Research and Collections

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Canada and Submarine Warfare, 1909-1950

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Roger Sarty

Historical Research and Exhibit Development
Canadian War Museum

Originally published in Roger Sarty, The Maritime Defence of Canada, Toronto: Canadian Institute of Strategic Studies, 1996, pp.183-216. Reproduced with permission.

At critical junctures submarines have provided answers to two recurring questions in Canada: do we need maritime forces? if so what kind? 1 We have had the luxury of pondering these issues at length because of good fortune in geography and alliance with the world’s leading sea powers, Britain and then the United States. Yet alliance with these predominant powers has also served to obscure and complicate courses of possible action. The submarine, a revolutionary weapon, cut through the dogmas of maritime warfare during the first half of the twentieth century. One result was to define a Canadian role.

There is a striking parallel. Just as submarine warfare enabled Germany, a ‘new’ naval power, to bring the preeminent seapower to its knees during both World Wars, so too did the U-boat menace ensure the survival of the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) during its troubled early years and provided the impetus for its growth into a major fleet in 1939-1945 and after. Until recently, published literature has largely focused on RCN participation in the Battle of the Atlantic during the period 1939-1943, and all but ignored the major contribution of the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) to maritime defence. The present paper explores the influence of submarine warfare on the development of the Canadian forces prior to 1939, the impact of earlier experience on Canadian participation in the Second World War, and in turn how the course of that conflict shaped Canada’s maritime forces in the post-war era.2


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