Part One: Organization, Training and Home Defence in Canada
Chapter 1: The Canadian Militia on the Eve of War
(See Maps 1, 2 and 3)
The Canadian Tradition
Canada is an unmilitary community. Warlike her people have often been forced to be; military they have never been.
Repeatedly, during the French regime, Canadians took up arms in defence of their country. Twice during Canada’s early history as a British colony her people joined with British forces in defending the soil against attack by the neighbouring nation. On many occasions in later times there was danger of renewed war with the United States. Later still, when a happy evolution had put an end to such apprehensions, Canada’s increasing involvement in world politics led her to take a minor part in the South African War of 1899–1902 and a much larger share in the World War of 1914–18. None of these episodes proved sufficient to convince Canadians that there was a close connection between their nation’s welfare and the state of her military preparations. Fortunately for the country, there were always some people in it who interested themselves in such matters and sought to maintain a degree of active military spirit; but they were always a small minority.
For generations, Canadian governments and parliaments, and certainly also the public at large, appeared to be convinced that it was time enough to begin preparing for war after war had broken out. It would be easy to demonstrate the country’s traditional dislike of peacetime armaments and unwillingness to spend money upon them, and to give examples of how on many occasions the sudden appearance of a crisis led ministers and legislators to take, hurriedly and belatedly, the military measures for which in more peaceful moments they had seen no need. But it is not necessary to labour the point; nor need we here attempt to account fully for the country’s unmilitary outlook, which has certainly been due in great part to the happy accident of a political and geographical situation that, placed formidable barriers, in the shape of distance, ocean spaces and the power of great friendly nations, between Canada and potential aggressors. It is enough to say that not until the years following the Second World War did the Canadian people
and their government show themselves ready to spend, in time of peace, money enough to maintain national armaments commensurate in any degree with the position claimed by Canada in the world.
It is a remarkable fact that the First World War, which affected Canadian development so fundamentally in so many ways, had almost no long-term influence upon the country’s military policy. In that war, the most important episode in Canadian history until its time, 628,000 Canadians served and 60,000 lost their lives.1 Canada intervened on a large scale on European battlefields, and her troops were recognized as being among the most formidable on the Western Front. Nevertheless, when the emergency was over the country reverted lightly and confidently to her earlier traditions, and reduced her armed forces to a level of insignificance almost as low as that of 1913.
There is no point in going into details here. Only a few illustrations need be given. The report of the Department of National Defence for the year ending 31 March 1924 calculated that Canada’s expenditure on defence, per head of population, was $1.46, by comparison with $3.30 for Australia, $6.51 for the United States, $23.04 for Great Britain and $24.66 for France. The total expenditure upon Militia services (including all land forces) in that year was only $10,920,000.2 Seven years later it had risen scarcely at all. The expenditures upon Naval and Air services were smaller than those for the land service, and the grand total for the Department of National Defence for Militia, Naval, Air and other services amounted in 1930–31 to about $23,700,000, of which just over $11 million was for the Militia. Even this small provision was severely reduced in succeeding years as a result of the economic depression, and the total actual disbursements of the Department for the year 1932–33 sank to $14,145,361.3 With this sum Canada, a country of more than ten million people, was supposedly maintaining a Navy, an Army (then called the Militia) and an Air Force. How utterly inadequate these forces were for any practical purpose can be imagined.
A word will be said here about the Militia only. After the First World War a very inflated paper organization for the land forces of Canada had been set up, apparently on the recommendation of the “Otter Committee” appointed in 1919. It provided theoretically for 11 divisions and four cavalry divisions. The Committee appears to have postulated this organization upon a war on Canadian soil, but recognized that in a war fought abroad the largest expeditionary force Canada could produce would be six divisions and one cavalry division.* The peace establishments of the units actually authorized amounted to more than 140,000 men. (To organize the whole 15
* This Committee, appointed for the special purpose of reporting on means of perpetuating the traditions of Canadian Expeditionary Force units in the post-war Militia, was originally composed of Major General Sir William Otter, Major General Sir Archibald MacDonell. Brigadier General E. A. Cruikshank, and Brigadier General A. G. L. McNaughton.4 In practice, it consisted of the first and last of these plus Major General Sir E. W. B. Morrison. The Committee made no general report and apparently put on paper no full statement of its views on the proper organization of the Militia at large; but a table5 attached to a memorandum by Brig. Gen. McNaughton (undated but evidently of 1919) confirms that its calculations were founded upon a force of 11 infantry divisions with divisional troops, and four cavalry divisions with divisional troops, plus Corps and Army Troops.
divisions, with necessary additional units, at least 300,000 all ranks would have been required, but – wisely – no attempt was made to provide them.)6 The actual strength, under the conditions imposed by financial limitations, bore no relationship to these figures. Lack of funds restricted training and prevented the acquisition of new equipment. This, combined with the widespread pacifist feeling of those days, made the Non-Permanent Active Militia (the volunteer citizen force, roughly equivalent to the Territorial Army in Great Britain or the National Guard in the United States) unpopular. Recruiting was difficult; and even where a unit could recruit to full strength, it could not draw training pay for more than a fraction of its numbers. All that could be done in these circumstances was to seek to train a nucleus of leaders and specialists. That the NPAM continued to exist as a basis for the land defence of Canada was due to the public spirit of its officers and men, to many of whom membership in the force meant an actual financial loss. On 30 June 1931 its enrolled strength was 51,287 officers and other ranks as against a peace establishment of 134,843. As for the tiny regular army, the Permanent Active Militia, its peace establishment was 6925 all ranks, but its actual strength on 31 March 1931 was only 3688.7
The Approach of the Crisis
Such was the state of things in Canada when, just as the world depression was at its worst, the international situation began to go to pieces at an alarming rate. In 1931 the Japanese seized Manchuria from China and defied the League of Nations. In 1933 Adolf Hitler possessed himself of supreme power in Germany and set about re-arming the Reich and re-making the map of Europe. The impotence of the League as an instrument for the preservation of peace became more and more patent, and the frightened democracies showed no disposition to run risks in the interest of making the League system effective. As the horizon steadily darkened, those charged with advising the Canadian Government on matters of defence became increasingly apprehensive.
As we have noted, the depression had led to an economy campaign which further reduced the already attenuated provision made for the fighting services. Expenditure upon them in 1932–33 was the lowest since 1913. During the next three years, however, the depression may be said to have paid a limited dividend to the Canadian forces, for under the Unemployment Relief and Public Works Construction Acts considerable sums were expended
on projects of military importance, including barracks, armouries and air stations. The project which the Chief of the General Staff (Major General A. G. L. McNaughton)* considered most significant was a beginning on a new Dominion Arsenal plant at Valcartier, Quebec, where respectable progress was made during the depression years. These measures somewhat improved the material, bricks-and-mortar basis of Canadian defence; little, however, was done for the forces themselves.
In January, 1935 the main estimates for the militia and air forces for 1935–36 were tabled in the House of Commons. The amounts proposed were “substantially less” than those originally submitted to the Government and supplementary estimates were essential if the deficiencies were to be corrected. The Chief of the General Staff (who at this time was in Canada “also Chief of the Air Staff in fact if not in name”)8 now prepared for the Government’s information a memorandum entitled The Defence of Canada in which he reviewed the existing position, the dangers and the needs.9 After giving the statistics of strength and expenditures since 1919, he dealt with the question of equipment in the following terms:–
As regards reserves of equipment and ammunition, the matter is shortly disposed of. Except as regards rifles and rifle ammunition, partial stocks of which were inherited from the Great War – there are none.
As regards equipment, the situation is almost equally serious, and to exemplify it I select a few items from the long lists of deficiencies on file at National Defence Headquarters:–
i. There is not a single modern anti-aircraft gun of any sort in Canada.
ii. The stocks of field gun ammunition on hand represent 90 minutes’ fire at normal rates for the field guns inherited from the Great War and which are now obsolescent.
iii. The coast defence armament is obsolescent and, in some cases, defective in that a number of the major guns are not expected to be able to fire more than a dozen or so rounds. To keep some defence value in these guns, which are situated on the Pacific coast, we have not dared for some years to indulge in any practice firing.
iv. About the only article of which stocks are held is harness, and this is practically useless. The composition of a modem land force will include very little horsed transport. ...
v. There are only 25 aircraft of service type in Canada, all of which are obsolescent except for training purposes; of these, 15 were purchased before 1931 and are practically worn out. The remaining 10 were procured in 1934 from the Air Ministry at a nominal valuation; they are old army cooperation machines obtained so that some training with aircraft of military type might be carried out. Not a single machine is of a type fit to employ in active operations.
vi. Not one service air bomb is held in Canada.
McNaughton went on to point out that the funds provided by Parliament in past years had been “barely sufficient to keep the mechanism of defence
* Appointed CGS 1 January 1929.
in being.” Apart from essential overhead, it had been possible to provide only for “the training of a minimum cadre, composed of officers, non-commissioned officers and specialists.” Equipment had not been added to, save for a very few items; on the contrary, reserves had been used up to satisfy current requirements. The memorandum proceeded:–
Until a few years ago this parlous state of affairs was to some extent tolerable, owing to the knowledge that in the United Kingdom preparations for defence were based on the assumption “that at any given date there would be no major war for ten years” and that, in consequence, the Chiefs of Staff of the Royal Navy. the Army and the Royal Air Force were relieved of responsibility for lack of preparation in the event of a major war arising within that period.
In 1933, after a comprehensive review of the international situation, this assumption was cancelled* and the Chiefs of Staff in the United Kingdom resumed their responsibility for advising the Government as to the nature and extent of the defence preparations which, in the light of their information, they considered to be necessary.
