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World War II

World War II (1939-45): The rise of Hitler and the Nazi regime in Germany in the 1930s coupled with Fascism in Italy under Mussolini, Japanese imperial ambitions in the Pacific and the eventual alliance of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union under Stalin's dictatorship left few options for the western allies by the late 1930s as international tensions rose. The annexation of Czechoslovakia by Hitler failed to placate his ambitions and when he invaded Poland, after securing an alliance with Stalin, Britain and France finally where forced into the second great conflict in the 20th century. Another European war had broken out and Canada, although still closely aligned with Britain, entered the war on 10 September on its own initiative - unlike WWI- several days after the British declaration of war.

As in WWI Canadians immediately flowed into the armed services in great numbers , this time the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) also took its share of recruits. In the six years of war that followed, Canadian men and women made a tremendous contribution to the ultimate allied victory on the land, in the air, at sea and on the home front. The Canadian Navy fought a hard, long campaign in the North Atlantic against the U- boats and finished the war as the third largest navy in the world.

A Canadian Tribal Class destroyer

Canadian airmen fought in the the tremendous air battles over Europe and in skies around the globe. RCAF bomber, fighter, fighter-bomber, transport and patrol squadrons joined the fight against the Axis and made a major contribution to the achievement of Allied air supremacy. In Canada, through the tremendous efforts of the Commonwealth air training plan, over 100,000 allied airmen were trained to fly with the air forces of the Commonwealth. By the end of the war the RCAF was the fourth largest air force in the world.

RCAF Typhoon fighter-bombers take off for a strike against German armoured formations in Normandy

The Canadian Army grew in size and capability during the war forming into a modern, fully capable combined arms force with armoured forces. The small Permanent Force and militia of the inter-war years formed the core of the new army as its ranks swelled with the thousands of Canadians who joined its forming regiments. The army fought in desperate battles in Europe, suffering defeats in the Dieppe landing and at Hong Kong, but fighting its way back through Italy, the Normandy invasion beaches and the liberation of North western Europe. During WWII the Canadian Army fought as a separate force from the start and by the D Day landings was assigned a landing beach, Juno, as its own objective as one of the three major allied forces striking back at Hitler's Europe that day.

Canadian troops in landing craft heading into Juno beach on D Day

It is no exaggeration to say that Allied victory in WWII owed much to Canada and the contributions of her armed forces and people. Many Canadians from the Okanagan Valley went to war during WWII. The Okanagan's own regiment, the British Columbia Dragoons, crewed Sherman tanks as the 9th Canadian Armoured Regiment (BC Dragoons) and fought many tough battles against dug-in German infantry and deadly German tanks, such as the Panther and Tiger, in Italy.

The German Tiger I tanks with its deadly 88 mm gun was much feared by allied tank crews

The Canadians who fought to liberate Europe from the Third Reich earned the undying gratitude of many, especially in Holland which was liberated by the Canadians. To this day there are strong ties between Kelowna and the Dutch town of Veendam - a reminder of the legacy from those days and the British Columbia Dragoons who were stationed there.

A Canadian tank commander surveys the terrain below him during the Italian campaign

To learn more about Canada's role in WWII go to the following excellent web pages on the Canadian War Museum and web site - including an interactive learning experience about what it was like being a Sherman tank commander in Europe:

Also visit the CBC's great web pages about the Second World War:

The War Amps 'Canada's Military Heritage' website also has excellent information on Canadians in WWII:

 

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