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Early Rank of the Canadian Women’s Army Corps

by Clive M. Law

The Canadian Women’s Army Corps ( CWAC) was formed in August 1941as a ‘hostilities only’ organization to perform the duties of fit and able men in garrisons, headquarters, supply depots and other similar settings, thereby releasing these men for service overseas.

In 1941, initial planning considered that some 5400 would be sufficient for the jobs identified. By the end of the war, some 21,624 women had served in the Corps, with more than 3,000 in Great Britain and the various theatres of war. In May 1945, the Corps made up 2.8 % of the total complement of the Canadian Army.

When the winds of war began to blow across Europe beginning in 1938, women’s volunteer organizations began to form in nearly every province of Canada to prepare women to serve their country if called. They designed uniforms to wear with a decidedly military cut.[i] In some Military Districts after the outbreak of war some District Officers Commanding (DOC) actually took up the offer of these volunteer organizations to assist in various tasks due to the increase in work cause by the war.

In February 1941, a joint committee of the volunteer organizations presented a brief which proposed the formation of a Corps to be called the Canadian Women’s Service (CWS). The Adjutant General of the Army, responsible for all personnel matters, despite his antipathy towards recruiting women, realized that there was a need and circulated a staff paper proposing the formation of a corps under military control. Employment would be limited to headquarters, hospitals and similar establishments but later could allow for employment overseas. On 2 May 1941, the Defence Council reported that “the Cabinet had acquiesced to the employment of women in such posts as might be considered suitable”. In June 1941 the Minister told the Generals they were to proceed with the recruiting and employment of women in the Army. Primary areas of work were in training centres, headquarters, the Army Service Corps as drivers and mechanics and in the Ordnance Corps in stock accounting, warehousing, and repair. It was estimated that 5,398 women might be so employed.

On 20 June 1941, the Minister of National Defence issued a press statement announcing the service of women in a military role during the current war. Recruitment was to be through the National War Service Manpower Mobilization Service from women registered with it. 17 July, the Minister announced that the first appointment would be the Matron-In-Chief of the Army Medical Corps, Elizabeth Smellie, to oversee the organization of the Corps.

CWAC

The CWAC initially was to be separate from the Canadian Army but organized on a military basis and under military control and supervision. Officer rank titles were modeled on the British ATS. Rank insignia consisted of a combination of silver beavers and maple leaves, the beavers were equivalent to the Army crown and the maple leaf to the star or ‘pip’.

Army Rank Insignia          CWAC Rank                 Insignia
Second Lieutenant One star Junior Subaltern One Leaf
Lieutenant Two Stars Subaltern Two Leaves
Captain Three Stars Junior Commander Three Leaves
Major One Crown Senior Commander One Beaver
Lieutenant Colonel One Crown plus one star Chief Commander One Beaver plus one Leaf
Colonel One Crown plus Two Stars Honorary Commander One Beaver plus two Leaves

cwac1

Non-Commissioned Officers wore the standard Army rank badges but with a chocolate-brown coloured backing called beechnut brown. The ranks, in descending order, were Warrant Officer Class I (WO I), Warrant Officer Class II (WO II), Staff Sergeant, Sergeant, Corporal and the appointment of Lance Corporal. NOTE: the appointment of Lance Corporal was relinquished when the person was posted to another unit as it was an appointment within that unit while the confirmed rank was Private. This was in accordance with Army policy.

[i].          ”MILITARY ARTIFACT”, Issue No. 3, Mk IV.

With thanks to Sylvain Blais and Renald Poulin for images.

Canadian Helmet Flashes of the Second World War – Recognition Guide

Richard J.S. Law

Although this recognition guide is not exhaustive it should provide historians and collectors assistance in identifying Canadian helmet flashes from the Second World War. While the majority of these flashes were produced by Gale and Polden Ltd of the UK, some flashes were hand painted and potentially sought locally. It should be noted that the colours depicted below are not completely accurate and are an artistic interpretation based on various source files from the era, some slight deviation may occur.

flashes1

flashes2flashes3flashes4
flashes5

Bibliography:

LAC RG-24 Vol 10052

MilArt Archives

With thanks to Greg Nehring, Michael Dorosh, Roy Akins, Constant Perreault, and Bill Alexander for image contributions.

Stable Belts of The Royal Canadian Regiment

Richard J.S. Law

stableblet oleary

A group picture, believed to date from the 1930’s, depicting a Regimental stable belt worn by the fourth man in the rear row. Image courtesy Michael O’Leary.

Although the first mention of Regimental stable belts only appears in the Regimental Standing Orders of 1960, photographic evidence supports that they were worn as early as the inter-war period.

stablebelt1

The RCR sailing to Korea. Left to right (front row), Stanley (Buddy) Ward, Robert (Bob) Turner and Harold Mitton. (© C. MacKinnon collection) courtesy http://heritage.tantramar.com/wfnewsletter_53.html

Believed to have originated from British cavalry units, the stable belts are rumored to have started as modified horse surcingles which unit tailors would customize for cavalrymen. The design, consisting of a wide canvas or soft leather belt completed with two buckles, was somewhat common in the 1910’s and many soldiers throughout the Commonwealth purchased these belts to wear with trousers. It is believed that the adoption of Regimentally coloured belts also began around this time.

stablebelt1a

MGen Spry (right) visiting the Sgt’s Mess in Jamaica, circa 1971. The Connecting File 1971.

