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Applications of unit serial numbers on vehicles of the Canadian Army Overseas, 1943-45

August 15, 2015

Mark W. Tonner

With war in Europe inevitable, and as Canada prepared, starting on 1 September 1939, as a Canadian unit was called out and placed on active service, as a unit of the Canadian Active Service Force1, each unit was allocated, a separate ‘Unit Serial Number.’ Each individual unit serial number, to all intents and purposes, became the unit identity code until such time as the unit was disbanded, although in some instances, a new unit serial number was sometimes allocated upon the conversion and redesignation of a unit. The unit serial number normally consisted of one, two, three or four digits.

Some examples of the one, two, three, or four digit unit serial numbers allocated to Canadian units upon being called out and placed on active service:

a.) – Serial No. 2, was allocated to the Headquarters of the 1st Division (later redesignated Headquarters, 1st Canadian Division, and still later, was redesignated Headquarters, 1st Canadian Infantry Division) on 1 September 1939, and was retained as the unit serial number of the Headquarters until it was disbanded on 15 September 1945.

b.) – Serial No. 22, was allocated to the 2nd Field Park Company, Royal Canadian Engineers, on 1 September 1939, and was retained as the unit serial number of the 2nd Field Park Company until it was disbanded on 30 November 1945.

c.) – Serial No. 144, was allocated to No. 15 General Hospital, Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps, on 1 September 1939, and was retained as the unit serial number of No. 15 General Hospital until it was disbanded on 7 May 1945.

d.) – Serial No. 1177, was allocated to No. 6 Field Surgical Unit, Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps, on 1 February 1943, and was retained as the unit serial number of No. 6 Field Surgical Unit until it was disbanded on 1 June 1945.

In the case of units, such as a regiment of the Royal Canadian Artillery, that was made up of sub units that were each a component part of the parent unit, an alpha suffix letter was added to the one, two, three, or four digit unit serial number to identify each sub unit of the parent unit. As an example, Serial No. 10, was allocated to the 2nd Field Regiment, Royal Canadian Artillery, with the regiment’s sub units being allocated the following numeric/alpha unit serial numbers, Serial No. 10A, was allocated to Headquarters, 2nd Field Regiment, Royal Canadian Artillery, Serial No. 10B, was allocated to the 8th Field Battery, Royal Canadian Artillery, Serial No. 10C, was allocated to the 10th (St. Catharines) Field Battery, Royal Canadian Artillery, and Serial No. 10D, was allocated to the 7th (Montreal) Field Battery, Royal Canadian Artillery.

Early in the spring of 1943, with the pending involvement of formations and ancillary troops of the Canadian Army Overseas2, in the forthcoming invasion of the island of Sicily3, Canadian Military Headquarters in the United Kingdom4 in a series of mobilization orders, began the administrative process of preparing and organizing all units of the Canadian Army Overseas for operational duty outside of the United Kingdom5. As units completed this mobilization process, a suffix of a backslash and the number ‘1’ was added to each individual unit’s serial number, by Canadian Military Headquarters. The addition of this suffix of a backslash and the number ‘1’ was twofold. Firstly it readily showed that a unit was ready for operational duty, and secondly, it differentiated between units of the Canadian Army Overseas and those of the British Army. This did not affect units of the Canadian Army (Active) serving within Canada, but upon transfer to the United Kingdom for service with the Canadian Army Overseas, the suffix of a backslash followed by the number ‘1’ was added to their unit serial number. This also did not affect those units that were raised overseas under ‘Provisional War Establishments’ to cover experimental and temporary organizations and special courses of instruction under the authority of either Canadian Military Headquarters, or that of the General Officer Commanding-in-Chief First Canadian Army, these units continued to be identified by a number that was prefixed by the letters ‘CM’ (Canadian Military), ie: CM-xxx, which was assigned to them upon authority of their raising under either Canadian Military Headquarters or the General Officer Commanding-in-Chief First Canadian Army6. Some of these temporary units/organizations were eventually called out and placed on active service under either an Order-in-Council7, or the authority of the Minister of National Defence, at which point they were authorized under a unit serial number, and in most cases, a new designation.

