Military History

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

DART team swings into action
Military Milestones

DART team swings into action

Early on the morning of Boxing Day in 2004, a fault in the earth’s crust ruptured under the Indian Ocean off the west coast of Sumatra, Indonesia. The massive earthquake caused a tsunami, with waves up to 30 metres high racing toward communities along the coastline. A quarter-million people in 14 countries were killed. Televised images of the deadly waves and devastated communities shocked the world. Canada had people on the ground there within a week. On Dec. 30, an international reconnaissance team including a dozen Canadians went to Sri Lanka to begin planning logistics for the massive humanitarian aid effort. More than 30,000 Sri Lankans were killed and about half a million displaced by the tsunami. It was decided the Canadian Forces Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART)...
Keeping the peace along the Suez Canal
Military Milestones

Keeping the peace along the Suez Canal

After decades of disagreement, Egypt nationalized and seized control of the Suez Canal in July 1956, sinking ships to plug the shipping route between the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea. The canal had been regulated and operated under an international system since the Convention of Constantinople of 1888. The British considered the canal crucial, its closure an economic threat. France backed its ally Israel, whose cargo ships traversing the canal had been routinely searched and seized by Egypt. Britain, France and Israel attacked Egypt at the end of October. Egypt appealed to its ally, the Soviet Union, whose response was to threaten to use nuclear weapons unless the attacks stopped. As allies on both sides lined up to lend support and an international conflagration loomed, a Ca...
Shell‘s bell
Artifacts

Shell‘s bell

After being attacked by Korean shore batteries, HMCS Iroquois wound up with a shiny new ship’s bell unlike any other in the navy The only Canadian ship to suffer deaths due to enemy action in the Korean War, HMCS Iroquois (DDE 217) joined the fight there on June 12, 1952, and was assigned patrol duty on the west coast. “We were always in close proximity to the 38th parallel,” recalled Ron Kirk in a Memory Project interview. The crew had to be ready for action at all times. “We would go on patrols three to six weeks at a time. At night we would anchor out and we had armed guards walking around the upper deck and a 40-millimetre Bofors gun armed. We had to sit by that gun for our four-hour watch and be ready in case there were any problems,” said Kenneth Snider. In late Septembe...
Christmas offensive
Military Milestones

Christmas offensive

When bad weather interfered with air reconnaissance on Dec. 16, 1944, the Germans took advantage to launch a surprise attack on a weak point in Allied lines in the densely forested Ardennes region of eastern Belgium and northeastern France. The plan was for more than two dozen divisions to split the lines, take Antwerp, Belgium, squeeze shut the Allied supply line, encircle and capture the British and American armies, and force a negotiated end to the war. German troops and tanks initially created a 65-kilometre gap in Allied lines. But they encountered more resistance than expected in the bloody Battle of the Bulge, Germany’s last major offensive campaign on the Western Front during the Second World War. The Americans bore the brunt of the assault, but some Canadians did take par...
Getting the mail out
Military Milestones

Getting the mail out

During the Second World War, the Canadian Postal Corps delivered millions of letters and parcels to and from military personnel, earning the nickname The Morale Department. “It was long hours and hard work,” said Harry Gower, who unloaded mail in England. But it was also rewarding. “They were always thrilled to get mail,” he said in one of many Memory Project interviews quoted here. “It was a big deal for them, because you were away from your family for several years.” “Everybody was dedicated to getting that mail out,” said Joseph P. Tobin, who sorted letters and packages during the Italian campaign. Military staff were always on the move, “letters and parcels following them around, trying to catch up,” recalled Louis R. Brochet. Mail for field personnel “was mostly all redirecte...
The taking of Monte la Difensa
Military Milestones

The taking of Monte la Difensa

Lumberjacks, mountaineers, construction skywalkers, hard-rock miners, wilderness prospectors—only the hardiest men were sought for the First Special Service Force, a Canada-U.S. joint venture to deploy troops against the highest odds in the toughest terrain of the Second World War. Recruits’ mettle was severely tested even before tasting combat. They earned their parachute badges in the first week of training. They learned how to survive knife fights and, blades unsheathed, bayonet attacks. They mastered unarmed combat and the art of silent killing. They became adept at skiing, rock climbing, arctic survival skills, handling weapons and blowing things up. They had to complete 97-kilometre marches in 20 hours, ski cross-country in formation through the night. They were trained to be h...