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Glossary
Discover the meaning of words and expressions used in the films
or articles on this site.
A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z
World War II Web Site: Glossary of Terms in English
A

aerodrome
A defined area on land or water (including any buildings, installations and equipment) intended to be used either wholly or in part for the arrival, departure and surface movement of aircraft.
International Civil Aviation Vocabulary , 2nd edition
air force
Used generically to mean the military air resources of a nation. Also a very large air formation made up of two or more groups, as in the British 2nd Tactical Air Force that supported the Allied armies that liberated north-west Europe in 1944-1945. Canada contributed some 15 fighter squadrons under six Canadian “wing” headquarters that made up over a third of the combat strength of the 2nd Tactical Air Force.
Canadian War Museum »»
airborne
In World War II, airborne army forces were either parachutists or glider-landed troops. 
Canadian War Museum »»
airman/airwoman
Person serving in the air forces, of any rank and in any capacity. 
Canadian Military History Gateway »»
Allies
The nations allied against the Axis powers during World War II. Britain, the Soviet Union, the United States, France, China, Canada and Australia were the principal Allies. 
Canadian War Museum »»
army
Used generically to mean a nation's land forces. Also a very large formation made up of two or more army corps, as in 1st Canadian Army, which at its peak strength in 1944-1945 included about 160,000 personnel.
Canadian War Museum »»
artillery
Originally used to describe large guns used in fighting on land and the troops that used them. Now, generally refers to all missile-type weapons other than small arms.
Canadian Military History Gateway »»
Axis
The alliance of Germany and Italy in 1936, later including Japan and the other nations that opposed the Allies in World War II.
Canadian War Museum »»

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B
battalion
Basic combat unit of the army. A Canadian infantry battalion included four rifle companies and a support company, which was equipped with heavier weapons; the total strength was approximately 850 personnel.
Canadian War Museum »»
battery
A company-sized sub-unit of artillery, whose major equipment was usually eight artillery pieces. The most common artillery weapon was the 25-pounder, which fired an explosive 11-kilogram shell to a range of about 10 kilometres. Two or more batteries made up an artillery regiment.
Canadian War Museum »»
Battle of Hong Kong
In November 1941, Canada sent 1,975 troops to help garrison the British colony of Hong Kong. Although dispatched as part of a plan to deter Japanese aggression, the Canadians were not fully equipped and were still undergoing training. On December 7, 1941, Japan entered the war with a series of successful offensives in Asia and across the Pacific Ocean. The Japanese invaded Hong Kong on December 8 and overran its meagre defences in 17 days.

In their first land combat of the war, Canadian troops fought valiantly in a vicious, unequal struggle. Losses were heavy: 290 killed in action and hundreds wounded. The survivors were all taken prisoner. Suffering from malnutrition, disease, overwork and brutality, nearly 300 more Canadians died in captivity.
Canadian War Museum »»
Battle of the Atlantic
To maintain its war effort, Britain imported enormous quantities of supplies by sea. If the Germans sank Allied merchant ships transporting weapons, raw materials and food at a faster rate than this shipping could be replaced, then Britain would slowly lose the ability to wage war. This struggle was known as the Battle of the Atlantic. Halifax was the main port on the east coast of North America where merchant ships formed convoys, groups of merchant vessels that sailed together for the hazardous transatlantic crossing.
Germany nearly won this war at sea but, in May 1943, after suffering severe losses to Allied warships and aircraft, the Germans withdrew most of their U-boats from the mid-Atlantic. Throughout the war, the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN), the Canadian Merchant Navy and the immense output of Canadian industry proved vital in the costly Allied victory.
Canadian War Museum »»
Blitzkreig or Blitz
A German expression, borrowed by the English-speaking Allied nations, whose translation is "Lightning War." The term characterized rapid thrusts by tank and truck-carried infantry forces closely supported by bomber and fighter aircraft that gained Hitler his early victories. Shortened to "Blitz," it came to mean the German day and night bomber attacks against London in 1940 and after.
Canadian War Museum »»
bomber offensive
After the fall of France in 1940, the British were left with few ways to strike back at Germany. One was the bombing of German cities, workers and industry. Because of the strong German fighter defence, the RAF's bombers could operate only at night. At first, results were poor and losses of aircraft heavy. Through 1942 and 1943, however, new four-engined heavy bombers with much greater bomb loads improved radio and radar aids to navigation, and better training greatly improved RAF Bomber Command's efficiency. It was always, though, a blunt, brutal weapon, killing large numbers of civilians and destroying their homes.
Canadian War Museum »»
brigade
An army formation of two or more battalions (or regiments, in the case of armoured brigades), of up to 5,000. The Canadian Army had both infantry and armoured (i.e., tank) brigades.
Canadian War Museum »»
British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP)
The BCATP, created by an agreement in December 1939 between Canada, Britain, Australia and New Zealand, called for Canada to train these countries’ air crews. Ottawa administered the Plan and paid most of the costs, although the majority of graduates, eventually drawn from many Allied countries, went on to serve in Britain’s Royal Air Force. At its peak, the Plan maintained 231 training sites and required more than 10,000 aircraft and 100,000 military personnel to administer. It trained pilots, navigators, bomb aimers, radio operators, air gunners and flight engineers. More than half of its 131,553 graduates were Canadian.
Canadian War Museum »»

