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  • Jack 7:25 am on November 11, 2017 Permalink |
    Tags: canadian commandos, , , chinese veterans, force 136,   

    Secret Unit 

    Giant monkeys in the jungle are what Ronald Lee remembers most about his Second World War “adventure” in Burma as part of a dangerous and secret British-led operation.

    “They’d come and steal your food!” he says laughing. “We had to shoot them for meat, for food.”

    At 98, the dapper Vancouver-born resident with a gleaming smile says little about the hardships his unit of eight commandos faced far from their home on Canada’s West Coast.

    Greg Lee fills in parts of the story he heard as a teenager, the ones his father now chooses to bury.

    “They weren’t fed well because the British didn’t treat them as first-class soldiers. Dad said it was like they forgot them.”

    Lee was in his early 20s when he tried to enlist in the army to fight for his country. He was shown the door.

    “When I wanted to enter the army in Canada I was refused. At that time they did not take any Chinese-Canadians in the armed forces. We were second-class citizens. We were not allowed to go to university or take special training. We were only allowed to work in grocery stores, restaurants, things like that.”

    In 1944, Lee was accepted into Force 136, and many of its members from Canada were Chinese-Canadians recruited in British Columbia for deployment in Southeast Asia, including Burma, now called Myanmar, to support resistance fighters against the Japanese.

    About 150 Chinese-Canadians were provided basic training in B.C.’s Okanagan region and then split into units of about eight members each. He is among four who are still alive.

    “When we were down there training we never thought of coming back home because we knew once we went into Burma either we surrender or the Japanese would take us prisoner or we’d be dead,” says Lee, who trained as a radio operator.

    The story of that successful mission and Canada’s racist policies is told in “Force 136: Chinese-Canadian Heroes,” a mini-documentary available online on the Storyhive YouTube channel and on Telus Optik TV starting Friday.

    A photo of recruits who completed basic training in the Okanagan, including a bespectacled Lee, is featured prominently in his living room.

    “We were told we wouldn’t let them take us alive. If we were captured we had to take our cyanide pills.”

    Everyone in his unit returned home after their mission ended in the summer of 1945 when Japan surrendered.

    Lee, who had six children and now lives with his two youngest daughters, was among those who were part of a quiet civil rights movement back at home in Canada. They called for Chinese-Canadians to have the right to vote while still facing “White Canada forever” sentiments.

    “It was the sacrifice,” Greg Lee says, his voice cracking. “There was no guarantee that when they came back they would get the vote.”

    It wasn’t until two years after the war, in 1947, that Canada allowed Chinese-Canadians to vote and repealed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which had banned almost all immigration from China since 1923. Chinese immigrants had also been singled out to pay a head tax.

    “I think it was after we got our citizenship and our right to vote that they realized we did our duty,” Lee says of the general population in Vancouver, where the return of Caucasian soldiers was widely celebrated while minorities who’d also risked their lives in war were mostly ignored.

    Henry Yu, a professor in the history department at the University of British Columbia, says the federal government did not want Chinese-Canadians fighting in the war because of fears they’d demand the vote.

    “They’d seen it already because several hundred Chinese and Japanese had fought for Canada in World War I and when those veterans returned they asked for the vote. So they knew from experience in World War I that this was going to be a problem,” Yu says. “They wanted to maintain white supremacy.”

    Chinese-Canadians were recruited into Force 136 with the belief they’d blend in behind enemy lines, he says.

    Catherine Clement, curator of the Chinese Canadian Military Museum in Vancouver’s Chinatown, says the little-known story of Force 136 has been mostly forgotten and there are few records of the clandestine group of spies that was part of Britain’s Special Executive Operations.

    “They created this double victory,” she says of Lee and the Chinese-Canadian veterans. “They helped the Allies win the war and they also helped to win the rights for all Chinese living in Canada.”


  • Jack 3:16 am on November 10, 2017 Permalink |
    Tags: , , joanna dawson, korean war   

    Unknown War 

    At first glance, the scenes at Winnipeg’s Fairmont Hotel were those of a typical reunion. People with nametags were chatting, meeting rooms were set up with coffee and refreshments, and a makeshift bulletin board held messages from old friends looking to reunite. However, a closer look revealed that this event was much more than just an ordinary reunion.

    Last week, the Korean Veterans Association of Canada held their final national meeting — “the Last Hurrah.” About 500 veterans who served either during the war (1950–1953) or during the peacekeeping phase (1953–1956) made the trek to Winnipeg for the grand event.

    Article continues below

    Interview with Jenna Misener, Manager of Programming with the Historica-Dominion Institute.

    The veterans had a busy schedule during their four day visit to Winnipeg. There were film screenings, tours to the Manitoba Legislature and CFB Shilo, a meet-and-greet, and a formal banquet, with many dignitaries including Chief of the Defence Staff General Walt Natynczyk.

    Korean War veteran Kim Reynolds, who travelled from British Columbia, was overwhelmed by the event. “It’s brought together a lot of guys, I’ve never seen this many together before,” Reynolds said. “It should mean a lot to all of us that we’ve brought it to this stage.”

    26,000 Canadians served in the Korean War, which began in 1950 when the Soviet-backed North Korea invaded South Korea. The newly-created United Nations supported South Korea and sent troops from member nations, including Canada. Despite having a weakened military as a result of the Second World War, Canada played a significant role in the war. The Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry was instrumental in blocking an offensive attack from the Chinese Communist Forces at the Battle of Kapyong. The unit was even awarded a United States Presidential Unit Citation in recognition of “outstanding heroism” and “exceptionally meritorious conduct.”

    Yet the legacy of these soldiers, including the 516 who lost their lives, is unknown to many Canadians.

    Nicknamed the “Forgotten War,” the events of the Korean War were overshadowed by the two World Wars. For many years, it was ignored by the media and even overlooked by historians. Fortunately, this is beginning to change and the war has received more attention in recent years. One initiative in particular will help the “Forgotten War” become less forgotten.

    Staff from The Memory Projectlink opens in new window were at the reunion to help document the stories that were circulating the rooms. An initiative of The Historica-Dominion Institutelink opens in new window, The Memory Project has already collected thousands of stories and photos of World War II veterans, which have been digitized and made available online. “The Last Hurrah” marked the beginning of a new phase to include the Korean War in The Memory Project.

    The Memory Project booked interviews with veterans in advance, but found themselves scrambling to accommodate additional appointments. In three days, they conducted interviews with sixty veterans, and will be following up with more in the coming months. Veterans were also encouraged to bring photos, scrapbooks, medals or other mementos, which the Memory Project was able to digitize on-the-spot.

    Jenna Misener, Manager of Programming with the Historica-Dominion Institute, says the archival process is one of her favourite parts of The Memory Project. “I get to look through all of the photographs and documents and actual things that the veterans have brought with them,” Misener says. “It’s like going back in time with them and when they’re looking at their photographs and talking through them you can really get a sense of their experience.”

    History was in the air at the Fairmont and it is certain that many memories and stories were being rediscovered. Thanks to the work of The Memory Project and the enthusiastic veterans, this reunion doesn’t have to be the last hurrah — the stories and legacies of the Korean War will be preserved and shared with generations to come.


    See Also:

    (1) Canada in the Korean War

  • Jack 3:27 am on November 9, 2017 Permalink |
    Tags: battle of britain, canadian government, royal canadian airforce,   

    Summer of Heroes 

    PL-905, DND Archives

    Squadron Leader Ernest A. McNab, the commanding officer of No.1 Squadron during the Battle of Britain.

    The Battle of Britain, says Canadian historian Hugh Halliday, “represented the first commitment of the Royal Canadian Air Force to combat in [the Second World War], although the Canadian role was small compared to future operations”.

    The summer of 1940 was a dark time for the Allied Forces during the Second World War. A large portion of continental Europe had fallen to the Nazis and Hitler was preparing to launch a full-scale invasion of Great Britain. But first, he needed to dominate the airspace over the English Channel. To do so, his Luftwaffe (air force) needed to destroy the Royal Air Force (RAF).

    Prelude to the Battle of Britain

    With shocking rapidity, Hitler’s military machine had overrun France.  The Battle of France began on May 10, 1940 with the invasion of the Netherlands and Belgium; Poland, Denmark and Norway had already fallen.

    Within three days, the German forces crossed into France and by the end of May French and British forces had been pushed back to the English Channel. It was then that the “Miracle of Dunkirk” occurred; between May 27 and June 4, more than 300,000 men escaped from France, taken off the beaches of Dunkirk by naval ships and civilian boats of all shapes and sizes that ferried back and forth between England and France.

