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Biography

Maj General Bertram Meryl Hoffmeister, OC, CB, CBE, DSO, ED

(DND)

 

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After a frustrating time in England training with what he believed to be outdated tactics Hoffmeister returned to Canada to attend the Canadian Junior War Staff courses at the Royal Military College in Kingston, Ontario.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.

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".

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" as the division was known on account of the colour of the arm patches, a unit that displayed an outstanding esprit de corps.

Bert Hoffmeister had a real talent for war. He would always make sure he knew thoroughly in what conditions his men were to live and fight. Intelligent and a good listener, a trusted leader, he was attuned to his officers' ideas and led through consensus rather than sheer authority. 


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

born May 15, 1907, died December 4, 1999

(source: Okanagan Military Museum)

 

HOFFMEISTER, Bertram Meryl, Lieutenant-Colonel - Distinguished Service Order - Infantry - awarded as per Canada Gazette dated 13 November 1943 and CARO/3836 dated 24 November 1943, "in recognition of gallant and distinguished services in Sicily." Born:15 May 1907 in Vancouver, B.C.; Died: 2000 in West Vancouver, B.C.; See pages 189 to 203 The Generals - The Canadian Army Senior Commanders in the Second World War. Appointed Lieutenant, Seaforths (Reserves), 1927; Captain, 1934; Major, December 1939 when the unit went to England; Lieutenant-Colonel (Seaforths), October 1942 (Commanding Officer, Seaforth Highlanders of Canada from 11 October 1942 to 10 November 1943; attended Canadian Junior War Staff Course at RMC Kingston, March 1942) ; Acting Brigadier, 29 September 1943; confirmed as Brigadier, 1 November 1943; Major-General, 20 March 1944. Commander 2nd Canadian Infantry Brigade in Italy from 1 November 1943 to 20 March 1944; General Officer Commanding, 5th Canadian Armoured Division in Italy from 20 March 1944 to 6 June 1945; named to Command Canadian Army Pacific Force, 6 June 1945; to the Reserve of Officers, 1 September 1945; Honorary Lieutenant-Colonel, Seaforth Highlander of Canada, 7 August 1957; to 6 February 1963; Vice-President, MacMillan and Bloedel Forest Products, 1949; President, MacMillan and Bloedel Forest Products, 1949 to 1956; Chairman MacMillan and Bloedel Forest Products, 1956 to 1958; Agent-General for British Columbia in London, England, 1958 to 1961; President, Council of Forest Industries of B.C., 1961 to 1968; Honours included Officer, Canada Gazette dated 26 June 1982. Recommendation for immediate award initiated by Brigadier Chris Vokes, Commanding 2 Canadian Infantry Brigade on 1 October 1943; endorsed by Major-General G.G. Simonds, General Officer Commanding, 1 Canadian Division on 5 August 1943 and passed forward on 16 August 1943; endorsed by Lieutenant-General O.W.H. Leese, General Officer Commanding, 30 British Corps on 2 September 1943 and passed forward on 4 September 1943; endorsed by General B.L. Montgomery, General Officer Commanding, Eighth Army on 8 September 1943 and passed forward on 16 September 1943; approved General H.R. Alexander, General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, 15 Army Group on 18 September 1943.

In the two days fighting to capture Agira on 27/28 July 1943, the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada bore the brunt of the fighting.

Under the inspired leadership of Lieutenant-Colonel Hoffmeister the battalion fought its way forward against very heavy opposition.

The battalion objective was to capture some high ground completely dominating the town. During the final battle for this objective, communications were difficult. Lieutenant-Colonel Hoffmeister, with complete disregard for his own safety, made his way from company to company and though under very heavy fire, personally directed the attack on the enemy position.

His coolness, determination, and personal bravery under fire were an inspiration to all ranks under his command.

HOFFMEISTER, Bertram Meryl, Brigadier, DSO (Headquarters 2 Canadian Infantry Brigade) - Bar to Distinguished Service Order - awarded as per Canada Gazette dated 18 March 1944 and CARO/4296 dated 1 April 1944, "in recognitions of gallant and distinguished services in Italy." Recommended for immediate award by Brigadier Chris Vokes, General Officer Commanding, 1 Canadian Division on 15 December 1943; endorsed by Lieutenant-General C.W. Allfrey, General Officer Commanding, 5th British Corps on 16 December 1943 and passed forward on 22 December 1943; endorsed by General B.L. Montgomery, General Officer Commanding, Eighth Army on 24 December 1943 and passed forward on 27 December 1943; approved General H.R. Alexander, General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, 15 Army Group on 29 December 1943 and passed forward on 14 March 1944.

