CANADIANS IN NORTH AFRICA



It is not well known that Canadians were involved in the North Africa campaign during WW2.  Though the contingent of Canadians was small the experience gained by officers and non-comms was to play an important role in Operation Husky and Operation Overlord.

The following passage is from The Canadian Army 1939-1945:

On 8 November 1942 came the Allied landings in French North Africa. No Canadian units as such took part in this great operation; the British troops sent from the United Kingdom were the First Army, commanded by Lieutenant-General K. A. N. Anderson. Clearly, however, the campaign in Tunisia which followed offered an opportunity for giving battle experience to selected Canadians, and this General McNaughton seized.

An arrangement was made for the immediate attachment to the First Army of 78 officers and 63non-commissioned officers, who reached Algiers early in January  1943.  They were treated as though they had been normal British reinforcements and were “posted” to appropriate units. That is to say, a Canadian  infantry  Captain  or  Major might (and often did) find himself commanding  a  company  of  a British battalion ; a Canadian medical officer might be  placed  in charge of a section of a Field Ambulance of the R.A.M.C.; while a Sergeant of the Royal Canadian Corps of Signals might be found performing the responsible duties of his rank in a Brigade Signal Section. At the time when these Canadians arrived, the First Army was hard pressed. It consisted, essentially, of only two British divisions, the 78th Infantry Division and the 6th Armoured Division. Most of the Canadians were assigned to these formations, and they saw plenty of service, for there were many casualties to be replaced. At one point an infantry unit of the 6th Armoured Division had a Canadian second-in-command and three Canadian company commanders.

Further groups of Canadians were subsequently dispatched to Africa, the procedure continuing until the end of the campaign. In all, 201 officers and 147 N.C.Os. were sent out for three-month periods, and what they learned was invaluable. However sound mere training may be, there is no final substitute for battle experience. These men, returning to England, brought a most useful leaven of such experience to the Canadian Army. The active manner in which they had been employed was reflected in their losses. Fourteen officers and  11 other ranks became casualties during the North African campaign. Four officers and four other ranks lost their lives.

It was not junior leaders only who profited by African experience. In February of 1943 General Crerar, with a group of British generals, flew out from England and attended a four-day study period at General Montgomery’s headquarters.  In April,  Brigadier  G.  G. Simonds went out similarly and watched the  Wadi Akarit battle from the headquarters of the Eighth Army and of the 10th Corps. Immediately after his return, he  was  appointed  to  command  the 2nd Canadian Division in succession to General Roberts (who now assumed command of the Canadian Reinforcement Units) ; but a few days later, following the death in an aircraft accident of Major­ General H. L. N. Salmon,  who  had  succeeded  General  Pearkes  in the command  of  the  1st Division,  General  Simonds was transferred to that Division and found himself a prospective divisional commander in the Eighth  Army, which he had  so lately visited.

Reference: The Canadian Army 1939-1945, Col.  C.P. Stacey, pp 87-88