The Royal Regiment of Canadian Artillery

 

Canadian Gunners have a long and distinguished history.  In 1880, Queen Victoria approved the designation of "Royal" for the gunnery schools.

In 1883, Canada authorized the formation of the Regiment of Canadian Artillery.  In 1893, the Regular units became the Royal Canadian Artillery, and in 1895, the Reserve units joined.  The Regiment became the Royal Regiment of Canadian Artillery in 1956.  The name changed to The Royal Regiment of Canadian Artillery in 1997.

Gunners served in the North-West Rebellion (1885) and the South African War (1899-1902).  They fought in the First World War (1914-1918) and the Second World War (1939-1945).

They later fought in the Korean War (1950-1953) and Operations in Afghanistan (2001-2014).  They served in West Germany during the Cold War (1951-1992), the First Gulf War (1990-1991), and many peacekeeping operations.

Today, The Regiment is in 33 communities across Canada and includes Regular and Reserve units. 

The Early Years

 

The history of the Canadian militia covers hundreds of years.  In 1534, Jacques Cartier fired the first artillery along the Atlantic coast.  Since then, colonists served in the militias of New France and British North America.

Residents of Saint John, New Brunswick, formed the Loyal Company of Artillery in 1793.  This unit exists today as the 3rd Field Artillery Regiment, RCA.  The War of 1812 and the Rebellions of 1837-1838 helped promote new militia units.

The Crimean War (1853-1856) resulted in fewer British regulars in British North America.  The Canadian Legislature passed the Militia Act of 1855, which authorized a volunteer militia of up to 5,000, including batteries of artillery, equipped and trained at government expense.

In 1855, the militia formed five volunteer artillery batteries in Hamilton, Kingston, Montreal, Ottawa, and Quebec City.  They were the first Reserve or Non-Permanent Active Militia units.

The Founding of A & B Batteries

 

In 1871, Britain withdrew most of the remaining British regulars, which pushed the Canadian government to establish permanent and full-time militia units.

General Order No. 24, dated 20 October 1871, authorized the formation of A and B Batteries of Garrison Artillery and gunnery schools.  Non-Permanent Militia Gunners transferred to the newly formed batteries.

A Battery staffed Fort Henry in Kingston, Ontario, under Commanding Officer, LCol G. A. French.  B Battery occupied the Citadel in Quebec City, Quebec, under Commanding Officer, LCol T. B. Strange, who became the “Father of Canadian Artillery.”

In 1887, Canada raised C Battery in Esquimalt, British Columbia.  In 1905, Canada created the Royal Canadian Horse Artillery.  In WW1, these batteries became part of the RCHA Brigade, and in WW2, they formed part of the 1st Field Regiment, RCHA.

Garrison and Coastal Artillery

 

In 1871, the Canadian Artillery included Field Artillery and Garrison Artillery.  Garrison troops assumed responsibility for coastal defence, garrison, and siege artillery.

The Department of Militia established the Royal Canadian Garrison Artillery in 1893.  Artillery competitions proved a welcome relief from militia training and guard duty.  Gunners competed for positions on teams representing Canada in England.

In 1924, the RCGA dropped the word "Garrison" from its title.  Its companies became batteries of the Royal Canadian Artillery.  During the two world wars, it was their duty to remain behind and defend Canada.

Coastal defence assumed renewed importance during the Second World War. Submarine and air warfare became a real threat.  Every available gun went into service, even old 6-pounders from the late 19th century.

The North-West Rebellion 1885

 

The rebellion pitted the Canadian government against the Métis people and First Nations, led by Louis Riel.  In March 1885, a band of Métis under Gabriel Dumont clashed with the North-West Mounted Police at Duck Lake.

The Winnipeg Field Battery (now 13th Field Battery in Portage la Prairie) activated for service.  MGen Middleton gathered his forces at Fort Qu’Appelle in April 1885, including A and B Batteries and militia Gunners serving as infantry.

A Battery and the Winnipeg Field Battery engaged Riel's forces at Fish Creek and Batoche.  B Battery confronted Poundmaker at Cut Knife Hill with Col Otter.  The Alberta Field Force, under MGen Strange, fought the Métis at Frenchman's Butte.

The Battle of Batoche (9 - 12 May 1885) resulted in the defeat of the Métis and First Nations.  The Canadian government executed Louis Riel for treason.  The rebellion and execution of Riel remain controversial topics.

The South African War 1899-1902

 

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

C Battery helped relieve Colonel Robert Baden-Powell's Garrison under siege at Mafeking.  D Battery helped save the 12 Pounder guns during the Battle of Leliefontein, while E Battery assisted with the liberation of Douglas on the Vaal River.

The Boers 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.  From then on, Gunners would master the art of indirect fire.