    The amount of materiel that the army had been forced to abandon at Dunkirk meant that they now faced a substantial shortage in fighting equipment. “The RAF were successful in keeping the majority of German bombers and fighting away, shooting down 150 aircraft,” states the RAF Battle of Britain website. “However, they lost 100 precious fighters and 80 irreplaceable pilots.” These losses added to the perilous situation in which the Allies now found themselves.

    On June 14, Paris fell and eight days later France signed an armistice with Germany.

    A few days later, Winston Churchill, the newly-elected Prime Minister of Great Britain, spoke in the British House of Commons about the dire situation facing the Allies:

    The Battle of France is over. The Battle of Britain is about to begin. … Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this island or lose the war. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, “This was their finest hour.”

    Library and Archives Canada

    A Luftwaffe Heinkel HE-111 aircraft is shot down during the Battle of Britain.

    Directive 16

    “Operation Sea Lion (Seelöwe), the plan for the invasion of Great Britain, was conceived hastily and belatedly,” says Mr. Halliday. “Following the Dunkirk evacuation and the capitulation of France in 1940, Hitler expected Britain to face facts and sue for peace. However, when days passed and no indication came from Britain that they were willing to sue for peace or even negotiate, Hitler decided to launch Operation Sea Lion. Only on July 16, 1940, did he issue Directive No. 16, which itself was couched in hesitant terms.”

    “Since Britain still shows no sign of willingness to come to an agreement in spite of her hopeless military situation, I have decided to prepare and, if necessary carry out, a landing operation against England,” Hitler said. “The purpose of this operation will be to eliminate the English homeland as a base for continuation of the war against Germany and, if necessary, to occupy it completely.”

    The directive also said that “the British Air Force must be eliminated to such an extent that it will be incapable of putting up any sustained opposition to the invading troops”.

    “For the Germans to invade, the [German] navy must dominate the Channel. But before it could do that the Luftwaffe must dominate the air over the channel. … it must gain control of the airspace over northwest France and the Low Countries, the Channel, and southeastern England,” explains Canadian historian Dr. James L. Stokesbury.

    “The problems faced by both sides were enormous, and they had never been faced before. Never in history had one nation tried to defeat another from the air. The whole Battle of Britain was so new, and in the end such a near-run thing, that it is probably the most tantalizing of all the single episodes of World War II.

    “Neither the British nor the Germans knew what was going to happen. No one even knew what it would take to achieve the kind of conditions desired,” Dr. Stokesbury continues.

    Phase I – The Channel Battles

    (Kanalkampf) [1]

    Phase I of the battle began on July 10 and lasted for a month. During this time, the Luftwaffe attacked convoys in the English Channel and Channel ports. They also began attacking radar stations on the south coast of England.

    Phase II – Eagle Attack (Adlerangriff)

    Phase II, the main assault, was marked by further attacks on radar positions and massive attacks against airfields to destroy Great Britain’s fighter capability in the air and on the ground. In particular, the airfields of 11 Group, located in the southeast of England, came under fire.  The only Royal Canadian Air Force squadron in the Battle – No. 1 (Canadian) Squadron, later renamed 401 Squadron – was part of 11 Group.

    The launch of the main assault took place on August 13, called Eagle Day (Adlertag) by German High Command. The previous day the Luftwaffe heavily damaged but did not destroy the southern chain of radar stations. On Adlertag, “the Luftwaffe came out in force, hitting radar stations, airfields, and aircraft factories,” says Dr. Stokesbury. “They flew almost fifteen hundred sorties, and the British responded with about seven hundred.”

    On August 20, as Adlerangriff was in full flight, Churchill delivered his speech praising the airmen fighting the Battle in words that have echoed through the decades:

    The gratitude of every home in our island, in our Empire and indeed throughout the world, except in the abodes of the guilty, goes out to the British airmen who, undaunted by odds, unwearied in their constant challenge and mortal danger, are turning the tide of the world by their prowess and their devotion.

    Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.

    All hearts go out to the fighter pilots, whose brilliant actions we see with our own eyes day after day…

    Listen to the above words of Churchill (mp3 667 kb)

    The attacks continued throughout the month and into September and, according to the RAF website, “the situation in 11 Group became desperate,”.

    However, the Germans “decided that their attacks on the radar stations were not paying off – just as they were beginning to – and they discontinued them, another in their chain of fatal mistakes,” notes Dr. Stokesbury.

    Phase III – The Blitz

    On August 1, 1940 Hitler issued Directive No. 17, which said that “the war against England is to be destructive attacks against industry and air force targets…” However, he said, “I reserve to myself the right to decide on terror attacks as measures of reprisal” – i.e., attacks against civilians.

    Later in the month, when it appeared that the Luftwaffe was winning, the Battle of Britain took another unexpected turn.

    There had already been some bombing of military locations on the outskirts of London and the docks. However, on the night of August 24-25 a Luftwaffe aircraft mistakenly dropped its bombs on the city of London. In retaliation, more than 80 British bombers raided Berlin. As the bombing of Berlin continued, a furious Hitler rescinded Directive 17, ordering “disruptive attacks on the population and air defences of major British cities, including London, by day and night”.

    The Blitz, which lasted for 57 nights, began on September 7, and the Battle of Britain began to swing in favour of the British. “In a contradictory way, it was just what the British needed. London was like a vast sponge, and it absorbed damage as a sponge does water,” says Dr. Stokesbury.

    The shift in targets gave 11 Group in southeast England a chance to repair their airfields and radar sites. As well, the German raids heading for London were now within striking range of 12 Group, located in the Midlands and East Anglia.

    Sunday, September 15 was the high point of the battle according to most – and is now celebrated as Battle of Britain Day. The Germans launched a massive attack on London by 123 bombers escorted by more than 650 fighters. The Luftwaffe suffered huge losses but were back again the next day. The fighting was fierce, but ultimately the Allied airmen were victorious.

    Twelve days later, the Luftwaffe made one last major effort to bomb London by day. Henceforth bombing raids would be by night, and “any serious aerial fighting to be done during daylight hours would have to take place over occupied Europe,” says the Official History of the RCAF.

    The Luftwaffe had clearly failed to destroy the Royal Air Force; two days later, Hitler announced the postponement of Operation Sea Lion and partially dispersed the invasion fleet.

    Phase IV – The End of the Battle

    The Battle of Britain continued with Luftwaffe heavy bomber raids against cities and nuisance raids against towns and military targets, but the Germans had lost the initiative. After mid-September raids were of much lesser scale, especially as the weather began to worsen.

    On October 12, Hitler “formally advised his service chiefs that Operation Sea Lion had been put off to the spring of 1941. In fact, he had already turned his thoughts and energies eastwards – towards Russia – and would never return to Sea Lion,” says Mr. Halliday.

    By the end of October the Battle of Britain was over; as some historians say, it simply “petered out”.

    The Blitz continued in an effort to destroy Britain’s will to fight.  For 57 consecutive nights, bombs rained down on London and the British suffered nine months of aerial bombardment of their cities.

    “It would be misleading to say that RAF Fighter Command ‘defeated’ the Luftwaffe in the Battle of Britain. As of late October 1940 both sides actually had more aircraft and pilots than they had possessed in early August. Yet it was an RAF victory in that the enemy was denied his objective – obliteration of British air defences, rendering impossible any air attacks on invasion forces,” says Halliday.

    “Yet, like the Battle of Waterloo, the Battle of Britain was a ‘near-run thing’. … By early September [the Luftwaffe] had come dangerously close to [gaining air superiority over the intended invasion areas]. That the enemy failed was due in large measure to their overestimation of the damage they were causing and frequent changes in plans,” he concludes.

    DND65-110, DND Archives

    The famed No. 242 “Canadian” Squadron was a Royal Air Force squadron that – at least initially – included a large number of Canadians. From left to right: Pilot Officer Denis Crowley-Milling, Flying Officer Hugh Tamblyn (Canadian), Flight Lieutenant Percival “Stan” Turner (Canadian), Sergeant Joseph Ernest Saville, Pilot Officer Norman Neil Campbell (Canadian), Pilot Officer William Lidstone McKnight (Canadian), Squadron Leader Douglas Bader, the squadron’s commanding officer, Flight Lieutenant George Eric Ball, Pilot Officer Michael Giles Homer and Flying Officer Marvin Kitchener “Ben” Brown (Canadian).

    Canadian Contribution

    The airmen whom Prime Minister Churchill dubbed “the few” comprised 2,353 pilots and air crew from Great Britain and 574 from overseas. All flew at least one authorized operational sortie with an eligible unit of the Royal Air Force or Fleet Air Arm from July 10 to October 31 and were awarded the Battle of Britain clasp to the 1939-45 Star.

    Participants included Poles, New Zealanders, Canadians, Czechs, Australians, Belgians, South Africans, French, Irish, Americans as well as a Jamaican, a Southern Rhodesian and a flyer from the Palestinian Protectorate.

