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The Contender
Con (against)
8 Points

Which Significant Power was the most ill-prepared for conflict at the start of WWII

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 3/22/2010 Category: Miscellaneous
Updated: 6 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 1,733 times Debate No: 11502
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (7)
Votes (2)




Greetings to my opponent. Good luck and have fun. : )

World War II ignited spontaneously. A very short arms race was engaged in slightly before Poland was invaded, but the only nations actually ready for a conflict of scale were Germany, Italy and Japan.

Even the mighty Imperial Great Britain was caught off guard and with a poorly equipped Air Force, slightly obsolescant technology on its Naval Fleet and an expeditionaty force that likely wasn't ready for such a conflict (such as the latest asdic on its battleships). (This said, if the French had been able to stand, the English Expeditionary Army, almost 200,000 strong) was strong enough to halt the German Blitzkireg in its tracks, if circumstances had been slightly different...)

However, unlike the mighty UK, France, Netherlands, China, Poland, Norway, Denmark, USA, USSR and Canada were all caught entirely off guard and with little power of significance, initially.

It is my goal to prove that among them and of the most significant powers caught ill prepared, Canada should take the slot.

Canada, throughout the war, fought in various compaigns, including even establishing its own Beachhead at D-Day, campaigning through Normandy and the Scheldt, Holland, Belgium, Italy, escorting and providing the entire brunt of anti U-boat war in the Atlantic for many years and aiding and supplementing fighting in the Pacific and in the bombing campaigns. It may be of great dismay that even though Canada fought so bravely, it spent its first years mobilising, such was its disrepair.

I will prove that the Royal Canadian Navy was the weakest of any power whom fought that significantly, its Army was almost nonexistent, its Air Force was despiccably kept and its technology palled, as it advanced behind that of Great Britain and the US throughout much of the war.

Also, Mackenzie and the Government added their own political turmoil to an already disappointing situation.



First, I'd like to thank my opponent for bearing with me for this debate. This is my first time on this site, but I hope to get some experience arguing this. (And I wouldn't mind any suggestions about format, style, or anything else). I will list all my sources for convenience, because I think a technical topic like this would be more informative with defined facts. I tried to avoid using Wikipedia, as there is some risk of inaccuracy.

The con will defend that the French military was the most unprepared force at the beginning of World War II. The con would like to clearly designate that since at the late years of the 1930's Germany was the clear growing rival to France, France's unpreparedness is exemplified through inadequate defensive organization and weak offensive strategy in the face of this enemy. The con will clarify 3 points.

1. A large amount of military and industrial resources had been invested in the Maginot Line, an investment which would turn out to have extremely low returns.

"What exactly was the Maginot Line?

It was not a continuous line of forts as some believe. [...] The Line comprised of over 500 separate buildings but was dominated by large forts (known as ‘ouvrages') which were built about nine miles from each other. Each ouvrage housed 1000 soldiers with artillery. Between each ouvrage were smaller forts which housed between 200 to 500 men depending on their size [...]

There were 50 ouvrages in total along the German border. [...]

German Army Group B attacked through the Ardennes – such an attack was believed to be impossible by the French. One million men and 1,500 tanks crossed the seemingly impenetrable forests in the Ardennes. The Germans wanted to drive the Allies to the sea. Once the Maginot Line had been isolated it had little military importance and the Germans only turned their attention to it in early June 1940. Many of the ouvrages surrendered after the government signed its surrender with Germany – few had to be captured in battle, though some forts did fight the Germans. One in seven French divisions was a fortress division - so the Maginot Line took out 15% of the French Army."

-Using a little bit of math (1000 soldiers * 50 ouvrages + an average of 350 soldiers * 49 forts in between the ouvrages), we find that the French force dedicated to defense was about 67,150 troops, give or take some. Since the main German task force completely bypassed the Maginot Line, all these troops were essentially left as sitting ducks and as space-filler. If the German war machine was pouring a million men into France, the French military didn't have a lot of spare troops to be playing around with. Splitting their force with this useless operation instead of defending cities shows poor planning on the French side, and poor preparedness.

2. The Panzer would become the awesome armored vehicle that would crush any enemy of the Germans. But, instead of preparing against this huge German advantage, the French tank had largely been unchanged since World War I.

