The War Starts
Canada declared war on Germany on September 10, 1939. Industry was transformed quickly to produce the weapons of war.
Mobilizing for War
Mackenzie King, head of the Liberal government, introduced to the House of Commons on June 18, 1940, the National Resources Mobilization Act (NRMA), which he drafted. 2 It authorized for national registration and conscription for home defense. French Canada resisted the NRMA, but after Camillien Houde, mayor of Montreal, was jailed for calling for his countrymen to not register, it ended.
Once the United States was brought into the war, Arthur Meighen, Conservative Party leader, and the press started calling for full conscription. King felt honor bound to a pledge he had made earlier in Quebec. On April 27, 1942, he called for a plebiscite to ask all of Canada to allow him to lift the restriction on conscription. French, German, and Ukrainian Canadians predominately voted no, but the majority of Canada voted yes. It wasn’t until November 22, 1944, that it was decided to send 16,000 conscripts overseas.
In December 1944, it was passed and approximately 63,000 conscripts (nicknamed “zombies”) were eligible for service overseas. There were protests at many bases across Canada, and some draftees disappeared. However, a majority of Canada’s soldiers that did see action were still made up from the volunteers.
Build Up of the Armored Forces
When Canada entered the war they had a small army and 16 British Light Mk VIs and 12 Carden-Loyd carriers. Since Canada couldn't get any from England (as they needed all theirs in Europe) and the United States could only supply 219 World War I era tanks, Canada decided to produce their own. Most of these purchased tanks were used for training.
When the war started there were only 4 anti-aircraft guns, 5 mortars, 82 Vickers MGs, 10 Bren guns, and 2 light tanks in the Canadian armed forces.
In September 1939, 54,844 volunteered for the military. By the end of 1944 there were approximately 650,000 volunteers.
In 1940, the commander of the armored corps, Major General Frank Worthington, purchased Renault tanks from the United States as scrap metal so that they could be used for training.
To help with acquiring armored vehicles, the Montreal Locomotive Works developed the Ram tank in 3 weeks in 1941, which was an amazing feat for the time. However, Canada primarily relied on building licensed copies of the Sherman tank to arm their forces.
Canada started by building Valentines at the Canadian Pacific Railway Company of Montreal for the British. The Canadian Defense Department also placed an order for 488 Valentines to equip the 1st Canadian Armored Brigade. However by the time these were built the Brigade was already in England and all except 30 of the final 1,390 ended up being sent to Russia.
Then it was decided to design and build a tank based on the USA M3 Medium . However, it was going to be designed without the sponson and would carry a 2 pdr and could later be upgraded to a 6 pdr. It was to be called the Ram in honor of the founder of the Canadian armored corps General "Worthy" Worthington. The Ram was part of his family crest.
Army Goes Overseas
The 1st Infantry Division arrived in Britain on December 16, 1939.
After Dunkirk, elements of the 1st Infantry Division landed in France, but were quickly retrieved as the military situation was rapidly coming apart. They did end up leaving some of their equipment behind.
In June and July of 1941 the 1st Army Tank Brigade and 3rd Infantry Division ship to England. Then in November 1941 the 5th Armored Division goes to England.
In September 1941 a request was sent to the Canadian government to send troops to Hong Kong. Two infantry battalions were sent in late November. The Winnipeg Grenadiers and the Royal Rifles fought in the battle for Hong Kong which ended on December 25, 1941.
In January 1942 the 4th Armored Division and 2nd Army Tank Brigade were ordered to be formed, and in the summer of 1942 the 4th Armored Division was shipped to England.
The 2nd Infantry Division was used in the raid on Dieppe on August 19, 1942. Of the 4,963 men sent, 656 died, and 1,946 became POWs.
Major General Simonds lead the 1 st Infantry Division in its landing with the 1st Armored Brigade at Pachino on July 10, 1943. Major battles occurred at Valguarnero, Leonforte, and Assoro. After Valguarnero Field Marshal Kesselring reported that his troops had fought “mountain boys” trained in Alpine fighting. On August 2, 1943, the division was pulled from the line for rest.
On September 3, 1943, the Canadians landed at Reggio Calabria and was later joined by the 5th Armored Division. The formed the 1st Corps under General Crerar. A major battle was fought at Ortona against the German 90th Light Panzer Grenadiers and the 1st Parachute Division.
Lt. General Burns took over the 1st Corps in March 1944, when General Crerar left for England.
In the attack on the Gustav Line on May 16, 1944, the 1st Infantry Division played a major role. The Gothic Line was broken through in August 1944 by the 1st Corp. By December they were at the River Senio. Lt. General Foulkes, took over command while they waited out the winter. They were then sent to Europe to join the 1st Canadian Army.
Of the 93,000 that served in Italy, 5,399 were killed, 19,486 wounded, and 1,004 became prisoners of war.
Build Up In England
The 2nd Army Tank Brigade was shipped to England in June 1943, but was disbanded in November 1943.
General Crerar returned to England in March 1944 to head the 1st Canadian Army.
Revenge for Dieppe
On June 6, 1944, the 3rd Infantry Division and 2nd Armored Brigade landed at Juno Beach. Some units passed their D-Day objectives after going through stiff German defenses. The 9th Infantry Brigade received the first major German counterattack on June 7, by the 25 th SS Panzer-Grenadier Regiment. The fighting was fierce, and in 6 days the Canadians had 2,831 casualties.
On July 23, 1944, the 1st Canadian Army became operational with the 2nd and 3rd Infantry Divisions, 4th Armored Division, and the 1st Polish Armored Division. They were under the command of General Crerar.
The Canadians were in the fight to close the Falaise pocket, and then advanced along the Channel, going through Dieppe, Boulogne, and Calais. In Belgium they fought a long grueling battle along the Scheldt Estuary. It was cleared on November 3, but it had cost 6,367 casualties.
During the fighting in the Rhineland during February and March 1945 the 1st Canadian Army had up to 13 divisions. The 1st Canadian Cops was moved from Italy and help in the liberation of northern Holland.
The Canadian army crossed the Rhine on March 23.
The Canadian armored forces were designated the Royal Canadian Armored Corps in August 1945. The "Royal" was given by King George VI in recognition of their outstanding war record.