    Five hundred and forty-four lost their lives.

    More than 100 Canadians are deemed to have participated in the Battle of Britain, and 23 lost their lives. A Royal Canadian Air Force squadron fought during the Battle; No. 1 (RCAF) Squadron, whose pilots were from both a regular force unit and an auxiliary unit, became operational on August 17, 1940. It was known as “RCAF” to distinguish itself from the RAF’s No. 1 Squadron but in February 1941 it was designated 401 Squadron.

    Three members of No. 1 (RCAF) Squadron received the Distinguished Flying Cross for their efforts during the Battle of Britain: the commanding officer, Squadron Leader Ernie McNab; his second-in-command, Flight Lieutenant Gordon Roy McGregor; and Flying Officer “Dal” Russel.

    Canadians also fought in the RAF’s 242 (Canadian) Squadron, which was heavily, although not exclusively, Canadian. It was led by RAF Squadron Leader Douglas Bader during the Battle of Britain. (Squadron Leader Bader has gone down in Air Force history for losing both legs in a flying accident in 1931; he successfully re-enrolled in the RAF at the outbreak of hostilities and serving until 1946 – including being shot down, taken as a prisoner of war and even escaping from captivity once.)

    Many more flew with other RAF squadrons – as well as Bomber and Coastal Commands providing support to operations to prevent the German invasion. An untold number served as groundcrew, keeping the fighters flying.

    “Groundcrews who serviced No. 1 (Canadian) Squadron’s Hurricanes, sometimes under fire and routinely under pressure, received belated recognition in June 1942,” says Mr. Halliday, “when Flight Sergeant John R. Burdes was awarded a British Empire Medal and Flight Sergeant Cecil M. Gale was mentioned in dispatches.

    “The citation to Gale’s award read, in part: ‘Working under trying conditions, he has maintained the squadron aircraft in a capable manner. Owing to the intense operational activity during the latter part of August and September, the flight maintenance crew was called upon to work to the limit. Flt. Sgt. Gale carried out his duties, often working from very early morning until late into the night, with a result that sufficient aircraft for flight use were available at all times.’”

    Replacing experienced pilots throughout the Battle had been a significant challenge, especially in the early days of the Battle. Later in the Battle replacements became less of an issue, but the pilots became exhausted and replacements were less experienced.

    The last 10 days of August, according to the Official History of the RCAF, “had cost Fighter Command 231 pilots or almost one-quarter of [Fighter Command’s] initial strength, and 60 per cent of those casualties were experienced flyers who could only be replaced by inexperienced graduates of Operational Training Units and as time wore on less and less experienced pilots were taking to the air. …as pilots gained practical experience they were likely to be killed, wounded, or mentally exhausted by the strain, or else promoted into other squadrons.”

    The Battle of Britain would not have been won without the contribution of another Canadian: Max Aitken, Lord Beaverbrook.

    Prime Minister Churchill appointed Lord Beaverbrook, a newspaper tycoon, as minister of Aircraft Production in May 1940. In a series of moves and innovations that upset the senior leadership at the Air Ministry, Lord Beaverbrook dramatically increased the production of fighters for the war effort. “He rode roughshod over all the happy dilatory routines of peace,” says Dr. Stokesbury. “Factory managers and senior air force officers alike came to hate him, but without him, or someone equally acerbic, it is hard to see how the British would have lasted through the summer. He provided a steadily increasing flow of aircraft, so that in spite of loses of well over 100 per cent of strength, the RAF still ended the battle stronger than it went into it.”

    In the month before Lord Beaverbrook’s appointment, 256 fighters were produced. In the critical month of September, as RAF losses reached their height, his system produced 465 fighters.

    And now, with the Nazi’s plan to invade Britain in tatters, another key Canadian contribution to the war in the air would begin to show its effect.

    “As the Battle of Britain ended, the first young pilots, observers and gunners were emerging from the schools of the [British Commonwealth] Air Training Plan in Canada,” says Leslie Roberts, author of There Shall be Wings, “Soon their tide would be in full flood.”

    Top of Page

    National Air Force Museum of Canada

    Two pilots race to their awaiting Hurricanes.

    Canadians who served

    Determining exactly how many Canadians served in the Battle of Britain is challenging, to say the least. The numbers vary from 88 to 103 to 112, depending on which source one consults. Part of challenge “is in the accounting of the number of Canadians, because there’s a definitional problem [regarding] who was a Canadian in 1940,” says Dr. Steve Harris, National Defence’s chief historian.

    All sources seem to agree, however, that 23 Canadians died during the Battle of Britain.

    The Royal Air Force’s Roll of Honour indicates those who were killed during the Battle, those who were killed or died later in the war and those who survived the war – along with the squadrons in which they served. It includes 88 Canadians.

    The Battle of Britain London Monument, however, lists 112 names. Nevertheless, the RAF Roll of Honour appears to list three persons who are not on the London Monument.

    The following list, which is not meant to be the final or definitive tally of Canadians who served in the Battle of Britain, therefore contains 107 names. The airmen’s squadron and status is indicated and verified to the best of our ability.

    Additional information about the personnel listed here would be most welcome.

