Defining Moments in Canada

8 August 2016

Defining Moments in Canadian History During the 20th century, there were many events and situations that helped define the country of Canada. There were positive moments, but also a good amount of negative ones. Of course, the successful events kept Canadians in a positive light, but the negative situations helped Canada learn from its mistakes and went to prove how strong and brave its citizens were/are. The three most defining moments would have to be the Dieppe Raid, the Invasion of Normandy, and the Battle of Vimy Ridge.

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These three events not only assisted the country to become what it has today, but has also defined what the nation has become. The first defining moment of the 20th century was the Battle of Vimy Ridge. This particular battle was a military engagement located in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region of France during World War I. The main fighters were Canadian Corps against the German army. The battle took place from April 9 to 12, 1917. This was the beginning stage for the Battle of Arras, led by the British. “The Canadian Corps was ordered to seize Vimy Ridge in April 1917.

Situated in northern France, the heavily-fortified seven-kilometre ridge held a commanding view over the Allied lines. The Canadians would be assaulting over an open graveyard since previous French attacks had failed with over 100,000 casualties. “(Cook) Main objectives were to take control over German-held high ground along an extensive escarpment. Doing so would allow the southern flank to advance without having to be heavily worried about enemy fire. With support from a nearby barrage, Canadians were able to capture most of the ridge within the first day of attack. The town of Thelus fell the second day, as did the crest of the ridge.

The final objective was to capture another ridge located outside the town of Givenchy-en-Gohelle, which fell to the Canadian Corps on April 12. After that incident, the German forces had no choice but to retreat. This quick battle was successful due to a mix of tactical and technical innovation, powerful artillery support, extensive training, and thought-out planning. This event is a defining moment for Canada because it was the first time that all four sectors of the Canadian Expeditionary Force participated in a battle as a whole, therefore becoming a Canadian Nationalistic symbol of sacrifice and great achievement.

“The Canadian success at Vimy demonstrated that no position was invulnerable to a meticulously planned and conducted assault. This success had a profound effect on Allied planning. Though the victory at Vimy came swiftly, it did not come without cost. There were 3,598 dead out of 10,602 Canadian casualties. After Vimy, the Canadian Corps went from one success to another, to be crowned by their achievements in the 1918 “advance to victory”. This record won for Canada a separate signature on the Versailles Peace Treaty ending the War.”(Battle of Vimy Ridge) The second definitive moment of the 20th century was the Dieppe Raid. This event was a World War II attack on the German occupied port of Dieppe on August 19,1942. The raid took place on the northern coast of France, and began around 5 am. Allied commanders were forced to call a retreat, a mere 6 hours later. Objectives included seizing and holding a major port to prove that it was possible and also to gather information. Allies also planned on destroying coastal defences, port structures, and all strategic buildings.

The allied countries knew that they would eventually have to attack, so they figured they needed the practice. Another goal was to take some of Hitler’s attention off of trying to invade Russia. The plan was to use 5000 Canadians and have a 1-day attack and retreat on the Nazi-held coastal town of Dieppe. The plan was also to be secretive and attack at dark. None of these objectives were met. “The Soviet Union was pressuring the Allies to open a second front in Western Europe. The Allies, however, needed to build up their military resources before undertaking a full campaign.

They felt that a large raid on the coast of France could force the Germans to divert more of their military resources away from the Soviet Union and also help in the planning for the full-scale assault to come. “(Canada Remembers) The first mistake was that they reached Dieppe in broad daylight, making this “surprise attack” not very surprising. Also, the Dieppe forces became on high alert at Dieppe because French agents warned them that the British were showing a great deal of interest in the area. When the Allied forces arrived at the port city, its flanking cliffs were well defended. Thesoldiers were met with very heavy machine gun fire from little stations dug into overlooking cliffs. The Allied fire support was not nearly adequate enough and the attackers were basically trapped on the beach by series of obstacles and never-ending German fire. After less than 6 hours, the Allies were forced to surrender and many of the soldiers were stranded on the port, to be killed or to be taken prisoner by the Germans. The Allied forces were beaten severely, they definitely lost this battle, and they lost it hard. Numerous tactical and technical errors were made, resulting in huge amounts of Canadian deaths.

“The raid was a disaster: More than 900 Canadian soldiers were killed, and thousands more were wounded and taken prisoner. Despite the bloodshed, the raid provided valuable lessons for subsequent Allied amphibious assaults on Africa, Italy and Normandy. “(Herd) This was, after all, one of the first attempts by the Allies on a German-held port. This was an important, defining moment for Canadians because the lessons learned there became the guidelines of what not to do in regards to future endeavours, and influenced preparations for the highly successful Normandy landings.

The last definitive moment of the 20th century was the Invasion of Normandy (D-Day) on June 6, 1944. The Allies attacked the German-held beaches of Normandy, France towards the end of World War II. The landings were done in two phases; the first was an airborne assault landing consisting of 24 000 British, US, and Canadian soldiers shortly after midnight. The second was an amphibious landing around 6:30 am of Allied infantry. This attack was executed by all elements: land, sea, and air.

The invasion required transportation of soldiers, and materials from England by aircraft and ships. These particular landings took place on an 20 km stretch of the Normandy coast on 5 seperate beach areas: Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword. The British armies took control over Sword and Gold, US took charge over Utah and Omaha, and Canadian forces stormed Juno. “On June 6th, 1944, the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division and the 2nd Armoured Brigade were tasked with establishing a bridgehead on the beach codenamed “Juno”.

This was an eight-kilometre long stretch of beach bordering Saint-Aubin, Bernieres, Courseulles-sur-Mer and Graye-sur-Mer. Assault troops were then to move towards the Carpiquet airfield, 18 kilometres inland. The 3rd Infantry Division, under Major-General R. F. L. Keller, was under command of the Second British Army. It was flanked on the left by the 3rd British Infantry Division that was to land on Sword beach (Lion-sur-Mer, Langrune-sur-Mer). To the right, the 50th British Division had as its target “Gold Beach” (La Riviere, Le Hamel, and Arromanches).”(D-Day) Unlike the previous, unsuccessful raid at Dieppe, surprise was achieved at Normandy, thanks to bad weather and a very successful deception plan deployed in the months prior to the attack. The deceptive plan was used to distract Germany’s attention from the possibility of landings in Normandy. Another key success was to convince Adolf Hitler that landings would occur at the Pas-de-Calais. At the same time of the attack, there were also decoy operations taking place. “Fourteen thousand young Canadians stormed Juno Beach on D-Day.

Their courage, determination and self-sacrifice were the immediate reasons for the success in those critical hours. The fighting they endured was fierce and frightening. The price they paid was high – the battles for the beachhead cost 340 Canadian lives and another 574 wounded. “(Juno Beach) By the end of D-Day, 30 000 Canadians had been successfully landed and all had penetrated further into France than any other Allied force! This was a defining moment for the country of Canada because, after all the previous, unsuccessful missions, they deserved a glorious victory. That is definitely what they got!

All their hard work; preparing weapons, planting decoys, and all their extensive planning made this invasion so successful, and all the tedious work paid off. This event is definitive for me because my great-grandfather was involved in this attack, and thankfully returned home from it. There were definitely more than three defining moments for Canada during the 20th century, but the Battle of Vimy Ridge, the Dieppe Raid, and the Invasion of Normandy were three of the most significant. These events helped Canada grow as a nation, and made Canadians even more proud of their heritage and their country.

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