbour, MULBERRY B, at Arromanches, plus the havens of sheltered water known as GOOSEBERRIES (above, page 85).

The three Beach Maintenance Areas on the British assault front corresponded to the GOLD, JUNO and SWORD assault areas. These maintenance areas, where supplies were first stored after landing, were sub-divided into Beach SubAreas and Beach Groups. Of these, No. 102 Beach Sub-Area, consisting of Nos. 7 and 8 Beach Groups with No. 4 Beach Group in reserve, was under command of the 3rd Canadian Division on D Day, but as our troops enlarged the bridgehead and as administrative headquarters were established on shore, operational formations progressively relinquished their additional responsibilities for administration. On 11 June Headquarters No. 11 Lines of Communication Area took over control of the Beach Sub-Areas, and by 14 June No. 1 and No. 2 Roadheads were established

Page 626

in the vicinities of Douvres and Bayeux respectively. On 23 July, the day on which First Canadian Army became operational, the rear army boundaries of First Canadian Army and Second British Army became effective, and on this same day First Canadian Army took over the control of No. 1 Army Roadhead. The Canadian roadheads and railheads operated under the command of a headquarters known originally as HQ No. 1 Canadian L. of C. Terminal and later as HQ First Canadian Army Terminals.13

After HQ 21st Army Group assumed administrative control on the Continent on 20 July, a Rear Maintenance Area, which served virtually as an advanced base, was formed from Nos. 1 and 2 Army Roadheads, which were now called respectively “RMA East” and “RMA West”. As the stores in RMA East were gradually used up and not replaced, the Rear Maintenance Area came to centre exclusively about Bayeux. Here separate sections were allotted for reinforcements, ordnance stores, supplies, petroleum products, transport, prisoners of war, RAF supplies, ammunition, salvage, REME and engineer stores, and medical stores. In general, the system of supply was that from these Rear Maintenance Areas the requirements were carried forward to the Army roadheads. Here allotments were made to the various corps and each corps’ requirements were then transported forward to the corps area where delivery was made to divisional and corps troops’ second line transport which carried their loads on to the divisional maintenance areas. Here bulk was broken and each unit’s transport collected its own requirements which were then delivered forward to unit areas. In practice, however, this system was extremely flexible. No vehicle above the platoon level was ever earmarked for any particular load, and the pooling of all available vehicles was constantly practised in emergencies.14

Through the first weeks of the invasion virtually everything in the theatre was carried by truck, and indeed motor transport always remained the principal method of delivery. However, in due course a considerable amount of tonnage was moved by tugs and Rhino ferries along the inland waterways; urgently needed stores such as petrol and ammunition were frequently brought into the theatre by air; and railway lines were repaired and put into operation as soon as possible. (The first train ran in the Bayeux area on 4 July, but, owing largely to the destruction of bridges, it was well into August before any considerable volume of traffic could be carried by rail.)15 No. 1 Railway Operating Group, RCE, under Lt.-Col. F. E. Wootton, operated a portion of the line between Caen and Rouen in September, and a good deal of the telegraph line reconstruction in this area was done by No. 1 Railway Telegraph Company, RC Signals.16 Once the Rear Maintenance Areas were operating effectively, the Beach Maintenance Areas were either closed down or converted into Stores Transit Areas.

In spite of adverse factors such as the congestion in the beachhead (which made traffic control an important problem), the severe and unforeseen storm of 19-22 June, and the relative slowness of the breakout, the only serious maintenance difficulty experienced between 6 June and the end of July was in the supply of certain forms of ammunition. Because of the intensity of the fighting during this first phase of operations, ammunition supply was the major administrative problem;

Page 627

but when the initial battles had been won and the enemy was in full retreat across the Seine, petrol at once became the critical item of supply, and the decisive administrative factor was availability of motor transport.

As the Germans retreated from Normandy the lines of communication began to lengthen rapidly and alarmingly (above, pages 280, 300). Indeed, when Brussels and Antwerp fell on 3 and 4 September respectively, the lines of communication had stretched until they were nearly 300 miles in length. Even before this, however, the maintenance of the 2nd Canadian Corps from its Forward Maintenance Centre south of Caen was providing a difficult transport problem, aggravated by the fact that for a considerable time only secondary roads could be used since the main road east from Caen was dominated by the enemy.17 On 26 August, however, it was possible for First Canadian Army to open No. 3 Roadhead near Lisieux, and on 2 September No. 3A Roadhead, an advanced portion of No. 3, was opened at Elbeuf. On 3 September First Canadian Army established No. 5 Roadhead between Dieppe and Abbeville, and on 15 September No. 7* was opened in the Bethune area.18 Throughout August and September there were virtually no shortages in stocks held in the theatre, but the main depots were still in the Rear Maintenance Area nearly 300 miles back and there were no supplies on the ground between there and the Forward Maintenance Centres of the corps. Thus the real problem was to get supplies to the forward troops rapidly enough to keep pace with the advance.

