After the armistice, McNaughton remained in the Permanent Force (Canadian army). While serving as chief of staff from 1929 through 1935, he pioneered many modernizing innovations, a considerable achievement given the stringent budgets of the depression years. Major General McNaughton was chosen to command the 1st Canadian Division in September 1939. Thereafter, his rise was rapid: Canadian Corps commander and lieutenant general in July 1940 and Canadian First Army commander in April 1942. During the early war years, McNaughton's public reputation was unchallenged; he was a link to the glories of the Canadian Expeditionary Force and embraced as a commander who would forge his army into "a dagger pointed at the heart of Berlin," to use his own phrase.
In reality, McNaughton's prickly temperament, poor judgment in selecting subordinates, administrative deficiencies, and obsession with technological details made it clear to most insiders—British and Canadian—that he was unfit to command a large force in the field. A consensus that his performance during Exercise spartan in England in 1943 was a disaster proved the final straw for his many British critics, especially Field Marshal Sir Alan Brooke. The Canadian government agreed, and it fell to Minister of National Defence J. L. Ralston to relieve McNaughton in December 1943 on grounds of "health" and replace him with Henry Crerar.
An embittered McNaughton returned to Canada. When a conscription crisis erupted in the autumn of 1944 and Prime Minister Mackenzie King sacked Ralston, McNaughton—the only senior general still favoring the voluntary enlistment system—entered the cabinet as his old nemesis's replacement. Within a month, however, the government enacted limited overseas conscription, and McNaughton's political career fizzled.
In contrast to the turmoil of his World War II service, McNaughton enjoyed a highly successful postwar career as a diplomat, serving as Canada's representative on the UN Atomic Energy Commission (1946–1948), the International Joint Commission (1950–1962), and the Permanent Joint Board on Defence (1950–1958). McNaughton died in Montebello, Quebec, on 11 July 1966.
Patrick H. Brennan
English, John. Failure in High Command: The Canadian Army and the Normandy Campaign. Ottawa: Golden Dog Press, 1995.; Granatstein, J. L. The Generals: The Canadian Army's Senior Commanders in the Second World War. Toronto, Canada: Stoddart, 1993.; Swettenham, John. McNaughton. 3 vols. Toronto, Canada: Ryerson, 1968 and 1969.