On 30 March 1918, during the Battle of Moreuil Wood which helped blunt Ludendorff’s massive Operation Michael spring offensive, the Canadian Cavalry Brigade– which had long been held in strategic reserve in case the Allies were able to break through– galloped into the field.
One of these units, C Sqn of Lord Strathcona’s Horse (Royal Canadians), commanded by Lt. Gordon Flowerdew, wheeled into line, and “with a wild shout, a hundred yards in front of his men, charged down on the long thin column of Germans.”
Alfred Munnings: Charge of Flowerdew’s Squadron, Beaverbrook Collection of War Art, Canadian War Memorial
The horsemen charged through the German lines twice and set them to retreat– but lost 70 percent of their effectives in the process. Nonetheless, they held their captured ground until Canadian infantry arrived to reinforce them. Flowerdew later died of his wounds and his family was presented with the VC in his honor.
The Royal Canadians’ Strathcona Mounted Troop recently recreated the charge in France, sans Germans.
Today the Canadian Army rocks some gently used (mainly former Dutch Army) Leopard 2A4+/2A4M/2A6M main battle tanks but their armored tradition goes way back. In the 1930s, the branch trained with early US M1917 tanks and Vickers MKVI light tanks than by 1941 was using MkIV Churchills.
In World War II, Canada actually rolled their own tanks, producing 1,420 locally-built Valentines at the Canadian Pacific Railway’s Angus Shop in Montreal. While most of the V’s went to the Soviet Union for use on the Eastern Front, the Montreal Locomotive Works built a modified version of the M3 Lee medium tank as the Ram to equip Canuck units in Northern Africa early in the war.
In 1943, MLW switched from the Lee/Ram to the Sherman (called “Grizzly” in Canadian service), which included British radio gear, a 2-inch smoke mortar mounted on the turret, and a cast hull as opposed to the more common welded-hull version.
The 1st Canadian Armoured Brigade was equipped with Grizzlies in time for the invasion of Sicily in July 1943.
A Sherman V (M4A4) of the 1st Canadian Armoured Brigade passes through Regalbuto Sicily during the Allied Drive for Messina – August 1943 IWM – Rooke (Sgt) Photographer
The novice Canadian Armored Corps in Italy caught hell from both the terrain and German PzKpfw IV’s when 36 Shermans from the Three Rivers Regiment (Tank), CASF (now the 12e Régiment blindé du Canada) took on the brunt of the veteran German 16th Panzer Corps near Termoli in one of the most epic armored engagements of Canadian military history.
Tank Crew Italy 1944 with their Sherman M4 Lord Strathcona’s Horse (Royal Canadians) plates done for Straths by R. Marriou in the mid-1970s
Canadian Armour (M4 Sherman) Passing Through Ortona, by Dr. Charles Comfort. Canadian War Museum (CN 12245).
The 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade, and the 4th Canadian Armoured Division, training in Britain for Operation Overlord, had their Ram tanks swapped out with the new tank just before D-Day.
Maj Gen. Bert Hoffmeister, 36, commander of the Canadian 5th Armoured Division, in front of his M4 Sherman command tank, “Vancouver” May 1944. MIKAN ID number 4233102
They also caught hell in Northwestern Europe.
M4A2(75) Sherman 10th Canadian Armoured Regiment Vaucelles, France June, 1944 Kodachrome LAC
A rare color chrome of a Sherman V of the Canadian 29th Reconnaissance Regiment (The South Alberta Regiment). The Tank was commanded by Major David Currie (VC), and the tank was named ‘Clanky’. This photo was taken in Normandy around Arromanches in July of 1944. Photo via TheShermanTank.com
A pair of burnt-out Canadian M4A2 Shermans of the 10th Armored Regiment (The Fort Garry Horse) at the foot of the church at Rots – June 1944
Color photo of a Canadian Sherman Firefly tank in Leeuwarden, the Netherlands, 1945, assigned to the Royal Canadian Dragoons (RCD)
M4 Sherman with add-on armor via spare treads to help give a talisman against Tigers in NW Europe, 1944-45. Canadian Governor General’s Horse Guards (GGHG)
M4 Sherman of the 1st Canadian Army liberating the city of Apeldoorn, the Netherlands, on April 17 1945
Some Grizzlies were converted into the Skink anti-aircraft tank with a turret mounting four 20 mm Polsten guns– a very effective anti-personnel and AAA platform.
“Tank AA, 20 mm Quad,” better known as the Skink was a Canadian self-propelled anti-aircraft gun, developed in 1943-44 fully enclosed mounting on the chassis of the Grizzly Canadian-built M4A1 Sherman
Other variants included the Badger flame tank and Kangaroo APC, both made from Sherman hulls.
When Hitler was vanquished, the Canadians left their Grizzlies/Shermans in Europe while in 1946 they picked up 294 “Easy Eight” M4A2(76)W HVSS Shermans cheap– just $1,460 each (Late model Shermans cost $200,000 to make in 1945). They were leftovers from Lend Lease production meant for Uncle Joe in Moscow but by that stage of the 1940s, the U.S. would rather sell them at scrap prices than give them to the Soviets.
The batch of M4A2(76)W’s (M4A3E8’s) were kept in Canada proper for training purposes, even though they were different from the Shermans forward deployed along the Rhine.
