Canada in the Second World War


Lieutenant-General Guy G. Simonds

Guy Granville Simonds, born in Bury St. Edmunds, England, on April 23rd, 1903; died in Toronto on May 15th, 1974. Canadian Army officer.

Lieutenant-General Guy Simonds inspecting II Canadian Corps in Meppen, Germany, May 31st, 1945.

Lieutenant-General Guy Simonds inspecting II Canadian Corps in Meppen, Germany, May 31st, 1945.
Photograph by C.H. Richer. Department of National Defence / National Archives of Canada, PA-159372.

The son of a British officer who immigrated to Canada, Guy Simonds was too young to serve in WWI. Between 1921 and 1925, he studied at the Royal Military College in Kingston, Ontario, and graduated with honours, the recipient of several awards for his academic successes, his behaviour and discipline. Simonds joined the Canadian Permanent Force in 1926, serving with the Royal Canadian Horse Artillery in Petawawa and Winnipeg. Between 1936 and 1938, the young captain furthered his education at the Staff College in Camberley, England. Noted for his intelligence and his thorough understanding of military theory as well as of problems specific to modern warfare, Simonds was honoured upon graduating with a laudatory recommendation from the College’s commanding officer. Back to Canada, Simonds joined the staff of the Royal Military College in the spring of 1938. His papers on mechanized warfare, published in the Canadian Defence Quarterly, confirmed his status as one of the most brilliant thinkers in the Canadian military. After the proclamation of the state of war on September 10th, 1939, Simonds, then a major, was appointed as General Staff Officer Grade 2 with the 1st Infantry Division and, in December 1939, stationed in England with his division. In July 1940, Simonds was posted with the 1st Field Regiment of the Royal Canadian Artillery, a demoralized unit just out of the Dunkirk evacuation. He was to remain there for only a short while; in November 1940, General Andrew McNaughton asked Simonds to set up an intensive training programme for officers, the Canadian Junior War Staff Course. Highly regarded for his remarkable military and planning skills, Simonds rose through the hierarchy at lightning speed: General Staff Officer, Grade 1, with the 2nd Infantry Division in May 1941, Commander of the 1st Infantry Brigade in September 1942, Commander of the 1st Canadian Infantry Division in April 1943; he was by then a Major-General. Simonds’ first combat experience dates back to the invasion of Sicily as he was commanding the 1st Infantry Division. Having skilfully organized his tanks, artillery and infantry, and led his troops with confidence through the battles of Nissoria, Agira and Regalbuto; he was noticed by the commander of the 8th Army, General Bernard Montgomery. From November 1st, 1943, to January 29th, 1944, Simonds was at the head of the 5th Canadian Armoured Division. In January 1944, he was promoted to Lieutenant-General and General Officer Commanding of II Canadian Corps, that he had to train in preparation for D-Day. II Canadian Corps set up its HQ in France in July 1944, at a time when the Normandy campaign seemed to be getting bogged down. In July and August, Simonds headed four important operations against German positions: Atlantic, Spring, Totalize and Tractable. These were difficult operations against an enemy bitterly fighting for each square inch of a terrain with which it was familiar. Despite the lukewarm success of Operation Totalize on August 7th, Simonds’ strategy was remarkable by its cleverness in neutralizing German armoured vehicles and antitank defences. It was then that Simonds invented the “Kangaroo”, an improvised troop carrier made by taking the guns off a “Priest” self-propelled gun. Operation Tractable on August 14th allowed Canadian and Polish troops to close the Falaise Gap. On September 27th, 1944, Simonds took charge of the 1st Canadian Army on a temporary basis, in replacement of General H.D.G. Crerar. The liberation of the mouth of the Scheldt River was once again an opportunity for him to display his remarkable tactical intelligence; his firm leadership made a favourable impression on Montgomery. Crerar, however, took back his post with the 1st Army and Simonds resumed his command of II Canadian Corps for the liberation of North-Western Europe. After the war, Simonds remained in England with the Imperial Defence College. He returned to Canada as Commandant of both the Canadian Army Staff College and the National Defence College in 1949. Between 1951 and 1955, he served as Chief of the General Staff and reorganized the Canadian Army in preparation for the Korean War and later for NATO operations. Guy Simonds was outstanding among Canadian officers who took part in WWII. Montgomery regarded him as being, among Canadians, the “only general fit to hold high command in war”. US General Omar Bradley called him “the best of the Canadian generals” and British General Sir Miles Dempsey “the best of my Corps Commanders”. In his book The Generals, historian Jack Granatstein wrote that Guy Simonds was for his contemporaries and for historians alike the best WWII Canadian soldier. Suggested Reading:

  •  J.L. Granatstein, The Generals, The Canadian Army’s Senior Commanders in the Second World War, 1993.