Collections and Fonds – 48

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  • Record Information – Brief
    Department of National Defence fonds [multiple media]
    Hierarchical level:
    Fonds / Collection
    RG24, R112-0-2-E.
    Type of material:
    Moving images, Objects (including medals & pins), Photographs, Sound recordings, Textual material
    Found in:
    Archives / Collections and Fonds
    Item number:
    Link to this page:
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  • Fonds / Collection includes:
    792 lower level description(s)
    View lower level description(s)
    Bilingual equivalent:
    Click here
    Place of creation:
    No place, unknown, or undetermined
    ca. 5992 m of textual records.
    2573 microfilm reels.
    870 microfiches.
    ca. 2,000,000 photographs : multiple processes.
    970 film reels (ca. 351 h, 11 min).
    107 videocassettes (ca. 53 h).
    294 audio cassettes (ca. 295 h, 15 min).
    77 audio discs (ca. 10 h, 12 min, 30 s) : phonograph, glass.
    ca. 33 audio reels (ca. 70 h, 3 min).
    15 medals
    Language of material:
    Scope and content:
    Fonds consists of records created and/or maintained by the Department of National Defence and its predecessors. Researchers are cautioned that unprocessed records, i.e records in accessions, are not reflected in this description.
    Creator / Provenance:
    Biography/Administrative history:
    The Department of National Defence came into existence on 1 January 1923 as a result of the National Defence Act (12-13 George V Chap. 34). In creating the department, the statute disbanded the Department of Militia and Defence, the Department of Naval Service and the Air Board and combined all three armed services and their administration under the single authority of the Minister of National Defence. By bringing the organizations under the control of a single minister the government recognized the need to maintain a multi-service force, but hoped to realize certain administrative economies, and a degree of unification in the administration and direction of the forces. As the Minister of National Defence held overall responsibility for defence policy and administration, his presence on the Defence Council ensured a degree of ministerial accountability. This body, which replaced the former Militia Council, underwent a number of changes in the inter- war years, however in all instances the Minister of National Defence sat as President and the Deputy Minister served as vice-chairman. All three fighting services were represented by their senior commanding officers, and were supported by other departmental officials and officers, including the Judge Advocate General. While the Defence Council remained in existence after September 1939, its role lessened with the advent of the Cabinet Defence Committee (CDC) in 1936. Even though the CDC seldom met, the participation of the Ministers of Finance and Justice and the Prime Minister, signified a wider political involvement in the decision making process as European rearmament quickened.

    Although the creation of the Department of National Defence was also an attempt to unify the command of the forces, the military command structure continued to evolve over the inter-war period. With the passage of the National Defence Act, the Chief of Staff had been designated by Ottawa as the overall commander with responsibility for the direction of all three services, the Canadian Militia, the Royal Canadian Navy and the Canadian Air Force. This officer also held the title of Inspector-General for all three services. This attempt at unification lasted only until 1928, when the creation of the position Chief of Naval Staff settled a five year debate between the first Chief of Staff, Major-General J.H. MacBrien, and Commodore W. Hose, over spending and military priorities. At this time the senior militia officer reverted to the designation Chief of the General Staff. In 1938, a certain symmetry between the three services was achieved when the government created the office of Chief of Air Staff, giving the senior officer of the Royal Canadian Air Force the same status as his counterparts in the militia and navy. The Chiefs of the three services commanded their individual services and all orders were issued under their respective authorities. From 1927 onward, a degree of military coordination between the three services had been achieved by the revival of a joint service advisory committee, known as the Joint Staff Committee. Consisting of the three senior officers and the Commissioner of the RCMP, who contributed on issues of domestic security, the Joint Staff Committee provided advice to the minister on planning and resources. With the abovementioned designation of the Chief of the Air Staff, this committee was renamed the Chiefs of Staff Committee. However, during this period of retrenchment the Joint Staff Committee naturally played a secondary role to the Defence Council.

