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World War 2 History: If Day-- The “Invasion” of Manitoba, Canada

Updated on July 30, 2012
UnnamedHarald profile image

I try to make history readable and interesting, warts and all. We must look to the past to understand the present and confront the future.

World War Two: Fake Nazi soldiers assaulting a Winnipeg Free Press newsie during "If Day".
World War Two: Fake Nazi soldiers assaulting a Winnipeg Free Press newsie during "If Day". | Source

If Day

On February 19, 1942, citizens in villages and towns in the Canadian province of Manitoba awoke to the sounds of battle. Dive-bombers appeared over Manitoba's capital, Winnipeg, and were greeted by anti-aircraft fire as enemy troops massed on the western edge of the city. Canadian troops formed a perimeter five miles from the center of the capital and exchanged artillery fire with German troops. It was all part of If Day, a gigantic, elaborately staged event to sell Victory Bonds and shake people from the complacency that came with having an ocean between them and the enemy. It was a huge success.

Canada's treasury was emptying fast as it struggled to build up and supply its armed forces. In an attempt to sell Victory Bonds to augment the war effort, provinces across the country were assigned sales goals. Manitoba's goal was pegged at C$45 million; of that, the city of Winnipeg's share was C$25 million (roughly C$350 million in 2012 dollars). To meet such a steep target, Greater Winnipeg Victory Loan organizers decided the citizenry might be more forthcoming if they got a taste of what a Nazi occupation was like and decided to stage a German invasion.

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Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada:
Winnipeg, MB, Canada

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Preparation

With the cooperation of Canadian armed forces and thousands of volunteers, a carefully scripted invasion plan was created. German uniforms were rented from Hollywood. Planes, small tanks, armored cars, artillery and anti-aircraft guns were gathered along with plenty of blank ammunition for all. Vehicles and planes were altered with German markings.

Days before the invasion, newspapers and radio stations prepared the public for the demonstration, mindful of the U.S. experience during Orson Welles' radio program “War of the Worlds”, which had set off wide-spread panics four years earlier. Realizing that U.S. residents in North Dakota and Minnesota, just 50 miles south of Winnipeg, would pick up broadcasts, the organizers were careful to inform them as well. Newspapers and magazines in both countries were invited to witness If Day.

The day before the invasion, German planes flew over the skies of the city.

Despite these precautions, there were still many people who woke up bewildered to the sounds of war in the early morning hours of February 19.

Invasion

German patrols entered the west of the city starting at 5:30 AM. By 7:00, air raid sirens were screaming as German dive-bombers went through the motions of dropping bombs on the city. Thirty anti-aircraft guns fired blanks in response. Then the Germans, in nine columns of infantry with light tanks and other armored vehicles, advanced toward the defending Canadians, who blew bridges (by scattering rubble on them), trying to slow the Nazi's down. Ambulances picked up mock casualties, all according to the script. The defenders pulled back to within a mile of the city center as the enemy closed in. By 9:30, the fighting was over as the city surrendered.

WW2: Arrest of city officials in Winnipeg during If Day
WW2: Arrest of city officials in Winnipeg during If Day | Source

Occupation

Then the occupation of Winnipeg began. The Germans arrested government officials, including the visiting Norwegian Ambassador to the U.S., Wilhelm de Morgenstierne and marched them off to a makeshift internment camp. One aspect of the battle and occupation which was not authentic was the huge number of newsmen and photographers from around the world that followed closely everything that was happening.

Radio stations were occupied and started broadcasting German propaganda as German troops fanned out into the city, posting decrees and harassing citizens. People were arrested for the slightest infraction-- especially Jews. Books were burned; churches were closed; priests and ministers who resisted were arrested; fake German Reichmarks were given in change instead of Canadian money. The police station was entered, police arrested and warm fur coats confiscated (it was, after all February). Schools were entered and “Nazi Truth” was taught; at least one principal was arrested. Some homes and businesses were looted. In addition, many other small towns in Manitoba staged their own “invasion” scenarios.

WWII: Victory Bond Map to "free" Manitoba from the Nazis
WWII: Victory Bond Map to "free" Manitoba from the Nazis | Source

The Occupation Ends

At 5:30, the occupation ended. A ceremony was held where all prisoners were released and a parade was held on Winnipeg's main avenue, with banners declaring “It Must Not Happen Here” and “Buy Victory Bonds”. A map of the province divided into 45 sections was posted in a major bank. Every million dollars raised would “free” a section from Nazi tyranny.

