Re-Armament in the Dominions — Canada

Journal of the Royal United Service Instituition, Vol. LXXXIV, February to November, 1939

Canada, like the other Dominions, enjoys complete autonomy in both internal and external affairs and is free to concentrate on those political interests and defensive needs, which apply particularly to herself. She is, moreover, extremely fortunate in her political relations and geographical situation. As a member of the British Commonwealth of Nations, her security is guaranteed in a general strategic sense by British sea power; and geographically as a part of the American Continent, she comes under the wing of the Munroe Doctrine and the protection of the United States. From what might be called a parochial point of View, therefore, her strategical problems are not difficult and do not appear to call for anything more than local defence against possible raids or low-scale attacks from overseas.

As she is entirely free to decide whether or not she will take part in war in which Great Britain or the other Dominions are engaged, it cannot be taken for granted that at all times and in all circumstances, Canada constitutes a reserve of man-power and industry upon which the British Commonwealth will be able to draw at will. Everything will depend upon the political and moral aspects of the war, and whether or not these appeal strongly to public opinion in the Dominion. There is, however, no reason to suppose that Canadians will adopt a narrow or legalistic attitude in the event of a war into which the Mother Country and the other Dominions may be drawn. All the indications are to the contrary. After all, "Blood is thicker than water" and, provided that the cause is just, they may be expected to throw in their full weight and develop to the utmost all their resources to defeat the common enemy.

Canada's war-potential is, actually, very high and her industries are more fully developed than those of any other Dominion. Unlike Australia, moreover, her factories are only about a week's sea voyage from British western ports. In the event of war, therefore, Canadian industries, which are situated in a relatively safe area would probably be of immense assistance to the Imperial war output. The organization of these industries for war and the direction of their activities into the most suitable channels has already begun. An Army, Navy and Air Supply Committee was set up a few years ago under the chairmanship of the Master-General of the Ordnance, for the purpose of exploring sources of supply of material to meet the requirements of the Canadian forces in time of emergency. A very extensive survey of industrial firms has been carried out by this Committee, which has had the co-operation of the Department of Mines and Resources as regards mineral reserves, and of the Department of Transport as regards the capacity of manufacturing plants. A privately owned company in Toronto has been given a contract for the manufacture of the "Bren" gun; and progress has been made with the production of a Canadian-made gas mask. Control of the export of arms, munitions, equipment, and "poison" gas has been established by an Order-in-Council, under which an exporter must secure a permit giving exhaustive details as to the consignor, consignee, destination and specific purpose of the goods.

The Royal Canadian Air Force

It was announced from Ottawa on 26th January, 1939, that about £13,000,000 had been allotted for defence purposes, almost half of which was ear-marked for the Royal Canadian Air Force. Eighty-three new aeroplanes are to be acquired, sixty-four for the Royal Canadian Air Force and the balance for the Non-Permanent Air Force. The regular personnel is to be increased by 14 officers and 217 other ranks, bringing the total strength to 269 officers and 2,043 other ranks.

The Royal Canadian Air Force has been re-organised on Service lines. The formation of units of the Non-Permanent (Civilian) Air Force has made considerable progress. About £1,500,000 has been allotted for the training of pilots; and training and bombing machines are being manufactured in Canada. Coastal air bases have been established on the Pacific and an air station has been set up on the Island of Anticosti in connection with the defences of the St. Lawrence. According to Press reports, it is the intention ultimately to have 23 Air Force units with a total of 520 machines, service and training.

The manufacture of aeroplanes in the Dominion is not being restricted to home requirements. On 16th November, 1938, Sir Kingsley Wood, Secretary of State for Air, announced in the House of Commons that negotiations with representatives of the Canadian aircraft industry had been successfully concluded. Agreements had been signed under which the British Government had placed an initial order for the manufacture of large bomber aircraft. Contracts had been entered into with a new central company—Canadian Associated Aircraft, Ltd, which had been created expressly for the purpose of the scheme. The company would maintain two central establishments at Montreal and Toronto. These would, in due course, develop their plants and would also serve as central erecting factories fed by components supplied by six associated aircraft companies. The machines are due to be delivered during 1940.

The Royal Canadian Navy

As an enemy could approach Canada only from overseas, the provision of naval forces is a fundamental necessity. These forces might be expected to act in co-operation with the British and, in certain circumstances, with the United States Navies to deal with submarines, and to repel raids or local attempts at landings.

