Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Canada's Dismal State Leading to World War II

World War II ignited spontaneously. A very short arms race was engaged in slightly before Poland was invaded, but the only nations actually ready for a conflict of scale were Germany, Italy and Japan. Even the mighty Imperial Great Britain was caught off guard and with a poorly equipped Air Force, slightly obsolescant technology on its Naval Fleet and an expeditionaty force that likely wasn't ready for such a conflict (such as the latest asdic on its battleships). (This said, if the French had been able to stand, the English Expeditionary Army, almost 200,000 strong) was strong enough to halt the German Blitzkireg in its tracks, if circumstances had been slightly different...)However, unlike the mighty UK, France, Netherlands, China, Poland, Norway, Denmark, USA, USSR and Canada were all caught entirely off guard and with little power of significance, initially.

Canada, throughout the war, fought in various compaigns, including even establishing its own Beachhead at D-Day, campaigning through Normandy and the Scheldt, Holland, Belgium, Italy, escorting and providing the entire brunt of anti U-boat war in the West-Atlantic for many years and aiding and supplementing fighting in the Pacific and in the bombing campaigns. It may be of great dismay that even though Canada fought so bravely, it spent its first years mobilising, such was its disrepair.

The Royal Canadian Navy was in a very pitiful state at the start of the war - it relied on a top heavy Corvette fleet. Before these Corvettes could be utilized in the heavy Atlantic Squalls, they had to be modified en masse so that they wouldn't pitch excessively and threaten to topple over, because they were top heavy. Yet, the Canadian Government ordered eighty-some of these ships throughout the course of the war. If you analyze this source:, you will see that only five of these Flower Class Corvettes were Commissioned by 1940. In essence, Canada's Navy was dependant upon six destroyers, all of which were River Class, five Flower Class Corvettes and a handful of minesweepers and a few other small ships (including dependancy on armed yachts). As of 1939, the RCN consisted of only 191 officers and 1,799 ratings.Furthermore, the asdic and radar utilized by the Navy was severely obsolete until 1944, during which Canada was finally able to equip most of its fleet with the top of the line English asdic. The Hedgehog and Squid equipment were introduced into the Canadian Navy long after the English had adapted it. Now considering that the Canadian Royal Navy was being depended upon to provide escort for every convoy in the West Atlantic, including down to the Bahamas, after the United States joined the war and sent most of its operational fleet to the Pacific, this is a sad revelation.

The Royal Canadian Air force was in equal terms of grim repair. "In a grim report to the incoming Liberal Government, McNaughton warned that Canada had not a single anti-aircraft gun... Canada had only 25 obsolete operational aircraft, and not a single bomb." * (Military history of Canada)"September 1, 1939, the RCAF had a total strength of 4,000 personnel (400 officers and 3,600 airmen) of whom three-quarters were in the Regular component and the remainder in the Auxiliary. There were eight Regular squadrons comprised of two general purpose, two general reconnaissance, one fighter, one bomber, one torpedo- bomber, and one army co-operation. The Auxiliary Force consisted of 12 squadrons including four fighter, four bomber, two army co-operation, and two coast artillery co-operation."The RCAF had a total of 270 Aircraft of 20 assorted types. In the last days of August, when the situation in Europe was becoming extremely critical, the Regular squadrons began moving to their "war stations." When, on September 1, 1939, Hitler invaded Poland, Canada placed her armed forces on active service. Nine days later Canada declared war on Germany." ** (Airforce)In contrast, the French Air force contained the excellent Morane-Saulnier MS-406, the Bloch MB 170 bomber and the Dewoitine D.520 fighter plane."...only nineteen (19) Hurricanes and and ten (10) Fairey Battle light bombers could be considered front line aircraft." *** ( The Air Force 2) After the Battle of Britain, the Fairey Battle was considered obsolescant, once called "a monster that lumbers - it doesn't fly". (Suddenly a Spy)

The Army, to touch briefly on it, was also in atrocious condition. When it began mobilizing in the late 1930s, it was quite clear that the Depression had taken its toll. The Officers were trained in Canada Military College before being sent to learn of strategy in England, but this training proved to often be inadequate when regarding artillery, armoured and infantry coordination.Many of the soldiers dug out old World War I relics for uniform and weaponry; Lewis guns, Ross Rifles, Lee-Enfield No. 1 and other World War 1 relics were much evident in the original militia formations.Canada mobilized the Canadian Active Service Force, a corps of a mere two divisions."The Permanent Active Militia (or Permanent Force (PF), Canada's full time army) had just 4,261 officers and men, while the Non-Permanent Active Militia (Canada's reserve force) numbered 51,000 partially trained and ill-equipped soldiers. Modern equipment was scarce all around. Attempts to modernize had begun in 1936 but equipment procurement was slow and the government was unwilling to expend money to equip the new tank battalions introduced that year." ***** (Mobilization of Armed Forces)Modern weaponry, such as the Bren Gun, were slow in coming; in fact, the Bren Gun scandal made Mackenzie and Parliament considerably reluctant to arm its army with modern weapons. Its armoured Divisions were initially few and poorly equipped until 1940-41, after which it was manufacturing some excellent vehicles, such as the Ram Tank, which was never used as the useless Sherman was utilized in most Allies Divisions.

Why was Canada so unprepared in the first place? It largely disarmed during the Depression, due to financial difficulties. It only had a handful of regular (active) Regiments, which still possessed aged weapons. Budget cuts nearly crippled the RCAF, which possessed a smattering of obsolescent biplanes and even less of the Hurricane Mk. 1, Fairey Battles or Bristol Blenheim bombers.

