Right Hon. W. L. MACKENZIE KING (Prime Minister):
Mr. Speaker, I received yesterday afternoon from the Chief Justice, Sir Lyman Duff, who had been appointed the commissioner to inquire into the Hong Kong expeditionary force, a copy of the commissioner's report. I now desire to lay on the table of the house a copy of the letter from the commissioner transmitting his report which was made pursuant to order in council P.C. 1160 relating to the Hong Kong expedition, also a certified copy of a minute of the meeting of the committee of the privy council approved by His Excellency the Governor General, to-day, which minute records the submission of the report to his excellency for his excellency's information. I also wish to table a copy of the report itself.
The report is divided into two parts. There is the report proper, stating the principal conclusions and some ancillary matters, and an appendix in which the facts are fully stated and the evidence is fully discussed. The report and appendix combined cover in typewritten form some 115 pages of foolscap: the report proper is contained in twelve pages. Having regard to the importance and interest attaching to the report and the frequently expressed desire of hon. members to have its contents made known just as
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soon as possible, it would, I believe, be meeting the wish of the house if I were to give hon. members at once the principal conclusions of the commissioner. They are contained in the report proper, which is as follows:
The order of Your Excellency, P.C. 1160, authorizing this inquiry is attached to this report. By it, I am directed to inquire into the organization, authorization and despatch of the Canadian expeditionary force to Hong Kong in October, 1941. I am instructed particularly to examine the selection and composition of that force, the training of its personnel, the provision and maintenance of its supplies, equipment and ammunition and the provision of transportation therefor. The order in council states that the purpose of the investigation is to determine whether there occurred any dereliction of duty or error in judgment by those whose duty it was to arrange for the authorization, organization and dispatch of the force that resulted in detriment or injury to the expedition or its members. My duty is to determine whether there occurred any dereliction of duty or error in judgment "on the part of any of the personnel or of any of the departments of the government whose duty it was to arrange for the authorization and dispatch of the expeditionary force" and whether, if such dereliction or error occurred, there resulted detriment or injury to the expedition or the troops comprising it. If it is found that such dereliction of duty or error in judgment occurred, it is my duty to fix the responsibility therefor .
In this, my report proper, I am stating my principal conclusions touching these matters, together with some salient facts. A full statement of the facts and a full discussion of the evidence appear in the appendix hereto which is to be considered as part of my report.
First, of the authorization of the expedition. The principal considerations prompting the invitation by the government of the United Kingdom to the government of Canada to send reinforcements to Hong Kong (two battalions of infantry with first reinforcements, and by subsequent communications a modified headquarters staff) are set forth in the telegram containing that invitation, dated the 19th of September, 1941. These considerations were largely those which influenced the Canadian government in accepting the invitation. I have been unable to obtain the consent of the government of the United Kingdom to the textual reproduction of this telegram.
The chief of the general staff having expressed to the government his opinion that there was no military objection to the acceptance of the proposal and that the reinforcements ought to be dispatched, the view of the war committee, as disclosed in the evidence of three ministers of the crown, the Minister of National Defence, the Associate Minister of National Defence, and the Minister of National Defence for Naval Services, was that in the circumstances the only possible answer to the invitation was an affirmative one. The invitation was accordingly accepted and the expedition left Canada on the 27th of October.
The evidence discloses various reasons which appear to have actuated the war committee. In view of what other dominions had done in
Abyssinia and Libya it was Canada's turn to help; Canada ought to share in the responsibility for garrisoning the Pacific area; just as Australia was assisting in Malaya; the military value of the reinforcement would be out of all proportion to the numbers involved; the arrival of the contingent in Hong Kong would have a great moral effect in the whole of the far east and would reassure the Chinese as to the British intention to hold Hong Kong; the moral effect of the expedition might operate as a sensible influence for the preservation of peace there; at that juncture, in September, to gain time was beyond measure important; such an appeal from the predominant partner in the common cause could not be rejected.
