What Would Happen in the Minutes and Hours After the US Invaded Canada?


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What If

What Would Happen in the Minutes and Hours After the US Invaded Canada?

Here’s a play-by-play of the unthinkable.

We're living in interesting times, folks. Some may say they're tense times or scary times while others would classify them as exciting and hopeful. No matter your disposition, the one thing you can't dispute the fact they're interesting.

At lot of people never thought the United Kingdom would leave the EU and likewise about a reality star being elected leader of the free world. It feels like nothing is concrete anymore. Not even the things we hold hold as modern day gospel, such as the airtight economic, cultural and military relationship between Canada and the United States.


But while we all take this strong relationship for granted, it wasn't always as good as gold. The US has invaded Canada on several occasions—albeit back when Canada was still a British colony. In the 1920s and 30s the United States even had a contingency plan to invade Canada and, tucked away in a dusty corner of the Pentagon, they almost certainly still do.

The thing is, now, America's new commander-in-chief is a little, shall we say, unpredictable. One can't help but wonder about the worst-case scenario. There's never been a better time to think about what exactly would happen if the United States decided it needed to invade and conquer Canada.

To answer this question I got in touch with Dr. Howard Coombs, a fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute and Assistant Professor at the Royal Military College of Canada with a doctorate in Canadian military history. During Coombs' service he was awarded the Order of Military Merit and the Canadian Forces Medallion for Distinguished Service.

To start, Coombs said, we have have to look at some cold hard facts about the difference in military might between these two nations.

The Canadian armed forces are woefully small and ill equipped compared to the United States.

The 60,000 or so regular Canadian force is a pittance compared to the 1,400,000 or so in the United States and that's not even bringing in the reserve (20,000 for Canada, 800,000 for America) or technology and weapons into it. Canada has around 120 tanks to America's 8,850. Canada has under 100 active military aircrafts compared to the 13,000 or so military aircraft in the States (I won't even bother comparing the CF-18 to what the Americans have.) The Canadian military budget sits somewhere at somewhere near the $18 billion whereas the US's is over $700 billion, which is, well, a little different.


Need I go on? Sure, I will.

In terms of naval might, Canada has around 30 ships (half of which are being repaired) compared to the 430 American ships in active service or reserve. In terms of the greatest equalizer, nuclear weapons, well, it's bad. Canada has not maintained nuclear capability since the late 80s and the States have 6,970 which is enough to pretty much wipe out every living life form on this planet.

Yet another thing working against Canada is the fact the US is considered a very close partner, so if they started amassing on the border and explained it away as a military exercise Canada would, most likely, accept it as true. The great white north wouldn't see this coming and be without a well known and practiced contingency plan.

Frankly, Canada's biggest military advantage for the last century has been our close friendship and proximity to the United States.

In terms of planning, well, a significant amount of time would go into the particulars of the attack on the American side, said Coombs, it would be planned for months if not years. The attack would be quick, surgical and attempt to have as little bloodshed/casualties as possible.

"Strategically, it's about paralyzing an entire country," said Coombs. "It's not about killing a civilian population, it's about bringing a country and their capability to their knees."

When the trigger is finally pulled, the first thing Canadians would feel wouldn't be the shockwave or heat of an explosion but simple annoyance. Across the country, Canucks would look at their phones and wonder why our tweets won't post and our calls just dropped. The reason for this annoyance would be that an extremely sophisticated telecommunications attack was just deployed—something Canada doesn't have the capability to defend against, according to Coomb.


This is when the American troops, most likely made up of highly trained special-ops forces, would begin to move simultaneously from their positions on the borders.

"The way militaries work with high readiness units, you could mount those units and have them cross the border in a heartbeat," said Coombs. "They would be seizing key population centres, key transportation and communications hub, things that enable all the different systems that allow the country to go."

In terms of the direction of the movement and deployment Coombs estimates that the plan of deployment would follow very closely to a plan laid out in the 20s and 30s of a US invasion of Canada made in anticipation for a war with Britain called War Plan Red.

"The plans that the US made, they still have validity today, it's about seizing population centres, transport hubs, paralyzing the country," said Coombs. "Most of those areas are still the same for us."

"They would update it of course, but it wouldn't look all that different."

So looking at this plan we can see the direction the troops would move into the Great White North on three fronts.

On the east coast, troops would move into Halifax and New Brunswick. The troops would land by sea via St. Margaret's bay (a bay on the south side of the province near Halifax) rather than going overland. In the original plan, it was to was kick off with a poison gas attack on Halifax because of Canada's eastern navy (Yankees don't fuck around) to stun the province but, modern day, there is a high likelihood that wouldn't happen as casualties would want to be kept at a minimum. On the same front, troops would move into Quebec from Albany, NY and Vermont to occupy Montreal and Quebec City.


If the seizures of both Quebec and the Maritimes went well it would cut off Canada from the Atlantic and block off key entry points for a counter-invasion from another country.

