In January 1944 1st Canadian Infantry Division reverted to command of I Canadian Corps after seven months of campaigning in Sicily and Italy under a British Corps. The story of the division’s resentment toward the level of paperwork foisted on them by H.D.G. Crerar’s untried corps headquarters is legendary. Modern military historians assume this rancour is indicative of a 1914–18 mindset among Second World War Canadian senior officers which prevented them from adapting to the fast–paced nature of modern mechanized warfare in the 1940s.1 Ironically, much of that “paper–pushing” appears to have contributed to the Canadian Army’s victories over German forces in the great battles of 1944–45.

Among the most labourious administrative chores were the operational narratives and lessons learned reports requiring battle participants to analyze recent actions and draw conclusions for improving combat efficiency. These reports do indeed date back to the Great War. Most First World War historians agree that such documents were a key ingredient to the remarkable success of the Canadian Corps in 1915–1918.2

The following report was prepared by the 1st Canadian Divisional Artillery staff in late September 1944, during the brief pause between the breakthrough of the Gothic and Rimini Lines and the subsequent pursuit into the Po Valley. In the weeks prior to that pause, I Canadian Corps suffered their heaviest losses to date against the most determined German resistance encountered during the Italian Campaign. They also demonstrated remarkable military skill and professionalism, and won their greatest victories of the entire war.

Readers may note that the report is tightly focussed on exacting every possible ounce of combat power out of an already effective organization. Continual refinements to the Anglo–Canadian system were essential given that Alliedforces in Italy usually possessed the barest minimum of resources necessary to accomplish their strategic mission of preventing German formations from withdrawing to more decisive fronts. Similar reports are found in the war diaries of all units and formations in the Canadian Army in the Second World War. What is most significant about this process is the rapidity with which recommended improvements were put into practice during subsequent operations.