"[...]Around 35% of French tanks were only equipped with machine guns (again designed for trench warfare), ensuring that when French and German tanks met in battle, a third of the French vehicles could only fire machine-gun bullets, which simply bounced harmlessly off German armour. Only a handful of French tanks had radio sets, and these often broke as the tank lurched over uneven ground. German tanks were all equipped with radios, allowing them to communicate with one another throughout battles, whilst French tank commanders could rarely contact other vehicles.

The French Army suffered from serious technical deficiencies with its tanks. In 1918, the Renault FT-17 tanks of France had been the most advanced in the world, although small, capable of far outperforming their slow and clumsy British, German, or American counterparts. However, this superiority resulted in tank development stagnating after World War I. By 1939, French tanks were virtually unchanged from 1918. French and British Generals believed that a future war with Germany would be fought under very similar conditions as those of 1914–1918. Both invested in thickly-armoured, heavily-armed vehicles designed to cross shell damaged ground and trenches under fire...."

-With warning signs such as Hitler's invasions of the Rhineland and of Austria, France should have taken measures against the German tank advantage. Failure to do so left them wide open.

3. Finally, slow development of an independent Air Force, low numbers of airmen, and unstrategic airfield locations left the French vulnerable to the German Luftwaffe.

"Most French airfields were located in north-east France, and were quickly overrun in the early stages of the campaign."

"The question of aviation policy was not so easy to control. The army and the navy had fought the creation of the air ministry and the independent air force with sufficient vigor to retain operational control of 118 of the 134 combat squadrons. The air force officers were responsible for training, administering, and commanding the air force in time of peace; but in wartime, only sixteen squadrons of bombers would remain under the air force chain of command.

Many aviators saw the primary role of the air force as close support of the ground forces--observation, liaison, and attack of targets on the battlefield. The French had developed close support techniques during the First World War (1914-18) and had refined them during the war against the Rif rebellion in Morocco in 1925. [...]

Aviators who were impatient with the close support mission [...] gained ascendancy on the air force general staff.[...]

The strategic bombing enthusiasts found their advocate in Pierre Cot, air minister from June 1936 until January 1938. Cot tripled the bomber force by organizing five new bomber escadres, converting seven of the twelve observation and reconnaissance escadres to bomber escadres, and equipping four of the five remaining reconnaissance escadres with aircraft capable of long-range bombing.[...]

The struggle for independence occupied the energies and attention of the air staff so completely that they neglected to develop fully the ground observer corps; command, control, and communications systems; and airfield facilities.19 Because they were preparing to wage a defensive aerial battle over their own territory, the French aviators could have prepared these elements in peacetime, but they were still in a rudimentary state in 1940. During the battle, the French had difficulty tracking and intercepting intruders, were unable to mass units and consequently suffered unduly heavy losses, and achieved an operational availability rate only one-fourth that of Luftwaffe units.

[...] In 1940, the general said the air force required only 40 to 60 [aircraft per month]. There were not enough aircrews or ground crews for a larger number, and to expand the training program would require the efforts of the entire strength of the air force."

-The Luftwaffe was another deciding factor in Germany's quick onslaught, yet the French Air Force infrastructure was lacking.

To end, the con would like to reinforce that the French military was actually pretty strong against most other countries that might be a threat. However, the biggest threat and the most likely source for future conflict was Germany; and since the French had not made a strong plan against THIS group in particular, they were the most ill-prepared power at the start of WWII. Now, I'd like to hear what the pro has to say about Canada. The con will make comparative arguments at the end of round 2.
Debate Round No. 1


Good luck, mate! I hope you find this initial debate enjoyable. : ) Good fortune in your future of debating on the site.

I am relatively free regarding format and style; I will basically put forth my point in this round and challenge some of what you argued. : D

As my introduction stated, the Royal Canadian Navy was in a very pitiful state at the start of the war - it relied on a top heavy Corvette fleet. Before these Corvettes could be utilized in the heavy Atlantic Squalls, they had to be modified en masse so that they wouldn't pitch excessively and threaten to topple over, because they were top heavy. Yet, the Canadian Government ordered eighty-some of these ships throughout the course of the war. If you analyze this source:, you will see that only five of these Flower Class Corvettes were Commissioned by 1940. In essence, Canada's Navy was dependant upon six destroyers, all of which were River Class, five Flower Class Corvettes and a handful of minesweepers and a few other small ships (including dependancy on armed yachts). As of 1939, the RCN consisted of only 191 officers and 1,799 ratings.