The ten-year assumption was never formally applied to Canada, but in point of fact ever since 1919, Departmental estimates have been prepared on this basis, and in those which I have submitted annually since 1929 to provide for the Land and Air Forces, nothing beyond that which was immediately necessary to the maintenance and training of cadre forces was contemplated.
* General Lord Ismay has stated that the “Ten Years Rule” was in fact abandoned as early as March 1932.10
The CGS recalled that the draft estimates which he had submitted for the fiscal year 1934–35 had been based on his appreciation that “the most urgent requirements were in respect to Air Defence”; Parliament had voted, as a result, an increase for the Air Force of $525,000 over the previous year’s provision, the estimates for the land forces showing little change. In preparing draft estimates for 1935–36, he had followed the same policy of “placing emphasis on the urgent need for the development of the Air Force”, and had asked, by comparison with the previous year’s estimates, additional sums of $1,927,604 for the RCAF and of $1.512,634 for the Militia, which would provide for modest increases in numbers of men trained and some small improvements in equipment, including the provision of “one section of anti-aircraft guns for training.”
Supplementary Estimates for 1935–36 were duly brought down, and provided $1,651,000 for militia services and $1,302,900 for aviation, in addition to $145,000 for naval services. The final total of actual expenditure for all purposes, including the three fighting services, by the Department of National Defence for the fiscal year 1935–36 was $27,378,541.11
The New Defence Programme and its Problems
The general election of 14 October 1935 resulted in the replacement of the Conservative government of Mr. R. B. (later Viscount) Bennett by a
Liberal administration headed by Mr. W. L. Mackenzie King. It fell to this new government not only to preside over the final stage of defence planning preceding the outbreak of the Second World War, but also to lead the nation in that war.
The new Minister of National Defence, Mr. Ian A. Mackenzie, called for accounts of the state of the armed services. Major General E. C. Ashton, who had become Chief of the General Staff when General McNaughton was seconded to the presidency of the National Research Council on 1 June 1935, submitted on 12 November a report upon the land and air forces.12 This was based largely upon McNaughton’s memorandum, to which Ashton called attention. He pointed out that while the Supplementary Estimates had led to some slight improvement since that report was made, the position had nevertheless become “still more acute” in view of events abroad. War had now broken out between Italy and Ethiopia, and the attempt of the League of Nations to check the aggressor had brought Great Britain within measurable distance of war with Italy. Much of Ashton’s statement concerning the equipment situation derived from McNaughton’s, but certain additional details which he gave may well be quoted:
Beyond the purchase of a few mechanical tractors for the guns of the artillery , batteries of the Permanent Force, no provision has been made for the supply of mechanical transport for war purposes. We possess no tanks or service armoured cars. No tractors suitable to haul heavy and field artillery are wholly manufactured in Canada though certain companies partly manufacture a light 6-wheeled vehicle adaptable for field artillery.
A few respirators, sufficient for the supply of a limited number to the Permanent Force, are held for training. None is available for mobilization. ...
The stocks of steel helmets are sufficient only for the supply of one division.
Existing Manufacturing Facilities
At the present no facilities whatsoever exist for the production of rifles, machine guns and artillery weapons in Canada. The existing Dominion Arsenal at Quebec is equipped only for the production of rifle ammunition and a limited amount for field guns.
No aero engines of any kind are manufactured in Canada at the present time.
To develop an aero-engine industry to the point of production will take two years.
Between 1935 and 1939 the Government made a degree of progress in remedying the situation thus outlined, a situation once characterized by Mr. Mackenzie in a letter to the Prime Minister as “a most astonishing and atrocious condition”.13 It approached the problem, however, with a circumspection which doubtless reflected the difficulties arising out of the Ethiopian War. The election campaign of 1935, during which the two major parties both declared their intention of doing everything possible to prevent Canada’s becoming involved in this conflict, had demonstrated the extreme unwillingness
of the Canadian public to face the possibility of another war; and however loudly the military situation might cry out for action – and the cry, as we have seen, could scarcely have been louder – it was evidently feared that any programme of rearmament might be exposed to misinterpretation and misrepresentation, at home as well as abroad.* During its first year in office the new Government moved cautiously. The Defence Department’s total expenditure for the fiscal year 1936–37 was actually slightly less than for the previous one, although it must be noted that there were very considerable increases in the normal provision for the three armed services; the overall reduction resulted from the cessation of the Special Unemployment Relief programme. In particular, the main estimates for the RCAF (totalling $4,130,000) were exactly one million dollars larger than those for 1935–36.14
The Government offered the public an earnest of its intention to give serious attention to defence problems by forming in August 1936 a Canadian Defence Committee (subsequently referred to as the Defence Committee of the Cabinet), composed of the Prime Minister and the Ministers of Justice, Finance and National Defence.15 The formation of some such body, distantly analogous to the Committee of Imperial Defence in the United Kingdom, had been suggested at intervals since 1911, and had been recommended more than once by General Ashton.16 The Defence Committee actually met only a few times before the outbreak of war; its chief practical function seems to have been to bring the Ministers and the Chiefs of Staff together for the discussion of proposed defence estimates. The Chiefs of Staff had had their own Committee (copied from British practice) since June 1927.17 Called at first the “Joint Staff Committee”, its name was changed to “Chiefs of Staff Committee” in January 1939, after the Senior Air Officer, who had always been a member of it, was given the title “Chief of the Air Staff”.18
Ashton also pressed for the institution under the Defence Committee of a group of sub-committees and a secretariat (again copied from the Committee of Imperial Defence).19 In April 1937 approval was given for this in principle, but only on 15 March 1938 did an order in council set up interdepartmental sub-committees on Treatment of Aliens and Alien Property; Censorship (a committee on this subject had in fact existed since 1936, if not earlier);20 Treatment of Ships and Aircraft; Air Raid Precautions; Emergency Legislation; and Defence Coordination. Most, though not all, of these committees set to work at early dates, and made useful contributions to pre-war planning and the preparation of the War Book21 (see below, page 33). As we shall see, a Navy, Army and Air Supply Committee, with various sub-committees, had been set up in 1936.22 The central organization for the coordination of defence was thus gradually improving.
* See the Prime Minister’s statement in the House of Commons, 19 February 1937.
During 1936 most careful consideration was given to the preparation of the estimates for 1937–38, which represent the real beginning of the Government’s modest re-armament programme. On 26 August the Defence Committee appears to have met the military heads of the three services in the Prime Minister’s office, and the officers explained their requirements.23 Subsequently, on 5 September, the Joint Staff Committee, composed at this time of Commodore P. W. Nelles, Major General Ashton, and Air Commodore G. M. Croil,* submitted a document entitled “An Appreciation of the Defence Problems Confronting Canada, with Recommendations for the Development of the Armed Forces”.24 This dwelt upon the increasingly precarious international situation. “The possibility of a major world war is becoming more apparent”, remarked the three officers presciently. “Indeed, the realization is growing in many minds that the cessation of hostilities in 1918 was but an armistice.” They noted both the German situation and that in the Far East, and observed that both concerned Canada, “no matter how reluctant that concern may be.” Of the two, they wrote, the European situation contained the more serious implications. They considered it quite possible that circumstances might again arise demanding the dispatch of Canadian forces overseas; they also called attention to the possibility of Canada’s being obliged to defend her neutrality in a conflict in the Pacific. The tasks of the Canadian forces were thus defined:
a. The direct defence of Canada is the major responsibility of its armed forces.
b. The indirect defence of Canada by cooperation with other Empire forces in a war overseas is a secondary responsibility of this country, though possibly one requiring much greater ultimate effort.”
The heads of the services proceeded to point out those extremely serious deficiencies in the Canadian armed forces which have been noted above, and submitted their recommendations for remedial measures. So far as the Militia was concerned, they observed that there was a requirement for modernizing the Esquimalt defences and improving the seaward defences of Halifax. Antiaircraft defence measures were also essential. As for the Militia at large, they pointed out that the reorganization already effected called for smaller forces but that these should be up-to-date. “The necessary armament, equipment and supplies to enable one-third of this future force to mobilize without delay, on a war footing, and concentrate in any part of Canada is considered essential.” Subsequently General Ashton gave a still more specific account of the minimum Militia requirements for the defence of Canada: two divisions, equipped to modern standards. “No Chief of the General Staff could be expected to undertake to safeguard the integrity of our coasts with any smaller force.”25
* Colonel H. D. G. Crerar, as Director of Military Operations and Intelligence, 1935–38, was Secretary of the Committee and drafted most of its memoranda.
On 8 September the Minister of National Defence sent the Joint Staff Committee’s memorandum to the Prime Minister, along with the financial calculations of the three services and the draft estimates for the year 1937–38 which they had submitted to him.26 These calculations had been made on the basis of a five-year plan for development, the total cost of which was estimated at $199,351,333; or roughly $40,000,000 per year. Of this grand total the Militia’s share was calculated as $98,872,075, the Navy’s as $25,815,500 and that of the Air Force $74,663,758. These figures, however, did not include the usual standing vote for Militia Services, which would add $11 or $12 million more per year. The total estimate for the first year, which the Joint Staff Committee envisaged as the most expensive under this project, was the main difficulty; it would amount to roughly $65 million. “Frankly”, wrote Mr. Mackenzie, “I do not think we can get that amount approved without difficulty. I think, however, we can justify an amount of $50,000,000. a year for the first year; $45,000,000. for the second, and $40,000,000. for the third year with approximately an annual vote of $40,000,000. subsequent to that date.” He called attention to the expanded defence programmes which had been adopted by other Commonwealth countries.
