2nd Canadian Infantry Division
The 2nd Canadian Division refers to two organizations raised during the 20th Century.
The first formation so designated was a fully manned and equipped combat division which formed the initial contribution of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. A second iteration was raised for the Second World War, and served in combat from July 1944 to May 1945 as part of II Canadian Corps. This article refers to the latter division.
Second World War
The 2nd Canadian Infantry Division was mobilized on 1 September 1939, even before the declaration of war, and the battalions were promptly fleshed out by volunteers. However, further expansion of the division was hindered by a temporary halt in recruitment and uncertainty about overseas deployment. Consequently, divisional and brigade headquarters were not actually formed until May and June 1940.
The 2nd Division provided the bulk of the ground troops for Operation JUBILEE, a large-scale raid on Dieppe, France in August 1942 with the 4th and 6th Canadian Infantry Brigades, suffering extensive losses in the landing and the ensuing withdrawal. Following its reconstruction, the division moved to Normandy in time to serve with the British 2nd Army. It then participated in the advance along the Channel coast with the 1st Canadian Army including the liberation of Dieppe. The division saw heavy action in the Netherlands in late 1944 and took part in the final offensives in 1945.
The Canadian Active Service Force was initially composed of two full divisions. The main fighting power of these divisions were their infantry brigades - three brigades per division, each composed of three infantry battalions (rifle) and one infantry battalion (Machine Gun). The divisions also comprised units of the supporting corps, including:
In 1939, The 2nd Division was organized along regional lines, like the 1st Canadian Infantry Division.
While the 1st Division was concentrated quickly and dispatched to the United Kingdom in December 1939, it would be over a year before the 2nd Division as a whole would be assembled in one place; in that time many changes to the organization shown above would be made.
The first brigade concentrations were made in May and June of 1940; until that time all units trained in their own garrisons. The 4th Brigade assembled at Camp Borden in Ontario, the 5th concentrated at Valcartier Camp in Quebec, and the 6th at Camp Shilo in Manitoba.
The divisional artillery concentrated at Camp Petawawa in Ontario and at Shilo.
The divisional structure was changed in early 1940, reducing the number of Machine Gun battalions per division to one rather than three. The Camerons of Ottawa and Chaudière were reassigned to the 3rd Canadian Division, which was mobilized in May 1940 (with the Chaudière converting to a rifle battalion) and the Winnipeg Grenadiers were sent to Jamaica for garrison duty (after which they returned to Canada and redeployed to Hong Kong).
During the reorganization, some divisional units were detailed for garrison duty:
The remaining units of the division were thus sent to the United Kingdom. The temporary absence of the Fusiliers Mont Royal in England in September allowed for the reassignment of the Calgary Highlanders to the 5th Brigade. There was a shortage of French-speaking staff officers, and General Odlum - who commanded the division - felt it desirable to give "French and English speaking Canadians wider contacts" by mixing the brigades. By war's end, Canada produced only a handful of French-speaking brigade commanders, all of whom were required to command their brigades in English.
Changes in Organization
In 1941, the Toronto Scottish Regiment were moved from the 1st Canadian Division to become the Machine Gun battalion of the Second Division. As well, the 8th Reconnaissance Regiment (14th Canadian Hussars) was created from 2nd Division personnel and reinforcements from Canada. They would become the "eyes" of the Division. In early 1941, the 3rd Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment also arrived in the United Kingdom and was assigned to the Division.
The official Canadian Army historian, C.P. Stacey, wrote that "Equipping the 2nd Canadian Division, in the conditions existing in England in 1940, had been a discouraging business." Artillery pieces were ancient 75mm guns with steel tires. A lack of anti-aircraft guns (at the height of the Battle of Britain) left Canadian units to fend for themselves with small arms. By February 1941, enough Bren guns were issued for all the infantry units, and by September enough 25-pounder howitzers were available for the artillery. Signals equipment and transport were still lacking, and anti-tank guns were dangerously scarce. On the whole, however, the division was felt to be a "better division" than the First, especially in terms of discipline and staff work. A frequent point of comparison was higher incidence of traffic accidents occurring in First Division.
