The Battle of the Atlantic was the longest battle throughout all of World War 2, in which Canada plays a key role. The battle began just after Britain declared war on Germany; a U-boat, a German submarine, fired a torpedo at a passenger ship known as the SS Athenia on September, 1939. The SS Athenia was on it’s way to Montréal with over 1,400 passengers, of which 112 people were killed in the attack. By cutting off Britain’s supply of food and supplies, Germany could force them out of the war and greatly improve their chance of emerging victorious. The Battle of the Atlantic was a critical component in the victory of the Allies. A week after the attack on the SS Athenia, Canada declared war on Germany, and joined the fight. The battle was going in favour of the Axis powers at the beginning; the German U-boats developed a strategy walled the ‘wolf pack’, where multiple U-boats joined together into one compact formation and torpedoed their target simultaneously. The target wouldn’t have time to react, as multiple torpedoes tore into the vessel at the same time. The U-boats were able to sink numerous merchant vessels with this technique, and it wasn’t until the Allies developed anti-submarine technology enabling long-range detection, and radars to pinpoint where German U-boats were. However, many times the Germans were able to bypass this with tactics of their own, such as surfacing their U-boats until they needed to submerge, since the Allies’ radars could only detect underwater vessels. To recognize Canada’s important role in this battle, the entire Northwest Atlantic was put into Canadian control. Rear Admiral Leonard Murray was appointed as commander-in-chief, and Murray was the only “Canadian to ever to command an Allied theatre of conflict in either the First or Second World Wars,” meaning that Murray was the one and only Canadian soldier to ever be put in such a high position (thecanadianencyclopedia.ca). Murray was incredibly proud of this role, being the only Canadian to receive such honour throughout both global conflicts. When the battle first began, Canada’s navy was small, consisting of 6 destroyer ships and a navy of 3,500 personnel.
At the beginning, Canada’s primary role in the battle was to escort the convoys across the Atlantic Ocean and protect them from German attacks. In order to fulfill its role in the battle, Canada began to mass manufacture ships, crafting dozens of smaller warships known as ‘corvettes’. These ‘corvettes’ were half the size of a destroyer, and possessed one gun along with depth charges; they were cheap to manufacture, and soon became a large portion of the Canadian navy. At the time, escorting merchant boats was “onerous and dangerous work”, and “Canadians shared in the worst hardships experienced in the war at sea” (veterans.gc.ca). This battle was definitely viewed as a difficult one by many Canadians at the time, and it was hard to know who would emerge victorious. Canadians were worried about the fate of the Atlantic Ocean, because if the Axis powers were able to knock Britain out of the fight it would secure a victory for them, and the course of history would drastically be changed. One of the largest ‘what if’ statements asked worldwide is ‘what if the Nazis won WW2?’, and this likely would’ve happened if the Battle of the Atlantic was lost to Germany.
During the Battle of the Atlantic, Canada was pressured to improve its naval force. Many individuals decided to join the Royal Canadian Navy because either they required a job, or they wanted to help fight for their country so the Axis powers didn’t win the war. This battle at sea inspired Canada to expand its naval force, and another value formed: for Canada to build a powerful sea force that other countries could fear. As a country that played an influential role in the outcome of this event, our naval force became a significant part of our identity during the Battle of the Atlantic. Canada gained a reputation for being a country with a powerful naval force, something it wasn’t known for before the Battle of the Atlantic.
Canada started the battle with “only six destroyers and about 3,500 personnel,” and in order to rise up to its role in the fight the navy had to expand (thecanadianencyclopedia.ca). 3,500 personnel is nothing compared to the USA’s total count of 337,349 active personnel, recorded in 1941 (history.navy.mil). After some mass production of ships and personnel, Canada’s became a lot more economically autonomous in terms of their naval force. By the end of the Battle of the Atlantic, Canada went from a “handful of ships and a few thousand personnel” to a “major fleet, with more than 400 ships and 90,000 sailors. By war’s end, Canada had the fourth-largest navy in the world” (thecanadianencyclopedia.ca). We went from 3,500 sailors to 90,000, twenty-five times the original number. The amount of work that was put into our Canadian navy was insane, and the fact that we were able to expand our fleet over twenty times the original size is something to be proud of. By improving our military forces on the sea, we become a lot more economically distant from Britain, who originally supplied us with ships to battle with and sent boats to protect us. We can now show that we know how to defend ourselves autonomously, without leaning on other countries such as Britain for help.