On 16 November, presumably in accordance with a suggestion from Mr. King, Mr. Mackenzie circulated the papers to his Cabinet colleagues.27 He again observed that the really difficult problem was the immediate requirements for the first year of the five-year plan. The estimated cost for the first year for all three services, he wrote, “amounts to the staggering figure of $53,838,942, with an additional $12,000,000 for the ordinary Militia estimates, or a total of $66,000,000.” This was the figure which had been submitted in the previous September, but the detailed estimates which the Chiefs of Staff had now requested actually amounted to $69,315,005.42. These estimates were divided into “main” and “special” categories, the former covering the normal expenditures of the services, the latter making provision for the large capital expenditures required to modernize them and fit them for war.
Reviewing the services’ demands in detail, the Minister indicated to his colleagues certain points where it appeared to him that reductions might be made. He suggested total possible reductions in the RCAF special estimate (which totalled $12,649,411) amounting to $2,400,483. The Navy’s modest special estimate of $4,269,040, he felt, could not be reduced. As for the Militia, it might be possible to eliminate from the provision for miscellaneous supplies the sum of $1,300,000, which would have provided clothing and accoutrements, steel helmets, and tents, blankets, and camp and barrack equipment. He also suggested that the provision for armament might be reduced by $810,000, including $500,000 intended to provide Bren guns. The recommendations for Engineer Services and Works were divided into
List “A”, which provided for coast defences and other facilities considered necessary, and List “B”, which consisted of items of lower priority, chiefly armouries. The Minister made the obvious suggestion that List “B” (which totalled $6,227,820) might usefully be dispensed with. His suggestions concerning List “A” (the total of which was $5,057,150) should perhaps be quoted:
... If it is not decided to undertake government manufacture of munitions on a large scale, but to leave mass production to Canadian industry, which in time of emergency would undoubtedly be the case, the item for $600,000 (Ammunition Group, Dominion Arsenal, Valcartier, or in the vicinity of Quebec City), might be deferred. It is really impossible not to proceed with the development of our main permanent training camps, such as, Valcartier, Barriefield, Dundurn, Shilo and Calgary.
There might also be some question as to the necessity of proceeding immediately with fortifications on the Atlantic Coast for which the following items are included:
Reconstruction of emplacements – $300,000
Coast Fortifications – 900,000
Improvements, Joint Services
Magazines – 100,000
If it is not decided to proceed with the Ammunition Group and the Atlantic Coast defences, a reduction of $1,690,000 could be made.
In closing it may be said that everything asked for is required, but I also find it very difficult to recommend that the entire amounts requested should be submitted to Parliament during the coming Session. Should Council fix an amount to which the Estimates of my Department should be reduced, I would immediately have worked out by the technical advisers of the Department, some other order of priority.
There is no record of the consideration of this matter by the Cabinet; but it is clear that Mr. Mackenzie’s colleagues shared his feeling that the figures submitted by the services were “staggering”, and were prepared to go further than he in reducing them. Had the tentative reductions suggested by him been applied, the estimates for the Department of National Defence for 1937–38 would have totalled $56,886,702. The actual total of the Main Estimates as finally presented to Parliament was $34,091,873.42. Including Supplementary Estimates, the final total for the year was $36,194,839.63, of which $18,703,636 was for Militia Services. Many items which the Joint Staff Committee had recommended for inclusion in the 1937–38 estimates were deferred for years to come. Work began on a considerable scale on the West Coast defences during 1937–38, but nothing of importance was done on the Atlantic coast until 1939. Action for the provision of Bren guns, recommended in 1936, was not taken until 1938. As is noted below, the Ammunition Group of the Arsenal was never proceeded with. The grants
made for general stores were so limited that, as will be seen in due time, the force mobilized in 1939 was short of the simplest necessities for a long period.. The Government decided upon a definite order of priority as between the three services and the various tasks. Precisely when this decision was taken is not clear, but it was at least adumbrated in Mr. Mackenzie’s memorandum of November 1936 quoted above, which suggests the desirability of dealing with the question in the order, Air Services first, Navy second and Militia third. This may possibly have been suggested by the Prime Minister, as it is not in Mackenzie’s letter to him of 8 September. The priority finally arrived at was stated by Mr. Mackenzie in the House of Commons on 26 April, 1939, in the following terms:
1. Fortification of Pacific Coast prior to Atlantic Coast.
2. Development of the air force in priority to navy and, so far as possible, the navy in priority to the militia.
3. Reorganization and re-equipping the militia as soon as our resources permit us to do so.
The relegation of the Militia to what was at least theoretically a tertiary position was something new in Canadian defence policy. But while the land service now received a smaller proportion than before of the total appropriations, those appropriations were sufficiently increased to ensure that it at least received sums materially larger than those for earlier years. As for the decision to give immediate priority to the Air Force, it will be remembered that in 1933–35 General McNaughton had declared that the most urgent task was to repair the deficiencies in the country’s air defence (above, page 7). The general pattern of the Government’s programme, and its annual progress, may best be traced in a simplified tabulation of the appropriations made during the six fiscal years preceding the outbreak of war.
Pre-War Appropriations for the Department of National Defence* (in $000’s)28
|Fiscal Year||Militia Services||Naval Services||Air Services||Other Services||Total|
* Appropriations made in the last two years of the Bennett administration have been included, both for purposes of comparison and to illustrate the upward trend noticeable in those years. “Other Services” include various non-military and miscellaneous appropriations; also those for unemployment, relief projects (many, though not all, of which had military significance) and (in 1939–40) provision made for retirement of capital expenditure. The figures for 1939–40 are appropriations made before the outbreak of war.
Many considerations hedged the Government in. The country’s economic life had not recovered from the depression; unemployment was still widespread and the public accounts still showed a regular annual deficit. In these circumstances, large expenditures for defence, traditionally unpopular in Canada, were likely to meet considerable criticism. At the same time there were political difficulties. As we have said, pacifist feeling was strong, the public naturally shrank from the idea of another destructive war, and there was no general realization of the fact – now so clear in retrospect – that the best hope of avoiding such a war lay in the democracies’ being strong. There was constant public debate over the question of the position which Canada could and should take in the event of another world conflict, and in the light of the various attitudes which emerged there was considerable apprehension as to the effect of such a crisis on the unity of the country. These circumstances inevitably left their mark upon both the scale and the nature of the Government’s defence programme. In particular, they led the Government to avoid any appearance whatever of preparing for action overseas.
In a private address to members of his party in Parliament on 20 January 1937,29 the Prime Minister gave an indication of the considerations which controlled the ministry’s defence policy. He spoke of the destructive forces at work in Europe and the Orient, and of the “disruptive influences” visible within Canada and the consequent paramount duty “to be united in regard to policy and to recognize that the unity of Canada comes first and foremost”. He mentioned the importance of preserving the unity of the Commonwealth also; and he went on to point out that Canada, though a rich country, was at the moment “practically defenceless”, with no one to guard its doors. He proceeded:–
We are not concerned with aggression. We are concerned with the defence of Canada. ... The possibility of conflict with the United States is eliminated from our mind. There is nothing here for an expeditionary force – only for the defence of Canada against those who might want only assail us or violate our neutrality. The defence of our shores and the preservation of our neutrality – these are the two cardinal principles of our policy.
You read what Meighen said in the Senate yesterday, that the amount in the estimates was not enough, that we were concerned with the defence of the Empire as a whole; that the first line of our defence was the Empire’s boundaries. We cannot accept that. But we can put our own house in order [so] that we shall not be a burden on anyone else – neither a burden on the States nor a burden on England. Meighen would do so much more – at least so he says – and Woodsworth would do nothing at all. The safe policy is the middle course between these two views – the safe policy is a rational policy of domestic defence.
Let us therefore be not afraid. Too many are governed by fear in the days in which we live. Let us first of all have a complete understanding of our own policy – and then fearing neither of the extremists – let us pursue our moderate way. Let us be united on a sane policy of defence: let us explain that policy to our people and let us above all strive at all times to keep Canada united.
Statements along these lines were made to Parliament a few weeks later by the Prime Minister and the Minister of National Defence.30
In May 1937 the Government’s policies were further crystallized – though not publicly – in a statement by the Minister of National Defence to the Imperial Conference then meeting in London.31 It was a frank exposition of the ministry’s views, accompanied by an account of the divided state of Canadian public opinion on “the questions of neutrality, foreign policy and defence”. Mr. Mackenzie described the defence priorities which had been established:
In general, may I make it very definite ... that we attach the first importance to Air development and to attaining our objective of 11 permanent and 12 non-permanent squadrons.
Next in order we place the increasing of our modest Naval force from four to six destroyers – with four out of the six stationed on the Pacific. And lastly, we plan to have two out of our six divisions completely equipped, thoroughly modernized and mechanized, and ready for service immediately in any part of Canada.
In all our plans and preparations we are paying particular attention to the Pacific Coast ...
Mr. Mackenzie ended by presenting to the Conference the following “conclusions”:
“1. Canadian public opinion supports the present defence policy of the Government of Canada.
“2. Canadian public opinion will not, under present conditions, support any larger appropriations than those voted this year by Parliament.
“3. Canadian public opinion is definitely opposed to extraneous commitments but is prepared to support a National defence policy for the protection of our coasts and the focal areas of our trade routes. ...”
