Canada in World War II

Canadian infantry landing at Juno Beach and marching toward Bernières-sur-Mer, 6 June 1944.
L'infanterie canadienne débarque sur la plage de Juno Beach et marche en direction de Bernières-sur-Mer, le 6 juin 1944. Source Archives Nationales du Canada.

On 7 September 1939, the Canadian Parliament met in a special session and two days later gave its support to Great Britain and France, which had been at war with Germany since 3 September.

Corps 1

In one month, over 58,000 volunteers had signed up and the 1st Infantry Division units embarked for England in December. With the arrival of the 2nd Infantry Division in the summer of 1940, these units were to make up the 1st Canadian Division within the 7th Army Corps commanded by General McNaughton.
1- 1940 and the War at Sea
In May 1940, four Canadian destroyers took part in the troop landing at Dunkirk.

Canadian destroyer NCSM Saguenay. Source: National Archives of Canada

During the Battle of Britain, the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) destroyed 31 German aircraft and damaged 43, while losing 16 aircraft itself. Other Canadians served in the RAF's No. 242 squadron.
The Battle of the Atlantic was decisive for Britain's survival. In 1940, Canada had 13 ships and 3,000 men; these figures rose to 373 and 90,000, respectively, at the end of 1944.
Canada soon provided over half the escorts for supply convoys; the first ”corvettes” were commissioned, but the German ”U-Boots” continued to take a high toll. In September 1941, the Canadian naval forces came under American command, leading them to be dispersed around the Atlantic. U-Boots even managed to slip into the Gulf of Saint Lawrence and sank 23 ships.

Grouping of a convoy of merchant ships in the Bedford Basin, Halifax Harbour, April 1941. Source: Department of National Defence / National Archives of Canada, PA-105262.

In March 1943, a conference put Great Britain and Canada in charge of defending the North Atlantic. Admiral Murray was given command of the Northwestern Atlantic.
Improvements in materiel and an increase in weaponry on the Allied side turned the situation around in the convoy war in the autumn of 1943. Actions by the Canadian Navy were to continue to be decisive through to the end of the war at sea.
2 - Operations in Asia
Canadian soldiers had their baptism of fire in Asia. Two Canadian battalions (Royal Rifles of Canada and the Winnipeg Grenadiers) were sent to Hong Kong as reinforcements on 27 October 1941. Despite the insufficient number of men and weapons, the colony victoriously fended off the Japanese attacks.
In the Asian combat zone, the Canadians notably took part in the air war: the RCAF thus participated in the air defence of Indian territory from the start of the Japanese offensive of October 1942 and in the operations that led to the fall of Rangoon on 3 May 1945.
3 - The Western Front
3-1 - Dieppe
On the Western Front, the Canadians made up the largest share of the forces that landed in the Dieppe Raid on 18 and 19 August 1942. Daring but poorly prepared, the operation was disastrous: out of 4,965 Canadian fighters, losses amounted to more than 3,300, including 907 killed.

Canadian prisoners escorted by German guards through the street of Dieppe, 19 August 1942. Source: Department of National Defence / National Archives of Canada, PA-200058.

3-2 - Italy
In September 1943, the Allies, who had landed in Sicily on 10 July, crossed the Strait of Messina. The 1st Canadian Division and the 1st Canadian Armoured Brigade fought with the British 8th Army. The Canadians took Reggio and reached Catanzaro on 10 September, while a brigade took Potenza, enabling the American 5th Army to advance toward Naples.
On 1 October, the Canadians moving up the centre of Italy fought at Motta and Campobasso, taking Vinchiaturo on 15 October. On 5 November, the headquarters of the 1st Canadian Corps (General Crerar) and the 5th Canadian Armoured Division (General Simmonds) arrived in Italy.

The Royal 22nd landing on the beach at Reggio di Calabria in the morning of 3 September 1943. Source: Photo by Alexander M. Stirton. Department of National Defence / National Archives of Canada, PA-177114.

In early December, the 8th Army attacked and pushed the Germans who were dug in along the Sangro all the way to the Moro River. Several days of fierce fighting enabled the Canadians to take Ortona on 28 December. General Crerar returned to England to take charge of the 1st Canadian Army.
During the winter of 1943, the Canadian forces reached 76,000 men. 2,119 had been killed since the landing in Sicily.
Corps 2
3-3 - Normandy
On 6 June 1944, under General Keller's orders, the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division (3rd CID), i.e. 14,000 soldiers, landed at Juno Beach, in the middle of the British forces.

Canadian infantry landing at Juno Beach and marching toward Bernières-sur-Mer, 6 June 1944. Source: National Archives of Canada.