At first light on the morning 9 December 1943, 2 Canadian Infantry Brigade supported by 1 Canadian Armoured Brigade continued the advance through the Moro bridgehead in the face of determined enemy resistance. The battle continued throughout the period 9 to 12 December 1943.

During this period, Brigadier Hoffmeister fought his Brigade with skill and determination. In order so he was continuously well forward under heavy fire for extended periods. His personal example of coolness and courage under this fire was an inspiration to all with whom he came in contact and was a vital factor in the success of the operation.

HOFFMEISTER, Bertram Meryl, Brigadier (Acting Major-General) - Second Bar to Distinguished Service Order - 5 Canadian Armoured Division - awarded as per Canada Gazette dated 12 August 1944 and CARO/4799 of that date, "in recognition of gallant and distinguished services in Italy." Recommendation originated with Lieutenant-General E.L.M. Burns, Commander of 1 Canadian Corps; with Headquarters, Eighth Army, 6-10 June 1944 (supported by Lieutenant-General O.W. Leese); with Headquarters, Allied Armies in Italy, 11-28 June 1944 (approved by General Harold R. Alexander).

Commanding an armoured division which had never before been in action as a whole, he led it with the greatest determination and success. By his constant presence in the most forward areas, under shell and small arms fire, he inspired confidence and a fine offensive spirit in all, so that between the 24th and 30th May it broke out of the Hitler and Liri Rivers, captured three villages, destroyed very many tanks and self-propelled guns, took many prisoners and killed many enemy and advanced a total distance of 35 kilometres, driving the enemy before it.

HOFFMEISTER, Bertram Meryl, Brigadier (Acting Major-General), DSO, ED - Commander, Order of the British Empire - awarded as per Canada Gazette dated 28 October 1944 and CARO/5061 dated 8 November 1944.

Under General Hoffmeister's brilliant leadership 5 Canadian Armoured Division effected the initial break in the Gothic Line and captured the key position of Montecchio. Its sustained action was one of the main contributing factors in the final breakthrough of the Gothic Line. There is no doubt that these outstanding successes gained by 5 Canadian Armoured Division have been due in large measure to the fine leadership, untiring energy and drive displayed by General Hoffmeister throughout the operations.

HOFFMEISTER, Bertram Meryl, Major-General, CBE, DSO, ED - Companion, Order of the Bath - awarded as per Canada Gazette and CARO/5849, both dated 7 July 1945. Citation found in Governor General's Papers, National Archives of Canada, RG.7 Group 26, Volume 59, dossier 7.

On 14 April 1945, 5 Canadian Armoured Division was given the task of breaking out of the Arnhem bridgehead and thrusting to the Zuider Zee, a distance of forty-eight miles cutting off the enemy opposing 1 Canadian Infantry Division at Appeldoorn. As a result of Major-General Hoffmeister's organization the division was moved from its concentration area to the forming up area, a distance of twelve miles across the River Rhine, and launched into the start of a successful attack in under sixteen hours. From the beginning of the operation to its conclusion the division displayed great capacity for manoeuvre, moving surely and powerfully forward without pause, a result of the outstanding leadership and clever control of the divisional commander. Throughout the entire battle which was carried out with two exposed flanks, Major-General Hoffmeister kept himself fully informed of the latest situation by personal liaison with the leading units. These visits to the leading units were carried out at great personal risks as pockets of enemy which had been by-passed were continually harassing movement of the routes in the rear, causing a number of casualties. To ensure complete control of the battle, Major-General Hoffmeister kept his headquarters well forward to such an extent that at one time it was subject to intense small arms and mortar fire accompanied by an infantry attack for a period of over eight hours. During this small action his headquarters itself captured over one hundred prisoners and killed approximately forty enemy who were infiltrating in and around the command group. During the operation over two thousand prisoners were captured and an estimated six hundred killed for total casualties of less than two hundred and fifty; an advance of forty-eight miles was made in constant contact with the enemy during a period of seventy-two hours; a large number of enemy vehicles and one hundred and eighty-four enemy guns were destroyed or captured. This success was only a result of the inspiring leadership of Major-General Hoffmeister and the clear direction he gave as a result of his personal up-to-the minute knowledge of the situation obtained by audacious visits to the leading troops and aggressive positioning of his headquarters. This action relieved the pressure against 1 Canadian Infantry Division and ensured their success in the reduction of Appeldoorn and completed successfully the first phase of the operation by 1 Canadian Corps of clearing south-western Holland of the enemy. This brilliant handling by Major-General Hoffmeister who has commanded 5 Canadian Armoured Division for over a year follows a series of skilful actions by his division in the Central Mediterranean Theatre.

