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Atlantic Command

Atlantic Command
Authorized: General Order 264/43 effective 7 Aug 1940
Disbanded: General Order 305/45 effective 31 Jul 1945

Atlantic Command was a formation similar to a corps in principle, created in 1940. This Command oversaw active formations and units engaged in the defence of Eastern Canada.


Lieutenant General H.D.G. Crerar, the Chief of the General Staff in 1940, submitted a series of organizational suggestions to the Minister of National Defence during his tenure as CGS. Among them was a memorandum written on 23 July 1940:

I consider that a Command Headquarters (Operational) with adequate staff should be established in the Maritimes with operational control over those Army forces earmarked for the defence of the Maritime Provinces, including the Gulf of St. Lawrence area and Newfoundland...The function of the several District Headquarters in the Eastern area...under the conditions which Canada now faces should be restricted to administration and to the command and training of those troops not actually allotted to Command Headquarters for operational purposes. It should be noted, incidentally, that such organization would fit in with the Operational Zones established by the Royal Canadian Air Force.1

On 1 August 1940, Major General W.H.P. Elkins, formerly Master General of the Ordnance, assumed the position of General Officer Commander in Chief of Atlantic Command. A similar command was instituted in British Columbia, being known as Pacific Command.

Area Under Command

Atlantic Command was headquartered at Halifax, NS, and comprised all of Military Districts 6 and 7 (in other words the Provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island), and portions of Military District 5 lying east of "a line drawn between Cape Chidley (Hudson Strait) and the mouth of the Saguenay River and extending southerly from the St. Lawrence along the Temiscouta Railway and Riviere du Loup to Edmundston, New Brunswick." The Command also included the British colonial dominions of Newfoundland and Labrador.


The GOC-in-C was tasked to:

  1. Represent the Army as regards all operational matters which affect all three Services in the Atlantic Command and in the closest co-operation with the equivalent commanders of the Royal Canadian Navy and Royal Canadian Air Force in that area.

  2. Control all mobile forces which may be placed under his command for operational purposes in the defence of the Atlantic Area.

  3. Exercise operational control through Fortress Commanders, etc., over all units comprising the garrisons of all fortresses, defended ports and defended areas of Atlantic Command.

  4. Be responsible for internal security measures and protection of such vulnerable points in the Atlantic Command as are defined by policy as military responsibilities.

  5. Be responsible for the training of the units and formations under his command.2


Atlantic Command reached a peak strength on 17 April 1943, with 24,784 troops of all ranks on strength. Operational strength consisted mainly of the 7th Canadian Division, headquartered at Debert, NS, with the 15th and 20th Infantry Brigade Groups under command. The 17th Infantry Brigade Group was stationed at Sussex, NB. The 7th Division was a pure mobile reserve, and the General Officer Commanding the Division had no fortresses under his command. Atlantic Command had 18 infantry battalions in all (including two preparing to depart for overseas), with ten of those (9 rifle battalions and a machine gun battalion) under direct command of the 7th Division. Of the remainder, 3 were in garrisons, fortresses or other defended areas, and 5 were in Newfoundland and Labrador. Eventually an Airfield Defence Battalion was organized from Le Régiment de Chauteauguay (Mit) as part of Atlantic Command also.

Atlantic Command could also count on the 21st Infantry Brigade Group as a mobile reserve; this formation had been formed as part of the 8th Canadian Division and stationed at Valcartier, PQ (outside of Atlantic Command's boundaries and under the command of the District Officer Commanding Military District No. 5), with a strength on 17 April 1943 of 3,668 all ranks.

Subordinate Commands

Other headquarters in Atlantic Command included:

7th Canadian Division Authorized under G.O. 309/42 eff 12 May 1942 Disbanded under G.O. 15/44 eff 15 October 1943
Headquarters St. John Defences (Serial 2908) Mobilized under G.O. 264/43 eff 1 Jul 1940 at Saint John N.B.
  • Redesignated Headquarters Defended Port of Saint John G.O. 206/44 (eff 15 Apr 44)
  • Disbanded G.O. 305/45 eff 31 Jul 1945
Headquarters Shelburne Defences (Serial 875) Mobilized under G.O. 264/43 eff 1 Sep 1939 at Shelburne, NS
  • Redesignated Headquarters Defended Port of Shelburne under G.O. 206/44 (eff 15 Apr 44)
  • Disbanded G.O. 208/45 eff 30 Sep 1944
Headquarters Sydney-Canso Defences (Serial 2920) Mobilized under G.O. 264/43 eff 1 Sep 1939 at Sydney, NS
  • Redesignated Headquarters Defended Port of Sydney G.O. 206/44 (eff 15 Apr 44)
  • Disbanded G.O. 379/45 eff 15 Aug 1945
"W" Force (Newfoundland) "W" Force Brigade Headquarters (Serial 1140) authorized under G.O. 61/41 eff 31 Oct 1940, to command all Canadian units in the Newfoundland defences. Brigade headquarters disbanded under G.O. 227/46 eff 30 Jul 1946
Headquarters St. John's Defences (Newfoundland) (Serial 872) Mobililzed as a component of "W" Force under G.O. 264/43 eff 1 Jul 1940.
  • Redesignated Headquarters Defended Port of St. John's under G.O. 206/44 eff 15 Apr 1944
  • Disbanded under G.O. 379/45 eff 15 Aug 1945


Aside from normal garrison and defensive duties, submarine activity in the St. Lawrence seaway produced a slight scare in the late spring of 1942.

