Canada in the Second World War

Arms & Weapons

The Royal Canadian Ordnance Corps

Two mechanics of the Royal Canadian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, L.A. Einarson of Lundar, Manitoba, and Richard Donovan of Limoilou, Québec, replacing a jeep radiator after overhauling the motor.

Two mechanics of the Royal Canadian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, L.A. Einarson of Lundar, Manitoba, and Richard Donovan of Limoilou, Québec, replacing a jeep radiator after overhauling the motor.
Department of National Defence / National Archives of Canada, PA-191185.

The RCOC was responsible for procuring all of the material goods required by the army, from weapons to clothing to mechanical transport (MT, or motor vehicles). The Corps also fulfilled the related functions of scientific development, including weapons research, inventory accounting, and, until 1944, maintenance and repair. In February of that year another corps, the Royal Canadian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, was created to maintain all mechanical, electrical, and technical equipment, including all tanks and other fighting vehicles. Army formations such as divisions or corps were supplied from depots in Canada or the United Kingdom through Ordnance Field Parks, which carried everything from spare parts to spare vehicles and artillery pieces.

Cartridge production department of the Dominion Arsenal, Saint-Malo, Quebec, April 1942.

Cartridge production department of the Dominion Arsenal, Saint-Malo, Quebec, April 1942.
National Film Board / National Archives of Canada, PA-116093.

Another responsibility of Ordnance was to anticipate the army’s needs and place orders through the Department of Munitions and Supply. Canadian government policy was to equip the army, as far as possible, with Canadian manufactured goods. Before 1939 Canadian capacity for manufacturing munitions was virtually nil, but by the war’s end important installations like the Dominion Arsenals at Quebec and Valcartier, the Lindsay Arsenal, the Respirator Container Assembly Plant in Ottawa, and the Long Branch Arsenal near Toronto were producing much of the military equipment required by the Canadian Army. The RCOC stored and distributed all technical fighting equipment from a central depot at Longue-Pointe in Montreal’s east end, which employed more than 2800 military and 7000 civilian workers.

Canadian Military Pattern truck in version used for mechanical repairs. Chevrolet Model C60X, 3-ton, 6 wheel lorry. Canadian designed and built in Oshawa, Ontario. England, 19 March 1944.

Canadian Military Pattern truck in version used for mechanical repairs. Chevrolet Model C60X, 3-ton, 6 wheel lorry. Canadian designed and built in Oshawa, Ontario. England, 19 March 1944.
Photo by Donald I. Grant. Department of National Defence / National Archives of Canada, PA-142064.

 

 

 

One area where a special contribution was made by Canadian manufacturing was the supply of mechanical transport to the Allied field armies. Difficulties in meeting early demands for approximately 300 vehicle types led to standardization of design and the production of Canadian Military Pattern trucks, which featured a basic chassis and cab to which a variety of body types could be fitted. About 400,000 of these right-hand-drive vehicles were produced, and by 1942 they not only filled all the requirements of the Canadian Army but were also issued to our allies.

Although Ordnance is usually discussed in reference to weapons and ammunition, the RCOC also provided some of the comforts which made life bearable for soldiers in wartime, whether that meant mosquito netting in the Mediterranean theatre or sporting goods like football uniforms and baseball equipment for periods of recreation.

Alongside division axis of advance just behind the fluid armoured front, mobile bath is set up. A small stream nearby and enough gasoline to run water heater and many have the chance of the first bath since the beginning of the push across the Rhine. Wouenhaus, 8 April 1945.

Alongside division axis of advance just behind the fluid armoured front, mobile bath is set up. A small stream nearby and enough gasoline to run water heater and many have the chance of the first bath since the beginning of the push across the Rhine. Wouenhaus, 8 April 1945.
Photo by Alexander M. Stirton. Department of National Defence / National Archives of Canada, PA-198131.

Perhaps the most important such service was rendered by RCOC Mobile Laundry and Bath Units in Italy and Northwest Europe, which offered front line soldiers a hot bath or shower and clean socks, shirts, underwear, and uniforms. Sometimes they could even sleep the night in tents. The importance of something so completely taken for granted today cannot be underestimated in a context where men could go for days on end without even taking their boots off.

Suggested Reading:

  • William F. Rannie, ed., To the Thunderer his Arms: The Royal Canadian Ordnance Corps, Lincoln, ON: W.F. Rannie, 1984.