On 27 March 1941 came a Royal Visit, described as a "tonic" to morale in the division. The Calgary Highlanders' War Diary related that:
1941 - Continued Training
When the division was not engaged in coastal defence duties or unit training, formation level training took the form of increasingly larger exercises. Exercise WATERLOO conducted 14-16 June 1941 would be the largest in the United Kingdom to date, with I Canadian Corps counter-attacking an imagined German sea and air landing. Exercise BUMPER from 29 September 1941 to 3 October 1941 was larger than WATERLOO, involving 250,000 men. These exercises tended to concentrate on traffic control, communications and logistical concerns and were of little practical value to the infantry.
On 30 December 1941, the Calgary Highlanders introduced "Battle Drill" to the Division. This new type of training emphasized small unit tactics as well as "hardening" training through use of live ammunition, slaughterhouse visits, and obstacle courses, and was adopted throughout the Army.
1942 - Zenith and Reconstruction
Several exercises in early 1942 under the new divisional commander, General Roberts, included BEAVER II in February, BEAVER III in April and BEAVER IV in May. These all aimed at gauging the ability of the division to repel an enemy invasion of Britain. Exercise TIGER from 19 to 30 May was slightly smaller than BUMPER but was incredibly physically demanding. As a result of this exercise, the 2nd Canadian Division was judged one of the four best divisions in the United Kingdom; this reputation caused the division to be selected for Operation RUTTER.
RUTTER was a raid by two infantry brigades of the French port of Dieppe, planned to capture the dock facilities as well as nearby radar equipment and a German divisional headquarters, and withdraw the same day. Hard training and exercises commenced on the Isle of Wight, but the raid, set for July was cancelled. Normal training resumed while RUTTER was secretly revived as JUBILEE. The surprised men of the division went into action on 19 August 1942.
While British Commando units landed on the flanks, 2nd Division men landed on four beaches. The easternmost, Blue, presented the most difficulties. Situated at the foot of a cliff, the Royal Regiment of Canada, with a company of Black Watch, was held at bay by just two platoons of Germans. Of the men that landed, few returned to England. The main beaches, White and Red, lay in front of Dieppe itself. Small penetrations into town were made by the attacking infantry but the majority of troops were pinned down on the beach, despite the covering fire of several troops of the Calgary Tank Regiment. The Fusiliers Mont-Royal were landed to reinforce to little effect. As at Blue Beach, casualties were heavy.
At Green Beach to the west, The South Saskatchewan Regiment was landed on the wrong side of the Scie River forcing an assault on the bridge there as well as German emplacements on the hillside and in the town of Pourville. The Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders reinforced, but neither battalion was able to reach its objective. Here, too, many men were left behind as prisoners after the withdrawal.
The Division After Dieppe 1942-1944
It would take a full year for the 2nd Division to rebuild itself after Dieppe; all told some 50% of the participants had been killed, wounded, or captured. The Division went from an enviable reputation as one of the best trained divisions in the United Kingdom to practically having to start over again from scratch.
In January 1944, Major General Charles Foulkes - the first divisional commander not to have served in the First World War - replaced Burns. All traces of the First World War in terms of insignia, uniforms or equipment had been replaced by this time, also. The First World War formation patches had been done away with after Dieppe, and the First World War pattern Enfield rifles withsword bayonet had also been replaced in 1943 with the new Number 4 Mark I rifle, as had the Great War style box respirators (in favour of the new Light Respirator with integral filter).
In February 1944, all three brigade commanders were replaced. Sweeping changes in command were coupled with large turnovers in personnel in 1943; by early 1944 reorganization plans and continual training for no immediate purpose all conspired to lower morale. Things began to change when Royal visits early in the year heralded the coming invasion season. Second Division again received His Majesty on 9 March 1944, as he made the rounds to say farewell to Allied formations preparing to depart for France. By this time, 2nd Canadian Division numbered some 18,000 fully equipped men.
The main Canadian assault in Normandy was launched on 6 June by the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division while the 2nd Division waited in the wings. A period of 90 days was considered likely before the Allies would have enough men ashore to be able to advance beyond the Seine River. The major city of Caen was to be taken on D-Day itself.
