Please note that this article, was originally published in 2006.
If the Yanks went to war with the Brits in the 1920s, American troops would have tried to invade Sudbury from northern Michigan
Canada and the United States have been economic and military allies for most of the 20th century, notwithstanding the bad chemistry between our leaders from time to time. Hopefully Prime Minister Stephen Harper will be able to soon repair the damage in relations caused by the Paul Martin Liberals.
However, throughout much of American history, many influential politicians were firmly committed to the expansionist ideology of Manifest Destiny. This is the belief that the United States has an “inherent, natural and inevitable right” to annex all of North America.
So it should not be a huge surprise to learn that the United States military had prepared a Joint Army and Navy Basic War Plan to invade Canada in the late 1920s, and updated it in 1935. The document called War Plan Red was declassified in 1974. However, the story resurfaced a short time ago in a Washington Post (Dec.30, 2005) article by journalist Peter Carlson headlined Raiding the Icebox; Behind Its Warm Front, the United States Made Cold Calculations to Subdue Canada.
The article mentioned Sudbury’s strategic nickel mines and quoted Mayor David Courtemanche. He said he was unaware of the historical plan.
In the War Plan Red document Americans are code named Blue, Canadians are referred to as Crimson, and the British are Red. First the Americans would seize the port of Halifax, using chemical weapons if necessary, to ensure that our British allies would not be able to send reinforcements for a counter attack.
Blue invasion forces would then attack from Vermont to capture Montreal, Quebec City and presumably Ottawa–even though the capital is not mentioned in the war plan– as well as funnel forces through the Niagara region to secure the important hydro facilities and quickly capture the country’s most significant manufacturing and munitions industries.
Winnipeg, a strategic railroad centre, would be taken by troops coming up from North Dakota, thus splitting the country in half, while Pacific ports would be captured by navy units out of Washington State. The Canadian Great Lakes ports would also be secured by the American navy.
The most interesting part of the plan is the emphasis on capturing Sudbury’s vital nickel deposits which are mentioned several times throughout the plan. The invasion route through Sault Ste. Marie was focused on quickly securing the Sudbury Basin.
The War Plan Red stated, “Unless nickel can be obtained from the Sudbury mines, a serious shortage in that important warmaking material will develop in Blue within a few months after the war begins.”
Americans would invade from Sault
A supplemental document War Plan Red states, “The best route of approach to the Sudbury area, about 200 miles east of the Sault, is obviously via Sault Ste. Marie, along the north shore of the North Channel.
An operation along this route automatically covers the Sault. The Canadian Pacific railroad and one good gravel road leads east from the Sault. These provide ample facilities for supply of the probable force required. The southern flank of this line is protected by
North Sound and the north flank by rough heavily wooded terrain entirely devoid of roads or other communications suitable for the movement of armed forces.”
Laurentian University professor Matt Bray said by email, “I was amused to see this story in The Washington Post. “The existence of this American plan of invasion of Canada has been known for some time. Obviously for Sudburians the intriguing part is the reference to the need to get control of our nickel resources.”
Bray continues, “From a military defensive point of view, however, this objective made good strategic sense, as at the time nickel was one of the few vital resources that Canada possessed and the U.S. did not. Between them, Inco and Falconbridge controlled well over 90 percent of the world supply of nickel, and its military value had been more than demonstrated during World War I.”
War Plan Red states, “The world production of nickel in 1933 was about 50,736 tons, of which about 82 percent originated in the Sudbury district, north of Georgian Bay in Ontario. The remainder came chiefly from New Caledonia (France). A new deposit of nickel was recently discovered in northern Saskatchewan but has not yet been worked.
Nickel is necessary to industry and indispensable in war. Control of the Sudbury mines, in case of war, is therefore of vital importance.” Professor Floyd Rudmin is the author of Bordering on Aggression: Evidence of U.S.
Military Preparations Against Canada, a 1993 book that chronicles a long history of American efforts to invade Canada, some plans dating from 1880s and, of course, the
rumours of possible military intervention during the 1980 Quebec referendum. Rudmin is a Canadian teaching in Norway. He is a professor of social psychology at the University of Tromsø.
Reached while he was visiting family Kingston recently, Rudmin said, “I think the War Plan Red document presumed that American efforts to become more competitive in global markets during the hard economic times would lead to conflict with Great Britain and to the opportunity to conquer Canada. The plan also states that the fundamental reason for the United States to resort to armed conflict is to expand commerce and acquire unfettered access to natural resources.
“For most Canadians and Americans, it is unbelievable, ridiculous, impossible to imagine, that the U.S. military would ever invade Canada. My intention in writing Bordering on Aggression was to persuade Canadian and American readers that U.S. military planning is still out of control, and it is reasonable and prudent for citizens and politicians on both sides of the border to examine seriously what is going on within U.S. military planning generally.”
Capturing Sudbury not easy
Our American neighbours knew subduing the Sudbury Basin would not be that easy and they were also concerned about potential sabotage.
The War Plan Red states, “The importance of the Sudbury nickel mines has been indicated. Their distance from vital Crimson areas, and comparative inaccessibility from logical Blue concentration areas, tend to make their early capture impracticable.
Rather than have them fall into the hands of Blue, Crimson probably would render them
unworkable. Blue may be able to prevent the delivery of their output by the enemy, and eventually capture them, if successful in other Crimson operations.”
The ultimate goal of War Plan Red was to gain complete control of the country and incorporate it into the United States – a possible fulfillment of Manifest Destiny!
However, Canadians should not become too smug and sanctimonious about War Plan Red, as we also had an invasion plan that preceded the Americans.
Bray says, “The Americans seem to have been ‘Johnney-Come-Latelys’ with respect to their invasion of Canada plans. In the early 1920s, the director of military operations and intelligence in the Canadian Army, a man by the name of Colonel (later Brigadier-General) James Sutherland ‘Buster’ Brown, devised a plan for Canada to launch a preemptive strike against the United States.”
Apparently, Brown and other senior military officials regularly undertook spying missions in the United States looking for weaknesses in their border defenses. These plans were regularly updated until 1928 when Andrew McNaughton became Canadian chief of general staff and stopped the spying missions. However, many feel that technically the invasion plans stayed on the books well into the 1930s.
The Second World War, the Korean Conflict, the Cold War arms build up, the post-war industrial expansion, the space race and Vietnam War all greatly depended on Sudbury’s vital supplies of nickel, at various times supplying up to 90 percent of western demand.
Today, the Sudbury Basin produces about 15 percent of global nickel supplies. The metal is used in about 300,000 different products. The vast majority are for non-military applications and the region is still the richest mining district in North America and among the Top 10 most significant globally.
However, we must never forget the enormous strategic military role Sudbury has played in the past. This tiny little speck of geography has had a disproportionate impact on the industrial and military history for much of the 20th century.
Stan Sudol is a Toronto-based communications consultant and freelance mining columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]