Royal Regiment of Canadian Artillery

A and B Batteries of Canadian Artillery formed in 1871. A Battery manned the fort in Kingston, Ontario. B Battery manned the fort in Quebec City, Quebec. The formation of these batteries marked the creation of Canada’s Permanent Force.

The term “artillery” is thousands of years old. It applies to a variety of weapons, including missile throwing weapons.  The Greeks and Romans used siege machines (artillery) that fired large projectiles. Modern artillery was born with the invention of gunpowder, also known as black powder.  Gunpowder originates from the 9th century in China. Many European countries used cannons by the mid-14th century.

Settlers in North America brought with them the technology and tactics of Europe. French, British, and Canadian artillerymen would prove themselves in battle. They did so in notable battles such as the Defence of Quebec (1690) and the Siege of Louisbourg (1745 & 1758). Also, in the Battle of the Plains of Abraham (1759), the War of 1812 (1812-1815), and the Fenian Raids (1866-1871).

Since 1871, the Gunners of Canada have played a vital role in shaping Canadian history.  Gunners served in the North-West Rebellion (1885) and the South African War (1899-1902). They served in the First World War (1914-1918) and the Second World War (1939-1945). They later served in the Korean War (1950-1953) and in West Germany during the Cold War (1951-1992). They served in the 1st Gulf War (1990-1991) and in the Afghanistan War (2001-2014).  Canadian Gunners participated in UN Peacekeeping missions.  At home, Gunners contributed to the growth and development of Canada.

Early Years Building the Canadian Artillery

From 1760 to 1871, British regulars were responsible for the defence of Canada. The British also formed volunteer militia artillery companies along the Atlantic coast.  In the event of an emergency, some settlers between the ages of 16 and 60 joined the military.  By the 1850s, the British government wanted to decrease spending. The British encouraged colonists to provide for their own defence.

The artillery in Canada started with local militia units. The Militia Act of 1855 allowed for a small voluntary active militia of 5,000 officers and men. The troops received training and equipment at public expense. Canadian militia replaced the British regulars. This occurred over a period of two decades. Militia Order No. 24 of 20 October 1871, provided for a force consisting of A and B Batteries of Garrison Artillery. Most British soldiers left Canada by 1871.

Lieutenant-Colonel G. A. French commanded A Battery in Kingston, Ontario. In the early years, they faced many challenges. They required a large assortment of stores, such as guns, horses, uniforms. New troops needed training in military discipline and gun drill. They manned the fortifications and trained.

Lieutenant-Colonel T. B. Strange commanded B Battery in Quebec City. He worked to create a competent force. They often found themselves embroiled in local passions. Before the battery was a year old, they restored order in a clash between Irish and Quebecois. A few months later, the battery broke up riots following an election dispute in Quebec Centre. In 1878, the Gunners of B Battery aided the civil power three more times.

In 1873, French left A Battery. He became Commissioner of the North West Mounted Police. With a handful of ex-Gunners, including the legendary Sam Steele, French moved west. Lieutenant-Colonel De la Cherois T. Irwin replaced French in command of A Battery.  T. B. Strange saw B Battery through its first decade. Strange earned the title: “Father of the Royal Canadian Artillery”.

In 1880, Queen Victoria approved the designation of “Royal” for the two Schools of Gunnery. In 1887, they added a third C Battery in Esquimalt, British Columbia. All three batteries represented the Schools of Gunnery and a single Regiment. Canada’s first Gunners trained to protect and fight for Canada. The new Regiment would soon face its first test.

Garrison and Coastal Artillery

In 1871, Canadian artillery included two groups - Field Artillery and Garrison Artillery.  In 1893, the Department of Militia established the Royal Canadian Garrison Artillery (R.C.G.A.). This was separate from the Field Artillery.  The R.C.G.A. assumed responsibility for coastal defence, garrison and siege artillery. Main duties included manning fortifications and training Gunners.

Garrison life could be monotonous. Artillery competitions proved a welcome relief from militia training and guard duty.  Gunners competed for positions on teams representing Canada in England.

During the two world wars, it was the duty of the Garrison Artillery to remain behind to defend Canada.  Most never saw action.  In July 1914, the R.C.G.A. manned both coasts to help local militia units defend against possible attack. Most would spend the war training troops for overseas duty.

In 1924, the R.C.G.A. dropped the word “Garrison” from their title. They became batteries of the Royal Canadian Artillery.  The inter-war years brought other changes to the “Garrison” artillery. They took on new roles such Anti-Aircraft, Heavy, and Super Heavy Artillery.