    Rank, Initials, Name Squadron Status  Remarks
     F/O C.I.R. ARTHUR 141 Survived the war Winnipeg, Manitoba
    F/L R.A. BARTON 249 Survived the war Kamloops, British Columbia
    P/O P.H. BEAKE 64 Survived the war Quebec City, Quebec
    F/O E.W. BEARDMORE 1 (RCAF) Survived the war Montreal, Quebec
    P/O R.W.G. BELEY 151 Killed in action  September 7, 1940 Rossland, British Columbia
    P/O J. BENZIE 242 Killed in action  September 7, 1940  Winnipeg, Manitoba
    F/Lt. H.P. BLATCHFORD 17 / 257 Survived the Battle, killed in action May 3, 1943 Edmonton, Alberta
    P/O C.R. BONSEIGNEUR 257 Killed in action September 3, 1940  Gull Lake, Saskatchewan
    F/O J.G. BOYLE 41 Killed in action  September 28, 1940 Casselman, Ontario
    F/O E.C. BRIESE 1 (RCAF) Survived the war Rosetown, Saskatchewan
    F/O E.P. BROWN 1 (RCAF) Survived the war Coronado, California, USA
    F/Lt. M.H. BROWN 1 Survived the Battle, killed in action November 12, 1941  Portage la Prairie, Manitoba
    P/O M.K. BROWN 242 Survived the Battle, killed in flying accident February 21, 1941 Kincardine, Ontario
    P/O J. BRYSON 92 Killed in action September 24, 1940  Montreal, Quebec
    P/O P. BYNG-HALL 29 Survived the war Unknown, Nova Scotia
    Sub/Lt. A.R. McL CAMPBELL 54 Survived Unknown
    P/O N.N. CAMPBELL 242 Killed in action October 17, 1940 St. Thomas, Ontario
    Sub/Lt.(FAA) J.C. CARPENTER Fleet Air Arm, 229 / 46 Killed in action 8 September 1940 Toronto, Ontario
    F/O J.C. CARRIERE 219 unknown  Quebec City, Quebec
    P/O G.C.T. CARTHEW 253 / 145 / 85 Survived the war  Mountain Park, Alberta
    F/O E.F.J. CHARLES 54 Survived the war Lashburn, Saskatchewan
    P/O J.A.J. CHEVRIER 1 (RCAF) Survived the Battle, killed in flying accident July 6, 1942 St. Lambert, Quebec
    F/O G.P. CHRISTIE 242 /  66 Survived the Battle, killed in flying accident July 6, 1942 Westmount, Quebec
    P/O B.E. CHRISTMAS 1 (RCAF) Survived the war St. Hilaire, Quebec
    P/O A.C. COCHRANE 257 Survived the Battle, killed in action March 31, 1943 Vernon, British Columbia
    P/O G.H. CORBETT 66 Killed in action 8 October 1940 Victoria, British Columbia
    F/Lt. V.B. CORBETT 1 (RCAF) Survived the Battle, killed in flying accident February 20, 1945 Westmount, Quebec
    P/O M.C. CORNER 264 / 141 Survived the Battle, killed in action April 23, 1945 Westmount, Quebec
    F/O L.E. CRYDERMAN 242 Survived the Battle, killed in action February 8, 1941 Toronto, Ontario
    P/O W.A. CUDDIE 46 Survived the Battle, killed in action October 3, 1943 Regina, Saskatchewan
    F/Lt. R.W. DENISON 236 Survived the war Vernon, British Columbia
    F/Lt. J-P.J. DESLOGES 1 (RCAF) Survived the Battle, killed in flying accident May 8, 1944  Hull, Quebec
    P/O R.H. DIBNAH 1 / 242 Survived the war Winnipeg, Manitoba
    F/O N.D. EDMOND 615 Survived the Battle, killed in action April 20, 1941 Calgary, Alberta
    P/O H.D. EDWARDS 92 Killed in action September 11, 1940 Winnipeg, Manitoba
    F/O R.L. EDWARDS 1 (RCAF) Killed in action, August 26,  1940 Cobourg, Ontario
    F/O A. L EDY 602 Survived the Battle, killed in flying accident December 5, 1941 Winnipeg, Manitoba
    P/O G.J. ELLIOTT 607 Survived the war  Winnipeg, Manitoba
    P/O W.M.L. FISKE 601 Died of wounds, August 17, 1940 Montreal, Quebec
    S/Ldr. A.W. FLETCHER 235 Survived the war. Cardston, Alberta
    P/O E.G. FORD 232 / 3 Survived the Battle, killed in action December 10. 1942 Regina, Saskatchewan
    P/O R.C. FUMERTON 32 Survived the war  Fort Coulonge, Quebec
    F/Lt. L.M. GAUNCE 615 / 46 Survived the Battle, killed in action November 19, 1941   Lethbridge, Alberta
    S/Ldr. J.A.G. GORDON 151 Survived the Battle, killed in action June 1, 1942 Red Deer, Alberta
    F/O R.D. GRASSICK 242 Survived the war London, Ontario
    F/Lt. H.R. HAMILTON 85 Killed in action August 29, 1940 Oak Point, New Brunswick
    F/O B.A. HANBURY 1 / 1 (RCAF) Survived the Battle, killed in flying accident March 27, 1942  Vancouver, British Columbia
    F/Lt. T.P. HARNETT 219 Survived the war Moncton, New Brunswick
    F/O J.S. HART 602 / 54 Survived the war Sackville, New Brunswick
    P/O N. HART 242 Survived the Battle, killed in action November 5, 1940 Dugald, Manitoba
    P/O D.A. HEWITT 501 Killed in action July 12, 1940 Saint John, New Brunswick
    F/O F.W. HILLOCK 1 / 1 (RCAF) Survived the war  Toronto, Ontario
    P/O R.A. Howley 141 Killed in action July 19, 1940 Victoria, British Columbia
    F/O G.G. HYDE 1 (RCAF) Survived the Battle, killed in action May 17, 1941 Westmount, Quebec
    P/O J.T. JOHNSTON 151 Killed in action August 15, 1940 Brandon, Manitoba
    S/Ldr. J.A. KENT 303 Survived the war Winnipeg, Manitoba
    F/O J.W. KERWIN 1 (RCAF) Survived the Battle, killed in flying accident July 16, 1940 Toronto, Ontario
     P/O J.E.P. LARICHELIERE 213 Killed in action August 16, 1940 Montreal, Quebec
    P/O J.B. LATTA 242 Survived the Battle, killed in action January 12, 1941 Vancouver, British Columbia
    F/O R.G. LEWIS 1 (RCAF) Survived the Battle, killed in action February 12, 1941 Vancouver, British Columbia
    F/O T.B. LITTLE 1 (RCAF) Survived the Battle, killed in action August 27, 1941 Montreal, Quebec
    F/O P.W. LOCHNAN 1 (RCAF) Survived the Battle, killed in action May 21,1941 Ottawa, Ontario
    S/Ldr. J.R. MacLACHLAN Unknown Unknown Unknown
    P/O J.B. McCOLL 615 Survived the war Waterdown, Ontario
    F/Lt. G.R. McGREGOR 1 (RCAF) Survived the war Montreal, Quebec
    P/O W.L. McKNIGHT 242 Survived the Battle, killed in action January 12, 1941 Edmonton, Alberta
    S/Ldr. E.A. McNAB 1 (RCAF) Survived the war Rosthern, Saskatchewan
    F/O W.B. MacD MILLAR 1 (RCAF) Survived the war Penticton, British Columbia
    P/O J.A. MILNE 605 Survived the war Corklin, Saskatchewan
    P/O H.T. MITCHELL 87 Survived the war Port Hope, Saskatchewan
    F/O H.deM. MOLSON 1 (RCAF) Survived the war Montreal, Quebec
    F/O W.H. NELSON 74 Survived the Battle, killed in action November 1, 1940 Montreal, Quebec
    F/O A.D. NESBITT 1 (RCAF) Survived the war Westmount, Quebec
    P/O H.G. NIVEN 602 Survived the war Toronto, Ontario
    F/O R.W. G NORRIS 1 (RCAF) Survived the war Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
    F/Lt. P.G. St.G O’BRIAN 257 / 247 / 152 Survived the war Toronto, Ontario
    P/O A.K. OGILVIE 609 Survived the war  Ottawa, Ontario
    F/O J.D. PATTISON 1 (RCAF) Survived the war Toronto, Ontario
    P/O O.J. PETERSON 1 (RCAF) Killed in action September 27, 1940 Halifax, Nova Scotia
    F/O P.B. PITCHER 1 (RCAF) Survived the war Montreal, Quebec
    P/O G.R. PUSHMAN 23 Survived the war Ottawa, Ontario
    P/O H.W. REILLEY 64 / 66 Killed in action October 17, 1940 London, Ontario
    F/Lt. E.M. REYNO 1 (RCAF) Survived the war Halifax, Nova Scotia
    Sgt. L.V.P.J. RICKS 235 Survived the war Calgary, Alberta
    F/O B.D. RUSSEL 1 (RCAF) Survived the war Toronto, Ontario
    P/O K.M. SCLANDERS 242 Killed in action September 9, 1940 St. John’s, Newfoundland
    F/O A.W. SMITH 141 Survived the Battle, killed in action March 28, 1941 Summerland, British Columbia
    F/Lt. F.M. SMITH 72 Survived the war Edmonton, Alberta
    F/O J.D. SMITH 73 Survived the Battle, killed in action April 14, 1941 Winnipeg, Manitoba
    F/O R.R. SMITH 229 Survived the war London, Ontario
    F/O R. SMITHER 1 (RCAF) Killed in action September 15, 1940 London, Ontario

    Name shown as Smithers on the RAF Honour Roll

    P/O H.A. SPRAGUE 3 Survived the war Hamilton, Ontario
    F/O W.P. SPRENGER 1 (RCAF) Survived the Battle, killed in action November 26, 1940 Montreal, Quebec
    P/O N.K. STANSFELD 242 / 229 Survived the war Edmonton, Alberta
    F/Lt. H.N. TAMBLYN 242 / 141 Survived the Battle, killed in action April 3, 1941 Yorkton, Saskatchewan
    F/O C.W. TREVENA 1 (RCAF) Survived the war  Regina, Saskatchewan
    P/O A.A.G. TRUEMAN 253 Killed in action September 4, 1940 Toronto, Ontario
    F/Lt. P.S. TURNER 242 Survived the war Toronto, Ontario

    Initials shown as R.S. on RAF Honour Roll

    P/O J.R. URWIN-MANN 238 Survived the war Victoria, British Columbia
    F/O J.A. WALKER 111 Survived the Battle, killed in action, February 8, 1944 Gleichen, Alberta
    F/O J.R. WALKER 611 / 41 Survived the Battle, killed in flying accident November 16, 1940 Oak Bay, British Columbia
    P/O C.A.B. WALLACE 3 Survived the Battle, killed in action October 27, 1941 Vancouver, British Columbia
    P/O J.J. WALSH 615 Survived the Battle, died of injuries March 2, 1941 Bassano, Alberta
    P/O F.S. WATSON 3 Survived the Battle, killed in flying accident October 11, 1941 Winnipeg, Manitoba
    P/O R.R. WILSON 111 Killed in action August 11, 1940 Moncton, New Brunswick
    F/Lt. J.S. YOUNG 234 Survived the war  Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
    F/O A. McL YUILE 1 (RCAF) Survived the war Montreal, Quebec
    P/O A.R. ZATONSKI 79 Survived the Battle, killed in action December 6, 1941 Born in Philadelphia; his  family immigrated to Canada in 1926.

    Top of Page


    See Also:

    (1) History: Royal Canadian Air Force

  • Jack 3:50 am on November 8, 2017 Permalink |
    Tags: battle of the atlantic, , , dr. roger sarty, royal canadian navy,   

    Atlantic Battle 

    The Battle of the Atlantic was the longest campaign of the Second World War and the most important. Canada was a major participant: this country’s enormous effort in the struggle was crucial to Allied victory. While the ships and personnel of the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) operated across the globe during the war, they are best remembered for their deeds during the Battle of the Atlantic.

