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Canada and the Battle of Hong Kong

Hong Kong was the first place Canadians fought a land battle in the Second World War. From 8 to 25 December 1941, almost 2,000 troops from Winnipeg and Quebec City — sent to Hong Kong expecting little more than guard duty — fought bravely against the overwhelming power of an invading Japanese force. When the British colony surrendered on Christmas Day, 290 Canadians had been killed in the fighting. Another 264 would die over the next four years, amid the inhumane conditions of Japanese prisoner-of-war camps.

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Canada and the Battle of Kapyong

The Battle of Kapyong is one of Canada’s greatest, yet least-known, military achievements. For two days in April 1951, a battalion of roughly 700 Canadian troops (the 2nd Battalion of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry Regiment) helped defend a crucial hill in the front lines of the Korean War against a force of about 5,000 Chinese soldiers. Besieged by waves of attackers, the Canadians held their position amid the horror of close combat until the assaulting force had been halted and the Canadians could be relieved. Their determined stand contributed significantly to the defeat of the Communist offensive in South Korea that year.

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Canada and the Battle of Passchendaele

The Battle of Passchendaele, also known as the Third Battle of Ypres, was fought during the First World War from 31 July to 10 November 1917. The battle took place on the Ypres salient on the Western Front, in Belgium, where German and Allied armies had been deadlocked for three years. On 31 July, the British began a new offensive, attempting to break through German lines by capturing a ridge near the ruined village of Passchendaele. After British, Australian and New Zealand troops launched failed assaults, the Canadian Corps joined the battle on 26 October. The Canadians captured the ridge on 6 November, despite heavy rain and shelling that turned the battlefield into a quagmire. Nearly 16,000 Canadians were killed or wounded. The Battle of Passchendaele did nothing to help the Allied effort and became a symbol of the senseless slaughter of the First World War.

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Canada and the Battle of the Scheldt

The Battle of the Scheldt was fought in northern Belgium and southwestern Netherlands in 1944 during the Second World War. It was part of the Allied campaign to liberate northwestern Europe and defeat Nazi Germany. The First Canadian Army played a crucial role in clearing the Scheldt of German forces, opening crucial supply lines via the port of Antwerp. However, this victory came at a cost. The Allies suffered nearly 13,000 casualties during the battle, including more than 6,300 Canadians.

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Canada and the Battle of the Somme

The Battle of the Somme, also known as the Somme Offensive, was fought during the First World War from 1 July to 18 November 1916. In the summer of 1916 the British launched the largest battle of the war on the Western Front, against German lines. The offensive was one of the bloodiest in human history. Over the course of five months, approximately 1.2 million men were killed or wounded at the Somme. The Canadian Corps (see Canadian Expeditionary Force) was involved in the final three months of fighting. On the first day of the offensive, the First Newfoundland Regiment, which was not part of the Canadian forces, was nearly annihilated at Beaumont-Hamel. The Battle of the Somme produced little gains and has long been an example of senseless slaughter and the futility of trench warfare (see also The Somme).

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Canada and the Cold War

The Cold War refers to the period between the end of the Second World War and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. During this time, the world was largely divided into two ideological camps — the United States-led capitalist “West” and the Soviet-dominated communist “East.” Canada aligned with the West. Its government structure, politics, society and popular perspectives matched those in the US, Britain, and other democratic countries. The global US-Soviet struggle took many different forms and touched many areas. It never became “hot” through direct military confrontation between the two main antagonists.

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Canada and the Cuban Missile Crisis

The Cuban Missile Crisis lasted from 16 to 28 October 1962. The Soviet Union stationed nuclear missiles in Cuba, which posed a threat to the United States and Canada. It brought the world to the edge of nuclear war. Canadian armed forces were placed on heightened alert. Prime Minister John Diefenbaker’s hesitant response to the crisis soured already tense relations between Canada and the US and led to the downfall of his government in 1963.   

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Canada and the Dutch Hunger Winter

The Dutch Hunger Winter was a severe food crisis that took place in the Netherlands in 1944–45, during the Second World War. By the time the country was liberated by Canadian and Allied forces in May 1945, around 20,000 Dutch people had died from the famine. With liberation came an influx of food and other provisions for the starving population. The Canadian role in liberating the Netherlands resulted in a lasting relationship between the two countries.

