Canadians and War Volume 1

Canadians and War Volume 1

It’s a pleasure to announce that my work on Canadian airmen in the Battle of Sicily is included in Lammi Publishing‘s inaugural Canadians and War volume, just in time for Remembrance Day 2016. You can purchase copies of the e-book direct from the publisher, here, or read more about the volume below. I’m friends with many of the authors and have nothing but glowing things to say about their work.


From the publisher:

Canadians and War Volume 1 brings together four diverse works of research from four Canadian scholars. Canada’s military history is a living, breathing thing, with endless perspectives and accounts to be heard, and this collection seeks to bring some of those little-known stories to light. See the effects of Canada’s proud military history throughout the world and the century. Go to a Maritime fishing village in “Lunenburg’s ‘Quiet Riot’ and Maritime Resistance to the 1917 Military Service Act” by Maryanne Lewell. Fly high above Sicily in “Canada’s Eagles over HUSKY: Canadian Airmen in the Battle of Sicily” by Alexander Fitzgerald-Black. Experience the Dutch occupation through the eyes of a child in “Who Were Their Liberators?” by Matthew Douglass. Finally, let Lieutenant Colonel W.A. Leavey, (retired) bring his four decades of military experience to hilarious light in “Canadian Army Humour: Second World War.”

Operation HUSKY’s Air Battle by the Numbers

Operation HUSKY’s Air Battle by the Numbers

In 1991, Samuel W. Mitcham Jr. and Fredrich von Stauffenberg published The Battle of Sicily: How the Allies Lost Their Chance for Total Victory. In it, they offer a scathing review of the performance of the Allied militaries in Operation HUSKY, the 1943 invasion of Sicily. Theirs is the common interpretation about the battle for Sicily: the Allies bungled total victory through national squabbles which allowed the Germans to mount a skilful withdrawal even against complete Allied air and naval supremacy while outnumbered by Allied armies by factors of up to 8:1.[1]

Part of their critique is the effectiveness of the Allied air forces. They call into question claims Allied commanders made at finding 1,100 Axis aircraft littering aerodromes and landing grounds across the island. According to Colonel Lioy of the Italian Air Force historical division, Allied claims vastly overstated the reality as the island had long harboured aircraft cemeteries from previous battles. He believes that the Allied bomber offensive only accounted for 100. Lioy pegs total Axis aircraft losses from 3 July to 17 August at not over 200. Finally, Mitcham and von Stauffenberg note that Axis statistics they consulted show that the Germans and Italians lost 225 and 95 aircraft respectively to all causes between 1 July and 5 September 1943.[2]


Vertical aerial reconnaissance view of Castelvetrano airfield, Sicily, the day before a successful attack was made on it by Malta-based Bristol Blenheims of Nos. 18 and 107 Squadrons RAF. A number of Junkers Ju 52 and Savoia Marchetti SM 82 transport aircraft, many of which were destroyed during the raid, can be seen parked around the airfield perimeter. (Source: © IWM (C 4183))

These figures do not stand up to the scrutiny of other sources. First, Williamson Murray’s excellent study of the Luftwaffe, Strategy for Defeat, cites reliable quartermaster general figures for German losses throughout the war. German losses in the May to August period in the Mediterranean Theatre stood at 1,600, matching those of the other major fronts. This number includes 711 German aircraft lost in July 1943 alone, a figure 27 percent higher than that of the 558 German aircraft lost on the Eastern Front during the massive battles of Kursk-Orel in July.[3]

Second, Adolf Hitler also disputes Mitcham and von Stauffenberg’s figures. Hitler was particularly displeased with the ground organization in Sicily and southern Italy. On 13 July, he sent a message to Benito Mussolini complaining of “more than 320 fighters destroyed on the ground as the result of Allied aerial attack in the last three weeks.” When the two dictators met at Feltre on 19 July, Hitler further noted that between 300 and 400 aircraft out of 500 to 600 were destroyed on the ground in the recent Allied air offensive.[4]

Perhaps Hitler was particularly upset with a 15 July raid on Vibo Valentia, where the bulk of the remainder of the German fighter force had settled after withdrawing from Sicily. A force of 117 B-25 Mitchells and B-26 Marauders apparently caught Jagdgruppe Vibo on the ground. Lieutenant Köhler, a German ace with over 20 victories to his credit, wrote:

Toward noon 105 [sic] bombers came and destroyed the Jagdgruppe Vibo Valentia, which had about 80 aircraft. Not a machine was left intact, not even the [Junkers] which had just landed. Fuel trucks, hangars, aircraft, autos, everything was burning. The German fighters in Italy have been wiped out.[5]

Specifically, the raid eliminated Steinhoff’s JG 77, I/JG 53 (which lost 20 aircraft), and much of II/JG 27. After the raid, only survivors of II and III/JG 27 remained operational in southern Italy.


Wrecked and damaged Italian fighters outside bomb-shattered hangars at Catania, Sicily, under the scrutiny of an airman, shortly after the occupation of the airfield by the RAF. (Source: © IWM (CNA 1352))

The weight of evidence seems to go against Mitcham and von Stauffenberg’s conclusions. Furthermore, while it is true that many of the 1,100 aircraft abandoned on Sicily were from previous battles, the Allies still denied their use to Axis salvage details. Italian losses during the campaign are less easy to come by. However, one source notes that they may have been as high as 800 aircraft over two months – although the same source lowballs the German figure at 586.[6]

The Mediterranean was a meat grinder of Axis aviation. For the war, Axis aircraft losses in the Mediterranean stand at 17,750, much higher than the 11,000 on the Eastern Front, and closer to the 20,419 on the Western Front than one might assume.[7] The air superiority battles around and above Operation HUSKY in the summer of 1943 were a significant milestone in the air war against the European Axis. Indeed, Williamson Murray described Sicily as “the greatest air battle of the Mediterranean war” based on the scale of German losses.[8] This result was achieved by an effective Allied air force that has often been denied the credit it so rightfully earned.


Supermarine Spitfire Mark Vs of No. 243 Squadron RAF undergo maintenance at Comiso, Sicily. Photographed over the tail section of an abandoned Messerschmitt Bf 109G of 6/JG53. (Source: © IWM (CNA 1029))

Header Image: A line of Macchi MC200 fighters on Reggio di Calabria airfield under attack by cannon fire from two Bristol Beaufighter Mark ICs of No. 272 Squadron RAF Detachment flying from Luqa, Malta. (Source: © IWM (CM 1298))

[1] See Lee Windsor, “‘The Eyes of All Fixed on Sicily’: Canada’s Unexpected Victory, 1943,” Canadian Military History Vol. 22, No. 3 (Summer 2013): 6-7 for a summary of this literature. General Max Ulrich, commander of the 29th Panzer Grenadier Division offered the 8:1 ratio when comparing the odds his forces faced.

[2] Samuel W. Mitcham Jr. and Fredrich von Stauffenberg, The Battle of Sicily: How the Allies Lost Their Chance for Total Victory (Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2007), 305.

[3] Williamson Murray, Strategy for Defeat: The Luftwaffe, 1933-1945 (Maxwell AFB, Alabama: Air University Press, 1983), “Table XXX”, 148.

[4] Albert N. Garland and Howard M. Smyth, The United States Army in World War II, The Mediterranean Theatre of Operations: Sicily and the Surrender of Italy (Washington, D.C.: US Army Center of Military History, 1993[1965]), 240 and 243.

[5] Brian Cull with Nicola Malizia and Frederick Galea, Spitfires over Sicily: The Crucial Role of the Malta Spitfires in the Battle of Sicily, January – August 1943 (London: Grub Street, 2000), 166.

[6] Hans Werner Neulen, In the Skies of Europe: Air forces allied to the Luftwaffe, 1939-1945 (Ramsbury, Marlborough: The Crowood Press Ltd., 2005), 72.

[7] Robert S. Ehlers, The Mediterranean Air War: Airpower and Allied Victory in World War II (Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2015), 403.

[8] Murray, 164.

