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

Melissa 19
canada-usA time-honored tradition in the U.S. military, contingency plans have been drawn up for the defense against, and invasion of, most major military powers. In fact, in response to recent events on the Korean peninsula, the U.S. and South Korea recently signed on to such a plan. One of the most interesting episodes in this rich history of preparing for things that will probably never happen came when Uncle Sam planned to invade Johnny Canuck.

Early Planning

In the years leading up to World War II, beginning in fact in the 1920s, the army began planning for wars with a variety of countries, designating each plan by a different color: Germany (black), Japan (orange), Mexico (green) and England (red); as a dominion of Great Britain, Canada (crimson) was presumed to be loyal to England, and thus was included in the plan against a supposed British invasion (not to be confused with that of the 1960s).

The paranoid U.S. military strategists who devised War Plan Red believed that if the Britain and America were to battle again, it would begin from a trade dispute. Whatever the cause, army planners anticipated that any war with England would be prolonged, not only because of British and Canadian tenacity, but also from the fact that Britain could draw manpower and resources from its empire, including at that time Australia, Hong Kong, India, Kenya, New Zealand, Nigeria, Palestine, South Africa and Sudan.

Canadian Invasion Plan

Different versions of the plan were proposed, and one was first approved in 1930 by the War Department. It was updated in 1934-1935, and, of course, never implemented. Although it was far reaching and addressed some of Britain’s greatest strengths, such as the Royal Navy, one of the chief areas of concern was the U.S.’s long border with Canada. As a result, the plan addressed our northern neighbors with great detail, to wit:

British Columbia

With its vital naval base, military strategists planned a naval attack on Victoria, launched from Port Angeles, Washington, as well as a combined assault on Vancouver and its island. Successful occupation of this area would effectively cut off Canada from the Pacific.

Manitoba

The central hub for the Canadian railway system was located in Manitoba’s capital city, Winnipeg; army strategists felt that a land assault could easily be launched from Grand Forks, North Dakota, and Canada’s rail lines neutralized.

New Brunswick and Nova Scotia

Military planners apparently hoped to stun the Maritime Provinces with a poison gas attack on Nova Scotia’s capital city, Halifax, then also home to a major naval base. The chemical battle would then be followed by a sea invasion at St. Margaret’s Bay. It that didn’t work, an overland invasion and occupation of New Brunswick would, hopefully, isolate the valuable seaports of Nova Scotia from the remainder of Canada, effectively stopping British resupply of its forces.

Ontario

A three-pronged attack, arising from Buffalo, Detroit and Sault Ste. Marie would gain control of the Great Lakes for the U.S. In addition to causing a crushing blow to British supply lines, it would allow the United States to control most of Canada’s industrial production.

Quebec

An overland attack launching from adjacent New York and Vermont was planned. Control of this French-speaking province would, when combined with control of the Maritime Provinces, stop Britain from having any entry point to the remainder of the country from the Eastern seaboard.

Revelation of the Plan

Although it was declassified in 1974, portions of the plan were inadvertently leaked long before. During what was supposed to be classified testimony by military brass to the House Military Affairs Committee, two generals revealed some of the details of War Plan Red. That testimony was mistakenly published in official reports, which were picked up and printed by the New York Times.

Also revealed in the New York Times was the fact that the United States Congress had assigned $57 million in 1935 (nearly $1 billion today) in order to build three air bases near the U.S./Canadian border in line with War Plan Red’s recommendations, in case the U.S. needed to defend against or attack Canada.  These air bases were supposed to be disguised as civilian airports, but the Government Printing Office accidentally reported the existence of the air bases on May 1 of 1935, blowing their cover.

Interestingly, War Plan Red’s recommendations also proposed that the U.S. not just invade in such a war with Britain and Canada, but take over, adding any conquered regions as states to the United States.

The Sad History of Americans Invading Canada Badly

Americans have a history of underestimating the Canadians:

Revolutionary War

In September 1775, Benedict Arnold (when he was still on our side) led an unsuccessful assault on Quebec City overland through difficult Maine wilderness; over 40% of Arnold’s men were lost making the attempt, and yet, inexplicably, he was promoted to Brigadier General.

War of 1812

During the second war with Britain, Thomas Jefferson opined that to occupy Canada was a “mere matter of marching” for U.S. troops. Yet attacks in the Old Northwest, across the Niagara River, and north from Lake Champlain, all failed.

Proxy “War” for Ireland

Over a period of five years from 1866 to 1872, Irish Catholics from the U.S. engaged in a series of raids on Canadian targets, including forts and customs houses. Known as the Fenian raids, the Fenian Brotherhood had hoped that their actions would force the British to withdraw from Ireland. They were unsuccessful.

Post Cold War

In 1995, Michael Moore created a fictional war between the United States and Canada in the comedy, Canadian Bacon. Like the real-life Americans who went before them, the fictional invasion in this farcical political commentary failed.

What Comes Around Goes Around

Before you get the idea that only Americans are aggressive bastards, you should know that the Canadians had developed a plan to invade the United States before the U.S. ever started on its scheme.

Characterized as a counterattack, the 1921 plan more accurately resembles a preemptive war. The brainchild of Lieutenant Colonel Buster Sutherland Brown of the Canadian Army, the plan called for a surprise attack on the U.S. as soon as the Canadians had “evidence” that America was planning an invasion; it was felt that a preemptive strike was required, as it would be the only way Canada could prevail in a battle with its larger, southern neighbor, which benefited from a far greater arsenal and much more manpower.