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Canada and the League of Nations

The League of Nations was an organization of 63 countries established in 1919, after the First World War. Canada was a founding member. The League ultimately failed in its aim of collective security. It was replaced by the United Nations at the end of the Second World War. However, the League of Nations did establish a new model for international organizations. League membership brought Canada its first official contact with foreign governments and helped to establish its position as a sovereign state. It also introduced Canada to the opportunities and challenges of international co-operation and peacekeeping.

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Canada and the Manhattan Project

Canada helped develop the world’s first nuclear reactors and nuclear arms. During the Second World War, Canada participated in British research to create an atomic weapon. In 1943, the British nuclear weapons program merged with its American equivalent, the Manhattan Project. Canada’s main contribution was the Montreal Laboratory, which later became the Chalk River Laboratory. (See Nuclear Research Establishments). This Allied war effort produced the atomic bombs dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. It also led to the development of Canada’s nuclear energy industry.

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Canada and the Responsibility to Protect (R2P)

The Responsibility to Protect (R2P) is a non-binding political commitment made by United Nations Member States to protect populations from genocide, crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing and war crimes. Canadian leadership was instrumental in the establishment of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) in 2000, which led to the development and eventual adoption of R2P at the 2005 UN World Summit (see also Canada and Peacekeeping).

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Canada and the Second Battle of Ypres

The Second Battle of Ypres was fought during the First World War from 22 April to 25 May 1915. It was the first major battle fought by Canadian troops in the Great War. The battle took place on the Ypres salient on the Western Front, in Belgium, outside the city of Ypres (now known by its Flemish name, Ieper). The untested Canadians distinguished themselves as a determined fighting force, resisting the horror of the first large-scale poison gas attack in modern history. Canadian troops held a strategically critical section of the frontline until reinforcements could be brought in. More than 6,500 Canadians were killed, wounded or captured in the Second Battle of Ypres.

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Canada and the War in Afghanistan

The war in Afghanistan (2001–14) was Canada’s longest war and its first significant combat engagement since the Korean War (1950–53). After the 2001 terror attacks on the United States, Canada joined an international coalition to destroy the al-Qaeda terrorist network and the Taliban regime that sheltered it in Afghanistan. (See 9/11 and Canada). Although the Taliban were removed from power and the al-Qaeda network was disrupted, Canada and its allies failed to destroy either group, or to secure and stabilize Afghanistan. More than 40,000 Canadian Armed Forces members served in the 12-year campaign. The war killed 165 Canadians — 158 soldiers and 7 civilians. Many Canadian veterans of the war in Afghanistan suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.

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Canada and Weapons of Mass Destruction

Canada has a long, complicated history with weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). Canadian soldiers have been attacked with chemical weapons and have used them offensively. (See Canada and Gas Warfare.) Canada has researched chemical, biological and nuclear weapons; but also, ways to defend against them. Some chemical weapons were tested in Canada and against Canadians with long-term consequences. Canada played a crucial role in the development of nuclear weapons. (See Canada and the Manhattan Project.) The country employed nuclear weapons primarily as defensive weapons during the Cold War. Canada signed international documents limiting the use of these weapons. Canada no longer has weapons of mass destruction. However, Canada is a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and NORAD — alliances that employ nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction.

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Canada’s Cold War Purge of LGBTQ from Public Service

Between the 1950s and the 1990s, the Canadian government responded to national security concerns generated by Cold War tensions with the Soviet Union by spying on, exposing and removing suspected LGBTQ individuals from the federal public service and the Canadian Armed Forces. They were cast as social and political subversives and seen as targets for blackmail by communist regimes seeking classified information. These characterizations were justified by arguments that people who engaged in same-sex relations suffered from a “character weakness” and had something to hide because their sexuality was considered a taboo and, under certain circumstances, was illegal. As a result, the RCMP investigated large numbers of people. Many of them were fired, demoted or forced to resign — even if they had no access to security information. These measures were kept out of public view to prevent scandal and to keep counter-espionage operations under wraps. In 2017, the federal government issued an official apology for its discriminatory actions and policies, along with a $145-million compensation package.

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Canada’s Cold War Purge of LGBTQ from the Military

For much of its history, the Canadian military had a policy of punishing or purging LGBTQ members among their ranks. During the Cold War, the military increased its efforts to identify and remove suspected LGBTQ servicemen and women due to expressed concerns about blackmail and national security. In 1992, a court challenge led to the reversal of these discriminatory practices. The federal government officially apologized in 2017.