Trooper Andy Parenteau of the Lord Strathcona’s Horse (Royal Canadians) sleeps on the back of a Canadian Sherman M4A3(76)W HVSS tank, Korea. Note the American ration box and United Nations/Canada crest on the tail
1952- Canadian Sherman tanks of ‘B’ Squadron, Lord Strathcona’s Horse, completing a tour of front-line duty in Korea, 16 July. Note name “Catherine” on the lead tank
British forces used Centurions in the conflict– speaking of which…
In 1952, the Canadian Army bought the first of what would be 274 Centurion Mk 3 Tanks and split these MBTs between the active units in Germany (with their Grizzles being passed on to Portugal) and at home, later adding 120 Mk 5’s to the arsenal– while transferring the Easy Eight Shermans to reserve units.
They remained in service until 1978 when Canada replaced their aging Centurions with 127 new German-built Leopard C1 (equivalent to Leopard 1A3 with laser rangefinder) MBTs and, as the buy was limited and 114 were based in West Germany, just a handful were sent home to Canadian Forces Base Gagetown, New Brunswick for training.
The days of large tank lots in Canada had come to an end.
This led to the retirement of the last Canadian reserve force Shermans in the 1970s, one of the last Western countries to do so.
Canadian Easy Eight Shermans in reserve units 1970s out for a Sunday drive
You have to admit, the camo scheme looks good on these tanks…and they were an instant WWII veterans parade every time they left the armory
After retirement, many Canadian Shermans remained in use well into the 1980s– as targets and gate guards.
The British Columbia Regiment (Duke of Connaught’s Own) is a Primary Reserve armored reconnaissance (recce) regiment of the Canadian Forces that still has a vintage Sherman M4 as a gate guard
Ex-Canadian M4 Sherman used for target practice with anti-tank weapons, 1986
It should be noted that as late as 1989, the Finning Tank Drill, a rock drill used in logging road construction, was produced in British Columbia from Sherman hulls while BC’s Morpac Industries, Inc., still produces heavy-duty, off-road load crawlers based on Sherman components. It is very likely these civilian mods will be in the wilds of Canada’s western forests for decades to come.
Here is a Finning caught in its natural state:
Today some 60~ intact models are thought to still exist in the country as gate guards and museum pieces and they pop up from time to time in both their Grizzly and later Easy Eight variants for sale at reasonable prices.
The Ontario Regiment (RCAC) Museum in Oshawa, Ontario has a pair of great working Shermans, (“Bart” #78-904 and “Billy #78-856).
Overall, not a bad track record for the often derided Sherman.
Charge of Flowerdew’s Squadron, Painted by Sir Alfred James Munnings. Currently in the Beaverbrook Collection of War Art. Canvas was formerly at the Imperial War Museum in London; but it is now in the collection of the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa.
Nearly three-quarters of the Canadian cavalry involved in this attack against German machine-gun positions at Moreuil Wood on 30 March 1918 were killed or wounded. This included Lieutenant G.M. Flowerdew, Lord Strathcona’s Horse (Royal Canadians), who was awarded the Victoria Cross for leading the charge that, while devastating to the Canadian horsemen, did break the German line. Unable to break the trench deadlock and of little use at the front, cavalry remained behind the lines for much of the war. During the German offensives of March and April 1918, however, the cavalry played an essential role in the open warfare that temporarily confronted the retreating British forces.
Flowerdew’s VC citation:
For most conspicuous bravery and dash when in command of a squadron detailed for special services of a very important nature. On reaching his first objective, Lieutenant Flowerdew saw two lines of enemy, each about sixty strong, with machine guns in the centre and flanks; one line being about two hundred yards behind the other. Realizing the critical nature of the operation and how much depended on it, Lieut. Flowerdew ordered a troop under Lieut. Harvey, VC, to dismount and carry out a special movement, while he led the remaining three troops to the charge. The squadron (less one troop) passed over both lines, killing many of the enemy with the sword; and wheeling about galloping on them again. Although the squadron had then lost about 70 per cent of its members, killed and wounded from rifle and machine gun fire directed on it from the front and both flanks, the enemy broke and retired. The survivors of the squadron then established themselves in a position where they were joined, after much hand-to-hand fighting, by Lieut. Harvey’s part. Lieut. Flowerdew was dangerously wounded through both thighs during the operation, but continued to cheer his men. There can be no doubt that this officer’s great valour was the prime factor in the capture of the position.
The Royal Canadians, now in their 113th year, are part of the Royal Canadian Armored Corps today as a recon unit stationed in Edmonton, AB. They are a reinforced battalion-sized unit equipped with 40 Leopard 2’s (21 Leopard 2A4M’s,19 Leopard 2A6M’s) and 24 Coyote Reconnaissance Vehicles. Organized during the Boer War, they have seen combat in WWI (France 1915-18 on horse), WWII (Italy 1944-45 and Holland with M4 Shermans) Korea (1950-53 with M4A3E8 Shermans), and Afghanistan (2002-2011 mainly with Task Force Kandahar) as well as peacekeeping in Bosnia.
As for Flowerdew, he is buried at Namps-au-Val Cemetery in France located 11 miles south-east of Amiens (plot I, row H. grave 1)