Anecdotal commentary suggests that the Regimental stable belt was worn in Fort York, Germany it was sometimes worn with the bush pants in the 1950’s and 1960’s as well as with the wool sweater as garrison dress by 1 RCR.

As previously mentioned, the Regimental stable belts only appears in the 1960 Regimental standing Orders which state “The Regimental belt may be worn for Physical Training and sports events. The belt will be made of canvas material with tan leather buckles and straps. It will be secured with two short leather tabs through two silver buckles. The belt will be 2 ½ inches in width, coloured as follows: One 1” band of black on the bottom of the belt with a ½” band of amber and a 1” band of royal blue. The belt will have a silver D to shorten or lengthen the belt. The inside of the belt will be white.”

stable belt cropped

The stable belt described in the 1960 Regimental Standing Orders. Author’s collection.

In the past months there has a been a resurgence of interest in Regimental stable belts and the author began producing them as a hobby. These modern versions should not be confused with the original belts described above. These modern belts measure 2 inches compared to the 2 ½ inches, and both sides of the webbing are coloured.

Addendum: Although the Regimental Standing Orders describe the belt as 2.5″ wide, all examples encountered measured 2.25″, additionally, the webbing is elastic rather than canvas.

 

Sources:

Regimental Standing Order of The Royal Canadian Regiment, 1960, para 201.03 Belts (2).

Filling the Ranks: The 87th Battalion Blues

Filling the Ranks: The 87th Battalion Blues

By Bill Alexander

After the initial surge of patriotic fever swelled the ranks of the first contingent of the Canadian Expeditionary Force, the losses and horrors of war experienced at Ypres stunned Canadian communities. Enlistments fell off over the next months. New battalions forming for service overseas found it increasingly difficult to fill the ranks, and resorted a wide range of strategies to entice attestations. In Montreal, competition for soldiers between several new battalions made recruiting even more difficult. Over the late summer and early fall of 1915, one battalion, the 87th Canadian Grenadier Guards approached the problem with a unique solution.

gg canada metal title

The Canadian Grenadier Guards, the parent unit of the 87th, prided themselves on being a sister regiment to the imperial Grenadier Guards. Dress and deportment had always been important to Guard’s regiments, a practice not lost on the Canadian Grenadier Guards. To distinguish their overseas battalion, the 87th, unique insignia was requested. The Battalion desired a cap badge of the same design as worn by the militia regiment, and for the shoulder insignia, instead of the CEF mandated battalion numeral, 87, over INF, the CGG wished their battalion to wear their metal shoulder title reading GG/CANADA.  To further set them apart and assist in recruiting, it was requested that “the 87th Overseas Battalion be allowed to wear blue shoulder straps in place of khaki ones”. The Officer Commanding, Lt. Col. F.S. Meighen argued that with “Recruiting becoming increasingly difficult, … any little distinction such as above is a help, especially to (sic) battalions which are recruiting in districts where Highland battalions with their special uniform are also recruiting”. Second, “the men of the 1st Canadian Division were very proud of their coloured shoulder straps, which served to distinguish Canadians at once from Territorials or Kitchener’s army.” At an undated meeting with the Quartermaster General in September, Meighen secured approval for all the 87th’s insignia requests. Or, so, he believed.

Almost immediately the acquisition became complicated. The Department of Militia would only provide standard tunics, unaltered, with the khaki shoulder straps. The acquisition of the blue shoulder straps and the alteration of the tunics would be the Battalion’s responsibility, with some compensation extended. On the positive side, the badges were authorized and costs would be reimbursed. Anticipating the dress modifications, the Battalion publicised their new uniforms in hope of enhancing recruiting.

87th bn blue shoulder straps

A Montreal Gazette article featuring the distinction came to the attention of Maj. Gen. W.G. Gwatkin, Chief of the General Staff, Canadian militia. In a memo on 21 October 1915, he strenuously disagreed with the approval indicating the same to the Quartermaster General. Unfortunately, in his opinion, protocol had not been followed, and the Governor General, His Royal Highness, the Duke of Connaught, the King’s representative in Canada, had not been consulted. Gwatkin indicated “I do not think that the Duke will like the blue shoulder strap”. He continued, “you ought to have to have approached His Royal Highness before you proposed “G.G. CANADA”.  The same day, a letter from Montreal indicated the Battalion, with the understanding they had approval, and that compensation was forthcoming, had proceeded with acquisitions of both the blue shoulder straps and the shoulder titles.

87th bn blue should rev

In a meeting of the Militia Council on 23 October 1915, Gwatkin pushed for a re-consideration of the blue shoulder straps. The Council rescinded the approval, and a letter was sent indicating the “blue shoulder straps for this unit would not be approved and these straps will have to be removed from the jackets.” The design for the badges, other than those supplied by the Dept., must be submitted for approval, and must contain “87” and “Overseas”.  The 87th Battalion was not prepared to give up. Lt. Col. Meighen, having been indirectly informed of the reversal, and with the misunderstanding that it had been instigated by H.R.H. The Duke of Connaught, wrote the Quartermaster General, arguing for the retention of the blue shoulder straps. Indicating that the tunics with the blue boards would be in service until worn out, as had happened with the First Contingent, he noted that in the course of time, they would no longer be on issue. As the 87th uniforms had already been fitted with the blue straps, it would be considerable expense to alter them again. In addition, the hit to Battalion pride would be considerable, and a negative effect on recruiting would likely ensue. His protests had little effect; the blue shoulder straps were to be withdrawn.