Apart from stretching the lines of communication, the Allied successes gave rise to another, though relatively minor, administrative problem, for about this time the number of German prisoners suddenly began to increase. A special cage with a capacity of 10,000 had been built at Dieppe and placed under the command of HQ No. 1 Canadian L. of C. Terminal; after the surrender of Le Havre on 12 September this cage had to hold, for a short time, more than 17,000 prisoners.19

The capture and use of major ports nearer to the fighting front was obviously the only key to the problem of supply. On 1 September Dieppe had been taken and stores began to be landed there six days later (above, page 300). By 21 September the planned tonnage figures for the port were being exceeded, but Dieppe could not begin to handle sufficient tonnage to meet all requirements. Indeed, it was developed as a “feeder” port designed to handle only a limited number of commodities of basic importance. Nevertheless with its assistance First Canadian Army was able on 5 October to establish another roadhead, No. 9, near Termonde east of Ghent; and between 5 and 15 November No. I1 Roadhead was opened at Beersse near Turnhout. These roadheads, and the Army Troops organization generally, had grown much larger than had originally been anticipated. A little later the Canadian L. of C. Terminal organization was employing more than 20 officers and over 5000 other ranks, in addition to large drafts of civilian labour and prisoners of war.20

In the meantime the 1st British Corps, as we have seen, captured the badly damaged port of Le Havre, 225 miles in rear of Antwerp, but this port was handed

* Other roadheads in the numerical series, e.g. Nos. 6 and 8, served the Second British Army.

Page 628

over to the Americans for development (above, page 336). Antwerp itself was taken almost intact on 4 September, but readers of this book are well aware that it was not possible to use the port until the enemy had been cleared from the approaches. Thus it was not until nearly the end of November that the problem of the overlong lines of communication could at last be satisfactorily solved (above, page 422).

Once the port of Antwerp began functioning, however, it was decided to close down the Rear Maintenance Areas by 20 February 1945 and to transfer their stocks to an advanced base in the vicinity of Antwerp and Brussels.21 Stocking the advanced base was a major administrative problem involving coordinating the import of stores from the United Kingdom with the shifting of stocks from the Rear Maintenance Areas. One difficulty at this time was a shortage of drivers for B vehicles which retarded clearing vehicle stocks from the Rear Maintenance Areas. The turn-around time for the trip from the RMA to the advanced base was between six and seven days. Not until Canadian Military Headquarters, London loaned the British over 1500 men from the Canadian Central Ordnance Depot in the United Kingdom to ferry B vehicles from Bayeux to Brussels was the programme successfully completed.22

The next major administrative task was that of stockpiling for Operation VERITABLE, scheduled to begin on 8 February, which had as its aim the clearing of the west bank of the Rhine (above, pages 457-8). Large stocks of all kinds were required, and during the month of February alone the First Canadian Army railheads handled 343,838 tons of supplies.23 On 2 March, towards the end of Operation VERITABLE, it was possible to begin stocking No. 13 Canadian’ Army Roadhead over the Maas in the Nijmegen area. After VERITABLE was completed, First Canadian Army was maintained over two lines of communication. As the 1st Canadian Corps advanced towards Utrecht it was supported by No. 13 Roadhead at Nijmegen which was being stocked by rail, and as the 2nd Corps moved towards Oldenburg it was maintained from No. 15 Roadhead which opened on 18 April in the Almelo area and was stocked by road from the railhead at Nijmegen.24 No. 15 was the last roadhead opened by the Canadian Army, for the war ended before another major administrative move became necessary.

The 1st and 2nd Echelons

In North-West Europe, as in Italy, a Canadian administrative headquarters was provided. All major Canadian decisions in the theatre rested with the Army Commander; but this administrative headquarters, known as the Canadian Section, GHQ 1st Echelon Headquarters 21st Army Group (the letters “GHQ” were ultimately eliminated from the title), was designed to relieve Army Headquarters of all possible non-operational functions. It was charged with responsibility for liaison on Canadian administration between Headquarters First Canadian Army and Canadian Military Headquarters, London, on one hand, and Headquarters 21st Army Group on the other.25 The Canadian 1st Echelon had been formed in England in March 1944 and on 1 April came under the command of 21st Army

Page 629

Group. Brigadier A. W. Beament, who had been Officer-in-Charge Canadian Section, GHQ 1st Echelon in Italy,26 returned to be the Officer-in-Charge. He remained in this post until the end of 1944, when he was succeeded by Major-General E. L. M. Bums, who had recently relinquished the command of the 1st Canadian Corps in Italy.

