A telegram received by LtCol Garrod, Officer Commanding The Perth Regiment, on September 1, 1939, timed at 2:23 pm, stated "You will mobilize immediately in accordance with your mobilization scheme." For the Perths, the Second World War had began. The Dominion of Canada would not officially declare war until nine days later, September 10.
The enthusiasm seen during the first few months of the war quickly swelled the ranks. By the end of September the unit's strength stood at 25 officers and 611 other ranks, and on October 4 the regiment reported having recruited to battalion strength. The Perth's tasking since 1936 had been that of a Corps Machine Gun Battalion, The Perth Regiment (MG), and for the first 18 months of the war the unit trained in this capacity. However, being considered Corps troops, rather than Divisional, they were given a lower priority on equipment than many other battalions. This became especially acute after the fall of France, May 1940, which resulted in an increased need to send divisional infantry to England for defense. The first issue of web gear would not reach the Regiment until late August, 1940.
Influenced heavily by General H.D.G. Crerar, who returned to Canada in July 1940 after the German Blitzkrieg of Poland and France, it was decided that Canada should create two highly mobile, offensive Armoured Divisions, the 4th and 5th. Thoughts were already turning to reestablishing the initiative and taking the offensive against Germany. Early in the spring of 1941 the Canadian 5th Armoured Division came into being, and on March 4 the Perths were notified they would be part of it. This assignment changed the regimental tasking from a Corps Machine Gun Battalion to that of Motorized Infantry, The Perth Regiment (Motor). The concept was that the regiment would become hard hitting, highly mobile shock troops and would accompany the tanks similar in fashion to the German Panzer Grenadiers. This change in tasking changed the regiment's priorities for equipment, and in fact, given its motorized designation, the regiment received an above normal allotment of transport. The original organizational structure of the Division would include three tank regiments and one of motorized infantry.
After a period of two years training in Canada, the Perths finally left their barracks at Camp Borden, on October 3, 1941 and two days later boarded the troopship Reina del Pacifico. On October 9, the ship left Halifax bound for England. Regimental strength at embarkation was 833 all ranks.
The Atlantic crossing was uneventful and the shipped docked in Liverpool on October 17. The regiment spent the next two years training, taking part in countless exercises and providing coastal defense. It was during this time the regimental tasking was changed yet again. The Allies, having gained experience in tank warfare in the western desert, found that there was a greater need in the armoured divisions for larger numbers of infantry. Consequently, the Division was reorganized into two brigades, one armoured, and one infantry. On January 16, 1943 the Perths were to be joined by The Irish Regiment of Canada and The Cape Breton Highlanders of Canada, to form the 11th Infantry Brigade. The regiment lost its (Motor) status, along with many of its vehicles and reverted to regular infantry. This was the regiment's tasking for the remainder of the war.
On October 16, 1943 the regiment was warned that it would participate in exercise Timberwolf. It would turn in its vehicles and proceed to Northern Ireland where it would be re-equipped with American equipment. New uniforms and personal kit were issued, vehicles were turned in and on October 26 the Regiment embarked in Liverpool onboard the John Ericsson. [The arrangement was made that the Canadian 5th Armoured Division would trade vehicles with the famous British 7th Armoured Division, then returning from Italy in preparation for the Normandy show.] The John Ericsson set sail at 7:00 am on the 27th. On the 28th, as the last evidence of Ireland fell away in the distance, LtCol Rutherford informed the regiment that it was not going to Northern Ireland but to North Africa. On November 5, the landing site was revised to Naples, Italy.
The following is an excerpt from an article entitled "A Short History of The Perth Regiment 1939 - 1945", taken from The Perthonian, Issue No. 3, August 1945. The Perthonian was a weekly regimental newspaper printed overseas while awaiting transport home to Canada. Editing comments are included in square brackets.
Then came the big day when the regiment embarked for Northern Ireland, so we were told. In reality, and we found out later, we were on our way to Italy. On Nov. 8th 1943, we landed at Naples after an eventful voyage, [On Nov. 6th the convoy was attacked by torpedo bombers. The John Ericsson was not damaged, but the S.S. Santa Elena carrying 1800 Canadians, including 121 Canadian Nursing Sisters of No. 14 Canadian General Hospital, was torpedoed and sunk. There was no reported Canadian loss of life. Two other ships, not carrying Canadians were also sunk.]and proceeded to a small village near Naples, where we remained for about ten days. Here we received some ancient and honourable vehicles and equipment that had seen service with the English 7th Armd Div from El Alamain through the North African campaign. [The original author does not do justice to the word ancient, or to the resulting controversy. The equipment received was completely inadequate, the vehicles were worn out, only two wheel drive, and the war establishment of the British 7th Armoured Division was significantly different from the Canadian 5th. The lack of vehicles would delay the formation of the 1st Canadian Corp, as vehicles had to be dispatched from England.] Then came the long trek across Italy to the 8th Army front bordering the Adriatic. After Christmas, preparations were made for our move to the battlefront a short distance north of Ortona. On 17th Jan 1944, The Perth Regiment saw its first action at the Battle of The Arielli River.[See Map 1: The Attack Towards the Arielli - 17th January 1944] On the night of 17th-18th Jan. 1944, after a day long battle against great odds, the Regiment was withdrawn to an area near Lanciano, and from there, took up a sector of the winter line opposite Orsogna. [For un-blooded troops the task set was formidable. The Perths were to attack against heavily defended positions manned by seasoned German troops of the 1st Para Division. This was the only time during the second world war that the Perths failed to take an objective.] Then came the bitter weary weeks of winter; May 1944. [The original author does not elaborate on this period, but suffice it to say that the front stagnated into a muddy wallow, reminiscent of the battle fields of WWI. In March the Regiment was withdrawn from the line for a period of training before being transferred to defensive positions near Cassino. It was also during this time that one of the greatest Perth tragedies occurred. On Feb. 5, a single German mortar bomb fell, hitting a ledge outside a cave where men where queuing for their evening meal. If this one in a million shot would have landed either two feet long or short it would have exploded harmlessly. Baker Companysuffered 37 casualties; 14 dead, 23 wounded.]
