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Canada in World War Two: A Staunch Ally

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The men who survived the sinking of their vessels describe the voyage to be a terrifying experience.

…the anxiety of the voyages; the feeling of vulnerability when no more than the thickness of the hull separated them from the angry seas; and the knowledge that a torpedo, streaking towards the ship, could shatter in an instant the protection afforded by the steal plates. And the terror when the worst had happened with the sudden burst and smell of high explosives, of leaping from the unnaturally slanting decks into the angry foam below; the shock of hitting the water and the desperate struggle to keep from being sucked towards the still-racing propellers or into the vortex that the sinking ship would leave.[7]

Although the conditions during the Battle of the Atlantic were terrible and fear haunted every sailor, they continued to perform their duties to the best of their abilities. As the War progressed, so did improvements in tactical strategy and technology and the “U-boat, although not fully defeated, no longer posed a major threat. The Battle of the Atlantic was fought for six years by brave men on both sides in every kind of weather.”[8] This victory allowed the supply of vital goods to flow keeping the Allied forces afloat.

In the early stages of the war “The Canadian Government decided to wage a war of “limited liability” befitting its status as a junior partner on the Allied side….This policy of limited involvement was soon quickly abandoned following Germany’s lightning conquest of western Europe in the spring and summer of 1940.”[9] The Canadian Army did not fare well in their initial battles in the war. Both the defense of Hong Kong and the Dieppe raid proved to be disastrous with extremely high casualties. After these failed attempts, learning from their errors lead to improved tactics. With this new foundation of knowledge, the Canadian Army was able to play a key role in the D-Day invasion and the Normandy campaign.

Although only one Canadian unit reached its D-day objective, the first line of German defenses had been completely smashed. By evening, Canadian troops had progressed farther inland than any of their Allies. It was a remarkable achievement but, despite casualties being less than expected, it was an expensive one, too.[10]

Despite Canadian casualties being less than expected, on D-day “340 Canadians had given their lives. Another 574 had been wounded and 47 taken prisoner.”[11] During the Normandy campaign as a whole, “the Canadians played a monumental role…[however], Allied casualties during the battle had been heavy, including 18,444 Canadians”[12]

The Canadians played a large contributing role in the success of the Allies, but Canada was not overly involved in the planning of the war.

…although the grand strategy was not in Canadian hands, Canadian soldiers fought as Canadian units throughout the conflict. Apart from the heavy casualties, perhaps the greatest problem faced by Canadian soldiers was the long absence from home and family…Many soldiers were away from loved ones for as long as five years.[13]

Despite not being at the decision making end of the war, Canada continued to show great commitment and determination. They pressed forward through massive hardships and by the end, their loyalty had helped drive the Allies to victory.

At the point of Canada’s entry into World War Two, it did not have much of a military force to support its declaration of war against Germany with confidence. The Royal Canadian Air Force, Royal Canadian Navy, and the Canadian Army were small and used outdated equipment. As the war went underway, the Canadians recognized the opportunity to contribute to the war effort in support of Britain and the Allies. Canada quickly built up a sizable military and over the years, gained a reputation of being capable and committed. Although the Canadians experienced devastating setbacks in the form of heavy casualties, their commitment and loyalty allowed them to press forward. They later distinguished themselves in the Battle of the Atlantic, the invasion of Normandy, and in the training of aircrew for battle. Despite Canada not being a superpower, it was still able to surface as a staunch Ally and a significant contributor the Allied victory.


Granatstein and Morton, A nation Forged in Fire: Canadians and the Second World War 1939 – 1945. Toronto: Lester & Orpen Dennys, 1989

Swettenham, Canada’s Atlantic War. Toronto, Samuel-Stevens, Publishers, 1979

Gaffen, The Road to Victory: A History of Canada in the Second World War. Ottawa, Canadian War Museum, 1995

Granatstein, Normandy: 1944 – 1999. Ottawa, Veterans Affairs Canada, 1999

Bumsted, The Peoples of Canada: A Post-Confederation History. Don Mills, Oxford University Press, 2014



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