Featured Photo: Infantry of the 53rd (Welsh) Division in a Ram Kangaroo on the outskirts of Ochtrup, Germany, 3 April 1945 (Wikipedia)
A lot of Canadian Military History is pockmarked with some pretty awful moments, from the Ross Rifle to the shovel issued during the First World War that had holes in them. They had holes because the reasoning was that after the shovel was done digging the trench it could be used as an armoured plate, with a rifle sticking through the hole. But, it made a terrible shovel because it had a hole in it and it made a terrible piece of armour because it was made with poor metal designed for shovels. Also, the Ross Rifle allowed you to reassemble the bolt incorrectly and fit it into the rifle. At which point firing would result with the bolt and receiver exploding in the soldier’s face. Regardless, the Kangaroo concept is without a doubt one of the shining moments of Canadian ingenuity on the battlefield.
The Ram tank itself was a Canadian venture to produce a locally manufactured armoured fighting vehicle based on the US Army’s M3 Lee chassis. However, the production was marred by logistical and technical teething issues, resulting in a tank that really wasn’t good at all that much. However, after the landings at Normandy, the need for an armoured personnel carrier for Commonwealth troops was recognized. The United States already had been using the M3 and M5 series halftracks in this role, and even the Soviet Union had been lend-leased some of this vehicle. The Kangaroo concept was an interim design and overhaul conducted by Canadian mechanics and engineers overseas to fill this gap.
And the result was a good vehicle with a proven capability. To demonstrate this, compare the casualties of some Canadian Battalions, and the difference between the mounted and dismounted regiments is unsurprising to most familiar with the concept of mechanized warfare.
The Royal Regiment of Canada 3 KIA, 25 WIA
The Royal Hamilton light Infantry 1 KIA, 14 WIA
The Essex Scottish Regiment 3 KIA, 7 WIA
The Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders of Canada 30 KIA, 96 WIA
Les Fusiliers Mont-Royal 8 KIA, 17 WIA
The South Saskatchewan Regiment 16 KIA, 42 WIA
The Calgary Highlanders 14 KIA, 37 WIA
From these seven battalions it is pretty apparent – the armour and machineguns that the Kangaroos could bring to bear mattered in the fight, when it counted. This being said the Kangaroos weren’t perfect, far from it. The only place to store troops was where the Ram tanks had their turrets removed, and benches installed internally to carry a section of infantry. This meant that troops had to dismount from their vehicles by clambering over the top and sides and jumping down. For those that have seen the HBO Series, The Pacific, the Marines attacking Peleliu and dismounting from their Amtraks (LVTs) on the beach is reminiscent of this.
The 1CACR (Canadian Armoured Carrier Regiment, as it was also known) was the semi-formal association given to the group of armoured squadrons assigned to carry the infantry into battle. After Normandy, the Kangaroos would continue to prove their worth, fighting and winning decisive engagements at Le Havre, Boulogne, and Calais. However, despite a storied performance throughout the remainder of the war, the Regiment was disbanded on the 20th of June, 1945. Their lineage is preserved through the 31st Combat Engineer Regiment (The Elgins).
For more information, you can read a more detailed account of 1CACR here.