The New Programme Develops, 1937–1939
In the light of the second of these conclusions, it is not surprising that the influence of financial considerations, so evident at the inception of the programme, continued to be important as it developed. As indicated by the Minister, the estimates for 1937–38 were taken as a norm; and the service authorities were informed that “for three years the Defence Estimates would probably not be increased over those of 1937/38”. Accordingly, plans were made for development based on a total of roughly $18,000,000 for the Militia for each year 1938–39, 1939–40 and 1940–41.32 In September 1937, however, instructions were received to reduce the estimates for 1938–39, which had been prepared on this basis, “by a total sum of $2,326,889”. The money thus taken from the Militia was given to the Navy.33 Economy continued to be an important object of the Government. On 12 January 1938 the Prime Minister wrote to all his colleagues in the Cabinet34 reminding them
of the recent deficits and emphasizing the importance of achieving a surplus and if possible some reduction in taxation before the next appeal to the electorate. He begged them if possible to cooperate in bringing the country’s expenditures for 1938–39 within a total of $500 million – necessitating “a reduction of seventy million dollars on estimates for the ensuing year, as thus far presented”. This was presumably the origin of the second reduction in the defence estimates which is recorded as imposed this year. The main Militia estimates now fell to $15,880,635; even with Supplementaries included, the final total was only $16,727,000.35
The Chief of the General Staff understood that this deficiency of approximately two million dollars (by comparison with 1937–38) would be made good the next year. On 31 May 1938 he submitted provisional Militia estimates for 1939–40 amounting to a total of $22,779,943.36 These, along with those of the other services, were considered at a meeting of the Defence Council* on 1 June. The total sum exceeded the amount voted for 1938–39 by $14,515,160. The Minister asked the heads of the services to reconsider the estimates; they did so, but reported that in their opinion the programmes which had been approved could not be implemented at less expenditure.37 On 22 July the Joint Staff Committee submitted a new “Review of Canada’s Position with Respect to Defence”,38 surveying developments since 1936. This paper noted that the European situation had become much worse during this period, the German navy had grown powerful, and the East Coast defences accordingly had acquired increased importance. The concluding summary may be quoted:
15. Since we last reported collectively on the requirements of Canadian defence [5 September 1936] some progress has been made towards the implementation of the programme then recommended. The Naval objective of six destroyers then aimed at will shortly be attained. Despite unforeseen delays in the procurement of essential armament for the land forces we have made headway, by using existing equipment, in strengthening the fixed defences of the Pacific Coast. The Air Force has been substantially increased as to personnel, and a beginning has been made in development of air bases and the arming of units with service aircraft.
The above programme, however, has, generally speaking, and in particular with respect to the Militia and Air Services, been undertaken very much on a “long-term” basis.
In the meantime the international situation has continued to deteriorate, and has developed in such a way as to shift the centre of gravity of danger from the Pacific to the Atlantic Coast. We have felt it necessary to revise our estimate of the forms and scales of attack to which Eastern coastal and inland. centres may be subject, and to include therein bombardment by fast armourd ships mounting heavy guns, and air attack on centres as far from the coast as Toronto.
16. In these circumstances, while we are fully aware of the difficulties in the way of obtaining larger appropriations, we feel that we would be remiss in our
* The Defence Council was composed of the Minister of National Defence, the Deputy Minister, the Chief of the General Staff, the Chief of the Naval Staff, and the Senior Air Officer, with the heads of Branches at Militia Headquarters and the Judge Advocate General as associate members.
responsibilities to you if we did not state that a long-term expenditure on the gradual improvement of our defences has, we believe, little relation to the actual problem of the security of this country. In our view the situation strongly indicates that immediate speed, rather than present economy, requires to be taken as the governing factor in the execution of our plans.
The Committee’s specific recommendations with respect to the Militia service were as follows:
i. Immediate provision of essential coast and anti-aircraft defence armament and equipment.
ii. Completion of the Interim Plan* on both coasts without delay.
iii. Further and determined action to complete the equipment of two divisions.”
In September the crisis over Czechoslovakia brought the world to the brink of war and administered a severe shock to the country. On 14 November the Cabinet Defence Committee met the Chiefs of Staff, and the latter presented their recommendations for expenditure during 1939–40. It is recorded that the total increase contemplated in these recommendations, by comparison with the appropriations for the current year, was approximately $37 million. This would have raised the total appropriation for the Department of National Defence to roughly $73 million. The Militia estimates submitted had risen to $26,451,783.39 Subsequently they were further increased to $28,657,795.40
Although the Government was prepared to go some distance in expanding and improving the forces at this time, it was not ready to go so far as this, and in particular it was not ready to spend so much on the land forces. The Militia now suffered for its low status in the official priority. On 17 December the Militia authorities received through the Deputy Minister of National Defence verbal instructions to make a drastic cut of $7,882,195, which brought the Militia estimates down to $20,775,600.41 This produced a very strong protest from the Military Members of the Defence Council (the heads of branches at Militia Headquarters), as it involved eliminating, among other things, the proposed beginning on East Coast defences, important purchases of armament, ammunition and stores (including boots and clothing), a small increase (159 all ranks) which had been proposed for the Permanent Force, and other items. The CGS wrote: “The Military Members ... are of the opinion that the Militia, both NPAM and P.F., will not be able to meet requirements in a crisis unless it receives more generous treatment in the coming estimates.”42 The protest brought no increase in the main estimates. It is clear that the Cabinet had fixed an arbitrary total, for the actual over-all estimates for the Department of National Defence as submitted to Parliament amounted to exactly $60,000,000.42.†
* See below, page 28.
† This is apart from $3,477,175 included for the retirement of moneys borrowed for capital expenditure.
The Cabinet Defence Committee again met the Chiefs of Staff on 30 January, 1939, and although the business done is not recorded it was probably concerned with recommendations for Supplementary Estimates. In due course, Militia Supplementaries amounting to $622,000 were brought down, making limited provision for the first stage of the East Coast defences – $145,000 for engineering works and $53,625 for armament – and for boots for the Non-Permanent Active Militia. Even including these, however, the pre-war appropriations for Militia services for the fiscal year 1939–40 were still materially less than the sum requested in May 1938. Reference to the table on page 13 will make it clear that the RCAF was the chief beneficiary of the increased generosity of this period.
The Reorganization of the Militia
Having surveyed the new defence programme generally, we may now cum to more detailed consideration of the Militia aspects of it. In matters of organization there were important changes in these years. On 19 November 1938 the Chief of the General Staff ceased to be responsible for the Royal Canadian Air Force. The designation of the Senior Air Officer, Royal Canadian Air Force, was subsequently changed to Chief of the Air Staff, and this officer thereafter possessed the same independence as the Chiefs of the General and Naval Staffs, becoming “directly responsible to the Minister of National Defence.” The Canadian situation was thus largely assimilated to that in the United Kingdom. The change was a natural consequence of the high priority accorded the Air Force in the Government’s new defence programme.43
The land forces themselves underwent an extensive and salutary reorganization. It had long been recognized that the organization of the Non-Permanent Active Militia did not make sense. In discussions preceding the Disarmament Conference of 1932, General McNaughton recommended that Canadian calculations for the future should be based upon reducing the theoretical 11 divisions and four cavalry divisions to six divisions and one cavalry division, with the necessary proportion of corps and army troops. He pointed out that, apart from being absurdly inflated, the existing organization was unbalanced; it contained an excess of infantry and cavalry units, but lacked any due and proper proportion of artillery and other ancillary units and services, and these could not be organized without a further increase of nearly 100,000 in the peace establishment. McNaughton’s recommendations were accepted as a basis for the guidance of the Canadian delegation to the Disarmament Conference. When in 1933 it became necessary to submit detailed calculations to the Conference, the recommendations were
reconsidered, and (with no substantial change with respect to land forces) accepted by a special Cabinet Committee. They were accordingly transmitted to Geneva.44
Although a new basis for the Militia had thus been approved in principle, and the Defence Associations representing the various arms of the Non-Permanent Active Militia were consulted during 1933–34 and concurred in its desirability, reorganization in accordance with it was postponed until 1936. On 5 June of that year, following the passing of the departmental estimates, ministerial authority was received to proceed with it without further delay. By the end of the following December it was virtually complete.45 The nature of the reorganization can be only broadly sketched here. The reorganized force contained only 20 cavalry regiments as compared with 35 before; moreover, four of the 20 were armoured car units and two others were mechanized. There had been 135 infantry and machine-gun battalions; these now declined in number to 91. Six of the 91, moreover, were to be tank battalions. (These were the first tank units organized in Canada; but an Armoured Corps had not yet been set up; and, of course, they had no tanks.) On the other hand, the Artillery was largely increased (the number of field batteries rising from 67 to 110) and the Engineer arm was also much expanded. The Militia now began to assume the appearance of a balanced army.46
As a result of the reorganization, the land forces of Canada in 1938 had an authorized peace establishment (as distinct from an actual strength) of 90,576 all rank, distributed as shown in the following table:47
|Arm of Service||Permanent Active Militia||Non-Permanent Active Militia|
|Staff and General List||71||–||–||–|
|Artillery Heavy and Anti-Aircraft||302||4||1,924||–|
|Officers’ Training Corps||–||–||4,553||–|
|Army Service Corps||300||–||1,535||–|
No formations higher than brigades actually existed. In the course of this reorganization the horse virtually disappeared from the establishment, except in the cavalry, where he got a reprieve which proved to be very short.
* Medical; Dental (NPAM only); Ordnance; Veterinary; Pay (P.F. only); Postal (NPAM only); Corps of Military Staff Clerks (P.F. only).
The Problem of Supply
The progress of re-armament was very materially retarded by the supply difficulties which General Ashton had indicated in 1935 (above, page 8). Canada had no armament industry. Even during the First World War, when she produced vast quantities of shells, she had made no weapons except Ross rifles, and her facilities had not improved since that time. Her traditional source of supply was the United Kingdom; but both public and private factories there were now fully occupied in producing the weapons required by Britain’s own re-armament programme, and equipment could not be had merely by appropriating funds and placing orders. (At the same time, the continued relative smallness of appropriations limited the orders that could be placed.) Whether ordered from Britain, or from Canadian plants which had never made weapons before and were sure to require years for preparation, war material in quantities was certainly not going to be available to the Canadian forces for a long time to come. Thanks to these facts, the progress made before September 1939 towards re-equipping the Militia was very limited.
