From One World War to Another (1919-43)

Canada’s Military between the Wars

Military Planing Between the Wars

Canadian Defence Strength Between the Wars

Caption: Canadian Defence Strength Between the Wars

Canada was caught in an almost humorous dichotomy. In the 1920s the United States was basically correct in perceiving Canada as still a British colony. Accordingly, its war plans included an attack on Canada in the event of an armed conflict with Britain. On the other hand, Canada's primary defence plan stated that in the event of an Anglo-American war Canada would seize certain areas of the United States. This secret Plan No. 1 would be set aside in 1926.

From the standpoint of Canadian defence, the years 1919-39 were a period of restructuring. Canada's defence forces reverted to their prewar role. They were small, with a ceiling of 10,000 men for the three arms - a figure that would not be reached until the country entered the Second World War. In the period 1922-35, one of galloping inflation followed by crisis, Canada’s financial situation called for military changes.

In 1918, Canada had a ministry of defence and militia, a ministry of marine and an aviation commission. The National Defence Act, which came into force in early 1923, merged the three services as a cost-cutting measure. The Chief of the General Staff became the Chief of Staff of the Department of National Defence and thus responsible for all three arms. The navy opposed the order in council as unenforceable. In 1927 the head of the Naval Service, a member of the Defence Council (which had replaced the Militia Council of 1904), became the Chief of Naval Staff, and the Chief of Staff reverted to his former title. The Council also included the head of the Royal Canadian Air Force.

The budget of this reorganized department was not particularly impressive. It rose from $13.5 million in 1924-25 to $23.7 million in 1930-31, but the economic crisis brought cuts, and in 1932-33 the figure fell to $14 million. Later on, some unemployment funding covered military construction, but this did nothing for the effectiveness of the institution. Beginning in 1936 a much belated rearmament programme got under way. Priority was given to the defence of the national territory, especially its coasts. Accordingly projects were undertaken on the west coast in 1936-37, though these were still not completed in September 1939 and what was finished proved useless: Weapons placed in batteries were frequently outmoded or poorly sited; units were under strength; and scout and attack aircraft were virtually nonexistent.