Canadian Military History Gateway
Organization > Canadian War Museum
Subject > Armed Forces > Naval Forces and Merchant Navy
The Battle of the Atlantic was the struggle for control of the sea routes between the Americas and Europe and Africa. German forces attempted to break Britain’s vital supply link from the United States and Canada. During this six year conflict both sides suffered losses of personnel and materials.
Canadian War Museum
On 6 June 1944, Allied forces invaded Western Europe along an 80-kilometre front in Normandy, France. Of the nearly 150,000 Allied troops who landed or parachuted into the invasion area on D-Day, 14,000 were Canadians.
The Royal Canadian Navy grew rapidly during the Second World War. The roles it played in military actions ranged from acting as an escort force for merchant ships to fighting German submarines and landing on the coast of German-occupied France as part of major operations. Some of the experiences of the Canadian Navy were recorded in newspapers of the time.
An electronic reproduction of the watercolour on paper artwork, "Leading WREN," created by Margaret Kathleen MacLeod.
During the 1750s, British North American colonies grew to the point that they began to spread into territory already occupied by the French colonies and First Peoples. After the expulsion of British settlers in 1754, an undeclared war broke out between French and British colonies.
In 1931, Great Britain passed the Statute of Westminster, giving Canada the legal status of an independent country. During the years between the two world wars, Canada avoided overseas military commitments, but began to modernize and re-equip its forces in the mid-1930s in case of another major war.
The growth of Canada's shipbuilding industry from three shipyards to 90 plants during the Second World War was documented in newspaper accounts of the day.
Despite early growing pains, the Royal Canadian Navy grew into a formidable anti-submarine force. The R.C.N. sank 28 enemy submarines and escorted Allied shipping across the Atlantic and along the northeastern seaboard of North America.
By 1918, German U-boats lurked off Canada’s east coast. At this time the Royal Canadian Navy was very small. As a result, Great Britain assumed direct responsibility for defending the sea approaches to Canada.
The Battle of the Atlantic was the longest campaign of the Second World War and the most important. Canada was a major participant -- this country’s enormous effort in the struggle was crucial to Allied victory. While the ships and personnel of the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) operated across the globe during the war, they are best remembered for their deeds during the Battle of the Atlantic. Reading list included.