Military Wiki
3rd Canadian Division
3rd Canadian Infantry Division patch.png
3rd Canadian Division formation patch
Active 1915-1919
Country Canada
Allegiance Allies
Branch Canadian Expeditionary Force
Canadian Army
Type Infantry
Nickname(s) The Water Rats
Engagements Battle of the Somme
Battle of Vimy Ridge
Battle of Passchendaele
D-Day, Juno Beach
Battle of Normandy
The Scheldt
Brigadier-General J.C.G Juneau
Rodney F.L. Keller
Daniel C. Spry
Ralph H. Keefler

The 3rd Canadian Division was first created as a formation of the Canadian Corps during the First World War. It was stood down following the war only to be reactivated as the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division during the Second World War. In both wars the division was recognized by the distinctive French grey patch worn on the sleeve of its soldiers.

First World War

The 3rd Canadian Division was formed in France in December 1915 under the command of Major-General Malcolm Mercer. Its members served in both France and Flanders until Armistice Day. While with 3rd Division at Ypres, Mercer became the highest-ranking Canadian officer killed in action in World War I. On the same day, Brigadier V. A. Williams, commanding the 8th Infantry Brigade, became the highest-ranking Canadian officer captured in World War I, also at the Battle of Mount Sorrel. Mercer was replaced by Louis Lipsett, who commanded the division until September 1918 shortly before he too was killed in action.

Infantry units

7th Infantry Brigade:

8th Infantry Brigade:

9th Infantry Brigade: (Joined the Division in January 1916)


  • 3rd Canadian Pioneer Battalion. January 8, 1916 – May 1917 (Disbanded);
  • 123rd Canadian Pioneer Battalion. March 1917 – June 1918. To the 3rd Canadian Engineer Brigade.[1]

Battles and engagements on the Western Front




Second World War

The formation of the division was authorized on 17 May 1940. There was then a considerable delay until the brigade and divisional headquarters were formed on 5 September, and the first divisional commander was appointed on 26 October.

While the division’s components were forming, The Cameron Highlanders of Ottawa were detached and transferred to Iceland as part of Z Force. The battalion spent the winter of 1940–41 there before moving to the UK. The division's 8th Canadian Infantry Brigade and 9th Canadian Infantry Brigades began embarking as early as 1 July 1941 and arrived in the UK at the end of that month. The 7th Canadian Infantry Brigade embarked in August and arrived at the beginning of September. After its arrival, the division spent three uneventful years in garrison and training duties prior to the assault landing on Juno Beach in Normandy, as part of the British 2nd Army, later joining the newly formed 1st Canadian Army. Battle honours include Caen, Falaise, capturing the Channel ports, the Breskens pocket, and the final offensives of 1945. During the Battle of the Scheldt, the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division had the nickname of "Water Rats" bestowed upon them by General Bernard Montgomery, in recognition of the poor conditions of terrain through which they fought, first in the Normandy landings, and then in the flooded Breskens Pocket.


Canadian soldiers headed for Juno Beach aboard LCAs

File:Junobeach Landing1.jpg

Canadian Soldiers landing on Juno beach from an LCA

Canadian Troops land at 'Nan White' Beach at Bernières-sur-Mer

File:Junobeach Landing2.jpg

Tanks and Régiment de la Chaudière moving along French village road, Normandy Beach head

Formation sign used to identify vehicles of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division

  • Divisional Royal Canadian Artillery
    • 12th Field Artillery Regiment, RCA
    • 13th Field Artillery Regiment, RCA
    • 14th Field Artillery Regiment, RCA
    • 3rd Anti-tank Regiment, RCA
    • 4th Light Anti-aircraft Regiment, RCA
  • Divisional Royal Canadian Engineers
    • 6th Field Company, RCE
    • 16th Field Company, RCE
    • 18th Field Company, RCE
    • 3rd Canadian Field Park Company, RCE
    • 3rd Canadian Divisional Bridge Platoon, RCE

Juno Beach, D Day

Juno beach was five miles wide and stretched on either side of Courseulles-sur-Mer.

The 3rd Canadian Infantry Division with the 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade under command landed in two brigade groups,the 7th Canadian Infantry Brigade and the 8th Canadian Infantry Brigade, Each Brigade had three Infantry Battalions and an armoured regiment in support, 2 artillery field regiments, combat engineer companies and extra units from the 79th Armoured Division. The Fort Garry Horse tanks (10th Armoured Regiment) supported the 7th brigade landing on the left and the 1st Hussars tanks (6th Armoured Regiment) supported the landing on the right.

The 9th Canadian Infantry Brigade was kept in reserve and landed later that day and advanced through the lead brigades. The Sherbrooke Fusiliers tanks (27th Armoured Regiment) provided tank support.

