Canada in the Second World War

Arms & Weapons

Infantry Weapons

The Lee-Enfield rifle and Bren light machine-gun (LMG) were the basic Canadian infantry weapons, but fire-power was supplemented by grenades, semi-automatic rifles (also called machine carbines) like the Sten gunmortars, Vickers medium machine-guns, anti-tank weapons such as the 6-pounder and PIAT (Projector, Infantry, Anti-Tank), and light anti-aircraft guns. Air power, armour (i.e. tanks), and artillery worked in close cooperation with infantry to provide additional fire support on the battlefield.

Lee-Enfield Rifle

The Lee-Enfield Rifle No. 4 was the standard infantry rifle used by Canadian troops during the Second World War. Earlier marks had been in service with the British Army since 1895, and were to continue until 1957. Despite being issued with temperamental Ross rifles early in the First World War, Canadian troops often threw them away in favour of reliable Lee-Enfields picked up on the battlefield. Fortunately there was no such controversy during the latter conflict. The well-liked Lee-Enfield No. 4 was manufactured in Britain, the US, and Canada.

Lee-Enfield Rifle No. 4 Mark 1
Calibre 0.303 inch (7.7 mm)
Length 134 cm
Weight 4.1 kg
Feed system 10-round magazine
Action Lee turn-bolt
Platoon Commander Lieutenant I. Macdonald (with binoculars) ready to give order to attack at S. Leonardo di Ortona, Italy, 10 December 1943. Left to right, Sergeant J.T. Cooney, Privates A.R. Downie, O.E. Bernier, G.R. Young (kneeling, with Lee-Enfield rifle), Corporal T. Fereday and Private S.L. Hart (lying down with Bren gun) all of the 48th Highlanders.

Platoon Commander Lieutenant I. Macdonald (with binoculars) ready to give order to attack at S. Leonardo di Ortona, Italy, 10 December 1943. Left to right, Sergeant J.T. Cooney, Privates A.R. Downie, O.E. Bernier, G.R. Young (kneeling, with Lee-Enfield rifle), Corporal T. Fereday and Private S.L. Hart (lying down with Bren gun) all of the 48th Highlanders.
Photo by Frederick G. Whitcombe. Department of National Defence / National Archives of Canada, PA-163411.

 

Sten Gun

The Sten was a type of sub-machine gun or machine carbine. Such weapons were designed to be light, compact, cheap and quick to produce, and deliver high rates of fire over relatively short ranges. Manufactured in Britain and Canada, the Sten was widely copied and continued in service around the world long after the Second World War.

Sten gun
Calibre 9 mm
Length 76.2 cm
Weight 3 kg
Feed system 32-round magazine
Rate of fire 550 rounds per minute
Sergeant C.M.G. Lattion, Canadian Army Film and Photo Unit, cleaning Sten gun, Lembeck, Germany 29 March 1945.

Sergeant C.M.G. Lattion, Canadian Army Film and Photo Unit, cleaning Sten gun, Lembeck, Germany 29 March 1945.
Photo by Charles H. Richer. Department of National Defence / National Archives of Canada, PA-145591.

 

Bren Gun

“The Bren Gun is spoken of with affection by every British soldier who ever used one, and with good reason. Beyond any doubt it was . . . the finest light machine gun ever adopted in quantity by any army. It was reliable, robust, simple and accurate, and beyond that no one has a right to ask.” (Ian V Hogg, The Encyclopedia of Infantry Weapons of World War II, 1977) The Bren was ubiquitous in British and Commonwealth armies, used in rifle sections and in Universal (Bren gun) carriers.

Bren gun
Calibre .303 inch (7.7 mm)
Length 115 cm
Weight 10 kg
Feed system 30-round magazine
Rate of fire 500 rounds per minute
Lance Corporal George Netherwood (left) and Private W.L. Soderberg (right) with Bren guns, Private Earl Israel (rear), October 1943, Italy.

Lance Corporal George Netherwood (left) and Private W.L. Soderberg (right) with Bren guns, Private Earl Israel (rear), October 1943, Italy.
Photo by Terry F. Rowe. Department of National Defence / National Archives of Canada, PA-141306.

