Canada in the Second World War

Arms & Weapons

The Royal Canadian Army Service Corps

Army Supply vehicles on their way to the front, packed along a track the Engineers ran through the Rapido River flats at the junction of the Rapido and Liri Rivers, near Cassino, Italy, 21 May 1944.

Army Supply vehicles on their way to the front, packed along a track the Engineers ran through the Rapido River flats at the junction of the Rapido and Liri Rivers, near Cassino, Italy, 21 May 1944.
Photo by W.H. Agnew. Department of National Defence / National Archives of Canada, PA- 151180.

Transporting supplies from RCOC depots, field parks, or other establishments was the job of the Royal Canadian Army Service Corps. The RCASC was responsible for holding, moving, and issuing to the fighting troops all food, ammunition, POL (Petrol-or gasoline-Oil, and Lubricants), and any other necessary equipment. To move supplies from rear areas to the battle zone, the Corps was equipped with a variety of vehicles including 3-ton to 10-ton lorries and 40-ton tank transporters. The RCASC also transported troops.

The army’s Directorate of Supplies and Transport, under the Quartermaster-General, was responsible for administration of the RCASC. The Corps in the field was reorganized in January 1943 to allow for greater flexibility in meeting the needs of the fighting troops. In infantry divisions, the RCASC Divisional Column included a headquarters and four Transport Companies, each serving one of the three brigades or the divisional troops. For armoured divisions, the Divisional Column comprised an Armoured Brigade Company, an Infantry Brigade Company, a Divisional Transport Company, and a Divisional Troops Company. Each of these companies provided all the Supplies and Transport (S and T) required by the units it supported, and was typically made up of a headquarters, three Transport Platoons each with 30 task vehicles plus spares, two Relief Driver Increments (RDIs) each with 30 drivers, a Composite Platoon responsible for accounting, holding and issuing food, ammunition, POL, and other supplies, and a Workshop Platoon to maintain vehicles. The designation of these companies mirrored that of the formation to which they were attached: for example, the 1st Canadian Infantry Brigade Company, RCASC.

The Divisional Column was commanded by a CRASC (Commander, Royal [Canadian] Army Service Corps), who controlled all the S and T services for the division and could allocate units as required. The CRASC, meanwhile, was under command of the Deputy Director of Supplies and Transport (DDST) at corps headquarters, who was in turn under command of the field army’s DDST. The RCASC units in each formation were treated as a pool of resources upon which the commanding officer could draw. As noted, the key to the reorganization was flexibility. It allowed a fighting brigade to be detached from its division for specific operations and retain the ability to supply itself. Sub-units such as Transport Platoons or RDIs could be detached or combined to provide the scale of support necessary for a variety of situations, but units could be concentrated easily for larger operations.

The division is the largest formation with a fixed composition, and during the Second World War its make-up included infantry or armoured brigades plus various divisional troops: organic artillery, engineers, signals, medical, and service units (see First Canadian Army order of battle). Two or more divisions could be combined under command of a corps headquarters, but divisions were interchangeable and could frequently be withdrawn to serve under another corps for particular operations. Likewise, two or more corps were combined under a field army, or armies under an army group. Because the tasks allotted to a formation varied, support might be required from additional engineers or medium or heavy artillery, for example, not contained within divisional establishments. A higher formation thus included, besides its subordinate formations, units of corps or army troops. Such units would be committed in various proportions according to operational requirements, and the DDST commanded additional RCASC units to maintain them. For example, First Canadian Army Troops included Nos. 1 and 2 Motor Ambulance Convoys, which evacuated casualties from Field Dressing Stations to Casualty Clearing Stations and General Hospitals.

Private R.B. Schulz (New Westminster, B.C.) of the RCASC, a member of the Régiment de la Chaudière, cooks roast at the front lines, first meat outside of compo rations since entering battle. Bretteville, Normandy, 24 June 1944.

Private R.B. Schulz (New Westminster, B.C.) of the RCASC, a member of the Régiment de la Chaudière, cooks roast at the front lines, first meat outside of compo rations since entering battle. Bretteville, Normandy, 24 June 1944.
Photo by Frank L. Dubervill. Department of National Defence / National Archives of Canada, PA-132806.

First Canadian Army also supplied similar units controlled at army group level, called GHQ Lines of Communication Troops. As part of the General Transport Column for Montgomery’s 21 Army Group, an RCASC Tank Transporter Company moved tanks to and from the battle zone, and also carried ammunition or road and airfield construction equipment. Two Bridge Companies worked with infantry and engineers, providing all of the boats, rafts, and Bailey Bridges necessary whenever the infantry made an assault crossing of a water obstacle, usually under enemy shell and mortar fire. An RCASC Tipper [dump-truck] Platoon also worked with engineers to construct and repair roads for the army’s advance, as well as filling-in shell craters or anti-tank ditches, which put it very much at the “sharp end” of the battlefield.

One final but very important specialization of the Corps was food. In August 1942 the RCASC Catering Wing was established at No. 1 Reinforcement Unit in Britain to train cooks for the army. “Until that time every cook in the Canadian Army had been a member of the unit he was serving, and he was not necessarily a good cook. Too often he was merely a poor soldier, and this was most unfortunate for the men he was called upon to feed.” All cooks were subsequently transferred to the RCASC, which posted them to the various units they were to serve. This change apparently effected a rapid improvement in cooking standards.

Suggested Reading:

  • Arnold Warren, Wait for the Waggon: the Story of the Royal Canadian Army Service Corps, n.p., McClelland, 1961.