gg canada bluept

The issue of compensation remained. Originally approved by the Dept. of Militia, it was only appropriate that payment for the straps be made. As no government issue badges, (the general list maple leaf cap, collars, Battalion numerals, INF, and CANADA), were to be issued to the 87th, the Battalion requested payment in lieu, which would then be applied to the cost of the Battalion badges. Included in the consideration, supposedly, would be reimbursement for the now unauthorized blue shoulder boards. In early January of 1916, a hastener was sent to the Quartermaster General, requesting the reimbursement. It was indicated the payment had been sent. Upon examination, it was found that a payout had been made the previous November for badges, but not for the shoulder boards. A requisition for compensation for 1111 pairs of shoulder straps at 15c per pair, in the sum of $116.65 was submitted. Finally, in early February, the Quartermaster General authorized the pay out to the 87th Battalion. The Battalion would proceed overseas, in drab khaki tunics, with drab khaki shoulder straps, but wearing their Canadian Grenadier Guards badges. [i]

 

 

[i] Library and Archives Canada Record Group 24, Volume 1539, File 638-132-1 Badges 87th Battalion, and Record Group 9, III, D1 Vol. 4689 File 4-C-87-2 87th Battalion Regimental Badges.

“T” is for Tunneller

by Bill Alexander

 

no 2 tunnel coy diaga

The diagrams for No.2 and No.3 Tunnelling Companies. Source LAC.

During the First World War, many tactical innovations were developed to break the stalemate created by trench warfare. Mining, by tunnelling under the enemy trenches, placing and detonating charges was a technique adopted by both sides in France and Flanders. In the British Expeditionary Force, dedicated tunnelling companies were formed by the Royal Engineers and the engineers from the Dominions and colonies. Tunnelling Companies were responsible for tunnelling, mining, and counter mining activities, including removal of enemy mines and booby traps, as well as other regular engineering jobs as required. Canada, a nation rich in mining operations, was a source of experienced miners and quickly recruited four companies. Organized in 1916, the Canadian Engineer’s companies’ strength was initially 14 officers and 225 other ranks; this would grow to 19 officers and 550 other ranks by 1918.  Three companies were sent to the western front under command of the imperial Controller of Mines (Army). The fourth company was converted to a depot and supplied personnel to the other three.  The first three companies were deployed to the front, but as BEF assets and not under command of the Canadian Corps.

sgt no 3 tunnel coy resize_

A Sergeant of No.3 Tunneling Company wearing the insignia of the sleeve.

 

When the British army and Canadian Corps began adopting battle signs for wear on the uniform,  No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 Tunnelling Companies CE were operating in France and Flanders. These patches of coloured or embroidered cloth were worn on the back or sleeves of the tunic and were introduced to facilitate identification. This practice was extended to the Canadian tunnelling companies who used the simple profile of the letter “T” for the design. Each company designed a unique “T”, differing in construction, colour and size.  No 1 Tunnelling Company wore a red rectangular patch with the “T” shape cut out and a piece of black material placed behind. It has also been suggested the “T” shape in black was applied to a red backing.  The Acting O.C. No. 1 Coy reported the patch was adopted with the approval of Xth Army Corps on July 2, 1917.[i]

no 1 tunnelling coy sample

No. 1 Tunnelling Company Sample, courtesy LAC.

No. 2 Coy wore a red “T”, 3 inches high by 2 inches wide.  Capt. F.A. Brewster reported the badge had first been worn 7 June 1917 when assisting in the operations of 23rd Division. Authority had been given by the GOC of the 23rd but only for that operation. No. 2 Coy had applied to the Controller of Mines, 4th Army for permanent authority. [ii] No. 3 Coy sent examples of their patches to the Canadian Historical Section in March of 1918. The submission noted the authority was Fourth Army HQ, No/ 21/24 dated 1/3/1918. A diagram of the insignia worn during the war was submitted to the Historical Section in 1928. Image evidence shows the “T” patches in wear on the sleeves of the uniform.

Capt_Alex_Young 3 tun coy

Capt Alex Young, No. 3 Tunnel Company. Courtesy of S. St Amant.

In the early 1918 re-organization of the Canadian Corps, No. 1 and No. 2 Tunnelling Coys were absorbed into the divisional engineering brigades. The insignia for the first two companies was redundant and removed. No. 3 Tunnelling Coy continued as an army troop asset, wearing the tunnellers’ “T” until the end of the war.

tunneller tees no 1 coy no 2 coy

Tunnellers T’s showing No. 1 Tunnelling Company with red backing and without, and No. 2 Tunnelling Company, courtesy of the author’s collection.

 

[i] LAC RG 9 III DI Vol. 4711 Historical Section File 5-D-1-2. No. 1 Tunnelling Coy Regimental Badges.

[ii] LAC RG 9 III DI Vol. 4711, Historical Section File 5-D-2-1. No. 2 Tunnelling Coy Regimental Badges.