It is worth noting that when General Burns was appointed the suggestion was made that he might be placed in command of Canadian units “back of Army” and given the title “GOC Canadian Base and L. of C. Units”. This was not well received at Headquarters 21st Army Group. Field-Marshal Montgomery’s chief administrative officer, Major-General M. W. A. P. Graham, wrote to General Montague on 10 December, 1944,

... There can of course be only one GOC L of C and that is at present General Naylor.* The C-in-C would not agree to a separate Canadian L of C nor does there seem to be any need for it. In consequence there could not be a GOC Cdn L of C. The whole of the L of C must be controlled by one HQ. A divided responsibility in my opinion is unsound and would not work. ...

This might have been considered merely a “standard reaction”, but there was more to it than that. Canada had long since abandoned the idea of a really separate Canadian Line of Communication, since she could not find the manpower to organize one. And there were military reasons for not introducing an unnecessary complication into a machine which was not working badly, especially as the British were content in practice, as a general rule, to leave Canadian administration severely alone. Generals Montague and Crerar decided not to press the matter. General Burns’ ultimate title was “General Officer in Charge, Canadian Section 1st Echelon Headquarters 21st Army Group”.27

In establishing the Canadian Section, GHQ 1st Echelon it was necessary to make provision for three Canadian spheres of influence: Canadian troops under command First Canadian Army; Canadian GHQ, Base, and Lines of Communication troops; and Canadian units serving under the command of a British formation.28 The situation in North-West Europe differed somewhat from that in Italy since First Canadian Army was directly under the 21st Army Group.† The War Office in London had agreed that the officer in charge of the Canadian 1st Echelon should have direct access to the C-in-C 21st Army Group when he required it;29 in practice, however, matters requiring discussion with Field-Marshal Montgomery were dealt with by General Crerar. But routine administrative matters of Canadian concern were handled by 1st Echelon, which dealt with the appropriate sections of Headquarters 21st Army Group.

Operating alongside Rear Headquarters 21st Army Group, the Canadian Section, GHQ 1st Echelon crossed to Normandy in August 1944. In September it moved on to Brussels, where it remained until after the end of hostilities, when it went forward to Bad Salzuflen in Germany. By the end of 1944 a total of 53 officers and 143 other ranks were being employed in this administrative headquarters.30

* Major-General R. F. B. Naylor.

† Although in Italy the Canadian Section, GHQ 1st Echelon operated on behalf of only a corps, it was accredited to Headquarters 15th Army Group.

Page 630

Although the administration of personnel was at least as important as that of supplies and equipment, it presented, on the whole, fewer difficulties in NorthWest Europe. The “Canadian Section, GHQ 2nd Echelon” which served with 21st Army Group was, under policy direction from 1st Echelon, mainly responsible for detailed Canadian A staff work in the theatre. The 2nd Echelon was defined in Field Service Regulations as “the Deputy Adjutant-General’s Office at the Base”. Essentially, it was a Canadian personnel records office for North-West Europe, whose most vital functions were the recording and reporting of casualties and the control of the provision of reinforcements (replacements). To facilitate this work the Officer-in-Charge was authorized to communicate directly with unit commanders. There was no need to create a new unit to perform these tasks on the Continent, since a Canadian 2nd Echelon had functioned in England since 1940. In North-West Europe the Officer-in-Charge was Colonel V. S. C. McClenaghan, who had gained experience in a similar capacity in the Mediterranean theatre.31

The Canadian Section, GHQ 2nd Echelon crossed to Normandy in August 1944 and set up its offices in a tented camp at La Délivrande. Early in October it moved to Antwerp, where it narrowly escaped destruction by a V-2 rocket on 9 December. Later that month it moved again, to Alost, Belgium, where it remained until June 1945, when it went on to Lemgo in Germany.32

Like the echelons in Italy, the Canadian 1st and 2nd Echelons at 21st Army Group both had on their strength many personnel of the Canadian Women’s Army Corps, chiefly employed as stenographers, typists, clerks or cypher operators. By 30 September 1944 five officers and 143 other ranks of the CWAC were serving with the two echelons on the Continent. The casualty roll for North-West Europe includes four CWAC “battle injuries”—all the result of the V-2 incident at Antwerp.33

The Reinforcement Organization

By March 1944 CMHQ had decided that the Canadian base reinforcement organization in North-West Europe would not need to be so large as the one in Italy. Because the new theatre of war would be so close to the main base in the United Kingdom, replacement drafts could be sent to the Continent each week. Moreover, the fact that the training of reinforcement personnel would inevitably deteriorate the farther forward they were held was a powerful argument for keeping reinforcement holdings on the Continent to a minimum.34 Accordingly it was decided to hold only enough reinforcements to replace two to three weeks’ wastage at “intense” rates (about 7000 all ranks), instead of the two months’ wastage which had been provided for in the Italian theatre,35 and approval was given for the establishment of Headquarters No. 2 Base Reinforcement Group with only five reinforcement battalions under command rather than the eight provided in Italy.36 On 1 April, in preparation for the invasion of the Continent, the Canadian reinforcement group came under the command of 21st Army Group.

