Engineer Gallantry in War

This section attempts to recognize the gallantry of Engineers during conflict. This is an ongoing project requiring considerable research, and although not complete, is a beginning.

First Canadian Military Medal Won by a Sapper

During the time of the Dunkirk evacuation, the 1st Canadian Division began to move into Brittany in an attempt to re-establish a British Expeditionary Force in France.  The was moved too quickly and the troops were brought back to England within a week. In the rush, Sappers C. Julien and Fraser Peter Hutchinson were left behind and taken prisoner. While both escaped and were recaptured, only Sapper Hutchinson, MM made his way back to England.

Engineer Gallantry on the Beaches of Dieppe - 19 August 1942

In 1942, British operational command conceived of a combined amphibious, airborne, naval and air force assault on Dieppe, a German-occupied and fortified port on the French coast. The initial plan, Operation RUTTER, planned for a division-sized force to land, cease key facilities, destroy others, gather high-value intelligence, and hold the town for two tides before withdrawing back to England. It would be supported by airborne landings, fighter support and heavy air and sea bombardment. (Two Military Crosses, two Distinguished Conduct Medals, three Military Medals and numerous Mentioned in Dispatches)

Sapper Bravery in Sicily

The first Canadian sapper, and possibly the first Canadian officer, to set foot in Sicily was Captain George Wheelock Burbidge of the 4th Field Company.  Captain Burbidge was attached to Combined Operations HQ and was assigned to 3 Combined Operations Pilotage Party in Malta.  He disappeared on a reconnaissance mission on 4 March 1943. Four months later, The 1st Canadian Infantry Division, supported by three Field Companies, the 1st, 3rd and 4th, and the 2nd Field Park Company, landed on the beaches of Pachino. The degree to which the Royal Canadian Engineers contributed to the Sicilian Campaign can be measured by the degree to which they were recognised for bravery, receiving more awards than any other unit in the Canadian Army.

Gallantry on the Moro - 8 December 1943

On 6 December 1943, the 1st Canadian Infantry Division under Major-General Chris Vokes, a Sapper, began a series of assaults on major crossing points along the Moro River along the eastern coast of Italy. The attacks were led by three infantry battalions and fighting was hard for two days and established two small bridgeheads over the Moro River. On December 8th, Vokes adjusted his plan to consolidate a larger bridgehead by launching a two-pronged attack out of the two smaller bridgeheads. The attack began in the afternoon with a massive artillery barrage with infantry following.   During the night of 8/9 December, units of the Royal Canadian Engineers (RCE) built a bridge over the Moro allowing armour and equipment to move into San Leonardo the following day. (One Distinguished Service Order, two Military Medals)

Sapper Gallantry in the Liri Valley – May 1944

In the spring of 1944, the Germans still held the line of defence north of Ortona, as well as the mighty bastion of Monte Cassino that blocked the Liri corridor to the Italian capital. Determined to maintain their hold on Rome, the Germans constructed two formidable lines of fortifications: the Gustav Line, and the Adolf Hitler Line, further up the valley. Early on 23 May, the 1st Canadian Infantry Division launched a three-brigade attack on the Hitler Line. Under heavy enemy mortar and machine-gun fire, and at great expense in killed and wounded, the Canadians breached the defences that day and the tanks of the 5th Canadian Armoured Division poured through toward the next obstacle, the Melfa River.  (Four Military Crosses, five Military Medals)

Sapper Gallantry on the Normandy Beaches - 6 June 1944

The stories of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division's assault on Juno Beach on 6 June 1944 have been told many times and in many ways. This page will not attempt to re-tell those stories.  It will simply set the scene and list members of the Royal Canadian Engineers who were decorated for gallantry that day. (One Distinguished Service Order, one Military Cross, nine Military Medals, one Distinguished Service Medal)

Sapper Gallantry on the Orne River - 18/19 July 1944

The battle for the city of Caen ended on 9 July with nearly 1200 Canadian dead and wounded in the final two days of the fight.  This number exceeded the casualties of the landings themselves.  The goal now was to continue drawing German forces away from the 1st US Army and push towards Falaise. Operation ATLANTIC aimed at securing the western bank of the Orne River and started on 18 July 1944 with elements of the 3rd Canadian Division crossing in the north-eastern parts of Caen and the 2nd Canadian Division crossing into the southern portions and striking south. (Three Distinguished Service Orders, three Military Crosses, two British Empire Medals)

Engineer Gallantry on the Gothic Line 25 August until 22 September 1944

At the end of August 1944, the last major battle of the Italian Campaign began.  It would last a month and cost of 4500 killed, wounded and missing. It did not end the fighting in Italy, but it broke the back of Field Marshall Kesselring’s last line of defence on the Italian peninsula. For the Royal Canadian Engineers, the cost was high - over 40 killed and more wounded.  Their gallantry through the month-long ordeal was two Military Crosses and five Military Medals.

Gallantry with Porterforce – 31 October and 1 November 1944

By late October 1944, the 1st Canadian Corps had been in constant action since the Gothic Line Battle in August. The Savio River had been crossed but little success had been found moving forward to Ravenna over the flooded Po Valley plain. The Corps was moved into the 8th Army reserve except for a handful of Canadian units assigned to a hastily organised battle group dubbed Porterforce led by Lt-Col Porter. Among these units was 12th Field Company, RCE. Colonel Porter’s force of over 2000 all ranks consisting of armour, infantry, artillery and engineers, was tasked with the capture of the city of Ravenna. Operations started on 28 October over a line of advance across flooded plains, canals and rivers, mines and demolitions. (One Military Cross, one Military Medal)