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Canada and World War II
Transcript of Canada and World War II
The War in Europe
The War Spreads
the war in the pacific
Canada's role in Europe
The Tide Turns
D-Day and Liberation
The Holocaust Discovered
The War at home
japanese canadians in the war
What the war
Meant to canada
In 1938, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain optimistically announced to the world that he had managed to secure "peace for our time" with the Munich Agreement.
This agreement let Hitler take over part of Czechoslovakia on the promise that he would cease his agression.
World War II
In March 1939, however, Hitler ignored the terms of the agreement and his troops marched through the rest of Czechoslovakia.
In May, Britain's King George VI and Queen Elizabeth visited Canada, the first time a reigning monarch had ever visited this country. The purpose of the visit was to rally support for Britain in these tense times.
Prime Minister King did not want Canada to become involved in another world conflict:
1. The scars of WWI, fought less than twenty-five years earlier, were still fresh for many Canadians. That war had deeply divided Canada on the issue of conscription.
2. Besides, Canada was just starting to come out of the dark years of the Depression. The economy was slowly improving, and King didn't want the country plunged back into debt.
But, on September 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland.
His minister of justice, Ernest Lapoint from Quebec, also spoke in favour of the war but stated, "I am authorized by my colleagues in the cabinet from Quebec to say that we will never agree to conscription and will never be members or supporters of a goverment that will try to enforce it."
King assured Parliament and Quebec that, "so long as this goverment may be in power, no such measure shall be enacted."
On September 10, 1939, Canada declared war on Germany.
On September 8, Prime Minister King called a special session of Parliament to decide Canada's response. King recommended that Canada join the war.
Despite its willingness to join in the war, Canada was not prepared for it in 1939. Army, air force, and navy troops were small in number and most of Canada's equipment was outdated and unfit for combat.
Canada had no trouble finding volunteers. In September alone, over 58,300 people volunteered for service.
As in World War I, Aboriginal people volunteered at a higher rate than any other group in Canada. Among them was Thomas Prince, who was to become one of Canada's most decorated soldiers.
The Canadian army initially rejected African-Canadian volunteers because of racist attitudes towards people of Non-European origin. As the war continued, however, African-Canadians were accepted into the regular army and the officer corps.
One of two Black Canadian men in the Radar Division, a highly secret operation of the Allied Forces during WWII, northern Ireland c. 1945.
After years of the Depression, some Canadians were attracted by the private's pay of $1.30 a day plus sixty dollars a month for a dependent spouse and thirty dollars a month for each child.
During the Second World War, both Camp Borden and RCAF Station Borden became the most important training facility in Canada, housing both army training and flight training, the latter under the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP). The BCATP's No. 1 Service Flying Training School (SFTS) was located here until 1946.
In the early months of the war, Mackenzie King hoped Canada's contribution to the war effort would remain, as much as possible, at home. This way, the issue of conscription could be avoided.
The British Commonwealth Air Training Plan seemed to offer Canada this possibility. In December 1939, Canada agreed to host and administer a training plan in which British instructors would train pilots and other flight personnel from all over the Commonwealth in Canada.
My grandfather, Carl Falkenberg, was commanding officer of Camp Borden during WWII.
With the declaration of war, the Canadian government became much more involved in the planning and control of the economy. In April 1940, the government established the Department of Munitions and Supplies, and King appointed C.D. Howe as its minister.
Nicknamed "the Minister of Everything", he was described as a "fascist, but a nice Fascist", and accused of having set himself up as a virtual dictator. All agreed, however, that Howe was the man that got things done. As minister responsible for transportation, munitions and supplies, he gave Canadians the means that were urgently needed to support the war effort.
He was given extraordinary authority to do whatever it took to gear up the economy to meet wartime demands.
- told industries what to produce and how
- convinced business leaders to manufacture goods they had never made before
- created Crown corporations
Under Howe's leadership, the government ran telephone companies, refined fuel, stockpiled silk for parachutes, mined uranium, and controlled food production. This was the policy of total war, with Canadians willing to do whatever it took to defeat the enemy.
Britain, France, Commonwealth countries (Canada, Australia, New Zealand).
