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The Second World War began on September 1st, 1939, after Germany invaded Poland (Bercuson 152). As a result, Britain and France declared war on Germany two days later. Canada, which had been an ally of Britain, was also not left behind. Seven days after the German invasion, her parliament also declared war on Germany, the first war the country had ever participated in after becoming an independent state (Byers 12). This marked the beginning of Canada’s involvement in the most brutal war ever recorded in history. This paper will critically analyze Canada’s essential participation in the Second World War as an ally of Britain.
The British Commonwealth Air Training Plan
The British Commonwealth Air Training Plan was an agreement signed between Australia, UK, Canada, and New Zealand on December 17th, 1939 (Hatch & Hillmer, 2007). The program was one of Canada’s critical contributions to the victory of the allies in the Second World War. As stated by Hatch and Hillmer (2007), this operation, which was conducted until March 31st, 1945, was referred to as the Aerodrome of Democracy by President Roosevelt. Canada provided a good atmosphere for the program since it had a large air space for training located far from the enemy (the Germans), excellent weather conditions, quick access to the US industry, and its closeness to Europe through the North Atlantic shipping lanes (Hatch & Hillmer, 2007).
Having been an effective training and recruitment ground for the British in the First World War, the British government hoped that the same relationship would continue during World War II. However, negotiating this deal was complicated. In the end, Canada agreed to meet all the financial costs for the plan. Still, it insisted that Britain agree that the air training program would prioritize all other aspects of the Canadian efforts during the war. The training program began in April 1949, and it was a success having a total of 131,553 graduates constituting of pilots, navigators, bombers, and flight engineers who participated actively during the war that saw the fall of Germany (Hatch & Hillmer, 2007).
The Merchant Navy
Another Canadian contribution towards the victory of the allies during the Second World War was its merchant navy. From a humble beginning in 1939, the merchant navy of Canada grew rapidly in size and number. The navy faced fierce confrontations from the Germans and their U-boats who had taken control of the Atlantic Ocean between North America and the United Kingdom, making the transportation of food, machinery, and other necessary equipment for the allies from North America to Europe to become a dangerous exercise. The Canadian navy suffered heavy losses by losing 1,500 sailors’ lives, while 198 were captured and became prisoners (Ridler 11). This was because the nation was not prepared for modern warfare, sea included. They were using outdated ships, and the crew was poorly trained.
In response, Canada increased the number of recruits in the army. These recruits were composed of able-bodied who were intelligent and had the naval experience. This saw a rise in the number and size of the merchant navy. Canada also started a shipbuilding program. At the beginning of the war, Canada only had four shipyards and nine berths able to service 10,000-tonne ships. By the end of the war, she had 38 berths operating in ten yards and over 25,000 merchant ships, making it the third-biggest navy in the world (Ridler 13).
Security of the merchant ships was provided by warships from a convoy of either the Canadian or British army. This is because the merchant ships were lightly armed. The efficiency of transportation of food, materials, and other equipment increased after 1943 due to the reduction of attacks from the German U-boats. When the German navy changed its attack tactics, the Canadian navy coupled these attacks by improving their defense using better technology and improving its crew training.
They built ships with improved sonar and depth charges, aircrafts surveyed the routs which the convoys were passing through, and the newly built ships had a flight deck extension for aircraft landing to provide local air support in times of distress. This made the Atlantic waters between North America and the United Kingdom safer, although there were still some attacks on the convoys from the German U-boats.
In 1942, Canadian troops camped on the hills and towns of the South Downs near Brighton about to raid Dieppe, a German-held French port. More than six thousand soldiers were taken to Dieppe, coming from Portsmouth, Southampton, and Cowes (Greenwood 2002). They were planning an attack on the harbor. In the troop, there were around 5,000 Canadian soldiers. This attack was called Operation Jubilee, and its primary intent was to raise the morale of the allies in a time when the war seemed to go against them and to relieve pressure from the Soviet Union (Greenwood 2002).
Though carefully planned as a surprise attack, the result of the raid was a disaster. A German patrol boat spotted the troops before they approached the shore and opened fire, which alerted the German shore batteries. A few troops that managed to reach the beach moved deeper into the land, where they faced a much stronger German resistance than anticipated. The Canadian forces faced heavy casualties at Dieppe.
As stated by Greenwood (2002), 907 soldiers lost their lives, 1,874 were taken prisoner, and 2,460 were wounded on that very day. Of the 236 who returned to Britain, 200 had not landed. The soldiers who made it into the town fought bravely, winning three Victoria crosses on that day. In contrast, only around 500 German soldiers were killed, and a small number of them were taken back to Britain as prisoners (Greenwood 2002).
The Battle of Normandy
On June 6th, 1944, a Canadian troop and other allies’ forces landed on Juno Beach during the Battle of Normandy. On the first hour of landing, the Canadian forces suffered over 50% casualty (Allen 6). Despite this, it was evident that they were the most powerful troop since they had moved deeper inland than any other allied troop by nightfall. In the first month of this operation, the Canadian troops, together with those of the allies, faced the strongest resistance from the German army. The main aim of this operation was to liberate Paris from German rule. Canadian troops played a critical role in the destruction of the German army in Normandy, and by the time they met with the American troops, the German army was very weak.
Protection of Hong Kong
The British crown of Hong Kong constituted the island itself and the adjacent mainland of Kowloon and the mountainous surroundings. Britain realized that it would be difficult for them to protect the colony in the event of war with Japan since it did not have enough military power and equipment for war. The thought of sending in new troops would be noticeable and risky. However, with time Britain saw the necessity to have reinforcements on the island, thus asked Canada for two battalions who sailed from Vancouver on October 17th, 1941 to Hong Kong (Canadian Military 2010).
The island did not have sufficient naval, air, or ground troops, but the Canadians’ arrival boosted their strength. War finally broke out on December 7th when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and Hong Kong a day later. Despite their desperate efforts, the troops in Hong Kong were no match to the Japanese army, and after 17 days of fierce fighting, they surrendered. The survivors became prisoners of were and were only released at the end of the war. Of the 1,975 Canadian soldiers who sailed from Vancouver, over 550 never returned home (Weinberg 51).
As argued in this paper, it is evident that Canada was actively involved in the Second World War, essentially as an ally of Britain. Canada offered land as a training ground for the British Commonwealth air training plan, developed a strong navy which facilitated the transportation of food and necessary equipment from North America to the United Kingdom and gave its military to fight for Britain on several occasions that fought bravely, some got seriously wounded while others lost their lives. Canada, therefore, should be credited for the allied victory of the Second World War.
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Bercuson, David. Maple Leaf against the Axis. Canada’s Second World War. Toronto: Stoddart, 1995.
Byers, Adams. The Canadians at War 1939–45. Westmount: QC, 1986
Canadian Military. World War II.The Defense of Hong Kong. 2010. Web.
Greenwood, Gavin. The Dieppe Raid: A Tragedy In 1942. Culture24. 2002. Web.
Hatch, Francis J., and Hillmer, Norman. British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. The Canadian Encyclopedia. The Canadian Encyclopedia Ltd, 2005. Web.
Ridler, Jason. Nothing but Hope and Courage. Canada’s Merchant Navy In The Second World War. Vancouver: McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 2010.
Weinberg, Albert. Manifest Destiny: A Study of Nationalist Expansionism in American History. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1935.