With Allied successes in North Africa and at Stalingrad, along with a building momentum against the Japanese in the Pacific, 1943 begins with unprecedented wartime optimism. American industrial production is building Allied might and troop convoys are bringing tens of thousands of personnel to Britain monthly.
But Canada’s role and influence in the Second World War has so far been limited, marked by the disasters at Hong Kong and Dieppe. With the 1943 invasion of Sicily, shifting fortunes in the Battle of the Atlantic, bombing successes over Germany and a significant boost in materiel production at home, that is about change.
Prime Minister Winston Churchill and President Franklin D. Roosevelt have infuriated Josef Stalin by putting off an invasion of France. There will be no second front in Europe to dilute Germany’s relentless offensive in the Soviet Union. Instead, Stalin is promised a massive supply line. At Casablanca in January 1943, Churchill persuades FDR to strike at the “soft underbelly” of the Axis powers, Sicily.
Fighting in North Africa concludes in May. Ottawa wins Canada a role in the invasion of Sicily. In July, Canadian soldiers land at Pachino at the outset of their first prolonged campaign of the war. The fighting in mountainous terrain is arduous and costly, but the victories come. Canadian operations in Sicily end in victory after 38 days. The experience proves invaluable.
The Royal Canadian Air Force is everywhere—in the Aleutian Islands off Alaska, in India and Burma, in the Middle East, Malta and Sicily and, most of all, in Britain. Canadians also serve in Royal Air Force squadrons. And, in Canada, the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan is preparing more aircrew for battle. More than 12,000 RCAF members are killed, but the Allied bombing effort pays dividends.
The Battle of the Atlantic reaches its climax. The Herculean efforts of Canadian and Allied navies along with the code breakers at Bletchley Park, the development of sonar technology and longer-range aircraft, turn the tide of the war at sea, ensuring the supply lines to Britain, the Mediterranean and the Soviet Union are not broken. U-boat losses mount; Allied ship losses begin a gradual decline.
Canadian prisoners of war are moved to Japan, where a fortuitous encounter between old schoolmates, Canadian and Japanese, brings the ragged assemblage food and overcoats. Nevertheless, many are worked and starved to death. In Canada, citizens of Japanese origin are forced from their homes as Japan occupies territory throughout the southwest Pacific. Americans build the Alaska Highway, develop oil fields in the Canadian North and build a chain of airfields across the Arctic.
War production provides good jobs, economic prosperity and opportunity to those at home. Women enter the workforce in unprecedented numbers. Ottawa raises taxes to finance the war effort. Rationing cuts consumption of scarce goods, but Canadians are still eating better than they did during the Depression. Shortages of commodities such as gasoline, housing, appliances and even clothing temper the gains.
Soviet troops have won Stalingrad and are now moving west. North Africa has been freed and Sicily is slipping from Hitler’s clutches; Italy will follow. Canadian production, Canadian goods and Canadian soldiers, sailors and aircrew are contributing mightily to the war effort on all fronts. The tide has turned.