I am permitted to reproduce a telegram from the War Office, of the 30th of October, after the expedition had left:
"We are very grateful to you for despatching your contingent to Hong Kong at such short notice. We fully realize the difficulties of mobilization and of distance which have had to be overcome. The moral effect of their arrival in November will be much greater than it would have been two months later."
The terms of this telegram assist us in forming an idea of the hopes and expectations with which the request of September was sent.
It would perhaps be a possible view that the propriety of this decision by the government is exclusively matter for consideration and discussion by parliament. Since, however, I am required to pass upon the question, it is my duty to say that I have no doubt the course taken by the government was the only course open to them in the circumstances.
It was urged by Mr. Drew that the change of government in Japan on the 16th of October-: by which a cabinet notoriously sympathetic with the axis powers came into office, ought to have led the Canadian government to reexamine the question of policy raised by the invitation of the United Kingdom. I had the advantage of reading a number of dispatches from the government of the United Kingdom, which I am not at liberty to reproduce, as well as a dispatch from the Canadian military authorities in England, which is reproduced in part, dealing with the probabilities concerning war with Japan, and my conclusion is that, having regard to the information of which the government was in possession, derived from the best sources of information open to them, nothing emerged before the departure of the expeditionary force on the 27th of October which could have been considered to be a justification for the withdrawal by Canada from the responsibility she had undertaken. On the contrary, the reasons which prompted the acceptance of the proposal continued to operate with possibly increasing force up to the sailing of the expedition.
Second, of the selection of the units for the expeditionary force. The responsibility for advising the Minister of National Defence with respect to the composition of the expeditionary force devolved upon General Crerar, the chief of the general staff. In a communication to the minister, in which his reasons for his recommendation are stated at large, he recommended that the Royal Rifles of Canada from Quebec and the Winnipeg Grenadiers from Manitoba should be designated. In this communication he said that a primary consideration in making the selection was "that the units selected should
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be efficient, well-trained battalions, capable of upholding the credit of the dominion in any circumstances". He adds, "both" battalions designed "are units of proven efficiency".
So long as the minister's confidence in the chief of the general staff remained unimpaired, the minister would not overrule such a recommendation upon a purely military matter; and he cannot be justly criticized for acting upon it.
It is my duty, however, to consider whether there was any error of judgment in General Crerar's recommendation. Nobody, of course, was in as good a position as General Crerar for arriving at a sound judgment upon the selection of the units. His decision, moreover, was not a mere expression of opinion; it was the basis of his recommendation, made upon his responsibility as the professional adviser of the minister, upon which he expected the minister to act and knew almost at once that he was acting. The evidence, which is discussed in the appendix, satisfies me that General Crerar's recommendation was made upon sound grounds and that he is not chargeable with any error in judgment, still less with any dereliction of duty in relation to it.
The principal criticism directed against this selection concerns certain platoon weapons which are included in the establishment of a Canadian infantry battalion, but which, before October, 1941, were not available generally for training purposes to the Canadian active army. General Crerar says:
"There were, however, in Canada at the time in question a number of battalions (among which were Royal Rifles and Winnipeg Grenadiers) which, although somewhat handicapped by lack of supplies of certain platoon weapons (mortars and anti-tank rifles), in my opinion were generally adequately trained to undertake defensive responsibilities such as those in prospect in Hong Kong."
"The short supply of mortars and antitank rifles was general in all units of the Canadian Army and not peculiar to the Royal Rifles and the Winnipeg Grenadiers."
This, he adds, is the natural and inevitable handicap of a country which is unprepared for war and has war brought upon it.
If this handicap, as General Crerar describes it, from the "short supply of mortars and anti-tank rifles", was to be a reason for exclusion from the expeditionary force in the case of the two battalions in question, then that reason was based upon a condition that, to repeat General Crerar's words, "was general in all units of the Canadian Army and not peculiar to the Royal Rifles and the Winnipeg Grenadiers" and must have applied equally to all such units; with the logical result of excluding all.
