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2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade

2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade
 
Authorized: 26 January 1942
Disbanded: 1945

The 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade was an armoured formation formed for service the Second World War. It was one of only two Canadian independent armoured brigades to see combat.

Army Tank Brigade

The 2nd Canadian Army Tank Brigade was authorized on 26 January 1942, formed from units surplus to the 4th Canadian Infantry Division which had recently converted to an armoured division. As it turned out, this brigade would be able to train on tanks from the time of its formation. One unit was the 24th Army Tank Battalion (Les Voltigeurs de Québec), which was reroled as a reconnaissance unit for service in Canada. The Brigade trained at the newly opened Meaford AFV range on Georgian Bay beginning in the autumn of 1942.

The brigade was originally composed of the following units:

  • Headquarters, 2nd Canadian Army Tank Brigade

    • 20th Army Tank Battalion (16th/22nd Saskatchewan Horse)

    • 23rd Army Tank Battalion (Halifax Rifles)

    • 26th Army Tank Battalion (Grey and Simcoe Foresters)1

The units were renamed Canadian Tank Regiments (CTR).

There were three Canadian Army Tank Brigades in existence by late 1942; British experience in the Western Desert however was showing that there was a need for a combined-arms approach to operations.

At this time the organization of armoured divisions was being materially altered. The (British) War Office had decided to abandon that based on two armoured brigades and a support group in favour of a single armoured brigade, an infantry brigade, and two field regiments of artillery; and General McNaughton (General Officer Commander in Chief of 1st Canadian Army) advised conforming to this change. This involved disbanding one armoured brigade from each of the two Canadian armoured divisions, and although three of the armoured regiments of these brigades were needed for other tasks in the new organization three others were left surplus. More infantry and artillery would be required. McNaughton desired to utilize the surplus armour to form a third army tank brigade, and in his cable of 21 December (1942) he wrote, "As a long term objective I propose that Cdn Army should comprise two corps with three Infantry Divs (three Inf Bdes), two Armd Divs (one Inf and one Armd Bde) and three Army Tank Bdes." This objective, however, was never attained. The (British) Chief of the General Staff queried the suggestion of a third tank brigade, in view of a current shortage of Armoured Corps reinforcements. General McNaughton replied that completing this formation was a matter for later discussion; the extra armoured regiments would be made available for reinforcement purposes unless and until adequate reinforcements were in sight. As it turned out, by March 1943 it was apparent that the formation of the third tank brigade would not be practicable, and in any case experience in Exercise "Spartan" convinced the Army Commander that two such brigades would be enough.

...The 2nd Army Tank Brigade arrived in the United Kingdom from Canada in June 1943. A 3rd Army Tank Brigade had been formed overseas on a temporary basis, out of the surplus armoured regiments, in January 1943. As both brigades could not be retained, and the units which had been overseas longest were reported as the most efficient, those from Canada, and the brigade headquarters which had come with them, were in due course disbanded; but since the authorized army tank brigade was designated by order in council as the 2nd, this number was used for the formation which continued to exist and which fought in the North-West Europe campaign. In June 1943 the decision was taken to reorganize the Canadian army tank brigades as independent armoured brigades. The reason given was the desirability of being able to "replace" them in the armoured divisions if required (presumably, in the event of a return to the older establishment of armoured divisions, on a basis of two armoured brigades, or if temporary operational conditions called for such an arrangement). The brigades, however, remained without an important part of the armoured brigade in an armoured division-the motor battalion ofinfantry.2

The 3rd Army Tank Brigade had been created after the 5th Canadian (Armoured) Division reorganized from two to one armoured brigades. The 1st Hussars and The Fort Garry Horse had both trained in the U.K. as part of that division between February 1941 and December 1943. On 1 January 1943, they were reorganized as the 3rd Army Tank Brigade, joined by The Sherbrooke Fusilier Regiment, which had mobilized in the summer of 1940 as infantry and converted to armour in January 1942, training in Debert, Nova Scotia until November and moving to England for another year of training with the 4th Canadian (Armoured) Division.3

In June 1943, the 2nd Canadian Army Tank Brigade arrived in the U.K. and a decision had to be made as to whether retain it, or the much more experienced 3rd Canadian Army Tank Brigade. Despite General McNaughton's wish to have one dedicated tank brigade for each infantry division, British tank losses in North Africa motivated the Government to veto the plan out of fear there would not be enough manpower to keep that many formations reinforced, and the great political fear of conscription would be realized.