On D Day the assault formations of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division were

Page 631

followed ashore by the 10th Canadian Base Reinforcement Battalion, which landed one of its companies on each of the first three days of operations. All the 10th Battalion’s reinforcements were ashore by 9 June, and when the 9th Battalion landed, on 13 June, the two units began to phase their reinforcements through “forward” companies attached to the British 1st Corps Reception Camp. When the last Canadian Base Reinforcement Battalion—the 13th—reached France on 3 August, it became a “forward” battalion, controlling from the army roadhead area reinforcement companies in corps and divisional areas. Headquarters No. 2 Canadian Base Reinforcement Group and the other four battalions remained in the base area where the training of reinforcements could continue. Reinforcements for the Armoured Corps, however, were phased forward from the base through the 25th Armoured Delivery Regiment (The Elgin Regiment), whose forward delivery squadrons moved both tanks and crews to units.37

Although General Crerar recognized the desirability of reinforcing units with personnel drawn from their home localities and of returning recovered battle casualties to their own units, and had issued an instruction that this should be done wherever possible,38 once losses became heavy it was not always feasible to allot reinforcements on the basis of their territorial affiliation. Fortunately, we have seen, D Day casualties had been lower than the planners had feared, while losses for the entire month of June had amounted to only 301 officers and 3142 other ranks, as opposed to the planners’ estimate made in May of 481 officers and 7092 other ranks for the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division and the 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade for the first seventeen days’ fighting.39 Nevertheless it was soon realized that by far the greatest proportion of total casualties were being suffered by general duty infantrymen from the rifle companies. Thus the provision of general-duty infantry reinforcements became a problem, while on the other hand there were surplus reinforcements for some other corps. Primarily, this situation developed because Canadian reinforcement policy had been founded upon forecasts of casualties, made by the British War Office on the basis of the best information available to it, which proved inaccurate in the circumstances of the new campaign (above, page 284). By 26 August the reinforcement situation had become so acute that General Stuart, the Chief of Staff at CMHQ, decided that the policy of dispatching weekly reinforcement drafts from the United Kingdom should be relaxed temporarily and that general-duty infantrymen should be sent forward in lots of one hundred as soon as they could be collected.40

A combination of circumstances served to aggravate the reinforcement crisis. General service enlistments in Canada had begun to decline during 1943,* with the result that the output of trained reinforcements was smaller than before just at the moment when battle casualties both in North-West Europe and in Italy were very heavy. Moreover, as the Germans retreated across France and Belgium, the period of time which reinforcements spent in transit gradually lengthened. In September it took three to four days for reinforcements to reach their units, and by October seven days were elapsing from the time reinforcements reached the

* See Six Years of War, Appendix B.

Page 632

2nd Canadian Base Reinforcement Group until they were shown on a unit strength return.41

Beginning late in August and through the autumn the emergency was serious (see above, pages 284-5 and 385-6). To meet it CMHQ began both to remuster reinforcements from other corps for infantry training and also to use infantry tradesmen and specialists, of whom there was a surplus, for general duty. In addition, the Canadian Government on 23 November authorized sending overseas 16,000 soldiers who had been called up for compulsory service under the National Resources Mobilization Act. This was the first time the Government had used the power to do this which had been conferred upon it by an amendment to the NRMA passed following the national plebiscite held in April 1942.42

Even before this decision could become effective, however, the situation in the theatre had begun to improve. Once the port of Antwerp became available for Allied shipping, reinforcements could be landed there and the time spent in transit was much reduced. Moreover, after the first days of November First Canadian Army was employed in a relatively static role on the Maas (above, pages 426-55), and casualties decreased accordingly. These circumstances put an end to the immediate reinforcement crisis. It became possible in January 1945 to reorganize No. 2 Canadian Base Reinforcement Group. All reinforcements were now held in one large pool at Ghent, except those for the armoured corps, which continued to be “processed” through the 25th Armoured Delivery Regiment. This regrouping made it possible to disband all but one company of the 12th Canadian Base Reinforcement Battalion. Henceforth Nos. 10 and 11 Battalions held only infantry reinforcements and No. 9 held reinforcements for all other corps. The forward No. 13 Battalion was reorganized into four companies, one for each Canadian division and one for corps and army troops.43

When the 1st Canadian Corps moved from Italy to North-West Europe, the Headquarters of No. 1 Base Reinforcement Group remained behind to process recoverable casualties and round off its administrative functions. A further reorganization of the reinforcement system was therefore necessary in March 1945. Another Canadian Base Reinforcement Group (No. 3) was formed from the Headquarters of the 12th Canadian Infantry Brigade from Italy, which was being disbanded to conform to the divisional organization within 21st Army Group. Thus for the last few weeks of the war First Canadian Army was served by two Base Reinforcement Groups, each of three reinforcement battalions.44