Furthermore, the asdic and radar utilized by the Navy was severely obsolete until 1944, during which Canada was finally able to equip most of its fleet with the top of the line English asdic. The Hedgehog and Squid equipment were introduced into the Canadian Navy long after the English had adapted it.

Now considering that the Canadian Royal Navy was being depended upon to provide escort for every convoy in the East Atlantic, including down to the Bahamas, after the United States joined the war and sent most of its operational fleet to the Pacific. In contrast, the French was obligated to provide no convoy, but its navy incorporated Battleships, destroyers, battlecruiser, cruisers, corvettes and even several aircraft carriers (Including the Bearn). It even had 77 submarines. It was so mighty that the English were concerned that it could fall into Axis Hands, which would have shifted the balance of power. It was estimated to be the fourth most powerful in the world.

The Royal Canadian Air force was in equal terms of grim repair. "In a grim report to the incoming Liberal Government, McNaughton warned that Canada had not a single anti-aircraft gun... Canada had only 25 obsolete operational aircraft, and not a single bomb."� * (Military history of Canada)

"September 1, 1939, the RCAF had a total strength of 4,000 personnel (400 officers and 3,600 airmen) of whom three-quarters were in the Regular component and the remainder in the Auxiliary. There were eight Regular squadrons comprised of two general purpose, two general reconnaissance, one fighter, one bomber, one torpedo- bomber, and one army co-operation. The Auxiliary Force consisted of 12 squadrons including four fighter, four bomber, two army co-operation, and two coast artillery co-operation.

"The RCAF had a total of 270 Aircraft of 20 assorted types. In the last days of August, when the situation in Europe was becoming extremely critical, the Regular squadrons began moving to their "war stations." When, on September 1, 1939, Hitler invaded Poland, Canada placed her armed forces on active service. Nine days later Canada declared war on Germany." ** (Airforce)

In contrast, the French Air force contained the excellent Morane-Saulnier MS-406, the Bloch MB 170 bomber and the Dewoitine D.520 fighter plane.

"...only nineteen (19) Hurricanes and and ten (10) Fairey Battle light bombers could be considered front line aircraft." *** ( The Air Force 2) After the Battle of Britain, the Fairey Battle was considered obsolescant, once called "a monster that lumbers - it doesn't fly". (Suddenly a Spy)

The Army, to touch briefly on it, was also in atrocious condition. When it began mobilizing in the late 1930s, it was quite clear that the Depression had taken its toll. The Officers were trained in Canada Military College before being sent to learn of strategy in England, but this training proved to often be inadequate when regarding artillery, armoured and infantry coordination.

Many of the soldiers dug out old World War I relics for uniform and weaponry; Lewis guns, Ross Rifles, Lee-Enfield No. 1 and other World War 1 relics were much evident in the original militia formations.

Canada mobilized the Canadian Active Service Force, a corps of a mere two divisions.
"The Permanent Active Militia (or Permanent Force (PF), Canada's full time army) had just 4,261 officers and men, while the Non-Permanent Active Militia (Canada's reserve force) numbered 51,000 partially trained and ill-equipped soldiers. Modern equipment was scarce all around. Attempts to modernize had begun in 1936 but equipment procurement was slow and the government was unwilling to expend money to equip the new tank battalions introduced that year." ***** (Mobilization of Armed Forces)

Modern weaponry, such as the Bren Gun, were slow in coming; in fact, the Bren Gun scandal made Mackenzie and Parliament considerably reluctant to arm its army with modern weapons. Its armoured Divisions were initially few and poorly equipped until 1940-41, after which it was manufacturing some excellent vehicles, such as the Ram Tank, which was never used as the useless Sherman was utilized in most Allies Divisions.

* Military history of Canada:


*** Air Force 2:


***** Mobilization of Armed Forces,

Thanks for debating! Been tremendous fun!