This ground of exclusion indeed, if a proper one, was (as is fully explained in the appendix) applicable with still greater force to Canadian battalions generally than to the two battalions in question. In point of fact, these battalions were in a more advantageous position in respect of these weapons than the units of the army generally. The Royal Rifles had the three-ineli mortar for training purposes at least as early as April, 1941. Although they had no ammunition, the mortar platoon was trained in its mechanism and use, tactically as well as otherwise. The mortar platoon of the Winnipeg
Grenadiers was also trained in the mechanism and use of the same weapon; and further enjoyed the advantage of having, even before leaving for the West Indies, a number of antitank rifles (without ammunition) for training.
There were, moreover, solid reasons for believing that any deficiencies in training in such platoon weapons (with which General Crerar declares he was fully acquainted) could be made good before any encounter with the enemy. The evidence lends support to the expressed conviction of General Crerar and General Stuart (the present chief of the general staff) that this was done.
General Crerar adds:
"With information at my disposal concerning units of Force C and knowing professional ability and character of Commanding Officer Brigadier Lawson, I would say that Force C was certainly fit to meet an attacking force, even in superior numbers, and to give a fine account of itself by December 8th."
General Crerar says:
"Information at my disposal during latter part of September, 1941, indicated that outbreak of hostilities with Japan was not imminent and that time would, in all probability, be available to carry out intensive, adequate and possible extensive training of Canadian forces at Hong Kong after their arrival."
General Stuart agrees with this.
The evidence relating to the training, equipment and personnel of the two battalions is fully examined in the appendix. For reasons which there appear, I am satisfied that in respect of weapon training, as in respect of other matters, this selection cannot be justly impeached as affected by any error in judgment.
Third, of the steps taken to bring the units up to strength, including first reinforcements. The selection of the units made, it became necessary to provide "first reinforcements" for both battalions and to bring the Winnipeg Grenadiers up to strength. Both battallions were warned for service on October 9th and the ship which had been provided by the British government to take the expedition to Hong Kong was to sail before the end of the month. In an interval of not more than two weeks it was necessary to obtain the required additions, as well as to attend to the multifarious tasks involved in equipping the expedition. It must be remembered that all these preparations had to go forward, not only with urgency, but also with extreme secrecy. It was decided to obtain the men needed for the Royal Rifles in military district No. 2, with headquarters in Toronto, and those for the Winnipeg Grenadiers in military district No. 10, with headquarters in Winnipeg.
All men who were added to the two battalions prior to the departure for Hong Kong volunteered for service overseas with the battalion to -which they went. They were, in the case of each battalion, accepted as satisfactory by the officer commanding, or by officers designated by him. The steps taken by the battalion and district officers were taken under the direction of and were approved by National Defence headquarters at Ottawa and, in particular, of and by Colonel P. Henessy, the director of organization in the adjutant-general's department, upon whom devolved the immediate
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direction and responsibility for the task of bringing the units up to strength and providing first reinforcements, and who became the senior administrative officer of the expeditionary force.
There were added to the Royal Rifles 154 men from military district No. 2, of whom 52 came from the Midland regiment and 102 from advanced training centres at Camp Borden. There were added to the Winnipeg Grenadiers, 282 men and 12 officers from military district No. 10. In the appendix I have examined in detail the training and qualifications of each group of the men added.
A period of sixteen weeks has been laid down as the standard period to be devoted to the training of an infantry recruit before sending his overseas. In individual cases and by reason of the exigencies of shipping, this standard has on occasion not been enforced. Of the men added to the strength of the Hong Kong expedition, all but six per cent had undergone more than sixteen weeks' military training after enlistment in the active army. As I have already said, all these men volunteered for service with the expedition and all were accepted as suitable by officers of the battalion to which they were going.
A number of officers gave evidence of the great value of the personal selection of men for a unit by competent officers of that unit. For example, Lieutenant-General McNaughton said (and with him General Crerar and General Stuart agreed):
"If I were the commanding officer and had had the chance to select the men and know them individually-see that they were all right I would not have worried very much whether they had completed the basic training or not, because character is the thing we lay most stress on, and, if they were people who were suitable in my judgment to incorporate in the battalion, I would have been perfectly happy to have had them. ... I would not have worried from the point of view of military efficiency one iota, because, if they are the right type of men, even on the voyage over I would have completed their individual training." I
I accept this evidence of Generals McNaughton, Crerar and Stuart and of other officers to
the like effect as of great weight in deciding
upon the propriety of the steps taken to bring the force up to strength and to provide it with first reinforcements.