    At stake was the survival of Great Britain and the liberation of western Europe from German occupation. Britain could be saved from starvation, and strengthened into the launching pad for the liberation of Europe, only by the delivery of supplies, troops, and equipment from Canada and the United States. Everything had to be carried in vulnerable merchant ships that faced a gauntlet of enemy naval forces. The friendly territory closest to Great Britain, Canada’s east coast and Newfoundland (which had not yet joined confederation) were in the front line of the Battle of the Atlantic. Canada’s navy and merchant marine, augmented by seamen from Newfoundland, played leading parts in the battle throughout the war.

    When Britain declared war on Germany on 3 September 1939, the German navy, which had prepositioned U-boats (submarines) and powerful surface warships in the Atlantic, began to attack British merchant ships. Halifax, the Atlantic base of Canada’s tiny navy, immediately became an indispensable Allied port from which to fight the Battle of the Atlantic. During the First World War, 1914 to 1918, the British had sent a strong force to Halifax for protection of Atlantic shipping, and in 1939 the same thing happened. Britain-bound merchant ships of many nationalities also came to Halifax, where Bedford Basin provided a magnificent secure anchorage in which ships could be organized into convoys which then set out under the protection of Allied warships. The convoy system had proven its worth during the First World War. HX-1, the first of the hundreds of convoys that would cross the Atlantic during the Second World War, sailed from Halifax on 16 September 1939.

    Canada’s navy in September 1939 included only 3500 personnel, both regular force and reserve, and six ocean-going warships, the ‘River’ class destroyers His Majesty’s Canadian Ships (HMCS) Fraser, Ottawa, Restigouche, Saguenay, St Laurent, and Skeena. A seventh ‘River,’ HMCS Assiniboine joined the fleet in October. All these ships were British built, Saguenay and Skeena according to special Canadian specifications. Destroyers were among the smallest full-fledged, ocean-going warships, but the ‘River’ class were thoroughly modern — fast and powerfully armed. In the early months of the war, the Canadian destroyers escorted the convoys, and also large Allied warships, within Canadian coastal waters.

    Both British and Canadian authorities believed in 1939 that Canada’s navy could expand on only a modest scale, and mainly for operations along the North American seabord. In early 1940, the government placed orders for the construction of 92 small warships: 64 ‘corvettes’, depth-charge-armed anti-submarine escorts, and 28 ‘Bangor’ class minesweepers. These rather slow and simple vessels were all Canada’s limited shipbuilding industry could produce, but they were adequate to patrol the entrance to ports and along coastal routes, where enemy submarines could most readily find ships to attack.

    The German offensives in the spring of 1940 that conquered most of western Europe, and Italy’s entry into the war at Germany’s side in June of that year, transformed the war, not least at sea. From bases in France and Norway, right on Britain’s doorstep, the German submarine fleet, augmented by submarines from Italy, Germany’s Axis partner, launched devastating attacks against the overseas shipping on which Britain now wholly depended for survival. Canada rushed four of the ‘River’ class destroyers to British waters, and these protected convoys off the western shores of the British Isles against intense attacks by enemy submarines and aircraft.

    Meanwhile, in the fall of 1940 the Canadian government embarked on full-scale naval expansion, laying down additional corvettes and Bangors as soon as the first ones were launched. Canada also began to produce merchant ships. The Royal Canadian Navy further assisted the short-handed Royal Navy by taking over seven of the fifty First World War-era destroyers the still-neutral United States made available to Britain. Canada, although its coasts were now almost unprotected, dispatched the four best of these old destroyers to British waters, together with the first ten corvettes to come from Canadian shipyards. It soon became clear that the old American ships and the new, only partly equipped, corvettes, crewed by former merchant seamen who had had only basic naval training and raw recruits, would need considerable work and time to become fully effective.

    There was no time. By 1941, the Germans, encountering stronger defences in British waters, developed highly successful techniques for intercepting convoys at mid-ocean, where they were weakly escorted, if at all, and far from help. Air cover did not extend across the Atlantic, and the mid-ocean area beyond range of patrolling Allied aircraft became a killing ground for the U-boats. The submarines patrolled in long lines and, when one sighted a convoy, shadowed it, summoning the other submarines. They then attacked in a group – a ‘wolfpack’ – at night and on the surface, when their low proffles were nearly invisible to the escorting warships. The U-boats were much faster on the surface than underwater, and they were therefore able to move rapidly through a convoy, making multiple attacks, sometimes sinking with torpedoes three and four ships apiece.

    In response to Britain’s call for help, Canada, starting in May 1941, took the lead in building a new naval base at St John’s, Newfoundland, and in supplying most of the warships that escorted convoys across the 3000 kilometres of ocean between Newfoundland and the British Isles. All of the Canadian warships that had been operating in British waters came to Newfoundland and, as additional corvettes were completed at Canadian shipyards, these, with incomplete equipment and virtually untrained crews, launched into the harrowing transatlantic escort mission. Small ships designed for calm coastal waters, with some crews unqualified even for that duty, had to face massed enemy attacks in some of the most stormy open ocean waters in the world.

    The great demands on Canadian east coast ports increased rapidly. Growing numbers of ships flowed into the convoy system, and many of these were old vessels in need of constant repair and special services. These vessels had to be attended to even though Halifax, Sydney (since 1940 a major convoy port as busy as Halifax), Saint John, Pictou, and other smaller centres were already swamped with repair work for merchant vessels and warships that had been damaged by the enemy or by the heavy seas. All the while the Halifax base had the additional responsibility of equipping and crewing the scores of new Bangers and corvettes that arrived from builders along the St. Lawrence and on the Great Lakes. The old, cramped Royal Navy dockyard mushroomed with temporary buildings, and the navy took over adjacent army and municipal properties, which almost instantly became overcrowded as well.

    At the end of 1941, senior officers warned that men and ships were being tested beyond their limits, with too little and inadequate equipment, insufficient training, and too little time to recover from the horrors they frequently witnessed as ships were blown apart and survivors froze to death within minutes in the frigid north Atlantic. Yet, the exhausted naval seamen and their little warships get no respite – only increased pressure. After the United States entered the war against the Axis powers following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941, the German navy initiated a major submarine offensive against the North American coast. As part of this offensive, early in January 1942 eight U-boats came in close to the shores of southern Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, torpedoing ships within a few kilometres of land. The quick, effective response of the RCN in organizing most coastal shipping into local convoys soon persuaded the Germans to concentrate against the less well defended US coast. Nevertheless, there were U-boats on station in Canadian and Newfoundland waters through much of 1942; these stayed hidden, dodged the Canadian defences, and sought targets of opportunity. They destroyed over 70 vessels, including 21 in the Gulf of St Lawrence, where deep, turbulent waters helped the submarines to escape detection.

    The burden on the Canadian fleet became nearly unbearable. Because the United States, the source of much of the supplies for Britain, was now in the war, in the summer of 1942 the HX convoys shifted to New York. The United States Navy, however, was not yet in a position to defend these convoys, so Halifax-based Canadian warships shepherded them between New York and Newfoundland, and then brought westbound convoys from Newfoundland to New York. These tasks were in addition to the comprehensive network of coastal convoys between Canadian and northern US ports. At the same time, Canadian escort vessels still formed a major part of the mid-ocean force that took convoys between Newfoundland and British waters and, during the summer and autumn of 1942, these corvettes and destroyers faced a new German ‘wolfpack’ offensive that was stronger still than the assault in 1941.

    Early in 1943, Britain withdrew Canada’s battered mid-ocean escort groups to British waters to free up crack British submarine-hunting ‘support’ groups to smash the wolfpacks. The RCN needed to upgrade its escort fleet with new detection and weapons technology, something the British had already done with most of their escorts. In fact, the Canadian groups had little chance for rest in British waters since they became heavily engaged on the United Kingdom-Gibraltar convoy run, before returning to the north Atlantic battle. This all-out British effort, with Canadian support, succeeded, and Admiral Karl Dönitz the German commander-in-chief of the U-boat fleet, pulled his forces out of the central north Atlantic in May 1943. Although this was a decisive turn in the war, the Germans still had over 200 U-boats available, and soon they were using new equipment and tactics to challenge Allied defences. The Allies, meanwhile, recognized Canada’s large and expanding contribution to the war at sea by making Canadian and Newfoundland waters a distinct theatre of operations under Canadian command. In place of the previous command exercised by an American admiral based in Newfoundland, Rear-Admiral L.W. Murray established the Canadian Northwest Atlantic headquarters at Halifax on 30 April 1943.

    All of the warships and merchant ships Canada could produce were urgently needed to transport supplies to Britain for the final buildup of Allied forces for the invasion of Normandy, the beginning of the liberation of France and northwest Europe. As a testament to its much-improved effectiveness based on new equipment and ships (anti-submarine frigates, true ocean-keeping vessels based on the corvettes but considerably larger, joined the fleet in increasing numbers), during the first half of 1944 the RCN took over full responsibility for escorting north Atlantic convoys to Britain. The navy also sent large numbers of its best escorts, including the venerable ‘River’ class destroyers, into the English Channel to support the invasion, which took place on 6 June 1944. Over 100 RCN ships ranging from large destroyers to troop transports participated in the Normandy landings.