This use of a backslash suffix followed by the number ‘1’ to a unit serial number as a means of identifying units of the Canadian Army Overseas, was purely administrative in nature, and after its inception came to be known as a unit’s ‘Mobilization Serial Number,’ and was used in such things as Canadian Military Headquarters Administrative Orders and in Canadian Army Overseas Routine Orders. It also appears in use in Part II Orders issued by the Canadian Section, General Headquarters, 2nd Echelon8, in the United Kingdom, Sicily/Italy and North West Europe. As an example of the above mentioned, Serial No. 615, No. 1 Light Aid Detachment (Type A), Royal Canadian Ordnance Corps (which was attached to Headquarters, 1st Canadian Infantry Brigade of 1st Canadian Infantry Division), was mobilized as promulgated in Canadian Military Headquarters Mobilization Order No. 6 of 18 April 1943, under the supervision of Headquarters, 1st Canadian Infantry Division, with an effective date of 1 May 1943, at which time the suffix of a backslash and the number ‘1’ was added to their unit serial number, thus becoming, Serial No. 615/1, No. 1 Light Aid Detachment (Type A), Royal Canadian Ordnance Corps.

Another example would be the previously mentioned example of the 2nd Field Regiment, Royal Canadian Artillery, whose sub units, after having gone through this mobilization process, and the addition of the suffix of a backslash and the number ‘1,’ would read Serial No. 10A/1 for Headquarters, 2nd Field Regiment, Royal Canadian Artillery, Serial No. 10B/1 for the 8th Field Battery, Royal Canadian Artillery, Serial No. 10C/1 for 10th (St. Catharines) Field Battery, Royal Canadian Artillery, and Serial No. 10D/1 for the 7th (Montreal) Field Battery, Royal Canadian Artillery.

Although an elaborate scheme of unit and formation markings9 was used on vehicles of the Canadian Army Overseas to ensure identification of units and efficient traffic control, starting with the Canadian Army involvement with Operation HUSKY10 (the allied invasion of Sicily in July 1943), the unit mobilization serial number (the unit serial number with the addition of the suffix of a backslash and the number ‘1’), was also used as a form of unit identification on vehicles, for the purpose of loading and shipping, as per the load tables for various types of vessels. In this form, they were sometimes referred to as an ‘Embarkation’ number, and were normally either chalked, stenciled, or painted free hand, in white on the front of a unit’s vehicles and were normally only carried on the vehicle for a brief period before embarkation, on the voyage, and for a brief period after landing.

Examples of a unit’s mobilization serial number used as a form of ‘Embarkation’ number, for the allied invasion of Sicily, can be seen in the following three images, in the first of which (Image 1), the ‘32/1’ applied to the front edge of the fender of the two motorcycles, identifies these as belonging to the 48th Highlanders of Canada. In the next image (Image 2) although partially obscured by a length of chain, the ‘33/1’ applied on the left front fender, identifies this carrier as belonging to The Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment. In the third image (Image 3), the ‘10/1’ applied to the right-hand front of the storage box, on the carrier’s front, identifies this universal carrier as belonging to the 2nd Field Regiment, Royal Canadian Artillery.