As aforementioned, the Canadian Navy was limited to six River Class destroyers (two arrived in 1939 and 1940), a handful of top heavy Flower Class Corvettes (The Flower Class Corvette was an inadequate ship for the Atlantic. It rolled and pitched so often that everything got wet. Crew morale was often extremely low, as even rations were 'salty and soggy'. Furthermore, there were so few of these Corvettes that only one or two could be in port for relief at any one time - the rest had to be perpetually active in ever-harrowing convoys.) It was so desperate that it employed Armed Yachts - what purpose does an Armed Yacht serve, may I ask?

And while the Navy was scrambling during the war, the German U-boaters were jubilant with two 'Happy Times' in the Atlantic, in which hundreds of thousands of tonnes were lost each time. The U-boats preyed right up to the Coast of the US and Canada, and even into the Gulf of Mexico, St. Lawrence and the Bay of Fundy. It was the Royal Canadian Navy that was responsible for much of the convoy duty in the Eastern Atlantic, as the USA, when it joined the war, sent most of its fleet to the Pacific. So that's a second reflection on the state of Canadian Armed Forces.

Next, let me share a couple of Anecdotes and a few other follies. The Canadian Government wished for the Canadian Army to stay together - all five divisions. It refused to let them be implemented into any fighting until Italy, when it finally conceded upon pressures from Crerar and restless soldiers that had been training in England for two whole years. Well this was, indeed, a mistake, as proven later on. When the Canadian Armies hit Sicily, Italy and Normandy, their communications and tank/artillery/infantry cooperation were extremely poor. The training they received meant very little in the face of real fire; so why didn't the Canadian government allow a division at a time to gain experience in Africa? It became evident that the English 8th was far better than Rommel's Afrikaan Korps and was driving it backwards while the US and English landed armies in Tripoli and Tunisia. Why didn't the Canadian Government allow some of its divisions to gain valuable battle experience in an already determined victory?

Rather, they shocked them by plunging them straight into battle - facing fire - at drops on Sicily and into Italy, and for the rest of it, at Juno Beach. this was terrible for Canadian morale and poorly thought of by the command structure. It became evident that NCO's, regimental and even Divisional commanders were mostly inadequate. Wholescale sackings had to take place, but Canadian officers did not distinguish themselves, except for Guy Simonds and Crerar (who also narrowly escaped being sacked on one occasion). In fact, the Canadian Army was trained largely at Battalion and Regimental level. The loyalties were fierce, but when other companies were tacked on, or they had to fight as a Division, they often floundered as they weren't so fiercely loyal to their Division, and may even have dissented other Regiments of the Division, in some cases.

Another point is that throughout the war, Canada was always a step or two behind its Allies in innovation. Its planes were always inferior, its ships were always lacking the latest asdic or radar, its military the latest wireless sets or mortars. For example, the HAndley Page Halifax was kept in the RCAF as a heavy bomber until 1945! The Halifax was described as a 'metallic tinderbox' due to the placement of its engines. It was slow and it could not pull a looping dive or it would spin out of control and all hands would be lost. Of course, Canada was given the lowest priority for the greater planes (such as Liberators, Flying Fortresses, or greater Lancasters) and technologies, though it was one of the 'Big Four'. It never received the Gloster Meteor, the P51 Mustang or other great planes (it did acquire a substantial amount of Spitfires, but few of them were Mk VI's)

In fact, even though the Royal Canadian Navy was responsible for most Atlantic Convoys in '41, '42, '43 and '44, the United States exercised some command over it from a Naval base on Canadian territory! Outrageous!!! the USA hadn't a consistent ship in the area, yet it's exercising convoy command. A tremendous folly of the Canadian government.

Another Folly of the Atlantic was the mid-Ocean gap. Throughout 1941, '42 and '43, much of the mid-Atlantic wasn't covered by planes or dive bombers, which would keep U-boats submerged and incapable of grouping into 'wolf packs'. It (and England) did not utilize planes and Carriers to close this gap from their respective shores until late 1943 and 1944.A last folly that I shall discuss was the Canadian Government's sheer stupidity in the following anecdote. Leading into the Battle of Ortona, the English soldiers had been fighting at the base of Italy for sometime and were worn out. Mackenzie agreed that the 1st Canadian Division could substitute for the English, so the English gradually began to withdraw. However, for 'easier shipping purposes', it was agreed by BOTH parties that the Canadians would leave their equipment in England and the English would leave theirs in Italy. It apparently did not occur that the Canadians would then be utilizing worn out, sometimes broken and often grungy equipment that had seen much battle in lieu of its (Canadian) brand new equipment that had been left behind in England!!! eventually the First Canadian Division received some of its equipment, but it took three weeks to make the Division operational in Italy.

And, as I've mentioned, the Canadians had an excellent medium tank - the Ram Tank. The Ram Tank was better in quality than the Sherman (larger gun, thicker armour, stronger engine, wouldn't 'brew up' with a shot from a Tiger at 1,000 yards), yet the Army abandoned its Rams because England insisted that all forced standardize with the Sherman. Is that not stupidity in the entire essence? The Sherman 'brewed up' as easily one could imagine; yet because the USA could produce them faster than they were lost, they were the 'ideal tank'. Bah Also, the Ram could actually penetrate the Panzer's Armour at 200 yards, whereas the Sherman could be 150 yards away and there was no guarantee that the shell wouldn't just bounce off and into the sky.

1 comment:

Spits said...

Nicely done as always, you guys!