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"'Left out of battle' system - Canadian Army" Topic

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TheMapleLeafForever26 Aug 2023 8:26 a.m. PST

Can someone please provide some examples of how this system was used in the Canadian Army during the Second World War, especially at the company level?

I heard things like if a company commander led an attack, the company 2ic would stay back and be 'left out of battle'. But some real life historical examples of this in action would be much appreciated!

troopwo Supporting Member of TMP26 Aug 2023 9:31 a.m. PST

Left out of battle served to slow down injury to veterans, exhaustion and attrition. You really did not want to lose all your experienced people due to one bad attack or action.

So each section might leave a man out or maybe one of the platoon leaders from the company's three platoons maybe a platoon sergeant from another would sit out an attack or action. It ensured you had some kind of experience either in a reserve or to re-form the section/platoon/company around if it took high casualties

Infantry are rarely if ever at full strength especially on the offensive, so leaving five to ten percent of your troops out of the picture for a day did not really matter all too much in the long run.

Before you go jumping to comclusions, it worked quite well and provided consistant leadership and experience for the troops and units.

My local reserve infantry unit prides itself on having taken some of the highest casualties in the Canadian army from Normandy into Germany. Their motto might as well be, "Hey diddle diddle straight up the middle".

The Canadian units that initiated the program were transferred up to NW Europe from the Italian campaign where they had been fighting since July of 1943, over a year before Normandy, so they saw the greater need for the practice. Those same units transferred from the Italian front also went through some incredilbe problems with replacements in the winter of '43-'44 when Canadian infantry were not coming in the number required to keep up with losses.

The same replacement problem hit the Canadian army hard over the winter of '44-'45 in NW Europe. It caused a national scandal especially when there were a quarter of a million trained infantry in Canada that the government didn't want to send because they were conscripts!

Hope that helps.

Starfury Rider26 Aug 2023 9:53 a.m. PST

LoB is a subject I've looked into and asked about numerous times, for British and wider usage, and remain largely uncertain of actual practice.

There have been a few threads on here, most of which I appear to have got involved in. The top one of the below includes what is the most detailed info I've seen to date, though largely on British usage.

TMP link

This second one includes a link to a Canadian website,

TMP link

And one of the longer discussions had

TMP link includes a para or two, though concentrating on WW1.


My opinion, and in absence of evidence it is only that, is that LoB meant different things to different units at different times. I don't thnik there was a standard, mechanical, template, in which every Section left one man out and every Platoon HQ left either the Platoon officer or NCO out, and every Company HQ left one officer out of battle. It gets difficult when you consider Support Company and whether you want to diminish your 3-inch Mortar Pl to 'rest' a detachment, or leave a 6-pdr crew LoB, and so on. And subunits like the Signal Pl were already under-manned anyway.

I found a one page summary from 3 Cdn Inf Div from around April 1944, so pre Normandy, that listed some key personnel to be LoB. It was literally just a handful of NCOs from Support Coy Pls, and the Sig Pl. This was before the Div went into action so no doubt the practice was tested greatly in Normandy and beyond.


79thPA Supporting Member of TMP26 Aug 2023 11:07 a.m. PST

Interesting. I've never heard of this.

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP26 Aug 2023 12:18 p.m. PST

I remembered it as a WWI practice. Didn't know it was still used in WWII.

troopwo Supporting Member of TMP26 Aug 2023 1:41 p.m. PST

It was not necessarily a standardized form of who would be determined as LOB. A lot of it was dependant on who flat out needed a break. It was also done on a rotation basis.

Like I said, a lot of those times, they might not participate in an attack, but they were there to either reinforce or to act as a reserve as well.

A couple of things to keep in mind. The 'wastage rate' of expected casualties was based on the experiences of two or three years of fighting in North Africa. Sicily, The Italian Campaign and Normandy blew the lid off those expected numbers of wounded and dead by a long shot.

While still in Italy, the 1 Canadian Corps got around the lack of replacements by dismounting armoured and artillery troops, and by sending non-infantry volunteers into infantry units. It caused a national scandal in Canada by the late fall of 1944 in NW Europe. The UK while never admitting it as a problem did disband an infantry division or two just to provide replacements to fill still existing infantry units.

An infantry unit fights at ear peak efficiency after four or five months. After nine months it is pretty much down hill. Some of those infantry units by the end of Normandy, after only three months, had turn over rates well over seventy to eighty percent! Having a high turn over rate each battle makes you want to husband your experienced people and take what ever measures you can to preserve a unit.

