Turning Point – 1943

War in the Pacific

Air and Naval Contributions in the Pacific

Consolidated Liberator B24L-20 bomber

Caption: Consolidated Liberator B24L-20 bomber

This was not the sole Canadian effort in the Pacific, however. March 1942 would find No. 413 (Reconnaissance) Squadron in Ceylon (now known as Sri Lanka). On 4 April, Squadron Leader L.S. Birchall spotted the Japanese fleet bound for Ceylon. Before being brought down and taken prisoner, he and his crew were able to send this news to the defence forces, giving them time to prepare. Birchall's feat earned him the title "Saviour of Ceylon."

In October 1944 the light cruiser Uganda, given to the Royal Canadian Navy by the Royal Navy, served with the British in the Pacific as part of an anti-aircraft force, a task to which its nine 9-inch guns lent themselves admirably. It would cover, for example, the aircraft carriers Formidable and Victorious off the Caroline Islands.

Uganda was also to be the scene of a very special event. With the end of the war in Europe, the government announced that Canadian participation in ongoing fighting in the Pacific would be on a voluntary basis. Uganda was already active on this naval front, but it was decided that only volunteers would be used in the navy as well. In a vote taken in this ship in July 1945, some two thirds of its crew rejected volunteering to serve in the Pacific. Uganda returned to port, and there would be no time to change crews before the war ended. Uganda would have been part of a small fleet of some 60 vessels in the Pacific, including two light aircraft carriers, two cruisers and a large number of escort vessels. However, 85 percent of the seamen in HMCS Prince Robert would agree to fetch the Canadian prisoners of war who had survived Japanese detention and slavery.

The air war over the Pacific would have been continued by about 15,000 men forming Tiger Force. Lancasters would have been used for strategic bombing. Of the eight squadrons planned, only two served in that sector; they were already there prior to July 1945.

The army was to engage the 6th Division to handle volunteers coming from Europe or directly from Canada. The division was being formed under Major-General Bert Hoffmeister, and it had been decided to equip it U.S.-style when hostilities ended. This brief experience would leave the memory of an army jumping out of British uniforms to leap straight into American ones.

The last significant event of the war occurred on 9 August 1945. Lieutenant Robert Hampton Gray, a Canadian serving in the Royal Navy's Fleet Air Arm, sank the Japanese destroyer Amokusa in Onagawa Bay. Gray was killed but was awarded a Victoria Cross posthumously.