The initial assault was carried out by:

North Shore Regiment on the left at St. Aubin (Nan Red beach)
Queen's Own Rifles in the centre at Bernières (Nan White beach)
Regina Rifles at Courseulles (Nan Green beach)
Royal Winnipeg Rifles on the western edge of Courseulles (Mike Red and Mike Green beaches)

In the first hour of the assault on Juno Beach, the Canadian forces suffered approximately 50% casualty rates, comparable to those suffered by the Americans at Omaha Beach. Once the Canadians cleared the seawall (about an hour after leaving the transports) they started to advance quickly inland and had a much easier time subduing the German defences than the Americans at Omaha had. By noon, the entire 3rd Canadian Division was ashore and leading elements had pushed several kilometres inland to seize bridges over the Seulles River. By 6:00 pm they had captured the town of Saint-Aubin-sur-Mer. A 1st Hussars armoured troop reached its objective along with men of The Queen's Own Rifles of Canada before nightfall, when both units moved 15 km inland and crossed the Caen-Bayeux highway.[2] However, this troop was forced to pull back because they had passed the supporting infantry. By the end of D-Day the 3rd Canadian Division had penetrated farther into France than any other Allied force, though counter-attacks by elements of two German armoured divisions would stop any further movement for several weeks.

None of the assault divisions, including 3rd Canadian Division, had managed to secure their D-Day objectives, which lay inland, although the Canadians came closer than any other Allied formation.[3]

By the end of the next day, the Canadian forces had linked up with the British forces that had landed at Sword Beach.

Members of the 3rd Infantry Division with a starving prisoner liberated from a Nazi concentration camp in 1945.

Time line Juno Beach

  • 6 June 1944
    • 05:35 German shore batteries open fire; Allied naval forces, now massed along entire Normandy coast, begin bombardment.
    • 06:30 Assault on beaches starts. 3rd Canadian Division landing on Juno made more difficult by strong current. Delay allows Germans to mount strong defence. Objective: advance inland and join troops from British beaches.
    • 07:00 German radio broadcasts first report of landing.
    • 08:30 48 Commando lands at St Aubin, Juno Beach and heads east. Beach clearance difficult due to high tides and rough seas.
    • 09:00 General Eisenhower issues communiqué announcing start of invasion.
    • 09:35 Canadian 8th Brigade liberates Bernières.
    • 11:12 After fierce fire fight, 7th Brigade secures Juno exit at Courseulles. But congestion as Canadian 9th Brigade arrives.
    • 11:20 Canadians capture Tailleville, Banville and St Croix.
    • 12:00 As Winston Churchill reports landings to House of Commons, Further landings on Juno. Langrune captured by Juno troops.
    • 13:35 German 352nd Division wrongly advises HQ that Allied assault repulsed. Message not corrected until 18.00.
    • 14:15 All Canadian 3rd Division now ashore on Juno. Rapid advances start: troops link with those from Gold.
    • 18:00 3rd Canadian Div, North Nova Scotia Highlanders reach three miles inland. 1st Hussar tanks cross Caen-Bayeux railway, 10 miles inland. Canadian Scottish link with 50th Division at Creully.
    • 20:00 Canadians from Juno Beach reach Villons les Buissons, seven miles inland. Attack by 21st Panzers reach coast between Sword and Juno at Luc-sur-Mer.
    • 22:00 Rommel returns to HQ from Germany. Montgomery sails for France.

Juno Beach: 21,400 troops landed, with fewer than 1,000 casualties. Aim of capturing Carpiquet airfield not achieved. No link yet with Sword forces.[4]

Fighting in Normandy

The 3rd Division later contributed greatly in the Battle of Normandy, forming the extreme left flank of the British Second Army facing Caen. On D+1 they advanced and captured their D-Day objectives, the first Allied unit to achieve that in Operation Overlord. The objectives were the villages of Authie and Carpiquet both of which saw heavy fighting, seesawing between the Canadians and the German defenders of the 12th SS Panzer Division Hitlerjugend. Over the course of five days the 12th SS launched a series of counter-attacks in an attempt to crush the Canadian bridgehead and throw them back on the sea. The Canadians stubbornly held on, supported by the Allied Fleet and the RAF. At the end of the fifth day the 12th SS had lost a third of their armoured strength and were forced to stop the attacks and fall back. On 4 July the 3rd Canadian Division, along with the British 3rd and 59th Divisions supported by the 79th Armoured Division launched Operation Windsor, and captured the Carpiquet Airfield and the surrounding areas from the 12th SS after several hours of confused and hard fighting. On 8 July the Division participated in Operation Charnwood, the Second Army's final advance on the northern parts of Caen. Once again the Canadians excelled and captured all their objectives after suffering, once again, heavy casualties.