Source: Authors’ image file

1. Source: Authors’ image file

Source: Library and Archives Canada/PA-114511

2. Source: Library and Archives Canada/PA-114511

Source: Courtesy of Ed Storey

3. Source: Courtesy of Ed Storey

With the successful conclusion of the campaign on the island of Sicily, the Allies moved next against the Italian mainland, on 3 September 1943, with elements of the 1st Canadian Infantry Division, and the 1st Canadian Armoured Brigade (Independent)11, as part of Lieutenant-General Miles Dempsey’s XIII British Corps, crossing the Straits of Messina from Messina, Sicily, to Reggio di Calabria, Italy, as part of Operation BAYTOWN12. As can be seen in the following images, the application of a unit mobilization serial number on unit vehicles was still very much in evidence into the first few months of the campaign on the Italian mainland. In the below image (Image 4) from October 1943, although only partially visible and oddly enough placed on the rear of the right-rear stowage bin, the stenciled application of ‘580/1’ (circled in red on the image) identifies this burnt out Otter, light reconnaissance car, as belonging to the 4th Canadian Reconnaissance Regiment (4th Princess Louise Dragoon Guards), Canadian Armoured Corps. In the next image (Image 5) from December 1943, the ‘37/1’ applied to the right-side of the bumper of this burning fifteen-hundredweight truck, identifies the vehicle as belonging to the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada.

Source: MilArt photo archives

4. Source: MilArt photo archives

Source: Authors’ image file

5. Source: Authors’ image file

By the time of Operation OVERLORD13 (the allied invasion of Normandy in June 1944), this use of a unit’s mobilization serial number (the unit serial number with the addition of the suffix of a backslash and the number ‘1’), as an embarkation number, had involved a bit more, especially on unit vehicles of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division, and 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade (Independent), and on unit vehicles of both Canadian Corps Troops, Canadian Army Troops, and ancillary units, that took part in the seaborne assault landings on 6 June 1944. Besides the unit mobilization serial number being used as an embarkation number, the ‘Landing Table Index Number (or Serial Number),’ which was the number specifically assigned to a vessel’s particular load, whether it was a load of vehicles, or personnel, or a mixture of both, and an abbreviation for the type of vessel in which the load was to travel, was now also added alongside the unit mobilization serial number.

As an example, Landing Craft Tank, pennant No. 1008, which was a Landing Craft Tank, Mark IV, was assigned Landing Table Index Number (or Serial Number) ‘1715.’ Part of her assigned load were four Sherman Mark III tanks (with crews) of the 27th Canadian Armoured Regiment (The Sherbrooke Fusilier Regiment), Canadian Armoured Corps (of the 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade (Independent)), whose unit mobilization serial number was ‘1044/1.’ Each of these four individual Sherman Mark III tanks would have had the embarkation number ‘1044/1/1715/LCT(IV),’ applied to them, thus identifying each individual tank as belonging to the Sherbrooke Fusilier Regiment, which were assigned to load number ‘1715,’ which was assigned to a Landing Craft Tank, Mark IV. Also assigned to the same Landing Craft Tank (pennant No. 1008), were two universal carriers (each with a four-man crew, with each carrier towing a 6-pounder anti-tank gun) of The Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry Highlanders (of the 9th Canadian Infantry Brigade, of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division), whose unit mobilization serial number, was that of ‘752/1.’ Each of these two universal carriers would have had the embarkation number ‘752/1/1715/LCT(IV),’ applied to them, thus identifying, each individual carrier, as belonging to the Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry Highlanders, which were assigned to load number ‘1715,’ which was assigned to a Landing Craft Tank, Mark IV. Another example, is for that of a 3-ton truck of The Highland Light Infantry of Canada (of the 9th Canadian Infantry Brigade, of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division), whose unit mobilization serial number, was ‘754/1,’ and was the only vehicle of this unit, assigned to the load carried by Landing Craft Tank, pennant No. 667, which was a Landing Craft Tank, Mark IV, and was assigned Landing Table Index Number (or Serial Number) ‘1724.’ This solitary 3-ton truck of The Highland Light Infantry of Canada, would have had the embarkation number ‘754/1/1724/LCT(IV),’ applied, identifying it as belonging to the Highland Light Infantry of Canada, assigned to load number ‘1724,’ which was assigned to a Landing Craft Tank, Mark IV.