Other advantages of the quick strike included the fact that the war would be fought on American territory, so losses in civilian life and infrastructure would be borne by the Americans. Finally, the colonel thought this plan would best buy the Canadians time for their allies, the British, to come to their rescue before the Americans could launch an effective counterstrike.

It’s always the quiet ones.

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19 Comments »

  1. Heisenberg July 1, 2013 at 8:05 am - Reply

    You forgot about the Canadian invasion that resulted in a burnt down White House. Kids in US Schools aren’t taught that part of history.

    • Daven Hiskey
      Daven Hiskey July 1, 2013 at 1:48 pm - Reply

      @Heisenberg: That will make an interesting future article. :-)

    • ramachandran,India July 3, 2013 at 3:30 am - Reply

      I remember reading about the White House which was originally grey in color. After the British invasion in 1814 the White House was burned badly and to cover the burn marks it was repainted white.

  2. Nik July 1, 2013 at 10:02 am - Reply

    Vancouver and its island? Your link takes you to Buffalo NY… And a search of the real city doesn’t show any islands, except maybe Granville Island, which is more of a peninsula than an island.

    • Daven Hiskey
      Daven Hiskey July 1, 2013 at 1:47 pm - Reply

      @Nik: Vancouver Island is just off the coast. Vancouver island is the largest island in the Pacific east of New Zealand. Vancouver B.C., Vancouver Island, Vancouver Wa, Fort Vancouver (in the Hudson Bay), Vancouver Peninsula (Australia), Mount Vancouver (in Canada), Vancouver Arm (New Zealand), and the Vancouver Maritime Museum were named after British Captain George Vancouver who helped chart the Pacific Coast all the way up into Alaska, starting from Britain and sailing along to Australia, exploring there, and then up to China and then over to the Pacific Coast of North America.

      Once back in England, he was assaulted several times by a former crewmate who was unhappy with Vancouver’s punishment of him during the voyage. That crewman was also well connected and got Vancouver vilified in the media. Within a few years of returning, Vancouver died at just 40 years old.

  3. Sandy Sansing July 1, 2013 at 2:52 pm - Reply

    “…in response to recent events on the Korean peninsula, the U.S. and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea recently signed on to such a plan.”
    I doubt it–the DPRK is also known as North Korea. I think you meant the Republic of Korea, or ROK, which is South Korea.

    • Daven Hiskey
      Daven Hiskey July 1, 2013 at 3:10 pm - Reply

      @Sandy: correct, thanks for catching that :-)

  4. LaVerne Keller July 1, 2013 at 3:05 pm - Reply

    You also forgot about a Richard Roemher novel titled Exoneration, which focused on an attempted U.S. invasion of Canada to take control of our petro resources. In that one the Canadian government and military learn of the U.S. plans and are able to be at the right spot to demolish any attempted landing of U.S. forces on Canadian soil.

  5. Rahul July 2, 2013 at 7:15 am - Reply

    great to know more about u.s history and Yes, i agree it is a interesting future article!! :p

  6. Bill July 2, 2013 at 12:23 pm - Reply

    Not to mention when U.S. citizens invaded Canada in the mid 90′s. During President Alda’s attempt to start a cold war with the cold weathered brothers to the north, a select few citizens overtook selected targets, while shouting slogans like “Surrender pronto or we’ll level Toronto.”
    I myself have never read, or heard of Canadian literature, nor do I understand how they have a threatening lead in Zamboni technology. Like maple syrup Canada’s evil oozes over the United States. We have ways to make them pronounce the letter “O.” They even think us Americans are stupid enough to think the capitol is Ottawa.
    And yeah. They don’t teach 1812 in the U.S. for some odd reason

  7. Helgraffirehammer July 23, 2013 at 6:45 am - Reply

    The Canadians would never invade America, it is those American Mcdonalds eating fatties (no offense) who would invade canada. The Canadians don’t start wars for no reason, but the Americans do whatever they can for a war. Ex: Cold War, Iraqu, Vietnam, And Korea.

    • calvin December 3, 2013 at 11:46 am - Reply

      The Korean war stared when the North Korean Army invaded South Korea in a surprise attack. We certainly didn’t have enough troops on the peninsula to stage an invasion and there were barely enough troops there to keep them from completely pushing the US and South Korean armies into the ocean. The Cold War was a mutual competition between the West and the Soviet Union.

  8. nathan November 12, 2013 at 6:12 am - Reply

    Interesting. Though USA would of had such a force against back then Britain was very powerful and all commonwelth countries was still with Britain. The USA would of had England Scotland Ireland Canada Australia Newzealand Poland India Pakistan south Africa most pacific islanders Denmark support from Germany and France most of Africa even Japan and Russia. Also to mention Britain had a massive Navy back then twice the size of USA and would of smashed USA Navy in battle, Canada would of been able to hold of USA military till the allies came but costly.

  9. nathan November 12, 2013 at 6:37 am - Reply

    Does the USA know that Britain and Australia have plans to invade USA along with Russia and China, If the USA planed to intervene in the falklands dispute with Britain and Argentina. And still remains government policy of Britain today. The Australian SASR along with British and Newzealand special forces will invade from subs cutting all US power and communication lines, and secure air ports British marine’s and regular army will invade from the east Australia and newzealand from the south and Russia and China from the west.

  10. Steve November 13, 2013 at 1:14 pm - Reply

    I want to know which airports were secret airbases.

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