Loyal Gunners uniquely encapsulates the experience of Canadian militia gunners and their units into a single compelling narrative that centres on the artillery units of New Brunswick. The story of those units is a profoundly Canadian story: one of dedication and sacrifice in service of great guns and of Canada. The 3rd Field Regiment (The Loyal Company), Royal Canadian Artillery, is Canada's oldest artillery unit, dating to the founding of the Loyal Company in Saint John in 1793. Since its centennial in 1893, 3rd Field-in various permutations of medium, coastal, and anti-aircraft artillery-has formed the core of New Brunswick's militia artillery, and it has endured into the twenty-first century as the last remaining artillery unit in the province. This book is the first modern assessment of the development of Canadian heavy artillery in the Great War, the first look at the development of artillery in general in both world wars, and the first exploration of the development and operational deployment of anti-tank artillery in the Second World War. It also tells a universal story of survival as it chronicles the fortunes of New Brunswick militia units through the darkest days of the Cold War, when conventional armed forces were entirely out of favour. In 1950 New Brunswick had four and a half regiments of artillery; by 1970 it had one-3rd Field. Loyal Gunners traces the rise and fall of artillery batteries in New Brunswick as the nature of modern war evolved. From the Great War to Afghanistan it provides the most comprehensive account to date of Canada's gunners.
Marc Milner is best known for his naval histories, including North Atlantic Run (1985), The U-Boat Hunters (1995), and Canada's Navy: The First Century (2009). His 2003 book Battle of the Atlantic won the C.P. Stacey Prize for the best book in military history in Canada. Milner's latest book is Stopping the Panzers: The Untold Story of D-Day (2014).
Preface by the Honorary Colonel of the Regiment: Why The Loyal Company of Artillery Matters
For almost as long as there has been a place called New Brunswick there has existed an organized body of very special volunteer soldiers: New Brunswick's gunners. For well over two centuries this group of citizen-soldiers has guarded Canada's shores against threat and served Canada - and the wider international community - abroad.
They have gone by many names. The Loyal Company of Artillery was formed in Saint John on 4 May 1793 to defend the port from French raiders. Two decades later, The Loyal Company earned its first battle honour during the War of 1812. In the early nineteenth century a regiment of New Brunswick Artillery coalesced around The Loyal Company. It included volunteer field batteries, among them one in Woodstock, where gunners of this regiment still muster today as 89th Battery. In 1861, The Loyal Company earned the rare distinction of being given its own regimental colours, which it carried until they were laid up in the Stone Church in Saint John in 1925. These colours were on hand when The Loyal Company, and the entire Regiment of New Brunswick Artillery, were called out in 1866 to defend the province from an army of Fenians forming just across the border in Maine.
The story of the New Brunswick gunners in the nineteenth century was one of defence, both from the sea and overland from the Great Republic to the south. Captain John Baxter told that story, in the style of the era, in his 1896 work Historical Records of the New Brunswick Regiment of Artillery 1793-1896. The regiment's first century was, in many ways, a tale of vigilance and quiet service in defence of hearth and home. No shots were fired in anger, no units deployed to operational theatres outside the province. But New Brunswick and Canada had been protected from those who would have done her and her citizens harm.
The regiment's story since 1896 is one of sharp contrast with Baxter's account. It involved gunners from all around the province as well as the rest of the Maritimes. There was no way that members of the regiment in 1896 could have foreseen the incredible conflict, destruction, and towering obstacles that those who followed them in service of the guns would endure and overcome. Indeed, since 1899 New Brunswick's gunners have been at the forefront of the action in Canada's overseas military activities, and at the cutting edge of modern artillery developments.
Less than three years after Baxter's book was published, New Brunswick's gunners were serving overseas, in the South African War (also known as the Boer War), and they have continued to do so ever since. During the Great War of 1914-18, New Brunswick's gunners fought a two-front war. For The Loyal Company the centre of that war the home front, in the newly constructed Barrack Green Armories in Saint John, and in the Composite Battery on Partridge Island and the training batteries it supported. The gunners' perennial task of guarding Canada's major year-round commercial port remained. Soon enough, however, that task changed: the New Brunswickers began providing heavy artillery for the Canadian Corps on the Western Front, where they adapted their coastal gunnery skills to the modern siege warfare needed to smash the German defences. As this new history of The Loyal Company and the gunners of New Brunswick reveals, because of the unique battery on Partridge Island, gunners from this province came to dominate the Canadian Corps Heavy Artillery. These New Brunswickers, and the heavy batteries raised in this province, were key to Canada's victory at Vimy Ridge, Hill 70, and Passchendaele in 1917, and were at the heart of the fire plans that blasted the final holes in the German defences during the 100 Days campaign of 1918. New Brunswick's 6th Siege Battery pursued the defeated German army retreating from Cambrai, and on 9 November 1918, near Mons, 1st Heavy Battery commanded by Major Inches of Saint John fired the war's final shots by the Canadian Garrison Artillery.
