Quebec History Marianopolis College

Date Published:

L’Encyclopédie de l’histoire du Québec / The Quebec History Encyclopedia


Canada and the Second World War



[This text was written by Lt.-Col. Wilfrid BOVEY in 1948. For the full citation see the end of the document. Parts in brackets [.], and links have been added by Claude Bélanger]


The causes of World War II may be summarized as follows:


(1) The historian of the future will probably see as the main cause of World War II [see the entry at the Wikipedia encyclopedia ] the failure of the victors in World War I [consult the article at the Wikipedia encyclopedia ] to realize the need of constant vigilance in guarding the democratic system for which they had fought. The former "allied and associated powers" -  the British Commonwealth, the United States, and France - watched with apparent unconcern the renais­sance under their very noses of the philosophies based on force which were the basic causes of World War I, and of the political practices stemming from those philosophies which made the second war inevitable. The three powers, if we classify the British Commonwealth as one, devoted the years of so-called peace to economic development, mainly under private enterprise, and the United States in particular, in spite of a period of terrible depression, made a most remarkable advance towards the hege­mony of the West. At the same time they paid little heed to what was going on elsewhere. The British government, which in 1930 arrived at a naval agreement with the United States and Japan, had no figures of rearmament in Europe , and when the first figures were obtained had no information regarding the new German organizations. The French government built the so-called " Maginot Line ", a supposedly impregnable wall against Germany, but in spite of lessons of the past and in spite of the definite announcements of German strategists, left the Belgian border undefended. The United States in 1935 passed a neutrality act based on the assumption that a future war would be no business of the United States .


(2) The second cause of World War II was the immense strengthening of the forces of Communism and of the U.S.S.R., in which Communism was the gospel. The basis of the Communist philosophy was " dialectical materialism ", the theory that capitalism must bring about its own destruction by revolution. Both Lenin and his successor Stalin attributed the success of the Russian revolution to an inevitable trend in human affairs. By 1936, when the present constitution of the U.S.S.R. came into force, Russia had been politically and economically organized under the N. E. P. ( New Economic Policy ) and was in course of conversion to a completely socialized industrial state. At the same time the central government had enormously increased its authority by the liquidation of opponents and the obstinately persisting private interests. The "classless society" which Marx had preached had by 1936 ceased to exist in the U.S.S.R. The present constitution provided for control by the comparatively small Communist Party, the senior bureaucrats of which constituted an aristocracy. Stalinism was no longer Marxism . The central government organ, the " politburo ", was non-responsible and non-elective. From this point of view there was very little distinction between the U.S.S.R. and the totalitarian governments which were destined to oppose it.


From another point of view there was a great distinction between the Soviet ideology and that of the fascist régimes, the difference between a socialized and non-capitalistic economy on the one hand and an economy based on capitalism allied with bureaucracy on the other. Even this difference might not have led to war had not the U.S.S.R. inherited from Lenin, the founder of the new nation, a peculiarly Russian notion, a dream of world-revolution. At first, in Lenin's earlier days, the dream was not imperialistic ; it did not involve world control, but only world leadership. The Comintern , the Communist International controlled by Moscow, extended its tentacles into every country in the world, particularly into European nations and most notably into Germany and Italy . As this extension continued, the attitude of Moscow changed: the possibilities of success in stirring up world revolution aroused the thought of world hegemony . The perception of this menace aroused antithetic counter movements in Germany and Italy, which were themselves destined to be Frankenstein monsters.


(3) The third cause of World War II was dual, the development of National Socialism in Germany and the simultaneous growth in the same country of a political theory of global strategy and of a doctrine of war mentality.


(i) The rise of the National Socialist Party, the " Nazis ", under the leadership of Hitler , was a sinister and remarkable phenomenon. In January, [1933], after a long period of violent disturbances, Hitler   - an Austrian ex-corporal - became chancellor of Germany . In the March elections the Nazi party had far the strongest group. Its theses may be summarized as (a) the complete subordination of the individual to the state and (b) the myth of a Teutonic Aryan race of supermen. The last notion was completely false, since Germans (even apart from the Jews) were mostly of very mixed origin. Nevertheless, as a propaganda weapon, the myth was highly effective. As soon as the Nazi party attained parliamentary supremacy it was made legally all-powerful. Then began the reign of terror initiated by Goering , which led to the open seizure of Jewish property and to the murder of thousands of Jews and Communists. Next year Hitler was proclaimed " Fuehrer " or "leader", and the last vestiges of parliamentary control disappeared; the Reichstag became nothing but a sounding board for the Fuehrer and his band of ruffians. No government in world history has ever been marked by such brutality, immorality, and greed. The Nazis, with the complete support of German capitalists and of most university authorities and economists, as well as of munition firms and other manufacturers, without any delay commenced a huge programme of rearmament entirely contrary to the terms of all treaties. The idea was developed that the Germans in Europe, including Austrians of German tongue, the so-called South East Germans of Czechoslovakia, and indeed Germans all over the world, must unite to build a new all-powerful and world-wide community. At the same time, the Nazis effectively abolished the minor states within Germany and effected political and psychological unification of the German people on the basis of its own theses, aiming particularly at youth. They established a new religious outlook, flouted Christianity as Jewish and cowardly, preached a return to the old German gods, and above all built up Hitler as a near-deity. Anti-semitism and accompanying brutality became part of the law . The rearmament programme was speeded up at an unbelievable rate, and in spite of the Versailles Treaty Hitler had by 1936, not only the regular army, but well over 2,000,000 men of other categories (S.A. and S.S.), and was building an air force of 5,000 planes. The culmination of the Nazi régime was the seizure of Austria , in cooperation with Austrian Nazis. [On Canadian attitudes to Hitler, consult the Memorandum by Prime Minister William L. Mackenzie King on his Interview with German Chancellor Herr Adolf Hitler in Berlin on June 29, 1937 .]


(ii) The development and use of "geopolitics" as a potential weapon and the recreation in Germany of a war mentality were the contributions of the German academic world to the catastrophe of 1939. The former is of particular interest because at one stage as we shall see, it turned out to be a deadly boomerang. The German school of geopoliticians was led by General Haushofer . Its fundamental theory, developed from English writings, was that whatever power controlled the great north central land mass of Eurasia, the Heartland, as it was named, would of necessity control the world, that the powers of the "peninsular" and "insular" areas, Europe and the Americas and the island fringes of the Pacific, could not prevent such a process. The German General Staff was quite certain that it could defeat the U.S.S.R. and thus ensure control of the Heartland and world conquest. Entirely as a result of Haushofer's continued pressure, and in spite of the strong anti-Asiatic prejudices of Hitler and the Nazis, Germany and Japan signed an Anti-Comintern pact in 1936, and in 1940 Japan became a German ally. Haushofer it was too who proposed the uniting of China , Indo-China, and India under Japan , a project which determined the Japanese master plan for the war. Other German teachers, working at the same time, sedulously built up in Germany a war mind. Most notable of these was Professor Banse, who held the Nazi chair of Military Science. In one work, published in 1933, he declared that the new Germany "from Flanders to the Raab, from Memelland to the Adige , will only be born through blood and iron. Thought, labour, and armies must march and die before the Third Reich will raise its proud head on the fields of the West." In the same book he foretold, with the anticipation of a hungry cat, the invasion of France through Belgium and of Britain through the Low Countries . The preparation of future wars, he said, "must include spiritual as well as material preparedness". A host of German writers dealt with psychological preparation, strengthening of German and weakening of enemy mentality; even the bibliography of their works is a considerable volume. The whole German educational system was transformed into a factory for turning out young Nazis thoroughly impregnated with all these principles and with an insane devotion to their Fuehrer. There was no toleration for free thought of any kind, and thousands of scientists such as Albert Einstein , either liberal-minded or Jewish, were driven into exile.


(4) The fourth cause of the war was Italian-Fascist Imperialism. This began partly as an antithesis to Communism and partly as a result of the failure of Britain and France to carry out secret but definite engagements to allow Italy to acquire more lands in Africa after World War I. Communist activities had nearly brought about defeat in World War I and thereafter Socialists and Communists between them, by creating endless disturbances, practically wrecked Italian industry, prestige, and credit. One of several counterrevolutionary organizations was Benito Mussolini's [see also the Wikipedia Encyclopedia ] "Fascio di Combattimento" (Union of Ex-Service men). It was divided into "squadrons", small well-drilled and violent gangs who fought communists everywhere and finally seized on local governments.


In October 1922, these "squadrons" united in an orderly march on Rome and Mussolini, called upon by the King, formed the first Fascist cabinet. A campaign of violence against all opponents followed at once. Some of the more ardent fascists went too far even for Mussolini, making little of political murders; Mussolini took steps to get rid of them. He then faced the economic problems. By 1927 he had stabilized the currency, made financial arrangements with the United States and Great Britain which put Italy back on her feet, and under the title of Duce had become virtual dictator.


The following statements of Mussolini set out the "fascist" theory:


"Never before have the peoples thirsted for authority, direction, order, as they do now. If each age has its doctrine, then innumerable symptoms indicate that the doctrine of our age is the Fascist."


"The key-stone of the Fascist doctrine is its conception of the State, of its essence, its functions, and its aims. For Fascism the State is absolute, individuals and groups relative."


"The State, as conceived and realised by Fascism, is a spiritual and ethical entity for securing the political, juridical, and economic organization of the nation... "


"The Fascist State expresses the will to exercise power and to command."


"The Fascist State is,.... not reactionary but revolutionary, for it anticipates the solution of certain universal problems which have been raised elsewhere, in the political field by the splitting-up of parties, the usurpation of power by parliaments, the irresponsibility of assemblies; in the economic field by the increasingly numerous and important functions discharged by trade-unions and trade associations with their disputes and ententes, affecting both capital and labor; in the ethical field by the need felt for order, discipline, obedience to the moral dictates of patriotism."


Such a conception naturally led to a war complex, and Mussolini said "War alone keys up all human energies to their maximum tension and sets the seal of nobility on those peoples who have the courage to face it."


In 1928 supreme control of the country was vested in the Fascist Grand Council, composed of nominees of the Duce. The Senate and Chamber of the former democratic constitution continued to exist, but the Chamber was nominated en bloc by the Fascist Grand Council.


In the meantime all available Italian youths were organized, under the Ministry of Education, into a Militia of Avanguardisti (over 14) and Balilla (under 14). To give the impression of a new Roman Empire (which was Mussolini's idée fixe), they were divided into the "legion", "cohort", "century", "manipulum", and "squadron". Their training was both military and naval. The entire educational system of Italy, like that of Germany, became subordinate to the state and a part of the Fascist machine. Labour was reorganized into syndicates, and employers into federations, all under a complicated system of state control; lockouts and strikes were forbidden. The nation was divided into "Corporations" called "National Federations of Fascist syndicates", controlling respectively arts and crafts, agriculture, commerce, sea and air transport, land transport and banking. Membership of these was compulsory. Their representatives, with other persons, formed the Provincial and National Councils of Corporations. The essential difference between this system and that of the western democracies was that all these "corporations" were organs of the State-whence arose the name of "the Corporate State".


Italians and people of Italian origin outside Italy were encouraged to form Italian associations under the Aegis of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and of Italian ambassadors and consuls. Moreover, there were constant and successful, though secret, efforts to control all members, even those who were not Italian subjects. Thus there were thousands of "fascio" groups in many different countries, all supporting Italian activities by arousing sympathy and even, later on, by preparing for sabotage in case of war.


