A brief history of the
Royal Canadian Army Service Corps

By: Major WE Campbell CD, Logistics/Transportation


Formation

The RCASC was formed on 1 November 1901 when the issue of General Order No.141 established the Canadian Army Service Corps as a new branch of the Active Militia.

Heritage

The CASC drew it's traditions from the Army Service Corps of the British Army. For most of the early history of the British Army, the provision of transportation was a Commissariat function and they contracted for services as they were required. As armies became more sophisticated and ceased to live off of the land, their transportation requirements also increased. The need for a dedicated and reliable military transportation organisation became obvious. The first unit to be formed was the Royal Waggoners, which existed from 1794-1795. The Royal Waggon Train was then established in 1799. This unit served during the Napoleonic Wars in the Peninsula and at Waterloo. It was disbanded in 1833 as part of peacetime economies. The next period of crisis was the Crimean War. The troops in the Crimea suffered dreadfully during the winter of 1854/55 because there was insufficient transport to move their supplies eight miles from the harbour to their encampments. This led to the formation of the Land Transport Corps in 1855. Working side by side with the Commissariat, which controlled the provision of stores, they quickly proved their worth by capably supporting the British Army during the remainder of the Crimean War. Following the end of the war, the LTC was re-organized as the Military Train.
The next thirty years saw several name changes occur as the British wrestled with the relationship between the civilian Commissariat (later militarized) that controlled the supplies and the military transportation unit that moved them. The transport and supply services were united in 1869 into the first Army Service Corps. This was re-organized into the Commissariat and Transport Corps in 1881. They finally got it right and formed the second Army Service Corps in 1888, which combined the responsibility for both the provision of supplies and their carriage into one military organization. This corps provided the foundation for the formation of the Canadian Army Service Corps and provided it with a partner during the two World Wars and Korea.
Meanwhile, transportation services in Canada continued to be contracted for by the Commissariat. The first direct contact with the predecessors of the Army Service Corps occurred in 1861/1862 during the Trent Affair when two battalions of the Military Train deployed to Canada during the general reinforcement of British North American by over 11,500 troops. Later, a detachment of the first Army Service Corps was responsible for the supply and transport support of the Red River expedition of 1870. Contractors continued to provide the steamboats and waggons. The work of the Canadian voyageurs so impressed the commander, Colonel Garnet Wolseley, that he enlisted a contingent of Canadian boatmen to accompany his Nile Expedition of 1884/85 when he tried to relieve General Gordon at Khartoum. They worked alongside the Commissariat and Transport Corps companies to move stores up the Nile to support the force. Sir Winston Churchill was to write of a later Nile expedition: "Victory is the beautiful, bright-coloured flower. Transport is the stem without which it could never have blossomed".
The last of the British troops, less those in Halifax and Esquimalt, had left Canada by 1871. The Militia Act of1868 had provided for the formation of various support services, including a military train, on an as required basis. This provision, however, was never enacted. As a result, when the Riel Rebellion of 1885 broke out, the Canadian Militia was forced to fall back on the old standby of hiring civilian contractors, this time the Hudson's Bay Company, to provide the transportation services for the force. Despite constant warnings that the Canadian Militia could not deploy to the field and support itself, it took the threat of war with the United States due to the Venezuela Scare of 1895 and the outbreak of the Boer War in 1899 to finally convince the Government of Canada to form support forces. The first to be formed was the CASC which was followed by the COC and other services in fairly short order.

