World War II -- Canada ground war

Canadian World War II Effort: Ground Campaigns

Figure 1.--This photograph shows the five man crew of a Canadian M4 Sherman. America not only equippd its owb armed forces, but that of its allies as well. The photograph was taken October 29, 1944, somewhere in the Nethelands. At the time the Allies had just failed to cross the Rhine bridge at Armem, the objective of Operation Market Garden, leaving much of the Netherlsnds in NAZI hands. The dealer suggests that the Dutch girl offering coffee to the crew. Tht is rather unlikely because coffee had been unavailablr in the Netherlands for several years. Note the track which has been hung from the side of the turret as extra armor. Sherman crews were inventive in trying to add armor because German armor and anti-tank guns were able to knock out so many Shermans with their undepowered maun armament gun and rlatively thin armor.

World War involved some 30 countries. Many did no commit combat troops but helpd supply the Allies, mostly the Latin American countries. More countries were actully invoved if you include the European colonies. Several countries declared war only so that they could participate in the San Francisco Conference establishing the United Nations. While some countries did not make major contributions, other countries puvhed above their weight. One of those countries was Canada, a vast country, but with a population of only 11 million. Canada loyally came to Britain's defense immeditely after the Germans invaded Poland and Britain declared war on Germany. In both world wars, the Germans tended to leave out th Dominions in their power calculations. Canada could have stood back and supportd the war effort from afar with food and raw material shipmnts. They would have been defended by the United States. Canada did not. Canada did not have a substantial armed force. They immediatly sent what they cold o Britain and set about building a subrantial Ae=rmy air force and navy. Canada made major contibutions in both the Air War and more importantly the Battle of the Atlantic and the ground struggle as well. At the time of Dunkirk, the only fully equipped division in Britain capable of resisting the Germans was the 1st Cannadian division. The Canadians fought along side the Brits in most of the major engagemnt except the Western Desert. More importantly they paricipated in D-Day and liberation of France and the Low countries. For a time the Canadian Army was divied between Italy and France. The Canadians made this herculean effort even though most French Canadians refused to support the war effort, even the liberation of France. Canadians were mistified after the war and General DeGualle supported Quebec separtists with his "Vive le Québec libre!" speech in Montreal (1967).

Operation Sea Lion (July-September 1940)

The Canadian forces in Britain were commanded by Gen. A.G.L. McNaughton. They were not deployed to France with the British Expeditionary Force (BEF). After the German Western Offence (May 10) the BEF was driven back to Dunkirk. While most of the BEF and large Frence forces were evacuated safely to Britain, they had to leave their equipment, especially tanks and artillery behind. For a perilous period, the Canadians were virtually the only fully equipped military units prepared to oppose a German invasion. Neutral America cleared out its armories to rush arms to the British. British factories worked overtime to produce artillery, tanks, and small arms, but for the perilous months during the Bttle of Britain, the British Army was only lightly armed. Again as with Napoleon, it was the Channel which stopped the invaders.

Hong Kong (December 1941)

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor launched the Pacific war (December 1941). Canada had sent two Canadian battalions to Hong Kong. It was a terrible strategic decesion. Two battalions were not going to stop the Japanese. The Japanese seized Hong Kong and the Canadians were taken as POWs. Many would not survive the War in terrible Japanese POW and slave labor camps. It would be the only major Canadian action in the Pacific War. The Canadian effort would be directed almost entirely against the Germans in Europe.

Dieppe Raid (August 19,1942)

The Canadian Army's first real engagement came at Dieppe on the French coast. Dieppe was a joint Canadian-British operation. Virtually anything that could go wrong, did go wrong. The Canadians and British units were badly mauled at the poorly conceived landings (August 1942). It was later descriped as a raid, although the British had hoped for more. Dieppe underscored just how hazardous an amphibious operation was against a prepared, well armed ememy force. While the Canadians paid nearly, the lessons learned at Dieppe were put to good use in Normandy 2 years later. One way that the Germans would heavily fortify the ports.

Sicily (July 1943)

After victory in Tunisia, the Allies chose Sicily as a stepping stone to Italy--Operation Husky. It was the logical choice, just as the Romanse chose it as the seping stone to Cathage. A casual look at a map would tell you this, Allied misinformation efforts confused the Germans who dispsed their forces to Sardinia and the Balkans. Thus the Allies encountered a reltively smakk German force wigh no hope of reenforcement. The invasion was assigned to the Seventh U.S. Army under Lieut.-General George S. Patton, and the Eighth British Army under General Sir Bernard L. Montgomery. The Canadians were to be part of the British Army whivh had been fighting the Germans and Itlians fir 2 years in the desert. Canadians sailors and airmen at the time had gained a considerable amount of combat experience, but the Canadian Army, stationed in Britain since 1939, had not been engaged in combat with ehe exceotion of the failed Dieppe landing (1942). The need for battle experience and the growing public demand for action led to the decision to include the 1st Canadian Infantry Division and the 1st Canadian Army Tank Brigade in invasion of Sicily. Most of the Allies invasion force for Sicily was drawn from the forces in Tunisia after the German surrender (May 1943). The Canadians were an exception. The Canadians were to be part of the British Army. The 1st Canadian Infantry Division and the 1st Canadian Army Tank Brigade, under the command of Major-General G.G. Simonds, sailed from Britain (late-June 1943). En route, 58 Canadians were drowned when German U-boats sank three ships of the assault convoy, and 500 vehicles and a number of guns were lost. Again as with Operation Torch, Admiral Donnetiz's U-boats failed. The three ship sunk were negiligble losses as part of thec 3,000 ship armada assulting Sicily. The Canadians arrived on scheduled to join the Allied landings (July 9-10).