As sympathy-rousing propaganda among citizens of foreign countries, free "educational" classes were offered, and fascist movements encouraged. As the result of an arrangement with the Pope , the Vatican became a separate state, and thereafter the Fascist government provided for strong adherence to Catholicism in all its sections.


The whole fascist system was a tyranny sedulously described as a new variety of "government-by-the-people", and certainly upheld by a very large group of citizens blinded by the new glories under authoritarianism foretold by its leader.


(5) The fifth cause of World War II was the rise of another authoritarian power. This was Japan . Soon after World War I, Major General Sir James MacBrien, then Chief of the General Staff of Canada, foretold the inevitable conflict between Japan and North America in a report which received too little attention at the time, and which later disappeared. In the same report he foretold the final defeat of Japanese sea-power by aircraft from carriers. Japanese political philosophy was unique, although its net results were identical with those of German and Italian "kultur". The basic factor in Japanese thought was the doctrine of Shinto , worship by the nation of themselves as descendants of the "Sun goddess", and most particularly of their Emperor, thought of and treated as a god on earth. (The main formal religion was a form of Buddhism , but it was so twisted as to fit into the Shinto framework.) This attitude ensured (1) the belief that the Japanese were a race superior to all others, destined to the conquest of the world or at least of the Pacific area; (2) the complete subordination of the individual to the collectivity, the state (so absolute was this that suicide, in accordance with ancient custom, was practised as part of duty or as the price of failure, in public life or military effort, by all ranks of the population from premiers to privates). And (3) the complete domination of the top groups in army, navy, and commerce. There was set up before the end of the nineteenth century a constitution on western lines, but it was a shadow rather than a reality. The net result was an authoritarian national machine designed for aggression.


After World War I industrialization went on at an incredible rate under the leadership of half a dozen financial and commercial groups, each run on authoritarian lines. Armaments and armed forces were enormously increased. The Washington Naval Treaty of 1921 established a ratio of 5-5-3 in capital ships for Britain, the United States, and Japan . The Japanese cheated by building duplicates in secret shipyards so that the other powers never knew what ships the Japanese had. Japanese naval officers, on the other hand, spied throughout the world; every western move was known.


There was no secret about their long-range plan. In 1927 was published the Tanaka Memorial , written by a former premier. It called first for the capture of Manchuria . This would provide coal and iron, lacking in Japan, and provide an outlet into North China and Siberia. In another memorial of 1931 General Honjo said that the next step was to drive Britain, the United States, and Holland out of the Pacific, taking over their Dominions and possessions. The project they named the "Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere". The operations actually began with the taking over of German islands in the Pacific after World War I. Subsequent conquests were a prelude to World War II.


It is almost unbelievable in view of all these developments, none of which were concealed, that the democratic powers should have followed such an apathetic course as they did, even when open aggression succeeded boastful prophecy. It is inaccurate to blame the United States for not joining and so strengthening the League of Nations ; the League was never anything but a machine for voicing opinion and unable itself to apply any of the economic pressure against aggressors which it recommended. It would probably have been no more efficient with the United States as a member. It must be observed, however, that right-wing organizations in Britain tended to favour the European Fascists and Nazis, that commercial interests in North America profited largely by Japanese militarism, and that the overseas Italian and German organizations worked unceasingly at propaganda.




World War II began with aggressions by the totalitarian powers in Europe and Asia . Although there is no evidence of concerted action the timing of these aggressions is remarkable. At the same period the Spanish Civil War provided a field of Right versus Left combat.


1931. Japan seizes Mukden and occupies Manchuria consisting of three Chinese provinces. The U.S.S.R. prepares for trouble by strengthening the neighbouring border.


1932. Japan sets up a puppet kingdom of Manchuria called Manchukuo under Pu Yi , dethroned Emperor of China.


1933. Japan seizes neighbouring province of Jehol, which is added to Manchukuo . The U.S.A. refuses to recognize the change. Germany withdraws from League of Nations . Revolutionary outbreaks in Spain , at first suppressed.


1934. Dispute between Italy and Abyssinia over Somaliland border. Crisis in Spain . Catalonia attempts secession, but is defeated. Japan denounces Washington Naval Treaty ( 5-5-3 ratio).


1935. The Saar reunited with Germany after a plebiscite. Japan acquires Chinese Eastern Railway (through Manchukuo ). Communists attack Chinese regular forces in Chahar (N.W. China). Efforts at conciliation between Italy and Abyssinia. Mobilization in Abyssinia and Italy . League of Nations declares Italy an aggressor, and recommends economic sanctions, which are applied.


1936. Italy begins full scale attack on Abyssinia , ending in complete Italian victory. Annexation of Abyssinia . Constitution of a "New Roman Empire" promulgated by Mussolini. Military coup d'état in Japan , four ministers murdered, military dictatorship complete. Germany reoccupies the " Rhineland " (with no opposition, although this was contrary to treaty), and demands return of colonies taken away by Treaty of Versailles. Soviet-Mongol pact. Chinese protest but without avail. New U.S.S.R. constitution, as now in force, promulgated. General Franco commences right wing revolt in Morocco against Republican government. The Army joins him, and with 55,000 Moors he lands at Algeciras . Receives strong Italian reinforcement. In November he attacks Madrid , opposed by an " International Brigade " and Soviet tanks and aeroplanes. Both right and left wing troops are guilty of atrocious violence. Other powers make an agreement for a neutral "naval patrol" to prevent intervention. In October the Berlin-Rome axis is established at Berchtesgaden . Japan and Germany sign an anti-Comintern pact. Goering appointed director of a Four Year plan of economic development. (He was already head of a huge group of undertakings known collectively as the Reichswerke Hermann Goering.)


1937. Civil War continues in Spain Italy openly provides reinforcements for Franco's right-wing " Falange ". German warships shell Almeria (ending the "naval patrol"). Pirate submarines (German and Italian) sink neutral shipping supplying republicans. "Left-wingers" from many parts of the world, including Canada , go to aid of Republicans. Japanese Diet dissolved by military influence, a militarist cabinet formed. Japanese provoke and announce an attack on one of their detachments in North China , and begin full-scale operations against Chinese. 38,000 Italian troops embark for Libya in October. Italy withdraws from the League of Nations .


1938. Austria annexed to Germany . Austria out of the League of Nations. " Sudeten " (Czechoslovakian) Germans occupying border areas of Czechoslovakia on N. W. and S. W. frontiers, formulate demands for self-determination, led by Henlein, "the little Hitler". Britain and France urge Czechoslovakia to accept a peaceful settlement. Sudeten Germans press claims. Chamberlain , prime Minister of Britain, visits Hitler. Britain and France advise transfer of Sudeten areas to Germany . Chamberlain, Daladier (French premier), Mussolini and Hitler meet at Munich (September 29), and give Germany a free hand. On his return to London Chamberlain is met by cheering crowds and announces that he has brought peace with Germany [For Canadian attitudes to the Munich Agreement, consult the Telegram from Prime Minister William L. Mackenzie King to British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain regarding Great Britain's Appeasement Policy towards Germany ] . Between October 1 and 9 Germans occupy Sudeten territories. Benes , the democratic premier of Czechoslovakia, resigns. (The seizure by Germany of the Sudeten areas of Czechoslovakia marks the lowest point of the democratic powers subservience to the Nazis. With neither Britain nor France offering any support, the U.S.A. and the British Dominions hold completely aloof. It can only be said in justification of Britain 's yielding that her armaments are at their weakest and that there are not enough guns or aircraft to deal with a German air attack. Isolationism and Nazi influence in the United States are at their peak.) Poland occupies Teschen area of Czechoslovakia which includes railway lines running south from Germany into Hungary. This act sets the final seal on Poland 's later fate.



The war between Japan and China, which began in July, 1937, was the first large conflict of World War II.


(1) The Japanese advanced northwestwards from Tientsin (occupied July 30) to Peiping , on to the railway junction of Kalgan and into the Province of Sui Yuan . One part of the force then turned south into Shansi . By the end of 1937 they controlled most of the roads of North China and towards Mongolia and Sinkiang as well as the railways. At the same time, they had occupied Shanghai , and advanced up the Yangtse River to Nanking , then the capital. Here was the first sample of the mass atrocities which characterized the Japanese and their German allies. They showed their newly acquired scorn of the west by machine-gunning the British ambassador and sinking the small U.S.S. Panay. The Chinese army was extricated, and the Chinese capital moved west to Hankow.


(2) It is important at this point to realize the logistic problems presented by transportation limitations in China. The only practicable route west to Hankow lay up the Yangtse river ; the only through route north and south was a single railway line passing through Hankow. There were few branch lines or roads. The Japanese were very successful in river-borne operations, landing, surrounding, and seizing intermediate strong points; the experience gained was of the utmost value in their later warfare against the Americans and British. But they never controlled any territory out of reach of their narrow lines of communication.


(3) By October, 1938, the Japanese had overrun all northeastern China and the Yangtse valley up to and including Hankow, as well as Amoy and Canton in the southeast and south. At this point there appears an indication of collaboration with the European Axis powers. There had always been some difference of opinion between the Japanese army and navy staffs, the latter wanting to advance south-westward along the coasts. With this in mind, in 1939, Japan attempted to make peace with China , expecting to exploit in the Pacific the Axis attack in Europe . The effort ended in failure, and the war in China seemed stalemated.




(1) Axis Psychology . The Munich surrender marked the zenith of Axis superiority. Hitler, Mussolini, and their crews, backed by a good deal of real force, strutted and shouted; they were as successful as well organized gangsters in a city with no police force. Of the few voices raised in protest one was that of E. W. Herrold of the Ottawa Journal, who said concerning Munich that "only the fatuous can believe that a peace thus bought can be anything but temporary". But the work of the Axis psychologists had been well done, and for almost a year Hitler and Mussolini had a free hand.


(2) A New Fascist Power. In Spain the Civil War drew to a close; on March 21, 1939 , Madrid surrendered, and General Franco became the undisputed head of a new Fascist power. From this time on Spain was a threat from the south to Britain and France .


(3) Seizure of Czechoslovakia and Memel . In March, 1939, Hitler seized on what was left of Czechoslovakia , establishing a "protectorate" [ Bohemia and Moravia ]. So far the Germans had maintained the fiction that they were aiming at bringing under one rule people of German birth. The grab of Czechoslovakia was the beginning of a new policy, the domination of Europe whether German or not. In the same month Hitler seized the Lithuanian port of Memel on the Baltic.


(4) Seizure of Albania. Three weeks later Mussolini added Albania to the "New Roman Empire".


(5) Germany and Poland . Poland had been given, by the Treaty of Versailles , a corridor through Germany to the Baltic and the port of Gdynia. Danzig , formerly a German port close to Gdynia, had been made a "free city". Poland had depended for help on Czechoslovakia, France, and Britain. The fall of Czechoslovakia left half of Poland surrounded, and prevented France and Britain, quite unready in any case, from bringing help. As soon, therefore, as the Czechoslovakia grab was completed Germany commenced demands for the return of Danzig and the Polish corridor and redress of a dozen other grievances, mostly imaginary, including Poland 's Teschen grab.


