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To the men and women who served in the Canadian Army, to ALL who served during D-Day and World War II, we owe you for the freedom that we take for granted.
Let us never forget their sacrifice. God bless them all.
D-Day was the start of the Battle of Normandy.
And the beginning of the end.
Allied soldiers — British, American, Canadian — came together in an extraordinary naval, air and land campaign to reclaim Europe from the Nazis, an effort that put thousands of troops on the beaches of Northern France on D-Day: June 6, 1944.
The major invasion (code name: Operation Overlord) that began June 6 continued with the German army flailing at Falaise in mid-August and ended August 25 with the liberation of Paris.
Eleven months after D-Day, on May 7, 1945, Germany surrendered.
D-Day itself was the largest ever invasion by sea (code name for that part: Operation Neptune) in the history of warfare. It gave Allied forces a foothold on the coast of France. Within a few weeks a million soldiers were on those beaches, pushing inland into France to begin liberating Europe.
Normandy is one of the 18 different regions of France. The area is in the northwest of the country, and known for its beautiful beaches — which sit across the Channel from England.
For the D-Day invasion, five beach areas in Normandy were code-named Juno, Sword, Gold, Utah and Omaha.
Juno Beach is where Canadian troops landed;
On D-Day, June 6, 1944, the 3rdCanadian Infantry Division landed on Juno Beach. The Canadian assault troops stormed ashore in the face of fierce opposition from German strongholds and mined beach obstacles. The soldiers raced across the wide-open beaches swept with machine gun fire, and stormed the gun positions. In fierce hand-to-hand fighting, they fought their way into the towns of Bernières, Courseulles and St. Aubin and then advanced inland, securing a critical bridgehead for the allied invasion. The victory was a turning point in World War II and led to the liberation of Europe and the defeat of Nazi Germany.
Fourteen thousand young Canadians stormed Juno Beach on D-Day. Their courage, determination and self-sacrifice were the immediate reasons for the success in those critical hours. The fighting they endured was fierce and frightening. The price they paid was high - the battles for the beachhead cost 359 Canadian lives and another 574 wounded.
John Keegan, eminent British historian who wrote Six Armies in Normandy, stated the following concerning the Canadian 3rd Division on D-Day: “At the end of the day, its forward elements stood deeper into France than those of any other division. The opposition the Canadians faced was stronger than that of any other beach save Omaha. That was an accomplishment in which the whole nation could take considerable pride.”
To the men and women who served in the Canadian Army during D-Day and World War II. To these people, we owe the freedom that we take for granted. Let us never forget their sacrifice. God bless them all.
The Americans were on Omaha and Utah; the British on Gold and Sword.
The toughest landings were on Omaha and Juno. Ocean reefs briefly held up the landing on Juno and Canadian soldiers initially came onto the beach with no tank support. The men were sitting ducks. Canadian troops nonetheless distinguished themselves that day by advancing seven miles inland — farthest of all the Allies.
D-Day required an unparalleled cooperative effort: besides the American, Canadian and British troops storming the beaches, soldiers offering land, sea and air support came from France, Belgium, Holland, Australia, New Zealand, Greece, Norway, Poland, Czechoslovakia and Rhodesia.
Some 150,000 Allied soldiers were part of D-Day, and 14,000 of them were the Canadians who landed on Juno Beach. The men were from the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division and the 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade.
(About 450 men from the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion had dropped into France before dawn, part of the advance arm of D-Day.)
On D-Day, 359 Canadians died; about 5,000 in total died during the fighting in Normandy.
According to an Ancestry.ca analysis, their average age was 23.
The original date of D-Day was June 5, but the weather turned.
The mission required a full moon to help light the way for advance aircraft, among other things, and a low-ish tide, so landing craft could see the mines and detritus planted near the shore by the German army.
Only a few days each month fit the moon/tide bill.
On June 5, high winds and low clouds cancelled any potential action by sea or air. A crisis was averted when chief meteorologist James Stagg and Norwegian meteorologist Sverre Petterssen were able to predict a reasonable weather window June 6.
General Eisenhower ordered the D-Day invasion to go ahead.
The weather forecast was crucial — not just because the Allies got it right, but because the Germans got it wrong. They knew an Allied invasion was likely, but they didn’t know when. German meteorologists believed stormy weather around June 5 and 6 made an invasion impossible, so they slacked off; troops were unprepared, senior officers were elsewhere and the ‘Desert Fox’ — Field Marshall Erwin Rommel — went home to Germany for his wife’s birthday.
The rest is history.
