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
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 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.
The Aroostook War was a confrontation between British and Maine authorities in disputed territory known as Madawaska. During the Napoleonic Wars, Britain was in dire need of wood and the region’s pine forests became an important commodity. Claimed by both Maine and New Brunswick, Madawaska became fertile ground for confrontations between the two. The war peaked in 1838‒39 when the governor of Maine, John Fairfield, sent a group, led by Rufus McIntyre, to stop “provincials” from entering territory that Fairfield believed was Maine’s. McIntyre was captured and accused of invading the colony. The conflict ended in 1842 with the Webster-Ashburton Treaty, which divided the territory along the Saint John River.
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.
The Battle of Passchendaele is a vivid symbol of the mud, madness and the senseless slaughter of the First World War. In the late summer of 1917, the British launched a major offensive against German forces holding Passchendaele ridge, overlooking the city of Ypres, Belgium. The battlefield became a quagmire. Canadian forces entered the fray in October, capturing the ridge and Passchendaele village at a cost of 15,600 casualties — a high price for a piece of ground that would be vacated for the enemy the following year.
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.
The capture of Hill 70 in France was an important Canadian victory during the First World War, and the first major action fought by the Canadian Corps under a Canadian commander. The battle, in August 1917, gave the Allied forces a crucial strategic position overlooking the occupied city of Lens.
The Battle of Vimy Ridge, during the First World War, is Canada's most celebrated military victory — an often mythologized symbol of the birth of Canadian national pride and awareness. The four divisions of the Canadian Corps, fighting together for the first time, attacked the ridge from 9 to 12 April, 1917 and captured it from the German army. It was the largest territorial advance of any Allied force to that point in the war – but it would mean little to the outcome of the conflict. More than 10,500 Canadians were killed and wounded in the assault. Today an iconic white memorial atop the ridge honours the 11,285 Canadians killed in France throughout the war who have no known graves.2
The Battle of the Plains of Abraham (13 September 1759) was a pivotal moment in the Seven Years’ War and in the history of Canada. A British invasion force led by General James Wolfe defeated French troops under the Marquis de Montcalm, leading to the surrender of Québec to the British.
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.
Based on the Lower Canadian Frères Chasseurs, Hunters’ Lodges were American secret societies that aimed to liberate the Canadian colonies from the tyranny of British thralldom. With estimates ranging from 15,000 to 200,000 members, lodges counted on much support from borderlanders, from Maine to Wisconsin, who were disillusioned and frustrated with the social, economic and political changes that shook 1830s America. Though they failed to liberate Canada, losing key military encounters near Prescott and Windsor in November and December 1838, their importance was significant enough that they had forced the American president, Martin Van Buren, to send a military force to the American-Canadian border to ensure that the neutrality between the United States and Britain was strictly followed. For months, Hunter activities dominated American foreign and internal policy.
Few words conjure the futility and the staggering losses of the First World War like the Somme. In the summer of 1916 the British launched a major offensive against German lines. The battle lasted five months, killed or wounded approximately 1.2 million men, and produced little gains.
The Battle of the Windmill was one of a series of raids launched along the Canada/US border in the summer and fall of 1838 by the Hunters’ Lodges, secret societies established by Canadian rebels who had taken refuge in the northern United States after the failed rebellions of 1837. Several thousand Americans also joined these societies, whose goal was to push the United Kingdom and the United States into war so as to liberate the Canadian provinces from British tyranny. The Battle of the Windmill was fought from 12 to 16 November 1838 near Prescott, in Upper Canada, and ended in a defeat for the invaders from the US. One month later, the Battle of Windsor put an end to the American incursions and Canadian rebellions.