Welcome to the Blog home of Author Daniel L Little. I was born during the height of the cold war, and from an early age began to show an interest in military subjects leading to my exploring military sites around the continent. Now living in Halifax, Nova Scotia, I also enjoy the restoration of military artifacts, model building, and NASCAR as well as the study of military history from all eras. Visit my website at www.daniellittle.com
Wednesday, 9 November 2016
Lance Corporal Alphonse Joseph Leger - A Canadian Hero
Private Alphonse Joseph Leger
This is a brief history of my Great Uncle Alphonse Joseph Leger’s
service in the Canadian Army during the Second World War. Having researched
various archives and military history sources for information about his and his
unit’s actions, I was able to piece together a short summery of his service in
both the armoured and infantry corps.
There is little information available as to the specific role he
played in the various actions, except for when he was injured so I’ve only
included operations the records indicate he was a part of. Although the events
below are sometimes described in a single paragraph, let your imagination fill
in the details. The anxiety, the fear, the far too few breaks in between
combat, and of course the all-prevailing hope that you survive to see tomorrow, while watching those around you who don't.
Although the story-line is a ‘bit’ over-the-top, the recent
movie Fury, does give a good idea of what fighting from within the confines of
a Sherman medium tank might have been like. The Shermans were a decent
tank, but they did have a fatal flaw. Being gasoline powered (as opposed to the
German diesel-powered vehicles) they often burst into flames when hit.
Below the post, I’ve included a few links to more
information about the units Alphonse served with, and the battles my great uncle took part in.
Any errors or emissions are solely mine.
I never knew my great-uncle. The only memory I have of him
was from stories my mother told me, along with a photograph that sat for years on a table in our
living room. I recall her telling me that he had received burns while serving
in a tank during the Second World War, and that was all she knew. After my mom passed away, letters he had
sent to her from overseas were given to me which peaked my interest and
resulted in what you read below.
Alphonse Joseph Leger was born on March 25th,
1919 in the Acadian town of Barachois, New Brunswick, a small community
south-east of Shediac. He had two brothers and three sisters and besides
fishing with his father and brothers, he drove tractor trailers and buses, and
was not surprisingly, a good mechanic. Alphonse was interested in various sports and
loved playing baseball and hockey. Besides being a professional boxer for two years,
he was also an avid reader of fiction. A note on his service record indicates
that he exhibited an above average intelligence.
It must have been a hard decision for the married (wife Doris)
father of two children to sign up for active duty and leaving his family behind, but
the young Acadian knew it was what he had to do.
Alphonse took the Oath February 2nd, 1943 at Number 7
Manning Depot in Moncton, New Brunswick and not long afterwards on April 15th,
he was sent to Camp Borden for basic training, where due to his experience as a
truck driver and mechanic, he was found to be a natural for the armoured corps.
On June 18th, Alphonse acquired his Class III Driver (Tracked)
qualification which cemented his future with the Royal Canadian Armoured Corps
and tank warfare. His abilities recommended a position as ‘driver in
command’ of a tank.
With his basic training completed, he was transferred to Number
1Transit Camp in Windsor, Nova Scotia on August 9th, 1943, to await
transport across the Atlantic Ocean to England. On August 27th, Alphonse embarked at Halifax, Nova Scotia for the trip ‘over there’ and disembarked in Great Britain on
September 1st. The speed of the crossing would indicate passage
aboard one of the ‘Queens’; the liners RMS Queen Elizabeth or Queen Mary, ships
so fast, they often sailed on their own without escort. There is a good
possibility that he may have had a famous shipmate on this voyage, as Prime Minister
Winston Churchill also departed Halifax aboard the Queen Mary on August 27,
heading to Gourock, Scotland, along with 15,116 troops.
On September 2nd, 1943, Trooper Alphonse J.
Leger reported for duty with #2 CACRU (Canadian Armoured Corps Reinforcement
Unit) where he continued his training.