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C
Chinese Exclusion Act, 1923-1947
An extremely restrictive law passed by the government of Canada that effectively curtailed the number of Chinese entering the country. Fewer than 15 Chinese people were able to enter the country to live when this act was enforced. Just three Chinese were allowed to live in the country between 1924 and 1930. 
Canada in the Making »» (Canadiana.org)
Chinese Head Tax
A discriminatory federal tax levied upon Chinese immigrants admitted to Canada. Initially the tax, passed in 1885, was set at $50 per Chinese immigrant. In 1901, it was increased to $100 and later to $500. In 1923, the Chinese Exclusion Act abolished the head tax, replacing it with even more restrictive measures. The head tax was a serious financial burden to Chinese Canadians and effectively stopped any family unification. 
Open Hearts/Closed Doors: The War Orphans Project »» (Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre)
commandos
Specially trained British and Canadian shock troops who were landed from the sea on the enemy coast. 
Canadian War Museum »»
company
An army sub-unit. Canadian Army infantry companies had about 120 soldiers.
Canadian War Museum »»
concentration camps
The Nazis established prison camps shortly after assuming power in 1933 to hold and isolate political opponents and those considered to be "racially" undesirable, such as Jews and Gypsies. Most of the approximately 1,800 camps were transit or labour camps. The first were Dachau, Buchenwald and Sachsenhausen. After the occupation of Poland, extermination camps were established for mass murder at Auschwitz-Birkenau, Treblinka, Sobibor, Belzec, Chelmno and Majdanek.
Open Hearts/Closed Doors: The War Orphans Project »» (Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre)
conscientious objector
A person who refuses to serve in the armed forces or bear arms on moral or religious grounds.
Termium
conscription
Conscription, or compulsory military service, divided the nation in World War II and threatened the survival of political leaders. In 1939, Prime Minister Mackenzie King, conscious of the opposition of French-speaking Quebec to conscription in World War I, promised that there would be no conscription for overseas service. By mid-1940, however, there was enormous pressure from English Canada for total mobilization of manpower. King introduced the National Resources Mobilization Act (NRMA), which called for national registration of eligible men and authorized conscription for home defence. From April 1941 the young men called up were required to serve for the rest of the war on home defence duties.
Canadian War Museum »»
convoy
A group of merchant ships sailing together under the protection of naval forces; often slow-moving, as its speed is that of the slowest vessel. Term also used for columns of motor vehicles. 
Canadian Military History Gateway »»
corps
An army formation made up of two or more divisions. Also the collective name for units of a similar type, as in the Royal Canadian Army Service Corps, whose many units provided transport, catering and other basic support services to the army.
Canadian War Museum »»
corvette
A small, fast and lightly armed warship used for patrol, communications and escort duties. During World War II, corvettes were the backbone of the Royal Canadian Navy and most were deployed on convoy escort duty. As a result, the RCN was nicknamed the "Corvette Navy."
Canadian Military History Gateway »»
CWAC »»
Canadian Women's Army Corps: Women's auxiliary of the army formed in August 1941.
Canadian Military History Gateway »»

