King's Own Calgary Regiment
The KOCR (King's Own Calgary Regiment) is a reserve regiment based at Mewata Armoury in Calgary, Alberta.
Its history dates back to 1910 with the formation of the 103rd Calgary Rifles. During the First World War the 103rd raised the 50th Canadian Infantry Battalion, the 89th Battalion, the 137th Battalion, and the 13th Canadian Machine Gun Battalion.
The KOCR evolved into a tank regiment before the start of the Second World War, where the KOCR (Calgary Regiment) became the first Canadian tank regiment to see battle and the first tank regiment in history to be used in an amphibious landing; both occurred at Dieppe on 19 Aug 1942. Today the KOCR is a reconnaissance regiment using light armoured vehicles, and still contributes crews for overseas deployment of Leopard Main Battle Tanks.
On August 19, 1942, at the beach of Dieppe, France, The Calgary Regiment entered the history books as the first Canadian tank regiment to see battle during the Second World War and the first to be used in an amphibious assault.
The KOCR, known then as the 14th Canadian Army Tank Battalion (The Calgary Regiment), saw 169 men captured and killed on the beach at Dieppe, August 19, 1942. It was a dark day for the KOCR, but in keeping with the regimental slogan—"Onward"—the regiment carried on fighting in Sicily, Italy and Northwest Europe.
The KOCR, based at Mewata Armoury in Calgary, also has a long list of honours from the First World War that include Vimy Ridge, Passchendaele and the final offensive of the war, known as Canada’s Hundred Days. The Canadian Corps played a major role in bringing about the end of the First World War as the shock troops of the British Empire.
As the KOCR is today an active reserve regiment, it contributed soldiers to peacekeeping missions throughout the 20th Century and now into the 21st Century with the war in Afghanistan. It was during this latest mission that Corporal Nathan Hornburg, 24, of Calgary was killed while attempting to repair the tread of a tank.
Nathan Hornburg was the first member of the KOCR to have fallen since the Second World War. In 2015 the King’s Own was awarded the Battle Honour "Afghanistan."
The 103rd Regiment (Calgary Rifles)
The KOCR, often called the King’s Own or the Calgary Regiment, traces its direct roots to 1910 with the formation of the 103rd Regiment (Calgary Rifles), a non-permanent active militia regiment. With the start of the First World War in 1914, the Calgary Rifles was tasked with recruiting soldiers and forming numbered infantry battalions that would fight in Europe.
The Calgary Rifles formed the 10th, 50th, 82nd, 89th and 137th Battalions, all of which served overseas. The 103rd was reorganized in 1920 and the battalions it raised during the First World War, which ended in 1918, were brought back under its wings.
The Calgary Rifles 1st Battalion (the 10th Battalion) became the Calgary Highlanders and the 2nd Battalion (formerly the 50th Battalion) became the Calgary Regiment.
The Calgary Regiment became Canada’s first militia tank regiment when it was reformed as the Calgary Regiment (Tank) in 1936 and attached to the Royal Canadian Armoured Corps (RCAC).
The 50th Battalion
The 50th Battalion was raised in Calgary, Alberta on November 7, 1914. Over 1,000 men were recruited from the 103rd Regiment (Calgary Rifles), and smaller numbers from the surrounding region including Banff, High River, Fort Macleod, Lethbridge, Medicine Hat and Brooks.
The 103rd was not designated for overseas service, but was instead tasked with recruiting soldiers for the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF). Through its efforts the 103rd created three numbered battalions, the 10th Battalion (1st Division), the 31st Battalion (2nd Division) and the 50th Battalion.
The new recruits trained first at Victoria Park in Calgary before moving to the newly-opened Sarcee Camp, located west of the city at the base of what is today known as Signal Hill.
The 50th, like all the numbered battalions of the CEF, was separated into four rifle companies of 250 men each, “A” through “D”, and a headquarters company that included machine gunners, signallers, and pioneers (engineers). The 50th also had a brass band, a bugle band and several pipers.
On April 30, 1915, 250 soldiers, along with officers, were drawn from the 50th to form an overseas draft. The men were chosen equally from each company. The soldiers of this draft formed the backbone of what would become the 51st Canadian Infantry Overseas Battalion.
The 51st trained alongside the 50th Battalion first at Victoria Park and then at the Sarcee Camp when it opened west of the city in the spring of 1915.
The Second World War
The Calgary Regiment, known at this point in its history as the 14th Canadian Army Tank Battalion, mobilized Feb. 11, 1941 following Canada’s declaration of war against Germany. As a reserve unit, the Calgary Regiment already had 400 members. An additional 120 members of the Seaforth Highlanders and 40 members of the Edmonton Regiment were absorbed into the Calgary Regiment.
