From One World War to Another (1919-43)

Canada’s Military between the Wars

The Militia Reduced

After the disappearance of Defence Plan No. 1, the 15 divisions of the early 1920s were considered too expensive and had to make way for six infantry divisions and one cavalry division, which more or less corresponded to the maximum overseas force Canada could provide in the event of war. The service and artillery units and sub-units were not assigned to any of the brigades in these formations. Going into the 1930s, the Chief of the General Staff tried to sell this revised plan by claiming that a smaller number of units (most of the existing ones being unable to fill their ranks, recalling the pre1914 situation) could be better trained and equipped. He would not succeed until 1933, and then only by employing a trick: The reduction became politically acceptable in the context of Canada's contribution to the Geneva disarmament talks. In any case, the 15 divisions were paper tigers.

In 1936, then, the Militia's order of battle as it had existed in 1920 had dropped by more than half and a number of regiments had disappeared for good or been merged with others. Some regiments were also changing their roles to reflect technological progress. Some infantrymen were becoming gunners or members of so-called armoured units, though the Armoured Corps would not appear until 1940. The 1936 reorganization occurred largely without bitterness or protest, as the champions of the Non-Permanent Militia had been assured that the surviving units would have genuine roles to play in any mobilization. In fact the general staff would keep this promise: In the mobilization of 1939, contrary to what had happened in 1914, the Non-Permanent Militia would be the basis for the recruitment of volunteers for overseas and conscripts for territorial defence. In 1939, however, units would still be waiting for the new equipment promised in the reorganization. The horses had gone, but cavalry units had virtually no tanks. The so-called motorized units of the Non-Permanent Active Militia had no vehicles.