Shout out to our nearest ally…

…and who would that be? Well, the US has a special relationship with Britain (we’re usually there for each other). We have a special relationship with Israel too (we bail them out when they need it, and they send spies to seal our secrets and sell to the Russians for money… oh wait… but let’s face it, they’re the folks in the Middle East who don’t hate us). And our best ally is probably Australia — no one else has been with us in all the major wars of the 20th and 21st centuries, so far. But our nearest ally, quite literally, is Canada. Today is Canada Day, on which our neighbors and allies celebrate the grant of Dominion status that produced modern political Canada.

For many years our border with our neighbors to the north was the world’s longest open border. It isn’t any more (and it’s a shame how our border people treat both Canadians and returning Americans), but the cultural ties between the two nations are very great.

So are the military ties. One part of the lineage of both American and Canadian special operations units is shared, with the WWII 1st Special Service Force counting as an ancestor of our Special Forces and the now-defunct Canadian 2nd Special Service Force (whose honors and lineage flowed in 1995 to a mechanized brigade as one of the endless rounds of Canadian defense cuts took place). Canada disbanded the 2nd SSF because their defense establishment thought general purpose forces were all they needed — or could afford. The new century has changed that, and Canada again has a robust special operations capability — that interoperates seamlessly, on NATO or other combined missions, with US and other forces.

File:Flag of Canada.svg

Canada is an amazing nation, at once a very small country and a very large one — in population and in area, respectively. It has radically different politics and political institutions from its continental neighbor, stemming in part from its loyalty at the time of the American War of Independence, in part from being the destination of displaced Loyalist refugees from the States, in part from its long adherence to the Crown and its ties to British institutions, and in part from its own unique cultural inheritance. To be Canadian is, I fear, to be born to a love-hate relationship with the States. Most Canadians live near the US border and are in the beaten zone of the US media culture. We are so close, and so many, and so loud, that it’s got to be a bit like being the kid with the notorious big brother on the first day of school.

Canada might be small compared to the US, but it’s an economic powerhouse, tightly integrated in the US economy. Once, Canada had a large, first-world military to match. It seems impossible, but there are living men who flew jets from the decks of Canadian aircraft carriers. Canada once built its own jets, and even designed some of its own small arms (sometime I’ll do a post about the remarkable Ross rifles). Over time, Canadians have valued social programs more than defense, and their leaders chose to spend money on quality people over quantity or people or hardware. In this, they showed a natural instinct for the Special Operations Truths, particularly the most important: Humans are more important than hardware. 

So Canadian forces may be few, but they are first-class professionals. (It’s not like human-wave attacks have ever been a key to Canadian military culture). The Canadian Forces have gradually modernized their small arms from weapons of generally 1950s British pattern, to weapons of generally modern US pattern. In Afghanistan they’ve deployed these weapons with skill and élan.

Of course, to do this they need weapons men of their own, and a retired Canadian weapons man has a website where you can learn about the Canadian weapons and the experts who maintain and repair them. His site includes a great poster of the major and many minor small arms used by Canadian Forces. And if it’s more official content you are looking for, the Canadian equivalent of our Ordnance Branch has a website here. There’s an interesting branch magazine — last updated over a year ago, maybe more of those Canadian austerities — and other material there.

So, today’s a good day — Canada Day — for Canadians and their admirers worldwide to run up the Maple Leaf (or a Red Ensign, if you’re a traditionalist) and drink a toast to a unique country and the men that keep it and its citizens safe.


11 thoughts on “Shout out to our nearest ally…

  1. oberndorfer

    Fondly remember the Canadians and their airbases in SW Germany at Soellingen and Lahr before the pullout in 1993.
    Now Canada is preparing to terminate even her token appearance as guests of USAF Europe Ramstein and Spangdahlem (and 81st Fighter Squadron with their A10 will leave, too).
    The good news:
    …sometime I’ll do a post about the remarkable Ross rifles…

    1. Hognose Post author

      We captured a Ross in an arms cache in Afghanistan. Quite a remarkable discovery there. If only it could speak?
      Where is your site, then,so our readers can check it out? OK if it’s in German, we’re not the usual monoglot US demographic here.

