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