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Okanagan Military Museum

MILITARY BIOGRAPHIES

MAJOR-GENERAL BERTRAM MERYL HOFFMEISTER

Distinguished Service Order
(x 3 bars)

Italy Star
1939-45 Star
Order of Canada

The "soldier's general" -

Bert Hoffmeister's first contact with the military was as a cadet of twelve when he joined the Seaforth Highlanders Cadets Corps in 1919. Throughout the inter-war period he strove to build a career within the forest industry, was an active sportsman of some acclaim and from 1927 on was a member of the Non-Permanent Active Militia. Promoted to Major in 1939, he was given command of a company of Seaforth Highlanders and sailed for England with his regiment in December 1939.

After a frustrating time in England training with what he believed to be outdated tactics Hoffmeister returned to Canada to attend the Canadian Junior War Staff courses at the Royal Military College in Kingston, Ontario. In October 1942, he returned to England with a promotion to Lieutenant-Colonel in command of the Seaforths.

Sherman tanks landing in Sicily

During the tough fighting involved in the campaign in Sicily, starting with the landings on July 10th, 1943, Hoffmeister gained combat command experience while showing his innate talents as a leader. He was awarded the first of eventually three Distinguished Service Orders he would win leading his regiment in combat in the demanding mountainous terrain of the Sicilian hinterland . It was terrain that was used to fully advantage by the German defenders and every inch was hard fought for. Promoted to Brigadier in October 1943, Hoffmeister was given command of the 2nd Canadian Infantry Brigade. The 2nd CIB had been assigned the capture of a small town on the Adriatic called Ortona. In what was to become a ferocious house-to-house battle against the elite German paratroops stubbornly holding the town, the 2CIB under Hoffmeister's leadership ultimately prevailed but at great cost in what was to become known as "Canada's Stalingrad".

Canadian Troops fighting in Italy
Canadian infantry and armour on the move

Ortona taken on March 20th, 1944, Hoffmeister was given command of the 5th Canadian Armoured Division (CAD) with a promotion to Major-General. On May 23rd, 1944, the 5th, soon to be known as " Hoffy's Mighty Maroon Machine" in recognition of the maroon divisional patches they wore and the outstanding esprit de corps built under his inspired leadership, participated in the successful attack of the German defence positions that formed the Adolf Hitler Line in the Liri Valley. Hoffmeister's 5th Armoured Division next attacked the vaunted Gothic Line impeding the allied advance to northern Italy. At Hoffmeister's initiative the 5th broke through in one of the most impressive Canadian actions of the war. In the ferocious and confused fighting to break the Gothic Line it was Hoffmeister's coolness and initiative as an exemplary armoured commander that won the day and by September 1st, the Germans were in retreat having had to withdraw from their prepared positions due to being outflanked by the 5th CAD.

The 5th CAD was re-deployed to Northwest Europe in February 1945, under the 1st Canadian Army in the Netherlands. In the following months the 5th took part in the liberation of the Netherlands and the ultimate defeat of Nazi forces in western Europe.

With the surrender of Germany on May 8th, 1945 Hoffmeister was appointed Officer Commanding the 6th Division, the proposed Canadian Army's Pacific forces planned for inclusion in the final stages of the war in the Pacific. The Japanese surrender in August 1945 negated the planning for operations in that theatre and by September Hoffmeister had transferred back to reserve officer status.


Bert Hoffmeister resumed his civilian careers in the British Columbia forest industry with great success serving as the was CEO of MacMillan Bloedel from 1949 to 1957, British Columbia's Agent General in London from 1958 to 1961, and Chairman of the Council of Forest Industries of British Columbia from 1961 to 1968. He was made a member of the Order of Canada in 1982.


For an officer with a reserve background who entered the Second World War as a newly promoted Major to advance to the rank of Major-General and become acknowledged as the best divisional commander produced by Canada in WWII was a truly outstanding achievement. This in addition to becoming an expert in the mobile warfare demanding of Armoured Division command was testament to his natural military talents. There was no doubt that Hoffmeister had a real talent for modern warfare however his leadership success was built on a complimentary natural leadership talent. He was able to engender the trust, loyalty and dedication of his subordinate officers and the troops under his command through his example of those qualities. He had what has been termed the "common touch" that enabled him to relate to his soldiers. He led through thorough planning, knowledge of the conditions of battle and the state of his troops and the application of personal leadership. He led with authority but based on an openness of mind that allowed for the development of consensus and respected his subordinates input. Years after the war, those who served with him were proud to have been part of "Hoffy's Mighty Maroon Machine".

Bert Hoffmeister was a constant presence in BC military circles until his death in 1999.

 

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