Saturday, June 06, 2009

The Canadians at Normandy

On D-Day, 6 June, 1944, 65 years ago today, the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division landed on Juno Beach. They sailed in under cover of darkness to smash down the walls of "Fortress Europe" and together with the British and American forces invaded the Normandy coast of Nazi-occupied France.

Juno was the codename for the beach assigned to the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division, right in the middle of the British sector, between Gold to the west and Sword to the east. Juno Beach is 7km long and was then located between the villages of Graye-sur-Mer and St-Aubin-sur-Mer.

The Canadian assault troops stormed ashore in the face of fierce opposition from German strongholds and mined beach obstacles. The coast in this area was defended by elements of the 726th and 736th regiments and was filled with numerous concrete bunkers forming a thin defensive line. Along the beach, the gaps between the pillboxes were filled with rows of wooden obstacle posts, wood or concrete tetrahedrons and metallic gates driven into the sand facing the sea.

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.

Once in possession of the German strongholds, the Canadian troops began to clear the various resistance nests before pushing inland. The villages of Graye sur Mer, Courseulles and Bernières were captured in the morning but the St Aubin strong point resisted until late afternoon. John Keegan, eminent British historian, author of Six Armies in Normandy, stated “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.”

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 340 Canadian lives and another 574 wounded.

The freedoms we enjoy today came at a tremendous cost. Let us never forget their sacrifice. God bless them all.

More D-Day posts. I apologize that you will have to cut and paste but Blogger no longer creates hyperlinks for me:

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