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D
D-Day
Determined to end four years of often-brutal German occupation, on June 6, 1944, Allied forces invaded western Europe along an 80-kilometre front in Normandy, France. Of the nearly 150,000 Allied troops who landed or parachuted into the invasion area, 14,000 were Canadians. They assaulted a beachfront code-named “Juno,” while Canadian paratroopers landed just east of the assault beaches. Although the Allies encountered German defences bristling with artillery, machine guns, mines and booby-traps, the invasion was a success. Other Canadians helped achieve this victory. The Royal Canadian Navy contributed 110 ships and 10,000 sailors in support of the landings while the RCAF had helped prepare the invasion by bombing targets inland. On D-Day and during the ensuing campaign, 15 RCAF fighter and fighter-bomber squadrons helped control the skies over Normandy and attacked enemy targets. On D-Day, Canadians suffered 1,074 casualties, including 359 killed.
Canadian War Museum »»
demobilize, v. / demobilization, n.
To disband military units, dispose of their equipment and return their personnel to civilian life, most notably after the end of a war.
Canadian War museum »»
destroyer
Fast warship designed to protect the main battle fleet from submarines and torpedo boats.
Canadian Military History Gateway »»
division
An army formation made up of two or more brigades, usually 15,000 or more men. The Canadian Army had both infantry and armoured (i.e., tank) divisions.
Canadian War Museum »»

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F
fascism
Political ideology and mass movement that dominated many parts of central, southern and eastern Europe between 1919 and 1945. Although fascist parties and movements differed significantly from each other, they had many characteristics in common, including extreme militaristic nationalism, contempt for electoral democracy and political and cultural liberalism, a belief in natural social hierarchy and the rule of the elite, and the desire to create a Volksgemeinschaft (German: “people's community”), in which individual interests would be subordinated to the good of the nation.
Encyclopaedia Britannica Online Academic Edition »»
flak
The fire of anti-aircraft guns
Termium 

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G
Geneva Conventions
The Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols are international treaties that contain the most important rules limiting the barbarity of war. They protect people who do not take part in the fighting (civilians, medics, aid workers) and those who can no longer fight (wounded, sick and shipwrecked troops, prisoners of war).
International Committee of the Red Cross »»
Gestapo
The internal security police of Nazi Germany.
Canadian War Museum »»
Great Depression
The term applied to a period of economic hardship between 1929 and 1937. Unemployment reached levels of 30 percent by 1933 and did not fall below 12 percent until the start of World War II in 1939. The depth of the crisis exposed the absence of a true welfare system to care for the needy and led to greater government involvement in the economy and social welfare once times improved, including the introduction of a national unemployment insurance plan in 1940.
Canada in the Making »» (Canadiana.org)
group
A large air force formation usually composed of four or more squadrons and the bases from which they operated. The largest Canadian group was Number 6 (RCAF) Group, of the British Bomber Command. By 1945 Number 6 (RCAF) Group included 14 squadrons that operated nearly 300 heavy four-engine bombers from 10 bases in northern England.
Canadian War Museum »»

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H
Hibakusha
The survivors of the atomic explosions at Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.
The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary  
Holocaust
The Holocaust was the systematic, bureaucratic, state-sponsored persecution and murder of approximately six million Jews by the Nazi regime and its collaborators. "Holocaust" is a word of Greek origin meaning "sacrifice by fire." The Nazis, who came to power in Germany in January 1933, believed that Germans were "racially superior" and that the Jews, deemed "inferior," were an alien threat to the so-called German racial community.
Holocaust Encyclopedia of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum »»
Home Front
The War Measures Act, invoked in 1939, empowered Ottawa to take whatever measures the government believed necessary for the successful prosecution of the war. The federal government carefully managed the flow of information and, in 1941, imposed strict wage and price controls. Beginning in 1942, it rationed many commodities such as meat, sugar, coffee, gasoline, rubber and textiles.
In addition to those in military service or working in war industries or agriculture, millions of Canadians contributed to the “total” war effort by volunteering with organizations such as the Red Cross, or participating in salvage campaigns, gathering everything from scrap metal to newsprint. Through it all, millions of Canadians, reading official casualty reports in the newspapers, worried daily about the fate of their friends and loved ones overseas.
Canadian War Museum »» 
homophobia
Irrational fear of homosexuality or homosexuals.
Termium 
Hurricane (plane)
The Hurricane was the first monoplane fighter produced by Hawker and was available in substantial numbers at the beginning of World War II. Hurricanes played a decisive role in the Battle of Britain and went on to fly on more fronts than any other British fighter. Canadian Car and Foundry manufactured 1,451 Hurricanes between 1938 and 1943. 
Canadian Aviation Museum »»
hypocentre
Ground zero, the ground under an exploding (nuclear) bomb.
The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary  