As an illustration of what was stated in the last two paragraphs, in the background of the image (Image 6) below is a Landing Craft Tank, pennant No. 610 (visible on the left-forward side of the vessel), which was a Landing Craft Tank, Mark IV, and was assigned Landing Table Index Number (or Serial Number) ‘212’ (which is displayed in large white numbers, on a placid, and is affixed to the front of the vessel’s bridge). All four Sherman tanks seen in this image, belong to the 13th/18th Royal Hussars (of the 27th British Armoured Brigade (Independent)), whose unit serial number, was ‘1126.’ Although marked in a slightly different fashion, then that, which was explained in the above paragraph, they are all marked with the embarkation number ‘1126/LCT4/212,’ or ‘1126/LCT(IV)/212.’ The ‘1126,’ identifying each vehicle as belonging to the 13th/18th Royal Hussars, the ‘LCT4’ (or ‘LCT(IV)’), identifying the type of vessel that would carry them, as a Landing Craft Tank, Mark IV, and the ‘212,’ identifying the load number (the Landing Table Index (or Serial) Number specifically assigned to the vessel’s particular load), that they were assigned to.

Sources: IWM H38992, H38995, and H39000

6. Sources: IWM H38992, H38995, and H39000

The following three images illustrate the application of the unit mobilization serial number, the landing table index number (or serial number), and the abbreviation for the type of vessel in which the vehicle was to travel, that was applied to Canadian vehicles taking part in the Normandy invasion of June 1944. In the first image (Image 7) of an M7 ‘Priest’ 105-millimetre self-propelled gun (named CARRIE), with the gun detachment preparing to take part in Operation OVERLORD, note the embarkation number ‘707/1/1524/LCT IV,’ that is applied across the bottom of the stowage rack on the front of the vehicle. This identifies the vehicle as belonging to the 14th Field Regiment, Royal Canadian Artillery (‘707/1’), that was to be part of load number ‘1524’ (the Landing Table Index (or Serial) Number specifically assigned to the vessel’s particular load), which was to be carried on a Landing Craft Tank, Mark IV (the ‘LCT IV,’ being the abbreviation for a Landing Craft Tank, Mark IV). In the next image (Image 8) from July 1944 in France, note the application of ‘2351/1’ ‘FILM & PHOTO’ ‘T143MTS’ across the front bumper of a jeep. This identifies the vehicle as belonging to the 3rd Canadian Public Relations Group (‘2351/1’), while the stenciled ‘FILM & PHOTO’ on the centre portion identifies the task, or job of the jeep user, while the ‘T143MTS’ on the right identifies the jeep as having been carried to Normandy aboard Mechanized (or Mechanical) Transport Ship, pennant number ‘T.143.’ In the last image (Image 9) also from July 1944 in France, note the painted embarkation number, which reads ‘733/1 1712 LCT (IV)’ on the right of the lower portion of the jeep’s windscreen, which identifies the vehicle as belonging to the Cameron Highlanders of Ottawa (‘733/1’), that was part of load number ‘1712’ (the Landing Table Index (or Serial) Number specifically assigned to the vessel’s particular load), which was carried on a Landing Craft Tank, Mark IV (the ‘LCT IV,’ being the abbreviation for a Landing Craft Tank, Mark IV).

Source: MilArt photo archive

7. Source: MilArt photo archive

Source: Library and Archives Canada/PA-140209

8. Source: Library and Archives Canada/PA-140209

Source: MilArt photo archive

9. Source: MilArt photo archive

As mentioned earlier, in the case of units, such as regiments of the Royal Canadian Artillery, that were made up of sub units, that was each a component part of the parent unit, an alpha suffix letter was added to the one, two, three, or four digit unit serial number, to identify each individual sub unit of the parent unit. Add to this the suffix of a backslash and the number ‘1,’ that was added to a unit’s serial number, as they completed the mobilization process, initiated by Canadian Military Headquarters, and, as an example, the 8th Field Battery, Royal Canadian Artillery (of the 2nd Field Regiment, Royal Canadian Artillery), whose unit serial number was ‘10B,’ would now have the mobilization serial number ‘10B/1.’ Examples of a battery’s unit mobilization serial number applied to their vehicles, as a form of identifying the vehicle’s user unit (aside form the standard ‘Arm of Service,’ and ‘Formation’ sign markings), can be seen in the following two images. In the first image (Image 10), note the application of the unit mobilization serial number ‘449/D-1’ on the extreme right side of the bumper, of a 3-ton, 40-millimetre self-propelled anti-aircraft gun, which identifies the vehicle as belonging to the 32nd (Kingston) Light Anti-Aircraft Battery, of the 4th Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment, Royal Canadian Artillery, whose unit mobilization serial number was ‘449/1.’ In the second image (Image 11) of a T16 carrier towing a 6-pounder anti-tank gun, note the unit mobilization serial number ‘170D/1’ applied to the front edge of the right-hand fender, which identifies the vehicles as belonging to the 108th Anti-Tank Battery, of the 2nd Anti-Tank Regiment, Royal Canadian Artillery, whose unit mobilization serial number was ‘170/1.’