On June 10th, 1944, after intensive training in armoured warfare, Alphonse was assigned to the 6th
Canadian Armoured Regiment (1st Hussars) ‘B’ Squadron. ‘B’ Squadron was
equipped with the Sherman Firefly tank, a deadly medium tank mounting a quick firing
17 pounder gun, as well as the Mk III Sherman, a slightly less armoured version armed with a 75mm gun. The
Regimental Record reports that the 6th received twenty new tanks
with inexperienced crews, which would have included Alphonse, on that day and the more experienced troopers were
mixed in with the new men to balance out the teams.
Trooper Leger’s baptism of fire came quickly when the
regiment was informed that it would be going into action the very next day with
little time to inform everyone of the plans. They would be trying to take Le Mesnil-Patry,
as part of the on-going attempt to capture the French city of Caen, which has
eluded British General Bernard Montgomery since D-Day. There was concern in
regards to the number of new troopers within the regiment, but as is often the
case in war, nothing could be done about that. In spite of heavy fighting, and
being fired upon by allied forces, the operation was a success and Alphonse
came through it unscathed.
Letter to my mom
After a few weeks of rest and a chance to integrate the new men with those with more experience, the regiment was ready for its next task—Operation
Charnwood. On July 8th, 1944, the move forward into Caen began and
by the end of the day, the regiment had destroyed nine enemy tanks, losing two
of their own. The enemy retreated, and on the 10th, the regiment
captured an intact German Panther tank, driving it back to be examined by army
On July 18th, 1944, after a period of repair,
rest, and training, the 6th Canadian Armoured Regiment was in battle
again, moving south of the city. At one point in the battle, the regiment supplied
support to the North Shore (New Brunswick) Regiment—a unit that would play a
part in Alphonse’s future. The fighting continue through until July 22nd,
with continual shelling and mortar fire from the German positions. At this
time, the regiment pulled back for more rest and repairs.
While preparing for an attack on July 26th,
the Luftwaffe (German Air Force) made a heavy attack on the regimental area using anti-personnel
bombs and leaving quite a few casualties in their wake. The attack on the 26th still began as
scheduled and quickly encountered stiff opposition, including the regiment’s first
encounter with the German Army’s Ferdinand, a monster anti-tank vehicle armed
with a deadly 88mm gun. Rounds that did the enemy tank, simply bounced off to the
chagrin of the Canadians.
88mm gun @ Canadian War Museum
The German 8.8 cm Flak 18/36/37/41 gun was used throughout the Second World War by various units of the German Army and Air Force. Originally designed as an anti-aircraft weapon, it was soon developed into a deadly anti-tank weapon as well, and became the main armament of the feared German Tiger heavy tank. Probably one of the most well-known Nazi weapons, along with the U-Boat, the gun could be completely set up for use in less than three minutes.
After a few more days of intense combat, the regiment
pulled back into reserve. Although still close to the front lines where they
received daily attention from the Luftwaffe, this was an opportunity for the
men to rest and make any necessary repairs to their Shermans. Unfortunately,
casualties were suffered during this period when the regiment was accidentally bombed by American
On August 9th, ‘A’ and ‘B’ Squadrons moved on Bretteville-sur-Laize
in support of Canadian infantry. ‘C’ Squadron was brought up as a backup when
the attack bogged down and not only succeeded in stabilizing the situation, but
also captured nearly 300 enemy soldiers.
August 14th, 1944, saw the unit go on the
offensive as part of Operation Tullulah, soon renamed Tractable, which was part
of the overall Operation Totalize. With an objective of closing the
northern pincer of the Falaise Gap, this action became one of the most controversial battles in Europe during the Second World War. Within the 'gap', a large
body of German men, tanks and equipment had found themselves nearly surrounded
by the American Army to the South, and British, Canadian and American units to
the north. The goal was to seal off the gap and therefore trap the enemy. The
fighting during this battle was some of the fiercest during the war, and
although the Allies fought through desperate enemy opposition, many of the
Germans managed to escape and fight another day.