Of the considerable amount of equipment ordered from England, Canada received before the outbreak of war quantities so small as to afford only very slight facilities for training, and none at all for arming troops on mobilization. Two light tanks (the Militia’s first tanks) came in from the United Kingdom in 1938; and 14 more arrived in the summer of 1939 just before war broke out. In other categories the quantities of modern equipment available were equally ludicrous. In the spring of 1939, five 3-inch mortars had arrived (at this time, every infantry battalion was supposed to possess two such mortars). When war broke out, Canada had 29 Bren guns (the units were armed with the obsolete Lewis of 1914–18) and 23 anti-tank rifles.48 There were four modern anti-aircraft guns in the country,* as against 116 calculated to be required.49 here were also four 2-pounder anti-tank guns; 32 more had been ordered in 1938–39 and were expected to arrive in 1940–41.50
The possibility of producing armaments in Canada had been extensively canvassed at the Department of National Defence for many years, but with, on the whole, very little result. Sir Frederick Borden, Sir Wilfrid Laurier’s Minister of Militia, had recommended to the Colonial Conference of 1907 that each Dominion establish its own gun and small arms factories; and in 1917 the Imperial War Conference had suggested the development of capacity for production of “naval and military material, munitions and supplies, in all important parts of the Empire ... where the facilities do not presently exist”.51 The undesirability of relying entirely upon British sources of
* Even these were 3-inch, an already obsolescent pattern. See also Chapter V, below.
ammunitions and weapons was frequently urged in Canada. In 1930, for instance, a General Staff memorandum52 remarked:
The factories of Great Britain barely suffice for her own peace requirements and, in consequence, deliveries of ammunition are sometimes delayed as much as three years from date of ordering. The same applies to guns. It is safe to say that if the Government ordered two Anti-Aircraft guns now, delivery would not be effected for at least two years.
As noted above, this situation grew even worse when Britain began to re-arm in the middle thirties.
In July 1929, shortly after General McNaughton became Chief of the General Staff, a military committee was appointed to consider plans for a new Dominion Arsenal. The existing arsenal, occupying cramped quarters at Quebec, was, as already mentioned, equipped to produce only small arms ammunition and limited quantities of field artillery shells. The committee’s terms of reference required it to produce a plan for an arsenal capable of manufacturing small arms ammunition to the amount of five million rounds annually, and gun ammunition up to and including 6-inch; while in addition locations were to be selected and reserved for a rifle-factory and a factory for manufacturing guns and carriages up to 4-inch calibre. The idea was to use a site at Little River, near Quebec City, which had been bought during the late war to permit of expanding the Arsenal. Some additional adjoining property was required, and the CGS pressed for it to be purchased. In a memorandum53 addressed to the Minister of National Defence (Colonel J. L. Ralston)* on 12 May 1930, he wrote in part as follows:
It is my considered opinion that the provision of the proper facilities for initiating the manufacture of guns, small arms and ammunition in Canada should no longer be delayed, and I recommend that authority be obtained to include, in the Supplementary Votes of this Department, the following item:–
Quebec Arsenal: purchase of additional land required and construction, $200,000.00.
I regard it as in the highest degree important that the policy initiated by Sir Frederick Borden in 1907, that Canada should be self-contained in the provision of munitions, should now be implemented.
The sum requested was not provided, however. The depression was already coming on.
As it seemed impossible to obtain the additional land required for it, the Arsenal Committee recommended that the Little River scheme be abandoned and the arsenal placed at Valcartier, P.Q., where the 1st Canadian Division had been concentrated in 1914 and ample land was available in the possession of the Department. General McNaughton now urged that provision for beginning construction be made in the estimates for 1931–32; but again this was not done. Not until the 1933–34 estimates was an
* Colonel Ralston was Minister of National Defence in Mr. King’s second administration, 1926–1930. He held the same portfolio during the greater part of the Second World War.
appropriation made for work at Valcartier, and this was only $10,000, barely enough for survey and planning.54 As we have already seen (above, page 6), it proved possible to make some progress with the scheme as an Unemployment Relief project. The only unit of the proposed establishment executed, nevertheless, was the Filling Group. This part of the Dominion Arsenal finally moved from Cove Fields, Quebec, to Valcartier in the late summer of 1938. No provision for the proposed Ammunition Group or gun or small arms factories had been made. Steps had, however, been taken to increase the output of the Quebec Arsenal; its staff was enlarged and its equipment improved, while the old wartime branch at Lindsay, Ontario, was reopened.55 The position with respect to ammunition production was thus somewhat bettered.
The total cost of the whole arsenal scheme as recommended by General McNaughton was estimated at between $30,000,000 and $35,000,000, and the Minister of National Defence said in 1938 that it was financial considerations that had prevented the Department from proceeding with it.56 The sum was very large by pre-war standards, but it was of course altogether dwarfed by those spent after the outbreak of war to expand manufacturing facilities. In 1944 it was recorded that the Canadian Government had spent about $130,000,000 in constructing plants for the production of ammunition, bombs and mines – in addition to expenditures by private capital; while another $130,000,000 had been invested by the Crown in the gun and small arms industry.57 Thus the first years of war were spent in developing, slowly and at great expense, an industry whose nucleus, at least, could have been in existence in 1939. Had Canadian governments accepted the recommendations of their military advisers, which three successive administrations felt themselves unable to entertain, the Canadian land forces in the Second World War could have been armed with modern weapons from the outset. As it was, they made do for many months with the equipment of 1918.
It should be noted that in September 1937 General Ashton reviewed the whole matter for the information of the Minister of National Defence.58 He pointed out how very little had yet been accomplished towards supplying the numerous equipment deficiencies catalogued in 1935, the basic reasons being the smallness of appropriations and the difficulty of obtaining deliveries from England. He concluded that, in the light of the desperate international situation, it was out of the question simply to wait until Britain could meet Canada’s needs. He had no objection in principle to buying equipment from the United States, at least equipment not used with a field army; but he pointed out that existing U.S. neutrality legislation would automatically cut off supplies from that source in the event of war. The only effective course of action, he suggested, was “the setting up in this country of an armament
industry designed to diminish our dependence on external sources of supply”. He proceeded:
In considering this course ... it is not for a moment suggested that it lies within the limits of practical politics to solve the sum total of the supply difficulties with which we are confronted. It is not suggested, for instance, that it would be reasonable to undertake the manufacture of heavy guns and armour piercing ammunition such as are for the most part required for coastal defence. With regard to these there does not appear to be any course open to us other than to place our orders in the United Kingdom as early as possible and then to do everything which lies in the Government’s power to expedite delivery. On the other hand, it is considered to be within the technical ability of Canadian industry to undertake the manufacture of a wide range of the munitions this country now purchases abroad, including the production of the lighter guns and carriages of a calibre up to approximately 4 inches. This calibre comprises field, anti-tank and certain types of anti-aircraft artillery. The practical limitation to the adoption of this policy is not technical. It lies rather in the high cost per unit which would be inevitable should the industry be dependent for its contracts on the requirements of this Department alone. The solution lies in the placing of parallel, and probably much larger, orders by the United Kingdom.
Ashton recalled that at the Imperial Conference earlier in the year the United Kingdom representatives had mentioned the possibility of assisting the Dominions by placing arms orders in those countries for British requirements.
In this particular paper the CGS did not come to grips with the question of whether the manufacture which he recommended in Canada should be by government factories or private industry. He did, however, call attention to the example of Australia, and shortly presented a memorandum59 describing that country’s policy, which was founded mainly on the principle of government manufacture. In 1936 Ashton had recommended a similar policy for Canada. The Deputy Minister (Major General L. R. LaFleche) had thought this undesirable on grounds of excessive capital cost “both in money and in time”.60 Mr. Mackenzie referred the question to the Prime Minister.61 “The Chief of the General Staff”, he wrote, “believes that our policy should be to have a Government factory both in regard to munitions and also in regard to small arms, but to cooperate with industry as far as possible.” Mackenzie suggested that a meeting of the Defence Committee might be called to consider the matter; but no record has been found of the Committee’s dealing with it until 14 November 1938, when Ashton strongly urged the erection of a gun factory, estimating the cost at $2,750,000.62 At a later meeting of the Committee, on 30 January 1939, his successor, Major General T. V. Anderson,* was asked whether it might not be possible to utilize “idle workshops, such as railway shops”;63 and investigation of this suggestion followed, indicating that it might serve to reduce the capital outlay.64 An item of $20,000 was included in the supplementary estimates for 1939–40 for preliminary surveys and plans for a gun factory. By this time,
* Appointed Chief of the General Staff as of 21 November 1938.
however, the possibility had arisen of the War Office placing an order for 25-pounders with a private company in Canada.65
There was never, it appears, a firm formal decision on the general point of policy. But the Government was clearly reluctant to embark upon a programme of multiplying publicly-owned factories. It preferred a policy of reliance upon private industry combined with rigid limitation of profits, a point on which public opinion at this period was very sensitive. With such limitation in view, the Government appointed in March 1937 an “Interdepartmental Committee on Profit Control”; this action, the Minister of National Defence believed, would be “a very popular move”.66 After the Bren gun controversy the following year, the Government introduced, and Parliament passed, legislation setting up an independent Defence Purchasing Board and limiting profits to five per cent per annum* of the average amount of capital employed in the performance of the contract.67
To organize production in Canada through the medium of private industry was itself not easy. No firms were “tooled up” to produce war material and this meant, at best, a long delay. In certain cases there was another difficulty. In accordance with the practice accepted by a long succession of Imperial Conferences, the Canadian forces used equipment of standard British type. The designs of some of this equipment were the property of private British firms, and the latter were sometimes disposed to make unacceptable conditions. In 1936–37, for instance, it was proposed to manufacture in Canada “light dragons” (artillery towing vehicles). The British company which owned the design was prepared to permit production in Canada under licence, but this licence was to be “restricted to manufacture in Canada and supply to the Canadian Government for military purposes only”.68 This ruled out any possibility of production in Canada for the War Office or for other Commonwealth governments. As Canada’s own requirements in dragons were relatively small, it would not have been economically sound to start production on these terms.