HOFFMEISTER, Bertram Meryl, Brigadier (Acting Major-General), CBE, DSO, ED - Mention in Despatches - awarded as per Canada Gazette and CARO/5718, both dated 26 May 1945.

HOFFMEISTER, Bertram Meryl, Major-General, CB, CBE, DSO, ED - Grand Officer of the Order of Orange-Nassau, with Swords (Holland) - awarded as per Canada Gazette dated 22 December 1945 and CARO/6291 dated 24 December 1945. Recommended by Lieutenant-General Charles Foulkes, General Officer Commanding, 1 Canadian Corps; passed to Headquarters, First Canadian Army on 13 July 1945 and approved by General H.D.G. Crerar at uncertain date thereafter.

On 14 April 1945, 5 Canadian Armoured Division was given the task of breaking out of the Arnhem bridgehead and thrusting to the Zuider Zee, a distance of 48 miles, cutting off the enemy opposing 1 Canadian Infantry Division at Apeldoorn. As a result of Major-General Hoffmeister's organization, the division was removed from its concentration area to its forming up area, a distance of twelve miles across the River Rhine, and launched into the start of a successful attack in under sixteen hours.

From the beginning of the operation to its conclusion, the division displayed great capacity for manoeuvre, moving surely and powerfully forward without pause, a result of the outstanding leadership and clever control of the divisional commander.

Throughout the entire battle, which was carried out with two exposed flanks, Major-General Hoffmeister kept himself fully informed of the latest situation by personal liaison with the leading units. These visits to the leading units were carried out at great personal risks as pockets of enemy, which had been by-passed, were continually harassing movement on the routes in rear, causing a number of casualties.

To ensure the complete control of the battle, Major-General Hoffmeister kept his Headquarters well forward, to such an extent that at one time it was subject to intense small arms and mortar fire accompanied by an infantry attack for a period of over eight hours. During this small action, his headquarters itself captured over 100 prisoners and killed approximately 48 enemy who were infiltrating in and around the command group.

During the operation over 2,000 prisoners were captured and an estimated 600 killed for total casualties of less than 250; an advance of 48 miles was made in constant contact with the enemy during a period of 72 hours; a large number of enemy vehicles and 184 enemy guns were destroyed or captured. This success was only a result of the inspiring leadership of Major-General Hoffmeister and the clear direction he gave as a result of his personal up-to-the-minute knowledge of the situation, obtained by audacious visits to the leading troops and aggressive positioning of his Headquarters.

This action relieved the pressure against 1 Canadian Infantry Division and ensured their success in the reduction of Apeldoorn and completed successfully the first phase of the operations of 1 Canadian Corps of clearing southwestern Holland of the enemy. This brilliant handling by Major-General Hoffmeister who has commanded 5 Canadian Armoured Division for over a year, follows a series of skilful actions by his division in the Central Mediterranean Theatre.

HOFFMEISTER, Bertram Meryl, Major-General, CB, CBE, DSO, ED - Mention in Despatches - awarded as per Canada Gazette dated 9 March 1946 and CARO/6431 dated 8 March 1946.

HOFFMEISTER, Bertram Meryl, Major-General, CB, CBE, DSO, ED - Commander, Legion of Merit (United States) - awarded as per Canada Gazette dated 7 June 1947 and Canadian Army Order No.24 dated 16 June 1947. Citation found in Canadian Army file HQ 54-27-94-25, "Honours and Awards - USA - Decorations Policy", Volume 5 (National Archives of Canada RG.24 Volume 2230).

Major-General Bertram Meryl Hoffmeister, CBE, DSO, Canadian Army, distinguished himself by exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services in Italy from 1 September 1944 to 31 January 1945. As Commanding General of the 5th Canadian Armoured Division, General Hoffmeister brilliantly organized and conducted the successful offensive operations of his division in penetrating the right flank of the Gothic Line near Rimini, Italy, in capturing the important communications centre of Ravenna, and securing the right flank of Eighth Army's exit route from the Apennine Mountains. This was accomplished through his proficiency in planning and leading his division into the Po Valley, a tactically important area. General Hoffmeister so impressed his troops with the importance of relentless attack and swift follow through that, despite swampy terrain and swollen torrents in the dead of winter, his division seized intact critical bridges and strong points. On 2 January 1945 General Hoffmeister took advantage of a sudden freezing of rain-soaked terrain and launched a surprise attack that slashed through enemy defences, crossed the Canele Bonifica on a captured bridge, seized the tactically important town of San Alberto, and established a secure position on the Reno River. Through his exceptional professional skill, unusual perseverance, keen foresight and sound tactical judgement, General Hoffmeister contributed outstandingly to the crushing defeat of the enemy and to Allied victory in the Italian campaign.