The general reinforcement situation in First Canadian Army in the winter of 1944-45 and the following spring was in marked contrast with that in the late summer and autumn. Statistically speaking, the low point had been reached on 31 August, when the Canadian infantry units in North-West Europe had an average deficiency in “other ranks” of 206 per battalion. Improvement was rapid thereafter, though it is evident (see above, page 385) that, as was inevitable in all the circumstances, the training of reinforcements provided by CMHQ’s emergency programme left a great deal to be desired. By 24 October the average battalion deficiency had fallen to 54 men, and though for the first five days of November

Page 633

(at the end of the Battle of the Scheldt) it again rose above 100, it was down to 31 by the 13th of that month. Except for 21 and 22 December (when it was 34) it never rose above that figure again, and usually it was much lower. At the beginning of the Battle of the Rhineland in February it was nil.45 The satisfactory situation in the final months was the result of the remustering programme and the decision to dispatch NRMA soldiers overseas, combined with the quiet period in November, December and January when casualties were relatively few.

It is also evident that, once the autumn crisis was past, the training of the reinforcements was satisfactory. No green man joining a unit is ever as useful as a man who has had battle experience, and few commanding officers have ever been known to admit that the replacements sent to their units were adequately trained. But the absence of serious complaints from the field in the final months of the campaign is itself eloquent. And occasionally there is a positive statement. One such appears in the war diary of The Algonquin Regiment for April 1945:


Coming as required. Only about 25% have had previous battle experience, but all appeared well trained and they stood up well under a tough initiation.

A word may be said here about the NRMA men overseas. The first of them sailed from Halifax for the United Kingdom on 3 January 1945; the first draft containing NRMA men left England for the Continent on 23 February.46 All told, 12,908 NRMA soldiers went overseas from Canada, and by the end of hostilities 9677 had gone to the Continent and 2463 had actually been taken on the strength of field units.47 NRMA soldiers suffered 313 battle casualties, 69 of them losing their lives.48 They seem to have given a respectable account of themselves during the short period of their service. Steps had been taken to prevent their status being known in their units. Few war diaries take note of their presence. An exception is that of The Loyal Edmonton Regiment, which made this comment on 30 April:

... During the month our Battalion has taken on strength eight officers and 167 other ranks; among the latter are approximately 40 NRMA personnel. These men have in no way been treated differently than any other reinforcement, in fact the majority of the Battalion is not even aware of their presence here, and in the few small actions they have engaged in so far they have generally shown up as well as all new reinforcements do. ...

The “Canloan” Scheme

Of the fighting elements of the Canadian Army not the least important was the large group of junior officers who served in various British units in NorthWest Europe under the so-called “Canloan” scheme.

The first initiative in this matter came from Canada. In September 1943 CMHQ was asked to ascertain whether the British authorities would be interested in absorbing a number of Canadian officers, particularly in ranks above captain, who had become surplus as a result of the disbandment of two home defence divisions. In the course of the subsequent discussions with the War Office it became clear that the latter had a requirement only for subaltern officers. In

Page 634

November the Adjutant General of the Canadian Army, Major-General H. F. G. Letson, then in England, discussed the matter with the War Office and suggested that, in the light of the disbandment of the 7th and 8th Divisions and the fact that there appeared to be an overall surplus of junior officers undergoing training in Canada, it might be possible to lend the British Army a certain number of such officers. At this time it was considered that about 2000 might be available.49

On 5 January 1944 the War Committee of the Canadian Cabinet approved this loan, subject to the officers being available for immediate recall whenever the Canadian Army required their services. At a meeting in London on 4 February 1944 arrangements were made for 2000 Canadian officers to be attached to the British Army. In addition to infantry officers, the British now asked for some 50 urgently-needed Ordnance officers. The great majority of the Canadian officers were to be lieutenants, but some captains were to be included. Under this “Canloan” scheme, as it came to be called, the Canadian Government was to be responsible for the pay, allowances and pensions of the officers attached to the British, but promotions were to be made on British recommendation, subject to the approval of the appropriate Canadian authority. During their service with the British units, the officers were to wear the badges of the regiments to which they were attached, but they were given permission to wear “Canada” badges on their battle-dress and to wear Canadian service dress for “walking out”.50 A legal basis for the Canloan scheme was provided with the passage of Order-in-Council PC 3464 of 29 April 1944. At this time the maximum number of officers to be loaned was placed at 1500 instead of the 2000 originally mentioned.