In August, 1939, the Western World was astonished and frightened by a non-aggression pact [ Brest-Litovsk Treaty or Pact ] between Russia and Germany. The final German demands were transmitted to Poland on the last day of August, 1939, and without waiting for an answer the Germans attacked on September 1 from north, west, and south, with mechanized divisions and aircraft [For an analysis of the German invasion of Poland , consult this page]. This was the 1939 version of the Blitzkrieg ("lightning war"), developed by the Germans from what the Canadians had taught them at Amiens. Dive bombers, a new weapon, blasted tracks through Polish defences; tank columns poured through these, and charged forward into rear areas. They were followed by motorized infantry. In a month the Polish forces were wrecked, and Poland was prostrate.


Without delay Hitler took over the western half of the new territory-most of it under the name of a " General Government ". The atrocious anti-semitic activities of Germany were extended to Poland , the system of concentration camps for political prisoners was undertaken. Starvation, torture and death were the share of thousands; mass killings by machine guns and poison gas chambers grew into what was later named the crime of genocide [or Holocaust ; see also this page ], the killing of a race.


(6) U.S.S.R. exploits German victory. The U.S.S.R. acted almost as fast as Germany and promptly seized the east part of Poland, approximately to the present U.S.S.R. boundary, also the independent states of Estonia , Latvia , and Lithuania . In the course of the following winter, the U.S.S.R. reclaimed Bessarabia from Rumania (see World War I), and drove a Finnish force back from near Leningrad into Finnish territory [See this page about the Russian operations against Finland ].


(7) The Democracies Waken. On September 3, 1939 , Great Britain and France declared war on Germany . On September 10 Canada did the same [See the Diary Entry by Prime Minister William L. Mackenzie King Recording Cabinet Discussions about the Possibility of War with Germany (August 1939). Consult Canada's Declaration of War on Nazi Germany ] . The first step taken here was the seizure by the R.C.M.P ., at the earliest possible moment, of a host of carefully listed German agents and sympathisers. This and their internment in camp was so efficiently done that there was never a known case of sabotage.


One point must be made at once. As in the 1914-1918 war, British sea power played an essential part from the beginning, holding the Axis within Europe and hindering essential supplies from reaching Germany and Italy. Even in the Mediterranean ("our sea", as Mussolini called it), the British, even against appalling odds, maintained the offensive and were undefeated. There were times when the blockade weakened, after Italy stabbed France in the back and France surrendered to Hitler, but all in all it was a most effective weapon.




"Once more into the breach". Britain at the earliest possible date despatched to France an Expeditionary Force which undertook part of the defence of that threatened country. For the first few months nothing happened; the period was known as " the phony war ". The war at sea began not on September 1 or September 10, but on August 26, when control of all British merchant ships passed to the Admiralty. Canada's first contribution was made by the Royal Canadian Navy, which put to sea in September, 1939, with six destroyers and some small craft. These were to grow by 1945 to 378 warcraft and more than 400 smaller vessels; the personnel of 3,604 increased to 95,705. By 1945 Canada was the fourth naval power, and did the major share of convoy work in the western Atlantic , successfully escorting 25,343 ships with more than 181 million tons of cargo. Canadian destroyers were part of the escort of the Canadian army to Britain. In December, 1939, the First Canadian Division and auxiliary troops crossed to Britain in two "flights", under heavy naval escort, and commenced their long training.




On April 9, 1940, Hitler, without warning, seized Denmark; then, with the help of his accessary, the notorious Norwegian leader Quisling , overran Norway. A detachment of Canadians were part of a force designed to counterattack, but never embarked. Allied troops who did counter-attack from the sea, were unsuccessful and evacuated by June. On May 10, 1940 , the Germans, following the Haushofer plans, plunged into Holland and Belgium . On May 15 the Dutch surrendered and the government moved to Britain . By May 20 the German blitzkrieg troops had cut through France to Amiens; by May 21 they were on the Channel coast. On May 27 the Belgians surrendered, leaving the British flank in the air. The Belgian and Luxemburg governments also moved to Britain. [For a description of the operations on the Western front, consult this page ] By this time the French army and French government were completely disorganized, and the British army left in an impossible position. In one of the most extraordinary joint operations ever undertaken, involving thousands of large and small craft, manned by professional and amateur sailors, and carried on with unbelievable heroism, 338,000 British and allied troops were withdrawn to Britain through Dunkirk, leaving all their equipment in France . [The Dunkirk operation is described at this site ]


Early in June a new mixed force was despatched from Britain to France in the hope of stemming the disintegration of the French army. Part of this was Canadian. It was too late; the movement was reversed and by good luck the Canadians found a transport at St. Malo which took them back to Britain. On June 14 the Germans entered Paris ; on June 18 France surrendered; within a very short time the Germans occupied the whole of the north and west leaving the French only the southeastern section of their country. In this south-eastern section was set up an authoritarian (non-republican) government under Marshal Pétain . The title of the state was changed to État Français. The capital of the new organization was at Vichy .


A large group of French men and women, largely naval and military personnel, set up a Free French government in London ; the leader of this movement was General de Gaulle. This new government was soon recognized by Canada and other British powers.




Within an hour after the declaration of war the R.A.F. commenced attacks on the German fleet which continued for several months with varying success; the best result was stopping the work of vessels laying magnetic mines. Land operations were at first limited to reconnaissance.


When the Germans attacked Norway most gallant efforts were made; the transfer of a large section of the Luftwaffe to Norway made success impossible but attacks on docks and airports. were continuous. Another task came in May and June during the German advance to the Atlantic. The R.A.F. was able, mainly by bombing bridges and rail lines, to delay the enemy considerably and contribute to the successful evacuation of Dunkirk.


The R.C.A.F.[Royal Canadian Air Force], which was to play so great a part later on, was in September 1939, nothing but a handful of first class enthusiasts with a few long outmoded machines. Nevertheless in December the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan was launched in Canada . It was managed by the R.C.A.F. and aimed at first at training 25,000 aircrew per year. The Dominion was soon covered with airdromes with all the necessary adjuncts. The final total of aircrew trained was 131,553, of which 55.4% were R.C.A.F., 32% R.A.F., the balance from Australia and New Zealand. Hundreds were American. The importance of this work was immeasurable, and it is fair to attribute to it a very large share of the Allies' final success.




Hitler's pattern for the conquest of Britain was based on the seizure of Norway. It was clear that land-based bombers would prevent the British navy from protecting the Channel so that an infantry-tank invasion would be possible. The plan, as frankly described by Goering to a British visitor, involved a heavy low-flying attack by bombers and fighters which would first engage, then destroy, the R.A.F.; next, a higher altitude attack on industrial centres; finally, an invasion for which 3,000 self-propelled, and many thousands of other barges, were ready. The only striking force in Britain was the so-called Canadian Force under General A. G. L. McNaughton ; for the British had left their equipment in France and it had not been replaced. The monkey wrench in the German machinery was the R.A.F., which - thanks not to the British government, but to private generosity - now had the famous Spitfires as well as 8-gunned Hurricanes . From August 8 to October 31, 1940 , Britain was bombed first by day and then by night, but at terrible cost to the Luftwaffe. The R.A.F., with a handful of pilots and in the later stages with the help of one Canadian squadron, destroyed an enormous number of Nazi bombers, as well as of the protecting fighters, until the attacks petered out. Throughout the period R.A.F. Bomber Command was attacking and destroying the invasion barges. The Battle of Britain was Hitler's first major set-back. As Churchill said later, "Never was so much owed by so many to so few." Much was owed to himself. No single man ever did so much to maintain the morale of an entire nation.


The British never lost heart, as had other nations.




After the fall of France the French fleet was immobilized at Toulon and Dakar , their best battleship at Dakar crippled by a British operation. Admiral Darlan remained in North Africa as the ranking officer. The Axis now aimed at the Suez Canal and the control of the Near East. The Italians in Sep­tember, 1940, started a drive towards Egypt which stopped at the western border and was subsequently knocked back half way through Libya by the British. At the same time the British invaded Ethiopia. Early in 1941 the tables were turned. Britain had sent a force to Greece, small but all that could be spared. Germany attacked Jugoslavia and Greece, and in three weeks was successful. The British re­tired to Crete and were thrown out very quickly by a glider-borne invasion, something then novel.


Britain countered further Nazi plans by taking over Syria, theoretically under the new French government now operating at Vichy, and intervened to end fifth-column activities in Iran.


The Italians had managed to cripple seriously the British fleet at Alexandria by bombs attached to ships by divers in frog-swimming outfits, but did not know of their own success; their con­siderable fleet was chased out of the Eastern Mediterranean by a light cruiser and a few destroyers. But the only British stronghold in the western Mediterranean was now Malta (which resisted all bombing attacks, and was finally decorated with the George Cross). The German air cover made transport to Central North Africa from Italy simple. In March, 1941, the Germans attacked eastward in North Africa , outfoxed the British armour, and drove the British force back to the Egyptian border. There the move ended for lack of supplies.





The German operations against Po­land had been marked by brutality until then unparalleled in human history; the operations against Russia were still worse. In the occupied areas con­ditions were unbelievable - one Soviet commentator wrote, "They burned people alive and called it an 'illumination'. They buried living people and called the graves 'flower-beds'. They slaughtered wholesale. They invented murder vans [trucks fitted with asphyxiating gas]. They condemned one­year old infants to death. They did what no human being can do." The most violent critic of Soviet Russia cannot but sympathize with the Russian hate of fascism.


In June, 1941 [see Operation Barbarossa ], six German army groups broke through the Soviet lines and began driving eastward. Their plan was for a vast circling movement which would carry them to the Caspian sea, and then north beyond the Ural mountains, as planned by the professors. Within a year their line ran east of Leningrad, west of Moscow, then far east to Stalingrad on the Volga, and south again into the Caucasus. At this stage many optimists among the Nazis, their allies and collaborators, thought the war was over.




In June, 1940, after the fall of France, Japan seized French Indo-China and the island of Hainan in preparation for later campaigns. In the spring of 1941 American volunteer airmen commenced carrying supplies to China from the west. By the fall of that year the Japanese realized that they could never conquer China without control of the rich supplies of south-east Asia , and these could not be gained without the conquest of Singapore . On December 7, 1941, while their envoys were talking peace at Washington, Japan bombed the U.S. fleet in Pearl Harbour in Hawaii, and put it out of action. Three days later they dive-bombed and destroyed two British warships which were the mainstay of British forces in South East Asia. Then they started land-sea-air warfare carried on at high speed, jumping from one island and airport to another. They seized Midway , Wake , and Guam Islands, also the British base of Hong Kong . At this last spot a small Canadian force formed part of the heroic garrison which held out until December 26 [On Canada and the battle of Hong Kong , see this page; the battle is also described at this site .]. The Japanese took Manila on January 2, 1942 , Malaya and the great naval base of Singapore by February 15, Sumatra , Java and Rangoon in Burma by March 9.


In three months the Japanese had conquered 1,500,000 square miles of land and 125,000,000 people. They were on the Indian Ocean , where they threatened British sea routes, and had a jumping off place for Australia and New Zealand . Their warfare had been marked by the violence and brutality which they had shown in China , and which were part of their training.