Commanding Far Eastern Skies, a Book Review

Preston-Hough, Peter (2015) Commanding Far Eastern Skies: A critical analysis of the Royal Air Force air superiority campaign in India, Burma and Malaya 1941-1945. Helion & Company Ltd. 308 Pages. ISBN 9781910294444

f2c6286f-cdef-4d7b-9bf7-7ef0bd8ed871_1.26c34f7bfda8cbacd827d4bca4f727e3 (2)Peter Preston-Hough’s PhD dissertation, Commanding Far Eastern Skies, examines the fight for air superiority in what many refer to as a forgotten theatre – the Far East. Instead of taking a strictly chronological approach to the campaign, he examines four themes.

First, Preston-Hough examines the Japanese air superiority victory in 1941-1942 from the perspective of the RAF’s early warning organization. He finds that the British inability to establish an efficient early warning organization – including human observers and radar and communications equipment – played a significant role in the Japanese air superiority victory. Of particular interest is the British development of radar equipment better-suited to local weather and topography. Once they established a more effective organization in 1943 it could work together with superior aircraft types – Beaufighters and Spitfires – to intercept Japanese raiders. This was an important factor in the air superiority battle ahead.

Next, he compares Allied and Japanese aircrew, tactics, and aircraft and the effects of these on the air superiority battle. Early in the war, the Japanese won air superiority with superior aircraft, tactics, and experience aircrew. To shift the battle into their favour, the Allies had to reverse these trends. It wasn’t until late 1943 that the local Allied air forces received superior aircraft types in significant numbers. The Beaufighter as a night fighter, the Spitfire as an interceptor, and the P-38 Lightning and P-51 Mustang as long-range fighters did wonders for the Allies, while the Japanese generally had the same types that won them air superiority early in the war. The Spitfire, in particular, gave the Allies an aircraft that effectively neutralized Japanese long-range reconnaissance aircraft, the Ki-46 Dinah. This blinded Japanese commanders from December 1943 onwards. Regarding tactics, the Allies came to understand that dogfighting with the much more manoeuvrable Japanese fighters was suicide. Instead, they adopted dive and zoom tactics, which became more effective as new aircraft arrived with superior climb rates. The quality of Allied aircrew also improved while that of the Japanese Army Air Force (JAAF) remained consistent, counter to claims made in earlier post-war narratives.

Preston-Hough then examines the RAF and USAAF counter-air campaigns of mid-1942 to the end of the war. He identifies three separate Allied counter-air campaigns. Lack of long-range fighters meant that Allied efforts between mid-1942 and the end of 1943 resulted in a relatively ineffective campaign. The 1944 campaign was much more successful due to the presence of these aircraft. The campaign did not break the back of Japanese air power in the theatre as the USAAF official history claimed. While the Japanese didn’t lose as many aircraft as the Allies claimed – air interdiction still contributed to the air superiority campaign far better than standard air-to-air combat. Sixty Japanese aircraft were destroyed on counter-air operations between March and June 1944, a figure twice as high as those destroyed in air-to-air combat. Counter-air operations were less successful between late 1944 and the end of the war. This was the result of the JAAF having fewer aircraft dispersed around many airfields, making them harder to locate and damage in large numbers.

Finally, Preston-Hough examines how the Japanese fought the war, their aircraft industry, and their strategy to determine its effects on the Far East. The Japanese understanding of air power was arguably obsolete. The JAAF in the Far East used their aircraft almost exclusively for the direct support of ground operations. They did not have the bomber force for strategic strikes and continued to use fighters in a ground support role rather than focusing on the vulnerable Allied supply flights supporting British Fourteenth Army’s advance in Burma. Regarding strategy, while the Far East was a Japanese priority from a resource and political perspective – the Japanese had hopes of establishing an Indian state under their Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere – the defence of the homeland took priority. This meant that the JAAF fought without support from the Japanese Naval Air Force after the initial Japanese victories. It also meant that aircraft and crew reinforcements were few and far between. The Far East did not fully realize the gains the Japanese aircraft industry made in 1943-1944.

Preston-Hough writes in the structure of a PhD dissertation, and the book’s detail is immense. This may turn off the casual history reader. However, the book will be invaluable for a serious researcher. Anyone researching the air wars of the Pacific or the Far East – or indeed, the idea of air superiority in general – will be well-served by adding it to their collection. The author provides an exceptional framework for analyzing air superiority campaigns the world over. Perhaps the most important idea that Preston-Hough has offered is his reminder that air superiority isn’t something that air forces necessarily win. Rather, enemy air forces often contest it locally, and friendly air forces must maintain it as needed over the battlespace.

