Military History

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

The mystery of the Thames Victoria Cross
Canada & the Victoria Cross, Front Lines

The mystery of the Thames Victoria Cross

In December 2015, a “mudlark” treasure-hunting along the bank of the Thames River in southern England found a corroded metal cross buried in the ooze exposed at low tide. His name was Tobias Neto, and the hunk of rusty metal was none other than a Victoria Cross. Or was it? “It was covered in mud,” Neto recalled. “I kept it and carried on detecting. Only when I got home did I realize I had a VC medal in my hands—I could read the writing ‘For Valour’ below the crown. “Eventually I noticed the date on the reverse: 5 NOV 1854.” The Thames foreshore—that 150-kilometre strand of slimy shoreline exposed when the tide goes out—is a treasure-trove of history, a veritable archive of London’s long and colourful past where clay pipes, pottery shards, ships’ timbers, medieval stoneworks, ru...
Armoured vehicle serves as a working memorial
Military Milestones

Armoured vehicle serves as a working memorial

A contingent of Canadian tanks and armoured vehicles set out before dawn on Sept. 24, 2007, to push insurgents from a trouble spot in the Panjwaii district in Afghanistan. The move was in aid of Operation Sadiq Sarbaaz (Honest Soldier), a joint operation with Afghan troops to build police stations throughout the area, in hopes a permanent police presence would provide some stability to one of the most dangerous districts in the country. There were multiple skirmishes throughout the day. At about 4:30 p.m., a track on a Leopard 2 tank came off in the rough terrain. Mechanic Corporal Nathan Hornburg, 24, got out to fix it. At that moment, the Taliban attacked. Hornburg was killed and another soldier was wounded. In the following firefight, three more soldiers were wounded by a rocke...
The firestorm of 2003
Military Milestones

The firestorm of 2003

In the summer of 2003, British Columbia was ablaze. Some 2,500 separate forest fires burned through more than 250,000 hectares of trees, fields, vineyards and crops—an area about half the size of Prince Edward Island. Hundreds of homes and dozens of businesses burned. More than 30,000 people were evacuated in the path of a destructive fire so hot that whole trees burst instantaneously into flame. A cigarette carelessly discarded on July 30 ignited the wildfire near McLure, B.C., on the North Thompson River, 45 kilometres north of Kamloops. It grew to more than 10 hectares within two hours. On Aug. 1, it jumped the river and became a firestorm that burned for 75 days, consuming more than 26,000 hectares of forest, 72 homes and nine businesses. And that was just one fire. On one ...
Battle of Britain Day
Air Force, Military History, O Canada

Battle of Britain Day

Hitler’s plan was to destroy the Royal Air Force then launch Operation Sea Lion, an invasion of England. Winston Churchill assumed as much. “Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this island or lose the war,” he told the House of Commons in 1940. “Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves, that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say: “This was their finest hour.” The Battle of Britain was a proving ground for Britain’s aerial forces, and it also stirred Churchill to some of his most memorable speeches. On June 4, 1940, he addressed the House, emphasizing how critical the RAF would be in the months ahead. He ended with the famous words: “We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing gro...
Worthington
Army, Military History

Worthington

It was 1967 and winter was fast approaching for Frank Worthington. The renowned retired major-general, who to this day is known throughout the Canadian military as “Fighting Frank,” was dying of cancer. “Pico”… “Fighting Frank”… “Worthy”… “Frederic Franklin”… “Father of the Royal Canadian Armoured Corps”…. His multiple monikers only hint at the remarkable life of Major-General F.F. Worthington In his study there was a typewriter. It clacked regularly in the months preceding his diagnosis as Worthington, determined as ever, wrote down his recollections. They were not what you might have expected from a man whose career and reputation have been so tightly woven into the fabric of this country’s military history. The reminiscences that poured forth were not of the Great ...
The sinking of <em>U-484</em>
Military Milestones

The sinking of U-484

The history of U-484 is short, and not so sweet. Commissioned on Jan. 19, 1944, the submarine travelled to Norway to join the German 3rd flotilla in early August under command of Korvettenkapitän Wolf-Axel Schaefer. Its first and only patrol began on Aug. 18. The sub passed through a gap separating Iceland and the Faroe Islands and headed for the Hebrides, where it was sunk on Sept. 9. All 52 aboard perished. Who sank the sub? That depends on what you read and where and when it was written. An RCAF Sunderland flying boat piloted by J.N. Farren spotted whitish vapour or steam and a 30-metre wake indicating a submarine. It dropped eight depth charges, then called in HMCS Hespeler and HMCS Dunver, on patrol south of the Hebrides. “The original postwar analysis credited the Sunderl...
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