4th Recce's personnel were a combination of men drawn from existing infantry regiments serving in the United Kingdom and reinforcements from Canada. A reserve unit was also maintained throughout the war.
"A" Squadron of 4th PLDG landed at Pachino, Sicily on July 13, 1943, as part of the follow-up formations participating in Operation Husky. Though all three squadrons were put ashore in Sicily, "A" Squadron was the only one fully equipped with "Fox" and "Otter" armoured cars in time to participate in the fighting.
When 1st Canadian Infantry Division landed on the Italian mainland as part of Operation Baytown in September, 4th PLDG immediately set to providing headquarters with information vital to the planning of the division's advance. Italy, with its mountainous terrain, antiquated roads, and shoddy maps, made aggressive patrol by armoured vehicles imperative. By the time 4th PLDG landed at Calabria the regiment was operating largely at strength. All squadrons were mounting both the light (Otter) and heavy (Fox) reconnaissance vehicles as well as the universal carriers required of a divisional scout element. All were relatively lightly armoured in the interest of mobility and only the Fox was equipped with a .50-calibre machine gun. The Otter relied on a .303 Bren Gun for its defence. Committed to battle, the armoured car crew generally provided fire support for the assault element as it dismounted the carriers to fight as infantry.
For the most part, the Princess Louise Dragoon Guards served as scouts, investigating roadways and crossings and attempting to establish the location, and strength, of enemy units. Interviewed by a reporter, Major Harold Parker wasted few words: "We keep going until the enemy shoots at us. Then we know he is there". Sadly, this would be all too true for Major Parker, who killed was when an anti-tank gun targeted his armoured car.
Often, the enemy was too close for comfort. Sergeant Hubert Ditner, a farmer from Petersburg Ontario, described waking up just feet from a German dugout following the regiment's breach of the Hitler Line near Pontecorvo. Halted during the night as his regiment advanced, he and the rest of his troop had taken the opportunity to get some sleep in a roadside ditch. As dawn approached, a sentry spotted the enemy position and alerted an officer, who woke Sergeant Ditner. Fluent in German, the NCO rounded up some other ranks and the group approached the dugout,weapons at the ready. 10 German soldiers were eventually rounded up. In a letter to his younger brother Sergeant Ditner admitted that he "didn't know who was shaking more, Jerry or me."
Though casualties sustained by the reconnaissance squadrons were generally lower than those of the rifle companies, the job could be dangerous. Roaring down the dusty, winding roads, uncertain as to the whereabouts of the Germans, the squadrons lost men to a combination of enemy fire, demolitions, and mines. Forced to dismount their armoured cars upon encountering obstacles in the road and proceed on foot, the regiment's soldiers often fought pitched battles with German rearguards and sappers.In Ted and Alex Barris' "Days of Victory", a 4th PLDG soldier, a veteran of numerous forays behind enemy lines, reported that he and his men often survived on rations "liberated" when the scouts ambushed German columns.
One such action occurred at Miglionico, though the enemy's casualties would far exceed those of 4th PLDG. Striking deep into the enemy's rear via a rail tunnel, "A" Squadron launched its attack on an enemy encampment. Dismounting their cars and carriers, hurling grenades as they ran, the assault element swept the forward slope of a nearby hill. The fury of the Princess Louise assault soon forced the Germans to retire. Enemy losses were estimated at 50. A number of vehicles, and some ammunition were also destroyed by Lieutenant White and his men and five prisoners taken.
The regiment was re-roled as infantry on July 13, 1944, and assigned to the newly raised 12th Canadian Infantry Brigade of 5th Canadian (Armoured) Division. The decision was the result of 8th Army commanders noting that the 5th Armoured Division was hampered by a shortage of infantry personnel and that the existing brigade, the 11th, was increasingly unable to meet the demands made of it. Having spent the winter of 1943 serving as dismounted infantry and often fighting largely as such, the regiment was an obvious choice for a transfer to the infantry corps. Though its members, officers and men alike would be hostile to the new role, they would distinguish themselves all the same.
Going into battle for the first time without their armoured cars, the Princess Louise were assigned the capture of Monte Peloso on September 1, 1944. Identified on Canadian Army maps as Point 253 and strongly held by the enemy, the feature was part of the German's Gothic Line. Following a murderous enemy artillery barrage that lasted for half an hour and badly scattered the attacking squadrons, C-Squadron pushed off for the objective at 13:10 with the remainder of the regiment close behind. Crossing a rutted farm field at the feature's base, the Princess Louise ran headlong into German paratroops forming up for an attack on nearby Point 204. Tearing into the startled Fallschirmjäger, caught on the open ground as they assembled for their counterattack Lord Strathcona's Horse Sherman tanks raked them with 75 mm cannon fire or their hull mounted machine guns. Flushed from slit trenches on the forward slope by the closing tanks, the enemy infantrymen were shot down by the advancing Princess Louise. Fighting its way forward in the face of heavy sniper, machine gun, and mortar fire, the regiment cleared a number of houses partway up Point 253, supported by the Strathconas. Rumbling to within feet of the buildings, the 32-ton Shermans reduced them to rubble with high explosive rounds prior to the waiting Plugs rushing in with rifle and bayonet. Though ultimately successful, 4th PLDG's first experience serving as dismounted infantry had not been without cost: 35 Princess Louise Dragoon Guards were killed taking Point 253 and another 94 wounded.
A message penned by 8th Army's commander, General Leese, congratuled the Princess Louise for their victory, made that much more remarkable based on the unit's very brief training as infantry.
On a humorous note, members of the unit were once urged by General Simonds (GOC 1st Canadian Infantry Division) to beat a U.S. Army unit into the Sicilian village of Enna and thus take credit for its capture. A mixed bag of NCO's and troopers mounted their armoured cars and headed for the town only to be halted by a demolished culvert. Not to be denied, the soldiers commandeered a mule and continued the race arriving just ahead of the U.S. Army who were entering the village from the west. Though the Americasn took credit for Enna's capture, the regimental history of the Princess Louise Dragoon Guards steadfastly maintains that the capture of Enna was theirs.
The regiment was returned to its reconnaissance role, and Armoured Corps status on 15 March 1945 and finished the war in The Netherlands after being transferred to the theatre as part of Operation Goldflake. Fighting in a number of engagements with the heavily armoured German diviisons as they fled, a role the unit had performed with some distinction in Italy, 4th PLDG suffered heavy losses. Battlefield deaths, all ranks, for the entire year of 1944 were 150. In the four months 4th Recce fought in North West Europe, a third of the time it was in Italy, it lost some 187 men (4th PLDG History Page 306).
Major General HAROLD WICKWIRE FOSTER, commander of both 4th CANADIAN ARMOURED DIVISION (North West Europe) and 1st CANADIAN INFANTRY DIVISION (Italy). In 1941, (then) Lieutenant Colonel Foster assumed command of 4th Reconnaissance Regiment - 4th Princess Louise Dragoon Guards, the recently activated scout formation assigned to 1st CANADIAN INFANTRY DIVISION in England.
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