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I
internment
Detention of individuals, generally civilians, in large camps, authorized by government and administered by the military. Possibly the worst internment incident in Canadian history by its very scope concerned the detention of “Japanese” Canadians. Following Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor and Hong Kong in December 1941, panic swept the west coast and racism ran rampant, the result being that about 22,000 innocent Canadians of Japanese descent — men, women and children — were arrested and sent to internment camps deep in the interior of British Columbia, their property seized and their livelihoods ruined. 
Canadian Military History Gateway »»
Italian Campaign
Canadian forces participated from the beginning in the Allied campaign in Italy. In Canada’s first sustained land operation of the war, Canadian troops helped capture Sicily in a five-week campaign beginning July 10, 1943. In September, the Allies invaded the Italian mainland and, although Italy soon surrendered, the occupying Germans fought for every metre of the mountainous terrain. Casualties were heavy on both sides. In December, Canadian troops captured the Adriatic port of Ortona following a ferocious house-to-house battle. In early 1944, Canada reinforced its commitment in Italy and organized its forces there into I Canadian Corps. In May, the Canadians broke the “Hitler Line” defences south of Rome and later that summer pierced the heavily defended “Gothic Line” fortifications further north. In February 1945, I Canadian Corps transferred to Northwest Europe. More than 92,000 Canadians served in Italy at a cost of 26,000 casualties, including more than 5,300 dead.
Canadian War Museum »»

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L
Lancaster (airplane)
The “Lanc” was arguably the best heavy bomber used in Europe in World War II. Although somewhat vulnerable to fighter attack, it was relatively fast, had a high ceiling and could carry enormous loads for its size.
Canadian Aviation Museum »»
Luftwaffe 
German Air Force.
Canadian War Museum »»

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M
mennonites
A Protestant religious-cultural group that first emigrated from the U.S. to Canada following the American Revolution in 1776. However, the largest wave came from Russia, Prussia and the U.S. during the years between 1890 and 1914. Those from Europe were generally fleeing religious persecution and were also attracted to the large tracts of homesteading lands available in Canada during this period. Additionally, this pacifist or peace-loving group was attracted by the fact Canada offered non-compulsory military service. Many of those who settled here spoke Germanic languages, and generally resided in southern Manitoba.
Canada in the Making »» (Canadiana.org)
merchant navy
Commercial freighters and passenger liners that play a vital supporting role during wartime. Also called the Merchant Marine. Although not officially part of the military services, Canadian merchant navy sailors were exposed to considerable perils from U-boats during that conflict and, out of about 15,000 men serving on merchant ships, 1,465 perished. 
Canadian Military History Gateway »»

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N
National Resources Mobilization Act (NRMA)
The National Resources Mobilization Act was passed June 21, 1940 by Parliament. It represented the government's response to the public clamour for a more effective Canadian war effort that arose in the wake of the stunning German victories in Belgium and France. The Act enabled the government to requisition the property and services of Canadians for home defence.
Canadian Encyclopedia »»
Nazism
The political doctrines evolved and implemented by Adolf Hitler and his followers, especially those asserting Aryan racial superiority, or promoting totalitarianism and the expansion of the German state.
Oxford English Dictionary 
Normandy Campaign
Canadians played a prominent role in the Normandy Campaign, a deadly battle of attrition. For the first month following the D-Day landings, a stalemate developed during which the Allies built up their forces in a narrow bridgehead. Additional Canadian formations were committed to the struggle and organized as II Corps, serving under First Canadian Army. In July Canadian troops helped capture Caen. They then participated in a series of difficult offensives towards Falaise aimed at joining an American advance from the south and encircling the German forces in Normandy. By August 21, the Germans had either retreated or been destroyed between the Canadian-British and American pincers. The 10-week Normandy Campaign cost the Canadians alone more than 18,000 casualties, 5,000 of them fatal.
Canadian War Museum »»

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P
pacifism
Pacifism is an outlook based upon religious or humanitarian belief that condemns war and social violence as inhuman and irrational, if not absolutely and always morally wrong, and therefore demands personal non-participation in war or violent revolution as well as a commitment to non-violent methods of resolving conflicts.
Canadian Encyclopedia »»
platoon
Part of an infantry company, three or four platoons making up a company. Usually commanded by a lieutenant and consisting of up to 35 men.
Canadian Military History Gateway »»
poppy
A flower that grows wild in northern France and Belgium, the red poppy has become the symbol of remembrance for war dead in Canada and around the world. This symbol originates from Canadian Major John McCrae’s famous and deeply moving poem "In Flanders Field," where "…the poppies blow, Between the crosses, row on row" and "If ye break the faith with us who die, We shall not sleep, though poppies grow, In Flanders fields."
Canadian Military History Gateway »»
prisoners of war (POWs) 
Prisoners of War (POWs) are those captured by the enemy while fighting in the military, a by-product of relatively sophisticated warfare. In World War II about 8,000 Canadians became German POWs and were generally treated in accordance with the Geneva Convention.
Canadian Encyclopedia »»
propaganda
An organized program of publicity and selected information designed to influence people's thoughts, beliefs and feelings, and make them act in a particular way.
Canadian War Museum 