    Although the U-boats had little success against the invasion fleet, they were able with new ‘snorkel’ breathing tubes, enabling the submarines to ‘breathe’ and cruise under water for weeks at a time, to press their offensive in the coastal waters of Britain and Canada right to the end of the war. Thus, the Canadian fleet was continuously and heavily engaged in Canadian and Newfoundland home waters, as well as in protecting the by-then enormous transatlantic convoys that fed supplies to the Allied armies in Europe. This was an essential military contribution to the Allied cause. Moreover, the navy maintained its commitments in British and European coastal waters and also escorted convoys to the Soviet Union along the treacherous and unforgiving Arctic route.

    Despite the turn of the tide, the German submarine fleet continued to strike effectively. Indeed, during 1944 and 1945, the Canadian fleet took its heaviest losses in action against submarines using sophisticated evasion tactics and armed with powerful new types of torpedoes. Among the ships destroyed by snorkel-equipped U-boats were the corvette HMCS Shawinigan, which was lost with no survivors among its crew of 91, close off Port Aux Basques, Newfoundland on the night of 24 November 1944, the Bangor minesweeper HMCS Claycquot, in the near approaches to Halifax on Christmas Eve 1944, and HMCS Esquimalt another Bangor lost off Halifax, on 16 April 1945, only three weeks before Germany surrendered. Both Bangors sank with heavy loss of life, many of the sailors falling victim to the lethally cold waters off Nova Scotia.

    By the last months of the war the RCN had grown to a strength of over 95,000 personnel, 6,000 of them members of the Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service, and the fleet committed to the Battle of the Atlantic included some 270 ocean escort warships. Canada possessed the third-largest navy in the world after the fleets of the United States and Britain. The most important measure of its success was the safe passage during the war of over 25,000 merchant ships under Canadian escort. These cargo vessels delivered nearly 165 million tons of supplies to Britain and to the Allied forces that liberated Europe. In the course of these operations the RCN sank, or shared in the destruction, of 31 enemy submarines. For its part, the RCN lost 14 warships to U-boat attacks and another eight ships to collisions and other accidents in the north Atlantic. Most of the 2000 members of the Royal Canadian Navy who lost their lives died in combat in the Atlantic. Proportionally, Canadian merchant seamen suffered much more heavily, losing one in ten killed among the 12,000 who served in Canadian and Allied merchant vessels.


  • Jack 3:22 am on November 7, 2017 Permalink |
    Tags: 06 jun 1944, , d-day, history canada, juno beach,   

    Juno Beach 

    The Canadian landings on the Juno Beach Sector of the Normandy coast were one of the most successful operations carried out on D-Day, 6 June 1944. Juno was the randomly chosen code-name for a five-mile stretch of coastline that included the villages of St. Aubin and Bernières and the small port town of Courseulles-sur-Mer. Hitler’s “Atlantic Wall” was much less impressive in Normandy than on the Channel coast but the beach defences included a series of fortified resistance nests and an elaborate strong point at Courseulles where the Juno Beach Centre is located now.

    Hitler and his generals neglected Normandy partly because of an elaborate British deception scheme that leaked information designed to reinforce their own ideas about the location of the attack. Hitler and his intelligence agencies thought that “Garbo,” a British-controlled agent, was a reliable source of information on Allied intentions and continued to believe his reports about a second invasion front long after D-Day. The Allies were able to track the success of their deception thanks to Ultra, the top secret information obtained from decrypting the enemy’s coded radio transmissions. Ultra provided regular updates on enemy strengths and locations, confirming hopes that the Normandy landings had a good chance of success if the enemy were taken by surprise.

    If Operation “Neptune,” the assault phase of “Overlord” (the code name for the Normandy invasion), were to succeed the beach defences could not be subjected to air and naval bombardment until shortly before H-Hour on D-Day. The terms D-Day and H-Hour were used for all military operations. Since the actual date might change, D signified the day the attack began and H the hour, allowing planners to refer to the day before as D-1 (D minus 1). Likewise, the hour before was referred to as H-1, thus outlining the tasks to be conducted before and during the battle.

    D-Day for Normandy was originally June 5 but it was postponed for 24 hours due to weather. General Eisenhower gambled on a more favourable weather forecast for the next morning and the battle to liberate Western Europe began on June 6. While the improved weather allowed the landing ships to reach the right beaches at more or less the right time, overcast skies limited air support and at Juno, as well as Omaha, no serious damage was done to the beach defences.

    Sergeant Charlie Martin’s description of the Queen’s Own Rifles assault on Nan White Beach, Bernières-sur-Mer, where he found no sign of bombardment, paints a hauntingly accurate picture of the landings:

    As we moved farther from the mother ship and closer to the shore it came as a shock to realize that the assault fleet behind us had disappeared from view. Suddenly there was just us and an awful lot of ocean… Ten boats stretched out over fifteen hundred yards is not really a whole lot of assault force. The boats began to look even tinier as the gaps widened with more than the length of a football field between them.

    When the order “down ramp” came at Nan White Beach, there was nothing to do but race for the sea wall, enduring the heavy machine gun and mortar fire. There was no sign of the Duplex Drive tanks, which had not been launched because of sea conditions. The armour was only able to offer fire support during the final stages of the struggle to subdue the Bernières’ resistance nest. By 0845 both reserve companies were moving toward the forward edge of the town and the reserve battalion, Le Régiment de la Chaudière, had landed. The QORs had cracked through the Atlantic Wall in less than one hour. The cost of 61 killed and 76 wounded was the highest price paid by any Canadian battalion of D-Day.

    The North Shore (New Brunswick) Regiment was able to land both assault companies with fewer casualties than the QOR’s, but the resistance nest, with its 50 mm anti-tank gun, mortars, and machine guns, was still completely intact and delivering continuous and accurate fire. The company assigned to clear the position found that all approaches were covered by machine guns and by snipers who could move underground as well as from house to house. Without armour this was a tough proposition, but a battalion 6-pounder antitank gun was brought forward and one pillbox was put out of action by two direct hits. The 2-inch mortars were also used effectively before the first armour – an AVRE mounting a Petard, and the Fort Garry tanks – arrived to complete the work.

    The 7th Canadian Infantry Brigade and the tanks of the First Hussars were to land on the beaches at Courseulles-sur-Mer to capture a strong point that contained one 88 mm gun, one 75 mm gun, and two 50s. Two additional 75s were positioned on the town’s flanks to cover the approaches. Twelve machine gun pillboxes, fortified mortar emplacements, and large protective shelters added to the defences, making Courseulles one of the most heavily fortified positions attacked on D-Day.

    The Royal Winnipeg Rifles, landing on the west side of the River Seulles, found the enemy defences untouched by the bombardment. Their War Diary entry reads:

    0749 hrs. In spite of air bombardment failing to neutralize, RN bombardment spotty, the rockets falling short and the AVREs and DDs being late C Company Canadian Scottish Regiment and RWR companies landed all within seven minutes. The bombardment having failed to kill a single German soldier or silence one weapon these companies had to storm their positions cold and did so without hesitation… Not one man flinched from his task.

    East of the river, the Regina Rifles’ experience paralleled that of their sister regiment from Winnipeg. No damage had been done to any of the defences, and there was no apparent neutralization as the Reginas came under fire before touchdown. The men of the German 716 Infantry Division were stunned by the noise and volume of fire but were in position when the Regina company came ashore directly in front of the strong point. The Regina’s were immediately pinned down by heavy fire. The First Hussars launched 19 DD tanks at 2000 yards and 14 made it to the beach without sinking but they landed well to the east of the strong point. Lieutenant Bill Grayson saved the situation by taking out a machine gun post and then capturing the 88 mm gun position. This incredible feat, which won Grayson the Military Cross, allowed the rest of his company to clear the strong point, which took most of the morning.

    No one who examines the events of the first hours of D-Day can fail to be impressed by the accomplishments of the assault battalions. Most of the elaborate fire-support plan failed, leaving the infantry, combat engineers, and armoured troopers to overcome the enemy by direct fire. It took incredible courage just to keep going; words cannot do justice to the individuals who rose to the challenge and led assaults on deadly enemy positions.


  • Jack 3:24 am on November 6, 2017 Permalink |
    Tags: , , vimy ridge,   

    Vimy Ridge 

    The victory at Vimy was a defining event for Canada, considered by many contemporaries and later scholars to be a significant event in Canada’s progress to full independence from Britain.

    The Strategic Importance of Vimy Ridge

    The seven-kilometre long Vimy Ridge in northern France, near Arras, held a commanding view over the surrounding countryside. Previous unsuccessful French and British attacks had suffered over 150,000 casualties.