Summer, 1944 - Normandy
When the 2nd Division landed in France at the end of the first week of July, the beachhead had expanded little; patrol actions and defensive fighting against German armoured units had been predominant and Caen had still not fallen. As the Division assembled, the 3rd Division went ahead with Operation CHARNWOOD and finally cleared a path to the city of Caen which fell by 9 July. The role of the 2nd Division would be to push forward towards the Verrières Ridge, dominating the road to Falaise, in order to keep pressure on the Germans and drawing troops away from events further west.
Operations ATLANTIC and GOODWOOD were launched simultaneously in July, the former a Canadian affair, the latter British. Some 35 square miles of territory was seized by the Canadians, but Verrières Ridge remained in German hands. The 2nd Division's role was a general advance south of the junction of the Odon and Orne rivers, but by 19 July, in the face of fierce resistance as well as poor weather, the division came to a halt. On 20 July, the 6th Brigade attacked the Verrières Ridge with the Essex Scottish under command; The South Saskatchewan Regiment reached its objectives but was bloodily repulsed, as were the Essex who were counterattacked. The Fusiliers Mont-Royal was similarly treated when two companies made a foothold on the ridge and few survivors were left to report. On 21 July German attacks continued against the Essex. In two days of fighting, the division lost some 300 men. A new attack by the Black Watch re-established a small foothold on the lower slopes of the ridge.
On 22 July, Montgomery decided to attack full out rather than use the operations at Verrières as a feint, and Operation SPRING - devised by II Canadian Corps - would be a three-phase operation with the same objectives as the unsuccessful GOODWOOD. The attack would be launched simultaneously with American attacks far to the west on 25 July. The 2nd Division's attack was made over open ground, with enemy troops on the flank and in subterranean iron mines in which he took cover and from which he infiltrated the Canadian rear. The 4th Brigade attacked on the left to some degree of success, taking Verrières itself but being rebuffed at Rocquancourt. The 5th Brigade on the right suffered heavily, and the Black Watch, attacking with some 350 men to St. Andre, was reduced to some 15 survivors; out of 324 recorded casualties, as many as 120 of were fatalities. The attack continues to be the ongoing subject of bitter controversy.
21st Army Group decided now that the primary task on the Canadian front would be pinning the enemy down while the main effort would shift away from the great German strength opposite, to the British front east of the Orne. The start of August saw the Canadians (now serving under their own Army headquarters) delivering local attacks, but also saw German units - now realizing that no attack would come via Pas de Calais, as they feared - moving across the Seine and into the battle area. Armoured units opposite the Canadians were pulled out and redeployed to face the US 3rd Army. By 7 August only one German armoured formation remained on the Canadian front.
By this point, the British had made progress at the Vire and Orne Rivers, and the Canadians were ordered forward to Falaise. On 7 August, Operation TOTALIZE went forward, with heavy bomber support and the infantry using for the first time in history fully tracked armoured personnel carriers. While the 3rd Canadian Division attacked east of the Falaise road, the 2nd attacked to the west under cover of darkness. The newly arrived German Infanterie Division 89 fought hard but the defensive line that had held out for two weeks was finally breached, and the heights of the Verrierres Ridge were finally seized. The second phase saw two armoured divisions - including the newly arrived 4th Canadian (Armoured) Division - pass through. Stiff fighting brought the Canadians to a halt - by 11 August, eight miles had been gained, but eight still remained between the Canadians and Falaise.
The German armour that moved away from the Canadian front was used to launch a desperate counter-attack towards Mortain beginning on 6 August. The attack ground to a halt within a day, and the Canadian advance on Falaise worried the German Field Marshall in command, who was prohibited by Hitler personally from redeploying his troops. The opportunity to encircle large parts of the German Seventh Army now presented itself, as US armour rolled towards Argentan from the south. The Canadian Army was ordered south; while the armour made its preparations to move on the 14th, the 2nd Division busied itself with preparatory attacks, crossing the Laize River at Bretteville-sur-Laize and southward for two days, recrossing the river at Clair Tizon and threatening the main German defensive line along the Falaise Road.