In the aftermath of the Great War, most of these accomplished soldiers returned to New Brunswick and to Canada, resolved to build a better life and a better country. Fortunately, many of them also stayed active in their local units, keeping alive critical gunnery skills in the expectation - indeed, fear - that Canada would need these again. Their worst fears became reality as Hitler rose to power in the 1930s and Germany renewed her aggression.
By 1939, tanks and aircraft, and the shift to oil-fired warships - especially the further development of diesel-electric submarines - presented new challenges on all fronts. Steady, dedicated training in basic gunnery skills would serve these units well during the transition to a new, more complicated battleground. What was now 3rd Coast Brigade mobilized again to defend Saint John, but this time as the heart of a massive project to protect Canada's most important winter port. The resulting Saint John Fortress complex drew some 3,000 to 4,000 men and women from across Canada into an integrated web of coastal defence, counter-bombardment, and anti-aircraft batteries, supported by an infantry brigade, machine-gun companies, anti-tank units, and engineer, service corps, and RCAF units.
Meanwhile, batteries from across the province went overseas to meet the new challenges of the modern war. Two of these batteries, the 8th from Moncton and the 28th from Newcastle, served throughout the war as field artillery batteries. Most of the others converted to the new anti-tank role, which involved wrestling high-velocity guns into direct fire positions on the forward edge of the battle zones. The 90th Battery from Fredericton landed in Sicily in July 1943 and evolved into perhaps the most innovative anti-tank unit in the Canadian army. The 104th joined them for the Italian campaign. Another, the 105th from St George, stormed the beaches of Normandy in June 1944, while the 103rd from Campbellton formed the backbone of the famous Canadian stand at St-Lambert-sur-Dives against a tide of Germans escaping the Falaise Gap in August 1944. Meanwhile the 89th Battery from Woodstock served in three roles: as field artillery, anti-aircraft artillery, and - briefly - front-line infantry in northern Italy in late 1944.
The vital importance of gunners for Canadian defence and mobilization planning was evident in the growth of New Brunswick's artillery after 1945. As the Cold War deepened, the province's artillery establishment reached its peak in size and complexity. By the early 1950s there were four and a half regiments of artillery in the province: two field regiments, two heavy anti-aircraft regiments - tasked primarily with defending Saint John from long-range Soviet bombers - and two batteries of a regional anti-tank regiment.
The advent of nuclear weapons confronted the province's gunners with their greatest existential crisis. Rapid changes in defence policy stripped units from the order of battle through the late 1950s and 1960s until only 3rd Field Regiment remained. And even the 3rd was under constant threat, with the result that senior New Brunswick gunners were forced to find creative ways to task-train as artillerymen. However, the establishment of Canadian Forces Base Gagetown outside Oromocto in 1950s was of incalculable help in preserving a strong artillery community in New Brunswick. CFB Gagetown became the home of the Canadian army, and its role as a key training centre and its proximity to the United States, the port of Saint John, and Europe established it as a national centre of excellence for preparing new soldiers and army leaders to defend Canada. Gagetown's size and the similarity of its terrain to that of northwest Europe allowed it to play a key role in the Canadian army. Because all of this activity took place halfway between Saint John (home of 115th Battery) and Woodstock (home of 89th Battery), it was always possible to get men - and, increasingly, women - of the regiment into the field and onto the gun line. It goes without saying that it was equally valuable for the Royal Canadian Artillery School to be able to draw on the talented gunners of 3rd Field Regiment.
The perseverance and foresight of a dedicated band of New Brunswick gunners has served Canada well. As the twentieth century drew to a close, well-trained gunners were once again needed on Canadian missions overseas. When the Royal Canadian Artillery were sent back into action in Afghanistan, gunners of 3rd Field Artillery Regiment were ready to deploy using the latest technologies. The specialist skills sustained and nurtured by 3rd Field Regiment every day since the regiment was formed in 1793 proved yet again the importance and adaptability of Canada's reserve (militia) soldiers in time of need.
The 3rd Field Regiment (The Loyal Company) remains Canada's oldest serving artillery unit. For more than 220 years, it has answered New Brunswick's call, and Canada's, in times of peace and war. The regiment has evolved, adapted, endured, and succeeded as an artillery unit since its founding. The Loyal Company and the gunners of New Brunswick have met the challenge. They have served their community and their country with dedication and distinction from the dusty veldt of South Africa to the dusty hills of South Asia and in myriad places in between. The motto of the Royal Regiment of Artillery and the Royal Regiment of Canadian Artillery is Ubique - "everywhere."...