From Cold War to Present Day


The Role of the Regular Forces

HMCS Nootka, Royal Canadian Navy, circa 1960

Caption: HMCS Nootka, Royal Canadian Navy, circa 1960

The Permanent Forces would also be caught between domestic political imperatives and external strategic change. Canada was drawn into the Cold War very early on, if only through the atomic research conducted on its soil during the Second World War and, only weeks after the end of the war in the Pacific, the defection of Igor Gouzenko, a Soviet Embassy cypher clerk who put Canada in the centre of a Soviet spy network. A February 1948 pro-Soviet coup d'état in Czechoslovakia was followed in March by the blockade of Berlin. The Western European reaction to the threat from the East would be followed by a North American rally to the defence of the European democracies.

Canada had been out of Europe militarily since the spring of 1946. Its troops stationed at home - those who survived demobilization - were few in number. The navy had requested 20,000 men and a fleet that would include two aircraft carriers and four cruisers; the government gave it half of what it wanted. The army asked for 55,788 regular soldiers, 155,396 reservists and 48,500 conscripts; it did not get conscription and was allocated a strength of 25,000. The air force got 16,000 of the 30,000 personnel it requested.

It was understood that these forces would ensure national security while preparing for potential conflicts overseas. The navy, however, had an immediate problem - keeping personnel - which it addressed in 1947 and 1948 by increasing both salaries and the ratio of non-commissioned officers to seamen. On the high seas in February 1949, when the latter reform came into effect, some ships found themselves with more NCOs than seamen, even though those tasks reserved for seamen had not been reduced. What is more, since seniority prevailed for these promotions, some of the new NCOs were not necessarily the best. There resulted some incidents that were too easily labelled as mutinies. In the aftermath of these "work stoppages," much was made of the fact that Canadian naval officers were cut off from their men by their British training. Discipline as learned in Britain should not be applied in Canada, concluded a commission, presided over by Rear Admiral Rollo Mainguy, appointed to investigate the incidents. While their recommendations were valid, the commissioners made much of the short-term reaction to reforms in personnel management that would prove to be highly positive in the medium and long terms.

The army established the Mobile Striking Force that Lieutenant-Colonel Ralph Wilson Becket and others had advocated during the war. Soldiers were trained as parachutists, and the force, transported by the Royal Canadian Air Force, could be rapidly deployed on any point of the territory susceptible to attack. As the acknowledged enemy quickly became the USSR, which might strike from the north, arctic exercises with special equipment and materiel were the order of the day.

Additional Images

Fairchild CC-119G 'flying boxcar' transport, Air Transport Command, Royal Canadian Airforce