Ordeal by Fire: Canada, 1910-1945

By Ralph Allen | Go to book overview

XLII
The Canadian Army and its false starts--The Air Force and the Battle of Britain

CANADA made five major military contributions to the winning of the Second World War.

The Army, which reached a peak strength of five divisions and nearly half a million men, put assault and follow-up formations of various sizes into all the main campaigns of Western Europe. Its greatest victories, none won easily, were in Sicily, Italy, France, Belgium, Holland, and northwestern Germany. It suffered total defeats at Hong Kong and Dieppe, the first to no purpose, the second redeemed by the lessons in amphibious landings it provided for all the Allies. Its casualties numbered 81,000, including 23,000 dead.

The Navy played a part second only to that of the British Royal Navy in keeping the lifeline to Britain open during the dark and almost fatal years of the Battle of the Atlantic. It expanded its strength in officers and ratings almost fiftyfold to a hundred thousand and built, bought, and borrowed more than four hundred cruisers, destroyers, frigates, corvettes, mine sweepers, gunboats, torpedo boats, and landing craft to add to its prewar establishment of thirteen vessels, one of which was a sailing ship for training cadets. It convoyed twenty-five thousand merchant ships and nearly two hundred million tons of supplies either part of or all the way between North America and the United Kingdom. It sank twenty-seven U-boats and itself lost two dozen warships. More than four in every five of its two thousand casualties were fatal. There were not many second chances in the Battle of the Atlantic.

The Air Force put nearly a quarter of a million Canadians in uniform, steadily stepping up its striking power from a squadron

-372-

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