During World War II, over thirty countries participated in an all-out war that claimed many millions of lives. The stated beginning of WWII was September 1, 1939, when Nazi Germany invaded Poland. Canada entered the war on September 10, 1939, and within two months the first Canadian troops arrived in the U.K. to support British troops. Take our quiz and test your knowledge about Canada in WWII!
The United States was attacked by Japan at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii on December 7, 1941; we declared war the next day. But Canada entered the war more than two years earlier than we did, when they agreed to help the British forces on September 10, 1939. Their troops were in Europe a mere two months later.
When the Canadian forces first arrived in the United Kingdom, their duty was to supplement the British Expeditionary Forces in defense of the British Isles. Halfway around the world, Canadian forces fought alongside the British, Indian and Hong Kong forces in defense of the British colony of Hong Kong, until the surrender on December 25, 1941.
5,000 Canadians took part in the raid - 1,000 were killed, 2,000 were taken prisoner, and the remaining 2,000 soldiers managed to make it back to jolly old England. More Canadians were killed when they assisted the British Eighth Army in the invasion of Sicily on July 10, 1943.
The Canadians were part of the Allied invasion forces that landed on the beaches of Normandy in 1944. They first took Caen, then advanced along the Pas-De-Calais and took Dieppe on September 1. They fought alongside the British troops in freeing the Scheldt Estuary, which allowed the first Allied convoy to arrive at Antwerp, Belgium, in November 1944.
During the course of WWII, 730,000 Canadians were enlisted. The country faced controversy over mandatory conscription for service overseas.
At the University of Toronto, Wilbur Franks developed the Franks Flying Suit that was lined with fluid and fit snugly, to counteract the displacement of blood in G-force situations. It was used by the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm but never fully adopted by the air force.
Missiles had more sets of fins or wings, but mortars did have a set of fins to stabilize their flight. In addition to the fins, mortars also had a propellant charge affixed to their tail ends, to be ignited upon contact with a firing pin on the base after being dropped in the barrel.
“Lacking in Moral Fiber,” or LMF, was the disciplinary reason given for stress and psychiatric casualties. Exhausted men were deemed unsuitable for combat, as were those that were battle traumatized.
Some Canadians went northerly and fought to liberate the Netherlands from the Nazis, while others fought in the Battle of Germany. Their bravery and sacrifice made it possible for the Netherlands to once again be a free nation, out from under the oppressive thumb of the Nazi regime.
The Canadians built 815,729 military vehicles during the course of the war. This was in addition to their production of arms, ships and aircraft. As was the case in many countries, women helped to keep the factories going during wartime.
The Canadian First Army attacked the Germans in the Reichswald (Imperial Forest) and successfully drove them back across the Rhine. Subsequently, the Germans surrendered to General Montgomery at Luneburg Heath in May 1945.
The Royal Canadian Navy, with their nearly 100,000 men and 400 vessels, provided escort for Allied ships traveling across the Atlantic Ocean, ferrying supplies and men to the European theatre. Another duty included hunting U-boats (German submarines) of the famed German Wolf Packs, the biggest danger to Allied convoys. They also provided support for amphibious landings at Normandy, Sicily and Italy.
At the onset of World War II, Canada had a total of seven vessels in its navy. However, by the end of the war Canada boasted the third largest navy in the world, with nearly 400 vessels. Canada made over 25,000 successful escort crossings, overseeing the delivery of nearly 165 million tons of cargo to further the Allied war effort.
Low morale due to strict discipline on the HMCS Uganda caused the Canadian government to make a change that only volunteers would serve overseas. Approximately 600 of the 900 crew voted to register their desire to not serve overseas. On July 27, 1945, the Uganda was relieved of duty by the HMS Argonaut.
The University of Toronto had the only decompression chamber and used it to focus on the air force’s needs. It was used to study the effects of high-altitude flight on aircrews. The university also focused on G-force problems and centrifugal force on fighter pilots.