German capture of Canadian battle plans allowed for effective defences to be in place east of the road. Operation TRACTABLE was patterned after TOTALIZE, except that instead of using darkness for cover, artillery would provide smoke screens and abandon a preliminary barrage in hopes of maintaining surprise. The Second Division did not have a part to play in this operation, however divisional troops entered Falaise on 16 August. By this time, the Germans had realized the trap was closing, and long columns began fleeing through the gap, exposed to Allied artillery and air power.
Second Division then moved on 21 August, shifting eastward, into the valley of the Seine, where hard fighting in the Foret de la Londe awaited the 4th and 6th Brigades. Fierce forest fighting lasted from the morning of 27 August to the afternoon of 29 August against well equipped enemy troops present in strength.
August had been a pivotal month. Not only had the German 7th Army been virtually destroyed, but Allied landings in the south of France were coupled with the fall of Paris. The future looked bright, and as early as 20 August, all eyes turned northwest to that familiar stretch of coast which would be forever linked with the division. First Canadian Army was advised by an order on that day from 21st Army Group "I am sure that the 2nd Canadian Division will attend to Dieppe satisfactorily."
Battle for the Ports - September-October 1944
The division's role was now to capture vitally needed enemy ports, the first being Dieppe, where the Division was met with great joy.
The Division paused to remember the sacrifice of the Division in 1942 on 3 September. The next day, Antwerp fell intact to the British - but the port was useless until the Scheldt Estuary was cleared. While Allied troops battled south of the Scheldt, the 2nd Division fought its way across the Belgian border, crossing the Albert Canal on 22 September (through a bridgehead opened by The Calgary Highlanders), then the Antwerp-Turnhout Canal, and by October were in a position to move forward to the South Beveland isthmus from where they could attack west and clear the north bank of the Scheldt.
Resistance stiffened, reinforcements were in short supply, and attacks had to be made over exposed terrain. A month of costly fighting saw the Division battle its way onto the isthmus, and as far west as Walcheren Island. The 2nd Division had lost 3,650 men in 33 days of fighting.
Winter and Renewed Offensive - November 1944 - March 1945
The Division moved to static positions in the Nijmegen Salient early in November 1944 under a new divisional commander and passed the winter quietly. Although rain, bitter cold and German flooding made December miserable, scattered shelling and patrols were the only major activities.
Operation VERITABLE, delayed by the Ardennes offensive; was designed to bring the 21st Army Group to the west bank of the Rhine River; the last natural obstacle protecting Germany. Plans were made to breach the three German defence lines in turn: the outpost screen, then the Siegfried Line running through the Hochwald Forest, then the Hochwald Layback covering the approach to Xanten.
On 8 February, the 2nd Division advanced in the wake of the largest artillery barrage to date, on the left of a four-division front six miles wide, with flooded terrain proving a greater obstacle than the Germans -- but only at first. The 5th Brigade secured the triangle of ground dominating the Nijmegen-Kleve road, though minefields caused many casualties. Six of the seven German battalions positioned up to 7,000 yards ahead of the Siegfried Line were shattered and 1,300 prisoners were taken. The first phase was completed in a day.
During the next phase, four other divisions pressed the attack on the Siegfried Line and into the woods of the Reichswald. On 16 February, 2nd Division went into action against German troops along the Goch-Calcar road. Again, on 19 February, APCs were employed in an attack against fresh German troops, including the crack Panzer Lehr division. By 21 February, the second phase was complete, and British and Canadian divisions were prepared for the final push against the last obstacle barring the Canadians' path to the Rhine.
The Hochwald Gap lay between two national forests: the Hochwald to the north and the Walberger Wald to the south. On 27 February, 2nd Division launched its attack into the Hochwald and secured a firm foothold in the face of intense defensive fire and counter-attacks. On 1 March, renewed attacks went forth to clear the northern half of the Hochwald. Here, Major Frederick Tilston -- a staff officer of The Essex Scottish Regiment who had tired of paperwork and volunteered for company command -- was severly wounded while leading his company, eventually losing an eye and both legs. Tilston was the third and last 2nd Division soldier awarded the Victoria Cross. His efforts allowed the brigade to maintain a firm base for further advances against the southern half of the forest. By the morning of 4 March, the enemy was pulling back.
