Operation Goldflake: I Canadian Corps move from Italy to Northwest Europe, 1945
(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 4166465)
LST 173 carrying a cargo of vehicles and supplies entering Marseille harbour during Operation Goldflake, spring 1945. This operation involved the move of the entire 1 Canadian Corps and the 1st Canadian Armoured Brigade from Italy to Northwest Europe, where they were to join the 1st Canadian Army who had been in combat since 6 June 1944.
(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3524684)
Canadian Sherman V tanks, likely with the 5th Armoured Brigade, 2nd Armoured Regiment (Lord Strathcona’s Horse (Royal Canadians), 5th Armoured Regiment (8th Princess Louise’s (New Brunswick) Hussars) or the 9th Armoured Regiment (British Columbia Dragoons), moving out of an LST on arrival in Marseilles, France, 6 March 1945. This was part of Operation Goldflake, which involved the move of 1st Canadian Corps from Italy to North-West Europe, February-March 1945.
Operation Goldflake was the administrative move of I Canadian Corps (in essence, all Canadian combatant units) and the British 5th Infantry Division from Italy to Northwestern Europe during the Second World War. The British-led forces had been fighting in Italy since the Allied invasion of Sicily (Operation Husky) in July 1943. The Allied commanders decided to move the British and Canadian troops to fight in Northwestern Europe in the spring of 1945. The most significant of these elements was Lieutenant General C. Foulkes’s Canadian I Corps, which was transferred from Lieutenant General Sir Richard McCreery’s British 8th Army in Italy to General H. D. G. Crerar’s Canadian Army in the Low Countries.
Operation Goldflake was the codename of the plan to arrange the move and to conceal the shifting of such a large number of troops to another war theatre. The move was publicized as a regrouping away from the Italian front to allow for recuperation of the troops. A massive amount of planning was needed, since troops and administrative centres were widely dispersed in southern Italy. Trains and road convoys had to be arranged, while not leaving any of the front-lines vulnerable to counter-attacks by the German forces. Troops and materiel were to be moved from ports at Naples and Leghorn in Italy to Marseilles in France, at the rate of 3700 people, 40tanks, 650 wheeled vehicles, and 50 carriers each day.
Embarkation began on 22 February 1945 and most trips to Marseille took two days. It was then a five-day drive to the Belgian frontier, 1,085 km (674 mi). By the end of April, over 60,000 troops and support personnel had been moved from Italy to Northwestern Europe. By 8 Feb, plans had been almost finalised, and its priorities were the delivery of two fighter groups and one service group of Lieutenant General John K. Cannon’s (from 2 April Major General Benjamin W. Chidlaw’s) US 12 Army Air Force (delivered by 18 February), the headquarters of the Canadian I Corps and a proportion of its corps troops (25 February), Major General B. M. Hoffmeister’s Canadian 5 Armoured Division (3 March), Brigadier W. C. Murphy’s Canadian 1 Armoured Brigade (8 March), Major General R. A. Hull’s British 5 Division from the Middle East (11 March), Major General H. W. Foster’s Canadian 1 Division (23 March) and Major General C. E. Weir’s British 46 Division (from Greece when available).
The basic scheme was for advanced parties to be flown to Belgium while the main bodies travelled from Livorno and Naples on the west cost of Italy by LST, Liberty ships and personnel shipping in a shuttle service to Marseille, where the French provided transit accommodation. The scheduled rate of discharge at Marseille was 40 tanks, 50 carriers, 650 wheeled vehicles and 3,700 men per day. The movement of the I Corps began on 13 February, when the corps headquarters and about half its corps troops left Ravenna for Naples. By the end of March 57,972 men of the I Corps had reached Marseille, from which they were moved north to Belgium through France by road convoys or by rail with flatcars used for the tracked vehicles. The corps headquarters became operational in Belgium on 15 March, the Canadian 5 Armoured Division came into the line at Arnhem at the end of March, and the Canadian 1 Division was grouped in preparation for operations on 3 April.
The 5 Division started to arrive in Taranto from the Middle East in the middle of February. The embarkation of two brigades and divisional troops from Naples (the third brigade did not disembark) started on 8 March and the concentration of the division in the Ghent area had been completed by 19 March, by which time about 13,000 men had been transferred.
