1939-1945

1939 Mobilization

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Surplus US M1917 6-ton tanks used for training

The Fort Garry Horse was mobilized on September 3rd, 1939 after Britain’s declaration of war on Germany. Canada officially declared war on September 10th. The Regiment was initially given the task of Divisional Cavalry Regiment for the 2nd Canadian Division. Regimental headquarters were set up in the Robinson Building in Winnipeg while training and recruiting began in earnest. The Regiment moved to Camp Shilo on the 26th of May and remained there until June when the 2nd Division left for overseas. Instead of going with the 2nd division as Cavalry the Garrys were sent to Red Rock Ontario to act as guards for German prisoners of war and internees. Many of these prisoners had been active Nazi sympathizers before the war while others were from German ships interred in Canadian ports at the outbreak of the war.

1940-41 Red Rock, Borden

LCol R.E.A. Morton CO, Fort Garry Horse

The guard duty at Red Rock lasted until 1 September 1940 when the Regiment was moved to Camp Borden, Ontario to begin training as an Armoured Regiment. Originally part of the 1st Canadian Army Tank Brigade in May 1941 the Garrys were transferred to the 5th Canadian Armoured Division to form the 1st Canadian Armoured Brigade with the Lord Strathcona’s Horse (Royal Canadians) and the 1st Hussars. There the Garrys had their first taste of tanks, American 6 Ton M1917 machines built in 1918 and kept in storage at Rock Island Arsenal in the U.S.A.

Brigadier F.F. Worthington MC MM, the father of the Canadian Armoured Corps, had arranged to have these vehicles sold to the “Camp Borden Iron Foundry” as scrap metal because U.S neutrality laws prohibited the sale of weapons to Canada. In a short time, the Garrys got these antiques in running order and made good use of them learning the basics of tank manoeuvre and maintenance. In October 1941, Lt. Colonel S. J. Cox VD, who had joined the Regiment as a Trooper in 1912 and had been Commanding Officer since 1937, turned over command to Lt. Colonel R.E.A. Morton.

1941 – 1943 Training in England

In October 1941, the Regiment was moved to Debert Camp near Truro, Nova Scotia in preparation for the move overseas. Training continued in Debert then off to Halifax to embark on the liner S.S. Oronsay on the night on the 9th of November. After several days in the harbour a large flotilla of transports and Naval vessels sailed arriving in Liverpool, England, on the 22nd of November. The Regiment moved first to Aldershot and later to the Headley, Hampshire area where the first of the Canadian designed “Ram” tanks were issued.

The first firings on the ranges in Wales took place in July 1942. The Garrys built a record of efficiency and skill on the ranges and in sports, winning several Divisional titles. Moves to Hove, in Sussex, and Crowborough barracks, took place in August and September, returning to Hove in December 1942. At this time, the Garrys left the 5th Armoured division, and with the 1st Hussars and the Sherbrooke Fusiliers, formed the new 3rd Canadian Army Tank Brigade. This organization lasted until July 1943 when the 2nd Canadian Army tank Brigade arrived in England. The new brigade was broken up and the units absorbed into the Garrys, the 1st Hussars and the Sherbrooke Fusiliers. Now known as the 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade, this was the formation the Garrys would remain with until the end of the war.

1943 -1944 Amphibious Training

In October 1943, the first of the DD swimming tanks with screen lowerednew American Sherman tanks were issued and firing practice took place on ranges in Kirkudbright, Scotland, after which the regiment moved to the South coast at Milford-on-Sea.

Each Squadron was trained in combined operations and amphibious landings at Inverary, in Northern Scotland. Many exercises took place with the 8th Infantry Brigade of the 3rd Canadian Division in preparation for support during the planned invasion. “B” and “C” Squadrons took special training in the use of “Duplex Drive” or “DD” swimming tanks in great secrecy.

Training intensified, including French lessons. Improved Sherman “Firefly” tanks with British high velocity 17 pounder antitank guns were issued on a scale of one per tank troop. “B” and “C” Squadrons moved with their secret vehicles to a hiding area near Fawley on the South coast, while “A” and Headquarters Squadrons moved to Fort Gomer, near Gosport. More and more new equipment was issued, a far cry from the early days. In May the Squadrons moved again to concentration areas prior to loading on the landing craft.

1944 June 6

DD swimming tank afloatThe plan for the assault was for “B” Squadron, supporting the Queen’s Own Rifles, to land at Bernières-sur-Mer, while “C” Squadron, supporting the North Shore (New Brunswick) Regiment, would land at St. Aubin-sur-Mer. “A” and Headquarters Squadrons with La Regiment de la Chaudière were kept in reserve to land where they were needed most. The swimming tanks of “B” and “C” Squadrons were intended to land ahead of the Infantry but due to heavy seas they had to be launched close to the shore landing later than planned. “B” Squadron landed at Bernières but were unable to scale the sea wall for over and hour until Engineer bridge laying tanks arrived. By 0900 the town had been nearly cleared and “A” Squadron and the Chaudières landed there.