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R
RAF
Royal Air Force (Great Britain)
Canadian War Museum »» 
RCAF
Royal Canadian Air Force
Canadian War Museum »»
RCN
Royal Canadian Navy
Canadian War Museum »»
Remembrance Day 
Remembrance Day, honouring the war dead, is a legal holiday observed throughout Canada on November 11. It commemorates the armistice that ended World War I at 11:00 am of that day in 1918. The symbol of this day is the poppy of Flanders, replicas of which are distributed by the Royal Canadian Legion.  
Canadian Encyclopedia »»
repatriation
Returning someone to his or her country of origin, such as the return of Canadian military personnel from Europe to Canada. 
Canadian War Museum »»
Royal Canadian Air Force (Women's Division)
Raised as the Canadian Women’s Auxiliary Air Force on July 2, 1941, it has the distinction of being the first women’s military service unit to be authorized in North America. 
Canadian Military History Gateway »»
Ruhr
River and major industrial region along its course, North Rhine-Westphalia Land (state), western Germany. The region's resources and heavy industries necessarily played a vital role in Germany's preparations for World War II. Consequently the Ruhr was a primary target for Allied bombing, and about 75 percent of the area was destroyed; more than one-third of the coal mines discontinued operations or suffered heavy damage.  
Encyclopaedia Britannica Online Academic Edition »»

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S
Squadron
The basic unit of the air force, usually of 10 to 18 aircraft.
Canadian War Museum »»
SS
Schutzstaffel, a German expression that literally means "defence echelon." It was the military wing of the Nazi party, which served as Hitler's personal bodyguard and provided guards for concentration camps. The SS also raised elite combat formations for the field armies.
Canadian War Museum »»

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T
theatre of war
A large geographic area in which military operations were coordinated, e.g., the North American theatre.
Canadian War Museum »»
total war
Military conflict in which the contenders are willing to make any sacrifice in lives and other resources to obtain a complete victory, as distinguished from limited war. The modern concept of total war can be traced to the writings of the 19th-century Prussian military strategist Carl von Clausewitz, who denied that wars could be fought by laws. 
Encyclopaedia Britannica Online Academic Edition »»

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U
U-Boat
Short for Unterseeboot, a German submarine. 
Canadian War Museum »»

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V
VE Day 
Victory in Europe Day, celebrated on May 8, 1945, which marked the capitulation of Germany to the Allied powers. 
Canadian War Museum »»
Victoria Cross
Highest decoration for valour in Canada and the Commonwealth forces. It takes precedence over all other orders, decorations, etc., and is equal in merit, but senior, to the George Cross. The act of valour must now be performed in face of the enemy and the VC can be awarded to a person of any rank.  
Canadian Military History Gateway »»
VJ Day
On August 15, 1945, Japan surrendered unconditionally to the Allies, and Victory in the Far East (VJ-Day or Victory over Japan Day) was declared.
Veterans Affairs Canada »»

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W
WD
Women's Division of the Royal Canadian Air Force, which was formed in 1941 and eventually recruited more than 16,000 volunteers. Beginning in September 1942, many of these women served in Britain; by 1945 more than 1,300 of them were serving there. 
Canadian Military History Gateway »»
wing
An air force formation made up of two or more squadrons. 
Canadian War Museum »»
WRCNS
Women's Royal Canadian Naval Service: Women's branch of the Royal Canadian Navy, formed on July 23, 1942 and closely patterned after that of the British Royal Navy.
Canadian Military History Gateway »»

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Z
zombie
The National Resources Mobilization Act (NRMA) allowed conscription but only for home defence. Many of the men conscripted, for short periods of training and later for full-time defence duties, vounteered for General (overseas) Service. Other NRMA men refused. That these men should be fully trained for war but unwilling to fight offended patriots. Soon the reluctant warriors were dubbed "zombies."
Victory 1945 by Desmond Morton and J.L. Granatstein

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