Source: Library and Archives Canada/PA-162434

10. Source: Library and Archives Canada/PA-162434

Source: Library and Archives Canada/PA-191132) or use (Source: MilArt photo archive

11. Source: Library and Archives Canada/PA-191132

In the following images are examples of a unit’s mobilization serial number applied to unit vehicles during First Canadian Army’s campaign in North-West Europe. In the first image (Image 12) from July 1944 in France, the mobilization serial number ‘1102/1’ applied in the upper left-hand corner on the front of the right-side fender of an armoured car identifies it as belonging to the 7th Canadian Reconnaissance Regiment (17th Duke of York’s Royal Canadian Hussars), Canadian Armoured Corps (the divisional reconnaissance regiment of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division). In the next image (Image 13) from October 1944 in Belgium, note the unit mobilization serial number ‘192/1’ applied to the front edge of the right-side fender of the universal carrier in the background. This unit mobilization serial number identifies the carrier as belonging to The Calgary Highlanders. In the last image (Image 14), which is taken rather late in the campaign in North-West Europe, showing Canadian vehicles passing through Uedem, Germany, on 2 March 1945, although the motorcycle and the three trucks on the roadway, all carry the same ‘Arm of Service’ marking of ‘67’ the 3-ton truck directly behind the motorcycle, also carries the unit mobilization serial number ‘187/1’ on the extreme right-side of its bumper, thus identifying these vehicles as belonging to Les Fusiliers Mont-Royal.

Source: Library and Archives Canada/PA-183737

12. Source: Library and Archives Canada/PA-183737

Source: Library and Archives Canada/PA-179271

13. Source: Library and Archives Canada/PA-179271

Source: IWM B14966

14. Source: IWM B14966

In a future article, the applications of unit serial numbers on kit/baggage/stores of the Canadian Army Overseas, 1943-45, will be looked at.


Acknowledgements:

The author wishes to thank Clive M. Law, Ed Storey, and Michael Dorosh, for reading over my draft copy of this article, and their constructive criticism, and comments, on the draft, and also, Miss Courtney Carrier, for proofing reading, and corrections to my draft copy of this article, and Clive M. Law, for providing photos from the MilArt photo archives, and for publishing this article.

Any errors or omissions, is entirely the fault of the author, who unfortunately, cannot always remember everything.

Bibliography:

Law, CM, Unit Serials of the Canadian Army, Service Publications, Ottawa, Ontario.

Library and Archives Canada, archived photographs database, and digitized images, and various other Files/Volumes, Records Group 24, National Defence

MilArt photo archive, Service Publications, Ottawa, Ontario.

Tonner, MW, On Active Service, A summary listing of all units of the Canadian Army called out and placed on active service, Service Publications, Ottawa, Ontario, 2008.