The Regiment began it's [sic] rapid trek with the 5th Cnd Armd Div through the Hitler Line. [See Map: The Italian Front - 11 May 1944, and Map 3: The Breakout from the Hitler line - 24-28 May 1944.] The Melfa River was crossed and Ceprano taken on May 27th, 1944. [During this time the Perths were part of the Eighth Army Spearhead.] Continuing on the Regiment took Pofi and Arnara on 29th and 30th of May respectively. [See Map 4: Ceprano to Frosinone.] Then a move back and a welcome rest for a few days before intensive training at Caiazzo.
About the end of July the Division began to move about as part of a deceptive plan preparatory to attacking the Gothic Line. [They were ordered to remove all shoulder and divisional battle dress insignia, cap badges, and all vehicles had TAC signs removed.] [See Map 5: Through The Gothic Line - 31 August 1944.] On the night of 31st Aug. 1944, the 11th Bde was committed, and the crossing of the Foglia River to Hill 111, together with the capture of Hill 204, and the holding of this feature despite desperate counter attacks, will live in the history of the Regiment as one of it's [sic] epic battles. It was there that Lt.Col. W.W. Reid won the D.S.O. [On the night of September 1, both the German 26th Panzer Regiment and 4th Parachute Regiment made repeated counter attacks to dislodge the toe hold made in the Gothic Line. Bitter hand to hand fighting ensued with trenches changing hands several times. The morning saw the Perths still there.] The Perth Regiment was the first regiment of the Eight Army to crack the Gothic Line. This was only the begining [sic]. The brigade moved up to the Besanigo feature inland from Cattolica, and there held a very harassed position, while 5 Corps tried to capture Coriano ridge, the feature dominating our advance northward. [See Map 6: The Gothic Line and Rimini Line - 26 August -22 September 1944.]The 5th Armd Div was then given the task of capturing Coriano, with 11th Bde making a night attack on the feature. [See Map 7: The Advance to Rimini 3-22 September 1944.] On the night of 13th Sept. 1944 began the classic battle of Coriano. The Perths were the first regiment on their objective, and despite counter attacks by enemy tanks and infantry, the position was held. Pure guts of the PIAT gunners drove off the enemy tanks which retreated from the feature.
Another period of rest, and then the advance to the Rubicon, where the Regiment suffered severe casualties from intensive enemy shelling. [On Sept. 28th the Perths were to attack across the Rubicon, however the autumn rains began the day before, making any attempt to cross the river impossible. In the three days the Perths waited on the banks of the river, 67 casualties were reported from enemy shell fire. After a 48 hour break from the line, the Perths were again ordered up to cross the river, and again due to intense rains, no attack was possible. Another 33 casualties were reported. On October 8th the Perths retired from the line and plans were canceled to cross the river.]
