Military Milestones

Weekly Military Milestones

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...
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 ...
The disaster in Sarno
Military History, Military Milestones

The disaster in Sarno

The Canadian Armed Forces has garnered positive headlines in Canada for humanitarian aid work around the world, saving lives, providing food and shelter, and treating the ill and injured after great natural and man-made disasters. But sometimes the CAF’s less dramatic contributions go practically unnoticed in its own country. Such is the story of Operation Sarno in 1998. Throughout history, the landscape in the Campania region of Italy, near Naples, has been shaped by volcanic activity. Rivers of molten rock snaked across the land after eruptions. Volcanic gases seeped into groundwater, eating away at underground rocks and turning them to clay. Layer upon unstable layer of rock and lava debris built up through the millennia and were slowly covered by soil. Over a period of 10 hou...
The Battle of the St. Lawrence
Military History, Military Milestones

The Battle of the St. Lawrence

In May 1942, the houses of a fishing village on the north shore of the Gaspé Peninsula were rocked so violently residents believed there had been an earthquake. But it was a different sort of ground-shaking event: the beginning of the Battle of the St. Lawrence, which would rage in Canadian home waters for more than two years. Rushing to the seaside, some residents of Cloridorme, Que., could see offshore lights vanish in the black of the night: German submarine U-553. In early May 1942 Kapitänleutnant Karl Thurmann guided the U-boat from the Gulf of St. Lawrence into the wide mouth of the river. It was the sub’s seventh patrol. In the previous 11 months, it had sunk five ships and damaged one. On May 10, the sub was spotted off the Gaspé coast, but eluded bombs dropped by a Roy...

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