A Crowning Tradition – RCR Field Officer’s Rank Badges

By Richard J.S. Law

For the better part of The Royal Canadian Regiment’s first decades it sought to maintain its identity and affiliation to Queen Victoria, the reigning monarch at the time of the Regiment’s designation as a Royal regiment. As a result of her death, the Regiment’s badges were often a point of contention with higher headquarters and the heraldic authority in England whether the retention of the VRI and a Victorian crown, or rather St Edward’s crown, was appropriate. Although the matter was first born upon her passing in 1901, it continued to be battled until 1919 when King George V granted The Regiment the privilege of wearing the VRI in perpetuity; however, the matter of a “proper” depiction of a Victorian crown continued to be debated well into the Cold War era.

Between 1901 and 1919 the Regiment’s badges changed to have King Edward VII and King George V cypher’s centrally located on the cap badge and buttons, both of which depicted a Tudor crown. Although these were produced and worn, anecdotal and photographic evidence supports that the Regiment stubbornly wore the VRI unofficially throughout the period.

medland

Major Bill Medland DSO wearing the St Edward’s Crown rank badge. Image courtesy of MilArt Archives.

Once authority was granted to retain the VRI in perpetuity, the Regiment sought to have a proper crown replace the Tudor crown. Between 1926 and 1927 it was noted that the original crown used on badges as of 1894 was in fact a Hanoverian type crown which was not British at all and dated to King William IV. From this, the Regiment adopted what was believed to be a St Edward’s crown. The Government produced one type while the Regiment produced a different badge which bore a St Edward’s crown closely resembling the one currently found on the regimental badges. It should be noted that the St Edward’s crown was the coronation crown and only used during the coronation ceremony in Westminster Abbey, Sovereigns would then replace it with their own State crown using the stones from their predecessor’s State crown.

crown rank

The rank badge in question, worn by Field Officers.

This pattern of crown was subsequently adopted without authority as a rank badge for field officers in the early post-Second World War time-frame. This Regimental quirk was noticed in 1949 at which point The Regiment was asked to substantiate their use of a non-approved badge. In October of 1949 The Regiment argued that the 1927 authority from NDHQ to change the crown on the cap badge and buttons also implied all other badges worn and that “the privilege of wearing this type of crown is now part of the established tradition of the (sic) Royal Canadian Regiment”. Additionally, it was mentioned that there would be no financial impact to the Crown as officers purchased their own accoutrements directly from the mess. With that, the Judge Advocate General, the Quartermaster General, the Adjutant General, the Chief of the General Staff, and the Minister of National Defense all signed their support to amend CAO 84-1 “to permit the Royal Canadian Regiment to wear a special type of crown for their badges of rank” with an effective date of 5 December 1949.

As the badge did not exist in Canadian stock, the Quartermaster General requested the Officer Commanding the Regiment to supply a sample in July of the same year. The badge was described as measuring 15/16-inch-wide by 1 1/16-inch in height and further differences noted as: “The RCR crown is not pierced and no crimson velvet is therefore worn.”

rank

Plate No. 6 from the 1960 RCR Regimental Standing Orders, note the St Edward’s Crown rank badge in the upper left corner.

This badge was worn on all orders of dress less mess dress and on shoulder cords with full dress or undress blues. They were worn until the unification of the Canadian Forces in 1968 at which point stars and crowns were replaced by bar-type ranks. With the re-introduction of the Canadian Army’s identity in 2014, The RCR had discussed potentially returning to a traditional crown as many units were offered the opportunity to return to some of their traditions. However, due to a lack of source documentation the Regimental Executive Committee opted to retain the CAF issued crown supplied by Logistik Unicorp.

Sources:
1960 Regimental Standing Orders, Chapter 6

LAC R112 Vol 29711 – File Cover 5250-0603/R1 Dress Instructions Royal Canadian Regiment

HQ 1730-603/R1 Vol 3 – RCR Field Officer’s Badge of Rank, St. Edward’s Crown, 23 Jan 53

Memorandum, Headquarters Central Command, Officers Rank Badge – The Royal Canadian Regiment, 30 Nov 49

1st Canadian Centaur Battery, RCA

by Mark W. Tonner

At the beginning of August 1944, the left (coastal) flank of First Canadian Army was held by the British 6th Airborne Division (of which, 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion was a part), whose divisional artillery consisted of one airlanding light field regiment (53rd (Worcestershire Yeomanry) Airlanding Light Regiment, Royal Artillery) equipped with 24x 75-millimetre pack howitzers. To supplement this artillery firepower, 1st British Corps had on 21 June 1944 formed an ad hoc battery of 12x 95-millimetre Centaur self-propelled equipments, which was designated “X” Armoured Battery, Royal Artillery (“X” Armd Bty, RA). These 12x 95-millimetre Centaur self-propelled equipments, had formerly been operated by the Royal Marines Armoured Support Group[1], elements of which had landed on 6 June 1944, in support of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division to provide supplementary artillery support, and had continued to support various Canadian and British units until it was decided, due to their losses (in both personnel and equipment) from enemy action, accidents and mechanical breakdowns, to withdraw the Royal Marines Armoured Support Group from Normandy. From 21 to 24 June, the Royal Marines crews trained the crews of the newly formed ad hoc “X” Armd Bty, RA, who were drawn from Royal Artillery reinforcement holding units in Normandy, on the 95-millimetre Centaur self-propelled equipment.

image 1

An example of the 75-millimetre pack howitzer with which 53rd (Worcestershire Yeomanry) Airlanding Light Regiment, Royal Artillery, was equipped. (Authors’ Collection)

