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The 1st Canadian Infantry Division was a formation mobilized on 1 September, 1939 for service in the Second World War. The division was also reactivated twice during the Cold War.

The division was mobilized even before the formal declaration of war, with the 1st Canadian Infantry Brigade, 2nd Canadian Infantry Brigade, and the 3rd Canadian Infantry Brigade. The division crossed the Atlantic in two main convoys at the end of 1939, with additional troops reaching the UK at the beginning of February 1940.

In 1941, the formation adopted the red rectangular battle patch insignia worn by the 1st Canadian Division in the First World War.

Formation history

All elements of the division were far from completely equipped on mobilization: of the artillery and machine guns on hand, most were obsolete, and the troops lacked steel helmets. Only gradually did a full complement of more modern weapons, equipment, and transport begin reaching the division in 1940.

Nevertheless, in the wake of the Dunkirk evacuation the Canadians were ordered to France in June 1940. Only the 1st Canadian Infantry Brigade actually arrived on the continent, and it returned almost immediately. The division trained in England for three years before transferring to the Mediterranean to take part in the assault landing on Sicily in July 1943. It then landed in Calabria and fought its way up the Italian peninsula from Ortonamarker to the Seniomarker with the British 8th Army, earning an excellent reputation along the way.

The 1st Division halted its advance at the banks of the Senio to take up winter positions in late December 1944 (movement was hindered by the wet Italian winter). The division was finally moved from Italy as part of Operation Goldflake in March 1945, finishing the war in the Netherlands with First Canadian Army.

Formation sign used to identify vehicles of the 1st Canadian Infantry Division during World War II.

Cold War

A 1st Canadian Division Headquarters was reactivated twice following the Second World War, in 1954 (disbanding in 1958) and in November 1989.

The reformation in November 1989 followed the Canadian Government's decision to end the Canadian Air-Sea Transportable (CAST) Brigade Group commitment to reinforce Northern Norway. 5th Canadian Brigade Group, or more accurately, 5e Groupe-Brigade du Canada, based in Quebec, was thus available for other tasks. The CAST rapid-reinforcement commitment had been encountering problems, most graphically demonstrated during Exercise BRAVE LION in 1986, which prompted Canada to start formal consultations with NATO about consolidating the CAST Brigade and 4th Canadian Mechanised Brigade Group, based in southern Germany. The two separate forces would have meant critical logistical and medical support needs would have gone unmet in case of real war. The hole thus created by the removal of the CAST Brigade Group was filled, to a degree, by the creation of a NATO Composite Force (NCF) which Canada promised a battalion group towards.

The headquarters was established, with both 4th and 5th brigades under command, at Kingston, Ontario, with a forward detachment at Lahr in Germany where the 4th Brigade was based. The main headquarters was intended to move gradually from Kingston to Lahr over a period of time, though this never, in the event, took place. With the division only having two brigades, it was assumed that in wartime, either a German or US brigade would be assigned to provide the necessary third manoeuvre element. Training and exercises were conducted with this in mind. Some changes were necessary to the two brigades, as the 5th Brigade only had three-quarters of the 4th Brigade’s personnel and equipment.

As finally envisaged, the Division would have had two brigades as its fighting formations, with the support organizations held at the divisional level. Once reinforcements had arrived from Canada, each brigade would have had one small armoured regiment (two squadrons, each 20 tanks), and two four-company infantry battalions. Divisional troops would have been a mix of former 4th and 5th Brigade units along with some troops from 1st Brigade Group in western Canada. 3rd RCHA was intended to have been re-equipped with the MLRS to provide general support, while a further engineer regiment, 6 CER, was to have been formed. The Fort Garry Horse was also to have been re-formed to provide a divisional reconnaissance capability.

As it became obvious that the Soviet threat was disappearing in the early 1990s, the future options for Canadian forces in Europe were increasingly debated. While a battalion-sized remaining Canadian force was discussed, eventually it was decided that all Canadian land forces would leave Germany by 1994. With units disbanding around them, Division Headquarters (Forward) was repatriated to CFB Kingston on 13 June 1992, and at this time the two-brigade Germany existence of the 1st Division effectively ended.

Back in Kingston the Division’s aegis was reduced to two units; a new 1st Canadian Division HQ and Signals Regiment (which incorporated Division HQ) and the 1st Canadian Division Intelligence Company (1 Cdn Div Int Coy). Its new role was to be capable of deploying a land-based, Joint Task Force Headquarters at Division level or a Joint Force Headquarters consisting of Navy, Army and Air Force personnel for territorial defence, contingencies and other missions including complex international scenarios. The Division HQ would train formation HQs, plan for contingencies and command assigned forces in crisis situations. The HQ had in priority, four roles operations, training, support and planning.

Order of Battle

1st Canadian Infantry Brigade:

2nd Canadian Infantry Brigade:

3rd Canadian Infantry Brigade:

Other Units

(In July 1944, the divisional reconnaissance battalion, the 4th Princess Louise Dragoon Guards, converted to infantry and transferred to 12th Infantry Brigade of the 5th Canadian Armoured Division, to be replaced by The Royal Canadian Dragoons. The Princess Louise returned to its original mechanized role in Northwest Europe in March 1945, and The Royal Canadian Dragoons became the armoured car regiment of I Canadian Corps.)


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