By the time the fund drive ended, Manitoba had raised C$65 million, exceeding their target by C$20 million. That C$65 million in 2012 dollars would be about C$900 million. An estimated 40 million people as far away as New Zealand saw coverage of If Day. Norwegian Ambassador Morgenstierne declared that the exercise was an authentic glimpse of German behavior in Norwegian cities. Although some of the activities descended into farce and there were comedic incidents, the overall effect was chilling as Canadians got a taste of what a German occupation meant to ordinary citizens. Images of the Swastika flying in place of the Union Flag and German soldiers marching prisoners away emblazoned newspapers and magazines. Only one facet of the exercise was disappointing: there was no jump in recruiting associated with If Day.

Manitoba Invasion starts around 1:15

Comments

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    • MJFenn profile image

      MJFenn 

      3 years ago

      Interesting! I thought at first the article referred to the Fenians who met up with Louis Riel on the North Dakota / Manitoba border at Pembina.

    • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

      David Hunt 

      6 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

      Hi xstatic. It was a rather ingenious, if unorthodox, idea. It's also anazing that the only casualties were a cut finger and sprained ankle. Can you imagine a major city doing this today, with all the possible lawsuits waiting to happen?

    • xstatic profile image

      Jim Higgins 

      6 years ago from Eugene, Oregon

      Another fascinating story from the history of WW II. A strange but effective way to bring home the reality of war to a complacent population.

    • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

      David Hunt 

      6 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

      Hey, Thomas, thanks for the great comment. Sometimes I go days without inspiration and then THIS hits me. I had to write this. Nowadays, I assume safety regulations would impede bombing the public (even if fake). I appreciate the compliment.

    • ThoughtSandwiches profile image

      ThoughtSandwiches 

      6 years ago from Reno, Nevada

      UH,

      As always...you have rocked my socks with your topic choices. As I was reading it the FIRST thought that came to mind was Orson Wells and his radio mishap of a few years earlier.

      Kudos to the Canadians...what an awesome way to inspire awareness to the dangers posed and their ability to protect the Commonwealth. I have to wonder if recruiting suffered due to people thinking they should stick around Manitoba in case they were needed for the real deal one day. Just a thought.

      Great job!

      Thomas

    • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

      David Hunt 

      6 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

      Hi, Gypsy. Thanks for commenting. I think they rented the German uniforms from Hollywood for $3,000 (about $40,000 in today's money).

    • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

      David Hunt 

      6 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

      Thanks, old albion. I hadn't heard of this either and found it kind of fascinating. I also didn't realize Winnipeg is only 50 miles from the Minnesota border.

    • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

      David Hunt 

      6 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

      Thanks, aethelthryth. Just one of those stories that caught my eye. I also read there were two "casualties"-- a sprained ankle and a woman who cut her finger during the blackout while the air raid was in progress..

    • Gypsy Rose Lee profile image

      Gypsy Rose Lee 

      6 years ago from Riga, Latvia

      Voted up and interesting. Another bit of history I wasn't aware of. Glad to hear Hollywood was willing to help and pitch in with uniforms. Thanks for sharing and passing this on.

    • old albion profile image

      Graham Lee 

      6 years ago from Lancashire. England.

      Hi UH. A really interesting hub as usual. I had not heard of this before. Well found, great presentation and information.

      Graham.

    • aethelthryth profile image

      aethelthryth 

      6 years ago from American Southwest

      You've found yet another fascinating story. Voted up, as usual.

    • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

      David Hunt 

      6 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

      Thanks, Jools99. And I imagine the ambassador got a few chills himself seeing all those German troops and being led away. Just like home.

    • Jools99 profile image

      Jools Hogg 

      6 years ago from North-East UK

      Harald, interesting hub. Amazing to think of them doing something so elaborate but it sounds like they made their point (and then some!). The comments by the Norwegian Ambassador must have chilled some of those who heard it.

    • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

      David Hunt 

      6 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

      Interesting comment, goosegreen. I wonder how most people in modern citeis would react. Neither the British people nor the German people could be bombed into submission by their respective foes, but that was then. Maybe people were more resigned to fate. Just a thought. Thanks for reading and commenting.

    • goosegreen profile image

      goosegreen 

      6 years ago

      Harald another event I had never heard of. I know in Australia there was widespread apathy and even strike actions from trade unions who did not buy the concept of total war. The largely untold story of the bombing of Darwin is that a large portion of the population fled the city in terror and there was widespread looting. Does not compare well with the stoicism of the people of bombed out cities throughout Europe and Asia.

    • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

      David Hunt 

      6 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

      I think in this case the reality of what was going on both scared and jolted their patriotism-- although Canadians were very patriotic anyway. Apathy had probably taken its toll though after nearly three years of war. Quite a difference in approach when compared to the Bush administration telling us to go to the shopping malls after 9/11. Thanks for your great comments, Pavlo.

    • Pavlo Badovskyy profile image

      Pavlo Badovskyi 

      6 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine

      I just wonder... were the people so scared to see a possibility of such invasion or so much patriotic to collect such a big sum of money? As always your hubs are wonderful!

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