Pacific 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.
Area Under Command
Pacific Command comprised all of Military Districts 11 and 13 (the provinces of British Columbia and Alberta, the Yukon Territory and the District of Mackenze.
General Alexander had operational command and full responsibility for administrative policy, though he delegated authority in administrative matters to the District Officers Commanding – though in practice Alexander was also performing as DOC of MD 11 in addition to GOC-i-C of Pacific Command. The two appointments were briefly separated in 1942 but after June 1942 no DOC was appointed.3
The main defended areas in Pacific Command had been organized at the start of the war as separate subordinate commands with their own commanders. These were the Victoria-Esquimalt Fortress, the Vancouver area (excluding Yorke Island) and the Prince Rupert area. On assuming command of Pacific Command, General Alexander proposed a mobile infantry brigade group, less artillery, to be stationed in the Nanaimo area of Vancouver Island. The 10th Infantry Brigade subsequently established a headquarters at Nanaimo in February 1941. When the brigade moved east in May to join the 4th Canadian Division, the 13th Infantry Brigade, an independent formation, moved from the Niagara Peninsula to Nanaimo.
In July 1941 the Cabinet War Committee authorized the formation of three brigade groups for the 6th Canadian Division for home defence, and the 13th Brigade joined that formation while remaining in Nanaimo. The 14th Brigade was to concentrate at Valcartier in Quebec, but the 15th Brigade was to be considered a potential reserve for Pacific Command.
These defences were considered adequate to the task of the threat of Japanese attack, according to the Chief of the General Staff, General Crerar, in November 1941, with certain exceptions such as the absence of anti-aircraft units and weapons to equip them with. The Veterans Guard of Canada had two companies on duty at the RCAF station at Ucluelet, two more at Coal Harbour, and one at Bella Bella, with four additional platoons in the process of forming (two for Ucluelet and one more each for Coal Harbour and Bella Bella). A number of coast artillery positions were also on low-angle mountings and unable to fire at long range. MAGp.157 When Bofors guns didn’t appear in large numbers, all three locations were reinforced with 75mm field guns (two each except Coal Harbour, which received one) manned by crews from Artillery Training Centers in Brandon and Shilo, Manitoba.4
The three defended areas mentioned above each had an Active infantry battalion assigned to it, over and above the three battalions of the 13th Infantry Brigade at Nanaimo as a general reserve.
General Crerar noted at the time that:
After Pearl Harbor
Crerar’s opinion did not
change on 7 December 1941 following the Japanese attacks in the Pacific.
RCAF units and anti-aircraft guns were shipped to British Columbia
though it was felt imprudent to shift too much from vital installations
in the east, such as Halifax and Newfoundland. In the weeks following
Canada’s declaration of war on Japan on 7 December, an “unimpressive
array” of anti-aircraft guns trickled west and it wasn’t until April
1942, when 3.7-inch guns became available from Canadian factories, that
the situation began to improve.
February 1942 Major-General Crerar recommended the completion of the 6th
Division and the creation of brigade groups for a 7th. He left the CGS
position to go overseas and his successor, Lieutenant-General Ken
Stuart, took the matter forward for approval. This sizeable increase to
the Army was approved alongside an expansion of the RCAF from 16
squadrons in Canada to 36. The expansion was designed to calm fears on
the west coast, but quickly became considered inadequate, and the 8th
Canadian Division was proposed. On 20 March the CGS revised the threat
assessment of the west coast, from previously estimated small forces to
the possibility of an enemy raid by as many as two brigades of infantry.
The creation of two brigades for the 8th Division was approved by the
War Committee the same day.
War Comes to North
The resulting fear among the populace prompted additional reinforcement of the Prince Rupert area with more anti-aircraft guns and an armoured train running from Terrace to Prince Rupert. The train carried a company of infantry along with two 75mm guns, four Bofors anti-aircraft guns and two searchlights, making its first run on 29 July and covering the 90 mile trip just about every day thereafter during the summer.9
Prince Rupert was a strategic asset which the Americans were relying on as a port of embarkation for movements to Alaska. The northern terminus of the Canadian National Railway was located there, with the line following the Skeena River for 120 miles (80km) inland. The line carried 2500 tons of supplied daily for the US Army, in addition to the requirements of the growing number of Canadian defences. A unique partnership was formed between the CNR, which operated the train, and the Canadian Army whose troops and weapons the train carried.10
In February 1942, the Pacific Coast Militia Rangers were also authorized. The force grew to 14,000 men, peaking in August 1943 at 14,849 all ranks, with 115 companies up and down the west coast.
The most northerly
position defended on an ongoing basis was Whitehorse in the Yukon, with
an airfield there as part of the Northwest Staging Route by which
American aircraft could fly to Alaska. An airfield defence platoon
arrived in the autumn of 1942, reinforced by an anti-aircraft battery in
the early summer of 1943. When the Japanese withdrew from the Aleutians
in August, both Canadian units were withdrawn from the Yukon.
Pacific Command peaked at 34,316 all ranks of the Active Army on 12 June 1943.