Coastal defence assumed renewed importance during the Second World War. Submarine and air warfare became a real threat. Japan’s entry into the war increased the threat to Canada’s West Coast.  New coastal defence installations sprang up.  Guns were in short supply.  Every available gun went into service. Even old 6-pounders from the late 19th century.

The North-West Rebellion 1885

A rebellion started in the North-West in 1885. It pitted the Metis people and First Nations against the Canadian government. The uprising took place in what is now Saskatchewan and Alberta. The Metis and First Nations invited Louis Riel to lead their movement.

Hostilities began in March 1885. A band of Metis led by Gabriel Dumont clashed with the North West Mounted Police at Duck Lake.  The call went out to A and B Batteries, and soon the Gunners were moving westward.  The Canadian Pacific Railway allowed for rapid movement of troops. The railway was not complete. Soldiers had to walk or ride horses on some portions. The climate and terrain made this passage the most trying ordeal of the campaign.

By April 1885, the two batteries had joined Major-General Middleton’s forces. They assembled at Fort Qu’Appelle and then separated. A Battery joined Riel’s forces at Fish Creek and Batoche.  B Battery joined General Otter’s push from Swift Current to Cut Knife Hill and then to Battleford.  The Alberta Field Force, under Major-General T. B. Strange, fought the Metis at Frenchman’s Butte.

The Battle of Batoche lasted for three days, from 9 May to 12 May 1885.  During the battle, an 800 strong Northwest Field Force faced a 300 plus Metis and First Nations force.  On 9 May 1885, Gunners drove off a charge on the guns with a Gatling gun.  On 12 May 1885, A Battery and the Winnipeg Field Battery brought direct fire on the enemy.  The military won the battle.  Three days later, Riel surrendered and ended the rebellion.  His chief lieutenants, Poundmaker, Dumont and Big Bear, soon followed.

The rebellion acted as a catalyst to complete the transcontinental railway.  The federal government could now enforce its laws in the West. Members of A and B Batteries would remain in the West until July 1886 to help reestablish order. Canadian Gunners had made their contribution.  They brought direct fire on their opponent. They did this out in the open, exposed to hostile fire, over open sights.

The Canadian government convicted Louis Riel of treason.  First Nations and French Canadian groups attempted to intervene to commute Riel's sentence. To no avail.  The Canadian government executed Riel on 16 November 1885.  The rebellion and Riel’s execution remain controversial topics. Riel is the founding father of Manitoba.

The South African War 1899-1902

War broke out in South Africa between the British and Boer colonists in 1899. Soon after, Canada provided a volunteer force to aid the British. Among the volunteers were three batteries of Field Artillery – C, D, and E Batteries.

After arrival in South Africa, Canadian troops would not have to wait long to join the fight. C Battery helped relieve Colonel Robert Baden-Powell’s garrison under siege at Mafeking.  E Battery joined the force moving north to liberate Douglas, on the Vaal River.  While encamped at Faber’s Putt, they fought a defensive action against a Boer force.

D Battery soon joined Major-General Horace Smith-Dorrien’s forces. They operated along the Transvaal border. They engaged the enemy along with the Royal Canadian Dragoons. At Liliefontein, Boer cavalry attacked and attempted to capture D Battery’s 12 pounder guns.  The Gunners and Dragoons fought a desperate day-long battle and saved the guns. Three Royal Canadian Dragoons received Victoria Crosses for actions during the battle.  Lieutenant E.W.B. Morrison, who was in charge of the guns, received the Distinguished Service Order.

The Boer had changed how the British deployed artillery on the battlefield.  They no longer expected an adversary to duel over open sights.  The Boers used concealment, long range fire and harassing fire to their advantage. The British would learn these strategies. They also added optical sites for indirect fire. Artillery would become the dominate weapon during WW1.

By December 1900, the three Canadian artillery batteries departed South Africa for Canada.  Most Canadian soldiers enlisted for up to one year of service. Some Canadians did stay until the end of the war. Some of the heaviest fighting which included Canadian troops occurred in March 1902.  The Boers surrendered on the 31 May 1902.  Canada lost a total of 270 troops during the South African War.

First World War 1914-1918

On August 4, 1914, Canada entered the First World War.  With lighthearted optimism Canada’s young men enlisted.  At the outbreak of war, Canada’s artillery was rather small. Colonel Sam Hughes, Minister of Militia, re-organized Canada’s armed forces. Local communities raised new batteries. The troops received some equipment and training in Canada.