The possibility of private firms in Canada manufacturing military equipment for the British Government was frequently discussed in these pre-war years, and there was talk in this connection of the Canadian Government acting, in some degree, as an agent for the United Kingdom. Late in 1936, the War Office suggested that consideration might be given to a plan by which the Department of National Defence would take responsibility for investigating the standing and facilities of Canadian manufacturers on behalf of the United Kingdom.69 At the Imperial Conference in 1937 the Canadian Government made it clear that while they would welcome any orders given to Canadian industry by another government, and would be willing to afford
* This limitation proved to be the first Canadian casualty of the Second World War. It was abrogated by order in council (PC 2709) on 15 September 1939.
such information as might be available on the status of firms, they were unwilling to take any responsibility for the negotiation of contracts between Canadian firms and other governments.70 This reluctance was presumably related to the Government’s policy of avoiding any sort of commitment to action in a future crisis. Actually, relatively few orders were placed in Canada by the British Government before the outbreak of war, and it is doubtful whether the volume would have been very much larger had the Canadian authorities been prepared to play a more active part in the negotiation of contracts.*
* In the summer of 1939 the Canadian Manufacturers Association, with government encouragement, sent a mission to Britain to study the possibility of Canadian firms supplying British defence needs. The mission was accompanied by General McNaughton, President of the National Research Council. It returned to Canada about the time of the outbreak of war.71
The most significant order from the War Office was probably one for 100 25-pounder field guns, obtained a few weeks before war began by Mr. E. Simard of Marine Industries Limited, Sorel, P.Q. The Department of National Defence had been consulted in this matter, but the contract was placed with Mr. Simard before a recommendation could be offered.72
On the whole, remarkably few items of equipment were produced in Canada for the Canadian forces before war came. An exception was anti-gas respirators, but even here there were initial difficulties and for some time, apparently for reasons of secrecy, important components had to be obtained from the United Kingdom. The annual report of the Department of National Defence for 1938–39 noted, however, “arrangements have been made for the development of production of the Container which hitherto has been imported from England”. Coast-defence and anti-aircraft searchlights were ordered in 1939, but none was received before the outbreak, except a few lights of commercial type which had been hastily purchased at the time of Munich. Production of signal equipment was in the main still in the exploratory stage, although 133 Canadian-made wireless sets were delivered during 1937–38.73 For the production of mechanical transport Canada, with her well-developed automobile industry, was much better situated. Military vehicles, however, were not the same as civilian ones; and for some years various manufacturers had been cooperating with the Department in experimentation looking to the development of specialized types.74 The Minister of National Defence reported to Parliament on 26 April 1939 that 122 vehicles had actually been delivered – for an army whose immediate requirements on mobilization would amount to many thousands.
Light machine-guns of modern type were a special need; and in this instance active steps were taken to initiate manufacture in Canada. On 31 March 1938 the Department of National Defence signed a contract with the John Inglis Company Limited of Toronto for the production of 7000 Bren
guns. In accordance with the plan mentioned by General Ashton in 1937, the firm obtained from the British War Office a concurrent order for 5000 guns, which was calculated to produce a saving to the Canadian Government of $1,300,000 as compared with the cost of making Canada’s 7000 guns alone. The two governments were to share the cost of tooling the plant for production, the machinery becoming the property of the Canadian Government. This contract was the largest and most significant single step towards the re-armament of the Canadian land forces taken before the outbreak of war, and represents the only important progress made towards the goal of acquiring the armament of two divisions. It shortly became an object of criticism, and the whole transaction was investigated by a Royal Commission.75 The affair is scarcely within the scope of this history. The main complaint against the contract was the absence of competitive bids by other companies. From the strictly military point of view, however, the only serious objection that can be urged against it (once one has accepted the principle of production by private industry) is the fact that it was made in 1938 rather than in 1937 or 1936. The contract was duly carried out, the production of guns beginning in March 1940, when they were very badly needed. In the autumn of that year, when under war conditions the prospective production of guns had risen to figures never contemplated in 1938, a new contract was made.76 During the war the plant established on the basis of the 1938 contract actually produced for Canada and Canada’s allies 186,802 Bren guns.*77|78
Although comparatively little was done towards the actual development of manufacturing facilities in Canada before the outbreak of war, a comprehensive attempt was made for the first time to collect and collate information concerning the country’s industrial war potential. A Survey of Industry was undertaken during the fiscal year 1936–37, and some 1600 industrial plants had been surveyed by the spring of 1939. This work was carried on by the Navy, Army and Air Supply Committee, formed in September 1936 under the chairmanship of the Master General of the Ordnance.79
The Coast-Defence Programme
In the programme as a whole, during these pre-war years, much emphasis was laid upon coast defence; and as it was considered in the beginning that the most serious existing threat was in the Pacific, the west coast, as already noted, was given priority. (Officers who were concerned point out that in the
* This figure would seem to refer only to .303-inch guns. The Bren was also produced in 7.92-mm. calibre, and 28,908 guns of this type had been made by 31 August 1944.
existing sensitive state of public opinion it was much easier to get support for measures on the Pacific than on the Atlantic.)80 There were in Canada only two important fortified positions, the naval bases of Halifax on the east coast and Esquimalt on the west. At Esquimalt there was particular need for major alterations in the existing defences. As it was considered that there was no Canadian with sufficient experience in coast defence available to advise, the War Office was asked to provide an expert, and this officer, Major B. D. C. Treatt, R.A., arrived in Canada in October 1936. In company with Canadian officers, Treatt visited not only Esquimalt but also Vancouver and the northern coast of British Columbia, and subsequently the Maritime Provinces. He submitted full reports before returning to England in December. These were reviewed by a subcommittee of the Canadian Joint Staff Committee, the review being completed by the autumn of 1937. Treatt’s recommendations, though not followed in all respects, formed the basis of firm plans for fortifying the two coasts.81
The broad principle on which the alterations at Halifax and Esquimalt were based was that of increasing the main armament and pushing it farther out from the vital points so as to lengthen the range of the defences. A general modernization of equipment was required. At the same time, plans were made for protecting other places of importance on both coasts. Only an outline of the plans and the action taken upon them will be given here.
It was out of the question, of course, to fortify every small port or coastal town. To have tied up men, armament and money in such tasks would have been to play the game of our potential enemies. When, in the spring of 1939, representations were received that defences should be provided at Liverpool, N.S., the Chief of the General Staff (General Anderson) gave the sensible answer:82
... the contemplated distribution and role of our sea and air forces in war will provide a greater degree of protection to such towns as Liverpool than would be obtained by scattering fixed defences all along the coast, even if such a course were financially possible.
The places where fixed defences were justified were those ports (particularly potential convoy assembly points) whose wartime functions would make them important enemy objectives, and the bases of the naval forces which provided, along with the air force, the long-range mobile defence of the coastal areas. Even at these points there were common sense limits to the amount of preparation required. “Defence Scheme No. 3” (see below, page 30), as revised in 1938, contained careful estimates of the “forms and scales of attack” to which, in the circumstances of that time, the various Canadian coastal ports might be considered exposed. There is again no need to go into details; but it may be noted that the heaviest attacks which it was considered any port had to apprehend
were as follows: by sea, a bombardment raid by one capital ship; by land, attack by raiding parties of up to 250 all ranks landed from naval vessels (it was considered that no port was exposed to the risk of a landing in force aimed at the capture of the defended area); by air, attack by one airship or a maximum of twelve ship-based aircraft.83 That these estimates were not over-optimistic under the conditions of the day was amply demonstrated by the almost total immunity of Canadian soil during the six-year war which followed.
