The WWII Canadian War Hero & Legend Who Captured A City “Mad Major” Leo Major:
Leo Major was a man who barely knew the meaning of fear and found his calling shortly after joining the Canadian Army in 1940. He wasn’t a career soldier – in fact, his only joined up because he was unemployed and wanted to prove to his father that he wasn’t a failure – but once he arrived on the Western Front, he took to it like a duck to water.
Major was involved in the D-Day landings, taking part in the Canadian part of the line at Juno Beach. He made an early mark on his fellow soldiers, managing to take down a German Hanomag half-track armored car single-handedly, before, several days later killing four SS men. He was injured by a grenade, however, and lost an eye, earning himself the nickname “pirate”. He fought on, using his extreme bravery to scout out enemy lines and then place himself as a sniper, arguing that having just one eye actually assisted his aim.
His finest hour would come in early 1945 as the Canadian forces moved north into the Netherlands. He was on one of his regular scouting missions on his own and came across two Germans – he captured one and then used him as a human shield to entice the other. When the second went for his gun, Major shot him. He moved on towards the Nazi garrison and managed to capture the commanding officer, causing the whole group to hand themselves over. Major began – single-handedly, remember – to march a huge group of enemy soldiers away and was spotted by an SS patrol, who opened fire and killed several of their own men. In total, he took 93 prisoners, all on his own.
Major was just getting started. Despite suffering a broken back in a land mine incident, he escaped from hospital and returned to the front, where he was sent to recon the Dutch town of Zwolle with a fellow Canadian soldier. When his partner was killed, Major continued alone and captured an officer who was drinking in a local bar. Conversing in French – Major was Quebecois, while the officer came from the French-speaking region of Alsace – he convinced the German that the Canadians were going to blow Zwolle to bits at dawn the next day. He let him go and the officer ran back to headquarters, spreading the news of the incoming assault.
Major then fired his machine gun randomly throughout the city, chucking grenades and creating the impression that a huge force had arrived – all the while, as patrols were sent out to investigate the noise, he would capture them in groups of 10 and take them to the Canadian forces. By dawn, the whole SS garrison was convinced that they were surrounded and about to be destroyed, so they fled. The Canadians entered the city and liberated it without a shot being fired.
Major was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal – he would win another for his bravery in the Korean War – and eventually retired to his home in the Montreal suburbs and would die there in 2008 at the age of 87.
The Giant Killer book & page honors these incredible war heroes making sure their stories of valor and sacrifice are never forgotten. God Bless our Vets!
Story by Mike Wood