The United States now undertook defence operations in the Pacific. They strengthened all their bases in the U.S.A., established a strong line of island bases to Australia and New Zealand and by June, 1942, had 150,000 troops in the threatened areas. On May 3 and 4 the Americans defeated a Japanese seaborne invasion force in the Battle of the Coral Sea , the first naval operation in which an attack was carried on entirely by carrier-borne aircraft, and one month later attacked, partly destroyed and drove away, another Japanese force in the Battle of Midway . These were the first effective naval operations in the Pacific.


The Americans and Australians now turned to the offensive, and drove the Japanese, by tough jungle fighting, out of the Solomon Islands and out of New Guinea . From this moment the initiative was with the allies.




The Germans depended mainly on submarines to attack the food convoys to Britain . There were also a few surface raiders, of which one "pocket battleship" was chased into Montevideo by cruisers and scuttled. There were not nearly enough escort vessels for the heavy convoy duty although the United States traded fifty old and shaky destroyers for long leases of bases on the Atlantic, the most important in Newfoundland . Time and shipyards in Canada were insufficient to build destroyers, and the high-speed construction of "corvettes" was started, later followed by the slightly larger "frigates", also "algerines" and minesweepers. All were fitted with detection devices of a new type.


The Germans developed the "wolfpack" attack on convoys, using about 400 submarines. One or more reached the St. Lawrence, and the river had to be virtually closed. They benefited incalculably from the fall of France (which gave them bases at Brest and St. Nazaire and enabled the Luftwaffe to close the Channel), and from the neutrality of the Irish Free State (which allowed submarines shelter on its west coast). The Vichy French in St. Pierre and Miquelon provided first-class information, obtained from spies in Newfoundland , leading to many sinkings, until a Free French flotilla seized the islands, with the collusion of President Roosevelt . The Royal Navy had lost many destroyers at the time of Dunkirk and, had it not been for the Canadian Navy, the Allies could not have kept control of the Atlantic .


The hardships of continuous warfare in the small convoy ships, particularly in cold and storm, were very great, and the dangers considerable, but the stake was high. To quote an official writer,

"Of all service ribbons however the...... Atlantic Star is the one that symbolizes the great contribution of the R.C.N. The battle which   this decoration commemorates lasted from the day the war opened until the German surrender. At no time was there any let up on the part of the enemy's effort to break the all important lifeline of supplies from the American continent to the United Kingdom . For months on end the fighting remained in a state in which the whole world struggle balanced on a knife edge in mid-Atlantic. From the moment when Canada threw her first little flotilla into this desperate battle in 1939 until the victorious months of 1945 when she had taken over the entire close escort of merchant convoys, this was her most relentless test and her greatest triumph."


The R.C.A.F. Home War Establishment cooperated in the anti-submarine war with bomber-reconnaissance craft. Their main job was to keep U boats submerged, but they also had many fights. Overseas the R.A.F. Coastal Command bombers also played a part in keeping submarines out of the way and attacking coastal convoys; in this work too, R.C.A.F. formations took a share.


The most picturesque fight of the Atlantic battle was in 1941 when the German super-battleship Bismarck , crammed with sailors and troops, set out, presumably for Newfoundland . After a stirring chase she was caught and sunk by the Royal Navy. Another German battle ship was knocked out in 1943 and thereafter, though the risks never ended, the Battle of the Atlantic was a slow but victorious progress.




(i) Manpower. Early in 1942, after a plebiscite , the National Resources Mobilization Act was amended to allow conscription for overseas. This was not put into effect till November, 1944 but the call up for home defence was greatly speeded. Atlantic and Pacific Commands were established, women's divisions were formed in all three armed services and were to turn out of the utmost value. The conscription law met with a great deal of passive resistance, particularly in Quebec , where "no conscription" had been an election pledge since World War I. The objections were fostered by a number of leaders, by emissaries of Vichy, France, as well as by some newspapers, and were aided by the facts that the population of Quebec knew little or nothing about the war and that no real efforts at information were made [The opinions expressed here are debatable and would need clarification and nuances. See Serge Bernier's text at this address ]. A National Selective Service was organized, which controlled placements and postponements of military service for essential workers. 247, 336 postponements were granted, the majority for agriculture. Over 7,000,000 non-combatant placements were effected, and at the peak there were the following in the armed services: Navy 95,705; Army 481,500; Air Force 206,350.


(ii) Auxiliary Services. "Auxiliary Services" were set up by the Canadian Legion , the Salvation Army , the Y.M.C.A ., and the Knights of Columbus. These provided recreation and sometimes lodging for men and women and without any doubt were an invaluable factor in maintaining morale, their supervisors following the troops into every theatre of war. The Canadian Legion Educational Services provided much of the service and all the general educational facilities needed by service men, in Canada and overseas, in a highly scientific war, including three million library books and hundreds of thousands of school texts. The Canadian Red Cross made a remarkable contribution, mainly in the provision of food parcels for prisoners of war, of which 16,000,000 were sent through the agency of the International Red Cross at Geneva. This last agency also forwarded books from the Canadian Legion to allied prisoners of war in Europe. The work of the Canadian Red Cross was coordinated with the larger efforts of the British and American societies. Other activities were the provision of voluntary ambulance drivers in Canada and overseas, and of blood-donor clinics. The Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire furnished clothing and other comforts to the people of Britain and to Canadian armed services, notably the Navy and Merchant Marine. They also organized welcome to many women and children evacuated from Britain .


Special organizations were set up for Civil Defence (against sabotage, etc.) and fire-fighting, and remarkable efforts in many directions were made by the Women's Voluntary Services .


The above-mentioned Auxiliary Services were coordinated by a special Ministry of War Services, and on the suggestion of the banks were mainly (except for the Red Cross) financed from public funds, eliminating a large number of confusing private appeals.


(iii) Internment Camps. Two impor­tant developments were the shipment to Canada of thousands of Axis prisoners of war and the moving away from the B.C. coast of hundreds of Japanese and many Canadians of Japanese origin. Internment camps held not only these, but also Germans and Italians who had been placed under guard as potentially dangerous [On the internment of the Japanese in Canada , consult this page . For bibliographical information, see this site ].


(iv) Provision for Rehabilitation . A considerable contribution to the morale of the services came from the establish­ment (as the result of pressure from the Canadian Legion and veterans in the Parliament and civil service) of a special Department of Veterans Affairs . The most generous of all national programmes of assistance in the re­establishment of veterans was set up in Canada . It included provision for educational benefits which enabled a very large number to attend schools and universities after release. The Can­adian Legion Educational Services en­abled the troops to prepare for this in wartime. [ Canadian legislation pertaining to Veterans ]


(v) Science and Industry. Canada , by an enormous industrial development, became the fourth allied power in war production, 70% of its war materiel going to other nations. Canadian prod­ucts were of all kinds. The final totals in money may as well be given here. The figures are in millions of dollars: Merchant ships 614, naval ships 541, aircraft 1,151, mechanical transport 1,582, armoured vehicles 525, guns and small arms 552, gun ammunition 655, small arm ammunition 239, explosives, etc. 492, instruments, signals 600 (see below), miscellaneous 1,665.


To ensure proper channeling of activities, almost every commodity was controlled . About 5,000 aircraft were delivered to the United Nations and 12,000 used at home. Canadian armoured vehicles helped the British to win the final North African campaign and the Russians to defeat Germany . First and last, Canada provided supplies to United Nations to the value of about $2,000,000,000, while total annual ex­ports rose from $573,000,000 to $1,323,500,000. The total cost of the war to Canada was over $15,000,000,000, of which two-thirds was met by taxation.


Canada took a leading part in the development of equipment involving scientific discoveries and know-how; many types of radar, some of which enabled the allies to counter German air attacks; "asdic" apparatus for sub­marine detection; and much improved telephone and telegraph instruments, wired and wireless. In all almost $600,­000,000 worth of instruments were produced, of which 75% went to allied powers. It would be quite impossible to estimate the war value of this effort.


(vi) Transportation. Rail transporta­tion in such a country as Canada offered many problems which were successfully met. In the seven war years, 291 million passengers and 889 million tons of freight were carried, the load increasing enormously in the later years. Aircraft in the same period carried 1,824,500 passengers, the load more than doubling.




Throughout the summer of 1942, the Axis supply lines across the Mediterranean were raided by British submarines and British and U.S. aircraft operating from Malta and from Egypt . On October 23 the British, with Australian, New Zealand , and Indian troops, all now well supplied by air and the Red Sea , with R.A.F. and R.C.A.F. air support, attacked the Germans under Rommel on the Egyptian border and within a fortnight drove them half way through Libya . Thereafter the advance was slower, but by March, 1943, the Germans had been pushed west to Tunisia . In November, joint U.S.-British forces under General Eisenhower , landed at Casablanca and Oran from 850 ships; the French put up little resistance, and by April joined the allied forces. By May 7 the two armies, with strong air-force cooperation, had destroyed the German Africa Corps. These battles finally ended any hope of a junction between Germany and Japan, secured the allied life line through the Mediterranean and gave a jumping off spot for the invasion of Europe .




There was little pause after the African victory. The Italian islands of Pantelleria and Lampedusa were bombed into submission, and an enormous armada of 3,200 ships in two convoys, one fast and one slow, invaded Sicily on July 10. For the Sicilian operation the 1st Canadian Corps was reconstituted in Africa from the 1st Canadian Division, the 1st Canadian Army Tank Brigade and the 5th Canadian Armoured Division. The move of the Canadian troops alone called for 92 vessels (exclusive of escorts) from Britain to North Africa .


The invasion, when it did take place, was commanded by General Sir Harold Alexander , directing a Western Task Force (American) under General Patton and an Eastern Task Force (British-Canadian) under General Montgomery . The technique was new; landings were effected all along the south coast of Sicily, supported by naval and air bombardment. The Sicilian fighting was very difficult, the Canadian tasks were particularly arduous throughout the early part of the operation, but the casualties were not excessive compared with the rate of loss in World War I. Prior to and during these operations air forces played a considerable part; they included one Canadian fighter squadron and three Canadian night bomber squadrons. They were kept busy, as attacks were practically nightly. Sardinia as well as Sicily was attacked, but the main targets were airports in Italy, Salerno, and the Naples docks.




The Dieppe raid of 1942 was long planned and practised. The objectives were to destroy Dieppe defences and installations and to capture documents and prisoners. There was not to be any preliminary bombardment, by reason of the heavy French population. The operation was first planned for an earlier date, but the weather was bad, and the raid was cancelled for the time. It was finally carried out by a force of about 6,000, almost entirely Canadian, under the long range command of General H. D. G. Crerar , and the immediate control of Major General J. H. Roberts.


On August 18, 1942, the troops and armoured vehicles, on a large number of inconspicuous vessels, left various anchorages, aiming at a surprise landing. A small German patrol ran into the east flank, and the chance of surprise may have been lost, although this is not certain. The British Commandos, on the extreme left and right, made an excellent showing and destroyed one battery. The Canadian forces advanced, but could not get as far as they hoped. Half the tanks got over the sea wall and stopped on the Promenade. The Germans rapidly increased their fire; bombers attacked the ships, but were repelled by fighters from the R.A.F. and R.C.A.F. Before noon it was evident that no more could be done. The Canadian losses, including prisoners, were 3,369 or 66% of the effectives, and the evacuation was carried out by the naval forces.


There was much criticism of the Dieppe raid in Canada and elsewhere. Two years later, however, it was pointed out by General Crerar that the operation was in line with the tactical ideas then held. Its lessons led to the development of the new techniques practised in the final invasion when endless planning culminated in tremendous fire preparation and irresistible landings along a continuous front.




By the winter of 1942-43 Russia, reinforced by lend-lease supplies from Britain , the United States, and Canada, was well prepared. The troops were warmly clothed and their armour lubrication winterized. They used a great amount of white camouflage. The Nazis had none of the know-how for winter fighting. The Russians made a start in January by surrounding and capturing the whole German army in front of Stalingrad and by a series of brilliant and determined pincer operations driving back the Germans all along their line. The last German attack in July, 1943, on the centre of the line at Orel , was answered by a counter-attack which developed into a vast counteroffensive.


The 200 German divisions fought hard, and when they retired left everything they could in ruins. The Soviet armies never let up; as they advanced into lands the Germans had held and learned more of Nazi atrocities they became more than ever determined. They developed new attack tactics. When they reached the Dnieper in November, there were no bridges and all crossings were guarded. New crossing points were located, small units crossed by night, new bridges were put across. Thousands of troops did not wait for the bridges, but floated or swam over. By the end of 1943 the Nazis were out of the Caucasus and the Crimea , and the Soviet armies were rolling fast to their 1939 border.


Much credit for these successes must be given to the allied naval forces, which escorted convoy after convoy bringing tanks and supplies around the North Cape to Murmansk , as well as to the crews of the transports and the fighter aeroplanes accompanying them.




The Allied air offensive from 1941 to the end of Germany differentiated World War II from any previous conflict. Germany was, the Allies hoped, to be crippled before invasion. The first operations were strategic, aiming at reducing Germany 's war potential. Attacks were made on shipyards, submarine bases, airdromes, dams and power houses, docks, canals and railroads, and on factories and mines. The principal targets were the Ruhr , Hamburg [ see this page on the continued bombing of Hamburg ], Düsseldorf , and Berlin . The effects were not only direct but indirect. Thus attacks on Lubeck and Rostov in 1942 prevented the Germans from attacking Leningrad and released forces for the relief of Stalingrad . Another indirect effect was to force the Germans to concentrate on the production of fighters. The R.A.F. and R.C.A.F., with heavy long-range bombers, worked mainly at night and without fighter escorts. Their targets were considerable areas. These were first lit up by flares then plastered with two and four-ton "blockbusters", then set ablaze by incendiaries. [Consult this page to know about the bombing of Nuremberg ]


The U.S. Air Force worked by day, at great heights, with heavily armed machines which could handle any fighters - in 1943 they knocked out 4,000. They carried smaller bomb loads, but had precision sights which enabled them to hit targets while themselves inaudible and invisible. Germany thus suffered round-the-clock attacks. Long-range attacks on Italy were also carried out very frequently and effectively.


In addition to long-range bombers, there were medium bombers and heavily armed fighters, both British and American, which specialized in low altitude attacks on road, rail, and water transportation. Train after train and hundreds of trucks were wrecked. The total effect of the bombing of Germany is not calculable. Whole cities were reduced to rubble. Recent studies by the Forestry Section of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization indicate that there are not enough materials in the world to rebuild German cities as well as to repair the ruins caused by the Germans in Russia. It was the contention of the R.A.F. and of authorities like Sikorsky that air power alone could have brought ultimate victory.


It must be admitted that the damage to German production was far below hopes and wartime reports. German fighter airplane output actually reached its peak in 1944. Nevertheless, the moral effect on the German civilians of the unending bombing was far more important than the material effects. [Estimates are that from 1939 to 1945 1,350,000 tons of bombs were dropped by the Allies on Germany; by contrast, Germany dropped 74,172 tons of bombs on Great Britain ]


On the other hand, we must note that, as will be seen later, the final defeat of Japan was attained by air power, though by air power on a quite unprecedented scale and after a long series of naval defeats and losses.




A notable event in August 1943 was the so-called Quadrant Conference at the Chateau Frontenac and the Citadel of Quebec. The main political participants were Winston Churchill , Franklin D. Roosevelt , and Mackenzie King . They had with them all their principal advisers in Navy, Army, and Air Force matters. At this meeting were ironed out all the main plans for the invasion of Europe . An atmosphere of pleasant friendship and complete cooperation was created and the belief in victory firmly established. At the same time, certain final views regarding commands were reached by "top brass" which, like other decisions at the meetings, were kept a closely guarded secret. By Christmas, General Eisenhower was appointed commander-in-chief, with Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Tedder as his deputy. Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsey was Naval Commander and Air Chief Marshal Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory A.O.C. in C. General Crerar soon after became Commander of the 1st Canadian Army, which was to be part of the invading force.




By the summer of 1943 it was possible to survey the changes which differentiated World War II form World War I. At sea there were three changes.


(i) The impending change from the battleship to the aircraft carrier was already in view, although it was years before the U.S. or British navies acknowledged the development.


(ii) Beach-head attacks were enabled to operate without ports by the development of landing craft for tanks and infantry, which dropped ramps from their bows [See amphibious attacks ].


(iii) Smaller invasion vessels were fast boats with rocket guns used in the front rank of an attack flotilla; amphibious tanks, "ducks" or "crocodiles", which followed onto a beach-head.


On land a far greater proportion of the troops fought in, and were carried by, tanks and other mechanized vehicles.


In the air the development of enormous bombers of various types and of constantly improving fighter bombers and fighters has been mentioned. The use of fighter bombers and dive bombers with glider bombs constituted a kind of airborne artillery.


The most forward looking air developments were the German V1 and V2 . The first of these was a jet-driven robot plane ("buzz bomb") launched from a ramp in Europe. It was not accurate and could be shot down by fighters or anti-aircraft guns, but its moral effect was considerable. The second, very much larger, the "flying telegraph pole", was shot into the stratosphere and came to earth faster than sound, so that it could not be heard until it exploded.


The logistic problems were extraordinary. The provision and maintenance of troops, supplies, and ammunition at the requisite speed, sometimes over enormous distances, sometimes through nearly impassable jungles and over unknown mountains, and, where distances were smaller, the coordination of sea and air armadas of unprecedented size, called for staffs of the highest skill. A small error on their part would mean failure of the operation.


The individual had to think and move far faster than in World War I. Individuals and leaders of small detachments had far more opportunity for initiative and greater responsibility. They were also far better armed. New and light machine-guns were a one-man weapon. Rocket guns, "fiat" and " Bazooka ", enabled one or two men to deal with most tanks.


A development of individual and group warfare came when the "commandos" were set up. The   name, taken from the commandos of the Boers in the South African War, designated a small group of highly trained and toughened soldiers who were landed or parachuted into an enemy area, fought with knife and gun, and generally escaped safely after the raid.


Another development was the U.S.-Canadian parachute (Special Service) force, which later operated in Italy .




Mention has been made of the scientific developments which changed so greatly sea and air warfare. There were so many developments of this kind that they cannot be catalogued.


In all the sea expeditions, there was needed the surest of weather prediction. An unexpected storm over a Pacific island would cost lives, planes, and ships, and might prevent a vital success. A large staff of experts was created to meet these requirements.


Air photography developed into a very exact science, and the interpreters of air photography became most essential members of the forces; the spotting of the jet propelled "buzz bomb" ramp at Peenemunde in the autumn of 1943 led to the ending of one of the worst dangers to Britain by a series of pinpoint bombing raids in which the R.C.A.F. took part.


Highly important were the great advances in Army medicine, the provision of blood plasma for first aid, air-evacuation of casualties, anti-disease inoculations, insect repellents. New methods of treatment raised the rate of freedom from disease and the probability of recovery from injuries far above those of any previous experience.




Early in 1943 the U.S. volunteer air force in South East China became the 14th Air Force U.S.A., and from then on carried out tactical and strategic attacks on Japanese road convoys and bases. During the autumn of that year, an allied offensive under Lord Louis Mountbatten pushed into Burma. Meantime, the Pacific sea-land-air offensive was started on a grand scale. In the northwest the Japanese garrisons were expelled from Attu and left Kiska. From these as bases, air attacks were started on the neighbouring Kurile islands . A task force attacked the Japanese outpost of Marcus island early in 1944; Kwanjalein and Eniwetok bases in the Western Marshalls were taken, and the great Japanese base of Truk in the Caroline islands was bombed into uselessness.

  The main share of the R.C.A.F. during this period was the protection of convoys and anti-submarine operations in the Indian Ocean . From a base in Ceylon long sweeps were made; some successes obtained; and the enemy considerably discouraged.


In 1943 the Japanese made a number of counter-attacks by raids on New Guinea and Northern Australia , but these were all abortive. The whole scene was like a game on an enormous board, and was conducted with great skill by General MacArthur and Admiral Nimitz and with extraordinary courage by the allied troops. The scene was not quite set for the final victory, but the main ring of Japan 's outer defences had been pierced.




(1) The North African-European campaign was undertaken, at least in part, by reason of the series of strong demands by Russia for a "second front" in Europe to relieve the terrible pressure on her own lines. The Allies were not nearly ready, as the Dieppe experience showed, for the kind of invasion which could successfully breach the "Atlantic Wall", the German coast defences of France; it was agreed at the Quebec Conference of 1943 that at least another year was needed to ensure success. In the meantime, to satisfy Stalin (if possible) and to complete part of the Casablanca programme, the Allies decided to continue their attack from the south into the mountainous regions which a misguided phrase-maker called "the soft underbelly of Europe ".


(2) The method followed in the invasion of Europe was based upon agreements between Churchill and Roosevelt.


(i) In the Atlantic charter , signed on a warship off Newfoundland , the two leaders agreed on their aims of peace, the now famous Four Freedoms [also at this site ], and "the final destruction of Nazi tyranny".


(ii) In January, 1943, at Casablanca, the same two declared that the war objective of the allies was the unconditional surrender of the Axis powers.


(3) The war against Italy took its form by reason of the second declaration. From the point of view of general strategy, it has been stated by authoritative writers, the object of the invasion was gained when the conquest of Sicily and southern Italy had finally secured the Mediterranean; the long, difficult and costly fight along the Appenines could have been avoided. But the Casablanca declaration constituted a general directive to the armed forces involved.


(4) A feature of the North African offensive was the somewhat reluctant reconciliation of General de Gaulle , leader of the Overseas French in the United States, Canada and Britain , with General Giraud who had remained in France and North Africa. Admiral Darlan , who has already been mentioned, was murdered, but replaced, and from this time on the North African French were openly with the Allies.




(1) July 25, 1943 , marks the beginning of the end of European fascism. On that day, after a long period of unprecedented violence and communist fomented strikes and riots, Mussolini was thrown from power and succeeded by a government under General Badoglio . The General announced publicly his faithfulness to Germany, and began secretly feeling out the Allies. Not very much later the ex-Duce was gunned to death.


(2) On September 3, in "Operation Baytown", an allied force, including the 1st Canadian Division and the 1st Canadian Army Tank Brigade, invaded the "toe" of Italy and began to struggle through the difficult mountain country. On September 9, in "Operation Avalanche", the main invasion force attacked Salerno, the naval forces supporting it by bombardment. It did not at first make much progress against the strong German opposition. The allied forces from the South maintained their advance, and were by September 20 to the west of Salerno at Polenza. At last the troops at Salerno could move, and on October 1 they entered Naples. On the right flank, the Allies also moved north-west, and on September 27 seized airfields near Foggia. Starting thence, the 1st Canadian Division and a British force moved up the centre line of the peninsula, while on their left Americans, and further to their left British, paralleled their march. A landing was made on the east coast at Termoli, a Canadian regiment acting in support. Toward the end of the year they reached a strongly fortified position, running generally southwest from Ortona, which the Ger­mans called the "Bernhard Line".


(3) At this point anti-German Italians of importance criticized severely the whole allied strategy in Italy . They held that landings should have been made from the east and west, north of Rome , into an area held by an anti-German population, pinching off all the German forces to the south. This, the critics declared, would have been far less costly and dangerous than the long struggle along the Appenine backbone of Italy. It would, they believed, have saved many Allied and Italian lives. Topography bears out this contention, and the justification of the course followed is not very convincing. A second criticism of the conduct of the Italian campaign has been that the leaders failed at Cassino (see below) to take advantage of the lessons of World War I, notably that of Passchendaele. The bombardment which reduced the Passchendaele meadows to impassable quagmires was here paralleled by the saturation bombing from the air which reduced the town to a strongly defended and almost impassable heap of rubble.


(4) In December the 1st Canadian Corps was reconstituted on the extreme right of the Allied line; there was a long hard battle between infantry and tanks. On December 21 began the attack on Ortona (just in rear of the eastern end of the "Bernhard Line"); on Christmas day most of the town was taken. The Canadians were now in a long salient where they remained for the winter months. The rest of the winter was mainly a period of inaction.


(5) In the meantime American, French, British, New Zealand , and Indian troops began attacks on the south-western section of the front, but at first met no success. On January 22, in the course of one of these attacks, a mixed force landed at Anzio in rear of the German line. It did not move for­ward, and was long held on the beaches in a stalemate. The Canadian section of the U.S.-Canada Special Service Force shared in this operation and in the final break-out which led to Rome .


(6) Finally, practically the whole of the Fifth and Eighth Armies were moved towards Cassino . This was the centre and keystone of a secondary German defence wall known as the "Gustav Line". In rear of this was another series of defences called the "Adolf Hitler Line", and behind this again the "Caesar Line". By May, 1944, the approaching of an attack on North West Europe was generally known, and General Alexander was able to say that the forces in Italy were "to strike the first blow". Careful plans were made to make the enemy think that an amphibious attack north of Rome was impending. On May 11 Canadians and Indians broke through the Gustav Line. Cassino was taken, after a violent bombardment, by an encircling attack.


(7) On May 18 the 1st Canadian Corps, now under General Burns , made a frontal attack, supported by tanks of which many were destroyed, and the Hitler Line was broken. Two bridge­heads across the Melfa river were established, and the 5th Canadian Armoured Division crossed. The country was close and difficult, but the advance continued to within forty miles of Rome .


(8) Another campaign was now impending. Hitler occupied " Vichy France " as soon as it was clear that North Africa was likely to be lost. One result was that the French navy in Toulon was scuttled, so that it might not reach allied hands. Plans were now laid for an allied attack on southern France on the beaches between Nice and Marseilles. In this invasion it was expected that help would be received from the Free French ( Maquis ), of whom something must now be said. An enormous number of French men and women had never submitted to the Germans and maintained a constant underground movement which had its own newspapers and organized groups. They were continuously sabotaging German movements, wrecking trains and "executing" commanders and police. They organized an "underground railway" which spirited dozens of allied airmen out of France . Many French-speaking enthusiasts, some of them Canadian, were flown in and dropped by parachute to give information, guidance, and direction. [On the French resistance, consult this page ]


With this task in the immediate future and the great invasion of Normandy in the offing, it was necessary for the Allies to push ahead with their operations in Italy , which had been much slower than was at first expected. After the breach of the Adolf Hitler Line, the Caesar Line could not be held. The German forces retreated, and on June 4 the Allies entered Rome .




In June, 1944, after the neutralization of the Japanese bases in the Marshall and Caroline islands , the U.S. sea-air-land forces under Admiral Nimitz attacked Saipan and thence other islands in the Marianas . While the attacks were proceeding, a large Japanese battle fleet with many aircraft-carriers came from the west and on June 19 struck, from 300 miles distance, at the fleet and beachheads. Their aircraft were attacked by American fighters and anti-aircraft fire and 353 destroyed. The Americans launched a counter-attack, sank 30 ships, and damaged 51. The Battle of the Marianas was the critical battle of the war, and American superiority was completely demonstrated. Almost 500 more Japanese aircraft were destroyed before the operation was over. The losses to the Americans were 98 airmen. After 25 days' fighting, Saipan was reduced, and the U.S. had control of the Mariana group.


This control was not only the first breach in the inner ring of Japan's island defences, but ensured the isolation of the former Japanese islands, the Carolines, farther to the south. In July and August Tinian in the Marianas, to the south of Saipan, and Guam, still farther south, were taken. On September 8, the 3rd U.S. amphibious force invaded the Palau Islands at the extreme west of the Carolines and General McArthur's land forces reached Molotai at the western extremity of the New Guinea group, thus moving towards the Philippines on a line parallel to the Navy advance. Heavy air attacks were now launched against Japanese bases on Okinawa, in the Riukiu Islands south of Japan, and on Formosa, also on Luzon and in the neighbouring waters. A large task force then set out for Leyte in the Central Philippines. It was discovered by the Japanese, who decided on a full-dress naval battle, sending one force passing north of Luzon then turning south, a second through the San Bernardino strait (to the south of Luzon), and a third through the Surigao strait (to the south of Leyte). The three resulting actions constituted the Battle of Leyte Gulf, the greatest naval action of the war. The first section of the southern Japanese fleet, two battleships, a cruiser and four destroyers, was eliminated, all but one destroyer. The second section turned back. The central fleet attacked an American carrier squadron, then when a local victory was in sight, broke off the action and retreated through the strait. The northern fleet was decisively defeated, Japanese sea power was not a factor after these events.


The capture of Leyte was now successfully carried out. By the end of 1944 the Americans were ready for the reconquest of Luzon .



SPRING 1943-1944


By the fall of 1943 the Germans had been pushed back to a line formed like a figure 5 with the upper line the wrong way about. It ran a few miles south of Leningrad from the Narva to the Volhov, then generally south to Zhitomir then east, south and west along the great Dnieper bend to the Black Sea .


(1) On December 24, 1943 , the Russians attacked successfully in the centre towards the Pripet marshes, closing the Leningrad-Odessa railway; by January 13 they had crossed the Vilna Lvov railway. A heavy German counterattack then drove back the Russians at the south end of the sector.


(2) On January 15 the Russians attacked successfully the line near Leningrad, and finally drove the Germans back as far as Lake Peipus .


(3) Early in February the Russians attacked southwards from Kanev, in the centre of the northern part of the Dnieper bend and surrounded several divisions.


(4) At the same time another attack was made across the Dnieper from Dnepropetrofsk, and an advance of nearly 100 miles followed.


(5) On March 4 Zhukov directed a grand series of attacks towards the southeast, cutting the Lvov-Odessa railway line at Tarnopol and Vepniarka; the Germans were completely routed, and the Russians advanced to Czernovitz. By the end of March the Russians were on the river Pruth; a month later their line ran west of the Pripet marshes, southwest to Kovel, south and around the east border of Czechoslovakia and into Rumania - east through Jassy to the Dniester and along the Dniester to the Black sea. The maximum advance at the south end of the line since December 24 was about 400 miles.


(6) In April began an attack on the Crimea from the East at Kerch, and also from the north across the Sivash near Perekop. By May 12 the reconquest of the Crimea was complete.


At the end of these six operations Russian soil had been almost cleared of the Nazis, and the Russians were preparing themselves for the final move into German territory.




After the spring of 1944, the Russian campaign ceased to be merely an operation to clear the enemy out of Russia . It became the first step under the new "imperialist" policy which aimed at control of Europe east of the Swiss border and the Elbe river. That same policy was later to result in the " cold war ". In consequence, the operations aimed first at the wearing out of the Germans in the north, next at a more or less unopposed advance to Vienna . By now the Russians had at least 4½ million men to the Germans' 1½ million on the Eastern Front and an immense superiority in guns and tanks.


(1) In June the Finland front was attacked; by June 20 this operation was complete. The Russo-Finnish war was really over.


(2) On June 23 the next section of the line to the south was attacked; and the Russians again broke through in a great pincers movement towards and around Minsk , which was taken by July 3. The next advance took them to Bialystok.


(3) The neighbouring group to the north now took Riga, turned south to Vilna and Grodno, and on July 16 crossed the Niemen south of Kovno, coming thus within easy reach of East Prussia.


(4) On July 12 the Russian Baltic Army commenced to advance south of Lake Peipus , and south of Riga , cutting the German communications in that region.


(5) Farther to the south an enveloping attack towards Lvov started on July 16, and on July 25 Lvov was taken.


(6) By the middle of August the Russians were lined from the East Prussian border through Warsaw as far as the Carpathians .


(7) The way was now open for a not too costly attack on Bessarabia and Rumania. On August 23 the Russians took Jassy, and Rumania declared for the Allied Nations. The Russians then moved south into the oil areas, and closed off all the German oil supplies.


(8) On August 26 Bulgaria gave way, and the road was clear for the Russian advance into Central Europe.




(1) Preparation.


(i) The invasion of France by the Allies in 1944 was preceded by long, secret, and careful preparation in Britain and by highly developed air attacks over the invasion area. Five shelter harbours known as "Gooseberries" were specially constructed in Britain. Two prefabricated ports called "Mulberries", each about the size of Dover harbour, were built in Britain ready to be towed across. These provided landing wharves to which vessels could be made fast and quickly emptied. More than 5,000 ships and 4,000 tenders were readied; 702 warships and 25 minesweeper flotillas were to be used as escorts. A pipeline ("Pluto") was laid across the Channel.


(ii) The troops for the invasion were assembled in convenient areas all along the south coast of Britain .


(iii) For two months prior to " D day " railways along the Meuse, Seine, and Loire valleys and bridges over the rivers were heavily bombed to destroy the German lateral communications. Over 60,000 tons of bombs were used. The R.C.A.F. joined in these operations, and did some remarkable precision bombing. Probably the most important contribution of the R.C.A.F. at this time was their war against the dangerous "Buzz Bombs" (V.1), the attack by which was now at its height. Many of these were destroyed at the launching sites and a considerable number in the air. The operations were important, as these weapons were a threat to efficiency as well as morale; in London alone they destroyed, made useless, or damaged almost 1,000,000 houses and killed or wounded nearly 50,000 people.


(iv) Hundreds of air photographs were taken, and very detailed maps prepared.


(2) Attack.


(i) D. Day was June 6, 1944. The weather was bad, and the attack therefore unexpected.


(ii) The area selected for the attack was from Cherbourg to Caën, Americans on the right, British and Canadians on the left.


(iii) Airborne troops landed at 2 A.M., Americans on the right flank near Carentan, British on the left along the Orne valley; 2,395 aircraft and 867 gliders were used.


(iv) Landing Craft (Guns) and Landing Craft (Rockets) "drenched" the landing area. It is calculated that the fire from one L.C. (Rocket) was equal to that of 200 destroyers. Amphibious tanks were used to provide fire support on land. The following air support was used: Beach cover, 54 squadrons; shipping cover, 15 squadrons; direct support, 36 squadrons; fighters, 33 squadrons; striking force, 33 squadrons.


The landings took place as scheduled , the Canadians in the centre of the British sector at a point about 10 miles northwest of Caën . Casualties were surprisingly light. By midnight of D Day the line in this sector was about four miles inland and almost continuous. Within twenty-four hours the beachheads were firmly held; by June 11 there was a continuous front; by June 12, 326,547 men, 54,186 vehicles and over 100,000 tons of stores were in France .


The "Mulberry" destined for the American zone was destroyed by a storm; the other arrived safely, and became the main route to subsequent operations. As far as is known, the existence of the "Mulberry" had been kept completely secret.


(v) On June 27 Cherbourg was taken and occupied; the U.S. troops thus held all the western section of the invasion area. There was now a delay to allow for regrouping.


(vi) By July 6 there were nearly a million Allied soldiers in France. By July 9 the capture of Caën. the enemy's key position, had been effected, the 3rd Canadian Division taking part in the occupation.


(vii) On July 25 Canadians and British made a strong attack in order mainly to contain as many German troops as possible, while the Americans were attacking further west. The hard fighting which followed lasted for some time.


(viii) On July 25 the Americans attacked to the south from a line west of St. Lo, then turned westwards and took Coutances.


(ix) On July 29 the American Third Army, newly formed under General Patton, drove quickly south, and took Nantes; Britanny was thus completely cut off, and Brest was isolated, the Navy watching it from the sea.


The primary stage of the invasion was now over, and the Allies were ready for their main attack on the German troops in France.




(1) The next series of operations began with an attack south of Caën. in which the Canadians took part.


(2) On August 6 the Germans launched a counter-offensive south of Falaise in a western direction, intended to go through to the sea and cut off the Americans south of Avanches.


(3) To counter this counter-attack the First Canadian Army was ordered to take Falaise. This was completed by August 12. The Americans of Patton's army now swung off east to Le Mans then north towards Argentan, leaving the gap between this town and Falaise as the only escape route for the Germans in the west. The Germans fought hard to move back through the gap, but were completely defeated, and the troops, guns, and tanks involved were largely destroyed or captured.


(4) It was now essential to clear the lower Seine valley, in which there were many German troops; this was completed by the end of August, when the Canadians took Rouen. The Battle of Normandy was over.




On August 14 and 15 Allied forces of over 400,000 men and over 65,000 vehicles landed on the south coast as planned, and advanced north with practically no opposition.


On August 25 Paris was reentered without fighting. By September 11 the new invaders had joined hands with the troops in the Normandy area.




After the fall of Rome, Italy became a minor theatre of war, but nevertheless there was a great deal of bitter fighting. The main objective ahead was now the so-called "Gothic Line" running in a westward direction from Pesaro on the Adriatic to Pisa. To reach this, ten miles had to be gained from the Metauro river north. The 8th Army, including the Canadian Corps, were concentrated on the Metauro, while the 5th Army carried out a feint in the neighbourhood of Florence . The advance across the Metauro developed into a successful but costly attack on the east end of the "Gothic Line" and finally, after "the bitterest fighting since El Alamein and Cassino " the 5th and 8th Armies reached the Po valley.


Bad weather hampered further advances, but in the face of unbelievable difficulties the swollen Savio river was crossed. At the same time the 5th Army attacked towards Bologna , one Canadian armoured brigade operating with it. In December, in spite of wild mountainous terrain and very bad weather, the Allied forces continued to struggle forward. They were now helped by "Crocodile" and "Wasp" flamethrowers, and before Christmas were on the Senio River, the Germans still holding Bologna. Here for a while the advance had to stop.


At the beginning of February it was decided to move five divisions (including the Canadians) to France .


The balance of the Italian campaign had little effect on the general progress of the war; and on April 29, 1945 , General Alexander received the unconditional surrender of more than a million Germans. In Africa and Europe , in the face of appalling difficulties and handicaps, he had won a reputation unsurpassed by that of any Allied leader. The advent of peace conditions gave room for the considerable experiment of "Allied Military Government" which presumably led to the system later adopted in Germany.




One of the main weapons of German psychological warfare was the broadcast. For almost the duration, shortwave and standard-wave length programmes were transmitted all over the world. Every artifice was used; false reports of German victories, threats, persuasion, religion, came into the plan.


Hitler opened the campaign against Poland with a speech to a huge crowd prophesying destruction of the enemy. His peculiar shouting style was soon known world wide. Treacherous natives of Allied countries spoke from Italy and Germany, attempting to cause confusion and spread despair. Even in the last year, there were attempts to influence special groups; thus from Occupied France came directional broadcasts for Quebec and the broadcast of the enthroning of a Catholic bishop in Germany.


In the earlier days of German victories, the psychologists had some success. The broadcasts which accompanied the invasions of Norway, Holland, Belgium, and France certainly had a share in softening morale and preparing for victory. In time the fakes were discovered and exposed; a counterbroadcast system was set up; and in the later stages the Axis transmissions became ineffective.




In the autumn of 1944, it became evident that there was a considerable likelihood of a shortage of infantry reinforcements for Canadian units. One reason was the comparatively large size of the Canadian land forces; another, that losses in 1944 were higher than expected. Colonel J. L. Ralston , then minister of National Defence, visited England in October, and decided that troops called up under the National Resources Mobilization Act must now be sent overseas. The prime minister did not agree. Colonel Ralston resigned, and General McNaughton became minister. He had not a seat in the House, and his tenure was thus temporary. Next month the government adopted Colonel Ralston's view, and 12,908 N.R.M.A. men went overseas. They were relatively little used (since losses were fortunately less than had been calculated), and thus only suffered 315 casualties. Nevertheless, the resultant outcry in Canada was considerable. Many, by no means all, the N.R.M.A. men objected, some went absent without leave, their friends and newspapers were violent and virulent. The volunteers were equally violent, and the echoes of the controversy were heard in the Canadian Legion convention of 1948.




During the preparation for the invasion of Europe, and later while it was in progress, a new task was given to the R.A.F. Bomber Command and the U.S. Strategic Air Force. Starting on March 30, 1944, bombing was concentrated on railways, and the synthetic oil plants which were by now a major source of German oil and gasoline. The effect was notable. Deliveries of coal in western Germany were reduced in 1944 by about 50%. Production of synthetic oil was cut by 2/3 by July, 1944, and by nearly 80% by September. Aviation gas production was cut by 95%. The effect of these blows was very soon apparent, and unnumbered tanks and self-propelled guns were stalled and captured.




(1) The advance from Normandy to the Rhine was undertaken by regrouped forces. The U.S. Third Army under General Patton was made up of fastmoving units, with a screening air force on its right flank. The troops making up this Third Army advanced fast through Melun and Mantes just west of Paris, which was quickly entered by the French, as previously mentioned. The U.S. First Army, on its left the Second British Army, and still farther to the left on the coast the First Canadian Army, moved across the Seine and towards the north-east. The Canadian and British Armies involved were now under Montgomery, with Crerar in command of the Canadians. By September 1 the Canadians were through Dieppe, thus gaining another channel port, and receiving the cheers of the liberated citizens, and the Second British Army had passed Amiens. Farther south, the Second U.S. Army raced on to reach Liege on the left and Luxemburg on the right by September 9; the Third U.S. Army reached Sedan, and sent a column south-east towards Belfort. Havre was in the meantime taken by British troops with some Canadians, supported by the Navy, on September 6.


(2) On the left the Canadians pushed ahead to Boulogne and Calais; these they finally took on September 22 and October 1 respectively. On the way, on September 6, they destroyed the main V.1. launching site, and ended the worst threat to London. Before the end of September, the Canadians were along the Scheldt and the Antwerp Turnhout canal.


(3) While these operations were going on, Montgomery staged the most remarkable attack of the European campaign. On September 17 the 1st British Airborne Division was dropped at Arnhem sixty miles east of Rotterdam and beyond the Neder Rijn, last of the many waterways from the Rhine to the sea. In its rear were two U.S. airborne divisions - one at Nijmegen between the Waal and the Maas , one farther south at Eindhoven. These three were to form what Montgomery called a "carpet" for the Second Army. The scheme was foiled by bad weather and enemy opposition and the remnants of the British division finally brought off by ferry. Nevertheless, the corridor to Nijmegen was held and was of great value later.


(4) On the American front, there was now a delay caused by the fact that there was not enough gas for both the First and Third U.S. Armies; this enabled the German forces to disengage themselves and prepare an astonishing blow.


(5) The Canadian Army, temporarily under Lieut.-General Simonds , with a British Corps, now undertook four important operations. The first was to clear the narrow neck leading to South Beveland between the East and West Scheldt. In very bitter fighting this job was done before the end of October. The next task was to clear the country between the West Scheldt and the Leopold canal. This was particularly difficult by reasons of floods, but was completed early in November. Next came the completion of the occupation of South Beveland and of North Beveland with it. Finally, with the cooperation of the 4th Special Service Battalion, which came in by sea, a "commando" and an infantry brigade, Flushing and Walcheren island were occupied. The supreme importance of these difficult and most uncomfortable semi-amphibious operations, carried out successfully in spite of fire, mud, and water, was that they freed the great port of Antwerp. This now became available as an advanced base for the Allied Armies, and ensured their final success.


(6) At the same time the troops of the 2nd British Army with the Fourth Canadian Armoured Division and the 104th U.S. Division continued the push north through Holland .


(7) The American armies farther south, delayed by their supply difficulties, advanced slowly on a broad front. By September 12, the First U.S. Army was in front of Aachen ; three days later the U.S. Third Army was in Nancy. Aachen was taken on October 13.


(8) In November came an offensive all along the American front, where the new First French Army was now aligned. By December 16 the Allied line ran from the points reached by the Canadians and British in the northwest through Aachen, Sarrebourg, and Strasbourg.


(9) Now came a shocking surprise. The Allied line was long and not too strong; their leaders were overconfident and not too well informed. On December 16 the Germans launched a blitz attack starting from Monschau to Echternacht. They hoped to force a path straight through to Antwerp . Actually they got nearly half way, ending in a salient 60 miles across the base and 50 miles deep. They were halted (i) by an American airborne division in the middle of this salient; (ii) by the attack on its flanks of all available British and American troops; and (iii) by an air armada which stopped their supplies. By New Year's day the Battle of the Ardennes was over.




These two meetings, more than a year apart in date, must be mentioned together. Roosevelt , Churchill , and Stalin agreed at Tehran in December, 1943, that it was their intention "to banish the scourge and terror of war for many generations" and to "seek the cooperation... of all nations... whose peoples... are dedicated... to the elimination of tyranny and slavery." At the same stage, partly at other conferences, and quite discordantly with this very much generalized declaration, it was agreed that the U.S.S.R. should continue to play the predominant part which it had assumed in Eastern Europe . In February, 1945, the same three agreed at Yalta that "continuing and growing cooperation and understanding among our three countries" was essential to the peace of the world. What Stalin meant by "cooperation and understanding" we now know.




(1) After their summer campaign of 1944 most of the Russian forces spent the month during which the Allies fought to the Rhine in making new preparations. Two Army Groups operated north of Poland , three in Poland, and two aimed at Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Austria. These forces included 25 tank armies, about 300 divisions, and a host of Cossack cavalry. The southern groups commenced their advance at the end of November, and by February 13 had taken Budapest. There was some hard fighting, but the issue was never in doubt.


(2) In early January, the two central groups struck, and seized Warsaw on January 17, and Cracow and Lodz two days later.


(3) At the same time, the northern groups attacked East Prussia and controlled its southern sector by the end of January.


(4) On the coast the advance was much slower. In the face of desperate fighting, Konigsberg had to be by-passed and was not taken till April 8.


(5) The southern central group advanced into Upper Silesia, which it soon overran, and finally halted about a hundred miles south-east of Berlin. The northern central group by February 10 pierced as far as the Oder, sixty miles from Berlin, leaving some German islands behind its front. These were later taken.


(6) The Germans attempted a counterattack against the southern groups on March 3. It was at first successful, but the Germans ran out of gas, and their effort was over. The way was now wide open to Austria , and Vienna was occupied on April 13. The U.S.S.R. had thus made sure of the objective which had been planned; it had its political boundary as far west as the Adriatic on the south.


(7) By this time Churchill had seen through the U.S.S.R. political plan, so presumably had his military advisers. The Russians not only had their southwestern objective, but were in a position to take Berlin and finally to place it in an enclave. The American authorities completely missed this point.




(1) The final attack on Germany was begun by the First Canadian Army on February 8 with the since famous " Operation Veritable ". With its attached British units, its fighting strength rose to 380,000, of which it must be said only one-quarter were Canadian. Crerar thus commanded a force more than double the largest force of the Canadians in World War I. He had more than 1,000 guns, including medium, heavy and super-heavy guns, as well as the 1st Canadian Rocket Unit with 12 projectors (384 barrels). The "drenching" effect of these rockets has already been mentioned. The attached Air Tactical Group had 1,000 planes, and Bomber Command supplied 1,000 more. An idea of the enormous administrative detail of this operation may be gathered from the following figures: 1,880 tons of bridging equipment, used to cross the Maas, 35,000 personnel-carrying vehicles; 500,000 air photographs; 800,000 maps.


On the Canadian front were three strong lines west of the Rhine and against these the advance proceeded successfully although hindered by mud. The forces on the left used amphibious vehicles, "Buffaloes" and "Weasels", and profited from their Holland experiences. As they continued the fighting grew more violent, the enemy sent in more divisions, and the floods grew worse. Pill-boxes, however, were attacked by flame-throwing tanks and blasted by assault vehicles, and the line through Goch was broken by February 20. North and south of Goch there was very hard and costly fighting, but two of the three German lines were cleared by February 21. On February 26 a final attack began towards the south-east. This was resolutely opposed: even the houses had been built as pillboxes, and the enemy fought like thoroughly disciplined savages. It was March 4 before the way to the Rhine was clear.


(2) While the Canadian Army attack was still continuing, the 9 th U.S. Army attacked on the right on February 23 and drove through to the Rhine. The west bank of the Rhine north of Düsseldorf was now clear of Germans.


(3) The U.S. First Army reached Cologne and by March 7 held the west bank in that area. Farther south the U.S. Third Army advanced, and by the 19 th the Rhine bank was cleared as far south as Bingen. On the night of the 22 nd the U.S. Third Army sent a division over to the east bank at Oppenheim, and isolated thus the Germans around Karlsruhe.





(1) By March, 1945, the great invasion had gone almost according to plan; now the time had come to outfight the "Watch on the Rhine ". Eisenhower ordered a grand attack north of the Ruhr and another attack from Frankfort, the two to envelop the Ruhr . On February 21 began a terrific bombing attack to destroy the German communication system. This continued for a month.

2) During the same month the First Canadian Corps had been reestablished in France (under the First Canadian Army), including among its forces all those transferred from Italy .


(3) A fifty-mile-long smoke-screen was set up to conceal movement from the enemy. Finally, on March 23, covered by a heavy artillery bombardment, the Second British Army, with which was the Second Canadian Corps, effected a water-borne passage. On March 24 3,000 aircraft and gliders, protected by 900 fighters, landed British and U.S. troops successfully on the east bank; among these the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion with the 6th Airborne Division. By the night of March 24 the U.S. Ninth Army also had troops on the east bank.


(4) The U.S. First and Third Armies next enlarged their east bank territories; on March 28 the U.S. Seventh Army was in Mannheim . By April 1 the Ruhr was enveloped, and twelve days later 325,000 Germans surrendered.


(5) Two courses were now open to the Allies. One, recommended by Montgomery, was to strike straight and hard for Berlin, in order to forestall the Russian advance. The other, proposed by Bradley , was to complete the defeat of the German armies wherever they still existed. Bradley's plan pleased Eisenhower, who recommended it to the joint Chiefs of Staff and obtained approval. The conflict of opinion went as far as Roosevelt and Churchill, but Roosevelt stood firm behind Eisenhower. Eastern Germany was left, for good or ill, to the Russians.


(6) On April 1 the Canadian Army, now composed of the two Canadian Corps, began to build up across the Rhine, and Montgomery's Army Group moved on Bremen and Hamburg . The 2nd Canadian Corps, helped by paratroops, went north through Holland , gradually clearing the country in hard fighting. The 1st Canadian Corps had the highly complicated and difficult task of clearing Western Holland. Here food was very short among civilians; the Nazis were still in considerable strength and blackmailed the Allies, by threats of reprisals against the population; for the time being, in consequence, the clearing up operations stopped. The 2nd Canadian Corps kept on along the coast.


(7) The main task of the Canadian Army was now completed. It had, until the very last, always had other troops with it, but it had always been a distinctively Canadian formation. General Crerar and his staffs had been given the hardest possible jobs, and came through with the highest credit; their troops had shown that there were no tougher or braver fighters.


It is worth noting that two of the war's most successful generals have been before or since, closely connected with Canada and a third was Canadian. The senior, Sir Alan Brooke , now Field Marshal Viscount Alanbrooke, Chief of the Imperial General Staff throughout most of the war, served on the staff of the Canadian Corps in World War I. Field Marshal Viscount Alexander became Governor-General after World War II. General Crerar retired on well-won laurels, and was chosen Grand President of the Canadian Legion, the greatest compliment veterans could pay.


(8) On April 4 the American 3 rd Army reached Kassel, by the 13th Jena and Chemnitz ; by the 18 th it was into Czechoslovakia. The American 1st Army cleared the Harz mountain region by April 21. The Germans were now effectively defeated throughout Western Germany.




On April 17 the Russians advanced towards Berlin and the Elbe with all their forces in the neighbourhood; the last act was beginning. On April 25 Berlin was encircled, and vicious street fighting began; on the same day Russians and Americans met on the Elbe; on April 30 Hitler committed suicide in an air-raid shelter.




On May 4, 1945, the Germans in Holland, Northwest Germany, Schleswig-Holstein, and Denmark surrendered to Montgomery. On May 7, 1945, an act of surrender covering all troops was signed at Rheims at SHAEF Headquarters. On Tuesday, May 8, a ratification was signed in the Soviet Headquarters in Berlin. This date is taken as V.E. Day, and is the official date of termination of the war in Europe for the purpose of Canadian legislation.




(i) The campaign for the recapture of Burma was in some respects the most remarkable operation of the war. The Allies had to defeat not only the enemy, but lack of roads and the handicaps of jungles, heat, rains, and tropical diseases. Courage and science won the victory. The campaign was carried out by Chinese, American, and British forces with a considerable air transport force. This last was essential because, as Mountbatten , the South East Asia commander-in-chief, said later, the forces were almost entirely supplied by air. In March, 1945, the British air transport carried 94,300 tons, in July of the same year the U.S. air transport carried 77,500 tons. The first step was to clear the Burma Road for supplies into China. This was accomplished, largely by Chinese troops, by January 27, 1945 . The 14 th British Army, under General Slim, by a series of extremely brilliant manoeuvres gained Mandalay by March 19. Then came another series of combined land and amphibious operations down the coast to Rangoon, which was reached just before the rains made transport impossible. Japanese rule was over in south-east Asia.


(2) By the end of December, 1944, the Americans had completed the recapture of Leyte island; and early in January, a transport fleet of 850 ships went north to the Lingayen gulf just north of Manila. Another force landed at Subic bay, and a third to the south of Manila. The fortress of Corregidor in Manila harbour was bombed and stormed; the Japanese finally blew themselves up in its underground passages. By July the Philippines were back in American hands. MacArthur , by words when he left and by messages 'later, had said, "I shall return". He had.


(3) The inner defence bases of Japan , Iwo Jima and Okinawa, were next on the list, but at high cost. All but 100 of the Japanese garrison of 21,000 were killed on Iwo Jima, and there were as many American casualties. During the attack on the Philippines the Japanese had made their first show of Kamikaze fighters ; suicide pilots who used their machines as bombs. These pilots were now given a still deadlier weapon, a rocket plane with a heavy warhead. No such system of human projectiles has ever been known and they caused a good deal of damage. The fight for Okinawa was an epic struggle. The Japanese lost over 4,000 planes, the Americans 1,000; the Americans had nearly 50,000 casualties, the Japanese twice as many; the Americans finally succeeded.


(4) Now came the main attack on Japan itself. Most of the preparation had been done by the U.S. submarines which sank about 9 million tons of shipping, giving without question a lesson for future wars. Early bombing attacks had not been very effective, but in 1945 came the inception of the incendiary bomb raids on a large scale. Bombing aircraft reached 800 per night, and 42,000 bombs were dropped in July. The comment of an eyewitness was that the destruction at Tokyo was "worse than that at Hiroshima ". At Potsdam on July 16 there was a conference between the Allies to "settle the future of Germany ". To that end it contributed very little but Truman (who had now succeeded Roosevelt ) and Churchill came to a decision, the importance of which will only be evaluated in the distant future. They agreed to use against Japan a weapon of almost unimaginable violence. On August 6, 1945, the first " atomic bomb " was exploded above Hiroshima . It had more than 2,000 times the force of the largest bomb ever before used. The preparatory cost had been $2,000,000,000 or half the cost of the whole superfortress organization. The town was flattened, and probably nearly 200,000 people were casualties. Next day, a similar bomb fell on Nagasaki .




The use of these terrible weapons has led to endless discussion. This has no place here. The immediate effect was the unconditional surrender of Japan to General MacArthur, supreme commander for the Allied powers (acting for the U.S., China, Britain, and the U.S.S.R.), on August 14, 1945 ( Tokyo date). The final act of surrender was signed aboard the U.S.S. Missouri on September 2. For the purpose of Canadian legislation the date of termination of the war in the Pacific is August 15, 1945 ( Ottawa date).

[Serious readers will supplement the information provided in this article by examining the following questions: uses of the War Measures' Act in wartime, the internment of Japanese Canadians, war censorship, the conscription issue, Canadian women and the war as well as production and the economy during the war.]


Source: Lt. Col. Wilfrid BOVEY, "World War II", in W. Stewart WALLACE, The Encyclopedia of Canada . Vol. VI, Toronto , University Associates of Canada , 1948, 398p., pp. 347-377. Consult: Canada and the Second World War at the Canadian Encyclopedia.



© 2004 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College