TheMapleLeafForever27 Aug 2023 10:21 a.m. PST

Thanks for the answers everyone.

How common was it for all of the company's officers to be present for battle? I am talking about the commanding officer, 2ic, and the platoon commanders. Do we have any examples?

troopwo Supporting Member of TMP27 Aug 2023 3:41 p.m. PST

Depended on the priority and the importance of the fight.

Some kind of brigade, division or corp push would probably have been an all in affair. Something like the early Normandy big deals like Goodwood or the equivalent, the Rhine crossing or such like the Hochwald or the Schedlt.

When the fights were left under the battalions to sort out, they would have had more leeway in how they would have handled it.

"Jones I want your battalion to clear this village to free the intersection for the brigade advance".
Right oh you think, figuring it will be a company affair with maybe another company and odd mortar, MMGs and maybe a sapper section in support.

Most of the advance up from Normandy to Holland was rather like that with the exceptions of some of the channel ports.

If the fight was left under local battalion or company control then it was the most like to have LOB scenarios.

TheMapleLeafForever27 Aug 2023 5:53 p.m. PST

That seems to mesh pretty well with what I read so far? On D-Day, for the Queen's Own, I think most, but not all, of the companies' officers landed in the first wave. I'm mainly referring to B Company and A Company. I think for both companies, the 2ic might have joined in the second landing after the beach was secured.

On the same topic, do you know what happened with the Black Watch at Verrieres Ridge? According to the original forms I saw online (July 1944 AFW 3008 and 3009), they were at pretty much at strength before the battle at around 800ish men and it seems like more than half the battalion didn't participate in the fateful attack since it is mentioned that a little more than 300 men left the assembly area.

troopwo Supporting Member of TMP28 Aug 2023 7:24 a.m. PST

I never actually went into depth on that much.

Best I can figure is this.
A lot of the Cdn II Corps, the Normandy group, were essentially both new and trained that the initial assault was everything. A kind of all or nothing scenario in getting on and past the beach regardless of casualties. I really suspect that mentality permeated the infantry units of the corps and a lot of those initial Normandy battles seem to me to reflect that all or nothing attitude.

I hope that makes sense to you. Now given two or three months of that kind of launching assaults units will start to change their attitude as both the commanders get replaced through attrition and sacking. Units also get men who having survived the previous fights are now experienced in what both "to do" as well as what "NOT to do". Ths develops into an appreciation of the indirect approach to an attack or proper preparation in recconnaisance and support before going in. Recce, maps, practices, air, artillery, direct and indirect, tanks, Kangaroos and the logistics build up and preparation. All things that the i Cdn Corps had the time to learn in the Italian campaign.

donlowry28 Aug 2023 7:30 a.m. PST

I knew the British did this; didn't know the Canadians did also. Interesting.

troopwo Supporting Member of TMP28 Aug 2023 7:50 a.m. PST

Getting back to the Normandy fights. I once sat through a lecture given by one of the PHD eggheads from RMC who wrote a number of books on different fights in Normandy.

This one particular talk was about a particular Canadian tank advance that went pear shaped. This guy actually had the chance to interview much of the leadership and participants before they passed on. Needless to say the things that I was hearing horrified me.

Lack of preparation, recconnaisance, coordination, logistics. Having one map per tank squadron and infantry company, getting lost and then attacked by their own air support and near oblivious leadership were a few of the highlights.

Those are all things that take time and experience to get over. The surprising thing is that they did as well as they did up until then. Needless to say, from my perspective the Canadian Army only really got it's act together so to speak by the start of August.

While there are some fairly good histories of the Normandy fights that I actually read through, take the Regimental histories with a grain of salt. They always tend to blame other officers and units to make themselves look better.

Stick to the ones written before 1960 when the authors still met frequently with each other and were more than willing to get together and break each others noses over any accusations or chest thumping BS.

Another good idea is if you are looking at the affairs of one particular battalion, try to get the histories of the other two battalions in that brigade. That usually goes a long way into explaining why one unit had such a tough time and the others got away easy.

troopwo Supporting Member of TMP28 Aug 2023 7:59 a.m. PST

Funny you mention Verrier, one of my local reserve units is one of those units, the Essex Scottish. During the course of the war suffered probably the highest turnover rate of all the infantry units in the Canadian army. 550 dead and another 2,500 wounded. Making a 350% turn over rate in something like twelve months of fighting.

Yet they were still going at the end.
So making the case and need of LOB.
(and to avoid getting into an unlucky unit)

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