    In early 1917, British High Command ordered the Canadian Corps to capture the position as part of a larger spring offensive in the Arras area. In the coming campaign, British forces to the south would have limited success, and the French would fail badly, with many of their units reduced to mutiny. The Canadian attack against Vimy Ridge would be spectacular by comparison.

    A Planned Battle

    Lieutenant-General Sir Julian Byng, the Canadian Corps commander, ordered new tactics for the coming assault. Having learned from the Battle of the Somme, intense training better prepared soldiers for what they might find on the battlefield, and helped them to make quick decisions on their own that were still in keeping with the overall plan. Small units and individual soldiers were given much more information about the battle, and were expected to exercise initiative in keeping the advance moving, even if their officers were killed or wounded.

    A tremendous artillery barrage, which included improved techniques for counter-battery fire against enemy guns, would smash German positions and isolate enemy troops in their dugouts.

    At 5:30 a.m. on 9 April 1917, Easter Monday, nearly 1,000 guns opened fire on the German positions. An estimated 15,000 Canadians rose from the trenches and advanced towards the ridge in the first wave, with thousands more behind them. Despite hard fighting all across the front, the Canadians captured most of the ridge on the 9th, and the remaining portions of it by the 12th.

    Vimy Ridge as Symbol

    Over four days of bloody fighting, the Canadians had overrun Vimy Ridge at the cost of more than 10,600 killed and wounded.

    The battle has since become an important symbol for Canada, the place where Canadians from across the country delivered an unprecedented victory, all four divisions of the Canadian Corps fighting together for the first time in the war.


    See Also:

    (1) Battle of Vimy Ridge

  • Jack 3:26 am on November 5, 2017 Permalink |
    Tags: , , flipboard, , passchendaele, tim cook,   


    The battlefield at Passchendaele was a sea of mud, shell craters and unburied animal and human corpses. The titanic campaign in Flanders was fought from July 31 to mid-November of 1917 and it drew hundreds of thousands of German, British, Dominion and other Allied soldiers into the cauldron of combat.

    The Canadian Corps, under the command of Canadian-born Lieutenant-General Sir Arthur Currie, fought there 100 years ago this month, in a series of battles to capture what was left of the German-held Passchendaele ridge.

    Sir Douglas Haig, the commander-in-chief of the British Expeditionary Force, yearned to attack the Germans to the east of Ypres, Belgium. His strategic aim was to drive back the Germans and overrun U-boat pens along the coast that were sinking hundreds of merchant ships bringing war supplies to Britain.

    Gen. Haig remained blindly optimistic in the face of the enemy’s strength, partially because his intelligence officers assured him that the Germans were on their last legs. In turn, it was difficult for the field marshal’s subordinate officers to know exactly what he thought, since he communicated largely through inarticulate grunts and half-sentences. But it was clear to all that he wanted an extended push and a long campaign.

    Hundreds of Allied artillery pieces fired more than four million shells in the leadup to the battle, and the British Tommies – as the infantrymen called themselves – drove forward on July 31. The German lines were pulverized, but their defences were based around concrete pillboxes. These hardened positions, often fortified with a foot thick of reinforced steel concrete, were difficult to destroy with shellfire. Most housed machine-gun teams that could fire up to 500 bullets a minute.

    The British made some advances on July 31, but then the rain started. It barely stopped for the next four months. The shellfire mulched the ground and the rain turned it into a bog. In horrendous conditions, the British forces suffered gut-wrenching losses, with every major operation costing thousands of lives. The Australians and New Zealanders were thrown into the battle in late September. They, too, were torn apart in hails of gunfire as they slithered forward, often through thigh-deep mud.

    By mid-October, Gen. Haig was desperate for a victory, and Passchendaele Ridge, which was to have fallen on the first day of the offensive, was still in German hands.

    He called upon the Canadian Corps, Canada’s primary fighting formation with about 100,000 soldiers. Their commander, Lt.-Gen. Currie, had been a prewar militia officer and real-estate broker in Victoria. He did not look the part of a modern general, being large and overweight, but he demanded careful planning and the application of massive artillery bombardments to support the infantry at the sharp end. He instigated new tactical reforms, he empowered junior officers to lead the men, and he insisted on constant training.

    Lt.-Gen. Currie also tried to talk Gen. Haig out of sending the Canadians into the morass. Taking his protest almost to the level of insubordination, he told Gen. Haig, “Let the Germans have it – keep it – rot in it.” Gen. Haig could not do that, and without a victory after two-and-a-half months of fruitless fighting, he would likely have been removed from command. The Canadian Corps moved to the Ypres front, but Lt.-Gen. Currie grimly predicted it would cost 16,000 casualties.

    The Canadians arrived at the bog of mud in mid-October. The stench of death pervaded the front for kilometres, making men gag and reach for their cigarettes to mask the stench. There were few solid roads and almost no firm ground upon which to situate artillery batteries.

    A massive enterprise of road building was necessary, all of which was done under enemy fire. Hundreds of Canadians were killed or wounded under the onslaught of German shells and poison gas.

    The Canadians steeled themselves for the clash. Infantryman William Breckenridge of the 42nd Battalion recounted after the war, “I don’t believe a single man went into the battle with the expectations of returning with his limbs. Each and every man felt it was a sure death trap.” Only a slow and methodical advance would have any chance of succeeding against the German positions on the ridge. Lt.-Gen. Currie ordered four phases to the battle, with limited attacks on Oct. 26 and 30, and then Nov. 6 and 10.

    The Germans had all the advantages – the height of the ridge, drier ground and concrete pillboxes – but the Allied artillery would eventually fire 1.45 million shells during the course of the battle in support of the Canadians. The attacks on Oct. 26 and 30 involved thousands of infantrymen in a mad melee of shooting, stabbing and fighting for their lives. Soldiers on both sides died in appalling numbers. As one Canadian gunner recounted in a letter to his mother, “Words can’t express war of this kind. The human mind can’t grasp it.”

    The Canadians drove back the Germans in fierce fighting, where all Allied troops had failed over the previous months. Thousands were killed and wounded in the muck. Some men died instantly, others bled out in the mud as they could not be carried to the rear.

    Wounded soldiers pulled themselves to the water-filled craters, instinctively trying to escape the fire-swept battlefield. They usually drowned in the quicksand-like mud, their water-logged equipment dragging them to their doom. All along the battlefront, cries of help could be heard amid the brief pauses of battle.

    After a week of fierce battle and shelling, the exhausted survivors were rotated from the line and fresh troops renewed the attack. The Canadians captured the ruins of Passchendaele village on Nov. 6 and a final attack on Nov. 10 extended the lines. The long nightmare came to an end. “Only those that saw it will ever know just what it cost to take Passchendaele Ridge, in [terms of] sheer grit and bull-doggedness,” wrote infantryman Garnet Dobbs.

    Victory had been bought with courage and blood, acts of self-sacrifice and collective endurance. Canadians received nine Victoria Crosses, the Empire’s highest award for bravery. It was the most for any single Canadian battle during the war.

    One hundred years later, the popular memory of the campaign is that of a futile struggle in unimaginable conditions that achieved little at horrendous costs. Indeed, the long and brutal battle nearly broke the British and Dominion forces, with soldiers’ morale plummeting in its aftermath. But the battle also delivered a severe blow to the Germans. The Kaiser’s best and more aggressive soldiers were killed and maimed. The Germans lost some 220,000 soldiers, but the Allies were even worse off with about 275,000 casualties.

    As Lt.-Gen. Currie had predicted, the Canadians suffered almost 16,000 killed and wounded, although they delivered a victory that was much needed throughout the British Empire. The final word should go to a Canadian who was there. Will Bird, a hardened combat soldier, wrote of the experience: “Every man who had endured Passchendaele would never be the same again.”

    Tim Cook is the author of 10 books of military history, including Vimy: The Battle and the Legend (2017).


  • Jack 3:59 am on October 24, 2017 Permalink |
    Tags: , canadian history, , ccgs matthew, joseph brean, , , , ,   

    Selling History 

    Canada is selling its last inshore coastal surveyor ship, the Canadian Coast Guard Ship Matthew, in an auction that closes on Friday with a minimum bid of $1 million.

    If it sells, a lot of history will go with it.

    Its loss also “decimates” a crucial maritime capability, to map the sea floor off Canada’s coastline, according to people who sailed on the CCGS Matthew over its quarter century of service.

    “It’s absolutely appalling,” said Michael Lamplugh, a retired hydrographer with Canadian Hydrographic Service, who led the team on the Matthew for ten years until 2012. Just the sonar on board is worth more than Canada is asking, he said. And with no replacement, Canada risks not only domestic maritime safety, such as for cruise ships in the Northwest Passage, but also its geopolitical credibility in disputes over sovereignty in the Arctic Ocean.