As soon as active planning began, it was found that action was impeded by the supply difficulties already noted; for guns, mountings and fire-control equipment could be obtained from the United Kingdom only after the lapse of years. No new coast defence guns actually arrived from England before the outbreak of war, although three worn 9.2-inch barrels which had been sent thither for relining were received back in October 1938. As a result of these difficulties, it was considered necessary to adopt an Interim Plan, under which, pending delivery of new guns, the armament actually available in Canada would be used to the best advantage to provide some measure of immediate defence. The Interim Plan was approved by the Minister of National Defence in December 1937, and the redistribution of armament was undertaken in the following March. Several reserve guns in the hands of the Navy were handed over to the Militia for coast-defence purposes. Some guns were moved from British Columbia to Nova Scotia, and a larger number from Halifax to British Columbia; two were also moved from Quebec to Halifax.84
By 1939 the situation on the Pacific coast had improved considerably. The most important works carried out had been in the Esquimalt fortress area, where about $1,000,000 had been expended, by the spring of that year, on a new battery on Albert Head (a site recommended for a battery long before Treatt’s time) and other defences were being constructed or improved. Sites had been acquired in the Prince Rupert area, and one battery was under construction. At Vancouver one battery for the “close defence” of the city and harbour had been completed and another was under way; a battery was also in readiness on Yorke Island, covering the northern approach to Vancouver through Johnstone Strait. There was some further progress before the outbreak of war.85
On the Atlantic coast nothing of any importance had been done when the war crisis of September 1938 alarmed the country. (The Director of Military Operations and Intelligence, Colonel Crerar, had pointed out a year before that, failing “a change in financial policy”, there would be no votes for engineering works there before 1940–41.)86 The 1938 crisis, however, led to a sudden access of interest in this coast; the Chief of the General Staff wrote on 9 September that it had assumed a “priority position”;87 and in the absence of an appropriation some expenditures were made under
authority of a special Governor General’s Warrant. This Warrant was cancelled when the immediate crisis subsided, but a little progress had already been made on various projects, including defences for Saint John, N.B., and Sydney, N.S.88
The provision for the East Coast defences included in the Supplementary Estimates for 1939–40, passed in the spring of 1939, covered work at Saint John intended to provide some interim security at that important point. This came too late to have any appreciable effect before war broke out. Militia Headquarters, however, had taken the precaution of preparing a scheme for completing the Interim Plan of coast defence, on both coasts, on a temporary basis in an emergency. Under this scheme those guns not yet permanently mounted would be emplaced on concrete platforms, adjacent to the unfinished permanent emplacements. These platforms could be completed in a matter of weeks, and the guns were already on or near the sites. On 19 August 1939 the Minister of National Defence was asked to approve putting this emergency plan into effect. He passed the recommendation on to the Prime Minister. As we shall see, the Cabinet approved the necessary emergency expenditure, and by the end of August guns were actually being mounted on the temporary platforms.89
Defence Schemes and Mobilization Planning
During the years following the First World War, the Canadian General Staff gave considerable attention to preparing defence schemes to provide a basis for action in the various types of major military emergency that then seemed possible. Broadly speaking, it may be said that these fell into two main categories: “direct defence”, i.e., the actual defence of Canadian soil against invasion, and “indirect defence”, in which Canada might require to send an expeditionary force overseas to act in conjunction with the forces of other countries of the Commonwealth, or allied states, against a common enemy. In either case, plans were required for the mobilization, concentration and operations of large militia forces. As early as 1921 it had been decided to prepare three* different Defence Schemes.90
The Canadian planners could see, in the circumstances of the early 1920s, only two countries which could possibly present any direct menace to Canadian soil. These were the United States and Japan. As we have already suggested, in an earlier day the defence of Canada had meant defence
* In 1931 work began on a fourth scheme, dealing with “The Despatch of a Canadian Contingent to take part in a Minor Empire Crisis”. This scheme was circulated in draft in 1936, but seems never to have been carried further. Two alternative forces were proposed in this draft – a Cavalry Brigade Group and an Infantry Brigade Group.91
against the United States, pure and simple; but steady improvement in Anglo-American and Canadian-American relations had relegated conflict with that country to the realm of the highly improbable. Nevertheless, some people felt that this contingency could not be entirely overlooked; and a plan of defence against the United States, known as “Defence Scheme No. 1”, was prepared and circulated to Military Districts under “Very Secret” cover, beginning in April 1921. Work on it continued in a somewhat desultory fashion until 1926. After that year no attempt was made to keep it up to date, and in fact it was never reduced to final form.92 In 1931 General McNaughton, who had now become CGS, observed, “the direct defence of Canada against invasion by the United States is a problem which in the last ten years has become increasingly susceptible to political solution but quite incapable of being satisfactorily answered by Empire military action”.93
Defence against Japan was dealt with in “Defence Scheme No. 2”. Some work was done on this plan during the years immediately following the First World War, but it was never developed in any great detail. It was subsequently revised, during the 1930s, in the form of a tri-service outline plan for the maintenance of Canadian neutrality in the event of a war between the United States and Japan. This was completed in 1938.94
The plan on which most attention ultimately centred, and the one under which action was taken in 1939, was “Defence Scheme No. 3”. This was designed in the first instance to provide against the emergency of a major war in which the immediate threat to Canadian territory would be limited, but circumstances would probably dictate intervention overseas. Defence Scheme No. 3 did not receive a great deal of consideration until 1927, but in 1931 it was circulated in draft to District Officers Commanding, and in January 1932, after some revision, it was submitted to the Minister of National Defence in Mr. Bennett’s government (Colonel D. M. Sutherland) and by him approved.95 No actual complete copy of this 1932 scheme, unfortunately, appears to have survived; but we know that “the main emphasis of the Scheme was laid on the organization of a Canadian Field Force for eventual despatch overseas”.96
Defence Scheme No. 3 was revised in 1937, a period at which, in the light of changing international conditions and governmental policies, the direct defence of Canada was bulking increasingly large. In the revised Scheme increased attention was given to local defence and internal security, and the body formerly envisaged as a purely expeditionary force was redesignated “the Mobile Force”. Its functions were defined in the Scheme97 as follows:–
The primary object governing the mobilizing of the Mobile Force is to employ it, in whole or in part, against enemy landings on Canadian territory, should a situation develop whereby there will be danger that such landings cannot be rapidly dealt with by forces locally and immediately available. The Scheme will
also serve as a means of providing a field force for employment, with other Empire forces, overseas, should this be the decision of the Canadian Government in the light of conditions then existing.
Actually, the expeditionary role, though officially secondary to that of local defence, was far more likely to be the one the force would play in a major emergency; and most people concerned with the scheme doubtless knew it. It could be argued that there was some inconsistency between the declared “primary object” of the force – defence against invasion – and the fact that one of the scheme’s appendices (above, page 28) notes that no Canadian port is considered to be in danger of large-scale landing attack. The form of words was immaterial; what mattered was that plans should be ready for every probable emergency. The revised Defence Scheme provided for various general arrangements in the event of an expeditionary force being dispatched, including movement to embarkation ports and the establishment overseas of a Canadian intermediate base and a Canadian headquarters.
On 15 March 1937 the Chief of the General Staff (General Ashton) sent the draft of the revised Scheme to the Minister of National Defence, accompanied by an explanatory memorandum tracing the Scheme’s history. Two days later Mr. Mackenzie returned the draft with the following handwritten note:98
I have carefully read the revised draft of Defence Scheme No. 3. I am glad to observe that the dominant motif of the plan is the Defence of Canada and Internal Security; but I realize that whereas Government policy is at the moment concerned with the defence of Canada and the protection of Canadian neutrality it is the duty of the staff to prepare for every possible contingency. I therefore approve the plan in principle and detail. It seems to me to have been carefully considered in scope and in detail.
The revised Scheme was now finalized and was circulated secretly to the Military Districts on 22 January 1938.99
The Otter Committee of 1919 (above, page 4) had apparently suggested that the largest force that Canada might be able to maintain overseas in a future war would be six divisions and one cavalry division, plus ancillary troops. In the event of a “minor crisis” overseas it was considered that a force of one division, one mounted brigade and the necessary ancillary troops would be adequate. Defence Scheme No. 3, as approved in 1932, provided for the mobilization of a field force (known as Contingent “A”) to consist of a corps headquarters, two divisions and one cavalry division, plus a quota of corps, army and lines of communication troops, with the necessary base units in Canada and overseas. Although no detailed plans were made for the expansion of this force, the possibility was anticipated that it would in due course include four more divisions and additional ancillary troops. In other words, it would become the force contemplated in 1919 – a force somewhat larger than that which Canada finally placed in the field overseas in 1939–45.
The Mobile Force provided in the 1937 revision of the Defence Scheme was Contingent “A” under another name, and it had the same basic composition. As the international situation worsened, the Scheme continued to receive attention, and numerous amendments were issued in the course of 1939. It is of interest that the cavalry division was dropped from the Mobile Force only in the spring of that year, when, as a General Staff memorandum put it, it had become reasonably certain that if the Canadian Government decided to intervene’ abroad the theatre of operations would be Europe and the enemy Germany. In these circumstances, it was remarked, there would be little scope for horsed cavalry; nor would such a division be necessary if the Mobile Force were retained for the direct defence of Canada.100
The composition of the Mobile Force was drawn up in detail, units, commanders and staff officers being designated, and was amended and revised in these details annually, mainly on the basis of nominations from the Military Districts. The force was divided into two sections, Force “A” and Force “B”, each consisting of one infantry division plus part of the cavalry division and a proportion of the ancillary troops. These were to mobilize simultaneously, but in view of the shortage of accommodation and transport only Force “A” would be concentrated in the first instance; Force “B” would begin to concentrate only after Force “A” had moved to an area of operations in Canada, or to an overseas base. The designations Force “A” and Force “B”, and the division into these two sections, were dropped by an amendment issued in July 1939, when the original scheme for using only one concentration camp was abandoned in favour of using several.101
Separate provision was made for forces to man the coast defences and guard “vulnerable points” in Canada. As in the case of the Mobile Force, units for this purpose were nominated annually by District Officers Commanding, “List One” being the units intended for coastal garrison duty and “List Two” those designated for the protection of vulnerable points. Two “stages of preparation” were envisaged. In the “Precautionary Stage”, when a serious danger of war had arisen, the coast defences would be manned, and vulnerable points guarded, and it was anticipated that the units of Lists One and Two would be called out for the purpose. The “War Stage” would begin upon a decision by the Government “that measures of defence applicable to a state of war should be put into effect”, even though war might not 9, have been actually declared. The War Stage might be initiated without the Precautionary Stage having been ordered. Both stages would be put into effect by “short pre-arranged telegrams” to the Districts, which were included 1 in the Defence Scheme. Since mobilization of the Mobile Force might become necessary at any stage, a third telegram was provided for this purpose.
The situation in the summer of 1939, then, was that complete plans existed for the mobilization of a Mobile Force of two divisions and ancillary troops, and of special forces for local defence and internal security duties. The composition of these forces had been determined in advance, and nothing was required to launch the mobilization of them except the dispatch of a telegraph message.