The Canadians' task was to establish a bridgehead between Courseulles and Saint-Aubin-sur-Mer. They then continued on toward Carpiquet Airport. The 3rd CID's mission was to occupy the road and railroad between Caen and Bayeux, which the British were supposed to take. The 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade (2 CAB) was in the second wave. The Royal Canadian Air Force, 109 ships and 10,000 sailors of the Royal Canadian Navy and the 450 men of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion also took part in Operation Overlord.
After bloody fighting on the beaches, the Canadians took Courseulles. Bernières-sur-Mer was liberated. In the afternoon, the Canadians pushed inland to Sainte-Croix and Banville. Backed up by a tank squadron, the Régiment de la Chaudière liberated Bény-sur-Mer. It pushed forward, taking the Germans stronghold at Les Moulineaux, a battery with four 105-mm cannons, before reaching Basly.

With the help of a sergeant, French civilians walk around a tank at Bernières. Source: Photo by Frank L. Dubervill. Department of National Defence / National Archives of Canada, PA-132725.

In the evening of 6 June, the Canadians held strong positions. And yet, even though the Canadian troops had made more progress inland than any of the other Allies, General Keller's men had not fulfilled their D-Day objectives: the British were unable to free Caen or Bayeux. In the evening of D-Day, the Canadians had lost 960 men, nearly 360 of them dead. After six days of continuous fighting, the 3rd CID and the 2nd CAB reviewed the situation: over 1,000 Canadians had been killed and nearly 2,000 injured. Despite everything, the Canadians had held their ground in their sector of the Allied bridgehead.

Corporal W.J. Curtis, Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps, cares for the burned leg of a little French boy, while his younger brother looks on. Between Colomby-sur-Thaon and Villons-les-Buissons, Normandy, 19 June 1944. Source: Photo by Ken Bell. Department of National Defence / National Archives of Canada, PA-141703.

At the beginning of July 1944, they once again tried to widen the breach against a battle-hardened enemy dug into the ruins of houses in the cities and villages of Normandy, who had received orders from Hitler not to give up an inch of ground.

Troops of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division enter Caen in Normandy, after intense bombing by the Allied aviation and artillery, 10 July 1944. Source: Photo by Harold G. Aikman. Department of National Defence / National Archives of Canada, PA-116510.

During the Battle of Normandy, the Canadian units grouped together in the 1st Canadian Army (the 2nd and 3rd Infantry Divisions, the 4th Armoured Division, with the British, and the Polish 1st Armoured Division) were to play a major role. They notably participated in the capture of Carpiquet Airport, in the liberation of Caen (9 July) and in closing the Falaise-Chambois Pocket on 19 August 1944. During the terrible Battle of Normandy, 5,021 Canadians were killed and 13,423 injured or taken prisoner. Of all the divisions that made up General Montgomery's 21st Army Group, none had as many losses as the 2nd and 3rd Canadian Divisions.
3-4 - Belgium and the Netherlands
The 1st Canadian Army then cleared out the ports on the Channel and marched on to Belgium, where it took part in the liberation of Flanders. The 4th Armoured Division fought the Germans at Ypres on 6 September. On 8 September, the Canadians reached the Ghent Canal, whose bridges had been destroyed. Despite the heavy German resistance, the Canal was crossed. The 1st Army's mission was to break through the enemy defences on the Scheldt River and liberate Antwerp, an important port for the Allies' supply lines.

An Alligator column passing Terrepin amphibious vehicles on the Scheldt, near Terneuzen, 13 October 1944. Source: Photo by Donald I. Grant. Department of National Defence / National Archives of Canada, PA-114754.

Fierce fighting went on from 8 to 16 October in the flooded polders that had been mined. On the 13th, the Black Watch Battalion of the 5th Brigade was nearly annihilated. The Germans pulled back under the massive bombing and the Canadians entered Woensdrecht. The 4th Armoured Division finally occupied Bergen op Zoom and advanced toward East Frisia.

Canadian soldiers walking past German refugees on the road near Xanten, Germany, 9 March 1945. Source: Photo by Ken Bell. Department of National Defence / National Archives of Canada, PA-137462.

On 23 March 1945, the Allies launched an assault beyond the Rhine. The 9th Canadian Infantry Brigade reached Rees, the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion jumped near Wesel and the 3rd Division took Emmerich.

The Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry Highlanders of Canada receive a warm welcome by the population as they enter Leeuwarden, the Netherlands, on 12 April 1945. Source: Photo by Donald I. Grant. Department of National Defence / National Archives of Canada, PA-131564.

The 1st Canadian Army Corps fought in the western Netherlands, while the 2nd Corps, which had been brought in from Italy, faced the Germans in the northeast and on the German coast around the Elbe.
Over 45,000 Canadians died to eradicate Nazism.