World War I (1914-18)

 At the outbreak of the 1914 World War, Great Britain was pledged to defend the neutrality of Belgium, and on 4 August 1914, following the German invasion of Belgium, Britain declared war on Germany. Canada, then a dominion of the British Empire, was brought into war as well.

The Royal Canadian Navy (RCN), founded in 1910, was in its infancy. The RCN fleet consisted of two former Royal Navy (RN) cruisers and a number of auxiliary vessels. A build-up of the RCN fleet was deemed to be impracticable at the start of the war, and the naval defence of Canada initially remained in the hands of the RN. Expansion of the RCN fleet during the war enabled Canada to provide for its own coastal defence. As the threat from German submarines grew, the RCN built up its antisubmarine capability in the western Atlantic to protect convoys transporting war supplies and personnel from North America to Europe.

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The War at Sea

Canadian Naval Operations in World War I

World War II (1939-45)

 Following Germany’s invasion of Poland in September 1939, Canada again followed Britain into war with Germany. RCN ships and personnel had been reduced to peacetime levels at the close of the First World War in 1918. Once again, the RCN was called upon to defend Canada’s coasts and defend shipping along the supply routes of the North Atlantic.

The Battle of the Atlantic (1939-45) between the German and Allied navies was the longest battle of the war. For six years, Allied navies fought at sea to keep the shipping lanes open to Europe. The RCN played a vital role in the Battle of the Atlantic, escorting thousands of ships safely across the Atlantic to Europe.

By the end of the Second World War in 1945, the RCN had expanded 50-fold in men and ships to become the third largest navy in the world, with 100,000 members, and over 400 ships. Canada lost 24 warships during the war. Two thousand members of the RCN, and a similar number of merchant seamen and women, were lost at sea.

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Chronology of the Second World War

Canada’s Merchant Navy

Battle of the Atlantic

Murmansk Run

Further detail…

Canada’s Merchant Navy

The Battle of the Atlantic

The Battle of  the Gulf of St Lawrence

Korean War (1950-54)

 War in the Korean Peninsula broke out on 25 June 1950 when troops of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) invaded the Republic of Korea (South Korea). The same day, the United Nations (UN) Security Council adopted a resolution calling on North Korea to cease all hostile action against South Korea and to withdraw north of the 38thparallel. The resolution further called on UN member states to assist in the execution of the resolution and to withhold aid to North Korea

On 28 June, Secretary of State for External Affairs Lester Pearson declared in the House that Canada was prepared to assist UN forces in Korea. Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent stated on 30 June that Canada did not wish to make war on any nation, and would only become engaged against North Korea in fulfillment its UN obligations. In that event, the government was prepared to send three Pacific Division destroyers in support of UN forces in Korean waters. On 4 July 1950, UN forces initiated a blockade of the entire Korean peninsula to prevent aid from reaching North Korean forces from the outside. The next day, RCN destroyers HMCS Cayuga, Athabaskan, and Sioux departed Esquimalt BC to join UN naval forces in Korea.

Throughout the 5-year campaign that followed, the RCN maintained a force of three destroyers in the theatre. Canadian destroyers assisted UN forces in blockading North Korean ports, conducting operational patrols, gathering intelligence, supplying UN ground forces, bombarding coastal targets, and assisting distressed South Korean civilians. In the five years of the war, eight RCN destroyers (nine were in commission at the time) carried out 21 deployments to Korean waters, and 3,621 RCN officers and men had served in Korea.

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Canadian Naval Operations in the Korean War

The Korean War (1950-1954)

 Cold War (1945-91)

The Cold War was a state of tension that existed between the western non-communist world led by the United States and the countries of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), and the communist world, principally the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). Central to the Cold War was a nuclear arms race in which each side sought superiority in its nuclear armaments. These strategic weapons were designed to be delivered by strategic bombers and ballistic missiles launched from land bases and nuclear-powered submarines. Advances in offensive weapons brought new developments in defensive weaponry.

The political and military tension of the Cold War lasted from the close of World War II in 1945 until the collapse of the USSR in 1991.

Cuban Missile Crisis (1962)

The Cuban Missile Crisis was a Cold War event that brought the world perilously close to a nuclear confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union.

In October 1962, the U.S. determined that the Soviet Union was constructing ballistic missile bases in Cuba, only 90 miles from Florida. The U.S. response to the presence of Soviet missiles in Cuba was to establish a naval blockade of Cuba to prevent the arrival of further missiles and military equipment, and to demand the removal of missiles and military aircraft already in Cuba. The Canadian Navy contributed to the blockade by conducting surveillance of Soviet submarines in the area from the Gulf of Maine into the Atlantic northeast of the Grand Banks of Newfoundland.

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Canadian Naval Operations during the Cuban missile crisis

Persian Gulf War (1990-91)

 The Republic of Iraq launched an invasion of the Arab state of Kuwait on 1 August 1990. The United Nations Security Council immediately adopted a resolution demanding Iraq’s immediate withdrawal from Kuwait. Iraq’s refusal to pull out of Kuwait led to the formation of a U.S.-led military coalition to force Iraq’s compliance.

Canadian air and naval forces were part of the coalition. Canadian ships joined a Multinational Interception Force (MIF) to enforce a trade embargo of Iraq. Naval patrol and interdiction was conducted in the central Persian Gulf.

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Persian Gulf War

Canadian Naval Operations in the Persian Gulf War

Lt (N) Richard Gimblett  –  article August 1992


War on Terrorism (2001 onward)

The War on Terrorism generally refers to military actions of the United States and its western allies aimed at eliminating the power and influence of militant organisations such as Al Qaeda that are known or suspected of carrying out terrorist attacks internationally.

Operation Apollo was Canada’s military contribution to War on Terrorism between October 2001 and November 2003. At its peak in January 2002, the Canadian Naval Task Group included six warships and about 1,500 Navy personnel. Canadian Navy operations included force-protection, fleet-support, leadership interdiction, and maritime interdiction. Canadian Naval Boarding Part personnel hailed more than 10,000 ships and conducted more than 260 boardings- almost 60 percent of the entire coalition fleet’s boardings.

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War on Terrorism


 Libya (2011)

Civil unrest that began in February 2011 developed into an armed revolution in Libya. Libyan leader Muammar Gaddaffi met the uprising with military force. A UN Security Council resolution of 26 February demanded an end to the violence and imposed an arms embargo on Libya. Within a month, a second UN resolution authorised military intervention by member states to end the use of force against civilians, and to impose a no-fly-zone over Libya.

Canadian naval and air forces were deployed as part of an international military coalition formed to enforce the second Security Council resolution. Canadian naval ships took part in the embargo on arms and mercenaries arriving by sea.

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Canadian Naval Operations in Libya (2011)