By December 1900, the three Canadian Artillery batteries departed South Africa.  The Boers surrendered on 31 May 1902.  Canada lost a total of 270 troops during the South African War.

First World War 1914-1918

 

In early 1915, the Canadians joined the British in the trenches of France and Belgium.  Canadians participated in battles on the Western Front.

The Canadian Artillery directed bombardments against trenches, machine gun deployments, and dugouts.  LCol A. G. L. McNaughton led in the development of counter-battery techniques to target enemy guns.

In 1916, Canada had four divisions with hundreds of guns.  BGen E. W. B. "Dinky" Morrison commanded the Artillery.  The main field guns included the QF 13 Pounder with the RCHA, and the QF 18 Pounder and the 4.5 Inch Howitzer with the RCA.

The Battle of Vimy Ridge, from 9 to 12 April 1917, set a new standard for artillery support to deal with strong enemy positions and counterattacks.  The creeping barrage also evolved to protect advancing troops.  These developments helped Canadians win the battle, which had eluded the British and the French.

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.  Canadian Gunners operated field guns, horse artillery and anti-aircraft guns.  The fighting stopped with the defeat of Germany and the Armistice of 11 November 1918.

During WW1, Canadian Gunners supported the infantry at all costs.  From 1914 to1918, more than 600,000 Canadians joined the Canadian Expeditionary Force.  Over 60,000 gave their lives and 170,000 were wounded.  Of these, 2,565 Gunners died and 8,066 were among the wounded.

Three Canadian field batteries supported anti-communist forces in North Russia and Siberia (1918-1919).  Canada also placed Garrison Artillery on the Island of St. Lucia in the British West Indies (1915-1919).

The Inter-War Years 1919-1939

 

Canada's Permanent Force shrank during the interwar period.  The Permanent Force included the RCHA Brigade (A, B and C Batteries), a medium battery, coastal batteries, and artillery schools.

The Reserve Army was small but active during the interwar period.  The Royal Regiment started the process of going mechanized.  The 3rd Medium Battery, RCA,  in Kingston was the first unit mechanized, receiving four 6-wheeled Leyland tractors in 1929.

During the 1920s and 1930s, the RCHA musical horse drive was famous.  Four 6-horse teams, with their guns and limbers, galloped through a maze of patterns.  MGen J. H. Roberts led the last musical horse drive in Winnipeg in 1933.

Defence spending increased during the 1930s, but not at a rapid pace.  It was not until the late 1930s that Canada started to rearm.

The Second World War 1939-1945

 

During six years of war, Canada enlisted over one million personnel in the Canadian Forces.  In Europe, Canada had five divisional artilleries, two corps artilleries and two army artillery groups.  Each of these large units had multiple artillery regiments attached.

In early 1940, Canada's primary role became the defence of the British Isles.  The 1st Field Regiment, RCHA, was the only Allied unit to withdraw from France with its guns intact.  On 19 August 1942, Canadian troops, including the 2nd Divisional Artillery, participated in the failed Dieppe Raid.

The Field Artillery started with 18/25 Pounders, then used 25 Pounders and self-propelled 25 Pounder Sextons.  The Medium Artillery started with 6-Inch Howitzers, then used 4.5-Inch Howitzers or 5.5-Inch Howitzers.  Anti-tank, anti-aircraft and rocket units employed specialized weapons, and Artillery officers flew light aircraft as spotters.

The Canadians went to Sicily in July 1943 and mainland Italy in September 1943.  By the spring of 1945, Canadians had helped liberate Italy from the German Army.

On 6 June 1944, the Canadian 3rd Division landed on Juno Beach in France.  Juno was one of the five beaches in the Normandy landings.

Canadians continued the breakout through Caen to close the Falaise Gap and then up the Channel Coast.  Next came the push through Belgium to the Scheldt, Netherlands' liberation, and the Battle of the Rhineland.

During these campaigns, the Canadian Artillery executed hundreds of barrages.  Fire plans supported the Canadian and Allied advance.  Hundreds of guns from different regiments could fire on one location.

By mid-April 1945, the 1st Canadian Army had driven the Germans from Holland.  On 25 April, the Americans and Russians met on the Elbe River, and on 7 May 1945, Germany surrendered.  The Pacific War ended three months later with the Japanese surrender on 15 August 1945.

Canada lost over 45,000 service members, including over 2,000 Gunners.

The Korean War 1950-1953

 

On 25 June 1950, the North Korean Army invaded South Korea, starting the Korean War.  The UN organized a multinational police force to defend South Korea.

On 7 August 1950, the Canadian government authorized sending soldiers, including 2 RCHA.  A train carrying 2 RCHA Gunners met with tragedy on 21 November 1950.  Seventeen soldiers died in the Canoe River Disaster.