The Canloan officers were thoroughly “screened” by selection boards in Canada, since the War Committee had expressed its anxiety that the Canadian officers loaned to the British should be most carefully selected and that those who volunteered should, in age, medical category and qualifications, be at least as well trained as reinforcement officers for Canadian units. To achieve this the Canloan officers were given a special four-week refresher course at Sussex, New Brunswick, designed to bring them up to the standard of officers leaving Canadian reinforcement units in the United Kingdom. The first group reached the United Kingdom on 7 April 1944.51

In the event, a total of 673 Canloan officers were sent to British units, 622 being infantry and 51 from the RCOC By the spring of 1944, however, the officer reinforcement situation in Canada was less promising than in the previous autumn. Accordingly NDHQ notified CMHQ that the supply of officers available for loan was coming to an end and that the infantry total was very unlikely to exceed 625.52 So far as possible the Canadians were sent to units of the British regiments, if any, with which their Canadian regiments were allied. A considerable number found their way into airborne units; by 1 August 1944 approximately 90 had been so posted.53

The Canadian infantry officers soon found themselves very actively employed. A number of them landed in Normandy on D Day and others not long afterwards. Most were involved in very fierce fighting, often in command of forward platoons.54 and the group as a whole suffered exceptionally heavy losses. Of the 673 officers

Page 635

who were loaned to the British between 8 April 1944 and 27 July 1944, 465 became casualties, 127 being killed or dying of wounds.55 Canloan officers won many awards for gallantry; 41 received the Military Cross.56

Canadians and the European “Resistance”

The peculiar pattern of the Second World War, in which the first half of the conflict was marked by impressive successes for the Axis powers and the subjugation of nation after nation by Nazi Germany, accounts in large measure for the unusually prominent part played later by resistance movements, clandestine forces, the guerrilla, the spy and the saboteur. This was so because the very extent of the initial German triumph meant that the enemy soon found himself over-extended. Even by the end of 1940, the Nazis had discovered that it was beyond their power to maintain in complete subjection all the territory which they had conquered.

As a result, patriotic “undergrounds” sprang up in virtually all the nations of occupied Europe, and in the course of time the British Government established an organization to assist the oppressed peoples in their struggle for liberty. This, known as the Special Operations Executive (SOE),* was the responsibility of a specially nominated Cabinet Minister, but all its activities which were of a military nature or might have military repercussions were operationally under the Chiefs of Staff. When Supreme Commanders were appointed for various theatres of war, the control of SOE operations was decentralized to them so that clandestine activities could be properly coordinated in each theatre. When COSSAC (above, page 14) was appointed in 1943, SOE operations in North-West Europe came under his headquarters (and later under SHAEF), although in the case of activities in France the British Government retained a direct responsibility until the invasion of Normandy, when all clandestine forces in France were placed under General Koenig, commanding the French Forces of the Interior under SHAEF. Before the invasion, SOE placed Special Force detachments at Army Group and Army Headquarters, so that the actions of resistance groups behind the enemy front could be correlated with the operations of the armies.57

From May 1941 onwards, British and Allied agents were sent into France,58 initially with the intention merely of sabotaging the German war effort but more and more as time passed with the purpose of guiding and helping national resistance movements. Needless to say, this type of work was extremely dangerous and losses were heavy, for the German Gestapo were formidable opponents who combined an ultra-modern card-catalogue type of efficiency with a barbarism which made the fullest use of torture, the concentration camp, and the gallows.

Neither the Canadian Government nor any Canadian service was at any time directly concerned with the direction of these clandestine operations; but the Government did permit and encourage individual Canadians to volunteer their services for the secret war in North-West Europe. In France, Canadians engaged in two different types of clandestine tasks. The first of these, and by far the more extensive,

* The United States equivalent was the Office of Strategic Services (OSS).

Page 636

had as its aim “to encourage and enable the peoples of the occupied countries to harass the German war effort at every possible point by sabotage, subversion, go-slow practices, coup de main raids, etc., and at the same time to build up secret forces therein, organized, armed and trained to take their part only when the final assault began”.59 As French resistance hardened and French hostility to the Nazi occupying power increased, the organizing of secret armies became more important than isolated acts of sabotage. Thus the agents sent to France, initially trained and employed as saboteurs, came increasingly to be used as liaison officers with patriotic resistance groups. The second clandestine role in which Canadians were employed, also under SOE, was organizing the escape of Allied air crews who had managed to make safe landings when forced down on the Continent and other Allied evaders and escapers such as prisoners of war.60

By the latter part of 1941 British secret organizations were becoming hard-pressed to find sufficient suitable personnel. This was especially so in the case of operations in France since, by arrangement with Free French Headquarters, French citizens who escaped to the United Kingdom were automatically debarred from serving under SOE.61 Moreover, expert linguists, always at a premium, were urgently required for duties in other fields, and it became extremely difficult to find enough men and women who possessed not only the courage and physical stamina demanded by an agent’s life but also a sufficiently intimate acquaintance with the countries in which they would operate. Thus one reason why a number of Canadians found themselves drawn into this work was the fact that in Canada there were representatives of many races and languages who were nevertheless unquestionably loyal to the Allied cause. Naturally enough, a number of French-speaking Canadians came to be employed as “agents” in France, since their knowledge of the language made them suitable for such a role. In fact, of the 28 Canadian soldiers so employed, 24 were French Canadians.