To bring the regiment up to full strength, recruiting officers travelled to the rural communities around Calgary knowing Alberta’s farm boys would make ideal tankers, as they would already be well acquainted with heavy equipment such as tractors. A-Squadron drew men from Olds, while B-Squadron focused on the Stettler area, and C-Squadron focused on Red Deer. Recruiting for the Headquarters Squadron (HQ-Squadron) took place in Calgary and the High River and Okotoks district.
The regiment began training at Mewata Armouries and at Sarcee Camp but as tanks were in short supply, the Calgaries built six mock tanks out of sheet metal and Chevrolets. An introduction to real tanks had to wait until the unit reached Camp Borden in March and began training with U.S. tanks built in 1918 and a more-modern Valentine tank. It wasn’t until the regiment reached England that it was issued with the Churchill infantry tank. This 38.5-ton tank was used during the ill-fated Dieppe Raid.
The Dieppe Raid
The Dieppe Raid had long been believed to be a raid in force. However, historian David O’Keefe, author of One Day in August: The Untold Story Behind Canada’s Tragedy at Dieppe, learned that the Dieppe Raid was actually designed to capture German code books and if possible, a German code machine. If the raid had been successful and this device, known as the Enigma machine, had been captured, it would have provided invaluable intelligence to the British and greatly enhance their code-breaking abilities. The large-scale of the raid, including the use of the Calgary Tanks, was meant to disguise the raiders’ true intent.
In all, 30 tanks from B, C and Regimental Headquarters squadrons approached the beach in landing craft in two flights or waves. Of those 30 tanks, 29 landed, and 15 reached the wide promenade that separated the beach from the town. Roads leading from the beach were blocked with heavy barricades and the engineers, whose job it was to destroy these fortifications, were killed or wounded before they could reach the fortifications. Twelve tanks did not get off the beach and onto the promenade and two tanks sank in the water.
The crews manning the Churchills of the Calgary Tanks expended their ammunition supporting the infantry that were also trapped on the beach. By the end of the raid, 12 members of the Calgary Tanks had been killed, including the regiment’s commanding officer Lt. Col. Johnny Andrews, and 157 members of the Tanks were taken prisoner, 33 of whom had been wounded during the intense battle.
These members of the Calgary Regiment spent the rest of the war as prisoners in a German prisoner camp, Stalag VIIIB, located in southern Poland. The prisoners were handcuffed for the first 13 months they were in the camp in retribution for a British order that German prisoners taken at Dieppe would be shackled on the return to England.
What was left of the Calgary Tanks returned to England where it was later refitted and reinforced to replace its lost members and equipment. The Calgary Tanks remained in England following the Dieppe Raid until the summer of 1943 when the regiment joined 1st Canadian Armoured Brigade to participate in Operation Husky: The invasion of Sicily.
The Italian Campaign
Operation Husky and the capture of Sicily proved to be a relatively easy time for the Calgary Tanks. The regiment was held in reserve for support and counter-attack, but its services were not required. The invasion and capture of Nazi-occupied Italy, however, proved to be a hard-fought struggle. The invasion of Italy was mostly unopposed but pushing the Germans from Italy was a long and dangerous grind for the Calgary Tanks and the rest of the 1st Canadian Corps.
Casualties were often high in Italy. At the Gari River in May 1944, for example, the Calgary Tanks suffered 56 casualties and saw 60 of the regiment’s tanks knocked out by enemy fire.
It was at the Gari River that Captain H.A. Kingsmill, an ordnance officer serving with the Tanks, devised a way to push a bridge across the river using two Sherman tanks. One tank, which had its turret removed, carried the bridge on rollers, while the tank pushed the bridge across the river. Kingsmill received the Military Cross for his actions.
The regiment’s battle honours from the Italian Campaign include Motta Montecorvino, San Leonardo, Cassino, the Gustav Line, Liri Valley, Trasimene Line, and Arezzo.
Return to Europe
The Calgary Tanks remained in Italy until late February 1945 when the regiment moved into France and then northwest Europe to join 1st Canadian Army. The Calgaries battled through Belgium and took part in the liberation of Holland, fighting at the Reichswald Forest and at Arnhem.
Following the end of the Second World War, the Calgary Tanks returned to Calgary and resumed its status as a part of Canada’s reserves.
KOCR Post War
After the Second World War, the regiment was renamed the King’s Own Calgary Regiment (RCAC) in 1946, and as the KOCR it participated in peacekeeping missions that included Bosnia, Crotia, Cyprus, and most recently, Afghanistan.
Cpl. Nathan Hornburg, who had been attached to the Edmonton-based Lord Strathcona’s Horse (Royal Canadians), was killed Sept. 24, 2007 during the Afghanistan mission. Hornburg, 24, was replacing the track on a Leopard tank when he was killed by enemy mortar fire.
The KOCR ceased to be an armoured regiment in 2006 and is now an armoured reconnaissance regiment. It is still part of the Royal Canadian Armoured Corps and it still has tanks in its inventory of vehicles, but just as the regiment’s role changed from infantry to tanks following the First World War, the KOCR has adapted to a new role investigating terrain and gathering intelligence.