Hammer and Anvil: Catching the Axis in a Catch-22

Hammer and Anvil: Catching the Axis in a Catch-22

“That’s some catch, that Catch-22.”

USAAF Captain John Yossarian, fictional protagonist, Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

Political Scientist Robert A. Pape published Bombing to Win in 1996.[1] In that work, Pape argued that air power is of limited effectiveness when attacking purely strategic targets such as the enemy’s morale, leadership, or communications. Instead, the most effective use of air power is alongside ground forces in a ‘hammer and anvil’ approach.

© IWM (CNA 1136)

Four Curtiss Kittyhawk Mark IIIs of No. 112 Squadron RAF based at Agnone, Sicily, in stepped line-astern formation, flying south along the Gulf of Catania. (Source: © IWM (CNA 1136))

The air force acts as the hammer while the field force serves as the anvil. Theoretically, any army confronted by an air force with air superiority and an opposing army is in a predicament. The commander can choose to concentrate his forces, leaving them open to the hammer – tactical air power. Alternatively, he can disperse his troops, at which point the anvil – the opposing army – can isolate and destroy these smaller units in a piecemeal fashion.[2] This is what makes air superiority so tantalising in modern warfare. It forces one side into a catch-22. The fundamental principle is that air superiority denies the opposing force freedom of movement. It does not always work out as cleanly as the hammer and anvil concept suggests (and as the below examples illustrate), but removing the opposing force’s freedom of movement is a sure way to win a battle or, perhaps, a war.

The Allies caught the Axis armies in a hammer and anvil catch-22 in Sicily in 1943. The successful Allied landings in Operation HUSKY and the ensuring air battles won the Allies air superiority over the island. Heavy losses in the invasion’s first days and the threat the well-positioned landings posed to their airfields forced the German and Italian air forces to withdraw from the island days into the battle. Field Marshal Albert Kesselring had to rely on ground troops to hold the island and keep Italy in the war as long as possible. To achieve their aim, the Allies needed to secure the island and use it as an advanced staging ground to force Italy from the war.

Some of the heaviest fighting occurred in the island’s centre, on the inland hinge of the Etna Line. Kesselring hoped to hold the Allies at bay using a mountainous ring around Sicily’s active volcano, Mount Etna. 1st Canadian Division, undergoing its baptism of fire in this war, drew the task of punching a hole in the Axis line alongside their counterparts in 1st US Division, the Big Red One.

© IWM (CNA 1134)

Armourers load a Curtiss Kittyhawk Mark III of No. 239 Wing RAF with 250-lb GP bombs and re-arm the machine guns in the wings, at Agnone, Sicily, for a forthcoming sortie against enemy positions in the foothills of Mount Etna. (Source: © IWM (CNA 1134))

As the Americans engaged in heavy fighting near Troina to the north, the Canadians advanced on Regalbuto to the south. In this attack, the Canadians leant heavily on artillery and air support. Air power was to focus primarily on reaching beyond the range of artillery where Allied intelligence expected much enemy traffic movement:

[i]t was believed that the enemy would withdraw when the assault developed, and it was hoped that the air attack would pin him down to the ground and prevent this operation.[3]

Allied intelligence also believed that the Germans were using the town as a motor pool for their vehicles and guns.

The Canadian anvil struck as the hammer waited overhead. Kittyhawk fighter-bombers claimed over 40 enemy motor vehicles destroyed on 2 August between Regalbuto and Adrano.[4] Between the fighting in and around Regalbuto and losses sustained during their withdrawal on Highway 121, the Hermann Göring Division’s panzer engineer battalion was effectively ‘eliminated as a combat force.’[5] The Allies successfully flushed the Germans from their positions after a gruelling attritional struggle. They forced the Germans to use the roads in large numbers, increasing already heavy casualties.

© IWM (NA 5389)

A German Mk III tank knocked out during the fierce street fighting in Centuripe during the drive on Messina. (Source: © IWM (NA 5389))

A similar situation developed in the Battle of Troina. This time, however, the Germans made a much longer stand. Between 31 July and 6 August 1943, 15th Panzer Grenadier Division lost 1,600 men; 10 percent of the division’s strength or 40 percent of the fighting troops. The German commander, General Eberhard Rodt, later noted that losses from heavy artillery fire and massive carpet bombings on the hills and firing positions around the town were very high.[6] Allied aircraft caught a large amount of Axis motor transport on Highway 120 between Troina and Randazzo. Fighter-bombers claimed 50 vehicles strafed and bombed near Cesaro on 2 August.[7] It is possible that this was a reinforcement or supply column for the Troina garrison. Finally, Rodt notes that while his men were able to break contact with the Americans, they were often attacked and suffered losses from low-level aircraft while moving from Troina towards Bronte and Randazzo. Again, the Allies forced an Axis withdrawal to occur in daylight, adding to losses from the earlier attritional struggle.[8]

The German Army was just starting to get used to fighting with minimal support from the Luftwaffe. Air superiority over Sicily enabled the Allies to make use of this hammer and anvil to significant effect. Although elements of four German divisions escaped across the Strait of Messina in mid-August, those units were hollow shells of their former selves.[9] Air power and the catch-22 Allied air superiority forced the Axis into played a significant role in this outcome. The loss of Sicily opened the Mediterranean to Allied shipping, supported the Russians on the Eastern Front, and drove Italy ever closer to surrender.

© IWM (CNA 1139)

Flying Officer Colin Edmends from Australia and his fitter, D. McMinnemy, inspect the tail of his Curtiss Kittyhawk after it was damaged during a sortie over Catania. (Source: © IWM (CNA 1139))

Robert Pape’s writing on air power remains fairly controversial. Other air power theorists argue that the opposing force’s command and control, specifically regarding leadership and communications, are ideal targets. Foremost among these advocates is Colonel (Ret.) John Warden III, who wrote The Air Campaign, while he was at the National War College in the mid-1980s. However, in the estimation of this author, due to the case study examined above, Pape’s hammer and anvil approach has merit. As Philips Payson O’Brien notes in How the War Was Won, ‘except for killing every one of the combatants fighting against you, the only way to “win” a war is to stop your enemy from moving.’[10] Both theories advocate a solution to this problem. The difference is that one gives air power a complimentary role while the other affords it the leading role. In the Second World War, the debate was between the theatre air power school and the victory through air power school. The RAF and USAAF each had advocates for both of these approaches. This debate continues to this day.

This post first appeared at From Balloons to Drones.

[1] Robert A. Pape, Bombing to Win: Air Power and Coercion in War (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1996).

[2] Robert A. Pape, ‘The True Worth of Air Power,’ Foreign Affairs, 83:2 (2004), p. 119.

[3] Directorate of History and Heritage [DHH], Canadian Military Headquarters [CMHQ] Report No. 135, ‘Canadian Operations in Sicily, Part II Section 2, The Pursuit of the Germans from Vizzini to Adrano, 15 July to 6 August,’ p. 92.

[4] DHH, CMHQ Report No. 135, p. 92.

[5] Samuel W. Mitcham Jr. and Friedrich von Stauffenberg, The Battle of Sicily: How the Allies Lost Their Chance for Total Victory (Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2007), p. 254.

[6] US Army Military History Institute, D.739.F6713, Foreign Military Studies [FMS] C-077, ‘15th Panzer Grenadier Division in Sicily,’ report by Eberhard Rodt and staff, 18 June 1951, p. 25.

[7] DHH, CMHQ Report No. 135, p. 92.

[8] Rodt FMS C-077, p.26.

[9] Lee Windsor, “The Eyes of All Fixed on Sicily’: Canada’s Unexpected Victory, 1943,’ Canadian Military History, 22:3 (Summer 2013), p. 31.

[10] Philips Payson O’Brien, How the War Was Won: Air-Sea Power and Allied Victory in World War II (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015), pp. 487-488.

Greenwood Military Aviation Museum

Hailing from central Canada, maritime military aviation is something I am less familiar with. Having now made my home in Atlantic Canada, I have more opportunities to learn about this subject beyond reading. I recently visited Greenwood Military Aviation Museum. The museum is located at CFB Greenwood, an air base with a storied history. Constructed in the early years of the Second World War, the base began operations in 1942 as No. 36 Operational Training Unit (OTU). The friendly skies of Canada were a great place to train pilots and aircrew. This Royal Air Force (RAF) unit primarily flew Hudson Mk IIIs, training in the maritime reconnaissance role. U-boat successes in 1942 prompted the unit to begin focusing on anti-submarine work. In 1943, the OTU converted to training on Mosquitos. In 1944, the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) took command of the station.


