World War I: When Canada Pulled Its Weight And Outperformed The US Army

Second Battle of Ypres by Richard Jack – Public Domain

I respect the US military, but thanks to rampant nationalism, militarism on a grand scale, and ignorance, many Americans actually believe that it was the US that singlehandedly won World War I on the ground and in the air. For the same reasons, many Americans, especially today, believe that Canada has never pulled its weight in the defense of freedom, but I am here to tell you that both are categorically false. During World War I, the much smaller Canadian military outperformed the Americans in many ways and made a huge contribution to victory.

This is the conclusion of Shane B. Schreiber in his 1997 book Shock Army of the British Empire: The Canadian Corps in the Last 100 Days of the Great War. During the last 100 days of the war, the Americans in the Meuse-Argonne had 650,000 troops, whereas elsewhere the Canadian Corps had only 105,000. Yet the Canadians advanced further into enemy territory, 86 miles, versus only 47 miles for the Americans, defeated 47 German divisions, whereas the Americans destroyed 46, inflicted more than double the number of enemy casualties per conquered division, and just as important, the Canadians suffered less than 50% of the casualties the Americans endured (to achieve less). (p. 133)

Regarding these superior results, one Canadian general said: “‘No Canadian need fear a comparison of these figures with the corresponding results obtained by any similar organization, allied of enemy, for I know of no other organization in the history of the war which was able to produce such a high ratio in shell to troops, nor any in which the price paid for victory was lower in personnel.’” (Ibid.) The Australians were fierce and highly skilled soldiers as well, but even they could not match the Canadian fighting record, but neither Canada nor Australia claims to have “won” the war all by themselves, unlike many of their American friends then and now. (p. 18)

The British historian Dennis Winter concluded that General Currie, the Commander of the Canadian Corps, was “‘the most successful allied general and one of the least well known.’” (p. 2) On the other hand, a British officer, Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig, “reported to his superiors as late as October 1918 [a month before the war ended] that ‘the American Army is disorganized, ill-equipped and ill-trained. It must be at least a year before it becomes a serious fighting force’”. (pp. 7-8)

As for airpower, once again the Americans didn’t perform well compared to their Canadian counterparts in the Royal Flying Corps. According to Dan McCaffery’s 1990 book, Air Aces: The Lives and Times of Twelve Canadian Fighter Pilots, “By war’s end, Canada, with a population of only eight million people, had produced four super aces with fifty or more kills each. Germany, by contrast, had three and France and England just two each. The United States had none at all, and the leading American flyer, the much-celebrated Captain Eddie Rickenbacker, wouldn’t have made the top ten on the Canadian ace list.” (p. 3)

I am not saying this to insult the bravery of American soldiers and pilots in World War I, but merely to point out that other countries, like Canada and Australia, also contributed much and were able to prove that small but efficient services can and have outperformed larger ones, like the US Army. These days, Canada is taking a lot of heat for low defense spending, and I agree that needs to be rectified if the West is to survive challenges from Russia and China in future conflicts. But contrary to American propaganda, Canada outperformed the USA in World War I on the battlefield, with far fewer soldiers, pilots, weapons, and war production factories. The little guys should not be disregarded simply because they don’t have the same enormous pro-war mass media that the US does. When it counted, on the battlefield and in the skies above, Canada pulled its weight.


Roger Thompson is a research fellow at Dalhousie University’s Centre for the Study of Security and Development, the author of Lessons Not Learned: The US Navy’s Status Quo Culture, a former researcher at Canada’s National Defence Headquarters and Korea’s first Star Trek professor.