These 95-millimetre Centaur self-propelled equipments, were based on the British designed and built Cruiser Tank, Mark VIII, Centaur (A27L). Only 80 of these close support versions of the tank, mounting a 95-millimetre howitzer in the turret, in place of the standard armament of a 6-pounder gun were produced, and were simply known, as the ‘Centaur IV.’ The crew consisted of a commander, gunner, loader, driver, and co-driver. Fully loaded, the Centaur IV weighed 28 tonnes, and was 6.4 metres in length, by 2.5 metres in height, by 2.9 metres wide. The Centaur IV was armed with a 95-millimetre tank howitzer (Ordnance Quick Firing) and a co-axial 7.92-millimetre BESA machine gun, both of which were mounted, side by side, in the turret. The turret could be traversed manually by hand, or by a hydraulic power system, which enabled the turret to be completely traversed in14-15 seconds at the highest speed. The 95-millimetre tank howitzer had an elevation of minus 5-degrees to plus 34-degrees, and a nominal maximum range of 5,486 metres, and used fixed ammunition, in the form of either a high explosive (HE) shell, or high explosive hollow charge (HES) (capable of penetrating either armour, or concrete) shell, each weighing 11- kilograms, or a 7-kilogram smoke shell. There was stowage within the vehicle for 51 rounds of 95-millimetre ammunition (28 HE, five HES, and 18 Smoke), and for 4,950 rounds of 7.92-millimetre ammunition, contained in 22 boxes (with each box containing one 225-round belt). Like all other British tanks of the period, the Centaur IV had a 51-millimetre smoke bomb thrower (for localized smoke protection) mounted in the turret roof, with stowage inside the tank for 24 bombs, and was also equipped with a No. 19 wireless set (radio), which was housed in the turret. The No. 19 wireless set included an “A” set for general use, a “B” set for short range inter-tank work at troop level, and an intercommunication unit for the crew, so arranged that each member could establish contact with any one of the others. There was also an armoured box attached to the rear hull plate, which contained an “Infantry Telephone,” by which targets could be indicated to the crew commander from those being supported.

image 2 IWM (B5457)

A 95-millimetre howitzer equipped Centaur IV, seen here in service with “H” Troop, 2nd Battery, 1st Royal Marine Armoured Support Regiment, Royal Marines Armoured Support Group. (IWM (B5457))

By August 1944, it had become necessary for the British to withdraw these reinforcement personnel from the ad hoc “X” Armd Bty, RA, to be employed as Royal Artillery reinforcements elsewhere, and they informed First Canadian Army, that they could no longer maintain this supplementary battery to the 6th Airborne Divisional Artillery, and that they would be withdrawing their personnel as of 8 August 1944. Since it was felt that the continued existence of this ad hoc battery was of an operational necessity at this time to provide artillery support within the 6th Airborne Divisional area of operations, Staff Duties, General Staff Branch, Headquarters First Canadian Army, on 4 August, drew up a request for the approval of Lieutenant-General H.D.G. Crerar, General Officer Commanding-in-Chief First Canadian Army, for the authorization to form a temporary Canadian unit to man the 12x 95-millimetre Centaur self-propelled equipments of the battery. This request was duly authorized by Crerar, on 6 August 1944, with a note that the continued authorization of this temporary Canadian unit, was to be reviewed monthly.

image 3

The submission of 4 August 1944, to the GOC-in-C First Cdn Army from Staff Duties for the authorization to form 1st Canadian Centaur Battery.

Details of the organization of this proposed unit were attached to the Staff Duties request of 4 August, as Appendix “A,” under the heading of “Temporary SP Bty RCA (95mm CENTAUR),” under which, the proposed title of the unit was given as “1 Centaur Bty RCA,” with the proposed personnel strength of the unit given as 11 officers, and 100 other ranks, and that the 12x 95-millimetre Centaur self-propelled equipments, and ammunition were already available. It also went on to state that administrative personnel and vehicles were not included in the proposed War Establishment, as the administration of the proposed unit was to be entirely undertaken by the British 6th Airborne Division, and that the formation of the unit would be made under the arrangements of First Canadian Army, with effect from 6 August 1944, and that the unit was to operate under the command of 1st British Corps. Lastly, it was stated that the unit would be disbanded as soon as its present operational necessity ceased (which was forecasted as within three to four weeks).

 

image 4

Appendix “A” to the Staff Duties submission of 4 August 1944, to the GOC-in-C First Cdn Army from Staff Duties for the authorization to form 1st Canadian Centaur Battery.

With Crerar’s authorization of 6 August for the formation of 1 Centaur Battery, RCA, things followed along quickly. Under Canadian Section General Headquarters 1st Echelon, 21 Army Group Administrative Order No. 5, dated 7 August 1944, the authorization for the formation of Serial CM 804, 1st Canadian Centaur Battery, RCA, with effect from 6 August 1944, in the North-Western European Theatre of Operations, under instructions of Headquarters First Canadian Army, and the approved Table of Organization for the battery was published. This was followed on 8 August by a letter from the Canadian Section General Headquarters 1st Echelon, 21 Army Group, to Canadian Military Headquarters (London), with an attached copy of the approved Table of Organization, informing them that the General Officer Commanding-in-Chief First Canadian Army (Crerar), had authorized the formation of Serial CM 804, 1st Canadian Centaur Battery, RCA, with effect from 6 August 1944. Subsequently, and after having received Privy Council authorization from National Defence Headquarters (Ottawa), the formation of Serial CM 804, 1st Canadian Centaur Battery, RCA, with effect from 6 August 1944, was notified under Canadian Military Headquarters Administrative Order No. 139, dated 18 August 1944.

image 5

Cdn Sec GHQ 1 Ech 21 A Gp Admin Order No. 5/44, under which the authorization for the formation of Serial CM 804, 1st Canadian Centaur Battery, RCA, with effect from 6 August 1944, was published.

