Military History

The British invasion of Iceland
Military History, Military Milestones

The British invasion of Iceland

During the Second World War, Iceland—a small island country with a population of about 120,000—was determined to remain neutral, as it had been since the First World War. But it was strategically located in the North Atlantic between Greenland and the Faroe Islands, just south of the Arctic Circle, which piqued the interest of Germany and Britain. According to an unidentified German naval officer, “whoever has Iceland controls the entrances into and exits from the Atlantic.” Britain decided to do it, before the Nazis could. Winston Churchill tried—and failed—to persuade the country to join the Allied cause. It had no army, and only a few antiquated cannons to defend itself. It was ripe for invasion. Britain decided to do it, before the Nazis could. On May 10, 1940, as the...
Canadians in the Huaylas
Military History, Military Milestones

Canadians in the Huaylas

On the last day of May 1970, a massive 7.9 magnitude earthquake devastated the Santa Valley (Callejón de Huaylas) in Peru, releasing a deadly mudslide that thundered through villages at 160 kilometres per hour. Boulders as big as houses smashed adobe homes as a 20-metre wave of mud, debris and glacier ice swept away trees and buildings and all life before it. The towns of Yungay and Ranrahirca were flattened and 18,000 people were killed. Nearly 67,000 people died and 800,000 were left homeless throughout the region. On June 6, Canada dispatched six aircraft to help in the relief effort. It took them two days to make the 6,000-kilometre journey to Peru. When they arrived there was only one airfield open, and it was located so precariously that in the first week four helicopters and o...
Military History

Retaking the high ground

The first Canadian-planned attack of the war was at Mont Sorrel, Belgium, in June 1916 As May 1916 ended, the Germans clearly were planning an attack against the Canadian Corps front on the easternmost projection of the Ypres Salient in Belgium.  Extending for just over two kilometres from Mont Sorrel in the south, past Hill 61 and Hill 62 (Tor Top) and through to Sanctuary Wood in the north, heights of land here provided the easternmost points of observation of German rear areas. Observatory Ridge extended one kilometre westward from Tor Top into the heart of the salient. If this territory were lost, the Germans could dominate the salient and force its abandonment.  These were the stakes as Canadian and British intelligence staff studied German activity. Throughout May, German sappe...
The Battle of Ridgeway
Military History, Military Milestones

The Battle of Ridgeway

“We are the Fenian Brotherhood, skilled in the arts of war, and we’re going to fight for Ireland, the land which we adore, many battles we have won, along with the boys in blue, and we’ll go and capture Canada, for we’ve nothing else to do.” —Fenian drinking song On June 1, 1866, more than 1,000 Irish Americans crossed the Niagara River from Buffalo, N.Y., and occupied the town of Fort Erie in Canada West (now Ontario). They were members of the Fenian Brotherhood, whose invasion was part of a master plan to secure the independence of Ireland. After the first Fenian raid of Campobello Island, N.B., in April 1866 failed in the face of a British show of force, a new invasion plan was drawn up. First, multiple raids would draw out British forces while a large Fenian force invaded ...
Killed holding a white flag
Military History, Military Milestones

Killed holding a white flag

After the Second World War, the United Nations voted to divide Palestine, in southern Lebanon, into Jewish and Arab sovereign states, setting the stage for the Arab-Israeli War. Israel was proclaimed on May 14, 1948, and Arab armies invaded on May 15 in a futile attempt to prevent establishment of the State of Israel. An Israeli university and hospital were located on Mount Scopus in northeast Jerusalem, in an Israeli enclave within territory administered by Jordan. The 2.5-kilometre road to Mount Scopus was regularly mined and targeted by snipers. Convoys to the hospital and university were routinely held up. In April 1948 one was attacked and 78 people, mostly doctors and nurses, were killed. An armistice established Jerusalem’s Mount Scopus demilitarized zone. But the conflict ...
Peace Enforcement
Military History

Peace Enforcement

On a thankless mission to protect citizens and keep warring factions apart, ingenuity and improvisation were the Canadian way Tasked by the United Nations in 1991 with rewriting the rules of engagement governing its evolving peacekeeping operations, then-major-general Lewis MacKenzie did what he could within the confines of Chapter 6 of the UN Charter. The chapter sets out onerous limitations on UN forces to bring about the peaceful resolution of disputes. They essentially prohibit peacekeepers from defending anyone but themselves. Chapter 7, on the other hand, authorizes the use of military force. A few months later, the much-travelled MacKenzie was commanding the UN’s first peacekeeping mission to the Balkans, the UN Protection Force. They were based in the city of Sarajevo, smack i...

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