Language selection


Cold War Europe

Heroes Remember

I was sent back to the unit, got an appointment again as 2IC of a company. I was, you know, a little more senior then, more experienced. And then we went to Germany and we spent three years there, and that was the first time that I served in the NATO context in Germany in a small village called Deilinghofen. And it continued from there. Now the exercises and, of course, in the front where the potential were very different because you were facing the Warsaw Pact bloc but again, like we had done in the final stages of Korea, we exercised facing each other all the time and it was not uncommon that we would see each other. You’d see them across the line and we would close to the line. I remember some of the exercises I was on, we were packed right on the Czechoslovak border playing the enemy force as if we were the ones that would come across the border to attack the NATO positions, and we played that role as Canadians quite often because we were equipped a little differently, we talked differently from the Americans, we certainly didn’t talk like the Germans. The French Army was there, the British Army was there, we were then with the British Army in the north. But the Canadians, because of our different tactics and the way we speak on the radios and what have you, we made an ideal enemy force to exercise NATO and we were often called upon to do that with the great advantage that we got a much better workout than we would have as part of the big defensive force, because we got a chance to do a lot of attacking techniques and things like this. And we started to slowly modernize by motorization so that the foot battles were getting, foot battles were still considered, and, of course, because this is the way you’d still have to fight most of the time for an infantry man. But we had APC’s coming on board so we would move from one part of the battlefield to the other around the back very quickly. So our mobility, and that sort of thing, and protection against armour and shrapnel, because of the armoured vehicles and so on, grew exponentially. So then for the first time also, we got exposed to the possibility of nuclear fire on the battlefield and, which was never considered, in Korea at least, certainly not at my level, never heard about it. But in Germany, suddenly, there’s nuclear units including a Canadian unit that has a nuclear launching capability. But we don’t own the weapons, they’re all owned by the Americans. And you go through a very extensive, through exercises and what have you. And you would have gone through a very difficult time in operations because what we called a nuclear release procedures with fifteen countries having to sign off on it. You can imagine how difficult it would be to achieve. And I faced that later in a higher level job in Germany when I was, in fact, right in the thick of it. And that would be very difficult but so you . . . so that leads us of course to, to considering what used to be called “fractional yield weapons,” which would be compared to the big bombs that had been dropped over Japan. They were things that would probably wipe out, you know, something closer to about a half a mile in radius instead of half a city. And so you were very conscious then that your tactics changed, your doctrine changed, you dispersed your troops considerably more than we would. At the same time, of course, you’ve got better weapon systems and better weapon systems and better surveillance system which allow you to cover the areas that are gaps in between. So we started doing that with trucks initially before we got the APC’s. We would actually put a machine gun on top of a truck cab with somebody in the back manning it. So we did a lot of the development of those doctrines on behalf of Canadian troops overseas. We were the front window, and we were the ones always getting the new kit first, so we did three years there, it was absolutely fantastic.

Mr. Belzile describes the high level of training received by the Canadian military in Cold War Europe

Charles Belzile

Lt.-Gen. Charles Belzile was born in Trois-Pistoles, Quebec, on March 12, 1933. As a youth, he was exposed to the armed forces as troop trains passed by his home during the Second World War. He joined the reserves, then the regular force with the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry in 1951. In 35 years of service, Lt.-Gen. Belzile has served in Korea, Germany, Cyprus and Canada. His appointments have included regimental duties with the Queen’s Own Rifles, Commanding Officer of the Second Battalion Royal 22e Régiment, Commander 4th Canadian Mechanized Group and Canadian Forces Europe in Germany. Since retiring from the Canadian Armed Forces, he has held numerous posts as a consultant and honorary chair. Mr. Belzile Chaired the VAC 60th Anniversary Committee on VE-Day commemorations and was Grand President of the Royal Canadian Legion. International honours include Commander of the Legion of Honour of France and recipient of the Vimy Award.

Meta Data
Veterans Affairs Canada
Person Interviewed:
Charles Belzile
War, Conflict or Mission:
Canadian Armed Forces
Queen's Own Rifles of Canada
Lieutenant General

Copyright / Permission to Reproduce

Related Videos

Date modified: