1945: Canada and the end of the Second World War

By J.L. Granatstein

The year 1945 began with a bang. On New Year’s Day, the Luftwaffe (Germany's air force) mounted Operation Bodenplatte (baseplate), a massive attack on Allied airfields in Belgium and the Netherlands. Almost 1,000 aircraft had been secretly concentrated for the attack that had initially been planned for the same day as the launch of the Wehrmacht’s (Germany’s army) surprise offensive through the Ardennes. Bad weather had delayed Bodenplatte for two weeks, but the airbase raids caught the Allied air forces napping. More than 400 aircraft were destroyed or damaged, most on the ground, including many RCAF Typhoons and Spitfires. But the raid was also a disaster for the Germans, who lost some 250 aircraft and more than 200 pilots. The Allied losses could be replaced quickly; the German losses could never be made up at this late stage of the war.

That was true too in the war on the hard-frozen ground. The Battle of the Bulge, launched by the Nazis on Dec. 16, 1944, had given the Allies a fright, but once the skies cleared, the Allies' tactical and ground forces had checked the Germans and began to push them back. The losses in men and tanks sustained by the Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS—the military branch of the Nazi Party’s elite Schutzstaffel (defence squadron) — could now not be made up, and the Allies were poised to enter Germany. The Soviet Red Army was simultaneously approaching the German border in the east. Russian losses were huge, but the Red Army could keep its ranks full; the Germans could not, although young boys and old men were being thrown into the lines. The Nazis would fight hard to defend the soil of the Third Reich, but the endgame was at hand.

In this special edition

Part One

Into the Rhineland

Near the end of the Second World War, Germany’s defences were at their limit. The Soviet Union was crushing them from the east while the Allies in the west liberated the Netherlands and pressed on into the Rhineland. Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin met in Yalta, Ukraine, to plan the end of the war.

Part Two

Canada at the front

Fighting with Germany was fierce but II Canadian Corps was ordered to liberate the Netherlands, reaching Apeldoorn and then moving northeast while I Canadian Corps was ordered to take Arnhem and cross into the Rhineland.

Part Three

Nazism implodes

In April 1945, U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt died in office knowing that the Allies were succeeding in war. Canadians started operations to feed the starving people of the Netherlands as the Soviets closed in on Berlin.

Part Four

The Big Three

The Grand Alliance of the Soviet Union, Britain and the United States—the Big Three—was crumbling at the moment of victory. Canadians operated food convoys and accepted the surrender of German forces in the Netherlands.

Part Five

Horrific carnage

Atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, and the country surrendered, ending the Second World War. The Soviet Union had liberated much of eastern Europe and replaced its leaders with ones of its choosing. The United Nations got off to a shaky start.

1945: Canada and the end of the Second World War

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