1936 Reorganization of the Militia
The 1920 reorganization (known informally as the Otter Committee) of Canada's land forces had been a choice between the survival of the Militia regiments and the Canadian Expeditionary Force units that had fought the First World War. The solution was typically Canadian - a compromise - though it was clear who had won out.
The First World War had taught many battlefield lessons, but other memories loomed large in the minds of the planners between the wars. The influence of the Canadian Minister of Militia, Sir Sam Hughes, "who had been free to treat the Army as his personal fiefdom, and who amateur enthusiasm had eventually cost lives" was not soon forgotten.
With the departure of Sir Willoughby Gwatkin from the post of Chief of the General Staff in 1919, Canada's top general was at last a Canadian, in the guise of Arthur Currie. Canadian senior commanders in Ottawa brought with them battlefield combat and staff experience from France and Flanders, and a belief that if they could lay down a comprehensive set of mobilization plans and establish minimum levels of spending for equipment and training, as well as involve other government departments in the process of planning, their objectives would be gained. Military preparedness would become a shared responsibility - or alternately a collective failure. These objectives were never actually met before war broke out in 1939, due largely to government indifference. However, Canada did make modest moves toward modernization, the largest a major reorganization in 1936.3
On 5 December 1935, Major-General E.C. Ashton stated that a proposed scheme for reorganizing the Militia owed its origins to an obligation by Canada to furnish the World Disarmament Conference the maximum figures for its military forces. In preparing a report, a study of defence requirements was undertaken, and conclusions drawn on Canada's true needs. It was felt that a Non-Permanent Active Militia (N.P.A.M.) (that is to say, a part-time reserve army) of one cavalry and six infantry divisions was sufficient to meet any emergency situation that might face Canada. In December 1931, that conclusion and the considerations leading to it were stated in a recommendation from the Chief of the General Staff (Major-General Andrew McNaughton) to the Minister of National Defence (as the Minister of Militia was now known, Lieutenant-Colonel D.M. Sutherland). A figure of 4 cavalry and 11 infantry divisions had been recommended in 1919, on the basis of a possible war with the United States, for which the role of the Canadian Militia would be to delay as long as possible until British assistance could arrive from the United Kingdom and elsewhere.4
General McNaughton noted that the need for a large Militia had been mitigated by the Washington Conference, an agreement marking parity between the U.S. Navy and Royal Navy. By making American naval supremacy in North American coastal waters possible, it was no longer practicable to rely on reinforcement of Canadian land forces by sea in a theoretical war with the U.S. Without such reinforcement, McNaughton concluded that "war for Canada could only be unfortunate" and thus considered such a war unlikely, in light of political developments. With no need for a Militia based on maximum available manpower (as was the case for a scenario in which it was used defending Canadian soil), an organization capable of providing an expeditionary force to support other members of the British Empire, or implement a decision of the Council of the League of Nations was selected as a substitute proposal. The mix of one cavalry and six infantry divisions was deemed to be the maximum that could be effectively organized and reinforced in a long duration war overseas, as well as being of use for aid to the civil power in peacetime, of use for home defence and for maintenance of Canadian neutrality should the U.S. become involved in a war that Canada did not participate in. In view of the model described, the existing N.P.A.M. was over-strength in cavalry (and alleged to be in infantry units, which was actually not true), and weak in artillery and ancillary arms, and would require a reorganization.
Without altering the size of the Permanent Active Militia (P.A.M., the designation of Canada's regular, full-time army), which then was 10,000 men, it was suggested that the N.P.A.M.be allotted an establishment of 90,000, which in actuality would have a full-time equivalency of 7,500 men (added to the 10,000 man regular army, the Militia would be a 17,500-man force in total, including both P.A.M. and N.P.A.M.), with each member envisioned training for 30 days in any single year. The calculations pointed to a reduction in the authorized strength of the N.P.A.M. by 44,843. The Chief of the General Staff wrote to the government that:
The government reviewed the recommendation in 1931 and Prime Minister R.B. Bennett approved the findings of an interdepartmental committee set up to prepare for Canadian participation in the imminent Disarmament Conference.6 No approval for reorganization was obtained at that time, and much detailed planning still awaited before government approval could be obtained for such an endeavour.7
Mobilization plans were approved on 20 January 1932, and these evolved eventually into four different major plans. The first, Defence Scheme No. 1, involved a war between Great Britain and the United States, fought on Canadian soil. Defence Scheme No. 3 called for a second expeditionary force to be raised and sent to Europe in the manner of the C.E.F. of 1914-1918.8 Defence Plan No. 3 presumed a field force of 6 infantry divisions and a cavalry division, or in other words, a force the size called for by the C.G.S.'s suggestion.