A considerable amount of evidence was directed to show the effect of adding to two well-trained battalions groups of lesser trained men numbering about 6 per cent of the strength of the two units. That evidence conclusively establishes that an efficient battalion is, and must be, capable of absorbing recruits, who have not fully completed their training, up to a much greater proportion of its strength than
6 per cent, without at all detracting from the efficiency of the battalion as a whole.
From the whole of the evidence (which is fully discussed in the appendix) I have reached the conclusion that there was no unfairness either to the battalions, or to the expedition as a whole, from the addition of this small percentage of men who had not fully completed the standard period of training at the time they were accepted by the battalion officers. Nor have I any doubt that these men who volunteered for the expedition in order to enter
upon active service would be quickly absorbed into their new units, or that in accepting them there was not any unfairness to the men themselves; and I am satisfied that the acceptance of these men had no detrimental effect upon the efficiency of either battalion. I have found no dereliction of duty or error in judgment in connection with the additions made to the strength of the two units.
In the course of my examination of the evidence I found that the inclusion of this small percentage of men was not the result of any shortage of fully trained men in Canada. It arose from the necessity of obtaining the men with great speed and secrecy and the impracticability in the time available of selecting them from a larger number of training centres.
Four, of the general organization and dispatch of the force, apart from the subject of mechanical transport. The facts are stated in the appendix and they require no comment here.
Five, of mechanical transport. With regard to the mechanical transport of the force, consisting of 212 vehicles, the troopship, the Awatea, provided by the British authorities had not sufficient cargo space to take them. The war office was most anxious that the troops should go on this ship, as another opportunity to sail was not likely to occur for two months. Shortly before the expedition sailed, space for the vehicles unexpectedly became available in an Amercian ship and that ship sailed with the vehicles on November 4, but did not reach its destination before the outbreak of hostilities, as she was diverted by the United States naval authorities. Had she been allowed to follow her normal route, she would have reached Hong Kong before the Japanese forces or before the Japanese attack opened. This miscarriage was not in any way due to any fault or mistake of any officer of the Canadian forces or of any official of the Canadian government.
There was a small amount of free cargo space in the ship carrying the force and some twenty vehicles were sent to Vancouver to fill it. These, how'ever, did not arrive before the ship sailed. Had more energy and initiative been shown by the quartermaster-general's branch, charged with the movement of the equipment for the force, the availability of this space would have been ascertained earlier and the vehicles would have arrived in time for loading on October 24; and there is, in my opinion, no good reason for thinking that, had they arrived at that time, they would not have been taken on board. There is no evidence, however, that the troops suffered through lack of them, or that they were not supplied at Hong Kong. The facts are fully examined in the appendix.
After an exhaustive inquiry at the hearings and a lengthy study of the evidence in the appendix of this report, I am able to add a general conclusion about the Hong Kong expedition as a whole.
In October, 1941, the Canadian military authorities undertook a task of considerable difficulty. Subject only to my observation concerning twenty of the two hundred and twelve vehicles of the mechanical transport, they performed that task well. Canada sent forward, in response to the British request, an expedition that was well-trained and (subject as aforesaid, in so far as shipping facilities allowed) well provided with equipment. In spite of the disaster that overtook it soon after its arrival in Hong Kong, it was an expedition of which Canada can and should be proud.
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The war came upon us when we were unprepared for it. In such circumstances, recalling military history, one would perhaps not be greatly surprised to discover that even two years after its commencement some military enterprise had been undertaken which had proved to be ill conceived, or badly managed. The Hong Kong expedition falls under neither description.
All of which is most humbly submitted by Your Excellency's most humble obedient servant
Subtopic: TABLING OF REPORT TRANSMITTED BY RIGHT. HON. SIR LYMAN POORE DUFF-MOTION FOR PRINTING