Canadian Army units fought well at Kapyong and other battles.  Naval and air assets also played important roles.  In May 1952, 1 RCHA replaced 2 RCHA in South Korea.  The 81st Field Regiment, RCA, later named 4 RCHA, took over for 1 RCHA in April 1953.  On 27 July 1953, the fighting stopped with the signing of the Korean Armistice Agreement.

Over 25,500 Canadians served in the Korean theatre by the time of the armistice.  A total of 516 Canadians lost their lives, including 13 Gunners.

The Cold War 1945-1991

 

The Cold War started with the defeat of Germany in 1945.  It ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.  In 1949, Canada was a founding member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

In 1950, NATO established an "integrated defence force" in Europe.  From 1951 to 1992, Canadian Gunners rotated service in West Germany.  Units based in Canada prepared for rapid deployment on NATO missions.  Many of these forces would focus on the defence of Norway.

During the 1960s, the Royal Canadian Artillery deployed the 762 mm Rocket.  The Honest John Rocket used nuclear warheads and conventional non-nuclear warheads.  Canada had systems capable of firing nuclear weapons into the 1980s.

Over 1,200 Canadians died while serving during the Cold War, including 14 Gunners.  The Royal Regiment continues to serve as part of Canada's NATO force.

The First Gulf War 1990-1991

 

In August 1990, war erupted when Iraq invaded Kuwait.  On 9 August 1990, Canada sent the 119th Air Defence Battery, RCA, to the Persian Gulf.  They were to provide air defence for three Canadian Naval ships in the Arabian Gulf.  The ships were part of Operation Friction, Canada's UN commitment.

Canada stationed the 119th Air Defence Battery on these ships, and the battery held Javelin missile live-fire practice in September 1990.  Canadian ships arrived in the Persian Gulf on 23 September 1990 and completed UN Patrol duties, including boarding ships, as part of Iraq's embargo.

The 119th Air Defence Battery did not fire at enemy aircraft.  On 13 March 1991, they returned to Canada.  Canadian ground units saw no combat and reported no casualties during the First Gulf War.

UN Peacekeeping 1945 - Present

 

Since WW2, the Canadian Armed Forces have sent Gunners on at least 33 deployments around the world.

In 1956, Lester B. Pearson advanced Canada's international role in peacekeeping.  During the Suez Crisis, Canada sent troops to stabilize the region.  Pearson helped create the UN Emergency Force (UNEF).  Pearson won a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts.

Over 33,000 Canadians completed six-month UNFICYP tours of Cyprus from 1964 to 1993.  Since 1974, over 12,000 Canadians have monitored the ceasefire in the Golan Heights.  From 1948 to 1988, Canadians represented 10% of UN peacekeepers or 80,000 personnel.

After the Cold War, the Canadian Forces focused on peacekeeping and peacemaking.  In 1993, Canada sent 1 RCHA to Yugoslavia with 81mm mortars.  They fired an illumination round to stop a firefight.

Since 1947, over 125,000 Canadians have served in UN missions.  A total of 130 Canadians lost their lives, including three Gunners.

Operations in Afghanistan 2001-2014

 

On 11 September 2001, terrorists launched a series of attacks on the United States.  On 7 October 2001, the US and its allies invaded Afghanistan.

After the fall of the Taliban government, the UN authorized a NATO-led force.  In 2002, Canada committed a battle group to fight in Afghanistan.  Canadian troops patrolled Kabul and helped rebuild the Afghan Army.  Canadian Infantry, Artillery and Armour took part in ground operations.

In February 2006, Canadian operations moved south to Kandahar.  Canadian Gunners were the first to use the M777 155mm light howitzer in combat.  The Canadian combat role in Afghanistan ended in 2011, and the majority of troops returned home.  The remaining soldiers focused on retraining the Afghan Army and police force.

More than forty thousand CAF members served from 2001 to 2014.  In total, 158 Canadian soldiers died, including nine Gunners.

 

The Royal Regiment – Present Day

 

Today, The Royal Regiment has Regular Force and Reserve Force units.  Most Regular Force units belong to the Royal Canadian Horse Artillery (RCHA).  Reserve Force units are Field Artillery Regiments, RCA.

The Regular Force has five units, including four operational regiments and one artillery school.  The four front-line regiments include 1 RCHA in Shilo, 2 RCHA in Petawawa, 4 Regt (GS), RCA, in Gagetown, and 5 RALC in Valcartier.

The RCA has Reserve Force units across Canada.  The Captain General of The Royal Regiment is the reigning Sovereign.  The Colonel Commandant is the honourary head of The Royal Regiment.

The Senior Serving Gunner is the highest-ranking Artillery General Officer.  The Regimental Colonel fosters the Regimental family, community and heritage.  The Commander Home Station at CFB Shilo helps to maintain the traditions and history of The Regiment.