Thursday, April 6, 2017

War Plan Red: The U.S. Plan to Invade Canada


History is littered with plans that, had they been executed, would have changed the world into something unrecognizable today. How different would the world have been if, say, a giant dam had been built across the Straits of Gibraltar? Or if Churchill’s plan to attack Stalin’s forces in Europe actually been executed?

One such plan was concocted here in the US, nine years before World War II. America was a rising industrial power. This burgeoning power put it at odds with the large, well established nations of the world, including the mighty British Empire. Americans had long harbored a sense of resentment toward their former colonial rulers, and the British weren’t always exactly fond of the upstarts who managed to successfully rebel against their control. This did not stop the two powers from cooperating against the Central powers in WWI, but in the wake of the bloodiest war in history up to that point, old resentments began to surface. Britain owed the U.S. a substantial war debt, a fact that didn’t sit well with either side. Besides that, in the 1930s the Nazi influence in Europe was growing, and Nazi sympathizers were gaining traction in the US, causing even more tensions between the two world powers.

It was during this climate of tension when U.S. officials drew up several war contingency plans, including one against their most dangerous enemy, dubbed the Red Empire: the British Empire. Dubbed Plan Red, it would have entailed nothing short of a global war that would have brought Britain to her knees and expanded U.S. territory into Canada.

A Devastating Attack

The primary focus of War Plan Red was America’s northern neighbor. Part of the British Commonwealth, Canada would have been a springboard for British troops to invade the U.S. heartland. So, taking Canada would have disabled any British land response, with the added bonus of disrupting English shipping. The war would have turned into a naval battle, which despite Britain’s much vaunted navy would have likely turned in the American’s favor due to the fact that England’s navy was spread thin over the world, trying to defend its trade routes. A strong blockade of the British Isles might have succeeded in bringing the empire to its knees.

Most of the plan, though, seemed to focus on destroying Canada. The attack would have been a multi-pronged offensive against several key targets. The plan called for occupying Halifax, Nova Scotia after a poison gas strike. Strikes on Montreal and Quebec, out of New York and Vermont, respectively, would cut off the rest of Canada from its eastern seaboard. Simultaneous attacks from Buffalo across the Niagara river, from Detroit into Ontario, and from Sault Ste. Marie into Sudbury would disable the area around the Great Lakes and grab control of the Canadian industrial heartland, while simultaneously protecting America’s industrial heartland from British air attacks. American forces striking out of Grand Forks, North Dakota would take Winnipeg, a key railroad nexus. Finally, a American forces moving out of Washington state could take Vancouver and cut off Canada from support from Britain’s Pacific Fleet.

There was enough enthusiasm for the plan among American officials, military and civilian alike, that early steps at implementation were made. Charles Lindbergh, famous pilot and Nazi sympathizer, was sent as a spy to the Hudson Bay region to investigate how feasible the possibility of using sea planes for the war effort would be. Four years later,  Congress earmarked $57 million to build three secret airfields on the US side of the Canadian border. The airfields were concealed by grassing over their landing strips.

 The Plan Is Abandoned

Despite the extreme secrecy surrounding War Plan Red, Lieutenant James “Buster” Sutherland Brown was appointed Director of Military Operations and Intelligence in Ottawa, and tasked with concocting a plan to counter U.S. aggression. His plans were dubbed Defense Scheme No.1″ The plan involved lightning attacks into key targets in the northern sections of America, including New York and Seattle. These attacks were meant to be distractions to buy time for British forces to reinforce Canada. The plan was abandoned in 1930, soon after War Plan Red was officially adopted in the U.S., as Canadian officials believed that a war with America was unwinnable.


Despite the preparations for war, the U.S. never came any closer to implementing War Plan Red. On June 15, 1939, U.S. officials quietly stopped actively planning for war with Canada, but the plans were retained regardless. Events in Europe and elsewhere soon shifted the relationship between the two powers. Hitler invaded Poland in 1939, plunging Europe into war once again. Americans were initially unwilling to join another European conflict, but soon the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor trusted the U.S. into world events, bringing the Americans into the war on the side of Britain and her allies, beginning an alliance between the two nations that remains until today.

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