Avro Anson Mk II restored between 2003 and 2009.

The Greenwood Military Aviation Museum has done a splendid job of capturing the history of the station, its various squadrons, and the role of maritime air power, especially in the years since the end of the Second World War. The museum proudly displays a Lancaster Mk X, now converted to a Mk III version in the colours of 405 Squadron, the RCAF’s only pathfinder squadron in Bomber Command. This aircraft served in the Combined Bomber Offensive before the RCAF employed it in the maritime reconnaissance role after the war.


Avro Lancaster Mk III in 405 Squadron colours.

The Lancaster needed a replacement in the mid-1950s. As an interim replacement, the RCAF selected the US Navy’s Neptune P2V, designated the CP-127. It was the first aircraft developed specifically for anti-submarine warfare, a role Canada had played during the Battle of the Atlantic and would continue to play throughout the Cold War. The museum displays the only Neptune in Canada, an aircraft on loan from the US Navy.


CP-127 Neptune

The museum also owns a CP-107 Argus. These aircraft arrived to replace the Neptune in the late 1950s. Canadair built the aircraft under licence as the airframe was actually that of the Bristol Britannia, a 1950s turboprop airliner. The Argus was the backbone of the RCAF’s maritime air capability throughout the hot years of the Cold War. It could stay aloft for as long as 31 hours. The Argus was designed to fly 1,000 miles, remain on-station for 8 hours, return home, and have enough fuel to divert 500 miles to an alternate airfield. These aircraft played a critical role during the Cuban Missile Crisis. When President John F. Kennedy declared a quarantine of Cuba in response to the presence of Soviet nuclear-armed missiles there, Argus aircraft flew patrols over the Atlantic, searching for Soviet submarines and vessels attempting to challenge the blockade. The CP-140 Aurora replaced the Argus in the early 1980s and remains the RCAF’s maritime patrol aircraft to the present.


CP-107 Argus

Inside the museum building, there are a number of great exhibits honouring Greenwood squadrons and aircrew. The standout is the tribute to 404 Squadron RCAF’s “Black Friday”. On 9 February 1945, the squadron participated in an attack on Z33, a German Narvik-class destroyer, and her escorts, sheltered in Førde Fjord, Norway. Of 11 aircraft, 404 Squadron lost six Beaufighters, with all but one of their 12 aircrew dying in crashes around the fjord. The museum has a lovely diorama of the fjord on display, indicating the positions of the 404 Squadron crashes. Z33 escaped destruction, although the destroyer was hardly operational for the remainder of the war.


404 Squadron war and peacetime dead. The “Black Friday” losses are visible under Dec. 9, 1944, a dating error.

Outside the museum, there is a Commemorative Garden honouring the war and peacetime dead of the various units stationed at Greenwood. It also honours the accomplishments of these various units and their airmen and women. The museum and its gardens are a keen reminder of the importance of maritime air power to the history of Canada and our allies. You can learn more about the museum’s aircraft displays and projects here. A team is presently working to restore a Bristol Bolingbroke, a support aircraft for the Mosquito OTU.

The Mediterranean Air War, a Book Review

Ehlers Jr., Robert S. (2015) The Mediterranean Air War: Airpower and Allied Victory in World War II. University Press of Kansas. 520 Pages. ISBN 0700620753

51y2XtcvI2L._SX325_BO1,204,203,200_The Second World War’s Mediterranean Theatre of Operations was a sideshow, right? The road to defeating Nazi Germany where the Western Allies were concerned lay through Normandy, not North Africa. The Allies launched their great Combined Bomber Offensive from the United Kingdom as this incredible animation from the American Air Museum shows. Other efforts were relatively unimportant and sapped resources from where the real air battle took place. Or were they?

