Sydney Valpy Radley-Walters | The Canadian Encyclopedia

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Sydney Valpy Radley-Walters

Sydney Valpy Radley-Walters, CMM, DSO, MC, armoured officer, tank ace (born on 11 January 1920 in Malbay, QC (now Saint-Georges-de-Malbaie); died 21 April 2015 in Kingston, ON). Radley-Walters (universally known as “Rad”) joined the Canadian Army in 1940 during the Second World War. He remained in the army after the war and rose to the rank of brigadier-general. He was Canada’s and the Western Allies’ leading tank killer during the Second World War.

Early Life and Education

Sydney Valpy Radley-Walters was the son and grandson of Anglican ministers. He was born in his family’s home in a rural area of the Gaspé Peninsula. Radley-Walters excelled at sports, especially football, in both school and college. While attending Bishop’s University in Lennoxville, QC, he enrolled in the Canadian Officer Training Corps. This organization trained officers for the militia.

Second World War

After graduation, Sydney Valpy Radley-Walters was commissioned in November 1940 as a second lieutenant in the Sherbrooke Fusiliers Regiment, a local militia infantry battalion. The Sherbrooke Fusiliers had been mobilized in May 1940. In January 1942, the unit was converted to an armoured regiment and was redesignated 27th Armoured Regiment (The Sherbrooke Fusiliers Regiment).

The unit sailed to Britain in October 1942. There, it became one of three armoured regiments in 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade. After almost two years of training, the Sherbrooke Fusiliers participated in the greatest amphibious operation in history.

On D-Day, 6 June 1944, the Sherbrooke Fusiliers landed on Juno Beach in Normandy as part of Operation Overlord. (See D-Day and the Battle of Normandy.) The unit supported the 9th Canadian Infantry Brigade, the reserve brigade of 3rd Canadian Division. Radley-Walters landed in his Sherman tank, “Caribou,” in command of A Squadron. The next day, he recorded his first victory when he knocked out a Panzer IV.

During the ferocious battles of the next few weeks, Radley-Walters’ survival seemed miraculous. He survived despite having three tanks shot out from under him, wounding him twice. When his scout car hit a land mine, the blast knocked him unconscious. He was also in a jeep when the vehicle had its wheels blown off.

The Sherbrook Fusiliers fought against the fanatical 12th SS Panzer Division, composed mostly of members from the Hitler Youth. Under the command of Standartenführer (Colonel) Kurt Meyer, some of these German soldiers murdered several Canadian prisoners of war in cold blood, including soldiers of the Sherbrooke Fusiliers. (See Normandy Massacres.) On 8 August, Radley-Walters or one of his tank commanders killed Michael Wittmann and destroyed his Tiger tank. Wittmann was a legendary German tank ace known as “the Black Baron.”

Did you know?
There have been debates as to who took out Michael Wittmann. It’s often claimed that British tanks from the Northamptonshire Yeomanry knocked out Wittmann that day. However, recent evidence strongly suggests that the only penetrating hit in Wittmann’s Tiger tank was on the side facing the Sherbrooke Fusiliers’ A Squadron.


For his leadership as a squadron commander during the Normandy Campaign, Radley-Walters was awarded the Distinguished Service Order and the Military Cross. By the end of the war, he commanded the Sherbrooke Fusiliers as a 25-year-old lieutenant-colonel. Having destroyed 18 enemy tanks and several other armoured vehicles, he became the Allies’ top tank ace.

Postwar Military Career

Sydney Valpy Radley-Walters remained in the army after the war as a major in the Royal Canadian Dragoons. After promotion to lieutenant-colonel, he was appointed as chief instructor at the Royal Canadian Armoured Corps School in Camp Borden. This was followed by a posting to the US Army as a liaison officer. On return to Canada, Radley-Walters became a member of the directing staff at the Canadian Army Staff College in Kingston (see Military and Staff Colleges). He was next posted to 1st Canadian Division Headquarters, also in Kingston.

In January 1957, a third regular force armoured regiment was added to the Canadian Army order of battle. It was designated the 1/8th Canadian Hussars (Princess Louise’s), to distinguish it from the militia component, which became the 2/8th Canadian Hussars (Princess Louise’s). Radley-Walters became the unit’s first commanding officer, then stationed at Camp Gagetown which had only become operational in 1956.

After his time as commanding officer, Radley-Walters attended the NATO Defence College in Paris in 1961. He was then posted to NATO Headquarters, then also in Paris. Afterward, he returned to Canada on promotion to colonel and became commandant of the Royal Canadian Armoured Corps School. He next attended the year-long course at the National Defence College in Kingston before being posted as director of training in the newly-organized Canadian Forces Headquarters in Ottawa in 1966.

In June 1968, Radley-Walters was promoted brigadier-general. He became the commander of the 2nd Canadian Infantry Brigade Group and Canadian Forces Base (CFB) Petawawa. In 1971, he was appointed commander Combat Training Centre at CFB Gagetown until his retirement.

Pat Radley-Walters

Back in 1946, Sydney Valpy Radley-Walters married Mary Patricia Boyd. Pat, as she was universally known, was as well-regarded as Radley-Walters by the Armored Corps. She became its surrogate mother. The daughter of a prominent Hamilton doctor, Pat graduated from McMaster University in 1943, where she met and married Nairn Boyd. The next year, she went to Britain where she served as a Red Cross nursing assistant.

Nairn Boyd served as a lieutenant in the Sherbrooke Fusiliers and was a member of Radley-Walters’ squadron. In July 1944, Boyd was killed in action. Because of Boyd’s death, Radley-Walters and Pat met. They had four boys, whom Radley-Walters referred to as “the tank crew.”

Retirement

Sydney Valpy Radley-Walters retired in 1974 after being appointed a Commander of Military Merit (see Order of Military Merit) for his services to Canada. The French government also made him an Officer of the Legion d’honeur. He received the award at the French Embassy in Ottawa.

After retirement, Radley-Walters held two honorary appointments. Between 1970 and 1981, he served as colonel of the regiment of the 8th Canadian Hussars. He also acted as colonel commandant of the Royal Canadian Armoured Corps from 1980 to 1987.

He remained dedicated to telling younger Canadians and new generations of soldiers about the Second World War. Radley-Walters participated in more than two dozen educational and veterans’ tours of European battlefields, where he shared his combat experiences.

Radley-Walters loved the outdoors and enjoyed hunting and fishing at his home, Whiskey Jack Farm, near Algonquin Park. He spent his last years in Kingston, where his vision deteriorated and he became blind. He died in 2015 from pneumonia.