Home / People / A Class Project to Invade Canada
A lecturer instructing officers at the Naval War College in 1889.

A Class Project to Invade Canada

U.S. Naval War College, Newport, R.I. 1925.
The United States Plans Invasion of Nova Scotia, Canada
U.S. Forces to Occupy Halifax and Destroy the Pictou Coal Mines

By Michael J. Crawford

Were the title and subtitle of this article to appear as headlines in a major American newspaper today, the reaction would be shock and disbelief. After all, Canada is one of the United States’ closest partners in maintaining international order. Yet, in 1894, the invasion of Nova Scotia is exactly what the Naval War College Class contemplated as one part of its principal exercise, which was to prepare operational plans based on the proposition that the United States and the United Kingdom were to go to war with each other.

Contingency planning plays an essential role in determining the size, composition, weaponry, training, equipping, and deployment of the United States’ armed forces. Contingency planning answers what the United States would do if the People’s Liberation Army Navy began interdicting Filipino and Thai commercial vessels transiting the South China Sea. Contemplating such possible eventualities in which the armed forces might be used enables decision makers to shape the forces that will be available when, or if, the need arises.

The preparation of formal war plans is the most complete form of contingency planning for the employment of armed forces. The most famous U.S. naval war plan was War Plan Orange, which in its final iteration was the template the United States followed in fighting the forces of Imperial Japan in World War II. There were other war plans, each designated by a different color according to the imagined enemy, that thankfully were not applied to real-world situations. Among these was War Plan Red, a plan for war with the United Kingdom, first formalized on the eve of World War I, and updated as late as the 1930s. War Plan Red had predecessors, beginning with a plan devised principally by Alfred Thayer Mahan at the request of the secretary of the navy in 1890, followed by plans produced by the Naval War College Classes of 1894 and 1895.

A lecturer instructing officers at the Naval War College in 1889.

 

In the early 1890s, with the New Steel Navy still mostly on the drawing board, the United States Navy as a force was inferior to the then Royal Navy. The exercise devised for the Naval War College Class of 1894, therefore, envisioned a superior British force crossing the Atlantic Ocean with the intention of attacking the commercial and financial center of the United States, New York City. The plan for opposing the superior British attacking force primarily involved stationing the main U.S. battle fleet in an easily defensible location from which it could make attacks on detachments of the British fleet. The plan included, however, a separate expeditionary force that would interrupt the enemy’s communications with Halifax, Nova Scotia, thereby denying the enemy a nearby friendly harbor with its supplies and repair facilities. The expeditionary force would also destroy the Nova Scotian coal mines, thereby depriving the enemy of a ready source of fuel for their warships.

A brief war scare occurred in 1895, when President Grover Cleveland proposed arbitrating a border dispute between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Venezuela. Cleveland threatened to use force if necessary to impose his decision and, thus, made planning for the eventuality of war between the United States and the United Kingdom appear prescient. The diplomatic crisis soon passed and, within a decade, the relationship between the United Kingdom and the United States transformed into that of friendship and cooperation. The relationship has continued, with few deviations, to the present day and turned the development of War Plan Red into an academic exercise without relevance to diplomatic realities.

The following transcription of the subsidiary plan for an expedition against Nova Scotia prepared by one of the committees formed of members of the Naval War College Class of 1894 illustrates the character of early war plans in the U.S. Navy. The original, in the handwriting of LT J. J. Hunker, USN, is in ONOpP, Record Group 12, Naval War College Archives, Newport, R.I.

 

Attack on Halifax and Adjacent Territory

Lt. J. J. Hunker, USN

 

Expedition to Attack Halifax and Interrupt Enemy’s Communications

The third committee, in connection with the solution of the Problem begs to submit the following:

To harass the enemys garrison & arsenal at Halifax, to interrupt the lines of communication with that point and the scenes of operation against our coast, to destroy R.R., to destroy railways in adjacent districts, to destroy the means of operating the coal mines in the county of Pictou, we would suggest an expeditionary force of not less than ten thousand (10,000) men, including infantry, artillery, cavalry, one company engineers, with necessary transportation, and with as few horses as possible, consistent with efficiency.

The Division should consist of: two brigades, one squadron of cavalry, three batteries of artillery and one company of engineers, a total strength of 10,059 men of all ranks.

The gross tonnage for the transportation of this division is as follows:

tons
For 10,059 officers and men 22,633.
ʺ 600 draught animals  6,000.
28,633.
ʺ Casualties, & replace disabled stm’rs [steamers] and for towing, floating repair ships &c. 10% 2863
Total tonnage   31,496

This tonnage is found in the following list of vessels, taken from the Lloyds Register.

Gross Tonnage.
1 “City of Brockton” 2,771.
2 City of Taunton 2,882
3 City of Para. 3,532.
4 City of Panama. 1,490.
5 City of Columbia. 1,878.
6 City of Rio de Janeiro. 3,548.
7 City of Washington. 2,635.
8 City of San Antonio. 1,605.
9 City of Savannah 2,029.
10 Chatahouchee 2,676
11 Chalmott 2,983.
12 H. F. Dimick 1,786
13 Harman Winter 1,769
14 Old Dominion 1,776
15 Seneca 1,912.
16 Wyanoke 1660.
36,932.

 

The above tonnage with a convoy from the main fleet, not less than 8 cruisers, 4 C. & 2 D, 2 gunboats, Yorktown class, [that is, 8 cruisers, consisting of 4 cruisers, 2 destroyers and 2 gunboats, Yorktown class] and 6 torpedo boats would be adequate to transport, convoy, disembark & defend landing of the division.

