Military History

This series by historian Terry Copp examines many aspects of our military history. Guaranteed to fascinate.

The explosion that changed the Navy
Navy

The explosion that changed the Navy

An overheated gearbox on HMCS Kootenay set off a fire that took nine lives The worst peacetime disaster in Canadian naval history occurred on Oct. 23, 1969, when nine crew were killed and another 53 injured in an explosion and fire aboard HMCS Kootenay. The incident marked the last time Canadian service personnel were buried overseas and it helped bring about sweeping changes to shipboard fire-prevention and firefighting systems. The Restigouche-class destroyer was part of a task group that included the aircraft carrier HMCS Bonaventure and eight destroyer escorts sailing in European waters. The group was homeward bound, crossing the English Channel, when Kootenay and HMCS Saguenay broke off to conduct sea trials 320 kilometres off Plymouth, England. Kootenay was running at maxim...
Convoy duty aboard HMCS <em>Port Arthur</em>
Military Milestones

Convoy duty aboard HMCS Port Arthur

It’s fair to say Harvey Douglas Burns did not know what lay in store when he left the merchant marine and joined the Royal Canadian Navy in 1942. Sailors in the merchant navy had cabins, shared with one shipmate. After joining the crew of HMCS Port Arthur, he asked a shipmate where he was going to sleep. “Do you see them bars up there? That’s where you hang your hammock.” Conditions on the corvette were crowded. “The ship was made for 85 crew, and there was 105 of us aboard. You didn’t have any privacy,” said Burns in a Memory Project interview. In the washrooms, called heads, the men shared three toilets and wash bowls, “so you had to wait your turn. And there was more mealtimes than meals. When the weather was bad in the North Atlantic, they just give you a can of strawberry jam an...
Squabbling over Vancouver Island
Military Milestones

Squabbling over Vancouver Island

In January 1790, 27 years after France ceded Canadian territory to Britain at the end of the Seven Years’ War, it looked as though the world’s leading colonial power was going to have to battle with Spain over Canada’s Pacific Coast. The first Europeans to set foot on Vancouver Island were members of Captain James Cook’s expedition looking for the Northwest Passage in 1778. Cook had been told not to step on Spanish toes, for fear Spain might side with the Americans in the Revolutionary War. Spain had been exploring these waters since 1774 when Juan José Pérez Hernández was the first European to visit the Pacific, and several Spanish explorers claimed North America’s west coast and islands for Spain. It, like Britain, was looking for a trade shortcut linking the Pacific and Atlantic o...
Are there 98 Canadian VCs?
Face to Face

Are there 98 Canadian VCs?

It is hard to say exactly how many “Canadians” have been awarded the Victoria Cross, the Commonwealth’s highest award for valour in the face of the enemy. As an editor with Legion Magazine, we usually just say safely, “nearly 100.” For one thing, the Canadian Citizenship Act didn’t come into effect until Jan. 1, 1947, nearly two years after the last action was performed for which a Canadian was awarded a VC. So by that measure, the majority of “our” VCs were, technically, not Canadian at all. Newfoundland was not part of Canada until 1949, yet we still take pride in the VCs earned by John Bernard Croak and Thomas (Tommy) Ricketts. Many of the recipients were immigrants, mainly from Great Britain. Some of them returned to Britain to serve in units they had been associated with before co...
The  43-day war
Military History

The 43-day war

The coalition campaign against Saddam Hussein in 1991 was Canada’s first war since Korea The battle lasted just 43 days. Yet the Gulf War in 1990-91 left indelible images on those who were in it and those who watched it from afar. As brief and one-sided as it was, the coalition campaign to drive Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi forces out of occupied Kuwait was elevated in the public eye by non-stop coverage on the world’s first all-news channel, CNN. The fighting began Jan. 17, 1991, with CNN’s exclusive reporting from the Al-Rashid Hotel as the first bombs fell on Baghdad, the pictureless rumble of explosions and breathless commentary giving it an old-time radio quality reminiscent of Matthew Halton, Peter Stursberg and Edward R. Murrow a half-century before. The first pictures of the nig...
Canada’s Bletchley Park
Home Front, Military History

Canada’s Bletchley Park

Ottawa had its own top-secret code-breaking establishment In 1942, David Hayne, a recent University of Toronto graduate, was undergoing artillery training at Camp Niagara in Ontario when he received two mysterious letters that changed the course of his life and helped place Canada in the forefront of intelligence gathering. The first was from a professor of French who asked Hayne if he would fill an opening at the National Research Council (NRC). There was no indication of what the work involved, only that it was connected with the war and that the letter writer found it absorbing. The young grad concluded that the job related to the French language, his passion. Still, he dispatched a cautious reply, saying he expected to begin his military career almost immediately. That letter...