“B” Squadron continued on toward Basly while “A” Squadron and the Chaudières moved inland to Beny-sur-Mer and Colomby-sur-Thaon. “A” and “B” Squadrons finally concentrated at Beny-sur-Mer for replenishment late that night. To the East, “C” Squadron landed at St. Aubin losing three tanks to enemy fire. As there was no breach in the sea wall the Squadron forced their way through a minefield losing another three tanks in the process. The German defenders proved stubborn and one position in the town held out all day until Sgt. Walterson charged in with his tank forcing the enemy to surrender. Two troops moved South through the town of Tailleville to take the high ground beyond before the enemy could set up a defence. Due to a request for support from the North Shores, “C” Squadron did not rejoin the regiment until June 7th.

1944 France and Belgium

The regiment continued to support the 8th Infantry Brigade and later the 7th Brigade in defensive positions. On July 4th The battle for Carpiquet Airfield took place against heavy resistance. The airfield was not fully secure until July 10th. The regiment immediately went into action again holding a river crossing near Eterville Ridge. After a few days rest and refit, they were in action again at Tilly-La-Campagne and Fleury-sur-Orne.

On 7 August 1944, the regiment took part in Operation Totalize, a bold night attack to close the Falaise gap and cut off the retreating German 7th Army. Against fierce opposition and heavy losses, the Regiment pushed on across the River Laison and held the bridgehead until follow-up forces arrived. The Garrys continued in pursuit of the retreating enemy, crossing the Seine river on 28 August 1944. At this time Lt. Col. Morton relinquished command to Major E.M. Wilson.

Due to the recent losses, The Regiment was regrouped into two Squadrons and moved North the take part in the attack on the Fortress of Boulogne. After six days of tank and Infantry attacks, the German garrison of more than 9,000 surrendered. “A” and “B” Squadrons replaced their losses and moved to Antwerp in Belgium, while “C” Squadron assisted in the assault on Calais. Next, the Belgian port of Antwerp was taken with little resistance but the Germans held the nearby Scheldt Estuary. Bitter fighting along flooded fields and dikes leading toward Woensdrecht lasted until 21 October.

On 24 October the regiment moved on to Beveland and assisted the Calgary Highlanders in the abortive attack on Walcheren Island. Afterward there was a move to Breda for a brief refit. On 11 November, the Garrys had the rare opportunity to relieve their Allied Regiment, the 4th/7th Royal Dragoon Guards in the line near Nijmegen. A three month rest period followed while the Regiment was brought up to strength in vehicles and personnel.

1944-1945 The Netherlands and Germany

Eager to get on with the job, the Garrys advanced into the Siegfried Line toward the Goch-Calcar road, being the first Canadian armoured regiment to enter Germany on 17 February 1945. Later, “A” and “B” Squadrons supported the 9th Brigade clearing Udem, while “C” Squadron supported the Infantry attack into the Hochwald. On 29 March the Regiment crossed the Rhine near Rees and pushed on in the pursuit of the enemy through the Netherlands.

The towns of Gendrigen, Terborg, Doetinchem, the Twente Canal, Laren and Holten were taken in quick order between 29 March and 8 April. While the Squadrons were engaged in battle for the town of Groningen, Regimental Headquarters and A Echelon took on the enemy held town of Haren. The odd group of cooks, clerks, drivers and mechanics captured two antitank guns and 34 prisoners. When the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders arrived to take the town, they found the “Fort Garry Infantry” already in charge.

On the 18th of April, the Regiment moved again into Germany making a 150 mile approach march into Fort Cloppenburg. From 22 April the Garrys pushed on through Wildeshausen, Delmenhorst, and Ganderkessee, taking part in the seizure of the city of Oldenburg on 3 May 1945. There the cease-fire was announced on 5 May and the Regiment accepted the surrender of German forces in the area.

1945 Peace and Demobilization

After the cease-fire, the regiment moved back into the Netherlands for refit and preparation for repatriation. Much time was spent in the town of Doetinchem, which the Garrys had first helped liberate on 1 April. Members of the Garrys helped the citizens of Doetinchem re-establish their town and post-war life. “Canada Park” was built by the Regiment, with a Garry tank as the centrepiece. The park and tank were recently refurbished in honour of the 50th anniversary of D-Day. Next to the park, the streets are named after LCol Wilson and Candian cities, and the local community centre is named “Clubhuis Fort Garry Horse”

The first Regimental history to be published after the end of the war “VANGUARD-The Fort Garry Horse in The Second World War” was printed in Doetinchem. The Garrys turned in their equipment, made plans for the future, and began their return to Canada on 30 November 1945.

The Fort Garry Horse Museum and Archives