A Closer Look at Canada WWII: Overseas and the Homefront
What is Canada doing in Europe? • As usual, Canada (and the other former colonies) was at many battles alongside the British and French. • However, Canadians felt like they hadn’t had their moment of glory since coming to England. They wanted their chance to shine, like in WWI.
Dieppe Raid • The antsy Canadians were given their chance in 1942. At this time, the Soviet Union was pushing for an Allied invasion in the west to take the heat off the eastern front. • The Allies did not feel ready for a full scale invasion, so they decided to send in the Canadians for a “trial run”
The 2nd Canadian Division was sent to raid the port of Dieppe, west of Dunkirk. • Four pre-dawn attacks were to be followed by one main on 30min later. • Support was to come from bombers and tanks, but the navy refused to help and the air force was “stingy” with its contribution. • It was a disaster from the beginning…. • Dieppe Clip
What went wrong? • 1. On the morning of the 19th one of the Cdn ships met a German convoy and the ensuing battle alerted the Germans at Dieppe • 2. The pre-dawn ships were delayed and arrived on shore in the light • 3. More soldiers arrived and all they could do was stay on the beaches and be shot down from the cliffs above. • 4. The tanks got stuck in the pebbled beach • 5. Planning was poor and shrouded in “secrecy” • 6. It was a trial run, and Canadians were “expendable” – the goal was to test Germans defenses and recon the area.
Results? 1000 Cdns dead, 586 wounded, 2000 captured. Long term results? Some say it paved the way for the success of D Day, others say the Germans learned more from this than the Allies…..
How are Canadians doing elsewhere? • Canadians at Sea: The Battle of the Atlantic. • The main goal of the Germans in the Atlantic was to stop food and munitions getting to the UK from Canada. • This was done using “wolf packs” groups of U boats patrolling the seas. • To counter the Uboats, Canada created corvettes, small warships designed to escort large supply ships. These were quick and maneuverable defense boats, but unsteady. • Even with corvettes the Germans controlled the seas (some Uboats even made it up the St Lawrence into Canada!) and would have continued to do so if Britain had not cracked the German naval codes.
Summary of Canadian Roles • Air Force: RCAF (250,000 Cdns) supported the Allies in Britain, North Africa, Italy, NW Europe and Asia. It even took part in the bombing of Berlin • Navy: RCN major support in the Battle of the Atlantic with use of corvettes • At Home: British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, suppliers of munitions and food, women entered the workforce again, “total war” economy • Army: Dieppe Raid, Hong Kong, France
The War Shifts Momentum • Britain held off Germany at the Battle of Britain, but the Dieppe Raid had been a disaster. How do the Allies start to change the direction of the war? • 1. USA joins in 1942 • 2. Advances are made in the Battle of the Atlantic (break the code, faster ship manufacturing, corvettes etc) • 3. North Africa is cleared of Axis forces.
Canadians in Italy • PM Churchill called Italy the “soft underbelly” of Europe because he saw it as a way to “sneak up” on Germany from below. • July 1943 Canadians were sent to Silicy (success) and then on to the mainland. • The conditions were alarmingly similar to WWI – mud, rain, and hand to hand fighting. • The Italians surrendered quickly but then German troops were sent in from the North, causing a 2 year fight
Ortona • One of the toughest battles in Italy for the Canadians was Ortona. The battle was fought in the streets and by “leapfrogging” from house to house to push the Germans out of the town. • Eventually the Canadians took Rome, but fighting continued until 1945 when Germany finally admitted global defeat • Altogether, Canada lost 1372 soldiers at Ortona alone.
The Turning Point: D Day • Operation Overlord, the Allies plan to invade and liberate Europe from the Germans took place on June 6, 1944 – D Day. • The knowledge gained from Dieppe helped cement the detailed plans for this invasion that included Canadians, Americans, Brits and others. • They were to land at the beaches of Normandy: Sword, Juno*, Gold, Omaha, Utah.
D Day saw the first use of “paratroopers” – men dropped in from plans. The expected life span of these men was less than 10 secs, Canadians fared better than most others.
D Day was a success (unlike Dieppe) because of > 1. massive air and naval support > 2. managing to keep the plan a secret from the Germans and attempting it when the Germans least suspected it (during very stormy weather) > 3. landing more than 1 million Allied troops Canadian forces on D Day were so successful they actually had to backtrack and wait for the other Allied troops to catch up! After weeks of fighting their way inland, the Allies began an 11 month reclaiming mission through France, Belgium and into Germany. Canada was given the special task of liberating the Netherlands, where the people there had been cut off from food supplies and were starving to death • D Day Video: YouTube - Saving Private Ryan - Omaha Beach Part 1 - HD
End of the War in Europe…. • With the Allies’ powerful advance throughout Europe, Soviet troops closing in from the East, and German troops running out of supplies, defeat was certain. • Germany surrendered on May 7, 1945 – V-E Day (Victory in Europe) • Hitler (and his wife Eva) committed suicide in Berlin rather than surrender…..or did they?
VJ Day (Victory in Japan) • With the war in Europe over, fighting in Asia intensified. • The Japanese had been a formidable opponent, and the US was stuggling to defeat them. • The Manhattan Project (the creation of nuclear bombs) was in the works, with Uranium provided by Canada. • August 6, 1945 – the US dropped the bomb on Hiroshima and then Nagasaki. • 110,000 residents were killed and countless others wounded or disfigured by radiation, for years to come • It was the first and only time nuclear weapons have been used.