Research and story by Clarence Simonsen
All rights reserved
Shortly after the Boer War ended, the Canadian government realized that in defence of Canada, the Army required more than just one infantry battalion and two artillery batteries for their permanent defence force. In 1903, the Royal Canadian Engineers were founded on the basis of a permanent military engineer force, while a militia force was created for future leadership development. The Royal Canadian Engineers expanded dramatically in both the First and Second World Wars, and provided post war reconstruction in Germany for civil rehabilitation.
It should be noted, unlike the United States of America, the United Kingdom, France, and the Soviet Union, Canada was not selected as one of the Occupying Powers of Germany in 1945, or a member of the Allied Control Commission. Once again Canada would fall under British control, and on 11 December 1944, the Canadian Government approved the participation of Royal Canadian Engineers in the British Army of Occupation in North-West Europe. By 1944, the Royal Canadian Engineers had reached their maximum WW II strength of 210 officers and 6,283 other ranks. Like the very beaver that graces their Canadian national emblem, the Royal Canadian Engineers were building and extending the Canadian and American airfields, with speed and precision unmatched in British history.
The Standard, Montreal, 23 October 1943. [Author collection]
Note R.C.E. badge on shoulder
The sudden death of the A/4 rocket research at Peenemünde officially came to an end on 7 May 1945, when Wernher von Braun surrendered to the American Army. This death was quickly followed by its rebirth under control of the British and Americans. On 27 May 1945, one American officer, tricked a German officer into revealing the location of 14 tons of hidden documents on the V-2, this caused some serious conflict between the British and Americans. The hidden V-2 documents had been stored in an abandoned iron mine, which was located in the soon to be British sector of Germany. The American smuggling act had taken place under the nose of the British and in return General Eisenhower sanctioned the use of captured V-2 rockets to be test fired by the British. On 22 June 45, the British operation “Backfire” was formed, which would result in the most comprehensive study and documentation of the V-2 weapon to that date. The amount of preparation would prove very difficult for the British: first they had to find a safe launch site, facilities, ground support equipment, flight hardware, and a cooperative German knowledgeable work force. The British selected an abandoned German naval gun range near Cuxhaven, on the coast of the North Sea. This site had radar, rail sidings, and other infrastructure for the V-2 launches, but still required enormous construction in a short period of time.
On 11 July 1945, the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division [with 25,000 men] arrived in North-West Germany, from the Netherlands. They were placed under command of the British 30th Corps District including the five Divisional engineer units of the Royal Canadian Engineers. For this reorganization they bore the prefix “2” before their respective numbers. These units were involved in Hospital construction, mine clearance, demolition of German bunkers, batteries, and radar towers, plus construction of shelter for displaced persons. In late July 45, approximately 2,000 Canadians were sent to Cuxhaven to assist with the construction the V-2 launch facilities. Records show two other Canadian units were posted to Cuxhaven, under British 21 Army Group Command. They were No. 17 Detachment of the Canadian Field Ambulance Section, and No. 6 Canadian Field Security Reserve Detachment. It is further stated that a large number of Canadian Engineers were employed at Cuxhaven under British Army Command, but never posted to the area under 21 Army Group. These Canadian Engineers were employed chiefly in construction and in three weeks Engineers succeeded in constructing the V-2 assembly area, test and checkout hangars, which included a 300 foot long facility with overhead crane. The V-2 checkout building was constructed from sections of Army Bailey Bridge.
The Canadian Engineers were experts in building airfield cement runways, and were most likely employed in the pouring of the cement pads for the V-2 launch.
It is believed members of the following Canadian units took part in the construction of the A/4 launch site at Cuxhaven 1945 and the last unit remained on site until 8 May 1946.
2/18 Canadian Field Company [R.C.E.] left Cuxhaven 23 March 1946, disbanded England 17 March. [German home base was Varel]
2/3 Canadian Field Company [R.C.E.] left Cuxhaven on 24 April 46, disbanded England 18 April. [German home base was Oldenburg]
2/6 Canadian Field Company [R.C.E.] left Cuxhaven, Germany, on 8 May 1946, disbanded England on 16 May. [German home base had been Leer]
V-2 checkout building at Cuxhaven, Oct. 45
Cement launch pad probably built by R.C.E. at Cuxhaven, Oct. 45