HIE 208 – Canadian Military History
Canadian Armed Forces at the Outbreak of War in 1939?
Lessons Learned and Relearned from Great War
Royal Military College of Canada (RMC)
To discuss the condition of the Canadian Armed Forces prior to the outbreak of
World War II we must first look at the political climate, culture and economy leading up to
1939. During this time Canada was in a policy of Isolationism after recovering form the
massive loss of life in the Great War.1 An anti-war sentiment stemmed from the
war time losses of over 60,000 Canadians – great losses for a ...view middle of the document...
The Navy was devastated by King’s 1922 decision to reduce it by 40 percent only
maintaining two Destroyers.4 Despite the cutbacks, Commodore Hose was able to establish a
1000 man strong Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Reserve. The Air Force established in
1920 was due to British contribution of almost 5 million dollars.5 To ensure the survival of
the Air Force it was tied to civil aviation development. Coupled with the development of the
British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, which trained aircrews from Commonwealth in
Canada at the British expense, the Air Force was able to maintain a small element. After
World War I Canadians were not mentally prepared for another war and the King’s
government went as far as to reject Hitler as a major threat. Nevertheless, on the eve of
World War II, Canada was not prepared for war. “Twenty years of neglect had weakened
Canada’s defences. The nation could not even defend its own coasts, let alone dispatch fully
equipped and trained forces to Europe.”6 This narrow vision of world events resulted in
Canada relearned the same lessons of unpreparedness it had been situated in prior to outbreak
of World War I.
During World War I, Hughes chaotic mobilization included recruiting problems and
problems producing war equipment – the very same problems now faced by King.7 At the
start of World War I the military was not ready to go to war when it was sent and they were
not prepared for a long fight. The same was true for the Canadian military at the start of
World War II. Consequently, much like the Borden government in World War I, the King
government had to use conscription and force military service. Conscription divided Canada
along language and cultural lines – French versus English Canada. Once again, conscription
had little impact on the war as World War II ended less than a year later and worsened
relations between English-French Canada.
The military of World War I had failed to grasp technology fast enough before battle
and this was the similar fate for the soldiers going to the front in World War II. In both cases
it can be argued that a lack...