    When Swissair flight 111 from New York to Geneva crashed nose first into the ocean off Peggy’s Cove, N.S., in 1998, the Matthew sailed immediately out of Halifax, reaching the scene just after the local fishing boats.

    But she had no hydrographic crew to run her surveying equipment. Lamplugh, who lives near the crash site in St. Margaret’s Bay, was on board by dinner time the first day, as the hydrographer in charge. John Hughes Clarke, then a professor of engineering at the University of New Brunswick, flew in to Halifax and the Navy got him on board too.

    “We were mowing the lawn, if you like,” said Hughes Clarke, who is now with the University of New Hampshire. They were using sonar to systematically criss-cross a sea floor that was already naturally strewn with car-sized boulders, looking for a plane. “We mapped fields of boulders and we looked for clusters,” he said.

    In the end, the largest piece recovered was an engine block. “Nothing on that spot looked like a plane,” Lamplugh said. The only man-made thing they could recognize was a mostly forgotten scuttled submarine from the Second World War.

    Sailing the eastern coasts of Canada, Matthew received a fair share of distress calls.

    In August 2011, it took part in the rescue of two lost kayakers from Montreal, a man and a woman, off the coast of southern Labrador. Another time off Yarmouth, N.S., the crew saw a fire on the horizon, investigated, and two crew members discovered a fisherman who had been blown off his boat by an explosion. They performed CPR until they got him to shore, but he died.

    Mainly, though, Matthew was used for mapping the coastal sea floor, showing routes into harbours, and enabling smaller vessels to hug the coast on their journeys, rather than travel far offshore with the big ships.

    It surveyed all around Newfoundland and the Bay of Fundy, sometimes updating charts for the first time since the days of the British Admiralty and Capt. James Cook. It also investigated sinkholes in Bras d’Or Lake of Cape Breton, an inlet from the sea despite its name.

    Lamplugh said the most interesting work was on the shipping corridors up the coast of Labrador, jagged with “pinnacle shoals, underwater mountains.” His last work on Matthew was a new chart for Gros Morne National Park.

    “That I think is the capability we don’t have any more,” said Hughes Clarke. Losing it just to save money is a sorry shame, he said. “Canada still needs more surveys of her coast.”

    The east and west coasts, right up against the U.S. border, are pretty well surveyed now, Hughes Clarke said. But as you head north it gets slimmer until the Arctic, where cruise ships with state of the art global positioning equipment are navigating according to outdated, insufficient maritime charts.

    They know exactly where they are, but not what is underneath them.

    “Canada led the world in sea floor mapping for probably a solid decade,” from about the early 1990s until 2005, said Dick Pickrill, retired manager of marine geoscience at the Bedford Institute of Oceanography, in Dartmouth, N.S., where the Matthew is today, awaiting its new owner. Since it came out of service last year, Canada has nothing with the same capability as Matthew on the east coast, and the only similar research vessel, the ancient and decrepit CCGS Hudson, is currently in Burlington, Ont., with its repair contract cancelled.

    It’s part of a broader “rust-out” of Canadian maritime science, Pickrill said. “It seems bizarre.”

    Named for the explorer John Cabot’s boat, the Matthew is 50 metres long, with two survey launches and a helicopter deck that was never used, as it made her top-heavy.

    Walter Foerger, a retired logistics officer who sailed on most other Coast Guard ships, but not the Matthew, spots it in Halifax Harbour every time he crosses a nearby bridge across the harbour.

    “It’s not an eyesore, but it is depressing to see a ship tied up and not being used,” he said.


  • Jack 4:10 pm on September 29, 2017 Permalink |
    Tags: , frankie johnson, hawker typhoon, joe o'connor, , raf squadron 174,   

    In Remembrance 

    Frankie Johnson was having a Molson Export and reading the papers at the Islington Golf and Country Club in west-end Toronto some months back, a Saturday ritual he observed since it allowed him to hold court with “his pals.”

    On this particular Saturday, Stan Elsdon was the pal, and Johnson was telling him that he had received a call from the Department of National Defence — as he sometimes did. The kid on the line was phoning to inform the 95-year-old former fighter pilot and veteran of the Second World War that he was the sole surviving member of RAF Squadron 174.

    Frankie looked Stan in the eye after offering this bit of information and growled: “Now, why the hell would they want to tell me that?”

    “Frankie was quite pissed off,” Elsdon recalls, chuckling. “But that was him.”

    Frank C. Johnson died in the early morning hours of Sept. 24, after a long life that had always left him feeling lucky. He survived the fighting and had, in his words, a “ball” when he got back. Marrying his best girl, Sheila, hopping out to Aspen on ski trips, working at a good job in insurance, doting on nephews and nieces, playing tennis, knocking around the golf course and getting as far away from the horrors of Europe as he possibly could.

    Johnson would host squadron reunions in the basement of his bungalow. He had a bar, a fridge full of beer — and even a model of his old Typhoon fighter. Old stories would get told, and retold, and the laughs would follow. The last reunion was in 2012. Only six guys made it. War was hell, but so was getting old, and the older Johnson got the more the war scratched at him, a festering sore he would dream about and wake up shaking his head.

    “Frankie always had a war story to tell,” Elsdon says. “But every time he got into a conversation he would remember, as he said, the things that weren’t so nice that he had had to do.”

    Johnson and I met in November 2013, at his home just west of Toronto. He had a voice made for radio. He had crossword puzzles scattered here and there. He talked to me about flying in low on a bombing run and dropping his payload on a ferry, blowing it — and all the people aboard — sky high.

    “We had to kill, see?” he said. The only thing he would point to with some measure of pride was another incident from late in the war. The German air force was almost non-existent by then. Johnson was aloft in his Typhoon when he got a call from the air traffic controller. A German plane had been spotted.

    “Anybody who was an experienced fighter pilot would never be flying over an enemy airstrip and would never be flying in a straight line. But this guy was,” he said. “He was obviously a rookie. Maybe it was his first flight in that God-damned aircraft and maybe he had gotten lost, and so I pulled alongside and I looked over at him.

    “He was just a boy. And I thought to myself, why the hell would I kill this kid? The war is almost over. He doesn’t know what the hell he is doing. So I waved at him and flew off.”

    Johnson did not attend Remembrance Day services. He wore a poppy, but the politicians’ speeches, and the spectacle of the day, bothered him. He didn’t need a special occasion to remember the foolishness of it all.

    He was shot down and crashed into a farmer’s field. He had a bullet in his hip, shrapnel in his shin and was, in his words, a “God-damn mess.” He was captured and cold. A German soldier gave him his coat and, the next morning, a German farmer’s wife washed him, spoon-feeding him soup.

    “Now, why would she do that?” he said. “I was the enemy. I still can’t get over it. Jesus. She was a wonderful person.”

    He realized, right then, that most Germans weren’t a bunch of raving Nazis, but ordinary folks. People with sons and daughters — sons, like Frankie, who were probably just as scared and sick of the killing and dying and waste as he was. He never took a day for granted after he got back. His wounds prevented he and Sheila from having any children, but they had an old Husky dog named Yukon, though Johnson called him Tom. After Sheila passed away from dementia, Johnson lived alone.

    Doctors barred him from driving, which he couldn’t quite understand, since at 18 his government had told him he was old enough to kill people — and suddenly he was too old to handle a car?

    He told them he planned to live to be 105. He made it to 95 and, up until a few weeks back, was still making his Saturday trips to the golf club to have a Molson, read the paper and hang out with his pals.

    On Friday night they are holding a wake for him at the club. Cold beer will be on tap. Frankie Johnson paid for it in advance.


    See Also:

    (1) RB396’s Journey

    (2) No. 174 Squadron RAF

    • Jack 4:34 pm on September 29, 2017 Permalink | Log in to Reply

      I posted this story because O’Connor did something that very few of our younger generation never bother to do. Talk to these elderly people before we lose their memories completely.

      That is a sad thing but it is something that the “Justin Trudeau’s” of this world count on as they try desperately to change our countries in ways young people never envisioned in 1939. And here’s my point: because we forget we are already doomed to repeat Johnson’s scenario unless we wake up.

      They call his generation the “finest generation” but in truth there have been many generations, rising to the challenges our countries faced time and again.

      I am not fooled by the ongoing idiocy pandered as good politics these days by those who have no clue. I prefer to learn from the past and if at all possible avoid something which in the long term is likely unavoidable. Humans have a natural propensity for extreme violence and one only needs to read back to understand how long that bloody trail is.

      Rest assured, there will be future wars. The only question is when. I prefer to put it all off as long as possible.

      Rest in peace, Franky and “God Bless”.

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