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Early Armour in Canadian Service

Early Armour in Canadian Service Book Review

By Cookie Sewell

Date of Review January 2010 Title Early Armour in Canadian Service
Author Roger V. Lucy Publisher Service Publications
Published 2009 ISBN 1-894581-54-7
Format 24 pages, softbound MSRP (CDN) $9.95


This is essentially the fourth book from Service Publications covering pre-WWII Canadian attempts to form a cohesive armored force. The other three books, The Armoured Autocar in Canadian Service by Cameron Pulisfer, Great War Tanks in Canadian Service by Michael R. Morgan and 1935 Armoured Car in Canadian Service by Roger V. Lucy, cover the WWI experience and how the Canadian government tried to create its own armoured vehicles but ultimately was unsuccessful prior to the late 1930s.

In order to develop an armoured force doctrine, the Canadians started “small” - literally - with the purchase of six British Carden-Loyd Mark VI* machine gun carriers in 1930-31 and six more in 1931-32. Four each were divvied up among the Royal 22e Regiment, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, and the Royal Canadian Regiment. This also introduced Captain F. F. Worthington (for whom the museum collection at CFB Borden is now named) to armored warfare.

The Canadians realized they also would need tanks, so in 1935 the army did investigate the idea of purchasing Disston tractor conversions. Slow and unwieldy, the Army passed on this and looked to other sources.

In 1937 the Canadian Army decided on the Vickers Light Mk. VIB and bought two for evaluation. The Army decided they wanted to purchase another 242 to divvy up as 110 for light tanks and 132 as infantry support tanks but budgets being what they were did not succeed.

In 1938 the Canadian Army briefly flirted with the Christie designs from the eccentric New Jersey inventor. Then Major Worthington perceived him to be something of a dreamer who could not actually deliver and advised a pass.

That same year also contracts go out for the Universal Carrier, which the Canadians did buy (and also produce in large numbers later during the war) which was a more successful option. They wanted 50, got 20, but as noted eventually built over 29,000 for the Commonwealth forces.

When the war broke out in the fall of 1939, all bets were off. Britain wanted Canada to use her resources to contribute to needs, and as such wanted the Canadian industry to produce the Infantry Tank Mk. III - the Valentine - in Canada, but was not sure if Canadian industry was up to the job. But in an odd turn, they then asked the Canadians to produce the larger and more complex Infantry Tank Mk. IV - the Churchill! Arguments ensued but after Dunkirk reason reared its ugly head and the Canadians started work with a contract for 488 Valentines – 300 for Britain and 188 for the Canadian Army.

But this was June 1940 and the Canadian Army still had no tanks with which to train. In July 1940 Prime Minister King and President Roosevelt made a deal in which the US Army transferred 250 M1917 tanks (US built copies of the WW I Renault FT) to Canada as offer some Mk. VIII International heavy tanks; yes on the M1917s, no on the Mk. VIIIs.

With these tanks in hand – even though most were rated as “unserviceable” so they could be scrapped or cannibalized as needed for training purposes – the Canadian Army started to work out tactics, doctrine and markings for combat formations with the little two-man tanks. As they were quite elderly (and not up to modern safety standards for even 1940) the tanks could not button up due to CO buildup from the exhaust and firing the weapons, so in some cases hatch covers were even removed. These served as trainers until 1943.

By that time the Canadian Army was receiving their own tank – the Ram, derived from the US M3 Medium Tank, and even the new M4 Sherman tanks, which could be built in Canada at the ALCO Montreal Locomotive Works factory. Eventually Canada fielded two armoured divisions and two tank brigades in Europe, but they all started with these very modest components.

Overall this is a neat little book which puts the development of the Canadian armoured force in perspective.

Thanks to Clive Law of Service Publications for the review copy.