Although some individual Canadians were recruited by the Special Operations Executive as early as 1941, the Canadian Army became involved only in 1942. Of the Canadian Army personnel who operated in France as agents all except one were officers, many of them being commissioned from the ranks. One or two French-speaking Canadian officers were enrolled in the secret organization early in 1942, but later in the same year, when the need for trained wireless operators had become more urgent, a number of recruits were obtained from the Royal Canadian Corps of Signals. In the end, this corps provided more men for clandestine operations than any other corps or unit of the Canadian Army.

The problem of administering the Canadians who volunteered for special service was complex. At an early stage it was presumed that the best plan would be to discharge any Canadian service personnel volunteering for special duties and reenlist or re-employ them, as the case might be, in the appropriate British organization. This, however, did not prove to be a satisfactory solution, and by the end of 1942 it was evident that it would be better for all concerned if such volunteers were lent to the War Office. Pay arrangements continued to pose some difficulty until in May 1944 the Canadian Treasury accepted responsibility for the pay and

Page 637

allowances at Canadian rates of all Canadian service personnel loaned to British service authorities whatever their duties.62

The first Canadian officer to serve with the Special Operations Executive in the field was recruited in April 1942, and, since it is obviously impossible to mention by name all the gallant Canadians who were engaged in clandestine operations, his record must serve as an example of all of them. He was Captain (later Major) G. D. A. Bieler, a Canadian of Swiss origin and French birth who had been serving with Le Régiment de Maisonneuve. When Major Bieler had completed his training, he was dropped into the Montargis area of France by parachute on 25 November 1942. As London was to learn later, Major Bieler struck a stone in landing and seriously injured his spine. In spite of this crippling disability, he made his way by slow stages, first to his accommodation address in Paris, and thence northwards to the area below the Belgian frontier which was to be the scene of his activities for many months. An offer to fly him out for hospital treatment was refused and Bieler continued to work most effectively with his “circuit” in northern France, doing considerable damage to German-operated transportation systems. His courage and achievement won him the DSO and the MBE On 14 January 1944, however, the Gestapo succeeded in arresting him, along with a large number of his colleagues, in St. Quentin. The Gestapo took Major Bieler to Paris where he was repeatedly tortured, but it is known that he revealed no information. Subsequently, he was incarcerated for a time in the prison at Fresnes, and then in April was moved to the concentration camp at Flossenburg in Germany. Here he was confined in a cell barely large enough to hold him, being kept in solitary confinement and denied exercise, writing materials or reading matter. On or about 5 September, according to information now available, he was executed by a firing squad.

Of the 28 Canadians who saw service as agents in France during the period 1942–1944, twenty-three were employed as liaison officers with resistance forces and the remaining five in the business of organizing escapes. These brave men contributed in no small measure to the ultimate defeat of the enemy, but their successes were paid for, especially in the early years, with heavy casualties. Of the ten Canadian officers dropped into France between late 1942 and March 1944, seven were either killed or disappeared without trace. In at least two cases in March 1944 Canadian agents died because they were parachuted straight into the arms of the Gestapo, who had succeeded in “controlling” a resistance circuit by arresting all its original members and continuing to send false messages back to London. Seven more Canadian agents were sent to France in the weeks immediately preceding and following D Day, and happily all of these returned safely. A further six, who had previously been in the Italian theatre, were dropped in southern France between June and August 1944, and these also survived.

Of the five Canadians who worked with the escape organization, three were French-speaking soldiers of Les Fusiliers Mont-Royal who had themselves made daring escapes after being captured at Dieppe. These three, who were subsequently commissioned, and another French-Canadian officer, were in 1943 dropped separately in France, where they worked for long periods with considerable success.

Page 638

All four survived, but unfortunately another Canadian volunteer for the escape organization, who was dropped in northern France in August 1943, was captured almost immediately. He died a few weeks after the end of the war from treatment received in a Nazi concentration camp.

Civil Affairs and Military Government Officers

At the end of 1942, with planning already under way for an eventual Allied return to Europe, the British War Office suggested that Canada might be able to supply some service officers to assist in the administration of liberated Allied territory and occupied enemy territory.63 Such personnel, when they operated in Allied territory, would be known as Civil Affairs Officers; when in enemy territory, they would form part of the Military Government. The aim of the Civil Affairs service would be to assist the progress of the fighting troops by maintaining settled conditions and meeting the urgent demands of the civil population.64 Although Civil Affairs was not primarily a relief organization, its tasks would include local administration, aid, relief, and restoration. It was, however, definitely a part of the Army, “a service within the meaning of Field Service Regulations”.65 The detailed tasks of relief and rehabilitation in Allied territory Civil Affairs always relinquished to local authorities as soon as possible.