The points of embarkation should be at least three, if practicable, and Boston, Portsmouth and Portland are convenient and suitable places, an allotment of tonnage being made in keeping with the indiv[id]ual facilities at those points.

Portsmouth is selected on account of the Navy Yard facilities, and an appropriate place to fit a repair ship; Boston on account of its protected harbor and water frontage & wharves; Portland would accommodate a small tonnage, but has great depth of water and is near the point of rendezvous, the mouth of the Penobscot River. All three ports have good railway facilities, a maritime population & shipwrights, besides many other skilled mechanics, to draw upon.

The troops should come, preferably, from New England, not only to save transportation, but would then be more or less familiar with the coast and country in which they embark.

The destination of this force should be kept a profound secret, and the moment hostilities are decided upon all possible means of ascertaining the condition of the objective should be resorted to.

To obtain this information a body of astute, intelligent men should be selected to comprise a secret service, and placed in charge of an officer familiar with such work. Such a man could be readily selected from the detection forces of our large cities.

The force being embarked should assemble off the mouth of the Penobscot River, and there await instructions. The weather conditions which would probably exist at this time, the late autumn, at this point on the coast, would be cold weather, brisk to fresh W. to N.W. winds.

The moment the main body of the enemy’s fleet & transports had sailed from Halifax and were beyond signal communication with the Nova Scotia shore, the expedition should sail for St. Margarets Bay, the first harbor to the Wd. of Halifax. This distance is 310 K. and with a sea speed of 85 knots should be covered in time to effect an entrance to the Bay at early daylight.

It is assumed that the overland telegraph lines have been seized by the military authorities, and also the three (3) submarine cables from Mass. (2) & N.H. (1), to Nova Scotia.

St. Margaret’s Bay is selected because, the best information available seems to show, it is not fortified, and by a hasty move no time would be allowed to fortify it. It is less than 20 miles by each of two main roadways from Halifax, which is said not to be so heavily fortified, on the land side as upon the sea. Ingress and egress is easy, the entrance being 2 miles wide, sufficient sea room in case of fog or storms, is well sheltered, good anchorage and it contains a number of islands useful for a variety of purposes, such as hospitals &c. &c. The Bay is 9 miles long, maximum width 3 miles giving a shoreline of 25 miles.

Apparently the beaches are practicable for landing, and the landing could be easily covered.

The fleet of transports once at anchor in the Bay the entrance should be carefully guarded by the convoy, and the torpedo boats be in readiness to attack.

The landings, as many as possible, being covered the landing should commence at once and be continued uninterruptedly until completed. The men should be supplied with 2 days’ cooked rations and ample ammunition, and above all with good foot-gear as snow & frost are likely to be encountered at this season.

If nothing prevents the movement should commence in force as soon as possible, and by as many approaches as can be found available. Communication with the fleet and rear must be carefully maintained both by signal stations & telegraph or telephone lines.

The details of the embarking and landing have been so ably touched upon during the course that they are omitted here. We deem it sufficient to say that the transports have been adequately provided with boats, and barges for the landing of men, animals and supplies. That everything has been placed in readiness to make a hasty embarkation in case of defeat or, the purposes of the expedition having been accomplished, the force ordered to reembark.

The estimate of tonnage and supplies contemplate an absence from the home ports not to exceed ten (10) days.

Following the occupation of the highways, the garrison of Halifax must be confined to the limits of its works. Raiding parties should start in force to Pictou overcome any resistance offered, and explode in the coal mines of Pictou heavy charges to destroy the shafts, and tunnels, and render the mines incapable of being worked; the tressels and all inflammable material should be put to the torch; the hoisting and transporting machinery be destroyed or injured beyond repair. This accomplished the retreat should be along the line of railways to the main body, destroying the R.R. as soon as passed over, by burning or wrecking bridges, culverts, heating and bending the rails, & other devices, so frequently practiced during the late civil war.

If the assault of Halifax on the land side is found impracticable the force must be embarked & return with dispatch to the place of rendezvous.

During the absence of the division the D ships and gunboats should endeavor to intercept, dispatch vessels, coal & supply steamers of the enemy, plying between Halifax and the main fleet of the enemy operating on our coast.

The raiding party, in force, upon the Pictou mines must start at the earliest moment practicable, in order to cover the distance, 70 miles, and return within the limited times allowed, and also to make the raid as much of a surprise as possible.

Instructions to the Fleet of 16 Transports and 8 armed vessels comprising the convoy.

The formation will be the “square” with steamers carrying wagons to the rear, to assist by towing, or otherwise, any disabled transports.

Two C’s in the van, 2 C’s on the flanks. 2 gunboats to the rear while the 2 D’s should act as scouts. In case of separation the rendezvous will be the destination as originally arranged, if for any reason vessels are unable to reach that point they will return to the most available home port.

The commander-in-chief will make such arrangements to receive information while at sea as to enable him to be overtaken by important dispatches, that might render it advisable to change the destination of the expedition, or order the enterprise to be abandoned.

For this purpose swift class D vessels could leave with dispatches from points on the coast of Maine in telegraphic communication with the officials in authority.


About the author: A specialist in the age of fighting sail, Michael J. Crawford, Ph.D., is the senior historian at the Naval History and Heritage Command, editor-in-chief of the award-winning publication series Naval Documents of the American Revolution, author or editor of fifteen books and author of dozens of articles and chapters in encyclopedias, books and peer-reviewed journals.