Military Milestones

Weekly Military Milestones

Witnessing genocide
Military History, Military Milestones

Witnessing genocide

In late 1993, Canadian General Roméo Dallaire was tasked to head a force of 2,500 United Nations peacekeepers sent to Rwanda to help implement a peace accord. It was intended to end three years of civil war between the Hutus and Tutsis, a minority ethnic group. The mission was a disaster. In January 1994, Dallaire alerted the UN that an aircraft loaded with ammunition and weapons had landed—and he had learned it was intended for use in an attack on the Tutsis. He asked for permission to seize the cargo. Permission was denied. That would exceed the mandate of the mission, he was told. For the next two months, Dallaire repeatedly informed the UN the situation was growing more dangerous; weapons were being stockpiled by Hutu extremists in the government and refugee Tutsis had formed ...
Searching for Tirpitz
Military History, Military Milestones

Searching for Tirpitz

On March 31, 1944, Canadian destroyers HMCS Sioux and HMCS Algonquin left Scapa Flow in Scotland’s Orkney Islands to join Operation Tungsten, the hunt for the German battleship Tirpitz. Tirpitz was a massive ship launched in 1939. It was 251 metres long, had eight 15-inch guns and could carry four aircraft and 2,000 crew. At 39,000 tonnes, it was built to intimidate. During the Second World War, Tirpitz was strategically stationed by the Germans in the fiords of Norway to prevent Allied convoys from reaching the Soviet Union, to discourage an Allied invasion of Scandinavia, and to tie up the Allied navies in a deadly game of cat and mouse. “If it had come out at any time, it could have decimated a convoy,” said Albert Edward Revie of Algonquin, in one of several Memory Project int...
Paratrooper medic received the Victoria Cross
Military History, Military Milestones

Paratrooper medic received the Victoria Cross

On the morning of March 24, 1945, 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion jumped into heavily defended territory on the east bank of the Rhine River, part of the airborne assault during the Battle of the Bulge. “They called it Operation Varsity,” recalled Herb Harris, a member of the battalion. “Our group of 2,000 men jumped together in six minutes, going out one on top of the other. We landed across the Rhine and we were right on top of the Jerries. It was intense fire—the Germans just opened up on us.” There were immediate casualties—23 Canadians were killed and two were captured. Among the 40 wounded was Corporal Frederick George Topham. “Corporal Topham was our medical orderly,” Harris recalled. “He went forward in intense fire to replace the orderlies killed…as they were trying to ten...
Adrift in the Bay of Biscay
Military History, Military Milestones

Adrift in the Bay of Biscay

  Just after 7:30 p.m. on St. Patrick’s Day in 1945, survivors of the minesweeper HMCS Guysborough were in frigid Atlantic waters awaiting rescue. About half of them wouldn’t make it. Guysborough was about 300 kilometres off the coast of France in the Bay of Biscay en route from Lunenburg, N.S., to England when it was hit in the stern by an acoustic torpedo from U-868 just before 7 p.m. on March 17. The ship was disabled but did not sink. The crew gathered on the main deck, waiting for a tow. The Germans fired again. The explosion killed two crew, and the ship listed to port. Remaining crew “ran uphill and went over the rail on the starboard side,” recalled John Gleason, who shared his story with Legion Magazine in December 2013. “Nearly half of us ended up around one Car...
Recounting CEF’s first battle
Military History, Military Milestones

Recounting CEF’s first battle

  The Canadian Expeditionary Force’s first battle experience, aside from a trench raid, came in the Battle of Neuve Chapelle in mid-March 1915. The Canadians were tasked with preventing the Germans from reinforcing their position while the British pushed through enemy lines to advance the front. A new front was established, but the Allies were unable to exploit their advantage and press on due to difficulty transmitting orders and a lack of reserves. “The guns are dropped and the teams go out, form up and move away.” James Wells Ross talked about battle preparations in a letter home on April 13, 1915, one of several quoted here from the Canadian Letters & Images Project. “Imagine a column of horses and vehicles moving along a road. They turn into a field over a rough di...
Sighted sub, sank same
Military History, Military Milestones

Sighted sub, sank same

The battlefields of Europe were thousands of kilometres away, but Newfoundland and Labrador were definitely in a war zone during the Second World War. The Allies knew the strategic significance of Canada's East Coast and the waters around Newfoundland, through which hundreds of convoys sailed to Britain and Russia carrying troops and millions of tonnes of food, war materiel and raw material. The British colony provided a home for some of the warships and aircraft that defended the convoys. By the end of the war, Newfoundland counted among its defences two naval bases, five airfields, a couple of seaplane bases and five army bases. Even before the war, the Germans had attempted to get a foothold at the mouth of the St. Lawrence River by buying Anticosti Island (Military Milestones,...

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