In British Columbia, troops would move en route to Victoria naval bases from Washington State (possibly Port Angles) while also moving into Vancouver. This seizure would cut Canada off from the Pacific. Further east, troops would also move in Manitoba for Winnipeg from Grand Forks, North Dakota to disrupt the railway and transportation systems there.

Finally, in Ontario, troops would spring from Buffalo across the Niagara River, from Detroit into Windsor (America can have it though, amiright?) and Sault Ste. Marie (the Michigan one) into Sudbury for control of the Great Lakes regions. While moving through southern Canada, troops would be compromising communication infrastructure and seizing key political figures (mainly military) like the Chief of Defence.

Toronto likely would be left alone and, because it's Toronto, the citizens probably wouldn't notice anything was out of the regular until they received their American drivers license. They would also probably be awfully upset they were left out.

Fortunately, there was also a Canadian counter-plan created in case of a US invasion during the same time period as War Plan Red, called Defence Scheme No. 1 (the Canadian military is apparently not that creative with naming battle plans), which would involve a pre-emptive strike on the States. At the time it was described as "suicidal," a sentiment that's only grown with the growing disparity between the two countries' armed forces.


"A pre-emptive strike of that nature just wouldn't work," said Coombs. "It would be completely out of the question. The people who did it would be a speed bump on the path of the US Army."

In terms of the question about, say, Toronto getting nuked, well, we most likely wouldn't have to worry about it. If nuclear weapons were to be used it would most likely be to take out strategic military areas, like the Cold Lake Air Base, but the likelihood of a nuclear strike is extremely low. As said earlier, the attack would attempt to have as little casualties as possible so as not to alienate the Canadian population.

Another major part of the plan would be to isolate the military bases from communication. This, according to Coombs, would be accomplished by swift movement and a display of air support.

"If they were to isolate the key parts of the military, the national defence headquarters, the chief of defence staff, those types of things, there are no leaders except in the location where there are military forces are and they will be reluctant to start moving and acting with a complete lack of information," said Coombs. "It would take days to sort out what happened."

"I would say if this was well planned, it could be done in 24 hours. If we didn't know, they could do a very quick strike simultaneously from east to west coast."

This is where the hypothetical situation splits to two options. If the remaining ranking military leaders at the Canadian Forces bases (CFB's) wised up to what was happening they would have to make a snap decision on whether to remain and, almost certainly, be conquered or to become decentralized and fight.


"The smartest thing to do, based on experience, would be to allow everything to become very decentralized, create some command and control capacity that you could do in a guerrilla and insurgency fashion, allow decentralized weapons caches, things like that and allow very loose resistance," said Coombs.

"In the end, if you're the insurgent all you have to do is not lose. Just outlast your enemy… That's the only way a Canadian resistance would be triumphant."

Yes, this is the plotline for Red Dawn.

To become decentralized, the forces would have to make it to a population centre and blend in, which would be difficult for many bases as they would have to travel a far distance. The Edmonton and Valcartier [outside of Quebec city] bases would be able to disperse and disguise themselves but the majority would have to travel significant distances—making it easy for US air surveillance to monitor them.

Many Canadian forces would have to risk a Highway of Death situation attempting to make it to population centres. CFB Petawawa for example, which houses 4,655 regular military personnel, is two hours outside of Ottawa with a major highway connecting the two. That seems like a small amount of travel time until you factor in how fast military planes and unmanned drones can travel.

The Highway of Death in Kuwait where American and Canadian aircraft and ground forces attacked retreating Iraqi military personnel. Public domain photo.

If Canuck troops were actually able to get to major cities quick enough and blend into the population then the Canadian insurgency could conduct low impact fighting with the enemy. The goal of the fighting would be small attacks which put the Americans in a situation where they could possibly alienate the population with civilian casualties. Coombs said the fighting would be very similar to what was seen in Iraq in 2003 to 2004.


However, barring a Canadian insurgency, after that initial 24 hours, Canada would be conquered, surrender would be imminent and the US would quickly attempt to co-opt the Canadian military. Over time provinces would become US states and Canadian identity (L O L) would be swallowed up even more by the American machine.

Get ready for Nascar and a return to the imperial system folks but, hey, on the bright side we'd get HBO Go.

If the US was content with merely annexing Canada and weren't conducting mass killings or any other nightmarish action while making it clear they weren't interested in taking more territory, well, there really would be no humanitarian or strategic reasons to intervene. Sure, Russia would be upset about the Arctic and the UK livid about losing their Commonwealth buddy but, most likely, there would simply be finger waving and possibly some sanctions with no one making the decision to whole-heartedly intervene.

"The United States is our closest trading partner and our closest military partner so if they were going to become the aggressor there would be no groundswell from the rest of the world to come to Canada's aid," said Coombs.

Even if they did, the idea of crossing the oceans to wage war with one of the world's superpowers from a strategically poor position over lil' ol' Canada isn't an appetizing one.

"Let's face it, the people that would support us, it's too hard to do. How could they project sustainable force to the United States?"

God, I hope this article doesn't give anyone ideas.

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