August 14th also saw Trooper Alphonse Leger
seriously injured when his Sherman was hit by an 88mm shell. This was the third
tank of his to be hit during battle, but in this case the Sherman caught fire,
trapping the co-driver who would have been seated next to him at the front of the
vehicle. Alphonse repeatedly tried to rescue his friend, trying to pull him through the hatch directly above the other driver's position and sustaining serious
burns in the process. Unfortunately, in spite of his heroic efforts, he was unable to pull the other man out of the tank
After finally being moved to #22 Canadian General Hospital, two days later (remember, this is in the middle of a major battle), his condition was quickly deemed serious enough to
transfer him from the field hospital to the Roman Way Convalescence Hospital in England. There, doctors
and nurses trained in the care of badly injured and burned soldiers slowly
repaired his battered body. The report below is verbatim from one of the doctors there,
where he advises against Alphonse returning to active duty.
“1 Sep 44 This man is not physically visibly shaken but
tells vivid story of being hit in 3 different tanks, finally last tank hit by
88 and ammo burned. Driver wounded and trapped inside. Soldier (Alphonse)
attempted to rescue him but friends feet on fire and German's machine gunning
burning tank. Cries and screams of trapped driver affected man's outlook and he
has had no chance to recuperate from experiences which are still vivid in his
mind. Unlikely to be satisfactory material for combat again. Suitable for
consideration for upgrading to Motor Mech (t) if mind settled satisfactorily.”
It is hard to imagine what the young soldier must have gone through.
The horrible pain of burns compounded by the emotional pain of watching his
friend die and being unable to save him. The war surely should have been over
for Alphonse at this point as he had certainly done more than his
After months of recuperation and surgery however, Trooper Leger
wanted to return to the fray. He may have been motivated by the need for
revenge, or just the same sense of duty that had caused him to sign up in the first
Whatever the reason, after upgrade training for the regular army—no one could blame him for not wanting to return to tanks, he was flown from England, back to the
continent on February 12th, 1945. There he joined the North Shore
(NB) Regiment of the 8th Canadian Infantry Brigade of the 3rd
Canadian Infantry Division on March 2nd, 1945.
Alphonse joined the storied regiment at about the time it
landed in Germany after a river amphibious assault. The North Shores had been in
action since D-Day and after many successes, tempered by great losses, it
appeared to them that the war would soon be over. At this same time, the people
of Holland were under severe distress between atrocities being committed by the
German army, who by this time could see the writing on the wall, and equally as
In what had to be a logistical nightmare, the North Shore Regiment reversed
direction from east to west, and prepared to attack and liberate the Dutch city
of Zutphen. Along the way, they met furious opposition from hardened German veterans
of previous battles, and worse, fanatical Hitler Youth who seemed to have no
fear of dying.
The following is an excerpt from Canadian Battlefield Tours:
“April 4-7- Because of fanatical resistance from 361st
Infantry Div. and 3rd Para. it becomes necessary to commit the entire 3rd CDN
Div. to liberate Zutphen. Participants included Regina Rifles, Royal Winnipeg
Rifles, 17th Duke of York’s Royal Canadian Hussars, Stormont, Dundas &
Glengarry Highlanders, Highland Light Infantry, North Nova Scotia Highlanders,
North Shore Regiment (had 20 killed here), Regiment de la Chaudiere &
One of those ‘20 killed’ was Lance Corporal Alphonse Joseph
Leger. He was killed in action in the town of Almen, Holland, just to the east
of Zutphen on April 5th, 1945. Rest in Peace Alphonse, and know you are not forgotten.
The medals awarded to my great uncle, include the 1939-45 Star, France & Germany Star, Defence Medal, Canadian Volunteer Service Medal with Clasp, and the War Medal 1939-45.