The World War II Multimedia Database

For the 72 Million

Canada in World War II

Britain had slowly, and begrudgingly, rearmed in the 1930s only after Hitler had appeared has a clear threat. Her dominions pledged their assistance to England and her allies, but not all declared war on September 3, 1939. Canada waited until September 9th to convene her Parliament, and declared war on September 10.

At the start of the war, Canada had a small Navy numbering dozens of vessels, little air forces, and no serious land forces. Her soldiers used World War I-era rifles and tactics. Yet, her contribution to the war would be felt on every front by the end of the war.

Except for antisubmarine patrols, Canadian forces were being built up during 1939-1940, and were unable to contribute to the Allied cause in significant numbers until after the fall of France in 1940. Canadian divisions, some of the last freshly trained and equipped troops in the British Empire, were rushed to England in a perilous sea voyage that summer. It would be almost two years before they would be employed in combat at Dieppe. On June 10, 1940 Canada declared war against Italy.

Canadian pilots served in the RAF in both Fighter Command and Bomber Command during the Battle of Britain, and served with distinction. Throughout the war, Canadian losses in the Canadian Royal Air Force (CRAF) bombing campaign were very heavy, as were all the air war losses.

The Canadian Navy expanded with native, British, and American construction to thousands of vessels by 1945. Canadian escort vessels braved terrible seas and weather in barely seaworthy craft that were often slower than a surfaced U-boat to sink dozens of subs, and turn the tide of the Battle of the Atlantic in late 1943.

When Japan attacked the United States, the Royal Rifles and Winnipeg Grenadiers were in Hong Kong since November 16, 1941, and suffered hundreds of killed and wounded in combat with the invaders. Many more would die in Japanese prison camps. Canada declared war on Japan on December 8, 1941.

Mackenzie King, Canadian Prime Minister, called for a vote on conscription on April 27, 1942. 75% of voters approved, but his government did not immediately start a draft. It wasn’t until November 22, 1944 that Canadian draftees were sent overseas.

The home front was reorganized for war production, with British and American designs being produced in factories all over Canada. Many Lancaster bombers and Flower-class corvettes were built in Canada during the war.

During the raid on Dieppe, 4,900 Canadians from the 2nd Division, many of whom had been training in England since 1940, landed in early morning hours during a German anti-invasion exercise. Some 900 men were killed, and 1,900 were taken prisoner. Another 600 were wounded. The raid seemed to prove Churchill’s opinion that more time, planning and delay was needed to invade France.

In the Pacific, a Canadian unit landed with American soldiers on Attu in the Aleutians.

By 1943, Canadians were fighting in Italy, taking 2,300 casualties during the invasion of Sicily. 1st Canadian took Division fought to clear Germans from the Moro River and San Leonardo in December 1943. The 1st Canadian Corps took heavy casualties in front of the Abbey at Monte Cassino in 1944. Thousands were killed through poor tactics on frustrating terrain.

Meanwhile, the Canadian Army was undergoing a transformation. The leaders stuck in the mindset of trench warfare were removed, and new and better equipment was arriving. Many more Canadian soldiers arrived in England every day. Still, the Canadians suffered from personnel shortages throughout the war.

On June 6, 1944, the Allies invaded Normandy. Canadian destroyers guided part of the invasion fleet and protected them from U-boat and E-boat attacks. Canadian airmen attacked targets behind the invasion beaches. The Canadian 2nd Infantry Division landed on Juno Beach, almost two years since being driven off Dieppe.

After taking a beating to capture Caen, which resulted in heavy bombers flattening the city prior to a many Allied attempts to capture it, Field Marshal Bernard L. Montgomery was able to take the city in July. This enabled the American 3rd Army under General George S. Patton to break out and circle around the Germans, causing a route of the German 7th Army.

By September, Canadian soldiers were actively clearing German positions along the Scheldt River in Holland to clear a path to the badly needed port of Antwerp in Belgium. 5,300 Canadians died in operations to cross the Rhine River in March 1945.

Canada was a full partner to the Allies, and contributed much to the western Allies’ victory. Overcoming the crippling, rapid expansion from a territorial power to a major contributor to the western European theatre, her casualties were higher than they should have been, but a price that had to be paid to create the Canadian Army that could outfight their Axis opponents.

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