Ninja_Tru forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 2


Unfortunately, Ninja_Tru must have become otherwise occupied. I've exerted various points regarding the dismal state of Canada's military and also how much they achieved, nevertheless.

However, I had better not leave these with a mere 'good luck' in the voting, in case Ninja returns and somehow compensates with a miraculous post. As such, I'm going to briefly describe several follies, anecdotes and 'mis-preparations' of the Canadian Government and how they were unprepared for war.

Firstly, the Canadian Government, in its naivety (along with all other Allied nations), did not believe that Hitler would wage an all out war. Unlike its fellow Allied Governments, Canada did not even engage in a brief arms race until 1939, whereas some nations (such as England) began rebuilding considerably sooner.

Why was Canada so unprepared in the first place? It largely disarmed during the Depression, due to financial difficulties. It only had a handful of regular (active) Regiments, which still possessed aged weapons. Budget cuts nearly crippled the RCAF, which possessed a smattering of obsolescent biplanes and even less of the Hurricane Mk. 1, Fairey Battles or Bristol Blenheim bombers. As aforementioned, the Canadian Navy was limited to six River Class destroyers (two arrived in 1939 and 1940), a handful of top heavy Flower Class Corvettes (The Flower Class Corvette was an inadequate ship for the Atlantic. It rolled and pitched so often that everything got wet. Crew morale was often extremely low, as even rations were 'salty and soggy'. Furthermore, there were so few of these Corvettes that only one or two could be in port for relief at any one time - the rest had to be perpetually active in ever-harrowing convoys.) It was so desperate that it employed Armed Yachts - what purpose does an Armed Yacht serve, may I ask?

And while the Navy was scrambling during the war, the German U-boaters were jubilant with two 'Happy Times' in the Atlantic, in which hundreds of thousands of tonnes were lost each time. The U-boats preyed right up to the Coast of the US and Canada, and even into the Gulf of Mexico, St. Lawrence and the Bay of Fundy. It was the Royal Canadian Navy that was responsible for much of the convoy duty in the Eastern Atlantic, as the USA, when it joined the war, sent most of its fleet to the Pacific.

So that's a second reflection on the state of Canadian Armed Forces.

Next, let me share a couple of Anecdotes and a few other follies.

The Canadian Government wished for the Canadian Army to stay together - all five divisions. It refused to let them be implemented into any fighting until Italy, when it finally conceded upon pressures from Crerar and restless soldiers that had been training in England for two whole years.

Well this was, indeed, a mistake, as proven later on. When the Canadian Armies hit Sicily, Italy and Normandy, their communications and tank/artillery/infantry cooperation were extremely poor. The training they received meant very little in the face of real fire; so why didn't the Canadian government allow a division at a time to gain experience in Africa? It became evident that the English 8th was far better than Rommel's Afrikaan Korps and was driving it backwards while the US and English landed armies in Tripoli and Tunisia. Why didn't the Canadian Government allow some of its divisions to gain valuable battle experience in an already determined victory? Rather, they shocked them by plunging them straight into battle - facing fire - at drops on Sicily and into Italy, and for the rest of it, at Juno Beach. this was terrible for Canadian morale and poorly thought of by the command structure. It became evident that NCO's, regimental and even Divisional commanders were mostly inadequate. Wholescale sackings had to take place, but Canadian officers did not distinguish themselves, except for Guy Simonds and Crerar (who also narrowly escaped being sacked on one occasion).

In fact, the Canadian Army was trained largely at Battalion and Regimental level. The loyalties were fierce, but when other companies were tacked on, or they had to fight as a Division, they often floundered as they weren't so fiercely loyal to their Division, and may even have dissented other Regiments of the Division, in some cases.

Another point is that throughout the war, Canada was always a step or two behind its Allies in innovation. Its planes were always inferior, its ships were always lacking the latest asdic or radar, its military the latest wireless sets or mortars. For example, the HAndley Page Halifax was kept in the RCAF as a heavy bomber until 1945! The Halifax was described as a 'metallic tinderbox' due to the placement of its engines. It was slow and it could not pull a looping dive or it would spin out of control and all hands would be lost. Of course, Canada was given the lowest priority for the greater planes (such as Liberators, Flying Fortresses, or greater Lancasters) and technologies, though it was one of the 'Big Four'. It never received the Gloster Meteor, the P51 Mustang or other great planes (it did acquire a substantial amount of Spitfires, but few of them were Mk VI's).