The sea crossing to Great Britain was uneventful. Special trains took the troops to training camps on the Salisbury Plain. The troops and their horses suffered from the cold and mud. In early 1915, the Canadian troops joined the British in the trenches of France and Belgium.

Mobile warfare was still the preferred style of fighting. Static warfare would soon dominate the war. In static warfare the artillery played a leading role. In 1914 and 1915, there were not enough guns and ammunition.  In March 1915, the Second Battle of Ypres demonstrated a need for heavy guns to match enemy fire. During the Battle of the Somme, the Artillery played a vital role against machinegun fire.

The role of the artillery in warfare expanded under Canadian General Julian Byng. The creeping barrage evolved to protect troops during the Battle of Vimy Ridge in April 1917. It helped Canadians win the prize which had eluded both the British and the French.

Lt-Col A. G. L. McNaughton led in the development of Counter Battery techniques.  He helped advance a variety of methods of targeting the enemy’s guns. WW1 saw many advancements in radio communication between the guns.

In the spring of 1918, the Germans made one last effort to break the stalemate in Europe.  After some initial success, the Spring Offensive began to falter against Allied resistance.  During the Last Hundred Days the Allies were on the offensive to defeat Germany and end the war.  The war ended with the defeat of Germany and the Armistice Agreement on 11 November 1918.

During WW1, Canadian Gunners manned field, horse-artillery and anti-aircraft guns. They supported the infantry at all cost. From 1914-1918, more than six hundred thousand Canadians joined the armed forces.  Over sixty thousand gave their lives. The wounded amounted to one hundred and seventy thousand. Involvement in WW1 helped Canada find its national identity.

The Inter-War Years 1919-1939

By the summer of 1919, 350,000 veterans’ returned to civilian life. Canadian communities held parades to welcome returning men. The Federal Government honored the sacrifices of Canadians that had fought in WW1.

The Winnipeg Strike of May 1919 jolted the Canadian establishment.  To protect Canada from potential threats, the Permanent Force doubled in strength. This led to the resurrection of RCHA “C” Battery in Winnipeg.  The Militia Department received many requests to preserve Canadian Expeditionary Force units. The Artillery increased from 59 batteries and companies in 1914 to 121 in 1919. Eighty-five field batteries from WW1 had their numbers preserved.

Public attitudes moved against the military in the 1920s. The military was not a high priority. Canadians were sick of war. The government in turn, reduced military spending. Gunners also trained with outdated equipment.  Gunners spent less and less time on the equipment.  When the Great Depression hit, the Militia went into further decline.

The 1920s saw a trend towards mechanization and a push to remove the horse from the military.  In the summer of 1925, Petawawa began using gun tractors due to a lack of horses. Planned tests of gun tractors started in 1928. Tight military budgets slowed the progress of mechanization. Many batteries remained mechanized on paper only until WW2.

Mechanization also meant the end of the RCHA Musical Drive.  The Galloping Guns thrilled audiences across the country.  Four 6-horse teams, with their guns and limbers, galloped through a maze of patterns. They would crisscross and thread their way between one another.  The last performance was in 1933.

In the 1930s, the British policy of appeasement raised the possibility of another war.  Great Britain and her allies used this time, in part, to rearm and prepare for war.  On 1 September 1939, Germany invaded Poland and started WW2.

The Second World War 1939-1945

Within a week of Britain declaring war on 3 September 1939, Canada too was at war with Germany.  Once again, great numbers of Canadians answered the call to arms.  Units scrambled to find accommodation, clothing and equipment for their recruits.  By December 1939, the first of many shiploads of Gunners left Halifax for Britain.

After the fall of Poland, there came a lull in the fighting.  Known as the “Phony War”, this period lasted from October 1939 until April 1940. Using this time to their advantage, Canada’s Gunners trained at Aldershot.  Lack of equipment forced some to train with imaginary guns and vehicles. Others were lucky and given the new 25 pounder gun.

1st Field Regiment went to France to prevent the collapse of the Allied front.  On 6 June 1940, Canadian Gunners landed in Brest and began to move inland. Then, on the 14th, the Germans entered an undefended Paris.  The Gunners were able to convince their superiors to save their guns. They were the only unit to save their guns.  France surrendered on 22 June 1940.

The Gunners settled into the routine of defending Britain from an expected invasion.  Gunners formed light anti-aircraft batteries.  A long period of training began. During the Battle of Britain Canadian Gunners provided anti-aircraft defence. They also helped deal with the aftermath of bombing raids.