Germany, Italy, Japan
For seven months after the declaration of war, nothing happened. This period became known as the "phoney war," and many people started to believe there might not be a war.
These illusions were shattered when Germany renewed its blitzkrieg ("lightening war") attacking Denmark and Norway in April 1940. The blitzkrieg was a powerful and extremely successful war tactic: in surprise attacks and with lightening speed, German panzers (tanks) would crash through enemy lines, driving forward as far as they could. At the same time, war planes would roar through the skies, constantly bombing the enemy below. Germany soldiers would also parachute into enemy territory, destroying vital communication and transportation links. The attacks were swift and thorough, and left the enemy confused and eventually surrounded.
In May 1940, Germany began its invasion of the Netherlands. The German forces moved quickly through Belgium, and finally into France. Allied forces were soon surrounded in the French port of Dunkirk.
They had to escape before the Germans captured the town. They decided to try an evacuation by sea. The British navy rounded up every boat capable of navigating the English Channel and they headed for Dunkirk to begin the evacuation on May 26. By June 4 it was nearly completed. Nearly 340,000 Allied soldiers were brought to safety in Britain.
The German army continued its sweep through France. The French army was no match for the power German troops, and on June 22, 1940, France surrendered.
Hitler's next goal was "Operation Sea Lion," the invasion of Britain.
On July 10, 1940, the German Luftwaffe started a massive bombing campaign, aimed at destroying harbours and shipping facilities in southern England. In August, the bombing raids targeted air fields and aircraft factories.
The Germans were unable to defeat the British air force. One reason was that the British had a very sophisticated radar system that gave them early warnings of German air raids.
The British also used Spitfires and Hurricanes, two fighter planes that, although limited in number, were extremely effective defense planes.
By September, the German strategy shifted to bombing civilian targets, and for 55 consecutive nights, German planes bombed London and other cities. These raids became known as "the Blitz." More than 23,000 people, mostly civilians, were killed in the Blitz.
Shortly after Germany's defeat in the Battle of Britain, Hitler turned his attention eastward: he launched "Operation Barbarossa," the invasion of the USSR.
The Soviets were surprised and unprepared for the attack. German troops were ill-equipped for the long and bitterly cold Soviet winter, and soon lost their advantage.
In 1942, Germany launched another offensive in the USSR, hoping to capture the rich oil fields in the south. This time, the German troops got as far as Stalingrad, but once again were stopped by severe winter. Their situation grew desperate and, after suffering more than 300,000 casualties, the German army surrendered in early 1943.
Taking advantage of this victory, the Soviet army went on the offensive, retaking much of the territory they had lost earlier.
Japan was an Axis power, but it was not involved in the war in Europe. By 1941, it was prepared to invade U.S. and European colonies in Southeast Asia, which were rich in valuable resources such as oil, rubber, and tin.
On December 7, 1941, Japanese planes bombed the U.S. naval base in Pearl Harbor, on the island of Hawaii, destroying half the fleet. They they bombed the Philippines.
The next day the U.S. government declared war on Japan. Japan continued its invasion of most of Southeast Asia and Burma, and the Netherlands East Indies, heading toward Australia.
Only hours after Japanese planes bombed Pearl Harbor, Japanese troops began their surprise invasion of the British colony of Hong Kong. By Christmas Day, 1941, Hong Kong had fallen to the Japanese.
Canada had sent troops to Hong Kong only months earlier, and all 1975 Canadians were either killed or taken prisoner by the Japanese. Of the 555 who perished, nearly half died as prisoners during the three and a half years they were imprisoned.
By the middle of 1942, the Soviet Union wanted the Allies to invade Europe from the west, a move that would weaken the German army by forcing it to fight the war on two fronts.
The Allies were not prepared for a full invasion of Europe, but they felt ready for a trial run. A smaller raid would give them an opportunity to test new techniques and equipment, as well as serve as a reconnaissance mission for a future invasion.
Canadian troops had seen little action since coming to Britain. The Second Canadian Division was chosen to be the main force of attack in an experimental raid on the French port of Dieppe, under German occupation.