Robert S. Ehlers Jr.’s The Mediterranean Air War: Airpower and Allied Victory in World War II offers an important counter-narrative. The Mediterranean was not a sideshow. In fact, it was a critical theatre for Allied victory. Adolf Hitler committed the Wehrmacht to the Mediterranean in 1941 to support Benito Mussolini’s faltering armies in Greece and North Africa. Four years later the consequence of this simple plan was 400,000 Italian and 730,000 German casualties. But human casualties only tell part of the tale. The European Axis lost 42 percent of its merchant shipping in the Mediterranean. The Allies all but destroyed the Regia Aeronautica by mid-1943 while the Luftwaffe lost 17,750 aircraft in the Mediterranean throughout the war. By comparison, the Germans lost 20,419 aircraft on the Western Front while losing only 11,000 on the Eastern Front.

This is just the strategic picture. Ehlers’s work also talks logistics. Historians have often highlighted the importance of tank strength in the Western Desert. The side that could field the most tanks had the advantage. Since both sides had to maintain their forces across long supply chains the ability to retrieve and repair damaged battlefield equipment was crucial. The same was true for aircraft. The Royal Air Force created an efficient system for repair and salvage early in the campaign. Air Vice-Marshal Graham Dawson, the RAF’s Chief Maintenance Officer in the Mediterranean, organized the effort. Dawson was a Battle of Britain veteran who received a Mention in Dispatches for superb engine repair efforts in 1940. He coordinated his crews’ efforts with local Egyptian shops that could repair and manufacturer parts. Dawson’s command was innovative. It created modifications that allowed Hurricane fighters to engage high-flying Junkers Ju 86P photo reconnaissance aircraft. The aircraft’s service ceiling was 36,000 feet, yet the modified version achieved its first victory over the Nile at 49,000 feet.

AVM G.C. Pirie, AVM G.G. Dawson, AC W.E. G. Mann

Air Vice-Marshal Graham Dawson

The Mediterranean was ultimately a battle for sea lines of communication or SLOCs. Air superiority was key to winning this and other battles. With the war in North Africa won, Ehlers argues that the Western Allies were right to take the war to Sicily and then on to mainland Italy. After securing air superiority, the Allied air forces were free to expand their cooperation with Allied armies. The Allies produced great results when the services coordinated their efforts. In the first half of 1944, Operations STRANGLE and DIADEM sought to defeat German forces barring the way to Rome. STRANGLE was an air campaign aimed at depriving the Germans of supplies while DIADEM was a large-scale ground offensive with air support. On its own, air power’s effectiveness was limited. The Germans lost 20 trucks per day during STRANGLE, but that number rose to 100 per day during DIADEM. Pressure from the army kept enemy transports on the road in large numbers, making them easier prey for prowling fighter-bombers. Together these operations cost the Germans Rome and 80,000 casualties.

Ehlers convincingly argues that the final air campaigns flown from bases in Italy shortened the war and saved lives. Targets included the Luftwaffe, the German oil industry, and German lines of communication to the Eastern Front. Instructors who seek to offer their students a fresh perspective on the Mediterranean Theatre of Operations will do well to include this book on their reading lists.

Blushing Brides: Canada’s War Brides by Lindsay Elliott

Blushing Brides: Canada’s War Brides by Lindsay Elliott

March 8th is International Women’s Day, a day to reflect on women’s empowerment. It only seemed fitting, then, to explore a topic on that very sentiment. This blog is about the courageous, adventurous, and passionate Canadian War Brides of the Second World War. These British women fell in love with and married Canadian soldiers. They then left their previous lives and all that was familiar to them behind in search of a new life.

There are so many things to be considered when exploring this topic. There’s the emotional side (love, marriage, war, and leaving home). There’s the societal side (having to adapt to a new culture). There’s also the family side (leaving family, travelling with children, and meeting new family and not always being welcome).

I hope that this brief (since I’ve been given my limit) snapshot either ignites a spark or fuels a passion for a topic that I am also quite dedicated to.