On 18 July Operation Atlantic was launched, the Canadian advance which would coincide with Operation Goodwood, happening further east by British forces in the area south of Caen. The 2nd and 3rd Canadian Divisions supported by integral armour support advanced towards Caen, one of the objectives being the village of Colombelles and the surrounding hills. This village and the surrounding area was defended by the battle-proven 21st Panzer Division. After several hours of confused fighting on the 18th and the 19th the Germans were forced back from the outskirts of the town and pushed back over the river Orne. The 3rd Canadian Division continued the advance on the 20th and the lead units came under heavy machine-gun and small arms fire from a chateau close to Colombelles. The Queen's Own Rifles of Canada, with support from the 17th Duke of York's Royal Canadian Hussars, despite suffering heavy casualties pushed forward once again and captured the heavily fortified village of Gibberville. The rest of the Division captured Colombelles through the course of the day. The Canadians were then faced with the formidable German defensive positions on the Verrières Ridge, were the German SS troops had created excellent field fortifications and deployed hundreds of field artillery, Nebelwerfers and dug numbers of trenches and foxholes for defence. The 2nd Canadian Division's 4th and 6th Brigades assaulted the ridge, but suffered heavy losses and were forced to fall back. The attack went in during heavy rain which turned the ground to mud and bogged down the Canadian armoured support and kept the Hawker Typhoon fighter-bomber support from the RAF from showing up. After the failed attack, troops from both the 2nd and 12th SS Panzer Division counter-attacked, and only with support from the 3rd Canadian Division's 8th Brigade did they manage to beat the Germans back.

Meanwhile the British 3rd Division faced considerable resistance and advanced only with great cost of life. Tiger tanks from the 503rd Scwhere Panzer Abteilung (503rd Heavy Armour Battalion) caused ferocious losses among the British armour support. The British 7th Armoured Division, 11th Armoured Division and Guards Armoured Division faced opposition from the 1st and 12th SS Panzer Divisions and suffered heavy losses. Still the German casualties was not replaceable, and the losses inflicted by the Canadians and British was sorely felt. The German tanks could not easily be replaced as was the case with the Allied tank losses.

The offensive continued for two more days before the Allied offensive ground to a halt in face of stiffening German resistance. The German Panzer Divisions in the area had been bled completely dry, losing a staggering amount of tanks and men, which could not be easily replaced. Two days later, on 25 July, the American First Army launched Operation Cobra, since there were no German panzer divisions to stop them, all of the available panzer units being sent to stop the British/Canadian advance. The 3rd Canadian Division and the other units involved in the offensive were allowed to catch their breath and they dug in, expecting a German counter-attack which never came.

1945 in Germany

In 1945, the Canadian Army Occupation Force (CAOF) was formed, based on the organization of the 3rd Infantry Division, and named after the units of the 3rd Infantry Division. It was created as part of Canada's commitment to postwar Europe. The formation was formed on the organizational structure of a standard infantry division. It appears that the CAOF was disbanded later in 1945.[citation needed]

The original Cross erected for religious services in the New Forest, Southern England, by men of the 3rd Canadian Division. It is now maintained as a war memorial by local people and the UK Forestry Commission. The bronze plate at the foot of the Cross is inscribed "ON THIS SITE A CROSS WAS ERECTED TO THE GLORY OF GOD ON 14th APRIL 1944. SERVICES WERE HELD HERE UNTIL D-DAY BY MEN OF THE 3rd CANADIAN DIVISION RCASC." Its location is shown here by WikiMapia [1]
The bronze plate is shown here [2] and here [3]

Among the units of the CAOF were the:


See also

Land Forces Western Area and 2013 reactivation

LFWA was created on 1 September 1991, taking command of what was previously Prairie Militia Area, Pacific Militia Area, and the Regular Force Army units and formations in western Canada from the northern lakehead region of Ontario to the Pacific Ocean. At that point in time, the Militia Areas ceased to exist, and the seven subordinate Militia Districts were reorganised into four: British Columbia District, Alberta District, Saskatchewan District, and Manitoba-Lakehead District.[5]

Later that decade, the four reserve force districts were again reorganized into three Canadian Brigade Groups.

In 2013, LFWA was renamed 3rd Canadian Division. With this change of name, the formation was also granted the identifying patch and historical lineage of the division that fought in the two world wars.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 3rd Canadian Division retrieved November 20, 2007
  2. Martin, CC Battle Diary, p.16
  3. Graves, Donald E. Century of Service
  4. "The longest day". The Independent. London. 6 June 2004. Retrieved 23 April 2010. 
  5. "Domestic Military Organization 1900-1999". Canadian 22 February 2013. 

Further reading

External links

This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia (view authors).