From the very beginning of the raid thing went wrong. One of the ships carrying Canadian soldiers met a German convoy, engaged in a brief sea battle, and alerted German troops on shore. The ships were delayed and Canadian soldiers came ashore in daylight. Communication between the ships and troops on land was poor and troops became trapped on the beaches. Allied tanks were left immobile on the beaches. The raid was a terrible failure.
When war broke out, the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) rushed into a massive building and training program. With only thirteen ships and 1819 sailors, Canada's navy was desperately short of equipment and trained manpower.
By 1941, the Battle of the Atlantic was in full force, and Canada's contribution was much needed. Britain was almost completely dependent on food and military supplies from Canada and the United States, but the Allied merchant ships bound for England were being sunk by "wolf packs" of German U-boats patrolling the Atlantic. Germany was trying to starve Britain by cutting off vital shipping routes to the island.
In order to protect supply ships from being sunk by German torpedoes, Allies sailed in convoys: warships escorted vessels carrying vital supplies, protecting them. Canada started building small warships, called corvettes, to escort convoys across the ocean.
The corvette was quick, small, and maneuvered well, but it was not a very seaworthy vessel. It was the best ship that could be built in such short time.
By May 1942, the British had cracked the German naval code, which meant the Allies could track German submarine movements more easily. In December, the British cracked a second German code. As well, the Allies were reaching the point where more ships were being built than were being destroyed.
Canada's navy grew significantly during the war. By 1945, it had 400 vessels and over 100,000 sailors: 99,688 men and 6500 women. The RCN is credited with having provided about half the escorts across the Atlantic.
Like the RCN, the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) grew quickly after the war began and played a variety of important roles. Altogether, almost 250,000 Canadian joined the RCAF and at one point, there were forty-eight Canadian squadrons posted overseas.
Canadian air crews participated in one of the most controversial missions of the war: night bombings over Germany. Night after night, British and Canadian bombers pounded German cities; U.S. bombers attacked during the day.
There were sights you can't forget. Fire bombs, which set off as many as a hundred individual fires when they exploded, did the most damage. When you dropped thousands of them, the city looked like a vast pot of boiling lead.
We were after military objectives: the seaport, armament works and so on. But there was another policy at work: demoralize the people, don't let them sleep, make them homeless, break their will. It's not a thing we bragged about. But those people were at war with us and they were very serious about it.
- Canadian bomber ace Johnnie Fauquier
The casualty rate among air crews was very high. Nearly 10,000 Canadian bomber crew lost their lives in the war, a quarter of the total number of Canadians killed in World War II.
In 1941, the RCAF formed the Women's Division (WD) to support the war effort. Women were trained as clerks, cooks, hospital assistants, drivers, telephone operators, welders, instrument mechanics, and engine mechanics. Women never took part in combat.
Watch Canadian History Series - Days of Despair: 1939-1942 with worksheet.
British Prime Minister Winston Churchill felt that the best way for the Allies to recapture Europe was through what he called the "soft underbelly" of Europe - Italy and Sicily.
In 1942, the tide of the war finally began to turn. The Allies gained strength when tehe United States entered the conflict in December 1941. They began to win the Battle of the Atlantic and made important advances in the Pacific. By 1943, the Allies had cleared North Africa of Axis forces and could turn their attention to the invasion of Europe.
On July 10, 1943, Canadian soldiers participated in the Allies' invasion of Sicily. After two weeks of fierce fighting, the Allies were successful and in September moved to mainland Italy. In Ortona, Canadians fought for a month and lost 1372 soldiers before the Germans withdrew.
Advances were slow; battles were often fought house by house and street by street.
Ortona was of high strategic importance, as it was one of Italy's few usable deep water ports on the east coast, and was needed for docking allied ships. The Germans had constructed a series of skilfully designed interlocking defensive positions in the town. This—together with the fact that the Germans had been ordered to "fight for every last house and tree"— made the town a formidable obstacle to any attacking force.
The Allies' advance through Italy was difficult, but on June 4, 1944, the finally took Rome. Fighting continued in Italy until the spring of 1945.
The Allies' success in Rome was followed immediately by the biggest Allied invasion of the war. On June 6, 1944, "D-Day," the Allies launched "Operation Overlord" - a full scale invasion of Europe.
