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Month: December 2021

Our man in Angola
Military History, Military Milestones

Our man in Angola

Angola, a country of some 32 million people along the southwest coast of Africa, endured centuries as a colony of Portugal followed by long years of war to gain independence, then long years of civil war. At the end of the 1980s, the country was politically divided; the government was supported by the Soviet Union, assisted by Cuban forces, but UNITA (the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola) controlled large swaths of the country, with aid from South Africa and the United States. In this late phase of the Cold War, the international community wanted to defuse flashpoints that could heat up the situation, such as former African colonies where superpowers supported opposite sides in civil strife. The United Nations brokered an Angola peace agreement in 1988, culminat...
December 1946: A season of hope
Defence Today, Front Lines

December 1946: A season of hope

Seventy-five years ago, the lights of Christmas 1946 twinkled and danced across Canada and throughout the Western world as they had for no other Yuletide celebration in what must have seemed, to many, an eternity. Loved ones, families and friends had a lot to celebrate. The war was over, with any luck the boys were home, and 8.2 million babies had already started arriving in what would become known as the postwar baby boom. It lasted two decades. Some servicemen were meeting their children for the first time after long years overseas. It could be an awkward process, getting to know the dad whose life was so altered by such extraordinary circumstances. They didn’t tend to talk about it much and the getting-to-know-you part would be, for some, a lifelong pursuit. The consequences of...
A merry little Christmas: The wartime boom in holiday songs
Defence Today, Front Lines

A merry little Christmas: The wartime boom in holiday songs

They were dark and uncertain times in 1943 when two American composers, Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane, wrote a hopeful little song that would become an all-time hit of musical cinema—and of the ever-expanding Christmas season. Crafted for the 1944 film Meet Me in St. Louis, in which it was first sung by Judy Garland, the bittersweet “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” it turns out, is at its heart a more hopeful treatise on war and loneliness than the movie storyline would suggest. Around the time the song was written, a desperate Soviet Red Army was beating down German troops in Stalingrad, Jews mounted a doomed uprising in Poland’s Warsaw Ghetto, the war in the Pacific had begun its long march north to Japan, British forces captured Tripoli, and HMCS Ville de Quebec sank U-...
Pilots and partisans
Military History, Military Milestones

Pilots and partisans

The beginning of January 1945 marked a run of luck—or rather, display of expertise—for Canadian Flying Officer Norman Pearce, serving with No. 73 Squadron, Royal Air Force, in Yugoslavia. The squadron spent much time searching for enemy aircraft aloft, but it was also charged with supporting partisans fighting against their German occupiers on the ground. Pearce was credited with destroying six vehicles on Jan. 5 and a 75mm gun and two more vehicles on Jan. 9. But why was a Canadian pilot helping partisan ground forces? Like everything to do with the Balkans before and since, it’s complicated. Germany invaded Yugoslavia in the spring of 1941, smoothing the way for the invasion of the Soviet Union in early summer. The kingdom was divided up among Germany, Italy, Hungary and Bulgari...
HUMOUR HUNT: Speaking American
Humour Hunt

HUMOUR HUNT: Speaking American

As a naval reservist, Fraser McKee of Toronto completed a long anti-submarine specialist course in the 1950s and ’60s. He knew how to hunt subs, but knew very little about subs. So he applied for submarines and served in the Royal Navy’s HMS Astute (P447) when it was based in Halifax and aboard HMCS Rainbow (SS75) on the West Coast. Rainbow was a former American boat, so helm and engine orders were couched in U.S. terms (right standard rudder, port back one third, etc.). Fraser had been aboard a week when his commander asked if he felt up to diving the boat. Fraser said yes and the CO went below, saying “When I click on the voice loudspeaker, you dive the boat.” The clicks came and Fraser gave the order. Two lookouts dropped into the sub. Fraser followed, pulling down the hatch. Since ...
Hirohito backed U.S. war months before Pearl Harbor attack, says aide’s diary
Defence Today, Front Lines

Hirohito backed U.S. war months before Pearl Harbor attack, says aide’s diary

Japanese Emperor Hirohito was long depicted as a naïve pacifist who reluctantly acceded to the wishes of his hawkish military leaders. But the newly released diaries of one of his closest aides suggest the emperor posthumously known as Shōwa thought war with the West was inevitable and was preparing for it earnestly two months before Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. Relatives of Admiral Saburō Hyakutake, who served as the emperor’s grand chamberlain and managed the royal household, deposited 25 of his diaries and pocket notebooks, along with memos he wrote, to the library at the University of Tokyo’s graduate schools for law and politics. They became available to the public in September. Hirohito escaped a war crimes trial based on the public premise that he had resisted ratcheting up...

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