D-Day and the Battle of Normandy were about regaining control of Europe, ending the war and safeguarding the freedoms we all currently enjoy.
Sprechen sie Deutsch? You might have.
Terry Copp is one of Canada’s foremost military historians.
For over 50 years he was a university professor, and he is co-founder and Director Emeritus of the Laurier Centre for Military, Strategic and Disarmament Studies — a national leading research centre studying the impact of war on society.
Copp is the author or co-author of some 20 books, including the ‘bible’ of the Canadian D-Day effort, Fields of Fire: The Canadians in Normandy.
His meticulous research established the importance of the contribution made by this country’s forces in Normandy.
We asked Professor Copp about the most important thing Canadians should know about D-Day. He said:
“The selection of 3rd Canadian division and 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade as the core of Force ‘J’ to land on D-Day at Juno, was a consequence of the key role Canada played in the Second World War.”
“D-Day began the campaign that ended the war in the west, completing the struggle to liberate western Europe, and Canadians on land, sea and air were an important part of the story.”
The total of Allied and German deaths by August 30 was over 425,000.
THE ATLANTIC WALL
To protect the coast against invasion, the Germans fortified Europe’s northern shore from Spain up to the North Sea — essentially building a 2,000 mile long ‘fence’ consisting of fortresses, gun emplacements, tank traps, bunkers and obstacles.
It took 2 years to build and involved millions of tons of steel and concrete, a forest of guns, barbed wire and booby-traps and five million mines. It cost a fortune in manpower and money.
And it was breached in a day: June 6, 1944.
• The First U.S. Army, accounting for the first twenty-four hours in Normandy, tabulated 1,465 killed, 1,928 missing, and 6,603 wounded. The after-action report of U.S. VII Corps (ending 1 July) showed 22,119 casualties including 2,811 killed, 5,665 missing, 79 prisoners, and 13,564 wounded, including paratroopers.
• Surprisingly, no British figures were published, but Cornelius Ryan cites estimates of 2,500 to 3,000 killed, wounded, and missing, including 650 from the Sixth Airborne Division.
• German sources vary between four thousand and nine thousand D-Day casualties on 6 June—a range of 125 percent. Field Marshal Erwin Rommel’s report for all of June cited killed, wounded, and missing of some 250,000 men, including twenty-eight generals.
Divisions of the Allied forces for Operation Overlord (the assault forces on 6 June involved two U.S., two British, and one Canadian division.)
• 23 infantry divisions (thirteen U.S., eight British, two Canadian)
• 12 armored divisions (five U.S., four British, one each Canadian, French, and Polish)
• 4 airborne (two each U.S. and British)
• Total:23 American divisions, 14 British, 3 Canadian, 1 French and 1 Polish.
American Personnel in Britain:
• 1,931,885 land
• 659,554 air
• 285,000 naval
• Total:2,876,439 officers and men housed in 1,108 bases and camps
• 3,958 heavy bombers (3,455 operational)
• 1,234 medium and light bombers (989 operational)
• 4,709 fighters (3,824 operational)
• Total: 9,901 (8,268 operational).
• 850,000 German troops awaiting the invasion, many were Eastern European conscripts; there were even some Koreans.
• In Normandy itself the Germans had deployed 80,000 troops, but only one panzer division.
• 60 infantry divisions in France and ten panzer divisions, possessing 1,552 tanks,In Normandy itself the Germans had deployed eighty thousand troops, but only one panzer division.
Approximately fifteen thousand French civilians died in the Normandy campaign, partly from Allied bombing and partly from combat actions of Allied and German ground forces.
The total number of casualties that occurred during Operation Overlord, from June 6 (the date of D-Day) to August 30 (when German forces retreated across the Seine) was over 425,000 Allied and German troops. This figure includes over 209,000 Allied casualties:
• Nearly 37,000 dead amongst the ground forces
• 16,714 deaths amongst the Allied air forces.
• Of the Allied casualties, 83,045 were from 21st Army Group (British, Canadian and Polish ground forces)
• 125,847 from the US ground forces.
But the numbers alone don’t tell the full story of the battle that raged in Normandy on June 6th, 1944 ☹
The experiences of Allied troops landing on D-Day were very different. The paratroopers scattered by poor weather across hundreds of miles of countryside faced different challenges from those streaming off the boats onto the landing beaches. Even on those beaches, no two experiences were the same, differences in circumstances made each soldier’s experience a different battle.