    The outbreak of the Second World War started a transformation that would radically alter the form of the Department of National Defence and the services. In September 1939, overall control of the department continued to be in the hands of the Minister of National Defence. However, in the first month of the war the government created the Cabinet War Committee to strengthen the political direction of the military and industrial war effort. Then, in May 1940, the Minister of National Defence received some relief from his increasing burdens with the appointment of a Minister of National Defence for Air. This was followed in July 1940 by the appointment of a Minister of National Defence for Naval Services. Both positions came about through amendments to the National Defence Act (4 Geo VI Ch.1 and 4 Geo VI ch.21). The three ministers continued to operate from a burgeoning single unified department. While each of these appointments provided more political oversight and control over the armed services, the headquarters of the three services grew proportionately to the war effort. The Chiefs of Staff continued to be the body responsible for purely military advice and the Defence Council became concerned with more purely administrative responsibilities.

    The pattern of organization set in Ottawa was also used overseas during the Second World War. Separate service headquarters were set up for the Canadian Active Service Force (CASF), the Royal Canadian Air Force, and the Royal Canadian Navy. Control and direction of overseas military units was exercised from these offices. The headquarters for the overseas CASF, known as the Canadian Military Headquarters, also served as the overseas headquarters of the Department of National Defence, liaising with allied governments in the United Kingdom and coordinating and administering tri-service functions and activities.

    The changes to the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Services at the end of the war were as dramatic as those during the war. As was anticipated, ministerial control reverted to a single minister, service headquarters overseas were disbanded and those in Ottawa underwent dramatic reductions. Similarly the size of the fighting forces moved to peacetime establishments, withdrawing from European occupation duties in 1946. The only new wartime activity that survived this process of reduction and reorganization was defence research, which had proven itself invaluable to war effort. As a consequence, the Defence Research Board came into existence by amendment to the National Defence Act (11 Geo VI. Ch. 5 ). It was only the increasing East-West tensions in the late 1940s and the outbreak of the Korean War in June 1950 that reversed the process of force reduction.

    During the 1950s the organization of the department and the command structure stabilized. In these years the proportion of the federal budget committed to the defence spending grew significantly. These increased expenditures and the growing defence bureaucracy became objects of some scrutiny for the Royal Commission on the Organization of Government. The recommendations of the Royal Commission buttressed the argument for a more unified and accountable defence structure. The result was two major pieces of legislation in 1964 and 1966 which placed the forces under one officer, the Chief of the Defence Staff, and unified the three services into the Canadian Forces (13-14 Eliz. II Ch.21 and 14-15-16 Eliz. II Ch.96, respectively). The headquarters of the three services were disbanded and replaced with a unified organization, referred to as the Canadian Forces Headquarters. Further reorganization of the headquarters took place in the wake of the 1971 White Paper on Defence. The headquarters was renamed National Defence Headquarters and the Defence Research Board was dismantled.

    The military command structure was naturally affected by these changes. In 1964 the Chiefs of Staff Committee was replaced by the Defence Management Committee which combined both civilian officials and military officers. Beneath the level of the Chief of the Defence Staff, a functional command structure was created. With some notable exceptions, these commands reflected the pre- unification service structure. The exceptions were the creation of a Communications Command, a Training Command, and two commands for air, covering air transport and air defence. In 1970, National Defence created an additional command, Canadian Forces Europe, under which Canadian air and land forces in Europe were unified. In 1975, Air Transport Command and Air Defence Command were amalgamated to form Air Command. The various command headquarters were geographically distributed across Canada. The 1994 White Paper on Defence initiated force reductions and the process whereby the Chiefs of Maritime Staff, Air Staff and Land Forces were moved back to Ottawa.
    Finding aid:
    (Electronic) Finding aids are identified with series decriptions and with accessions records. A large number of file and item level records are described and linked to the records in this fonds and are available through the LAC Archives Search tool. (Restrictions not set)
    Additional information:
    Source of title:
    R.S. 1985, c. N-5
    Further accruals are expected.
    Other system control no.:
  • Conditions of access:
    AV item no. (LAC)
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