On the morning of June 6, over 30,000 Canadian soldiers arrived at Juno Beach as part of the first wave of the attack. The task was daunting: they had to make their way past the concrete barriers the Germans had erected, through barbed wire and other obstacles, in order to work their way inland.
Casualties from that day were high - 359 Canadians died and 715 were wounded. But these figures were lower than had been expected.
Watch first 20 minutes of "Saving Private Ryan"
In March 1945, the Canadians were given the job of liberating the Netherlands. By the end of 1944, food and fuel supplies to the Dutch had been cut off, and many were starving to death. A bitter winter had made things even worse. One Red Cross worker in the Netherlands described the desperation: "In the struggle for existence, men even eat flower bulbs. Horses killed in bombardments are immediately cut up [for food] by passersby."
While the Allies attacked Germany from the west, the Soviet Union attacked from the east. Facing certain defeat, Germany surrendered on May 7, 1945. Hitler, together with his wife Eva Braun, committed suicide in a bunker in Berlin.
Watch "The World At War" - Epidode 20: Genocide
On August 6, 1945, a U.S. bomber dropped an atomic bomb over the Japanese city of Hiroshima. Three days later, a second atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. The Japanese, realizing that they could not withstand the power of the new U.S. weapon, surrendered. World War II was over.
Admiral William D. Leahy advised Roosevelt not to use the bomb:
- it would violate every Christian ethic I have ever heard of and all known laws of war
- it would be an attack on the noncombatant population of the enemy
- no material assistance in our war
- the Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender.
Colonel Paul Tibbets rejected such criticism:
- We were at war. Our job was to win.
- The objective was to stop the fighting, thereby saving further loss of life on both sides.
As in WWI, women were mobilized to take men's places, and they began working as welders, drillers, punch press operators, and machine operators.
Single women were in high demand as factory workers as they often had limited family obligations and could work long hours.
With so much increased production and employment, people suddenly had more money to spend. But there were fewer goods to buy, as most of what was being produced was being shipped to Britain. This would lead to inflation if nothing were done.
In 1941, the Wartime Prices and Trade Board took the drastic step of freezing all wages and prices as a way to prevent inflation.
Then, in 1942, King introduced food rationing, which meant Canadians were allowed only a limited amount of certain goods per week.
For example, each Canadian adult was limited to a weekly ration of about 1kg of meat, 220g of sugar, 250g of butter, and about 115g of coffee.
The acute shortage of labour often worked to the unions' advantage, and many ignored restrictions on the right to strike.
The CCF party and its platform of social reform was becoming increasingly popular at both the national and provincial levels, a fact that was not lost on Prime Minister King. King brought in an unemployment insurance program in 1940, and in 1945 he expanded Canada's social assistance programs, by creating the Family Allowance.
As the war progressed, King came under pressure from the Conservative opposition to adopt overseas conscription. In April 1942, voters were asked whether they would release the government from its promise not to send conscripts overseas. In all provinces, except Quebec, the majority voted "yes."
In the 1944 invasion of Europe, Canada had lost almost 23,000 soldiers, and there was now a severe shortage of trained infantry. King finally had to agree to send conscripts overseas.
Not all went peacefully. Conscripts in British Columbia refused to leave at first, and there were riots in Montreal to protest King's decision. The Quebec legislature passed a motion condemning the federal government's actions. In the end, only 2463 Canadian conscripts ever reached the front.
Under its policy of total war, Canada provided major military and economic support to the Allies. By the end of the war, Canada was known as the "arsenal of democracy."
Virtually every sector of the economy boomed. There was a rapid increase in the production of aluminum. Paper production rose too. There was also a great increase in demand for petroleum products. A wave of exploration led to major discoveries of oil fields in Alberta. Many new jobs were created, not just in production but also in transportation, processing, and providing services for the new industries.
The wartime boom brought another important change to the Canadian economy. Agriculture, once the most important sector of Canada's economy, was overtaken by industry. Canada became a modern industrial nation.
Canada's enormous contribution to the war, in both human and economic terms, gave it a new role on the world stage. Just a few years before, Canada had been a colony of the British Empire; now, Canadians were major players in the global conflict. They had built the world's third-largest navy and fourth-largest air force.
Canada: A People's History