1. Utah Beach The American landings at Utah Beach were among the easiest, as the Germans had not prepared heavy defenses. Because of flooded land in the area, the Germans had not expected the Allies to land there, and so it was lightly defended. With three quarters of the trains and strategic bridges in northern France taken out by air raids and the French Resistance, there was little way for the Germans to respond to the landings A massive bombardment by battleships, cruisers and destroyers shattered what defenses the Germans had. 32 amphibious tanks sailed two miles to the beach under cover of the bombardment, with only four of them lost on the way. With armor in place, the infantry followed, and found only light resistance. Despite the 4th Infantry Division landing on the wrong beach, Utah was quickly taken. Safe routes through the minefields and obstacles were established within three hours, and the tanks moved on to take the causeways that would let them progress safely across the flooded areas.
2. Omaha Beach By contrast, the other American landings, at Omaha Beach, were the toughest of the day. 300 yards of sand led to steep shingle and then a 150-foot plateau, with 100-foot cliffs blocking the ends of the beach. The veteran German 352ndInfantry Division were in strong defenses on the top of the plateau, and there were only four ways up it, all through narrow ravines. The only reason this difficult beach featured in the landings was to connect the rest into a single beachhead. Poor visibility and choppy waters made the initial bombardment ineffective and sank all but four of the amphibious tanks that were the first wave. When the infantry hit shore, they disembarked into a deadly hail of fire. The obstacles the engineers were meant to clear instead became shelter for desperate men, as the sea and the beach ran red with blood. To the east of the beach, troops made it ashore, some in the wrong place by accident, others finding cover in the smoke from fires lit by the artillery bombardment. Reaching the plateau, they prevented a German counter-attack on the beach, but the Germans were still well dug in. Desperate measures were needed. Destroyers sailed so close that the Germans could shoot them with rifles. The ships bombarded the German positions, risking hitting the American troops in the process. At last the Germans surrendered, but the minefields and obstacles remained to be cleared. By the end of the day, the Americans had advanced only 1,200 yards at Omaha Beach, and the Germans were gathering beyond it for a counter-attack.
3. Gold Beach The preparatory bombardment at Gold Beach, one of the British landing sites, made a huge difference. Three out of four heavy German guns at the Longues-sur-mer battery were taken out by direct hits from cruisers an hour before the troops hit the beach at 0725. The fourth gun managed to return to action in the afternoon, and another defensive position provided enfilading fire against the Allies for most of the day, but most of the defenses had been taken out. The Germans held out in heavily fortified houses along the shore, which British infantry stormed before advancing inland. No. 47 Commando seized Port-en-Bessin the following day, providing access to a small port, and the Hampshire Regiment captured Arromanches, which would become the site of the vital Mulberry Harbour. The only Victoria Cross awarded for action on D-Day went to Sergeant Major Stanley Hollis for action on Gold Beach. He single-handedly seized two pillboxes, capturing dozens of German troops, and rescued two of his men following an unsuccessful attack on an enemy position.
4. Juno Beach Juno proved a tough landing. A reef off the coast held up the landing craft for half an hour, while they floated in sight of the German defenders. Amphibious and obstacle-clearing tanks, which should have gone in first to clear the way for the infantry, had to be held back because of the difficult conditions. As the infantry flowed ashore, they found themselves without armored support. Once the tanks landed, a similar problem occurred again. Clearing the beach exits would take specialized armor that they didn’t have. Men and vehicles became backed up, sitting exposed on the beach. The key breakthrough came at the east end of the beach. Heavy casualties were taken on the 100-yard dash to the sea wall there, until a ship came up to bombard the German defences. Almost grounding their vessel in the attempt, the ship’s crew blew a hole in the German lines, and the Canadians streamed through. Despite this difficult start, the Canadians achieved the furthest advances on the first day, reaching seven miles inland after their breakout.
5. Sword Sword Beach, near the mouth of the River Orne, was stormed by the 3rd Division of the British 1st Corps. Compared with the others, they had a relatively easy landing. Within an hour they had taken control of the beach and begun heading inland. It was then that the troops from Sword found themselves challenged. The British role in the first days of the invasion was to halt and destroy the German Panzer troops around the city of Caen. To do this, the troops landing at Juno and Sword needed to link up with the 6th Airborne, who had landed around the Orne. Two miles from Sword Beach, they were stopped in their tracks. The 21st Panzers, equipped with 88mm self-propelled guns and supported by German infantry, started putting up stiff resistance. The British 3rd Division had been trained extensively for fighting on the beaches, but now found itself fighting inland. It took them eight hours to adjust, push through the Germans, and reach the 6th Airborne.