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The Battle of the Atlantic

The Battle of the Atlantic was commemorated Sunday in ceremonies held across Canada, as members of the Last Post Fund were in attendance to lay wreaths honouring Veterans of the Royal Canadian Navy, Royal Canadian Air Force and the Canadian Merchant Navy.

It was Winston Churchill who coined the term “Battle of the Atlantic” to describe the lengthy period from September 3rd, 1939 until May 8, 1945 - literally the first to the last day of the Second World War - during which Allied troops battled German forces attempting to block the passage of military personnel and supplies between North America and Britain.

The battle was obviously important for strategic reasons, and forced competing naval technological advancement as well as evolving naval military strategy. Canada’s Navy, Merchant Marine and Air Force all played a crucial role in the Battle of the Atlantic. What at the start of the war was a modest force of only 6 destroyers and 3 500 personnel, one-third of whom were reservists, grew to over 95 000 personnel and some 270 ocean escort warships. The contribution of merchant vessels also expanded rapidly from about 40 vessels to over 400 at the war’s end. 

Winning the battle came at a huge cost to the Allies. From 1939–45 more than 36,000 Allied sailors, soldiers and airmen, as well as a nearly equivalent number of merchant seamen, lost their lives. Among those were almost 2,000 members of the Royal Canadian Navy, 1,600 Canadian merchant seamen and 752 Canadian airmen.

Many of those who died during the Battle of the Atlantic have no gravesite — their bodies were lost to the ocean. They are commemorated with a plaque that bears their names at the Sailors’ Memorial in Point Pleasant Park in Halifax, and we continue to honour their sacrifice with ceremonies held every year on the first Sunday in May across Canada, in the United States and in the UK.

Photo caption:
Last Post Fund Nova Scotia Branch President Master Warrant Officer Paul O'Boyle, CD (Retired) following the wreath-laying ceremony in Halifax honouring the Merchant Navy.

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