The Mediterranean Theatre
The new RCASC organization first proved itself during the invasion of Sicily, but it had an inauspicious baptism of fire. Three merchant vessels from the Slow Assault Convoy carrying cargo from Britain for the initial landings were sunk en route, entailing a loss of about 500 trucks. As a result, the RCASC was faced with maintaining 1st Canadian Infantry Division and 1st Canadian Army Tank Brigade with only 43 vehicles instead of the 225 required. By the end of the Sicilian campaign, only 114 of the 500 vehicles lost had been replaced. This shortage, plus the lack of good roadways through the mountainous terrain on the island placed a great strain on RCASC personnel. Vehicles that were available were run almost continuously, about 22 hours out of 24, and routine maintenance was performed at convoy staging points where relief drivers took over in relays. The 1st Army Tank Brigade Company, RCASC diarist described one example of the sort of conditions they faced:
The road from Priolo northwest to Villasmundo looks on the map like the graph of a jumpy market. The hill road turns back on itself so sharply in places that even three-ton vehicles have to back up twice in order to shunt around. Imagine the difficult going for tanks and big Recovery Vehicles, and it’s no wonder this Company, bringing up the rear, took twelve hours to go about twenty miles. (Arnold Warren, Wait for the Waggon: the Story of the Royal Canadian Army Service Corps, 1961, p. 239).
The nature of the campaign in Italy was similar, but the RCASC commitment grew with the arrival of 5th Canadian Armoured Division and 1st Canadian Corps headquarters in November 1943. A shortage of shipping had required the latter formation to take over the vehicles and equipment of the 30th British Corps, which it relieved, rather than transport its own equipment from Britain. The Canadians arrived to take possession of a few worn-out guns and two-wheel-drive trucks which were completely unsatisfactory compared with those which they had left behind: the 5th Canadian Armoured Division’s CRASC, Lieutenant-Colonel J.L. Sparling, wrote: “When it is remembered that in England we had been completely equipped to War Establishment with Canadian four-by-four vehicles left in excellent shape, painted and signed and to us perfect, it is no wonder that the appearance of the equipment we took over was more than a disappointment” (quoted in Warren, p. 247). It was February 1944 before 5th Armoured Division and 1st Canadian Corps were both re-equipped with sufficient trucks, tanks, and guns to commence offensive operations. Nonetheless, RCASC personnel remained busy with their many tasks, including the ferrying of vehicles from their Advance Vehicle Park at the Sicilian port of Catania to Naples and Bari on the Italian mainland. Colonel M.V. McQueen, DDST 1st Canadian Corps, wrote with just a hint of exaggeration that during breaks from the long hours of convoy duty, drivers
gained much experience and added a few 8th Army words to their vocabularies. They also learned the art of “brewing-up”-something we didn’t know anything about until we joined the 8th Army.
Brewing-up . . . is done in a pail, or anything handy which has a handle and will hold water. It is carried swinging from the rear axle of the vehicle. It bounces around as the vehicle goes along the road, collecting dust, or anything that flies in. When you stop to brew-up, you take this container and, without bothering to shake out the accumulation, you put in water from any convenient source-frequently from the radiators of the vehicles, as far as I could figure it out. Then you add three or four handfuls of tea, scoop out a little hole in the roadside, pour in a quart or so of gasoline, back up about ten feet and throw a match in it. Then you put this pot on top of it until it boils.
You have what is called “brew,” and you pour it in mugs and drink it, hot. An egg would float in it with the greatest of ease-sort of a combination of tea and anything you pick up en route (quoted in Warren, pp. 245-246).