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 1944 Battle of Normandy — from the D-Day landings on 6 June through to the encirclement of the German army at Falaise on 21 August — was one of the pivotal events of the Second World War and the scene of some of Canada's greatest feats of arms. Canadian sailors, soldiers and airmen played a critical role in the Allied invasion of Normandy, also called Operation Overlord, beginning the bloody campaign to liberate Western Europe from Nazi occupation. Nearly 150,000 Allied troops landed or parachuted into the invasion area on D-Day, including 14,000 Canadians at Juno Beach. The Royal Canadian Navy contributed 110 ships and 10,000 sailors and the RCAF contributed 15 fighter and fighter-bomber squadrons to the assault. Total Allied casualties on D-Day reached more than 10,000, including 1,074 Canadians, of whom 359 were killed. By the end of the Battle of Normandy, the Allies had suffered 209,000 casualties, including more than 18,700 Canadians. Over 5,000 Canadian soldiers died.1
Juno Beach was the Allied code name for a 10 km stretch of French coastline assaulted by Canadian soldiers on D-Day, 6 June 1944, during the Second World War. The Canadian Army’s 3rd Infantry Division and 2nd Armoured Brigade seized the beach and its seaside villages while under intense fire from German defenders — an extraordinary example of military skill, reinforced by countless acts of personal courage. The 3rd Infantry Division took heavy casualties in its first wave of attack but took control of the beach by the end of the day. More than 14,000 Canadian soldiers landed or parachuted into France on D-Day. The Royal Canadian Navy contributed 110 warships and 10,000 sailors and the RCAF contributed 15 fighter and fighter-bomber squadrons to the assault. There were 1,074 Canadian casualties, including 359 killed.
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.5
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.
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.