A History of Canadian Soldiers in World War 2
In WW1, Canada was automatically committed to war when Britain declared war. This was not the case in WW2, but there was never much doubt about Canada’s involvement, and the country declared war on September 10th, 1939.
The Early Days of the War
58,000 soldiers enlisted in the first month alone, and by December troops were already heading over to Britain. In total, about 250,000 went overseas to fight over the course of the war. Because of the bad start to the war for Britain, where France became occupied early on, Canada became Britain’s main ally during the first year.
Huge Sea and Air Commitment
Canada played a significant role in the air and at sea. Canada played a large role in the Battle of the Atlantic, which lasted throughout the war. The German U-boat offensive attempted to cut the lifeline provided to Britain, and Canada provided support through the contribution of the Canadian Merchant Navy and the Royal Canadian Navy.
It protected the convoys crossing the Atlantic by providing corvettes, minesweepers, destroyers and more. The Royal Canadian Air Force also assisted, and it provided an escort for the shipping. It was tough at the start, but it became a very effective force.
The Royal Canadian Navy was the third-largest fleet in the world by the end of the war, having enlisted 100,000 men and 6,500 women. It sank many submarines, but it also lost a large number of warships.
Canada’s air support was crucial throughout the war. It supported Britain’s Bomber Command from 1943 to 1945, contributing a huge strike force. It was very successful, but nearly 10,000 lost their lives.
The Royal Canadian Air Force had a huge role in the war, and it was very important to the Allied victory. Many thousands enlisted over the course of the war, and thousands also served in the Royal Air Force.
The Battle for Hong Kong
On December 8th, 1941, Canadian troops and others were defending Hong Kong when they were surprised by Japanese troops, who overwhelmed them. They were overrun in just over two weeks, and nearly 300 were killed and hundreds more injured. Many survivors were taken prisoner in appalling conditions, and almost 300 died while in captivity.
German Attacks in Canadian Waters
In Canada, life was affected for everyone. Price controls and wage controls were introduced in 1941, and rations were brought in during 1942. But millions volunteered and helped with salvage and other tasks.
Canada also faced German hostility in its own waters. German submarines attacked Canadian waters and Newfoundland waters and sank more than 100 ships. They got as far as the Gulf of St Lawrence.
The Worst Day
The worst moment for Canada came with the attack on Dieppe in 1942, which was a disaster. 5,000 troops attacked, with support from Britain, but the Germans had strong defences and 807 Canadian troops were killed and 1,946 captured. It was the worst loss for Canada in a single day.
Canada played a large role on D-Day on June 6th, 1944. 14,000 of the 150,000 soldiers were Canadian, and the Royal Canadian Navy also contributed ships and men. Canada then went on to play a large role in the campaign in Normandy.
The Price of Victory
Canada’s role was crucial in the war effort. As well as the above contributions, it also played a significant role in the campaign against Italy from 1943-45, helping to capture Sicily in July 1943 and later capturing Ortona.
But there was a high cost of victory. Over 42,000 lost their lives, and 54,000 were wounded. The war changed the country considerably, and to this day Canada proudly remembers all those who contributed to the war effort for the huge commitment they made.