 

image 6

CMHQ Admin Order No. 139/44, under which the authorization for the formation of Serial CM 804, 1st Canadian Centaur Battery, RCA, with effect from 6 August 1944, was published.

Under the Table of Organization that was published under both Cdn Sec GHQ 1 Ech 21 A Gp Admin Order No. 5/44, and CMHQ Admin Order No. 139/44, 1st Canadian Centaur Battery, RCA, was to consist of 11 officers, and 103 other ranks, organized into a Battery Headquarters (two officers, and ten other ranks), and three Troops, with each Troop consisting of a Troop Headquarters (three officers, and 11 other ranks), and two Sections (each of ten other ranks), for a total Troop strength of 34 all ranks. Each Troop was to be equipped with one motorcycle, one Car 5-cwt (a Jeep), one Truck 15-cwt (fitted for Wireless (Radio)), one Observation Post Tank, and four (two per Section) 95-millimetre Centaur self-propelled equipments, for a total battery strength of 12x 95-millimetre Centaur IVs.

image 7

‘Section (i) Personnel’ of the Table of Organization for Serial CM 804, 1st Canadian Centaur Battery, RCA, that was attached to CMHQ Admin Order No. 139/44, as Appendix “A,” showing the distribution of personnel throughout the battery.

image 8

‘Section (iii) Transport’ of the Table of Organization for Serial CM 804, 1st Canadian Centaur Battery, RCA, that was attached to CMHQ Admin Order No. 139/44, as Appendix “A,” showing the distribution of vehicles throughout the battery.

image 9

‘Section (v) Organization’ of the Table of Organization for Serial CM 804, 1st Canadian Centaur Battery, RCA, that was attached to CMHQ Admin Order No. 139/44, as Appendix “A,” showing a breakdown of the battery’s organization.

On 9 August 1944, Captain F.D. Miller (Royal Canadian Artillery) arrived at “X” Armoured Battery, Royal Artillery, 6th Airborne Division, to begin the process of the handover of the battery to 1st Canadian Centaur Battery, RCA, and found that it was going to be necessary to keep the 95-millimetre Centaur IVs in action during the handover of the battery’s equipment from British to Canadian hands. The next day, Captain Miller met the incoming Battery Commander, Major D.M. Cooper (Royal Canadian Artillery), and a draft of Royal Canadian Artillery personnel, who were drawn from No. 12 Canadian Base Reinforcement Battalion (No. 2 Canadian Base Reinforcement Group), consisting of six Lieutenants, six Sergeants, and three other ranks. After meeting with the Brigadier, Royal Artillery, Headquarters First Canadian Army, from where three 15-cwt trucks were obtained, Major Cooper, Captain Miller, and the nine-member draft proceeded to join “X” Armd Bty, RA. Upon arriving in the battery area, Major Cooper, assigned two Lieutenants, and two Sergeants, to each of 1st Canadian Centaur Battery’s three Troops, and appointed Captain Miller “C” Troop Leader, following which, Major Cooper met with Major Marchand (Royal Artillery), the Battery Commander, “X” Armoured Battery, RA. Marchand informed Cooper, that his battery was nothing more then predicted shooting on counter mortar, counter bombardment, and harassing fire tasks, and that the current policy of Headquarters 6th Airborne Divisional Artillery, because the position of the division was static, was maximum harassing fire on the enemy’s administrative areas, and vigorous and immediate retaliatory fire, to that of the enemy.

image 10 IWM (B5458)

Another image of a 95-millimetre howitzer equipped Centaur IV, seen here in service with “H” Troop, 2nd Battery, 1st Royal Marine Armoured Support Regiment, Royal Marines Armoured Support Group. (IWM (B5458))