Vickers Machine Gun

During the Great War, machine guns were used for both direct fire against visible targets and in an indirect role to create lethal “beaten zones” where enemy infantry could scarcely survive. In such roles they were weapons of position more than of maneuver, often sited to deliver enfilade fire laterally against a line of advancing troops. The Second World War saw the use of more mobile light machine-guns that could move with the infantry in the attack, thus increasing the rifleman’s organic fire-power. A machine-gun’s rapid rate of fire causes the barrel to heat up and wear out very quickly, and solutions to this fundamental problem included air- and water-cooled weapons with barrels that could be easily replaced in action. The Vickers .303 was the same as used during the First World War, with the addition of a dial sight to increase accuracy. Its gun barrel was water-cooled to keep the temperature down during rapid fire. The Vickers was normally fired from a tripod but could also be mounted on a carrier.

Vickers .303
Calibre .303 inch (7.7 mm)
Length 109 cm
Gun weight 15 kg (without water)
Tripod weight 23 kg
Accurate range 1000 m
Rate of fire 450 to 600 rounds per minute
Officers of the Cameron Highlanders of Ottawa demonstrate the Vickers machine gun. Front, left to right: Major G.F. Clingdon, Lieutenant-Colonel H.V.D. Laing. Rear, left to right: Captain Roger Rowley, Lieutenants W.H. Armstrong and G.O. Handley. Lindfield, England, 8 April 1942.

Officers of the Cameron Highlanders of Ottawa demonstrate the Vickers machine gun. Front, left to right: Major G.F. Clingdon, Lieutenant-Colonel H.V.D. Laing. Rear, left to right: Captain Roger Rowley, Lieutenants W.H. Armstrong and G.O. Handley. Lindfield, England, 8 April 1942.
Photo by Frank Royal. Department of National Defence / National Archives of Canada, PA-138338.

Mills Bomb

Developed during World War I, the Mills bomb continued to serve as the standard British grenade during the Second World War. It was made of cast iron deeply serrated to fragment easily. Pulling the grenade’s pin released a lever holding the striker, which in turn ignited the fuse. The Mills bomb was initially set with a seven-second delay which was reduced to four seconds after the fall of France in the spring of 1940, when it was found that seven seconds allowed the Germans enough time to pick up the grenade and throw it back. The Mills bomb could be thrown to about 30 yards’ range.

Three men of the Canadian Infantry Brigade preparing to send a hand grenade into a sniper's hideout in the Maltese Mountains, Campochiaro, Italy, 23 October 1943.

Three men of the Canadian Infantry Brigade preparing to send a hand grenade into a sniper’s hideout in the Maltese Mountains, Campochiaro, Italy, 23 October 1943.
Photo by Alexander M. Stirton. Department of National Defence / National Archives of Canada, PA-136198.

Projector, Infantry, Anti-Tank (PIAT)

The PIAT was a simple, short-range infantry anti-tank weapon made possible by the development of hollow- or shaped-charge projectiles. The PIAT round was propelled by a huge spring and spigot which ignited a cartridge within the tail of the projectile. Heavy and awkward to handle, it was difficult to load and kicked violently when fired. It was, nonetheless, very effective given the right circumstances. On 21 October 1944, for example, Canadian Private E.A. Smith of the Seaforth Highlanders won the Victoria Cross at the Savio River in Italy for an action in which he used a PIAT to destroy a Panther tank at a range of 30 feet before fending off numerous German infantry with a submachine gun.

Projector, Infantry, Anti-Tank (PIAT)
Length 99 cm
Weight 14.5 kg
Muzzle velocity 100 m/sec
Penetration approximately 75 mm
Projectile 1.3 kg, hollow charge, with stabilizer fins
Range about 90 m
Sergeant D. Wilson, Private J. Brunelle, Private A. Munro, all of Highland Light Infantry battalion, on Piat training, during landing and advancing inland exercise in England, 13 April 1944.

Sergeant D. Wilson, Private J. Brunelle, Private A. Munro, all of Highland Light Infantry battalion, on Piat training, during landing and advancing inland exercise in England, 13 April 1944.
Photo by Donald I. Grant. Department of National Defence / National Archives of Canada, PA-132894.