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Curtis Eriksmoen, Published August 15 2010

Eriksmoen: Plans for Canadian invasion existed until 1939

Between the two world wars, both Canada and the U.S. developed plans to invade each other, and much of the fighting would have involved military forces in North Dakota and south-central Canada.

Part of the Canadian plan called for an attack at Great Falls, Mont., and the soldiers would then push east through North Dakota, eventually attacking Minneapolis.

Part of the American plan called for an offensive from Grand Forks; U.S. troops would capture Winnipeg, the “central nexus of the Canadian rail system, which connected the country.” There was no ill will between the two countries, but because Canada was still a dominion of Great Britain, suspicions existed between the U.S. and Canada.

Most of the U.S. distrust stemmed from the fact that Britain had formed a strategic alliance with Japan in 1902, and Japan was rapidly becoming aggressive, seizing Korea and Taiwan and launching attacks on China and Russia.

After World War I, the U.S. drew up plans to address possible threats. In 1919, Col. Clarence O. Sherrill, chief engineer of the Construction Corps, prepared a plan for the War Department that he believed would safeguard the border between the U.S. and Canada. On June 14, he wrote, “It is recognized that the defense of the Canadian frontier will in general be best accomplished by mobile troops and an aggressive offensive action.”

Sherrill reasoned that giant mobile railroad cannons could be used on the Great Northern Railroad if an attack appeared imminent. These 16-inch cannons could fire 2-ton shells over a distance of more than 20 miles.

Sherrill’s border plan covered only the far-western regions of North Dakota and eastern Montana. Improvements on the plan eventually fell on Col. R.T. Ward, head of the Kansas City District. He expanded the boundary line of defense from the Great Lakes to the Continental Divide. Ward also felt that aggressive action might have merit and that the U.S. needed to consider seizing Winnipeg. On Sept. 23, 1919, Ward’s report was accepted by Sherrill.

When information leaked out that the U.S. might be considering a preemptive attack on Canada, on April 12, 1921, Canada created a plan for a surprise counterattack on the northern U.S. as soon as evidence was received of an impending American invasion on their country. The person who created the strategy, called “Defense Scheme Number 1,” was Lt. Col. James “Buster” Sutherland Brown, Canadian director of military operations and intelligence.

The plan called for western Canadian troops to seize Seattle and for prairie forces to attack Great Falls and immediately proceed east across North Dakota to Minneapolis. Eastern Canadian forces would seize Albany, N.Y., and attack Maine. There was also a plan to launch counterattacks on the Niagara River in New York. Realizing that they would not be able to defeat the U.S. in a war, the Canadian troops would retreat across the border, destroying bridges and railways along the way, and wait for Great Britain to come to their assistance. This plan remained in effect until 1928 when it was terminated.

During the 1920s, the U.S. Army developed what they called the “Atlantic Strategic War Plan,” better known as “War Plan Red.” It was approved in May 1930 by the secretaries of War and Navy and updated early in 1935. The U.S. feared Britain would use Canada as a staging point before attacking. If this scenario appeared likely, the U.S. would invade Canada along three fronts: eastern Canada from Vermont, Winnipeg from North Dakota and key industries in Ontario from Buffalo, Detroit and Sault Sainte Marie, Mich. The U.S. Navy would then seize the Great Lakes and blockade Canada’s Pacific and Atlantic ports.

In eastern Canada, the U.S. would launch a poison gas strike on Halifax. By occupying this important Atlantic port city, the U.S. would be able to cut off reinforcement links from Britain. If this failed, we would then concentrate on taking New Brunswick. The U.S. would also attack Montreal and Quebec City, which would prevent enemy troops from moving in any direction.

Seizing Winnipeg would sever transportation, preventing people and supplies from moving across the country. From Midwestern cities, the U.S. planned to take Toronto, Canada’s industrial center, and to seize Canada’s power plants at Niagara Falls. This would also prevent Britain and Canada from using air or land strikes against the U.S. heartland.

In 1939, when it became apparent that we need not fear an attack from Britain, “War Plan Red” was officially withdrawn and replaced by plans to deal with more logical threats coming from Germany, Italy, and Japan. “War Plan Red” was declassified in 1974.


“Did You Know That” is written by Curt Eriksmoen and edited by Jan Eriksmoen of Fargo. Send your suggestions for columns, comments or corrections to the Eriksmoens at cjeriksmoen@cableone.net.