The Defence Scheme was not the only plan put on paper in anticipation of the crisis. Many departments of government besides National Defence would have special tasks to perform when and if war came, and it was necessary to allot and prescribe these in advance. On 14 March 1938, accordingly, a Standing Inter-Departmental Committee on Defence Coordination was formed by order-in-council, with the Deputy Minister of National Defence (Major General L. R. LaFleche) as Chairman and Colonel M. A. Pope as Secretary; fifteen Departments, and in addition the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, were represented upon it. The ultimate result of its work was a War Book, completed in provisional form in May 1939, which defined in some detail the immediate action which the various departments would be required to take on the outbreak of war.102
Early in 1938, moreover, a committee of officers began work on a special “Militia Service War Book” designed to define more fully the steps to be taken by the various branches of the Staff. This book never progressed beyond the stage of a somewhat tentative draft, and it appears to have had no influence on the measures taken in September 1939.103 The Government book, on the other hand, was very valuable. On 8 September 1939 Colonel Pope wrote, “It was pretty well on this Book that defence action has been taken during the last ten days”.104
The Last Days of Peace
As the situation in Europe grew worse, the tempo of Canadian preparation quickened somewhat. This was particularly the case after the “Munich Crisis” of September 1938. The total defence appropriations for the fiscal year 1938–39 had been $36,345,000, and the provision for the militia services that year was nearly $2 million less than the year before. The funds provided for the Department of National Defence, before the outbreak of war, for the fiscal year 1939–40 amounted to $64,666,874.105 This was, as we have already shown, considerably less than the Chiefs of Staff had asked for; but it was by far the largest defence appropriation which had ever been passed by the Canadian Parliament in time of peace. It came too late to have much influence before war began. Only $13,712,000 of the appropriation had been spent by 1 September 1939.106
The measures taken during the past five years had materially improved the general condition of the Canadian land forces, but had produced no important increase in their actual size. The Permanent Force, which we have seen less than 3700 strong in 1931, had risen only to 4261 all ranks at 31 July 1939.107 None of its three infantry units was at anything approaching war strength, and one of them (the Royal 22e Regiment) could have mustered a maximum of only 184 all ranks, in March 1939, as against even a peace establishment of 773. There was a slight further increase in the force’s strength before the actual outbreak of war, the result of last-minute authority to recruit given after the provision of emergency funds on 24 August. The professional full-time force was of course the most expensive element in the Militia. Only two new permanent units were actually organized during the period of preparation: in 1936 the Canadian Tank School (redesignated in 1938 the Canadian Armoured Fighting Vehicles School) and in 1937 an anti-aircraft battery (numbered the 4th) of the Royal Canadian Artillery. Both reflected the attempt which was being made, under adverse conditions of finance and supply, to modernize the forces. At the same time, the units were somewhat better trained. In the summer of 1938, for the first time in many years, the greater part of the Permanent Force was concentrated for a short period of collective field manoeuvres, held at Camp Borden. During the final phase of this, RCAF participation lent a note of realism and the force taking part was enlarged by two battalions of the Non-Permanent Active Militia from Toronto.108
The Non-Permanent Active Militia had not increased in strength to any material extent. On 31 December 1938 the number enrolled was 51,418 all ranks – almost exactly what it had been in 1931, and somewhat more than half the existing peace establishment. The force’s standard of training had, however, been raised as the result of increased financial provision in recent years. The number of militiamen reported as trained for the fiscal year 1934–35 was 5120 officers and 34,055 other ranks. The equivalent figures for the fiscal year 193839 were 5272 and 41,249. Although the basic general period of training for which pay could be drawn was increased only from 10 to 11 days, there was also an increase in the numbers permitted to train, and the period was considerably lengthened for certain units, notably for coast artillery, who were allowed 21 days. The most striking evidence of improvement, however, was the increase in the amount of camp training, the most realistic and valuable form. In 1934–35 only 2062 officers and 10,721 other ranks trained in camp. For 1938–39 these figures rose to 3479 officers and 25,624 other ranks. There was also a large increase in attendance at schools of instruction. The Militia constituted a considerable pool of basically trained officers and NCOs. The Militia Staff Course and
Advanced Militia Staff Course had allowed an important number of citizen officers to qualify in staff duties.109
When war broke out in 1939, Canada had no troops ready for immediate action, except for local coastal defence against very small raids. The tiny Permanent Force did not constitute a striking force capable either of counterattack against a major raid or of expeditionary action. The Non-Permanent Active Militia, with its limited strength, obsolescent equipment and rudimentary training, was incapable of immediate effective action of any sort against a formidable enemy. The two forces together constituted a useful and indeed essential foundation upon which, over a period of months, an army could be built. They offered, however, no means for rapid intervention in an overseas theatre of operations.
The General State of Preparation, 1939
Enough has been said to indicate that much had been done to improve the state of the Canadian Militia before war came, and to indicate at the same time that the preparations were utterly inadequate by comparison with the scale of the coming emergency.
The task of commentary upon pre-war defence policies is a difficult one. Hindsight, proverbially, is better than foresight, and the historian must eschew the unhistorical approach which would criticize the policies of 1935–39 merely in the light of the events of 1939–45. In particular, he must not fail to keep before him the nature of the Canadian “climate of opinion” in the pre-war years, which until a short time before the actual outbreak was certainly hostile, in general, to large military preparations. At the same time, if the nation is to profit by experience, it is his responsibility to consider the influence of what was done, or left undone, in the days before the war, upon the events of the war itself.
In mere justice to Mr. King’s pre-war administration, it must be said that it did more for Canadian security than any other peacetime ministry in the country’s history before 1939. Its approach to the problem was comprehensive and workmanlike, if unduly deliberate; and although it disbursed money sparingly it nevertheless spent more on the nation’s defences than had been spent by any earlier administration except during the actual years of the First World War. In September 1939, Canada was, on balance, better prepared for war than she had been in August 1914. Viewing the programme in terms of the experience of six years of conflict, however, we see the inadequacy of judgement based merely upon Canadian historical standards. These standards had no real relationship to the scale of the approaching crisis. The preparations made by Canada before the outbreak
were so small that she was unable to make any really large contribution to the sum of the Allied military effort for years after war broke out. Because so little had been done to set up an armament industry, the peak of Canadian war production was not reached until 1943.* Sound plans had been made, and military forces were organized, when the crisis came, with considerable speed and efficiency; but, thanks to the inadequacy of the existing supply arrangements, these forces were armed almost entirely with the weapons of 1918, and many months passed before they could be fully re-armed on modern lines. At the same time, the limited number of thoroughly trained officers and soldiers available inevitably slowed down the process of preparing the force for battle.
* A vivid illustration of the truth of a remark of Sir Winston Churchill: “Munition production on a nation-wide plan is a four-years’ task. The first year yields nothing; the second very little; the third a lot, and the fourth a flood”.110
The difficulties and delays were due in some degree to conditions over which the Canadian authorities had little control. This is true, up to a point, of the supply situation. Nevertheless, had the public and Parliament been willing to spend more money in good time, even this difficulty could have been largely overcome. Had the Government carried out the scheme for an expanded Dominion Arsenal capable of producing guns and small arms, which was recommended as early as 1930, it would have paid a great national dividend in 1939 and 1940. Even in the period immediately before the outbreak of war, when appropriations were larger than they had been earlier, financial considerations were a constant drag upon progress. As late as 12 June 1939, the Quartermaster General’s Branch at Ottawa advised the District Officer Commanding Military District No. 11 that “owing to lack of sufficient funds it has been found necessary to curtail the proposed programme for this year’s work on the Esquimalt–Victoria Coast Defences”.111 And these defences were one portion of the programme which had received relatively generous financial treatment.
As we have noted, the Government had given the Air Force the first priority among the services, and had placed the Militia last. Nevertheless, as the table on page 13 shows, it was only in the spring of 1939 that RCAF appropriations first surpassed those for the Militia in size. At that moment they made a great leap ahead; the Air Force was given far more than twice as much money as the year before, and over $8 million more than the Militia. During 1938 and 1939, it is made clear above, the Militia’s requests for financial support received short shrift. In the light of later events, the soldiers’ demands appear decidedly modest; but they were far from fully met. No exception can be taken to the sums given the Air Force, but the decided discrimination against the land forces which had now appeared was not justified by the facts of the time. These facts were not as clear in 1939, however,
as they are to us today. As late as March of that year, the leaders of both Government and Opposition in the House of Commons had declared their belief that in another war there would be no need for a large expeditionary force from Canada.112 In so far as the prevailing attitude towards the Militia was dictated by such views, it was unrealistic. War had no sooner come than the need for an expeditionary force began to manifest itself.
It had been difficult for Canadian citizens and legislators, accustomed for generations to a situation in which Canada was able to make virtually no military preparations and to pay no penalty for this neglect, to raise their mental sights to meet the new situation which was now arising. They adjusted themselves to the needs of defence in the modern world very slowly, too slowly for the country’s safety. As late as January 1938, a good example of this was afforded by a member of the “Interdepartmental Committee on the Control of Profits on Government Armament Contracts” which was then considering the proposed Bren gun contract:
It was suggested by one of the members that he thought Canada was in no immediate danger of being destroyed through, say, six months’ delay. The only country that might now attack us would be Japan, and she is pretty busy at present, so that the sense of immediate danger is not real. The same member asked if the speed element was so vital that we cannot consider contracts in the course of the next few months, and contended that he would not be uncomfortable in this matter for a year.113
Had this complacent individual’s views carried the day, we should have begun to get Canadian Bren guns in 1941 instead of in 1940. Who he was, or what department he represented, is not recorded; but it cannot be doubted that his views would have been echoed, at that time, by a considerable proportion of the population of Canada. It was fortunate for the country that there were some people at least, in the armed services and the Government, who had a livelier sense of the dangers of the situation and the nature of the measures required to meet it.