Military History


Achievement On The Atlantic: Army, Part 5

The full story of the Royal Canadian Navy’s contribution to Allied victory in WW II has not been told. In Ottawa, the much-reduced Directorate of History at the Department of National Defence is preparing a multi-volume official history, but this will take some years to complete.Until these books are published we must rely on Joseph Schull’s Far Distant Ships and on a number of detailed accounts of specific parts of the story. Marc Milner’s two books North Atlantic Run and The U-boat Hunters are first-rate studies of the Canadian role in the Battle of the Atlantic and David Zimmerman has introduced us to the politics of the naval war effort in The Great Naval Battle of Ottawa. However, we lack an overview that would allow us to place such specialized studies in perspective. Looking at the ...
War Art

Molly Lamb Bobak

The sketches in Bobak's war diary capture some of the more quieter moments in WW II army life. The "front page" (above) illustrates how she turned a diary into a long-lasting work of art. The large, bold headline reads: Heart-rending Scenes On Sunday. Fateful Day Brings Ghastly Parting For Lance-Corporal And Vermilion Friends. Moaning And Weeping As Train Pulls Out! Squeezed between this and an illustration of parading Canadian Women’s Army Corp regulars is the following news flash: On Sunday, Jan. 31, Vermilion Barracks lost another B Company. Reporters rushed to the scene at 12 noon. The mess was ringing with The Khaki Shirts, It’s A Long Way To Tipperary and Auld Lang Syne. "It was heart-rending," remarked reporters, "to see the graduating girls...." While the format for this...

Standing Up To The Blitz: Army, Part 4

The Blitz started without any warning. Churchill and the defence chiefs met for an emergency meeting the day before it began but their concerns were intelligence reports indicating that the invasion of England--Operation Sealion--was about to start. Nerves were stretched to the breaking point and the code-word Cromwell, which meant "invasion imminent", was announced without Churchill’s knowledge.In Sussex, the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division was ordered to "standby at immediate notice". Everyone would be needed no matter how incomplete their training or equipment. However, Hitler had decided on another form of assault; the whole strength of Germany’s air force was to be used against British cities and civilians. Hitler had not hesitated to bomb Warsaw or Rotterdam and civilian refugees h...

The Battle Over Britain: Army, Part 3

When Winston Churchill rose to speak in the British House of Commons on June 4, 1940, the rescue of British and French troops from Dunkirk was complete.The attempts to create a second British Expeditionary Force for France could not disguise the scale of the disaster that had overcome the Allies, and Churchill made no attempt to do so. "Wars," he insisted, "are not won by evacuations." There was, however, "a victory inside the deliverance ... gained by the air force" that had protected the hundreds of ships and prevented the enemy from gaining air superiority over the beaches. The air force, he reminded the Commons, would have a greater advantage defending Britain and thus "the cause of civilization itself will be defended by the skill and devotion of a few thousand airmen." Churchill’s sp...

The Fall Of France: Army, Part 2

Historians now explain the collapse of French military resistance in June 1940 in ways that make defeat seem inevitable. But at the time, the fall of France was, in the words of the British foreign secretary, "so unbelievable as to be almost surely unreal". Thoughtful people everywhere recognized that the world had suddenly changed; this was either the beginning of Hitler’s Thousand-Year Reich, or--if Germany was defeated--the end of the European age.The fate of France was probably determined in 1936 when Belgium, France’s vital ally in the West, stuck its head in the sand and declared neutrality. Thereafter, the French army confronted a strategic problem that no one then or since has been able to resolve. Put in its simplest terms the French were required to defend a perimeter that stretc...

The Decision To Enter WW II: Army, Part 1

John Keegan, the famous British military historian, has written a new book based on his Barbara Frum Lectures presented in Toronto last spring. Entitled The Battle For History: ReFighting World War Two, it introduces readers to some of the historical controversies that enliven university classrooms. The book is very thin, both in length and substance, and it ignores Canada, but the idea behind it is excellent. In this new series of articles for Legion Magazine I will offer some insight into the battle for WW II history, emphasizing issues of concern to Canadians without ignoring the larger picture.We need to begin with an understanding of why historians, journalists and ordinary citizens often disagree about the past. The problem starts with confusion over the meaning of the word history. ...

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An informative primer on Canada’s crucial role in the Normandy landing, June 6, 1944.