Speed was essential, but the Allies did not want the Germans to learn about the plans. The convoys would be vulnerable while in transit, so Operation Penknife was created to hide the movement of the Canadians out of Italy. A special, temporary organization, called 1st Canadian Special Basra Unit was created. "Basra" was the code name for the cover plan and the unit included 230 officers and men taken from other groups being disbanded (such as the No. 1 Anti-Malaria Control Unit). Men would drive throughout the area in Italy where the Germans thought the Canadians were located and post location signs that were then moved the next day. All Canadian clubs, hostels, leave centres and hospitals were kept open.
According to Christopher Chant, the total sea movement associated with Operation Goldflake during February and March amounted to 110,000 men and 30,000 vehicles, of which 1,200 were tanks, and required 222 tank landing ships and 85 ship sailings. The movement of large numbers of line of communication units to the North-West European front continued after the departure of the fighting formations, and was not completed until the third week of April. Nicholson, G. W. L., The Canadians In Italy, 1943–1945. Official History of the Canadian Army in the Second World War. Vol. II. (E. Cloutier, Queen's Printer and Controller of Stationery, Ottawa, 1956)
(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3226797)
Lieutenant-Colonel R.S. Malone helping to erect sign for the Canadian Maple Leaf Editorial Offices, 11 July 1944.
The Canadian forces newsletter, "The Maple Leaf" continued to be published in Rome until mid-March. The Royal Canadian Corps of Signals (RCCS) continued to maintain the normal level of wireless traffic by sending dummy messages. Their success was shown by the efforts of the Germans to jam these messages.
German documents captured after the war showed that Operation Penknife was successful in concealing the movement of Canadian troops from Italy to Belgium. Until late March, German intelligence maps showed the Canadians to be at various places in Italy. On 17 March 1944, when all Canadians were either in Belgium or northern France, the Germans still believed the Canadians were in the Ancona area, although the exact location of the 1 Canadian Armoured Brigade was unknown. Only in mid-April did the German maps show the absence of Canadian troops.
Security was eventually broken by a Canadian journalist on 3 April 1945, announcing that all Canadian infantry and armoured troops had been reunited under the command of General Harry Crerar. Since the Allied command still had reason to believe the Germans were uncertain of the location of the Canadians, permission to make an official announcement of the transfer was delayed until 20 April. Canadians were officially informed on 23April 1945, although media silence had only been maintained by censorship, since it had already become common knowledge for many in Canada.
Nicholson, G.W.L. The Canadians in Italy, 1943-1945. Official History of the Canadian Army in the Second World War. Vol. II. (E. Cloutier, Queen's Printer and Controller of Stationery, Ottawa, 1956)
Stacy, Charles Perry. Operation "Goldflake", the move of 1 Cdn Corps from Italy to North-West Europe, February-March 1945. Report No. 181, (Historical Section, Canadian Military Headquarters), (Directorate of History and Heritage, Ottawa, 7 August 1947)
Map of Operation Goldflake - I Canadian Corps movement from Italy - 13 February 1945 - 23 March 1945.
Troops with LSTs engaged in Operation Goldflake, February 1945.
Canadian Sherman V tanks, likely with the 5th Armoured Brigade, 2nd Armoured Regiment (Lord Strathcona’s Horse (Royal Canadians), 5th Armoured Regiment (8th Princess Louise’s (New Brunswick) Hussars) or the 9th Armoured Regiment (British Columbia Dragoons), moving out of LST US526 on arrival in Marseilles, France, 6 March 1945. This was part of Operation Goldflake, which involved the move of 1st Canadian Corps from Italy to North-West Europe, February-March 1945.
Operation Goldflake, 1st Canadian Corps with Sherman tanks of the 8th New Brunswick Hussars being loaded on Landing Ship Tank (LST) S263.
Operation Goldflake, 1st Canadian Corps with 8th New Brunswick Hussars equipment loaded Landing Ship Tank (LST) 394 moving clear of harbour wrecks in the port of Marseille, France.
(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3396461b)
Sherman Ic Hybrid Firefly tank armed with a 17-pounder Gun, 8th Princess Louise (New Brunswick) Hussars, 5th Canadian Armoured Division, en route to the Zuider Zee passing through Putten, Holland, 18 April 1945. Firefly crews attempted to disguise the length of the 17-pounder gun barrel to confuse German anti-tank gunners by fitting a false muzzle brake half-way up the barrel and painted the forward portion in a counter-shaded pattern to give the illusion of a shorter gun barrel. Despite being a high priority target, Fireflies appear to have had a statistically lower chance of being knocked out than standard Shermans, probably due more to how they were employed than to the effectiveness of the camouflaging of the long barrel.