Notes:

  1. The Canadian Active Service Force, was the designation given to those units of the Military Forces of Canada, that was called out and placed on active service, between the period of 3 September 1939, to 7 November 1940, upon which date, the Canadian Active Service Force, was redesignated the Canadian Army (Active).
  1. The Canadian Army Overseas, was the designation given, with effect from 30 December 1941, to that portion of the Canadian Army (Active), who were serving in the United Kingdom and would eventually serve in the Mediterranean (Sicily/Italy), and in European theatres of operations.
  1. The involvement of the 1st Canadian Infantry Division, and the 1st Canadian Army Tank Brigade, along with ancillary troops, in the forthcoming allied invasion of Sicily, as part of the Eighth British Army, was approved by Ottawa, on 27 April 1943, as communicated to the General Officer Commanding-in-Chief First Canadian Army, in the United Kingdom, by the Chief of the General Staff, Army Headquarters, Ottawa, in Telegram CGS 335, dated 27 April 1943.
  1. Canadian Military Headquarters (located in London, England), held responsibility for coordinating the arrival, quartering, completing equipment requirements, and training of Canadian units and formations and to command and administer these units and formations in the United Kingdom and at base in the theatre of operations. In addition, the headquarters had an important liaison role, particularly liaison with the British War Office and with the General Officer Commanding Canadian Forces in the theatre of operations, as well as furnishing information to the Canadian High Commissioner in London.
  1. This process, basically ensured that all units were fully up to strength in terms of the number of personnel, types and number of vehicles, and equipment, each individual unit was authorized, as per their War Establishment and Equipment Tables.
  1. As an example, the 1st Canadian Pile Driving Platoon, Royal Canadian Engineers, was embodied under unit serial number ‘CM 941,’ under the authority of Canadian Military Headquarters Administrative Order Number 20 of 1945, with effect from 1 February 1945. Serial No. CM 941, 1st Canadian Pile Driving Platoon, Royal Canadian Engineers, was disbanded under the authority of Canadian Military Headquarters Administrative Order Number 81 of 1945, effective 16 June 1945.
  1. A legal instrument made by the Governor in Council pursuant to a statutory authority or less frequently, the royal prerogative. All orders in council are made on the recommendation of the responsible Minister of the Crown and take legal effect only when signed by the Governor General.
  1. The Canadian Section General Headquarters, 2nd Echelon, was a Canadian Section that was attached to a “higher” headquarters’ 2nd Echelon (Example: to 2nd Echelon, 21 Army Group, in Northwest Europe, and to 2nd Echelon, Allied Forces Headquarters, in Italy), and whose primary responsibility was the provision of Canadian reinforcements for units in the field.
  1. Unit markings, also known as the ‘Arm of Service’ markings, were normally a 9½-inches by 8½-inches (24.1 by 21.6-centimetres) rectangle, consisting of a coloured background, appropriate to the formation, corps or branch of the service, to which the unit belonged, onto which a centrally located one, two, three, or four digit number, in white, was stenciled. These numbers, referred to as the ‘Arm of Service Serial,’ were blocks of numbers that were assigned to formations to identify individual units. Formation signs, which were normally a 6½-inches by 9-inches (16.5 by 22.9-centimetres) rectangle, were used to indicate the parent formation to which a vehicle’s unit belonged. The standardization, sizes, and positioning of all markings used on vehicles, followed the policy, as set down by either the Senior Officer, Canadian Military Headquarters, for formations under Canadian Military Headquarters control, or Staff Duties, Headquarters First Canadian Army, for formations under First Canadian Army control, which in turn, followed vehicle marking polices, as set down by the British War Office.
  1. Operation HUSKY, was the code name given to the allied invasion of Sicily, in which elements of the 1st Canadian Infantry Division, and 1st Canadian Army Tank Brigade, took part in the seaborne assault landings on 10 July 1943, as part of General Bernard Montgomery’s Eighth British Army.
  1. The 1st Canadian Army Tank Brigade, had been redesignated the 1st Canadian Armoured Brigade (Independent), with effect from 26 August 1943.
  1. Operation BAYTOWN, was the code name given to the Eighth British Army’s part, in the allied invasion of Italy, which commenced on 3 September 1943.
  1. Operation OVERLORD, was the code name given to the allied invasion of Normandy, in which elements of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division, and 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade (Independent), took part in the seaborne assault landings on 6 June 1944, as part of Lieutenant-General Miles Dempsey’s Second British Army.

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