Pre-War CASC

Four companies of the Non-Permanent Active Militia were formed in 1901. By 1914, there were eighteen companies. The first unit of the Canadian Permanent Army Service Corps was established in December 1904 in Kingston, Ont. This had increased to five detachments by 1908. Once formed, the CASC speedily made its mark. Attendance at the Militia Summer Camps had been dropping, partially due to the poor administration and "grub". The CASC cooks quickly improved the quality of the food while other members of the Corps sorted out the S&T problems. In June 1906, when the CASC took over the Halifax Garrison after the departure of the last British troops, they inherited the two steamships "Alfreda" and "Lily" which were used to supply the outlying forts. This was the beginning of the Water Transport Section that continued until 1948. The greatest pre-war challenge of the fledgling Corps came in 1908 with the Tercentenary Celebrations at Quebec City. The CPASC and CASC moved, fed and supplied over 14,000 troops and 2,500 horses during the event. It is interesting to note that movements was a CASC task from the start whilst it remained a Royal Enginer function in the British Army until the formation of the Royal Corps of Transport in 1965. The CASC was a progressive corps and had started the limited use of motor transport (MT) by 1912. The CASC, like the ASC, was a fully combatant corps.

World War I

When war broke out in August 1914, the CPASC and CASC had about 3000 members. By 1918, this had increased to over 17,000. This rapid expansion and the numerous wartime tasks associated with it, placed enormous strains upon the Corps. All members of the Corps, both old and new, rose to the challenge and took it in stride. The first contingent of the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) concentrated at Camp Valcartier and sailed for England in October 1914. Renamed the 1st Canadian Division, they went to France in February 1915.
The CASC elements of a Division consisted of a Train (HT), a Supply Column (MT), an Ammunition Sub-Park (MT) and a Reserve Park (HT). There were also Lines of Communications troops, such as Depot Units of Supply, Field Bakeries and Field Butcheries. Corps Troops were formed in September 1915 when the 2nd Canadian Division arrived and the Canadian Corps was formed. The 3rd and 4th Divisions arrived in France in 1916. There were Base Troops and Training Depots in the UK. Other CASC units were the Canadian Section of the 5th Cavalry Division Supply Column (to which the Canadian cavalry was attached), CE MT Companies, CMMG MT Companies and ambulance drivers. The increased use of MT led to the development of mobile workshops and of Breakdown Vehicles, a CASC innovation. Besides the UK, France and Flanders, CASC units served in the Far East as part of the Canadian Siberian Expeditionary Force based in Vladovostok. At home, they continued to support the home defense units and new battalions of the CEF that were continually being raised to provide reinforcements.
By 1918, the CASC was supporting 400,000 men, 150,000 French civilians and 25,000 horses in the European Theatre. Recognition of the Corp's outstanding work during the war came in November 1919 when His Majesty, King George V, awarded the designation "ROYAL" to the CPASC. This honour was later awarded to the CASC (NPAM) in 1936 at which time both the Regular and Militia elements united as the RCASC. Of the over 17,000 members of the CASC who served in World War I, 482 died due to enemy action or disease and 767 Honours and Awards were won.

Between the Wars

Following demobilization, the RCASC and CASC (NPAM) reverted to their pre-war organization. Money for defence was in short supply and modernization was almost impossible. Fortunately, they were able to observe and learn from the RASC as it completed its transition from Horse Transport to Motor Transport. Training in the new methods was conducted at the School of Instruction in Winnipeg and at the Branch Schools. All of the units struggled for survival during the Great Depression. The RCASC (PF) gained valuable experience by providing the normal range of support services to the Unemployment Relief Camps that were established across the country. Some progress was made and the last Horse Transport parade was held in 1936. On 1 May 1938, the RCASC Training Centre was opened at Camp Borden. In the summer of 1939, on the eve of war, the RCASC had a strength of only 4,000 ... an increase of 1,000 from the summer of 1914.