From 11 to 14 August, the men of 1st Canadian Centaur Battery, learned their respective jobs, and duties from their British counterparts of “X” Armoured Battery, and familiarized themselves with the 95-millimetre Centaur IVs. The battery’s Gunners were also greatly aided by three Instructors in Gunnery who were rushed over to Normandy from No. 1 Canadian School of Artillery (Overseas) in the United Kingdom to help the gunners in mastering the workings of the 95-millimetre tank howitzer. Also, during this period, another 22 personnel of the Royal Canadian Artillery, were brought forward to the battery from No. 12 Canadian Base Reinforcement Battalion, and the three Troops of the battery were organized with one Sherman Observation Post Tank, four (two per Section) 95-millimetre Centaur IVs, and one Truck 15-cwt. On 14 August, another 38 personnel of the Royal Canadian Artillery, arrived from No. 12 Canadian Base Reinforcement Battalion, and as of 8:00 P.M., that evening, Canadian personnel took over completely from their British counterparts. This was followed by the next day being spent in fine tuning the organization of 1st Canadian Centaur Battery, and also saw the establishment of Battery Headquarters, in rear of “A” Troops position, and the move of Major Cooper up to the battery position from Headquarters 6th Airborne Divisional Artillery. Captain E.J. Leapard (Royal Artillery), who had served with “X” Armoured Battery, RA, since its formation, was attached to 1st Canadian Centaur Battery, and was appointed Battery Captain. Also, 15 members of the British Royal Corps of Signals, and one mechanic (gun) from the British Corps of Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, who had served with “X” Armoured Battery, RA, were attached to 1st Canadian Centaur Battery, fulling the earlier stated commitment of the British in undertaking the administrative needs of the battery. 16 August saw the withdrawal of the remaining Royal Artillery members of “X” Armoured Battery, RA, and the arrival of Captain W.A. Walker, and Captain J. Else (both Royal Canadian Artillery), who respectively, were appointed “A” Troop Leader, and “B” Troop Leader. At 11:00 P.M. that evening, 1st Canadian Centaur Battery was warned to be prepared to move the next morning, as 6th Airborne Division began their advance toward the mouth of the River Seine along the coast, as part of First Canadian Army’s push to the River Seine, with 1st British Corps on the left, and 2nd Canadian Corps on the right.

image 11

A ‘Sketch’ map showing First Canadian Army’s push to the River Seine, with the 6th Airborne Division on the left (coastal) flank, as mentioned in the text.

On 17 August 1944, under command of Headquarters 53rd (Worcestershire Yeomanry) Airlanding Light Regiment, Royal Artillery, 1st Canadian Centaur Battery came into action near Troarn, France, in support of the British 6th Airlanding Brigade. From 17 to 27 August, the battery continued in support of elements of the 6th Airborne Division, which included 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, and Dutch infantrymen of the Royal Netherlands Brigade (Princess Irene’s), and of elements of the British 49th (West Riding) Infantry Division, as 1st British Corps continued their advance toward the River Seine. By the morning of 27 August, the battery had only one Sherman Observation Post Tank, three 95-millimetre Centaur IVs, and one 95-millimetre Cromwell VI[2] left in action due to enemy action, accidents and mechanical breakdowns, which had occurred along the way since first going into action on 17 August, and had taken up gun positions to the rear of Toutainville, France. During the afternoon of 27 August, the 15 members of the British Royal Corps of Signals, who had been attached to the battery, were released and sent back to British 31 Reinforcement Holding Unit, and the battery’s tank crews who had accompanied their broken down, or damaged Sherman Observation Post Tanks, and 95-millimetre Centaur IVs, to workshops, rejoined the battery, leaving only the individual drivers behind.

TANKS AND AFVS OF THE BRITISH ARMY 1939-45

An example of a 95-millimetre Cromwell VI. (IWM (KID 961))

Earlier, on 24 August, while 1st Canadian Centaur Battery was out of action in a concentration area pending deployment for an attack beyond Pont-l’Évêque, France, the Brigadier Royal Artillery, Headquarters First Canadian Army, and the Officer Commanding, 53rd (Worcestershire Yeomanry) Airlanding Light Regiment, Royal Artillery, met with the Battery Commander, Major D.M. Cooper. During this meeting they suggested to Major Cooper that he endeavour to operate the battery as a six-gun battery, instead of that of a 12-gun battery, due to the battery’s losses (in both personnel and equipment) from enemy action, accidents and mechanical breakdowns, and that the battery would probably only be in operation for another two weeks, with the pending withdrawal of the 6th Airborne Division from 1st British Corps. Major Cooper was also informed at this time, that the 15 members of the British Royal Corps of Signals, were to be withdrawn from their attachment to the battery on 27 August (as noted in the paragraph above).

From their gun positions to the rear of Toutainville, France, 1st Canadian Centaur Battery remained in action until 12:00 P.M., 28 August 1944, at which point they ceased fire for the last time. During the afternoon, the battery moved back to a concentration area, and the reorganization from a 12-gun, to a six-gun battery took place. This reorganization lead to the release of Captain Walker, Captain Miller, two Lieutenants, and the gun crews (24 other ranks) of six 95-millimetre Centaur IVs (less drivers), who were all sent back to No. 2 Canadian Base Reinforcement Group, as Royal Canadian Artillery reinforcements. On 29 August, Major Cooper, Captain Leapard (Royal Artillery), and Captain Else, went to Headquarters Army Troops Area First Canadian Army, where Major Cooper received authority to disband 1st Canadian Centaur Battery, Royal Canadian Artillery, with effect from 30 August 1944, and also instructions on the disposal of the battery’s guns, vehicles, equipment, and personnel.

Solent News & Photo Agency

Another example of a Centaur IV, seen here in service with “S” Troop, 5th Royal Marine Independent Armoured Support Battery, Royal Marines Armoured Support Group. (Authors’ Collection)

On 30 August, 1st Canadian Centaur Battery moved to a concentration area near Pont-l’Évêque, France, where the process of the disposal of the battery’s guns, vehicles, equipment, and personnel began on the morning of 31 August. Between 31 August – 2 September 1944, the battery’s vehicles, and equipment were returned to the applicable Canadian Army Vehicle Park, or Ordnance Stores. The battery personnel themselves, were dispatched to No. 13 Canadian Base Reinforcement Battalion (No. 2 Canadian Base Reinforcement Group), as Royal Canadian Artillery reinforcements.