With hindsight, however, we can see that conditions in North Africa were the opposite of those found in North-West Europe. Once the fighting had left the open spaces of the Western Desert for the close country of Europe, the high armoured and low infantry casualty rates were reversed. Canada did have to enforce conscription, but was because of a shortage of infantry; there would be a surplus of trained crewmen for the remainder of the war.4

An inspection of the six regiments by Lieutenant-General Harry Crerar, General Officer Commanding 1st Canadian Corps, resulted in the 3rd Army Tank Brigade being retained, and on paper the regiments were transferred to become the 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade, which also involved the individual units being redesignated as Armoured Regiments.5

Organization August 1943

  • Brigade Headquarters Squadron

    • 6th Canadian Armoured Regiment (1st Hussars)

    • 10th Canadian Armoured Regiment (The Fort Garry Horse)

    • 27th Canadian Armoured Regiment (The Sherbrooke Fusilier Regiment)

20th Army Tank Bn
(16/22 Sask Horse)
23rd Army Tank Bn
(Halifax Rifles)
26th Army Tank Bn
(Grey & Simcoe For.)
6th Army Tank Bn
(1st Hussars)
10th Army Tank Bn
(Fort Garry Horse)
27th Army Tank Bn
(Sherbrooke Fus.)
Mobilized 24 May 1940 Mobilized 1 Jan 1941 Mobilized 24 May 1940 Mobilized 1 Sep 1939 Mobilized 1 Sep 1939 Mobilized 24 May 1940
Converted to armour 22 May 1942 from recce Converted to armour 26 Jan 1942 from infantry Converted to armour 15 May 1942 from infantry Converted to armour 11 Feb 1941 from mech cavalry Converted to armour 11 Feb 1941 from mech cavalry Converted to armour 26 Jan 1942 from infantry
Embarked for UK 16 Jun 1943 Embarked for UK 17 Jun 1943 Embarked for UK 16 Jun 1943 Embarked for UK 13 Nov 1941 Embarked for UK 10 Nov 1941 Embarked for UK 27 Oct 1942
Scored 67.9% in Crerar inspection Scored 65% in Crerar inspection Scored 60.6% in Crerar inspection Scored 69.1% in Crerar inspection Scored 71% in Crerar inspection Scored 69.6% in Crerar inspection
Disbanded 1 Nov 1943 Disbanded 1 Nov 1943 Disbanded 1 Nov 1943      

History

In the summer of 1943, the brigade received notice that they would be used for a beach invasion "somewhere in Europe" in the future. Along with 3rd Canadian Infantry Division, the brigade was transferred from Canadian to British command and moved to Scotland for Combined Operations Training. The regimental history wryly notes such pleasant foreshadowing as "Exercise BLOODBATH" in this period. Valentine tanks appeared in unit lines, which were to eventually permit the crews to being training on Duplex Drive equipment - modifications to allow tanks to swim from landing craft to shore. Training continued in the south of England until mid-April, when it was learned that DD Shermans would equip the assault regiments. Sherman Vc 17-pounder variants were also received (the so-called "Firefly" tanks).6

During this long process of training the 2nd Armoured Brigade worked closely with the (3rd Canadian Infantry) Division and the individual units with which the armoured regiments were to cooperate. Equipment posed special problems for the tankmen. The brigade was to use Sherman tanks in the operation, but as late as 23 January 1944 it possessed only 10 of these. The changeover from the Rams and Valentines which were used for training was not in fact quite complete until the end of May, and many of the new tanks received required modification. The units' fitters and the brigade Electrical and Mechanical Engineers had to put in "Trojan work" to ensure that the regiments would go into action with battleworthy equipment.

Two of the armoured regiments—the 6th Armoured Regiment (1st Hussars) and the 10th (The Fort Garry Horse), which were to lead the assault on the 7th and 8th Brigade beaches respectively–were equipped with amphibious tanks, one squadron of each regiment however retaining the normal Shermans. The "D.D." (Duplex Drive) tank was an ordinary Sherman equipped with flotation gear. The tank, floated by means of a thick canvas screen which could be raised, was pushed through the water by two propellers. While thus swimming it could not fire its guns. On landing the struts supporting the screen were broken and the tank became an almost normal land tank. Until after the assault, the D.D. tank was a very closely guarded secret. The regiments' training with it took place at Great Yarmouth under the supervision of the 79th British Armoured Division, the formation which had been set up to provide "special armour" of various types for the 21st Army Group.7

D-Day and First Actions

The brigade landed with two regiments (the 1st Hussars and the Fort Garry Horse) equipped as assault regiments on D-Day; avoiding the catastrophe of the American beaches by launching the amphibious tanks too far to sea, Canadian tanks provided close support to the infantry, even in at least one case landing ahead of the infantry and clearing the way with close-range high explosive fire against enemy strongpoints. One troop of tanks from the brigade made the furthest inland advance of any of the Allied troops on D-Day. Tough fighting in the next few days against German armoured formations highlighted deficiencies in equipment and doctrine; 17-pounder Shermans were decentralized from four-vehicle troops so equipped. After actions at Authie, Buron and Le Mesnil-Patry, the brigade went into a static period of training for three weeks, which was spent in training.8

Normandy and Beyond

By the time of the arrival in Normandy of the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division at the start of July 1944, the role of the brigade as infantry support seemed firm. The brigade saw action in the first battles of the 2nd Division, at Verrières Ridge, and later action in Operation TOTALIZE. By the time the brigade was supporting the 3rd Canadian Division to Boulogne and Calais, additional 17-pounder tanks were available, enough to provide two per tank troop. The brigade supported various units in the Scheldt, rested with 1st Canadian Army in the Nijmegen Salient over the winter, and fought through the Rhineland in February 1945. Crossing the Rhine at the end of March, the brigade ended the war in northern Germany.