The carriers SS Saganaga and SS Lord Strathcona were sunk by German U-boat U-513 on September 5, 1942. These two carriers were sunk, then two more were sunk, the SS Rosecastle and the PLM 27, on November 2. All four ships were torpedoed in the Atlantic Ocean at Bell Island, Newfoundland. The passenger ferry SS Caribou was sunk on October 14, 1942, in the Cabot Straight. There were also sightings of U-boats in the rivers in that area. Notably, a Japanese submarine shelled Estevan Point Lighthouse on Vancouver Island on the West Coast.
While some of the Royal Canadian Air Force stayed in Canada, hunting U-boats, 48 squadrons were in the European theatre. The most recognized of these squadrons was Group No. 6, an RCAF formation in bomber command.
Because it was produced for the British and Canadian armies, the Sexton 25-Pounder Self-Propelled Gun was driven from the position of the right-hand side, just like when you drive in Britain. All vehicles produced by the British and Canadian armies were handled from the right.
WWII saw the use of mortars by infantry for immediate fire support. Any smooth bore weapon that projected an explosive projectile over short distances at 45 degrees or above from an inclined barrel on a fixed base plate was technically a mortar. They were usually supported by a bipod or tripod.
As a number of modifications had to be made to fix the new Sexton SP 25-Pounder Guns, the conversions left the 2nd Canadian Corps’ Priests useless. They were modified and called Kangaroo personnel carriers, and were used during the 1944 Operation Totalize.
Consisting primarily of aircraft from the United States and Great Britain, the Royal Canadian Air Force came to be the fourth largest air force in the world by the end of World War II. Canada did, however, design and build many of its own aircraft. By the end of the war, the country had developed quite the impressive aero industry.
While three ships (the cruisers HMCS Ontario and HMCS Uganda, and the armed merchant cruiser HMCS Prince Robert) were with the British Pacific fleet, only the HMCS Uganda saw action against the Japanese.
The Canadians fielded several types of machine guns in WWII. The most commonly used was the Bren Light Machine Gun, .303 caliber, with a range of 600 yards.
The Lee-Enfield Rifle No. 4, with a 10-round magazine, was manufactured in Canada, the U.S. and Britain. The rifle was designed to hit a 6-inch by 4-inch plate at 100 yards.
During World War II, the population of Canada was approximately 11 million. About 1 in 11 adults served in the armed forces during the war.
William Lyon Mackenzie King was prime minister of Canada during World War II. His terms in office ran from 1921 to 1926, 1926 to 1930, and 1935 to 1948.
A surprise attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese occurred on that day, claiming nearly 3,000 American lives and leading directly to a declaration of war by America on December 8, 1941.
King and Hitler met in Berlin on June 29, 1937. At the time, Hitler indicated that Germany had no interest in going to war.
Although not designed for firing on the move, the British SP field gun was used by Canada as towed pieces to deploy indirect fire. They were supported by gunners who couldn’t see the target but were helped in aim by a FOO (Forward Observation Officer).
At least 3,000 Status Indians enlisted during WWII - and some were women. In addition, some Metis and Inuit citizens served, but their numbers are unknown. At least 17 medals for bravery were awarded to Aboriginal Canadians.
With the mobility of a tank and the firepower of a field gun, the self-propelled (SP) artillery was first developed in the Great War and then developed further for the following wars. The main reason more tanks were not made was the cheapness of the SP tank destroyers and mobile guns comparatively, as they lacked the turret of the tank.
Canada produced 348 ten-thousand-ton merchant ships during the war years. One was built in as few as 112 days - far below the average of 307 days in 1941.
The Blackburn Shark, Fairey Swordfish and Fairey Albacore were all torpedo bombers, flown by the Royal Canadian Air Force. No, seriously, they named some of their attack planes after mythical creatures and fish.
The Canadian Ram tank was inspired by the Sherman. In fact, many Sherman parts were replicated or purchased, to simplify Ram production. The tank was designed for the driver to sit on the right.
Canada officially ended its war with Germany in 1951, by royal proclamation.