The total Naval Vote for this year is about £1,700,000—an increase of about £300,000 on last year's estimates. Provision has been made for the purchase of a flotilla leader from Great Britain. The personnel of the Royal Canadian Navy will be increased by 21 officers and 363 ratings to a total of 140 officers and 1,825 ratings. A Fleet Reserve, in which the officers and men discharged from the Navy can serve for five years, is to be established. A Fisherman's Reserve of 40 skippers and 160 seamen is to be formed on the Atlantic Coast, similar to the Reserve already existing on the Pacific Coast. Two new divisions of the Royal Canadian Naval Reserve, bringing the total to 19, are planned. Four Canadian-built minesweepers have recently been taken over from the builders.

Six destroyers are normally based, four at Esquimalt on the East and two at Halifax on the West Coast. It is understood that the Government intend to provide ultimately a total of eighteen destroyers, nine for each seaboard, but no date for the completion of this programme has been announced. Consideration has also been given to the construction in. Canada of small, speedy motor launches, lightly armed and equipped with torpedo tubes.

The Army

On land, the Canadian defence forces have not yet been developed to any degree of strength and are almost negligible in quantity—though high in quality—in relation to the size of the country and the growth of its population and wealth. The Active Militia, Permanent and Non-Permanent, forms the first line of the military defences. It is supported by officer reserves and a reserve militia. The Non-Permanent Active Militia corresponds, more or less, to the Territorial Army at home and constitutes the bulk of the military forces of Canada. The strength of the Permanent Active Militia is about 4,000 of all ranks; the Non-Permanent Militia numbers about 45,000, of whom about 14,000 usually attend camp for an average period of about eight days.

During the last two years, the Non-Permanent Active Militia has been re-organized on modern lines; redundant cavalry and infantry regiments have been disbanded, amalgamated, or formed into armoured-car, tank, machine-gun or artillery units; and the period of training is to be extended. In addition, necessary ancillary units for a mechanized force have been formed. A Tank School has been opened at London, Ontario. When it is recalled that Canada enlisted over 600,000 of all ranks for service during the Great War, the cadre of the Permanent Active Militia, whose duty it is to provide instructors and to staff the military schools and courses of instruction for the National Army, seems very small.

The aggressive spirit shown by Japan in her attack upon China, has caused the Government to pay special attention to Canada's defences on the Pacific coast. Considerable progress has been made in recent months in making Vancouver a strong base as part of a comprehensive plan for defending the whole Pacific Coast of Canada. The main fortifications centre around the ports of Vancouver and Prince Rupert, with secondary defences at Victoria, on Vancouver Island, eighty miles South-West of Vancouver. Concrete emplacements have been built and batteries erected on islands and headlands along the coast. At Vancouver itself, Canada's largest and most up-to-date airport and seaplane base have been established. At Esquimault, near Victoria, which is the main Pacific naval base, a system of underground magazines is being constructed for protection against air attack. At Kamloops, in the centre of British Columbia and within the first line of 10,000-foot mountains, another magazine and military depot is being built, while a secondary line of defence has been established East of the Rocky Mountains at Calgary. Two batteries of 6-in. guns will guard the entrance to Vancouver Harbour. The organization of militia units of coast artillery for manning heavy guns and searchlights is being rapidly pushed ahead.

This year's vote for the Army is about £4,000,000—an increase of nearly £1,000,000 on last year's estimates. Of this £450,000 will be spent on new construction; £700,000 to pay for arms and ammunition ordered and due for delivery during the financial year, while new arms and ammunition, costing £600,000 will be ordered during 1939-1940.

Various changes have been made in the Army Staff and Major-General T. V. Anderson has been appointed Chief of the Canadian General Staff in place of Major-General Ashton, who has been assigned to special duty in connection with the Inspectorate of Defences. Brigadier H. F. Hertzberg has been appointed Quartermaster-General in place of General Anderson.


To sum up, Canada's re-armament plans seem to have been established on a broad basis and to be directed in part towards objects other than those of purely local defence. Her industries, the aircraft industry in particular, are being rapidly expanded with the dual purpose of building machines for the use of the Royal Canadian Air Force at home and as a source of supply for the Royal Air Force in the United Kingdom. Her naval forces are being increased with the ultimate object of forming a flotilla of nine destroyers on each seaboard. Her army is being modernized and mechanized and its efficiency increased by a longer period of training. Canada's resources, both in man-power and industry, are far higher than those of any other Dominion and her relative proximity to British western ports facilitates co-operation with the Mother Country. In the event of a prolonged struggle, therefore, the help that she could provide might well be a decisive factor in achieving victory.