The seminal Canada at War documentary film series was first broadcast on the CBC on April 3, 1962. Its 13 half-hour episodes were culled from more than 14,000,000 feet of film, mostly shot by Canadian Army cameramen during the Second World War but also including footage shot by German and British film crews. It took a team of editors three years to put the series together under the supervision of documentary filmmaker extraordinaire Donald Brittain (who also wrote the commentary). It remains, to this day, one of the most important works on the Second World War.
1936 - March 1940. In Europe war clouds gather as Germany re-arms and Hitler propounds his 'master race' doctrine. Chamberlain's appeasement fails. Germany overruns Czechoslovakia. Britain declares war; Canada makes an independent decision to join. The first Canadian troopship sails from Halifax.
April - November 1940. With devastating speed Germany takes Holland, Belgium and Luxembourg. Italy declares war. The British withdraw from Dunkirk. Mackenzie King feels the Canadian pulse on conscription. England is strafed by the Luftwaffe, and Britons accept Churchill's challenge of 'blood, sweat and tears.'
September 1940 - October 1941. The Battle of the Atlantic begins. German U-boats take their toll of Canadian convoys. The purge of Jews begins. German armies march into Russia. Mackenzie King is booed at Aldershot. Men of the Winnipeg Grenadiers and Royal Rifles leave for a fateful mission in Hong Kong.
December 1941 - June 1942. The war is now global and pressures on Canada mount. Without warning Japan strikes at Pearl Harbor. Canadians adjust to food rationing, salvage drives. The British Commonwealth Air Training Plan is inaugurated in Canada. In Ottawa, Winston Churchill makes his 'some chicken, some neck' speech.
July - September 1942. A time of defeat and disaster. Hitler is at the apex of his power. A Canadian division probes at Dieppe and is repulsed with heavy casualties. Canadian factories take over production of the fabled Lancaster night bomber; Canadian bush pilots ferry the big planes across the Atlantic. German U-boats penetrate the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
October 1942 - July 1943. The inherent strength of the Allies begins to be felt. Canadian munitions factories operate at peak capacity. U.S. Marines land on Guadalcanal and the Solomons. Montgomery's 8th Army strikes Rommel at Alamein; the R.C.A.F. joins in air strikes against Germany.
July 1943 - January l944. The objective at last--Fortress Europe. The Canadian 1st Division, flanked by the British and Americans, pushes into Italy. Italians surrender but the Germans resist. Ortona, a 15th-century town, riddled with bullets and grenades, is taken by Canadians in fierce and costly street fighting.
December 1943 - June 1944. Canada, war-seasoned, girds for the final assault. In London, Commonwealth prime ministers meet and Mackenzie King holds out for Canadian independence in foreign policy. In the Arctic, Canadian ships sail the Murmansk run with supplies for beleaguered Russia. The Italian campaign intensifies. In the south of England the Allies poise for attack.
June - September 1944. D-Day, June 6, 1944. In early morning hours, infantry carriers, including one hundred and ten ships of the Royal Canadian Navy, cross a seething, pitching sea to the coast of France while Allied air forces pound enemy positions from the air. Cherbourg, Caen, Carpiquet, Falaise, Paris are liberated. Canadians return, this time victorious, to the beaches of Dieppe.
June - December 1944. V-1 rockets, and later V-2s, rain death and destruction on Britain; their launching sites are mopped up by Canadians advancing on Pas de Calais. The Third Division spearheads the attack on the Scheldt estuary. Germans make a last-ditch stand in the Battle of the Bulge. In the English Channel, Canadian sailors man swift motor torpedo boats against German E-boats.
September 1944 - March 1945. On the eve of victory Canada faces an internal crisis: an acute shortage of men for overseas service precipitates the conscription issue, threatens national unity and the King government. In Europe, Canadian divisions fight their way to the top of the Italian boot, then regroup for the final onslaught on Germany. They fight in the battles of the Reichswald and Hochwald forests, and finally cross the Siegfried Line.
April-August 1945. Hitler had said: 'Whoever lights the torch of war in Europe can wish for nothing but chaos.' By 1945, Germany is beaten. V-Day celebrations verge on the hysterical, but occupying armies uncover the staggering atrocities of Belsen, Auschwitz, and Buchenwald. Franklin D. Roosevelt dies. The world's first atomic bomb is dropped on Japan.
August 1945 - 1946. Japan surrenders. World War II is over, but the scars are deep. Canadian prisoners are released from Japanese war camps. In Canada, as elsewhere, the monumental task of rehabilitation begins. In Ottawa the Gouzenko case shocks the nation. The trials at Nürenberg begin. The United Nations is formed. Canada, now a much stronger, independent nation, enters the Cold War.