Italy (September 1943)

One result of the Allied success in Sicily was to open Italy to an Allied invasion. Another resuly was the overthrow of the Italian dictator, Mussolini. The Fascist Grand Council removed Mussolini and ordered him arrested. They promissed Hitler to continue the Axis alliance. Hitler was not fooled. With the fall of Sicuily, Hitler had begun moving German forces into Italy in preoaration for a German occupation. He even ended the climatic Battle of Kursk early to begin this shift. The new Italian government surrendered (September 3, 1943), as the Allied landings began. The German forces in Italy immediately seized control of the country. Hitler;s inclination was to fight in the north. Filed Marshal Kesserling decidd him to contest the Allies in the south. The fight for Italy would be a fight with the Germans without their Italian allies. The British Eighth Army (including the 1st Canadian Division, the 5th British Division and the 1st Canadian Army Tank Brigade) would strike first crossing the Strait of Messina landing near the toe of Italy, hoping to draw the Germans to the extreme south away from all importnt port of Naples where the Americans were going to land. The Grmans were not fooled, understanding that Naples was the key to the success of any invasion. The Fifth U.S. Army (with two British and two U.S. divisions) landed in the Gulf of Salerno, south of Naples (September 9). The 1st British Airborne Division land by sea in the Taranto region and seized the heel of the peninsula. The Germans did not resist the British landings, even so Montgomery advanced north very slowly The Canadians with the 8th Army advanced toward Reggio Calabria--the largest city in Calabria (southern Italy) with a small port. The Germans establishrd a line of defence across the narrow, mountainous central part of the peninsula and threw most of their forces at the Salerno landings. Here vthe issue was in doubt for several days. The Canadians after capturing Reggio Calabria, advanced across the Aspromonte Mountains and along the Gulf of Taranto to Catanzaro. They faced rain and rudimentary mountain roads, but only German rearguard actions. They advanced 120 kilometres inland from Reggio (September 10), but were still far way from Naples where the fate of the campaihn was being sttled at Salerno. The Canadians would fight in Italy during 1943 and much of 1944. They were eventually pulled out to join the Canadian forces serving under Field Marshal Montgomery in France.

D-Day (June 1944)

The Canadians played a major role in the D-Day, landing at Juno Beach. This was between the to British beaches, Gold and Sword. The three Commonwealth beaches were close together. The american beaches were some distabce to the west. Uniting the beach head was the first important objctive after the landing. The British had fought with a mixed Commonwealth force (including Australians, Indians, New Zealanders, and South Africans) and others in the Western Desert. In the northwestern European campaign they would fight with the Canadians. The FRench would fight with the Americans.

Liberation of France (July-August 1944)

The Canadians went on to form an important part of Montgomery's First Army in the liberation of France. The Canadians suffered heavy losses in Montgomery's repeated efforts to take Caen. The Canadiand then fought in the efforts to close the Falaise gap and cut off the German 7th Army. Most of the Canadian soldiers were Anglos. Many Frevh Canadian resisted sevice and the draft, even though the main objective was the liberatiin if France.

Liberation of the Low Countries (September-October 1944)

The Canadians played a major role in the liberation of the Low Countries (Belgium and the Netherlands). The Canadians reached Belgium (September 1944) and moved into the Netherlands. Effrts to cross the Rhine with Operation Market Garden failed, leaving most of the Netherlands in German hands (October 1944). The Canadians fought in the costly effort to clear the Scheldt estuary. This was necessary so that the port of Antwerp could be used by the Allies. Supplies were the major force holding back the Allied armies and Antwerp was key in resolving the supply problem. The Canadians finally crossed the Rhine to liberate the rest of the Netherlands (March 1945). The Germans were punishing the Dutch for supporting the Allies and the Canadians found a people close to starvation when they arrived with food..

Invasion of Germany (March 1945)

The Canadians were involved in the final push into NAZI Germany. The Canadian units in Italy wete withdrawn in early-1945 so the Canadioan Army could fight as a unit in final invasion of Germany. The Canadians fought a major and very costly engagement at Hochwald Ridge (February 1945). The Canadian victory there cleared the way for Montgomery's crossing of the Rhine in the northern sector of the allied line.


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Created: 6:38 PM 11/20/2017
Last updated: 6:38 PM 11/20/2017