On 19 August 1942, Canadian troops participated in the Dieppe Raid. This was an Allied assault on the German held port of Dieppe, France. Major-General J. H. Roberts led the raid.  The 6,000 man force included almost 5,000 Canadians. The 270 Canadian Gunners provided anti-aircraft protection to the troops on the beaches. Despite heroic efforts, the raid ended in failure.

The Canadians would have more success in Sicily starting 10 July 1943. Followed by mainland Italy starting 3 September 1943.  In December 1943, Canadians were instrumental in the Battle of Ortona.  In August 1944, Canadians helped break the German defence across the Gothic Line.  By the spring of 1945, the Italian Campaign was drawing to a close.

The Allies landed in Normandy, France on 6 June 1944.  This date marks a turning point in the war and Hitler’s Third Reich was beginning to crumble.  The German forces fought hard and resisted Allied advances. The fighting was often bitter and always difficult.  By April, the Canadian First Army had driven the Germans from Western Holland.  By 25 April, the Americans and Russians met on the Elbe River.  On 7 May 1945, Germany surrendered.  The Pacific War ended three months later with the Japanese surrender on 14 August 1945. Liberated Europe greeted and acclaimed the Canadian troops.  Most would return home soon after.  Some remained behind as part of the Canadian Army Occupation Force in Germany.

During six years of war, Canada had enlisted more than one million men and women in the armed forces.  Of these, 45,834 gave their lives.  Gunners manned field, anti-aircraft and anti-tank regiments. They supported the infantry and protected the east and west coasts from invasion.  On the home front, the men, women and children contributed their all. They provided war supplies, including munitions, motor vehicles, planes and ships.  Canada supplied a massive economic effort during the war.

The Korean War 1950-1953

On 25 June 1950, the North Korean Army invaded South Korea. Following the Japanese surrender in 1945, the Soviet Union occupied North Korea. United States took control in South Korea. The 38th Parallel was the dividing line.  The United Nations called for an immediate end of hostilities. They called for the withdrawal of the invading North Korean Army. The North Korean Army did not comply.

In response, the UN organized a multinational police force to defend South Korea.  The United States led the action and Canada supported it.  On 7 August 1950, the Canadian government authorized sending Canadian soldiers to Korea. The 25th Infantry Brigade Group, with support arms, went to Korea.  2 RCHA, raised in Shilo, provided the initial artillery component.

A train carrying 2 RCHA Gunners met with tragedy on 21 November 1950. The train collided head-on with another passenger train.  There were no casualties on the second train. The first two forward cars of the military train tumbled down an embankment.  Seventeen soldiers died in the Canoe River Disaster.

Canadian army units fought well at Kapyong and other battles. Navel units also played an important role in a variety of coastal operations.  In May 1951, 2 RCHA arrived in South Korea with the 25 pounder gun and saw action only weeks later. The war settled into a series of small incursions by both sides.  By May 1952, 2 RCHA had expended over 300,000 rounds.

In May 1952, 1 RCHA replaced 2 RCHA in South Korea.  By the spring of 1953, the Korean War developed into a period of static warfare.  The 81st Field Regiment RCA, later named 4 RCHA, replaced 1 RCHA in April 1953.  The Gunners kept up a relentless bombardment of enemy positions. On 27 July 1953, the war came to a halt with the signing of the Korean Armistice Agreement.  Over 25,500 Canadians had served in the Korean theatre of operations by the time of the armistice.

Canadian soldiers stayed in South Korea to maintain the peace. The 79th Field Regiment RCA, renamed 3 RCHA, took over for the 81st Field Regiment in April 1954. 3 RCHA served in South Korea until November 1954.  The human cost of the war to Canada was 516 military personnel killed and 1211 wounded.

NATO and the Cold War

The Cold War started with the defeat of Germany and Japan in 1945. It ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.  During the Cold War nations picked sides between the Soviet Union and the United States.  In 1949, Canada was a founding member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). It was a pact to protect against Soviet invasion.

By 1950, the NATO Council agreed to the creation of an “integrated defence force” in Europe. In 1951, the 79th Field Regiment, RCA went to West Germany as part of the NATO Brigade.  The 79th Field Regiment used the C1 105mm howitzers, then went back to the British 25 pounder in April 1952.  In 1953, 2 RCHA replaced the 79th.  1, 2, 3 and 4 RCHA rotated service in West Germany until 1967.  In 1967, 1 RCHA arrived and stayed until 1992, when the NATO Brigade finally exited Europe.