The Militia in 1935 was large and unwieldy, with 35 cavalry regiments and 135 infantry battalions - the 4 cavalry and 11 infantry divisions that Defence Scheme No. 1 called for were predicated on the notion that the United States was the only major power in the world in a position to attack Canada; it also assumed officers using horses despite the proven abilities of tanks and automobiles.
Nonetheless, before wholesale changes could be made, proper briefings of the District Officers Commanding the Militia Districts, as well as the officers themselves, had to be made, as it was recognized that the Militia existed through the volunteer efforts of these officers, driven not just by patriotism but also by unit loyalty. Attempts at reorganization would have to be done in an environment in which the officers concerned felt that their units were being treated fairly, lest hostility ensue. In November 1932, senior officers from the Service Associations met in Ottawa and the Conference of Defence Associations was formed. The Chief of the General Staff outlined the principal reasons for the reorganization, and the scheme was able to get powerful support, no dissention being recorded. The C.G.S. was careful to educate as many senior infantry and cavalry officers as he could about the merits of the plan, as it was they who stood to lose the greatest number of units on reorganization. On 11 February 1933, he presented an outline draft of what became the "Scheme for the Reorganization of the Canadian Militia" to a meeting of the Canadian Infantry Association, answered questions, and offered reassurances to the continued existence of "reasonably efficient infantry battalions", noting that other units would have the opportunity to be transformed into other types of units needed under the new structure. The infantry were not entirely persuaded, and according to the Army's report on the 1936 reorganization, speeches at the 1933 Conference of Defence Association testified to something less than outright acceptance of the scheme.
The District Officers Commanding were given a general briefing in February 1933 and asked to consider in general the plan. The actual detailed planning embarked in 1933, in partnership between National Defence Headquarters, the D.O.Cs, and officers of the N.P.A.M., an arrangement which in the end, according to the Army's historian, proved "remarkably harmonious."11
Planning - First Stage (25 January to 20 October 1933)
On 25 January 1933, a memorandum on the guiding principles of the reorganization was issued by the Chief of the General Staff. On 20 October 1933, an outline plan was issued, containing a statement of the principles which had been followed in the planning, as well as a tentative division among the Military Districts of the number of units required for the reorganized N.P.A.M. The preliminary survey showed a surplus of 23 cavalry regiments and 51 infantry battalions, with deficiencies in field artillery, engineers, signals and service troops. Some existing units also, while not surplus, were obsolete given the changes in organization.
Initial planning focused on grouping units into a smaller number of administrative areas for greater coordination of administrative and training efforts. Five "defence districts" were proposed, provisionally titled Atlantic Defence District (Provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, or Military District No. 6 & 7), Quebec Defence District (Province of Quebec, Military District No. 4 & 5), Ontario Defence District (Province of Ontario, Military District No. 1, 2 & 3), Western Defence District (Provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, Military District No. 10, 12 & 13), and Pacific Defence District (Province of British Columbia, Yukon Territory, Military District No. 11). Further subdivision into military sub-districts was to be done "as found convenient", though in the event, the proposed districts did not materialize and the organization of the Military Districts remained unchanged until after the Second World War.
The draft plan issued on 20 October 1933 had a number of criteria for dividing units among the Military Districts. There was a desire to locate units able to make up infantry brigades within specific localities, which the provision that the same grouping of units was not necessarily to be assumed on mobilization, and that "war formations will be national rather than territorial in their composition." Types and numbers of units were to be related to the population of the military districts, existing militia strength, number of existing N.P.A.M. units, and a desire to reorganized with the small number of units being deleted or converted to other types. The two cavalry brigades necessary were prescribed as being from both western and eastern Canada (one from each, a change from the earliest suggestion that they only come from the prairie provinces) and two fortress garrisons (Halifax and Esquimalt) were to be found from nearby militia units.