In fact, even though the Royal Canadian Navy was responsible for most Atlantic Convoys in '41, '42, '43 and '44, the United States exercised some command over it from a Naval base on Canadian territory! Outrageous!!! the USA hadn't a consistent ship in the area, yet it's exercising convoy command. A tremendous folly of the Canadian government.

Another Folly of the Atlantic was the mid-Ocean gap. Throughout 1941, '42 and '43, much of the mid-Atlantic wasn't covered by planes or dive bombers, which would keep U-boats submerged and incapable of grouping into 'wolf packs'. It (and England) did not utilize planes and Carriers to close this gap from their respective shores until late 1943 and 1944.

A last folly that I shall discuss was the Canadian Government's sheer stupidity in the following anecdote. Leading into the Battle of Ortona, the English soldiers had been fighting at the base of Italy for sometime and were worn out. Mackenzie agreed that the 1st Canadian Division could substitute for the English, so the English gradually began to withdraw. However, for 'easier shipping purposes', it was agreed by BOTH parties that the Canadians would leave their equipment in England and the English would leave theirs in Italy. It apparently did not occur that the Canadians would then be utilizing worn out, sometimes broken and often grungy equipment that had seen much battle in lieu of its (Canadian) brand new equipment that had been left behind in England!!! eventually the First Canadian Division received some of its equipment, but it took three weeks to make the Division operational in Italy.

And, as I've mentioned, the Canadians had an excellent medium tank - the Ram Tank. The Ram Tank was better in quality than the Sherman (larger gun, thicker armour, stronger engine, wouldn't 'brew up' with a shot from a Tiger at 1,000 yards), yet the Army abandoned its Rams because England insisted that all forced standardize with the Sherman. Is that not stupidity in the entire essence? The Sherman 'brewed up' as easily one could imagine; yet because the USA could produce them faster than they were lost, they were the 'ideal tank'. Bah Also, the Ram could actually penetrate the Panzer's Armour at 200 yards, whereas the Sherman could be 150 yards away and there was no guarantee that the shell wouldn't just bounce off and into the sky.

And thus, I shall end my rant. Thanks for debating (and reading).



Wow. My opponent has really really done his homework, and yeah, I'm sorry I missed the deadline for my Round 2. The only route I have to winning this will be to argue that France was more "ill-prepared for conflict" than Canada was.

== How to weigh the debate==
I had a nuance at the end of Round 1. I said that the biggest threat to the French in the 40's was the Germans, by a long shot. Even though France's armed forces may have been better than the Canadians and suitable for fighting many other countries, it was crucial that France be ready for THE German threat in particular. For example, during the Cold War, the United States may not have had a military strategy for war with Zimbabwe. That doesn't mean that the U.S. was completely unprepared; rather, it means that they weren't prepared for a low-risk scenario. But you can bet a million that they had a strategy in case of war with Russia; the U.S. spent decades getting its stuff together. This is where the Con can outweigh. France was not prepared for the most obvious risk to their security, and this is what makes France more ill-prepared than Canada.

== The highlights==

As stated in Round 1, the three big chips for the German war machine were their huge army, their obliterating Luftwaffe, and their unstoppable Panzer divisions.

First, the French were far outnumbered by the sheer size of the German troops on active duty. In response to this, France devoted a large portion of its troops to the Maginot Line, who would stay put and largely be ignored during the entire German campaign. France simply widened its weakness with this move.

Second, the German Panzer was a technological powerhouse ahead of every other country. The strength of its armor and the accuracy of its gun struck heavily proportional blows to other armies. The French, in contrast had a tank that was still designed for a WWI arena. A third of the French tanks only shot bullets, making them useless. This aided Germany in its one-sided armored land battles.

Finally, the French air power was limited both by unstrategic locations, low independent sovereignty, and insufficient support structures. A poor command and communication infrastructure for the French air force meant that any bombing or interception runs were uncoordinated. A weak air ministry meant that low funding and manpower was given for the force. In fact, most of the airfields were in the East of France, meaning that they were captured early by the German army and became key points for the Luftwaffe to attack from. The French left their forces to death from above, death from the highly effective Luftwaffe would later bring London to near-rubble. Instead of stemming this strength, the French air force practically handed airports to the Germans, shooting themselves in the foot by giving them even more rein over the skies over France.

