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Banner: From Colony to Country: A Reader's Guide to Canadian Military History


Canadian Military History: An Overview
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Second World War


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Second World War
Troops and Traditions

The Land War

The starting point for any study of Canadian military operations overseas must be the official histories: C.P. Stacey's Six Years of War (cited below) and The Victory Campaign (cited under "The Land War - North-West Europe, 1942-1945"), and G.W.L. Nicholson's The Canadians in Italy (cited under "The Land War - The Sicilian and Italian Campaigns, 1943-1945"). Until the full range of documents became available to the public in the early 1970s, at the National Archives of Canada (along with British documents at the Public Record Office, Kew, England), these histories were the final authority. However, criticism of the Canadian performance was muted in the official histories. Among the first new works to use the official records were five curious little volumes by Terry Copp and Robert Vogel. Copp and Vogel drew attention to materials such as the war diaries, by reproducing pages in order to support their arguments. In their final volume, Maple Leaf Route : Victory (cited under "The Land War - North-West Europe, 1942-1945"), the two began to enunciate what they saw as the particular Canadian genius for winning battles -- the use of artillery to isolate the battlefield and break the objective down into a series of sequential phases. Copp has continued to develop this theme in more recent works.

British and American military historians have been more willing than Stacey and Nicholson to point out the shortcomings of Canadian senior commanders. However, in Canada and the Normandy Campaign (cited under "The Land War - The Normandy Campaign, 1944"), John English has agreed with the negative analysis, based on Canadian archival sources, and has stated his opinion that Lieutenant General Guy Simonds was the only competent Canadian general in Normandy. Furthermore, English found that Canadian troop training, based upon British models, was deficient. In an M.A. thesis, Paul Dickson has corroborated English's findings about Canadian generals, but Jack Granatstein, in The Generals (listed under "Civilian and Military Leadership" in the Government and the Military section) is more optimistic.

Historians have begun to revise their interpretation of the hard fighting in Normandy, in which Canadian infantrymen died in numbers comparable to the major offensives of the First World War. They have so far paid less attention to the later battles in the North-West Europe campaign, and are only beginning to assess the Canadian operations in Sicily and Italy.

* Introduction to the study of military history for Canadian students. -- 6th ed., 3rd revision. -- Edited by C.P. Stacey. -- [S.l.] : Directorate of Training, Canadian Forces Headquarters, [1973?] -- P. 109-144. -- Also published in French under the title: Introduction à l'étude de l'histoire militaire à l'intention des étudiants canadiens

  • Originally designed to assist officer cadets and junior officers in promotion examinations, continuing demand has led to many revisions over the years for this useful little handbook

  • This work includes chapters on the invasion of Sicily, 1943; the Normandy assault, 1944; and the battle of the Scheldt, 1944

* Stacey, C.P. -- Six years of war : the army in Canada, Britain and the Pacific. -- Ottawa : Queen's Printer, 1955. -- 629 p. -- (Official history of the Canadian Army in the Second World War, vol. I) -- Also published in French under the title: Six années de guerre : l'armée au Canada, en Grande-Bretagne et dans le Pacifique

  • This volume includes the official history of the Hong Kong debacle, 1941; the Dieppe raid, 1942; and the Aleutian campaign, 1942-1943

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