As this planning went on, a draft Convention proposed by the U.K. required the inclusion of the Royal Canadian Military Police and Royal Military College of Canada to the military strength of Canada's land forces. A figure of 3,301 men was thus added to the figure of 17,500, or 20,801 total. The Cabinet reviewed this figure and the effect on its inclusion in the Convention for the Reduction and Limitation of Armaments. The number was conveyed to the convention in the summer of 1933, and the government felt a renewed impetus to a reorganization of the N.P.A.M., though still no approval was given to embark on the scheme.13
Planning - Second Stage (October 1933 - December 1934)
On 7 October 1933, District Officers Commanding were instructed to brief senior officers of the N.P.A.M. and provide feedback. Service associations and the Conference of Defence Associations were also included in this stage of planning, such that a revised version of the scheme was developed. The infantry and cavalry retained their objections, noting for instance that they desired emphasis be paid to the strength of existing units rather than a reorganization based on population and there was disapproval of the number of western Canadian cavalry units as a proportion of the total proposed. The first objection was met with action, and the scheme was altered to distribute units more evenly according to actual militia strength than by population, and a trio of unbrigaded infantry units were allotted to M.D.s 1, 2 and 3. "This device neatly avoided the political difficulties inherent in the more thoroughgoing solution of transferring infantry battalions from Quebec to Ontario, but loaded the scheme with more infantry units than were required." The latter objection was met by the addition of an additional unbrigaded cavalry regiment to each of M.D.s 10, 11, 12 and 13. In both cases, these extra units were explained as temporary measures. The draft was revised and during 1934 the D.O.C.s and senior officers of the N.P.A.M. under their command, as well as the Service Associations, reviewed the draft, causing further amendments, which were then presented back to the M.D.s on 20 December 1934. The Canadian Infantry Association approved of the reorganization at its annual meeting in Ottawa in late January 1934.14
Final Planning - December 1934 - April 1936
As 1935 was an election year, Major-General McNaughton did not press reorganization of the militia, fearing it would become a political issue. Some work had already begun, such as clearing out "inefficient" units. In 1933, a list of such units was requested, and though the initial response was small, a larger list was ready that formed the basis of General Order 33 of 1936 (effective 1 February 1936), which disbanded 13 units deemed not effective. These units included:
A number of conversions and amalgamations authorized prior to June 1936 had been agreed to by the units concerned. On 18 March 1935, the districts were asked to submit recommendations for reorganization, and action was taken only on recommendation of units involved.
Voluntary Conversions and Amalgamations Authorized to June 1936 in the Scheme for the Reorganization of the Canadian Militia
There was much controversy over the relocation of a divisional signals unit to Ottawa by Royal Canadian Corps of Signals officers in Winnipeg.
Final plans revolved around the actual quotas of units, and in the first quarter of 1936, the first hints of government approval appeared, prompting the working out of final details of the outline plan and the necessity of the Districts to prepare their own detailed plans upon authorization.
Amendments to the final outline plan were necessitated also by changes to British organization, as the services there (Royal Navy, British Army, Royal Air Force) underwent their own system of modernization, mechanization and reorganization. As Canadian defence policy was closely integrated to the British in this period, there were a number of necessary changes as a result. The British had converted light artillery brigades to mechanized army field brigades, causing the Canadians to substitute 18-pdr and 4.5-in batteries for the former 3.7-in batteries. The (British) War Office changed the establishment of infantry brigades to consist of three infantry battalions and a machine gun battalion, leading to the disbandment of the Canadian Machine Gun Corps. This change was recommended by the Canadian Machine Gun Corps Association at the Conference of Defence Associations in February 1936. A number of infantry (rifle) battalions had to be converted to the machine gun role to permit the necessary number of battalions in the new infantry brigade organizations. There was discussion of partially mechanizing the cavalry, and two units were in fact "mechanized" in 1938.
The Military Districts received authority to begin the last stage of preparation of their detailed plans by June 1936. Certain units had already been reorganized, including inactive and inefficient units which volunteered for reorganization, as well as postal units (by General Order 45 of 1935). Signals units were also reorganized by General Order in the spring of 1936, despite somewhat violent protests among some officers in Winnipeg and reorganization in M.D. 10 was delayed until the summer.
Major-General McNaughton had been replaced by Major-General Ashton as Chief of the General Staff in 1935, and new government ministers accompanied the change of government in 1935 (from the former Conservative R.B. Bennett to Liberal W.L. Mackenzie King). With the new government taking office in October 1935, the new C.G.S. pressed for approval of reorganization in December. Final planning did not begin until April 1936, no ministerial approval appearing until then. "Government approval was notified in the covering letter under which final quotas were sent to the Districts" in June 1936. The D.O.C.s were given annexes showing future unit allotments - for their districts only, and asked again for feedback.
Summary of Unit Quotas for the 1936 Reorganization
National Defence Headquarters released a detailed summary of the changes to the press.16
Summary of 1936 Reorganization
Significant changes included the elimination of "paper" or Reserve battalions, those that existed in name only. Several principles were outlined by the Minister in a public statement:
The Army's official historian, C.P. Stacey, insisted in his report that "(t)he whole operation was very skilfully conducted, and might serve as a model for any future similar move." He went on to say that:
If Stacey's view of the reorganization concentrated on those at the top echelons, historian John Marteinson presented a different view, from the grass roots: