History

Wars & Campaigns

Boer War
First World War

►►Western Front

►►►Trench Warfare: 1914-1916

►►Allied Offensive: 1916

►►►Allied Offensives: 1917

►►►German Offensive: 1918

►►►Advance to Victory: 1918

►►Siberia
Second World War
►►War Against Japan

►►Italian Campaign

►►►Sicily

►►►Southern Italy

►►►The Sangro and Moro

►►►Battles of the FSSF

►►►Cassino

►►►Liri Valley

►►►Advance to Florence

►►►Gothic Line

►►►Winter Lines
►►North-West Europe

►►►Normandy
►►►Southern France
►►►Channel Ports

►►►Scheldt
►►►Nijmegen Salient

►►►Rhineland

►►►Final Phase
Korean War
Cold War
Gulf War

Operations 

GAUNTLET Aug 1941

(Spitsbergen)

HUSKY Jul 1943

 (Sicily)

COTTAGE Aug 1943

 (Kiska)

TIMBERWOLF Oct 1943

(Italy)

OVERLORD Jun 1944

(Normandy)

VERITABLE Feb 1945

(Rhineland)

Battle Honours

Boer War

►Paardeberg

18 Feb 00

First World War
Western Front
Trench Warfare: 1914-1916

Ypres, 1915

22 Apr-25 May 15

Gravenstafel

22-23 Apr 15

St. Julien

24 Apr-4 May 15

Frezenberg

8-13 May 15

Bellewaarde

24-25 May 15

Festubert, 1915

15-25 May 15

Mount Sorrel

2-13 Jun 16

Allied Offensive: 1916

►Somme, 1916

1 Jul-18 Nov 16

►Albert

.1-13 Jul 16

►Razentin

.14-17 Jul 16

►Pozieres

.23 Jul-3 Sep 16

►Guillemont

.3-6 Sep 16

►Ginchy

.9 Sep 16

►Flers-Courcelette

.15-22 Sep 16

►Thiepval

.26-29 Sep 16

►Le Transloy

. 1-18 Oct 16

►Ancre Heights

1 Oct-11 Nov 16

►Ancre, 1916

13-18 Nov 16

Allied Offensives: 1917

►Arras 1917

8 Apr-4 May 17

Vimy, 1917

.9-14 Apr 17

Arleux

28-29 Apr 17

►Scarpe, 1917

.3-4 May17

►Hill 70

.15-25 Aug 17

►Messines, 1917

.7-14 Jun 17

►Ypres, 1917

..31 Jul-10 Nov 17

►Pilckem

31 Jul-2 Aug 17

►Langemarck, 1917

.16-18 Aug 17

►Menin Road

.20-25 Sep 17

►Polygon Wood

26 Sep-3 Oct 17

►Broodseinde

.4 Oct 17

►Poelcapelle

.9 Oct 17

►Passchendaele

.12 Oct 17

►Cambrai, 1917

20 Nov-3 Dec 17

German Offensive: 1918

►Somme, 1918

.21 Mar-5 Apr 18

►St. Quentin

.21-23 Mar 18

►Bapaume, 1918

.24-25 Mar 18

►Rosieres

.26-27 Mar 18

►Avre

.4 Apr 18

►Lys

.9-29 Apr 18

►Estaires

.9-11 Apr 18

►Messines, 1918

.10-11 Apr 18

►Bailleul

.13-15 Apr 18

►Kemmel

.17-19 Apr 18

Advance to Victory: 1918

Amiens

8-11 Aug 18

►Arras, 1918

.26 Aug-3 Sep 18

►Scarpe, 1918

26-30 Aug 18.

►Drocourt-Queant

.2-3 Sep 18

►Hindenburg Line

.12 Sep-9 Oct 18

►Canal du Nord

.27 Sep-2 Oct 18

►St. Quentin Canal .29 Sep-2 Oct 18
►Epehy

3-5 Oct 18

►Ypres, 1918

.8-9 Oct 18

►Valenciennes

.1-2 Nov 18

►Sambre

.4 Nov 18

►Pursuit to Mons .28 Sep-11Nov

Second World War

War Against Japan

South-East Asia

Hong Kong

 8-25 Dec 41

Italian Campaign

Battle of Sicily

Landing in Sicily 

   9-12 Jul 43

Grammichele 

15 Jul 43

Piazza Armerina

16-17 Jul 43

Valguarnera

17-19 Jul 43

Assoro 

  20-22 Jul 43

Leonforte

 21-22 Jul 43

Agira

24-28 Jul 43

Adrano 

29 Jul-7 Aug 43

Catenanuova

29-30 Jul 43

Regalbuto

29 Jul-3 Aug 43

Centuripe

  31 Jul-3 Aug 43

Troina Valley

 2-6 Aug 43

Pursuit to Messina

 2-17 Aug 43

 Southern Italy

Landing at Reggio

 3 Sep 43

Potenza 19-20 Sep 43
Motta Montecorvino 1-3 Oct 43
Termoli 3-6 Oct 43
Monte San Marco 6-7 Oct 43
Gambatesa 7-8 Oct 43
Campobasso 11-14 Oct 43
Baranello 17-18 Oct 43
Colle d'Anchise 22-24 Oct 43
Torella 24-27 Oct 43

The Sangro and Moro

The Sangro

19 Nov-3 Dec 43

Castel di Sangro

.23-24 Nov 43

The Moro

5-7 Dec 43

San Leonardo

8-9 Dec 43

The Gully

..10-19 Dec 43

Casa Berardi

 ..14-15 Dec 43

Ortona

20-28 Dec 43

San Nicola-San

.31 Dec 43

Tommaso

.
Point 59/ 29 Dec 43-

Torre Mucchia

4 Jan 44

Battles of the FSSF
Monte Camino

.5 Nov-9 Dec 43

Monte la Difensa-

2-8 Dec 43

 Monte la Remetanea

.
Hill 720

25 Dec 43

Monte Majo

3-8 Jan 44.

Radicosa

4 Jan 44

Monte Vischiataro

8 Jan 44

Anzio

22 Jan-22 May 44

Rome

.22 May-4 Jun 44

Advance

.22 May-22 Jun 44

to the Tiber

.
►Monte Arrestino

25 May 44

►Rocca Massima

27 May 44

►Colle Ferro

2 Jun 44

Cassino
►Cassino II

11-18 May 44

►Gustav Line

11-18 May 44

►Sant' Angelo in

13 May 44

Teodice

.
►Pignataro

14-15 May 44

Liri Valley
Liri Valley

18-30 May 44

►Hitler Line

18-24 May 44

►Aquino

18-24 May 44

►Melfa Crossing

24-25 May 44

►Ceprano

26-27 May 44

►Torrice Crossroads

30 May 44

Advance to Florence
►Advance

17 Jul-10 Aug 44

to Florence

.
►Cerrone

25 - 31 Aug 44

Trasimene Line
►Trasimene Line

20-30 Jun 44

►Sanfatucchio

20-21 Jun 44

►Gabbiano

1 Jul 44

►Arezzo

4-17 Jul 44

►Tuori

5 Jul 44

Gothic Line
►Gothic Line

25 Aug-22 Sep 44

►Monteciccardo

27-28 Aug 44

►Montecchio

30-31 Aug 44

►Point 204 (Pozzo Alto)

31 Aug 44

►Monte Luro

1 Sep 44

►Borgo Santa Maria

1 Sep 44

►Tomba di Pesaro

1-2 Sep 44

►Coriano

3-15 Sep 44

►Lamone Crossing

2-13 Sep 44

Winter Lines
►Rimini Line

14-21 Sep 44

►San Martino-

14-18 Sep 44

San Lorenzo

.
►San Fortunato

18-20 Sep 44

►Casale

23-25 Sep 44

►Sant' Angelo

11-15 Sep 44

 in Salute

.
►Bulgaria Village

13-14 Sep 44

►Cesena

15-20 Sep 44

►Pisciatello

16-19 Sep 44

►Savio Bridgehead

20-23 Sep 44

►Monte La Pieve

13-19 Oct 44

►Monte Spaduro

19-24 Oct 44

►Monte San Bartolo

11-14 Nov 44

►Capture of Ravenna

3-4 Dec 44

►Naviglio Canal

12-15 Dec 44

►Fosso Vecchio

16-18 Dec 44

►Fosso Munio

19-21 Dec 44

►Conventello-

2-6 Jan 45

Comacchio

.
►Granarolo

3-5 Jan 44

Northwest Europe
Dieppe

19 Aug 42

Battle of Normandy
Normandy Landing

6 Jun 44

Authie

7 Jun 44

Putot-en-Bessin

8 Jun 44

Bretteville

8-9 Jun 44

       -l'Orgueilleuse .
Le Mesnil-Patry

11 Jun 44

Carpiquet

4-5 Jul 44

Caen

4-18 Jul 44

The Orne (Buron)

8-9 Jul 44

Bourguébus Ridge

18-23 Jul 44

Faubourg-de-

18-19 Jul 44

       Vaucelles .
St. André-sur-Orne

19-23 Jul 44

Maltôt

22-23 Jul 44

Verrières Ridge-Tilly--

25 Jul 44

         la-Campagne .
►Falaise

7-22 Aug 44

►Falaise Road

7-9 Aug 44

►Quesnay Road

10-11 Aug 44

Clair Tizon

11-13 Aug 44

►The Laison

14-17 Aug 44

►Chambois

18-22 Aug 44

►St. Lambert-sur-

19-22 Aug 44

       Dives

.

►Dives Crossing

17-20 Aug 44

Forêt de la Londe

27-29 Aug 44

The Seine, 1944

25-28 Aug 44

Southern France
Southern France

15-28 Aug 44

Channel Ports
Dunkirk, 1944

8-15 Sep 44

Le Havre

1-12 Sep 44

Moerbrugge

8-10 Sep 44

Moerkerke

13-14 Sep 44

Boulogne, 1944

17-22 Sep 44

Calais, 1944

25 Sep-1 Oct 44

Wyneghem

21-22 Sep 44

Antwerp-Turnhout

   24-29 Sep 44

Canal

.

The Scheldt

The Scheldt

1 Oct-8 Nov 44

Leopold Canal

6-16 Oct-44

►Savojaards Platt

9-10 Oct 44

Breskens Pocket

11 Oct -3 Nov 44

►Woensdrecht

1-27 Oct 44

►The Lower Maas

20 Oct -7 Nov 44

►South Beveland

 24-31 Oct 44

Walcheren

31 Oct -4 Nov 44

Causeway

.

Nijmegen Salient
Ardennes

Dec 44-Jan 45

Kapelsche Veer

31 Dec 44-

.

21Jan 45

The Roer

16-31 Jan 45

Rhineland
The Rhineland

8 Feb-10 Mar 45

►The Reichswald

8-13 Feb 45

►Waal Flats

8-15 Feb 45

►Moyland Wood

14-21 Feb 45

►Goch-Calcar Road

19-21 Feb 45

►The Hochwald

26 Feb-

.

4 Mar 45

►Veen

6-10 Mar 45

►Xanten

8-9 Mar 45

Final Phase
The Rhine

23 Mar-1 Apr 45

►Emmerich-Hoch

28 Mar-1 Apr 45

Elten

.
►Twente Canal

2-4 Apr 45

Zutphen

6-8 Apr 45

Deventer

8-11 Apr 45

Arnhem, 1945

12-14 Apr 45

Apeldoorn

11-17 Apr 45

Groningen

13-16 Apr 45

Friesoythe

14 Apr 45

►Ijselmeer

15-18 Apr 45

Küsten Canal

17-24 Apr 45

Wagenborgen

21-23 Apr 45

Delfzijl Pocket

23 Apr-2 May 45

Leer

28-29 Apr 45

Bad Zwischenahn

23 Apr-4 May 45

Oldenburg

27 Apr-5 May 45

Korean War
Kapyong

21-25 Apr 51

Domestic Missions

FLQ Crisis

International Missions

ICCS            Vietnam 1973

MFO                 Sinai 1986-

Peacekeeping

UNMOGIP

India 1948-1979

UNTSO

 Israel 1948-    ....

UNEF

Egypt 1956-1967

UNOGIL

Lebanon 1958    ....

ONUC

 Congo 1960-1964

UNYOM

Yemen 1963-1964

UNTEA

W. N. Guinea 1963-1964

UNIFCYP

 Cyprus 1964-    ....

DOMREP

D. Republic 1965-1966

UNIPOM

Kashmir 1965-1966

UNEFME

Egypt 1973-1979

UNDOF

Golan 1974-    ....

UNIFIL

 Lebanon 1978    ....

UNGOMAP

Afghanistan 1988-90

UNIIMOG

Iran-Iraq 1988-1991

UNTAG

Namibia 1989-1990

ONUCA

C. America 1989-1992

UNIKOM

Kuwait 1991    ....

MINURSO

W. Sahara 1991    ....

ONUSAL

El Salvador 1991    ....

UNAMIC

Cambodia 1991-1992

UNAVEM II

Angola 1991-1997

UNPROFOR

Yugosla. 1992-1995

UNTAC

Cambodia 1992-1993

UNOSOM

Somalia 1992-1993

ONUMOZ

Mozambiq. 1993-1994

UNOMUR

 Rwanda 1993    ....

UNAMIR

Rwanda 1993-1996

UNMIH

Haiti 1993-1996

UNMIBH

Bosnia/Herz.1993-1996

UNMOP

Prevlaka 1996-2001

UNSMIH

Haiti 1996-1997

MINUGUA

Guatemala 1994-1997

UNTMIH

Haiti 1997    ....

MIPONUH

 Haiti 1997    ....

MINURCA

C.Afr.Rep. 1998-1999

INTERFET

E. Timor 1999-2000

UNAMSIL

Sie. Leone 1999-2005

UNTAET

E. Timor 1999-2000

Exercises

 

The Second World War

The Second World War was an international conflict which took place between 1 September 1939 and 2 September 1945. The war was the costliest conflict in human history and directly involved the majority of nations on the planet. The war brought about dramatic technological and sociological changes to the world, including Canada. In total, it is estimated that 62,000,000 people died as a result of the Second World War.

Designation

The term used by official histories of the war in Canada is "Second World War", though use of the term "World War II" is also widely accepted. The latter term is used by American publishers and historians. While speculative works of fiction and non-fiction used the term Second World War in the 1930s, the first official use of the term was in September 1939 and the opening of hostilities between Germany, France and the United Kingdom. For example, the 3 September 1939 issue of the Calgary Herald used the term on the front page. Official histories of British and Canadian participation in the war use the term "Second World War" almost exclusively.1

Canadian Army Participation

The Canadian Army participated directly in several major battles/campaigns, chiefly:

 



Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, German General Alfred Jodl, German dictator Adolf Hitler, and German General Wilhelm Keitel. Mussolini was executed in early 1945, Hitler committed suicide in April 1945, and both Jodl and Keitel were tried at Nuremberg and hanged in 1946 as war criminals.

 

Causes

The Second World War began directly as a result of Germany's invasion of Poland on 1 September 1939. Canada mobilized the Canadian Active Service Force the same day. Britain and France, who had given diplomatic guarantees to Poland before the war, declared war on Germany on 3 September 1939. Canada, who had been given the right to determine its own foreign policy by the Statute of Westminster, debated its own declaration of war in Parliament, finally electing to declare war on Germany on 10 September 1939. The war was not viewed as a surprise, and in fact units of the Canadian Army had been called out on 25 August 1939 to guard vital installations throughout Canada as a precursor to a general mobilization.

The roots of the conflict lay in the conclusion of the First World War in 1918, when the Treaty of Versailles laid the blame for that war on Germany and forced that nation to pay harsh reparations to the powers that defeated them, including Great Britain, France, the United States, and Canada. Severe political turmoil in Germany in the aftermath of the war, followed by a world wide economic depression, led to the rise of the Nazis. Similarly, a fascist government rose in Italy under Mussolini (self-styled as Il Duce) which provided a model for Germany's leader (self-styled as der Führer), Adolf Hitler. Both the Italians and the Germans made increasingly imperialistic moves during the 1930s, building large militaries and acquiring new territories through use, or threat, of armed force. Japan also embarked on an imperialist course, beginning in 1931 with an invasion of Manchuria.

The Axis

An official alliance between Germany and Italy was formalized in May 1939, and in September 1940 Japan signed the Tripartite Pact. Germany and Italy's relationship had been likened to an "axis" around which the rest of the world would revolve, and the term "The Axis" became widely used to describe Canada's enemies. The Axis would later include Hungary (November 1940), Romania (November 1940), Slovakia (November 1940) and Bulgaria (March 1941). From a Canadian perspective, Finland was also a member of the Axis, though the Finns themselves described themselves as "co-belligerents".

As the war progressed, alliances and allegiances shifted. After the fall of France, a puppet state called Vichy France was set up as an ally of Germany and Italy, including overseas possessions in South America, Africa, and Asia. The Soviet Union, who had signed a non-aggression pact with Germany in 1939 and had helped occupy Poland in 1939, was invaded by Germany on 22 June 1941, becoming the largest and most important of the Allied nations. The Japanese attack on the United States in December 1941 resulted in Hitler declaring war on the United States, though the US had been unofficially aiding enemies of Japan, Germany and Italy for some time.

Preparedness

None of the combatant nations that waged war from 1939-1945 were prepared for their part in the conflict, including, contrary to the mythology built up in the post-war era, Germany. On 1 September 1939, 90% of German tanks were already obsolete, armed only with machine guns or 20mm cannon with armour vulnerable to enemy anti-tank weapons. Half-tracked vehicles for the mechanized infantry (Schützen Regimenter) of the German armoured divisions would remain in short supply throughout the war, with as few as 20% of infantry-carrying vehicles having cross country abilities to permit them to keep pace with the tanks. The 100,000 man German Army of 1933 had expanded to 1.5 million men under arms in 1939 with large shortages of reservists and instructors for those reservists. "Divisional troops" - those that would support the infantry and armoured units, including artillery, engineers, railway, transport and signals troops, had not been part of the Army's makeup in 1933. General Westphal recorded after the war that "The development of these forces was only in its infancy when war broke out, and as it could not be properly completed during the war, the German Army suffered serious deficiencies in these specialized forces right up to 1945." Motorized equipment and mechanical transport would likewise be a concern to the German Army, which remained largely horse-drawn until 1945. In 1939, the German Army had 445,500 horses serving in the 86 non-motorized infantry divisions. While 1,400,000 horses served in the German forces in the First World War, that number would be 2,700,000 in the Second.2

The other major powers - Britain, France, Poland and later the Soviet Union and the United States - were also largely unprepared for war, modern or otherwise. Canada's forces were pitiful, with only three severely under strength infantry battalions serving full time, with 16 tanks for a mechanized force and horsed cavalry units still on the rolls in 1939.

The United States was similar to Germany in having a small but professional force of 175,000 men expand to 1.4 million, though this change occurred from 1 September 1939 to the summer of 1940, after conscription was introduced. All the major militaries of the war would make use of conscription, including Canada, by the time the war ended.

Events

In 1931, Adolf Hitler gained political power in Germany, and in 1933 declared himself Führer, granting himself supreme dictatorial powers. He embarked on a sweeping series of reforms. These reforms included domestic policies such as the reduction of unemployment and an increase in the standard of living, but also with brutal racial policies meant to expunge Jewish persons (not only those who practiced the Jewish religion but also those defined as "racially Jewish") from all aspects of German social life. His reforms also included an aggressive foreign policy, including remilitarization and reclamation of lands formerly ceded to other nations. He reoccupied the Rhineland, incorporated Austria into the German nation, and occupied Czechoslovakia. His attempt to justify the invasion of Poland by claiming land claims on the port of Danzig were not accepted by Britain and France, who declared war on Germany. Canada also declared war on 10 September 1939.

Japanese military forces were involved in aggressive acts in Manchuria as early as 1931, and the rise of a militarist government led to further conflicts, in China as well as with the United States. Japan's lack of domestic natural resources was one reason for an expansionist policy in the Pacific. Conflict in China widened in 1937 as the Second Sino-Japanese War erupted on 7 July. Japanese occupation of China involved the widespread murder of civilians.


German tanks demonstrate their mobility before the war.

The Polish campaign lasted only a few weeks, with Poland being divided between Germany (who established a Government General and embarked on a systematic purge of Jews and intelligentsia) and the Soviet Union (who also purged intelligentsia, notably in the famous Katyn Massacre). Contrary to popular belief, German strategy in the campaign was conventional and conservative, though the media in Allied countries coined the phrase 'Blitzkrieg' and began speaking of sophisticated tactics used by well coordinated armour, infantry, artillery and airpower, something the Germans didn't really accomplish until 1941.

The immediate impact on the Canadian Army was to finalize the mechanization of the military (the Royal Canadian Army Veterinary Corps was disbanded in 1940, and the Canadian Armoured Corps was established).

The Phony War (or Sitzkrieg, a play on the word "Blitzkrieg") then set in and no major fighting took part between German and Allied forces until April of 1940 when Germany took Denmark (in one day) and Norway (after costly fighting with British and Norwegian forces. Some limited naval engagements were fought during this period and minor skirmishes on the French-German border. A major conflict between the Soviet Union and Finland was fought, known as the "Winter War", between November 1939 and March 1940, which saw Finland cede territory to the USSR.

Canada's government had desired to keep participation in the military sphere limited, and only two divisions had been raised. The 1st Canadian Infantry Division went to the United Kingdom in December 1939, and the government held off on sending the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division. The spectre of heavy losses and another conscription debate, as had occurred in the First World War, was unappealing to the Canadian government.

Fall of France

The invasion of Denmark and Norway in April 1940 saw more German victories; Denmark surrendered peacefully and Allied forces in Norway suffered a major defeat in the space of a few weeks. In the meantime, on 10 May 1940, France and the Low Countries were invaded. Canada belatedly sent the 1st Infantry Canadian Division to France in June 1940, by which time German forces had overrun all of Belgium, The Netherlands, and northern France, and the main British force on the Continent had already been withdrawn through Dunkirk. France formally surrendered in June 1940. The 2nd Canadian Infantry Division was hastily concentrated that summer and began arriving in England in August 1940 just as the Battle of Britain was beginning. German aerial forces failed to neutralize the Royal Air Force, a necessary precursor to invasion, and German plans to conquer England went unfulfilled. A 3rd Canadian Infantry Division was mobilized in May 1940, two weeks after the German invasion.

Attention turned to both the air and naval campaigns. A handful of small raids by RAF units on German cities in 1939-1940 as a reprisal for bombings of British cities would grow over the course of the year to become a component of the Combined Bomber Offensive, in which both British and American heavy bombers would devastate German industry and cities. Canada would participate not only with thousands of trained aircrew but also by playing host to the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan where thousands of men were trained in Canada to man fighters, bombers and transport aircraft. In 1945, Canada would boast the world's fourth largest air force. At sea, the war waged by German submariners was a constant threat to the survival of the British nation, and Canadian participation in the Battle of the Atlantic was impressive; at war's end Canada's navy was the third largest in the world.

1940-41

Continuing its expansionist policies which started in the 1930s with their invasion of Somalia, Italy invaded southern France at the tail end of the German campaign there in June 1940, and then invaded Greece in October 1940, operating from bases in Albania. The attack failed and Greece managed to gain territory in Albania as a consequence. Italy also invaded Egypt in 1940, fighting from bases in Libya. British and Commonwealth troops intervened in both Greece and North Africa, and German forces went to both theatres to assist the Italians in 1941. Greece and Crete fell in 1941, and Yugoslavia fell to a German invasion in the spring of 1941.

The year 1940 also saw Japan occupy French Indochina, as Vichy France was now ostensibly an ally. Tension between the US and Japan heightened, and economic sanctions finally convinced Japan the only course open to them was war. On 7 December 1941, the US naval base at Pearl Harbor was bombed and the US declared war. Canada declared war on Japan also, and Germany declared war on the United States. Canada had already dispatched two battalions of troops to Hong Kong in November 1941, and 1,975 Canadians were killed or captured when the colony fell during wide ranging Japanese offensives in December 1941.

German intervention in Greece and Yugoslavia delayed Hitler's real goal of conquering the Soviet Union. He launched his attack on 22 June 1941, with Britain, and Canada, pledging to help the Soviet Union. Much was given to the Soviets in the way of war materiel, being shipped by sea in what came to be the Murmansk convoys. Canadian production of war equipment, from web gear to tanks, was done with foreign requirements in mind, including China and the USSR. The German invasion forces failed to take Moscow, the capital, or Leningrad in the north, and the onset of winter caused severe setbacks. As had happened in Poland in 1939, the German Army was committed without being fully prepared for the campaign logistically. Winter clothing was not available to the troops in the Soviet Union in 1941, and the declaration of war on Japan by the US meant that troops in Siberia could be moved west to face the Germans outside Moscow. Despite massive losses in men and equipment, the Soviet Union's Red Army survived through the winter. As well, another campaign with Finland began, which would last until 1944. In August 1941, Soviet troops co-operated with British troops in occupying Persia (later Iran) to secure both supplies of oil as well as maintain a southern supply line into the Soviet Union. The British Army in North Africa fought wide ranging actions back and forth across Libya and Egypt during the year.


British POW taken in Greece.

1942

After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the various declarations of war, by early 1942, British possessions in the Pacific such as Singapore, Malaya, Borneo and Burma had been invaded or surrendered to the Japanese, as had US possessions such as the Philippine Islands. In June 1942, several outposts in the Aleutian Islands were established by the Japanese, the only invasion of North American soil to occur during the war. Canadian soldiers would go there in 1943 to reclaim the islands along with US forces, though the Japanese garrisons would have fled by then.

The spring brought campaigning weather to the Eastern Front, where German forces again made incredible gains in territory as their forces turned their attention to the southern oil fields of the Caucasus. By now, five Canadian divisions had been created and sent to Europe but had not yet seen action. The controversial Dieppe Raid was scheduled for June 1942 and launched on 19 August 1942. Demands for British and American action in Europe were intense, both at home and from the Soviet Union who suffered great losses again during the year.

High Water Marks

Axis fortunes changed during the year; in the Pacific, a great naval victory at Midway in June 1942 shattered Japanese carrier forces, and the US took to the offensive in August with landings on Guadalcanal. Japan never regained the initiative, and the US would continue the offensive, successfully invading island after island in succession, including Tarawa (1943), Saipan (1944), the Philippines, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa (1945). Fighting in China and Burma by major forces of Chinese, British and US troops would also continue until 1945.

German forces in North Africa were finally stopped by the British 8th Army at El Alamein, deep inside Egypt. The commander of the 8th Army, General Bernard Law Montgomery, had been known to the Canadians during his tenure as commander of South Eastern Army in the United Kingdom; Montgomery had made many recommendations to Canadian commanders there about training and employment of individuals. The Germans were thrown into a headlong retreat, pushed back to the Tunisian border. American and British landings in north-western Africa in November 1942 overwhelmed the Vichy French defenders, and US and British forces took Tunisia in the first half of 1943, evicting the Germans and Italians from North Africa for good. Many individuals of the Canadian Army had a chance to gain battle experience by short postings to British combat units in Tunisia, after which they returned to their Canadian units.

In Russia, German territorial gains reached their peak by September 1942, when resistance solidified in the city of Stalingrad. Fighting there lasted until February 1943; the entire German 6th Army was surrounded and destroyed by massive Soviet counter-attacks.

1943

Even before the fall of Axis forces in North Africa, the ongoing debate of where to attack the Germans next had continued. American strategists had adopted the policy of "Germany First", giving the war in the Pacific a lesser priority. The US pushed for an immediate invasion of France as early as 1942. The British managed to champion an indirect strategy, which resulted in the Italian Campaign. On 10 July 1943, the US 7th Army and British 8th Army landed in Sicily, with them went the 1st Canadian Infantry Division and later the 1st Armoured Brigade. As the campaign in Sicily wound down after 38 days, in August 1943 Canadian and American soldiers landing in the Aleutian Islands to reclaim territory lost in June 1942 when Japanese troops occupied Kiska and Attu. Both the First Special Service Force and the 13th Canadian Brigade took part in these operations.

On 25 July 1943 Mussolini was removed from power by the King of Italy, and after Allied forces landed on mainland Italy in September (including the 1st Canadian Division and 1st Armoured Brigade), the Italian nation surrendered. German forces moved to occupy the country and continued to resist the Allies. In December 1943, the 1st Division fought its first true divisional action on the Moro River, culminating in the taking of Ortona, a battle considered a "miniature Stalingrad" in the press. German forces created a series of defensive lines, and Canadian forces (the 1st Division was joined by the 5th Canadian (Armoured) Division in early 1944, coming under the command of I Canadian Corps which also transferred to the Italian theatre) took part in hard fighting in the Liri Valley, at the Hitler Line, the Gothic Line, Coriano Ridge, the Savio and Senio rivers, as well as defensive actions in two successive winters. Rome fell on 4 June 1944 after much hard fighting both at Monte Cassino and the Anzio beachhead (where the First Special Service Force saw much action). In February 1945, having helped liberate much of Italy, the Canadian forces there were withdrawn to rejoin the First Canadian Army in North-West Europe.

In the Soviet Union, attacks and counter-attacks raged along the front after Stalingrad. Hitler ordered a single massive and, he hoped, decisive attack on a salient near Kursk in July 1943; the Soviet Union was well prepared for this battle, which became the largest tank battle in history. The Germans suffered a major defeat.

1944

The campaign in North-West Europe opened with the Normandy Landings on 6 June 1944, initially involving the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division and 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade. British, Canadian and American forces opened a beachhead on the Continent and despite strong German resistance, slowly widened their gains in June and July. Progress on the Canadian front was extremely slow in the first weeks, quickly settling into a stalemate in the face of strong German armoured formations. Major operations in the Battle of Normandy were costly, though every advance allowed more units into the congested beachhead; the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division arrived in July 1944 and II Canadian Corps headquarters became operational, followed in August 1944 by 4th Canadian (Armoured) Division and First Canadian Army headquarters - the first (and only) Army-level headquarters in Canadian history. The First Canadian Army served alongside the 2nd British Army under the 21st Army Group commanded by General Montgomery.

German forces ordered to characteristically counter-attack at Mortain created the conditions for a large encirclement of the German 7th Army, and fighting to close the Falaise Gap occupied much of August. By the end of the month, German forces in Normandy had been destroyed, Paris had been liberated, and German forces had been pushed beyond the Seine River. Canadian involvement in the Normandy fighting has been the subject of much controversy since the end of the war, not because the bravery of the Canadian Army was in doubt, but because some historians have critically examined the training it received beforehand, and the way it conducted operations once ashore.

In September 1944, as US and British forces raced for the German border, First Canadian Army took over the left flank of the Allied armies and set out to clear the Channel Ports as well as eliminate the V-rocket launching sites. By this time, US forces (including the First Special Service Force had landed in southern France and quickly linked up with forces in northern France. A massive airborne operation in September 1944 failed to secure a crossing across the Rhine River and German retreats from France slowly came to a halt. While September 1944 had also seen the liberation of Antwerp, the second largest port in Europe and considered vital for shortening Allied supply lines, the waterway leading into the port had unfortunately not been cleared of German coastal fortifications, precipitating the month long, costly Battle of the Scheldt which was a First Canadian Army responsibility.

In the Soviet Union, the siege of Leningrad (the longest siege in history) was finally broken. Offensives in Finland and central Russia shattered the Finns and Germans, causing the former to sign an armistice. Army Group Centre was destroyed by the Soviet Operation BAGRATION during the summer. Other Axis partners began to defect; Romania switches sides in August 1944 and Bulgaria surrendered in September 1944. Germany withdrew from the Balkans, though control of Hungary was retained until February 1945.

1945

After the Battle of the Scheldt, Canadian forces in North-West Europe settled into the Nijmegen Salient (created after the abortive attempt to cross the Rhine River in September 1944). The Canadians saw minor actions during this phase of the campaign, though on 16 December 1944 the Germans launched the Ardennes Offensive, the last major German offensive operation of the war in the west. After initial successes, the offensive bogged down and by 1 January 1945 had been stopped and in places pushed back. Canadian engineer units played a minor role in British operations on the northern shoulder of the battle, dubbed "Battle of the Bulge" by historians.

Allied leaders now looked to the post-war world even as the First Canadian Army commenced its next major operation, the clearing of the Rhineland, the last German positions west of the Rhine River. The battle commenced in early February 1945 and lasted until March. In the meantime, the "Big Three" of Prime Minister Winston Churchill of the United Kingdom, Joseph Stalin of the Soviet Union and President Franklin D. Roosevelt of the United States mapped out the postwar world. The decision was made to leave large tracts of Eastern Europe in Soviet hands, and that France would be one of the four occupying powers in Germany after the war. The seeds of the Cold War were being sown as Canadian operations ceased in the Rhineland and the Final Phase began.

With British and Canadian soldiers fighting to clear northern Germany and The Netherlands in March and April 1945, and US forces deep inside Germany and into Czechoslovakia, the Red Army began the massive assault on Berlin. Adolf Hitler forbade any Germany capitulation, and personally remained in the city until his suicide on 30 April 1945. The city was taken at great cost to both sides. German forces began to surrender unconditionally (one of the conditions that had been agreed to among the Allies relatively early in the war) in the first days of May, and Victory in Europe Day was officially declared 8 May 1945.

After the victory over Germany, Canada created the Canadian Army Occupation Force, as well as the Canadian Army Pacific Force, both in divisional strength. The CAOF remained on duty in Germany until 1946, and the CAPF trained for the invasion of Japan, and was quickly disbanded after the two atomic bombings in August 1945 and eventual Japanese surrender on 2 September 1945.

War Crimes

While Canada had not declared war on Germany specifically for moral principles, evidence on German atrocities during the war mounted even if the scope of the Holocaust - the systematic murder of at least 10,000,000 persons from throughout Europe, including an estimated 6,000,000 persons defined as "Jewish" by the Germans - was not known until the liberation of the concentration camps in 1945.

In the field, the Canadian Army experienced the full expression of Nazi ideology when over 100 Canadian prisoners of war were murdered in a series of incidents immediately after the landing in Normandy. The 12th SS Panzer Division, named "Hitlerjugend" after the young Nazi idealists who formed the bulk of the division's personnel, fought a tooth and nail battle of no quarter in the opening days of the campaign. Their divisional commander, Kurt Meyer, was tried after the war and convicted for the crimes committed under his command. He and his senior commanders had been brutalized by the war in the East, ordered by Hitler from the very beginning to be considered a war of annihilation between two races. In the wake of the German armies in the Soviet Union had come the Einsatzgruppen (Special Action Groups) with specific orders to exterminate every Jewish person they found. Under the Nazis, institutional murder of homosexuals, Jews, gypsies, the elderly, and the mentally insane all became public policy. While the 12th SS was unique among a small number of units in bringing that attitude with them to the Western Front, the German nation as a whole bore the responsibility of introducing a new word - genocide - to the English language.

While Canada's morals may have seemed at times no better than that of their enemies, such as the imprisoning of Japanese-Canadians in internment camps after depriving them of their rights and personal property, the Canadian Army maintained a largely unblemished record as far as criminal acts. The official historian noted in his autobiography that he only witnessed one incident that could have been construed a warcrime, when the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada burned down private dwellings in Friesoythe, Germany as a reprisal for the death of a popular Commanding Officer who had been allegedly killed by a civilian. Other allegations include an accusation regarding the shooting of prisoners at Leonforte by men of The Loyal Edmonton Regiment.

Japanese misconduct during the war was also a matter of record; millions of Chinese civilians perished, some being subjected to medical experiments against their will. The treatment of Allied prisoners of war was also atrocious, based largely on the Japanese belief system that it was better to die than to surrender, and that those who surrendered were dishonoured. Canadian wounded were murdered in their beds when Hong Kong fell. Malnourishment of the survivors was rife for the three and a half years they remained in custody, 260 of whom died in captivity from the approximately 1700 who survived the fighting in December 1941.

The War in Canada

Canada raised three divisions for home defence during the Second World War, in addition to contributing great quantities of materiel not just to its own forces but to its allies also. Canadian industry proved itself equal to the challenges of a modern war, and many items of Canadian war materiel, especially textiles, proved to be superior to that of other nations.

Civilians faced new challenges such as rationing and an increased role of women in the workplace. For the first time, women were also permitted to serve directly in the armed forces; the Canadian Women's Army Corps was a success, though it would be twenty more years before women were directly integrated into the Armed Forces in even a limited array of trades, and more years still before they were permitted into combat roles. The Royal Canadian Navy and Royal Canadian Air Force also had women's services, and there were a variety of other roles for women to fulfil also, in civilian auxiliary organizations and even as pilots ferrying combat aircraft to the United Kingdom. The total number of women employed in just the Canadian Army would amount to 21,624 between 30 July 1941 and 8 May 1945, the majority in Canada. Women enlistees in the three services amounted to over 45,000.

Aftermath

The Second World War led directly to the Cold War. For the Canadian Army, the period immediately after the war was naturally anti-climactic, though after the Korean War the regular Army was expanded dramatically in size. The reserves would find themselves with a diminished role due to nuclear detente in the 1960s, and Unification and major downsizing of Canadian forces would carry the Canadian Army from the late 1960s into the 1970s and an uncertain future. The rise of both the United States and the Soviet Union into "superpowers" would leave the world in quiet fear of a third world-wide conflict, possibly one in which nuclear weapons were to be widely used.

Top: Friendship between Canadians such as Gunner Brian O'Regan of the Canadian Film and Photo Unit, pictured, and their Russian counterparts, was short-lived after the war. Torgau, Germany, 27 April 1945. The war had resolved differences with old enemies - and created entirely new ones. PAC 136330.

Bottom Left: General Kurt Meyer of the Waffen SS, who commanded the 12th SS Panzer Division in Normandy. Convicted of war crimes after the war, his death sentence was commuted by a Canadian general. The atrocities of the war paved the way to new systems of international justice.

Bottom Right: This postcard from 1945 shows the typical Service Dress of the Canadian Women's Army Corps. The war had elevated the status of women in society just as the First World War had.

 

 

Unlike the First World War, the victors of the Second World War invested heavily in rebuilding the defeated nations. West Germany and Japan especially were revitalized, and the Soviet Union created satellite nations in Eastern Europe in their own image. The war also provoked many former colonies throughout the world to demand independence, which was sometimes granted peacefully, and sometimes (as was the case in French Indochina) with prolonged military action.

As a direct result of the Second World War, the United Nations were formed, and Canada would play a major role in the development of this organization, and the rise of peacekeeping forces.

Notes

  1. In Britain, the official histories of government policy and military action of the three combatant services (Royal Navy, British Army, and Royal Air Force) were combined into the HISTORY OF THE SECOND WORLD WAR, while in Canada, the services (Royal Canadian Navy, Canadian Army, and Royal Canadian Air Force) published separate histories, alongside studies of government policy such as C.P. Stacey's Arms, Men and Government. There is additional discussion of research and the official histories in the RESEARCH section of this website.

  2. Cooper, Matthew The German Army 1933-1945: Its Political and Military Failure (Cooper and Lucas Ltd, Briarcliff Manor, NY, 1978) ISBN 0812824687 pp.154-163

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