== To sum up==

Both sides argue that the French and Canadian armed forces had a tough time during the war. Remember, however, that the topic is for the power that was more ill-prepared, not for the power that had more blunders in fighting. Although the Canadian commanders may have made serious mistakes when in combat, these may not all have been caused by a lack of preparation. I argue that the voter should keep in mind which of the two powers had more to be prepared for; France had a quickly growing, former enemy just beyond the horizon, while Canada had problems with few countries and even less that were on the closer side of an ocean. Even if Canada was not prepared for war with a country with which it'd had few relations and with whom it was far away from, that doesn't necessarily mean that Canada was unprepared. What makes France unprepared is the fact that it left gaping weaknesses in the face of a predictable, historically observed violent power.
Debate Round No. 3
7 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 7 records.
Posted by 1stLordofTheVenerability 6 years ago
I don't think that this is necessarily a truth, as, remember, there were no nations ready to face the Hitler Juggernaut. Yet, France had a mighty Navy, a passable air force, armour and an infantry force several hundred thousand strong. They believed that the Maginot Line would prove to be the greatest defence plausible, considering that the French border is directly beside that of Germany. And it WAS so formiddable that Germany chose to go around. It is not the fault of France that they were outmanoeuvred. It is the fault of Canada to be in such a pitiful state.
Posted by RoyLatham 6 years ago
"Preparedness" can only be judged by relating how prepared a country needed to be to how prepared it actually was. I think Con won arguments by pointing out the immediate and apparent threat to France posed by Germany, for which France was ill-prepared, while there was no proximate threat to Canada. Canada thus had far less need for preparation.

Con won conduct due to Pro's forfeit. Con also provided solid references to support his case. S&G was a tie.

Overall, a very good debate. I wish we had more like it on ddo.
Posted by 1stLordofTheVenerability 6 years ago
Good luck in the voting, ninja! :D

Actually, heh, French Tank fighting techniques were reminiscent of WWI, also. They didn't believe that tanks should be utilized as an independant command, unlike the Germans. And, as you stated, as infantry support, the French armed them to be heavily armoured, slow as blazes and with machine guns in order to run over trenches.

Of course, there is no indication of what Canadian tank techniques may have been like if they were in Europe in 1939, but considering that they couldn't throw together enough tanks to form an effective force, it doesn't matter. :P
Posted by I-am-a-panda 6 years ago
I'd be willing to wager a bet on Russia. It lost against the finish who had >250,000 men, and was fought nearly to the Ural mountains.
Posted by 1stLordofTheVenerability 6 years ago
"Significant powers" can include any nation that contributed significantly to the war effort. Of course, I will emphasize the great amount Canada did achieve, as compared to any other power that may have been ill prepared. Brazil, for example, basically equipped itself with US surplus, but its contributions weren't very substantial, whatsoever.

Indeed, France could easily have utilized the Maginot line effectively as a block and charged into Reich, but France was still unprepared. Its military tank tactics paralleled those of WWI, which is a reason why they were driven back. Its tank to tank communications were poor and its Air force in a pitiful state due to the Depression. Its Navy was kept in a reasonable state, but it didn't compare to England or Germany's.

Italy was equipped and aware that a conflict was coming. It is not the fault of ill preparedness rather than a strategical lacking and inferiority of soldiers that drove them before the English in Africa.
Posted by Cerebral_Narcissist 6 years ago
Actually in many ways France was prepared. If Britain and France had invaded Germany during the attack on Poland then the war would have been over quickly with a German defeat. France could have achieved air superiority during the war, but held back most of it's airpower. Italy was unprepared for war, as shown by its conduct, and wanted the war delayed by another couple of years.
Posted by Danielle 6 years ago
What are the "significant powers" to choose from? If it's limited to the ones you mentioned (Japan, US, UK, Canada, Italy, Germany, France) then this is an easy win for the Pro and no one in their right mind would accept it. Good luck finding an opponent lol.
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