More rest, and then the advance began on 1st Dec. 1944 to cut off the enemy holding Highway 16, north of Ravenna, the 11th Bde was given the task of cutting the highway just south of Mezzano. On 5th Dec. 1944 in a lightning dash that outguessed the enemy, The Perth Regiment cut the highway, and captured one of the important bridges intact. On 6th Dec. 1944 dozens of prisoners fell to patrols, in mopping up operations. The campaign was now going "All out". Another river, The Lamone, lay ahead, but on the night of 10th Dec. 1944, the Perth Regiment crossed the river and secured the town of Borghia Villa Nova. [See Map 8: The Lamone River, Borgo De Villanova and the Fosso Munio - 10-21 December 1944.] Difficult fighting was encountered as the enemy was strongly positioned along the highway north of the town, and the intersecting Fossas-Vetro and Vecchio [Rivers]. Again The Perths were completely successful. Another river to cross, the Munio - small in itself, but of great importance to the enemy because it formed the outer defense of the Senio River Line. On the night of 20th Dec. 1944, The Regiment began it's [sic] attack on the Munio. Here it met the famous Kesselring Machine-gun Battalion. The crossing was made against tremendous odds - one company was successful, and despite open flanks due to the failure on right and left, it held on against tremendous counter attacks. The remainder of the Regiment, and all available support of the Division fought with great determination to keep the company secure. Major Robert Cole won the D.S.O. in this engagement. By evening of the following day Kesselring's pride withdrew to the line of the Senio, and the Regiment advanced to the very dyke of that river, cleared the bank, and sat down to the task of holding it, while the rest of the formation conformed. Christmas dinner was excellent but had to be served in grim surroundings. However, shortly afterwards, the Regiment withdrew for a much needed and deserved rest to Ravenna. Seven wonderful days and then back to it again. This time the Division was to clear the Senio north and east of Mezzano, the territory to include the Comacchio Peninsula. On the 4th Jan. 1945, the Regiment moved to Mezzano and prepared to attack east between the line of the river Lamone Abandanato and the Senio. [See Map 9: Clearing To The Valli Di Comacchio - 2-6 January 1945.] Every Company took it's [sic] objective in lightning thrusts, assisted by tanks and S.P's. Cooperation of all arms was excellent, and our task completed in record time. Two companies were then detached for the Comacchio Peninsula show, and came under command of an armoured unit. The battle was a complete success and the companies rejoined the Regiment a few days later. For several days the task was digging in and preparing a winter line; then the famous relief by an Italian Bde, which fortunately resulted in no losses to the Regiment. [Italian Cremona Battle Group. It was said that while moving into position they sounded more like a circus parade than an army convoy. The Germans now fully aware of the change taking place began shelling the Perth positions.] The Regiment retired to Cattolica, where the old rumour campaign began. Speculations as to our next move were on everyone's tongue. The trek across Italy began 15th Feb. 1945, and we eventually arrived at Leghorn, then Marseilles, Kemmel, Nijmegen, and Elst. [In February the 1st Canadian Corps was withdrawn from Italy and sent to North West Europe to join the 1st Canadian Army. For the balance of the war, all five Canadian Divisions would serve together.]
The battle of Neder Rijn began, and we successfully captured positions on the south bank, and the village of Driehl. From Driehl, we occupied Wehl and the tremendous line northward, then rapidly moved to the heights near Ede, and occupied Lunteren. The 5th Armd Div was now on the roll again. We dashed across and occupied Hardevijk on the Zuider Zee [See Map 10: The Western Netherlands, 1st Canadian Corps Operations, 2-25 April 1945.],a few days rest, and then we moved again across North Holland to relieve a unit of the 3rd Div in the area of Loppersum, and occupied Spijk, Bierum, and Godlinze. The task then given the Regiment was to clear the outer defense of Delfzijl, a tremendous undertaking against strongly fortified positions, manned by some 2700 enemy troops, and strongly supported by naval guns set up in concrete positions. With little artillery support available, the Regiment attacked and captured the towns [Krewerd], Holweirde and Nansum[See Map 11:The Fight for Delfzijl - 23 April - 2 May 1945.], taking in it's [sic] stride the fort on the dyke above the latter town. Upwards of 800 prisoners were captured and the outer defences broken, allowing another unit to complete the capture of the port of Delfzijl. The end of fighting had arrived, and it became evident in the minds of everyone that the great enemy was on the verge of collapsing.
It had been a long and tough experience. We think and discuss now, with diversity of opinion, what has gone before us in the past six years, but we will all agree that through the Supreme Sacrifice of our comrades in the battles so briefly outlined above, this Regiment has won a place of Honour in Military annals.
The Perths would remain in Europe until January 1946. They would return on the Queen Elizabeth and dock in New York on January 14th 1946. At its zenith the Regiment consisted of 1,047 all ranks, May 30th, 1945. On January 16th 1946, the Perths, 13 officers and 354 other ranks would detrain in Stratford. The war had ended. 261 Perths would make the Supreme Sacrifice.
The Perth Regiment of Canada was awarded 10 primary battle honours and 4 secondary battle honors for their service during WWII.
PRIMARY BATTLE HONOURS
Italy 1944-45; Sixteen months' wartime service in Italy.
Liri Valley; Hitler Line battles, May 25 - June 1, 1944.
Gothic Line; August 29-September 1, 1944.
Coriano; September 13, 1944.
Lamone Crossing; December 10-11, 1944.
Fosso Munio; December 18-20, 1944.
Conventello-Comacchio; Infantry-cum-tank advance, with the British Columbia Dragoons, January 2-6, 1945.
North-West Europe 1945; Eleven weeks' wartime service in France, Belgium and the Netherlands.
Ijsselmeer; A 25-mile advance, April 15-18, 1945, from Arnhem to the Zuider Zee, to cut off enemy forces in the Western Netherlands.
Delfzijl Pocket; Operations to quell the last organized German resistance in the Netherlands, April 23-May 2, 1945.
SECONDARY BATTLE HONOURS
Melfa Crossing; Beginning of the breakout from the Hitler Line, May 25th, 1944.
Ceprano; May 27, 1944.
Montecchio; August 30, 1944.
Point 204; September 1, 1944.