World War II

This was another period of rapid expansion. By the end of the war, approximately one man in twelve was RCASC. The 1st Infantry Division was quickly mobilized and sailed for Scotland in December 1939. The 2nd Infantry Division followed in May 1940. The 3rd Infantry Division, 4th and 5th Canadian Armoured Divisions, the 1st Army Tank Brigade and 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade deployed in due course. Each Division had its complement of RCASC companies. As Corps and Army Headquarters were formed, there were corresponding RCASC companies formed as well as Lines of Communications troops.
The first RCASC members to see action landed at Brest in June 1940 as part of the 1st Canadian Brigade to assist France against the German Blitz-Kreig. They did not stay long and re-embarked soon after the fall of France on 22 June. Canada dispatched "C" Force to Hong Kong in the Fall of 1941. This included a small RCASC element. After Hong Kong fell in December 1941, those RCASC members who survived the fighting went into four years of harsh captivity at the hands of the Japanese. In August of 1942, 39 RCASC personnel participated in the Dieppe Raid, some of whom were killed in action or captured. A joint American/Canadian operation was mounted in the summer of 1943 to free the Aleutian island of Kiska from Japanese occupation. The RCASC elements with 13 CIB were part of this force. It was a bloodless campaign as, by the time the force had arrived, the Japanese had abandoned the island.
The build-up period in the UK saw several changes occur in the RCASC organization. In August 1942, all army cooks re-badged to RCASC which became responsible for all aspects of catering. In 1943, the organization of the transport companies of the RASC and RCASC changed from a "commodity" basis to a "composite" one. An S&T company would now support an infantry brigade with all the divisional companies forming a divisional column under the CRASC. The winter of 1943/1944 saw the heavy workshop functions of the RCASC and RCOC being combined to form a new Corps, the Royal Canadian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (RCEME). This was designed to better support the greatly increased repair requirements of the modern, more mechanised army.
In July 1943, the 1st Canadian Infantry Division and 1st Army Tank Brigade (later renamed 1st Canadian Armoured Brigade) participated in the invasion of Sicily. The RCASC units worked with an RASC DUKW company to resupply the force. Conditions forced the transport companies to revert to working on a commodity basis. The mountainous terrain resulted in the formation of the 1st Canadian Division Mule Transport Company. The invasion of Italy followed on 3 September. In November, the 5th Canadian Armoured Division arrived and the 1st Canadian Corps was formed. With the Corps HQ came the Corps units such as No. 1 Motor Ambulance Convoy, No.s 41, 43 and 44 General Transport Companies, and No. 81 Artillery Company, RCASC. The 1st Canadian Army Catering Corps, Group "A" arrived to control catering, operate the Canadian military hotels and rest areas and to co-ordinate the work of the two RASC Field Bakeries that were attached to them. The difficult terrain of central Italy saw the continued use of pack animals and the formation of the 1st Canadian Corps Jeep Platoon. By the end of 1944, victory was in hand and in February/March 1945, Operation "Gold Flake" saw the movement of 1st Canadian Corps to Holland to link up with 1st Canadian Army Headquarters.
Meanwhile, in North-West Europe, the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division, with 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade under command, landed on D Day, 6 June 1944, as part of 1 British Corps. The 2nd Canadian Corps soon became operational in France followed by 1st Canadian Army Headquarters. With them came many RCASC units such as: 1st Canadian Army Transport Column Headquarters with 45, 47, 63 and 64 Transport Companies; 1st Canadian Army Troops Headquarters with 35 and 36 Army Troops Composite Companies; 2nd Canadian General Transport Column with 65, 66 and 69 Transportation Companies and No.s 85 and 86 Bridging Companies. The RCASC units completed a major ammunition dumping programme prior to the start of Operation Totalize, the bridgehead breakout. They moved over 80,000 tons in one and one-half days in addition to troop carrying and many other general transport tasks. Later in the campaign, Canadian innovation was in the forefront when the 40 ton Diamond-T tank transporters of 65 Tank Transporter Company were turned into commodity carriers by the use of temporary side racks. The war moved forward through France in Holland with the RCASC ably supporting the army and the RCAF in every phase. Some of the more unique units were: No.1 Canadian Advanced Stationary Depot, RCASC and No.1 Canadian Mobile Printing Section, RCASC. By 5 May 1945, the war with Germany was over while that with Japan ended on 14 August. Demobilization began in September 1945. During the war, 1,006 members of the RCASC died due to enemy action or disease and 1,156 Honours and Awards were won.