Love, Marriage, and (Sometimes) a Baby Carriage

8b5d8761-cfa3-4718-844e-cd2cd79f13cdThe whole world changed with the declaration of war in September 1939. The arrival of Canadian soldiers on British soil set the foundation for a most remarkable phenomenon: Canadian men and British women met and within months some were married and off to the Canadian coast, seeking out the ‘promised land’ their new husbands had so eagerly discussed. In fact, it wasn’t long until the first marriage occurred: “43 days after Canadian soldiers arrived in December 1939, they celebrated the first marriage between a British woman and a Canadian serviceman at Farnborough Church in the Aldershot area.” Over the next six years, 48,000 marriages occurred, resulting in 45,000 British and European war brides. Understandably, 93% of these were British, as this was where the soldiers spent a large part of the war.

Instead of focusing on their origins, I’m going to focus on their journeys to Canada and their experiences upon arrival. Many travelled alone before their husbands were cycled back, sometimes with children in tow. These new families had quite the adventure ahead of them: “[T]he War Brides have the shared experience of meeting and marrying a Canadian soldier during a war time, leaving their home country for a new world by trans-Atlantic ship across the ocean, crossing Canada by war bride train, settling in to their new homes, raising families and adapting to a new culture, language and religion in a time in our history where the future held great promise for new Canadians.”

Canada: New Beginnings, New Homes

andresan-billy-mitchon-lgWar brides arrived at Pier 21 in Halifax, Nova Scotia. From there they embarked on trains to travel to their final destinations all across the country. As they disembarked the train at their new homes, they were greeted with a variety of reactions and challenges. They were usually greeted by complete strangers (Jarrett, 48), with less than average standards of living (compared to what their husbands had said), faced ridicule from women who had already been patiently waiting back home, and encountered a whole new lifestyle. Some women were scorned at for a number of reasons ranging from their seemingly rash decision to marry, to taking someone’s sweetheart, to joining a family they were not welcome to. Peggy Chalkin’s arrival in Toronto mirrored such a fate:  “We English war brides were treated horribly in the middle forties. We were jeered at, spat at, and called dreadful names. I guess they were trying to break our spirits, but they were dealing with the wrong people. They hadn’t come through what we had. It made you tough” (Wicks, 156-160). Others were welcomed into society as they eagerly sought to fit in and learn the Canadian ways of living. It was hard, rugged, and traumatizing, but at the same time it was new, exciting and rewarding. War brides faced social restrictions upon arriving in Canada, forcing them to assimilate to the gender constructions of Canadian society. Many women arrived with a romanticised idea of what awaited them: a welcoming family, modern conveniences, land, and riches. A good number of them were faced with a crippling amount of culture shock, as many of their new homes had “no inside plumbing, no electricity, no gas, no facilities of any kind, and a little hand pump outside the house” (Wicks, 119). It was also not uncommon for them to have to adjust to a new religion and/or language, especially if they found themselves in a French community (Jarrett, 63).

For some, it was too much, and without their husbands (or in some cases, because of them), they took the return trip back home. The rest who stayed fought and adjusted to becoming Canadians as a way to survive. Wynne Brink (Alberta) was well aware of this: “I had one foot in Canada and one foot in England, and this would never do. I wanted to become 100 percent Canadian, so slowly but surely I began to shuck off my English ways and began to think Canadian” (Wicks, 179). The brides attended classes held by the Red Cross to teach them Canadian language and terms. They had lessons on how to dress, how to manage through the seasons, and they were also issued a Canadian cookbook (Hibbert, xv). For those who had families and young children, “as their children grew up, [they] became more involved in their communities and schools” (Jarrett, 119) and, in time, they found themselves at home in Canada.

Captured Hearts COV-REV.inddThese women uprooted their whole lives at a tumultuous time in history in the hopes of a better life. They overcame obstacles and became solid fixtures within the country. These outstanding individuals created a new generation of Canadians that capture the hearts and fascination of historians to this day.


Melynda Jarratt, Captured Hearts: New Brunswick’s War Brides (Fredericton, NB: Goose Lane Editions & NBMHP, 2008).

Melynda Jarratt, Canadian War Brides: The Authoritative Source of Information on the Canadian War Brides of WWII: (accessed 5 March 2016).

Ben Wicks, Promise You’ll Take Care of My Daughter: The Remarkable War Brides of WWII (Toronto: Stoddart Publishing Co., 2002)

Hibbert, Joyce Hibbert, ed., The War Brides (Toronto: Peter Martin Associates Limited, 1978).