In February 1943, 14 Canadian officers were selected to attend the British Civil Affairs Staff Centre at Wimbledon. On 6 October 1943 the Cabinet War Committee approved the establishment of a Canadian Civil Affairs Staff Course, which opened at the Royal Military College, Kingston, in December. A total of 131 officers (not counting the directing staff of 10) were trained in the Canadian courses, while some Canadians received instruction at the American School of Military Government at Charlottesville, Virginia.66

In North-West Europe there were Civil Affairs and Military Government staffs at Headquarters First Canadian Army and at corps headquarters. The officers of these staffs moved with their formations and administered civil affairs in Army and Corps areas. In addition, SHAEF maintained a pool of Civil Affairs Officers who were employed in “spearhead detachments” working with fighting formations or ad hoc static detachments in specific towns or districts. Normally such a detachment consisted of approximately ten officers, forming a mixed British and American team and including as a rule officers with legal, engineering and medical experience. Many Canadians worked in such teams in areas remote from the operations of the Canadian field army. By November 1944 there were 279 Canadian Army officers in the Civil Affairs pool, where they were employed in such diverse specialized branches as the Administrative, Financial, Legal, Labour, Supply, Food and Engineering Services.67 And we have caught in this volume some glimpses of the valuable work of the Civil Affairs staffs of the First Canadian Army, particularly in the western Netherlands where acute general starvation was narrowly averted (above, pages 586-7, 606-9).

Page 639

No. 1 Canadian Forestry Group

From 1940 onwards, units of the Canadian Forestry Corps had been at work in the United Kingdom.* In March 1943, when considering the invasion of the Continent, the British War Office foresaw a need for timber operations in the liberated and occupied areas. Accordingly Canada was asked to allocate five forestry companies to the 21st Army Group for operations in North-West Europe, and on 11 October 1943 Ottawa approved this arrangement.68 In January 1944 Headquarters No. 1 Canadian Forestry Group was mobilized to command these companies and was placed under Colonel C. E. F. Jones. In May 1944 assent was given to a further British proposal that the number of companies in No. 1 Canadian Forestry Group be increased from 5 to 10.69 No. 1 Canadian Forestry Group remained under CMHQ’s administration and command until in July and August its various companies moved to the south of England preparatory to embarking for the Continent.

The Canadian Forestry Corps’ first task in connection with the North-West Europe campaign was curiously reminiscent of an earlier day in Canada. Lumber would be required on the Continent for the use of the invading force, but shipping could not be spared to carry it. Lt.-Col. E. P. Burchett, Assistant Director of Timber Operations, CFC, affirmed his belief that it would be practicable to tow long timbers across the Channel in the form of rafts. The idea was approved, and in March 1944 No. 1 Special Forestry Section, CFC, began work on raft construction at Southampton and Barry (on the Bristol Channel). Before the project was wound up in August-by which time it was possible to cut timber on the Continent-the Canadians had built 77 square timber rafts and 54 of round timber. The project was a success. The rafts met some rough weather at sea, particularly those from Barry which had to round Land’s End, but tugs were able to move them safely at speeds up to eight knots.70

During the last week in July and the first week in August, No. 1 Canadian Forestry Group and five companies moved to France, where a British pioneer company and two forestry companies of the Royal Engineers were placed under its command. The group at once began to cut timber in the Cerisy Forest between Bayeux and St. Lô. In late October and early November 1944 the Canadian Forestry Group moved into Belgium and commenced work in the Westerloo Forest near Brussels. Towards the end of October the other five Canadian forestry companies arrived on the Continent from the United Kingdom and went to the Ardennes Forest in the American sector where they found one Canadian company already at work. When in the middle of December the Germans launched their counteroffensive in the Ardennes the six Canadian forestry companies took up a posture of defence before being forced to make a hasty withdrawal (above, page 441). They all got safely back to Brussels, but although they were able to take considerable technical equipment with them 21 sawmills had to be abandoned in the Ardennes. These companies were then re-assigned to other areas in Belgium.71

* See Six Years of War, 207-10.

Page 640

640 In February 1945, almost as soon as the area came under Allied control, two Canadian forestry companies were sent to the Reichswald, later moving to the Hochwald, to produce in these bloodstained forests lumber and timber for the Rhine crossings. The Canadian Forestry Group continued operations for a time after the end of hostilities, all the companies being finally stationed in Germany; but in November 1945 Canadian lumbering on the Continent came to an end. During the time it had spent in North-West Europe the Group had produced approximately 47,700,000 FBM of sawn lumber, in addition to large production in other categories; a valuable contribution to the success of the campaign.72