      Two things are driving the withdrawal from Mitteleuropa: 1, belief that the US presence is not needed after decades of international peace on a continent largely defined by wars, and 2, the US, like the EU, is running out of money. We have promised pension benefits and welfare benefits we can’t pay, and like Europe we’ll suck as much money as possible out of defense before we face that.

      The Canadian Forces are very small. Once, Canada had her own small arms development arsenal, designed her own fighter jets, and had her own aircraft carriers. Now they send a token, very professional but shabbily equipped, force to interoperate with US and NATO. They’re on their way to Luxembourg’s symbolic one-battalion Army.

    1. Hognose Post author

      We should probably take it outside this thanks-to-Canada thread. It is interesting that arms design and development has been located in specific cities and regions. The firearms industry tended to set up where power was, which in the 19th Century meant near a fast-flowing river. And the plants tended to set up near one another and poach each others’ workers.

      I now realize YOU were responding to OUR reference to Ross rifles. A great rifle that was given an undeservedly bad reputation.
      There is an excellent interpretive center/museum built, I believe entirely by Canadian efforts, at Juno Beach in Normandy. It is staffed by young Canadians who are bilingual French/English and they have some German speakers as well. Juno of course is where the Canadians hit the beach.

  2. Mike

    Hognose, so the thousands have Canadians who have served, fought and died in Afghanistan were just a mere token force?

    Shabbily equipped? How so? The Canadian Forces may not have thousands of tanks, and jets, etc But I wouldn’t call it shabby at all.

    How is the Canadian Forces even close to being on it’s way to a symbolic one battalion Army?

    1. Hognose Post author

      Compared to what Canada has done in the past, it is a token force. Not to disparage the patriotism and valor of those Canadians who serve!

      As far as shabbily equipped, that needs definition CF ground forces have state of the art infantry equipment — for 1988 or so. JTF2 is different, their gear is world class. We love Canadians, we just hate to see so few of them having to “do more with less.” The problem is not in CF but, shall we say, elsewhere. Indeed among people in Ottawa who don’t wear uniforms.

    2. Hognose Post author

      Oh, and re:”How is the Canadian Forces even close to being on it’s way to a symbolic one battalion Army?”

      I didn’t say they were there yet. Just look at the trendline, though.

  3. Ryan Redgrave

    Enjoyed the post. Interestingly, in Canada the Ross rifle seems to get a lot of flack in the history books. I remember being taught about it in school.

    You briefly mentioned JTF2. Any comments on that units quality beyond gear? In your opinion is training, ammunition allotment etc. comparable to american/NATO equivalent units?

    1. Hognose Post author

      It is possible to assemble the M10 or MKIII Ross in a way which is unsafe to fire. IF you turn the bolt head the wrong way while reassembling the gun, it will not go into battery and when you fire, the cartridge will be about 3/4″ or so outside the chamber. The bolt has been known to leave the rifle and lodge in the firer’s cheekbone. That’s the most serious problem with the Ross (the 1905 or Mk II series rifles do not have this problem). Later, they used a riveted sleeve to prevent improper assembly.

      The Canadian problem in WWI was a little different. The Ross is a precision rifle that must be kept clean to be kept working. Thats one reason they were so well-regarded on the accuracy front, but the flip side is a few grains of sand or a daub of mud and the interrupted-screw locking lugs won’t close.

      The less said about JTF2 and its equivalents the better, but it is fully integrated on peer level with US, UK and other forces. It has some unique capabilities and depths, is equipped with world-class stuff, and has been supported (financially/organizationally) by the last several Canadian governments, without regard to political parties. (Now, that’s “supported,” the parties may differ on “unleashed.”)

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