On 16 May, on orders of Headquarters Atlantic Command, one infantry company moved into the defended port of Gaspe to supplement the artillery garrison; this precaution seems to have been ordered just before the first sinkings. After them, General Elkins visited the Gaspe area and reported that he was satisfied with the naval and air dispositions which had been or were being made. However, he arranged for a small reconnaissance detachment from the 4th Division to stand by to move to Mont Joli for patrol duty, should the situation deteriorate.147 This move actually took place after the sinkings in July, a motor platoon from The Lake Superior Regiment being used to patrol between Bic and Cap Chat. At the same time a platoon of the Gaspe garrison was used for a similar motorized patrol along the more easterly section of the coast. What the local population would most have liked was to have large numbers of Active Army troops deployed along the coast as protection against raids by or from submarines. However, to have allowed a mere threat by one or two U-boats to tie up thousands of soldiers in this manner would have been very poor policy. National Defence Headquarters accordingly made it clear that static protection for the communities along the lower St. Lawrence should be provided by the citizens themselves through the medium of the Reserve Army.3

A significant proportion of Atlantic Command's resources were devoted to the defence of Newfoundland and Labrador, who did not join Canadian confederation until after the Second World War and were still a British dominion. Nonetheless, the Canadian government and in particular Prime Minister Mackenzie King placed special importance on the protection of Canadian interests there.

Accordingly, large and increasing Canadian forces were stationed on Newfoundland territory as the war progressed and enemy activity in North American waters increased. ...measures (were) taken to develop the island's coast and anti-aircraft defences. Strong forces of artillery and ancillary troops were required for this duty, and in addition infantry was needed for security against possible raids. The Canadian Army force in Newfoundland ("W" Force) reached its peak of strength on 15 December 1943, when it was 5692 all ranks. It had been a major-general's command since 25 December 1941, when Major-General L. F. Page took over
the command of "Combined Newfoundland and Canadian Military Forces in Newfoundland".

At the time of its greatest expansion "W" Force included the following major units: two infantry battalions (with headquarters at St. John's and Botwood), plus two companies of the 1st Airfield Defence Battalion (Le Regiment de Chateauguay) and one of the Veterans Guard; two anti-aircraft regiments R.C.A. (with headquarters at St. John's and Gander) and three coast batteries R.C.A. (at St. John's, Botwood and Lewisporte); a fortress company R.C.E. and a company of Atlantic Command Signals; and the numerous administrative and service units required to maintain the force. ... The Newfoundland Regiment assumed various local protective functions and in addition manned the Bell Island battery. Its strength on 15 December 1943 was 26 officers and 543 other ranks.4

The first Canadian unit to serve in Newfoundland was The Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment) of Canada, who arrived on 22 June 1940. They were relieved in August 1940 by The Queen's Own Rifles of Canada, as the Black Watch proceeded overseas to join the 2nd Division. That same month, Newfoundland forces were placed under Canadian command and Newfoundland joined Atlantic Command. In November 1940, The Victoria Rifles of Canada and The Royal Rifles of Canada arrived, doubling the infantry component of "W" Force and relieving the Queen's Own, who returned to Canada and the 3rd Canadian Division. The Royal Rifles left Newfoundland in August 1941, and eventually sailed for Hong Kong. Other units to serve in Newfoundland included The Prince Edward Island Highlanders, The Sherbrooke Fusilier Regiment, The Lincoln and Welland Regiment, The Algonquin Regiment, Le Regiment de Joliette, The Pictou Highlanders, Le Regiment de St. Hyacinthe, Le Regiment de Montmagny, Le Regiment de Quebec, the 1st Airfield Defence Battalion (Le Regiment de Chateuaguay), a company of the Veterans Guard of Canada, the 25th and 26th Anti-Aircraft Regiments, Royal Canadian Artillery, and three coastal batteries.5


In November 1944, authority was granted to disband Headquarters, Atlantic Command and the Military Districts of the Maritimes resumed normal functioning, taking effect 14-15 December 1944.6


Name Dates in Command Bio and Destination on Leaving Appointment
Major General W.H.P. Elkins, CB, CBE, DSO 1 Aug 1940 - 15 Jul 1943  
Major General L.F. Page, CB, DSO 16 Jul 1943 - 24 Aug 1944  

Uniform Insignia

At the start of the Second World War, it was felt that colourful unit and Formation Patches would be too easily seen, and a very austere set of insignia was designed for the new Battle Dress uniform, consisting solely of rank badges and drab worsted Slip-on Shoulder Titles. In 1941, however, the trend was reversed, and a new system of formation patches, based on the battle patches of the First World War, was introduced.

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

Atlantic Command adopted a French-Grey diamond in the same shape as the patches worn by the 1st and 2nd Canadian Corps headquarters in Europe, generally 3 inches wide by 2 inches tall.

Atlantic Command came to have insignia similar to the Corps insignia used overseas, adopting a French-Grey diamond.
Artefact and photo courtesy of Bill Alexander.

As with the 3rd Canadian Division patches in both wars, finding a "correct" shade
of "French Grey" was a difficult thing to do.



  1. Stacey, C.P. Official History of the Canadian Army in the Second World War: Volume I: Six Years Of War (Queen's Printer, Ottawa, ON, 1956), p.163

  2. Ibid

  3. Ibid, p.176

  4. Ibid, pp.179-180

  5. Falconer, D.W. Battery Flashes of W.W. II (D.W. Falconer, 1985) ISBN 0-9691865-0-9 p.397

  6. Ibid, p.390

Other Referenes

  • Tonner, Mark W. On Active Service (Service Publications, Ottawa, ON) ISBN 1-894581-44-X

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