First Canadian Army
The First Canadian
Army was the only Army raised by Canada in the 20th Century.
With the first mobilization in 1939, Canada brought into existence not just two infantry divisions, but a corps headquarters and "quotas of Corps, Army and Lines of Communication troops". The creation of a field army was not envisioned early in the war; even after the fall of France, it was not clear that a full Army was either desirable or within Canada's capabilities. The Army Programme for 1941 - the planning forecast by the Chief of the General Staff - spoke of completing a single corps of three divisions and emphasizing the mobilization of armoured formations.1 A year later, in August 1941, the first tentative steps towards proposing that an army be created were taken when Lieutenant General Crerar, the Chief of the General Staff, wrote to General McNaughton, commanding the Canadians in England:
An initial proposal went forward for an Army headquarters, to administer two corps, an infantry corps of three divisions, an an armoured corps of two armoured divisions. Following discussions in late 1941, the British recognized the need for additional headquarters to administer the growing list of Canadian formations overseas, while Canadian officials were influenced by the onset of war in the Pacific and the worsening war situation.
General Order 131/42 dated 17 April 1942, taking effect 1 April 1942, mobilized the following units:
General Order 471/42 issued 3 December 1942 redesignated Serial 1150 as "Headquarters, First Canadian Army" effective 1 April 1942.4
The Army operated in England for only six months as envisioned; in the summer of 1943, the 1st Canadian Division and 1st Army Tank Brigade departed for Sicily, and at the end of the year, the 1st Canadian Corps headquarters, 1st Canadian Army Group Royal Artillery, 5th Canadian (Armoured) Division and ancillary units also departed for the Mediterranean, all to serve with the British 8th Army in Italy.
The despatch of units to the Mediterranean had been a major source of controversy among the leadership of the Canadian Army. General McNaughton, commanding the First Canadian Army, had been seriously opposed to the splitting of national forces, and in December of 1943, when 1st Canadian Corps moved to Italy, partially as a result of his ongoing disagreement with the government over the issue, he relinquished command of the Army. His place was taken temporarily by Lieutenant General Ken Stuart, Chief of the General Staff, who also became the Chief of Staff of Canadian Military Headquarters, a new appointment to replace that of Senior Officer, CMHQ.
The question was now considered whether Canada needed a field army at all, given the divergence of its forces into two theatres of war. Misunderstanding on the part of the Canadian authorities appear to have made the question more acute than it was to the British; after discussions among Canadian commanders and with British officials, the net result was that "Headquarters First Canadian Army continued to exist,essentially in the same form and under a Canadian officer." The Army now served as an Anglo-Canadian formation.6
The First Canadian Army continued to operate in the UK with the 2nd, 3rd and 4th Armoured Divisions, 2nd Armoured Brigade, 2nd AGRA, and ancillary units, plus the addition of non-national units, which would be a common situation until 1945.7
Exercise SPARTAN in March 1943 had marked the first time that Headquarters, First Canadian Army operated in the field. General McNaughton's HQ handled 1st Canadian Corps (2nd and 3rd Canadian Division), 2nd Canadian Corps (5th Canadian (Armoured) and British Guards Armoured Divisions) and 12th British Corps (43rd (Wessex) and 53rd (Welsh) Divisions). By early 1944, First Canadian Army passed notice that training for the first three months of the year would concentrate on individual training, to prepare all men in the UK for the upcoming invasion.9
Between 24 April and 14 June 1944, First Canadian Army participated in Exercise QUICKSILVER, one of several deception schemes implemented to convince the Germans that the landings in Normandy were subsidiary to other landings in the Pas de Calais. QUICKSILVER was a wireless scheme in which radio traffic was designed to paint the picture of the First United States Army Group (FUSAG) with the 1st Canadian Army (with an American corps under command) and the 3d United States Army under command preparing for operations in the Calais area.
The Army would serve on the Continent under 21st Army Group, and it received its first directive on 1 March 1944, outlining its tasks in Operation OVERLORD. The Army was instructed to land following the 2nd British Army between Asnelles and Ouistreham, assume responsibility for the left-hand sector of the bridgehead, and assume control of 3rd Canadian Division, 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade, and one British corps. It was envisioned that an advance to the east to capture Le Havre and Rouen would be required, and the Army was directed to prepare priority tables, staff studies and administrative instructions to move its headquarters, Army Troops, and the 2nd Canadian Corps (less 3rd Division, which would be detached to the British for the assault landings) to France, and to also to study the problem of how to capture these ports, with the code name Operation AXEHEAD.11
First Canadian Army played no operational role in Normandy for a month and a half after the landings. The headquarters began transferring to Normandy in the latter part of June, and on 23 July 1944, took over the line held by 1st British Corps. It was not until 31 July 1944 that Canadian units, namely the 2nd Canadian Corps, came under command of the Army.
Army Level Units 1944-45
Chief of Staff
Location of Army Headquarters
During the period that 1st Canadian Army Headquarters operated out of Antwerp:
Artifacts and images courtesy of Bill Alexander. Gold wire officers' version of CDC Army patch courtesy Dwayne Hordij.
Thank you also to Marius Heideveld for his assistance with this page.