Having learned of the planned withdrawal of the 6th Airborne Division from 1st British Corps with effect from 30 August, Staff Duties, General Staff Branch, Headquarters First Canadian Army, drew up a request (dated 29 August 1944) for the approval of Lieutenant-General H.D.G. Crerar, General Officer Commanding-in-Chief First Canadian Army, for the authorization to disband Serial CM 802, 1st Canadian Centaur Battery, RCA, with effect from 30 August 1944, which was duly authorized by Crerar. Notification of the authorized disbandment of Serial CM 802, 1st Canadian Centaur Battery, RCA, under instructions of Headquarters First Canadian Army, was published under Canadian Section General Headquarters 1st Echelon, 21 Army Group Administrative Order No. 10, dated 9 September 1944. This was followed by a message from Canadian Section General Headquarters 1st Echelon, 21 Army Group, to Canadian Military Headquarters (London), with an attached copy of the submission authorizing the disbandment of 1st Canadian Centaur Battery, RCA (signed by Crerar), and a copy of Cdn Sec GHQ 1 Ech 21 A Gp Admin Order No. 10/44, under which it was notified. Subsequently, the disbandment of Serial CM 804, 1st Canadian Centaur Battery, RCA, with effect from 30 August 1944, was notified under Canadian Military Headquarters Administrative Order No. 149, dated 13 September 1944.

image 14

The submission of 29 August 1944, to the GOC-in-C First Cdn Army from Staff Duties for the authorization to disband 1st Canadian Centaur Battery.

image 15

Cdn Sec GHQ 1 Ech 21 A Gp Admin Order No. 10/44, under which the authorization for the disbandment of Serial CM 804, 1st Canadian Centaur Battery, RCA, with effect from 30 August 1944, was published.

image 16

CMHQ Admin Order No. 149/44, under which the authorization for the disbandment of Serial CM 804, 1st Canadian Centaur Battery, RCA, with effect from 30 August 1944, was published.

Of the three Sherman Observation Post Tanks, and 12x  95-millimetre Centaur IVs, that 1st Canadian Centaur Battery had originally taken over from “X” Armoured Battery, Royal Artillery, only one Sherman Observation Post Tank (Census No. T149788), and four 95-millimetre Centaur IVs (Census Numbers T185007, T185107, T185373, and T185387) were in serviceable and operational condition when turned into 259 Delivery Squadron, Royal Armoured Corps (the ‘Corps’ delivery squadron for 1st British Corps), on 4 September 1944. These five vehicles were duly turned over to “F” Squadron, 25th Canadian Armoured Delivery Regiment (The Elgin Regiment), Canadian Armoured Corps (the ‘Army’ delivery squadron for First Canadian Army), on 5 September 1944, from where they were returned to the applicable Ordnance facility. The remaining two Sherman Observation Post Tanks, and eight 95-millimetre Centaur IVs, having been struck-off-charge of 1st Canadian Centaur Battery, were in various workshops throughout the 1st British Corps area, undergoing repairs, of one sort or another.

image 17

The ‘Vehicles Received’ portion of the daily balance sheet for 259 Delivery Squadron, Royal Armoured Corps, dated 4 September 1944, showing the receipt of four Centaur IVs, and one Sherman Observation Post tank from 1st Canadian Centaur Battery.

image 18

The ‘Vehicles Issued’ portion of the daily balance sheet for 259 Delivery Squadron, Royal Armoured Corps, dated 5 September 1944, showing the issue of one Sherman Observation Post tank, and four Centaur IVs to “F” Squadron, 25th Canadian Armoured Delivery Regiment (The Elgin Regiment), Canadian Armoured Corps.


Notes

  1. The Royal Marines Armoured Support Group (equipped with 80x 95-millimetre Centaur self-propelled equipments) consisted of the 1st Royal Marine Armoured Support Regiment (1st Battery (“A,” “B,” “C,” and “D” Troops) and 2nd Battery (“E,” “F,” “G,” and “H” Troops)), the 2nd Royal Marine Armoured Support Regiment (3rd Battery (“J,” “K,” “L,” and “M” Troops) and 4th Battery (“N,” “O,” “P,” and “Q” Troops)), and the 5th Royal Marine Independent Armoured Support Battery (“R,” “S,” “T,” and “V” Troops). Its five batteries were divided up between the British 50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Division, 3rd Canadian Infantry Division, and the British 3rd Infantry Division, for the assault phase of the Normandy landings on 6 June 1944, and continued to support British and Canadian troops in Normandy, until the Group was withdrawn.
  2. The 95-millimetre Cromwell VI, was based on the British designed and built Cruiser Tank, Mark VIII, Cromwell (A27M), and was the close support version of the Cromwell (A27M) tank, mounting a 95-millimetre tank howitzer in the turret, in place of the standard armament of a 6-pounder gun, and was simply known, as the ‘Cromwell VI.’ This particular 95-millimetre Cromwell VI, had been acquired by 1st Canadian Centaur Battery from the 8th Kings’s Royal Irish Hussars, the armoured reconnaissance regiment of the British 7th Armoured Division on 24 August 1944, and was returned to them during the disbandment process of the battery.

Sources:

– Library and Archives Canada – RG24, C2, Vol. 12245, and Vol. 12249.

– Library and Archives Canada – RG24, C3, Vol. 14248, and Vol. 14640.

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