The Second World War transformed Canada from a quiet country on the fringes of global affairs, into a critical player in the 20th century's most important struggle. Canada carried out a vital role in the Battle of the Atlantic, the air war over Germany, and other important theatres of the conflict. The war took the lives of 43,000 Canadians.
The Second World War was a defining event in Canadian history, transforming a quiet country on the fringes of global affairs into a critical player in the 20th century's most important struggle. Canada carried out a vital role in the Battle of the Atlantic and the air war over Germany, and contributed forces to the campaigns of western Europe beyond what might be expected of a small nation of then only 11 million people.4
During the Second World War, on 19 August 1942, the Allies launched a major raid on the French coastal port of Dieppe. Operation Jubilee was the first Canadian Army engagement in the European theatre of the war, designed to test the Allies' ability to launch amphibious assaults against Adolf Hitler's "Fortress Europe." The raid was a disaster: More than 900 Canadian soldiers were killed, and thousands more were wounded and taken prisoner. Despite the bloodshed, the raid provided valuable lessons for subsequent Allied amphibious assaults on Africa, Italy and Normandy.
In the Second World War, Canadians began fighting in Italy in July 1943. By the summer of 1944, the Allies had pushed German forces to one of their last defensive positions — a stretch of heavily fortified territory in northern Italy known as the Gothic Line. The main job of breaking the Line fell to the I Canadian Corps, which accomplished the task after a month of difficult combat, at a cost of more than 4,500 casualties. Although overshadowed by the Allied invasion of France, cracking the Gothic Line was among Canada's greatest feats of arms of the war.
In December 1943, as part of the Allied advance through Italy during the Second World War, Canadian forces fought one of their toughest battles of the war in a bid to capture the town of Ortona. The month-long campaign — first at the Moro River outside Ortona, then with vicious street fighting in the town itself — cost more than 2,300 Canadian casualties, but eventually won Ortona for the Allies.
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 Québec 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.