Post-War Period

On 30 September 1946, the Corps of Military Staff Clerks was absorbed by the RCASC who thereafter trained and provided all clerks for the Staff and Headquarters Organizations. Unfortunately, peace was not to continue for long. The Korean War began in June 1950. Canada formed 25 CIB for service there. The RCASC contribution was 54 Canadian Transport Company and 38 Motor Ambulance Company. They trained in Fort Lewis, Washington and deployed to Korea in May 1951. They eventually formed part of the 1st Commonwealth Divisional Column of the 1st Commonwealth Division. As in Italy, 54 Transport Company worked on a commodity basis, being responsible for all ammunition for the division in addition to support for 25 CIB. In 1952, 58 Transport Company deployed to work at the Commonwealth Base area in Kure, Japan. As the Korean War progressed, No.s 23, 56 and 3 Transport Companies rotated through Korea. The war ended in 1954 and the troops returned to Canada. During the war, 24 members of the RCASC died and 33 Honours and Awards were won.
In order to meet a NATO commitment, 27 CIB was formed for service in Europe and deployed to Germany in the Fall of 1951. Over the years, No.s 55, 54 and 5 Transport Companies rotated through until 4 CIBG was deployed in 1957 with No. 1 Transport Company. They were based at Fort Chambly. In 1968 they were renamed 4 S&T Company and moved to Iserlohn an then to Lahr in 1970. Meanwhile, in the winter of 1951/52, 1 Airborne Platoon RCASC was formed as part of the Mobile Striking Force (MSF) which had a defence of Canada role with emphasis on the arctic. 1 AB Pl was mainly recruited from 23 Transport Company with others coming from RCASC units returning from Korea. This period also saw the implementation of RCEME Phase II and the transfer of the RCASC light workshops to that Corps. When the RCASC celebrated its Silver Anniversary in 1953, it was truly operating on a global scale.
Service with the UN was a continuing tasking. No. 56 Transport Company served with UNEFME in Egypt and the Middle East from 1956 to 1967. RCASC personnel also served with the UN in India/Pakistan, the Congo, Cyprus and Indo-China. Seven members of the RCASC died while on UN service. When the Corps celebrated its Diamond Jubilee in 1961, almost one soldier in seven was a member of the RCASC. The eighteen static companies and five field companies were supporting Army, Navy and Air Force personnel in Canada and overseas. There were also militia transport companies located across Canada in the various army commands.

Integration and Unification

A time of rapid change was to descend upon the Corps. In 1963, No. 1 Helicopter Transport Platoon RCASC, which later became 450 Transport Squadron, was formed at the Canadian Joint Air Training Centre in Rivers, Manitoba. In order to improve support, 3 Experimental Service Battalion (ESB) was formed at Camp Gagetown in 1963. This experiment was successful and all of the Brigade Groups changed to the Service Battalion concept in 1968. This was also the year that integration and unification took effect. As a prelude, the Canadian Forces School of Administration and Logistics (CFSAL) was formed on 1 September 1967. The Canadian Forces Reorganization Act was proclaimed on 1 February 1968. This also marked the formation of the Logistics Branch, which incorporated the supply, transport and finance services of the RCN, Canadian Army and the RCAF. Although the RCASC no longer formally existed, Corps training continued until 1969 when the Logistics Branch training superseded it. Former members of the Corps continued to wear their RCASC badges with pride until the Logistic Branch badge was issued in 1973/1974.

References:
Wait for the Waggon - Arnold Warren. McClelland and Stewart Limited. 1961.
The Predecessors of the Royal Army Service Corps - Lt Col Masse MC. Gale and Polden, Aldershot, 1948
The Canadian Army Journal, Vol VIII No.1 Jan 1951, Vol XV No. 2 Spring 1961.
War Without Battles - S.M. Maloney. 1996.
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