Canada signed the North American Air Defence (NORAD) treaty with the USA in 1958. It was a joint defence agreement against a nuclear attack by the Soviet Union.  Canada built an extensive network of radars and bases.  NORAD remains active to this day.

During the 1960s, the Royal Canadian Artillery deployed the 762mm rocket. They called it the Honest John.  The Honest John rocket used nuclear warheads as well as conventional non-nuclear warheads.  Canada had two Honest John batteries within the Canadian Artillery. Including, 1 and 2 SSM Batteries. By November 1961, 1 SSM completed initial training. 1 SSM went to West Germany in December 1961.  2 SSM remained in Picton, Ontario until moving to Shilo, Manitoba in August 1962.  In 1964, 1 SSM received nuclear capable certification. This certification allowed them access to US nuclear warheads.  Canada had a total of 4 MGR-1 Honest John’s armed with a total of 16 nuclear warheads deployed with 1 SSM in Germany.  In September 1968, 2 SSM disbanded.

In Canada the fear of nuclear war remained high from the 1950s to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.  Canada had weapons systems capable of firing nuclear weapons into the 1980s.  Over 1,200 Canadians died while serving during the Cold War.  Canadian Artillery units continue to serve as part of Canada’s NATO forces.

UN Peacekeeping

The signing of the United Nations Charter occurred on 26 June 1945.  The Charter called for the maintenance of peace and security throughout the world.  It also called for the creation of a permanent UN military force.  The Cold War prevented the creation of a permanent force.  Instead, the UN created a temporary force.

The first UN peacekeeping operation occurred in 1948.  The UN sent military observers to the Pakistan-India region of Kashmir. The operation included Canadian military observers to supervise and safeguard civilians.

In 1956, Lester Pearson advanced Canada’s international role in peacekeeping. During the Suez Crisis, Canada sent troops to stabilize the region.  The Egyptians objected to the Canadian troops and Pearson negotiated a compromise.  Pearson helped create the UN Emergency Force (UNEF).  Pearson won a Noble Peace Prize for his efforts.

In the early 1960s, peacekeeping was popular with Canadians. Canada participated in many peacekeeping operations during the 1960s. In 1964, Canadians went to Cyprus.  Over 25,000 Canadians completed six month UNEF tours of Cyprus from 1964 to 1993.

From 1948-1988, 10% of the UN peacekeepers were Canadian or 80,000 personnel.  In 1988, Canada won a Noble Peace Prize for its peacekeeping role over the last four decades. During the early 1990s, Canada sent peacekeepers to the Balkans, Somalia, and Rwanda.  These years were difficult for Canadian peacekeepers.

Canadians, including Gunners, are still serving as UN peacekeepers throughout the world.  Since 1947, over 125,000 Canadians have served in UN peacekeeping missions.  A total of 130 Canadians lost their lives.

Operations in Afghanistan

On 11 September 2001, terrorists launched a series of attacks on the United States.  The Taliban in Afghanistan harbored many of the terrorists. On 7 October 2001, the U.S. and its allies invaded Afghanistan.

In October 2001, Canada’s first contribution came from the navy.  Followed by commandos.  In early 2002, Canada committed a battle group to fight in Afghanistan.  Canadian Gunners deployed with the initial battle group.  They also took part in air mobile operations.

After the fall of the Taliban government, the UN authorized a NATO-led force. The initial Canadian contribution included over seven hundred soldiers.  CF troops patrolled Kabul and helped rebuild the Afghan Army.

From 2003 to 2004, Canadian Gunners used the LG1 105mm howitzer.  In late 2005, the Taliban underwent a resurgence.  In response, the number of Canadian troops increased to 2,300.  Canadian infantry, artillery and armour took part in ground operations.

In February 2006, Gunners changed to the M-777 light 155mm howitzer. Canadians were the first to use the M777 in combat. Canadians fought in large campaigns and became targets of attack.  The Canadian combat role in Afghanistan ended in 2011.  The majority of Canadian troops exited Afghanistan.  Those that remained focused on retraining the Afghan Army and police force.

In March 2014, Canada ended its military mission in Afghanistan. More than forty thousand CF members served from 2001 to 2014. The Afghan mission came at a great cost. In total, 158 Canadian soldiers died, including nine Gunners.  It was the longest continuous deployment of Gunners in Canadian history.