The final act of BLOCKBUSTER was the assault on Xanten, which lasted from 8 March to 10 March. As in Normandy, the British and Canadians were obliged to fight the best German units available, and terrain and weather conspired to prevent encircling movements and attempts to cut the enemy's retreat. The Germans had not forgotten how to retreat skillfully and, although Hitler's decision to fight west of the Rhine ultimately cost him 20 divisions, there was no great haul of captured enemy equipment. The 2nd Division suffered the heaviest casualties of all the British and Canadian formations engaged in BLOCKBUSTER; from 26 February to 10 March some 300 men were killed and more than 1,100 were wounded.
The Final Phase North of the Rhine - March-May 1945
But a path to the Rhine River had been cleared; the division did not take part in the massive crossing operation, and crossed in peace in the last week of March 1945. After briefly moving through German territory they were again on Dutch soil, where Groningen loomed in their path. During the nine days preceding the attack on the city itself, German resistance was mainly unskilled; defence positions were not supported by guns and mortars, and coordinated withdrawals under cover of darkness were abandoned. The city itself, still occupied by its 140,000 civilians, had many solid 4 story apartment buildings which could not be bombed or shelled without killing many innocents. Most German units were willing to surrender quickly, however, die-hard Dutch SS were obliged to fight to the end, knowing their countrymen would have little sympathy for them if they surrendered. House to house fighting in the town raged from 13 April to 16 April.
After Groningen, the division moved back to Germany, opposite Bremen but still the Germans resisted. On the 23rd, an attack near Hanover by the QOCH was met not only with fierce resistance, but a counter-attack "in traditional Wehrmacht style." By 3 May advance units were in Oldenburg near the north coast. The last days of the war were miserable, with steady rain and, worse, continual losses in the infantry units to mortar fire. "Cease Fire" was declared on 5 May, with Victory in Europe Day declared 8 May. The war was over.
General Order 52/46 of October 1945 disbanded divisional headquarters and by December, the Second Canadian Division had ceased to exist.
Sometimes referred to as the "hard-luck outfit" of the Canadian Army, the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division nonetheless consistently performed the tasks asked of it despite being noted for having the highest casualty rates in North-West Europe.
Order of Battle 1944-1945
4th Canadian Infantry Brigade
5th Canadian Infantry Brigade
6th Canadian Infantry Brigade
Royal Canadian Artillery
Headquarters, 2nd Divisional Artillery, RCA
4th Field Regiment
5th Field Regiment
6th Field Regiment
2nd Anti-Tank Regiment
3rd Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment
Corps of Royal Canadian Engineers
Royal Canadian Corps of Signals
2nd Infantry Divisional Signals, RCCS
Royal Canadian Army Service Corps
Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps
Royal Canadian Ordnance Corps
Royal Canadian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers
Canadian Postal Corps
One divisional postal unit.
Canadian Provost Corps
Canadian Intelligence Corps
General Officers Commanding
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 originally wore formation patches with letters added directly to the patch, or in some cases a plain coloured shape, such as the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps (RCAMC).
The hexagonal patch of the Canadian Army Pacific Force applied overtop of the formation patch indicated a volunteer for the CAPF.
The 2nd Canadian Division readopted the divisional "battle patch" type of Formation Patches that had been worn in the First World War. They were also the only division to adopt battalion insignia of the same type adopted in that conflict. Formation patches were made from three materials mainly (canvas, felt and wool) and were first issued in about 1941.
Soldiers at Brigade Headquarters of the 2nd Division wore coloured strips half an inch wide by three inches long above the Division patch. The 4th Brigade was designated by green, the 5th by red and the 6th by blue. This system of designating Brigade staff was also a re-adoption of Great War practice. Individual infantry battalions were designated by geometric shapes atop the division patch, with the colour of the shape designating the brigade and the shape indicating the seniority within the brigade. The machine gun battalion adopted an arrow on the divisional patch (always facing to the front) that was similar to patches worn in the First World War, and the reconnaissance regiment wore a circle, sometimes on the patch itself, sometimes surmounting the patch, and in some cases in lieu of the patch entirely.