The home defence divisions (6th, 7th and 8th) were never completed with the full range of arms and services, being created to fit into an existing static organization. They thus drew their support from the Commands (Atlantic/Pacific) and Military Districts. In particular, artilllery support was expected from the existing fortifications and permanent installations, therefore the divisions never mobilized to the full war establishment strength. The 6th and 8th Divisions in Pacific Command were between 1100 and 1200 men short of full establishment on 17 April 1943. The majority of men (about 75%) in these two divisions came from conscripted soldiers serving under the National Resources Mobilization Act, and about half the men on garrison duty were conscripts. General Service troops (those who either enlisted to serve overseas, or were conscripted but volunteered for overseas service) were funnelled towards the overseas forces, though age (both too young and too old) and medical category made many of the G.S. men in Canada ineligible to go overseas.
see also the article on Operation Cottage
Allied plans to clear the Japanese presence from the Aleutians led to the involvement of the headquarters of the 13th Infantry Brigade, along with three infantry battalions in Pacific Command found to be numerically strongest: The Canadian Fusiliers, The Winnipeg Grenadiers (recreated after the original battalion was destroyed at Hong Kong) and The Rocky Mountain Rangers. The desire to include a French-speaking component led to the addition of Le Regiment de Hull. The Canadian brigade group was organized on the lines of a U.S. regimental combat team, which included a battalion of combat engineers. Le Regiment de Hull replaced the engineers in the 13th Infantry Brigade group, and each of its companies was detached to the other infantry battalion teams. Other units included the 24th Field Regiment and 46th Light Anti-Aircraft Battery from the Royal Canadian Artillery, the 24th Field Company of the Royal Canadian Engineers, a heavy-weapons company of The Saint John Fusiliers (M.G.), and the 25th Field Ambulance, Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps.
The brigade group sailed on 12 July 1943 from the Vancouver Island ports of Nanaimo and Chemainus. Four U.S. transports carried 4,831 Canadians of all ranks, with 165 men of the force absent without leave. There were many last minute changes in the four weeks leading up to the operation, and men were resentful of being switched from unit to unit. The francophones of Le Regiment de Hull recorded just six AWL cases in contrast to the English-speaking units. Canadian involved also included the bi-national First Special Service Force which sailed from San Francisco.
On 21 July the 13th Canadian Brigade Group disembarked at Adak and conducted combined training with U.S. forces, culminating in a landing exercise at Great Sitkin Island under the watchful eye of Major-General Holland M. Smith of the United States Marine Corps. General Pearkes established Advanced Headquarters, Pacific Command at Adak on 8 August. In all, 5,300 Canadians took part in the landings on 15 and 16 August 1943. Under the cover of fire from three battleships, two cruisers and 19 destroyers, the Canadians landed on Kiska to find the Japanese had departed eighteen days previously. Four Canadians were killed by mines, booby-traps and accidents with ammunition.13
Reduction and Disbandment
Over the course of the year 1943, Axis fortunes declined and the threat to Canadian shores declined from what was probably never a really serious threat to begin with. The expulsion of the Japanese from the Aleutians and the waning of German U-boat fortunes in the Atlantic permitted a reduction in Canadian defensive measures and as early as May 1943 discussions began about the disbandment of some home service infantry battalions. The Chief of the General Staff reported on 30 August 1943 that substantial reductions in forces in both Pacific and Atlantic Commands were possible and recommended disbanding the 7th and 8th Divisions and reducing coastal and anti-aircraft defences, over 20,000 men in all, which would permit the transfer of physically fit and age appropriate general service volunteers to overseas duty and return lower category men to civilian life. On 13 September the Minister of National Defence announced the disbandment of the 7th and 8th Divisions, and the reduction of the 6th Division, keeping three brigade groups (with four rather than three battalions each) under the division and forming a Training Brigade Group in Eastern Canada. Beginning in October 1943, some coast defence batteries began to be placed "in maintenance" and others had their crews reduced. By the end of the year the coast artillery and anti-aircraft defences that had been so painstakingly built up had largely disappeared.
Headquarters of the 6th Canadian Division moved from Esquimalt to Prince George in October 1943, but only coordinated the training and administration of its three component brigade groups which reported directly to Headquarters Pacific Command for operational purposes. This organization was intended to allow the brigade groups to operate independently, and in cooperation with American forces against the Japanese in the northern Pacific area, but these operations never materialized.
The 13th Brigade returned from Kiska in January 1944, and departed Canada for the United Kingdom in May 1944 after a partially successful effort to convince N.R.M.A. draftees to volunteer for active service. The brigade converted to a training brigade once overseas.
The 6th Canadian Division reorganized with three infantry brigades of three battalions each in August 1944, with a newly formed 16th Brigade replacing the 13th. When the reinforcement crisis materialized in the autumn following the opening of the campaign in Northwest Europe and the heavy fighting in Normandy and Italy, more changes occurred. On 16 November 1944 the Chief of the General Staff (now Lieutenant-General J.C. Murchie) recommended disbanding the divisional headquarters and retaining one infantry brigade group and two infantry brigades. The recommendations were approved by Cabinet on the divisional headquarters disbanded on 2 December 1944. The decision to send conscripts overseas meant there was no reason to retain units in Canada as a potential reserve for the overseas force. With no further threat to Canadian territory, the units of the division were free now to go overseas as formed units, and did so. The 6th Division and infantry battalions not serving in the retained brigades provided two brigade headquarters, nine infantry battalions and a reconnaissance regiment from western Canada, and four infantry battalions from eastern Canada to serve in Europe. Once overseas, all were broken up for reinforcements. Just eight full time infantry battalions remained in Canada, Newfoundland and the West Indies.
The headquarters of Atlantic Command disbanded in November 1944 with the Military Districts in the Maritimes resuming normal activities, while Pacific Command remained longer, only being redesignated as Headquarters Military District 11 on 23 January 1946. On the same day, Western Command, a peacetime organization, assumed control of ground forces in Western Canada.14
Pacific Command as on 24 April 1943
Only major units of the Canadian Armoured Corps, Royal Canadian Artillery and Infantry, plus some divisional units, are shown below.
General Officer Commanding in Chief, Pacific Command
Artifacts and photo courtesy of Bill Alexander.