Commanders

Commander Date Biographical Information
Brigadier N.A. Gianelli  

Brigadier Norman Angelo Gianelli was born in 1895. He commanded the 2nd Canadian Army Tank Brigade before its conversion to an Armoured Brigade, then led the new brigade as it trained for D-Day, until being told he was too old, at age 49, to go into action. He was relieved in March 1944. He later commanded E Group Canadian Reinforcement Units, then became Brigadier Royal Armoured Corps (BRAC) of 1st Canadian Army. He left the military in 1946, and passed away in 1974.9

Brigadier R. A. Wyman, E.D10 15 Apr 1944 - 8 Aug 1944

Brigadier Robert Andrew Wyman was born in 1904 and commanded the 1st Canadian Armoured Brigade in Sicily and Italy, as well as acting as Brigadier, Royal Artillery for First Canadian Army in the UK before going on to command the 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade.11

Brigadier J.E. Bingham 9 Aug 1944 - 8 Dec 1944  
Brigadier G.W. Robinson 9 Dec 1944 - VE Day  

Uniform Insignia

At the start of the Second World War, it was felt that colourful unit and formation insignia would be too easily seen, and a very austere set of insignia was designed for the new Battle Dress uniform, consisting solely of rank badges and drab worsted Slip-on Shoulder Titles. In 1941, however, the trend was reversed, and a new system of formation patches, based on the battle patches of the First World War, was introduced. However, the use of lettered unit titles (at first won as Slip-on Shoulder Titles and later, as more colourful designs worn directly above the divisional patches) was also introduced - a privilege previously extended only to the Brigade of Guards in England, and in the Canadian Army to just four units: Governor General's Foot Guards, Canadian Grenadier Guards, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry and the Canadian Provost Corps.

The new formation patches were made from three materials mainly; felt and wool being most common, and canvas patches were adopted in the late war period as an economy measure.

Members of various corps serving in support units came to wear formation patches with letters added directly to the patch. A formation patch with a maroon coloured strip in the middle was worn by some members of the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps (RCAMC).
 

Photo courtesy Bill Alexander

Soldiers of the 2nd Canadian Tank Brigade/Armoured Brigade wore the following Formation Patches on their uniforms; unlike the 1st Tank Brigade, soldiers serving in the brigade's armoured regiments wore "plain" formation patches in conjunction with regimental shoulder insignia. A Cross of Lorraine badge was also selected to be worn on the upper left sleeve by all ranks of the brigade on Service Dress and Battle Dress uniforms. The badges don't appear to have been worn overseas, being adopted in July 1942, and few were issued.

The diamond shaped formation patches were adopted in late 1942. Unlike the other Tank and Armoured Brigades, unit titles don't appear to have been combined with the formation patches.

Artifacts and images courtesy Bill Alexander.

Notes

  1. Hughes, David The British Armies in World War Two: An Organisational History Volume Six: The Canadian Army (The Nafziger Collection, Inc., West Chester, OH, 2003) ISBN 1-58545-105-3 p.57

  2. Stacey, C.P. Official History of the Canadian Army in the Second World War: Volume I: Six Years Of War (Queen's Printer, Ottawa, ON, 1956) pp.102-104

  3. McNorgan, Michael R. The Gallant Hussars: A History of the 1st Hussars Regiment 1856-2004 (The 1st Hussars Cavalry Fund, Aylmer, ON, 2004) ISBN 0-9694659-1-2 pp.95-96

  4. Ibid, p.99

  5. Hughes (Ibid) presents a bizarre interpretation of events, claiming that "the fix was in" by "senior and very influential cavalry regiments", yet a look at the mobilization dates, training time, time spent overseas, and the inspection results tends to support the conclusion that the 3rd Army Tank Brigade would if nothing else be expected to have outperformed the 2nd, who was junior in everything but name. See p.57 for Hughes' discussion.

  6. McNorgan, Ibid, pp.98-107

  7. Stacey, C.P.  Official History of the Canadian Army in the Second World War: Volume III: The Victory Campaign (Queen's Printer, Ottawa, ON, 1960) p.37

  8. Hughes, Ibid, p.59

  9. McNorgan, Ibid, pp.99-104

  10. Nicholson, Gerald Official History of the Canadian Army in the Second World War: Volume II: The Canadians in Italy (Queen's Printer, Ottawa, ON, 1957), p.168

  11. Some biographical info on commanders from Blatherwick, John and Hugh Halliday. Courage & Service: Second World War Awards to Canadians (Service Publications, Ottawa, ON) ISBN 1894581229

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