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Canadians on D-Day: June 6, 1944

Juno - The Assault
Above: Under attack, Canadian soldiers struggle across the beaches of Normandy.
 
 
Soldier: Royal Canadian Navy Beach Commando.

Location: The Western Front France, Normandy

Casualties
 Country
Killed
Total
  Canada - Juno
359
1,074
  Britain - Gold
?
630
  Britain - Sword
?
413
  CAN/UK - Airborne
?
1,500
  United States - Utah
?
197
  United States - Omaha
?
2,000
  United States - Airborne
?
2,499
 
Sub-Categories
 
Map: A map of the Juno Beach landings.
 
Crusade for Liberation
Video: A Canadian Army Newsreel depicts the D-Day lead-up, the landing and the march for Paris.
 
  
On June 6, 1944, now known to history as D-Day, Operation Overlord, the long-awaited invasion of Northwest Europe, began with Allied landings on the coast of Normandy. The task was formidable for the Germans had turned the coastline into a continuous fortress with guns, pillboxes, wire, mines and beach obstacles - and on it depended the outcome of the war.

The military planners had given Canada a major role on D-Day: to take one of the five designated beaches where Allied forces were to land to begin the liberation of Europe from Nazi Germany. The Americans had Utah and Omaha beaches in the west, then came the British at Gold, then the Canadians at Juno Beach and finally the British at Sword on the east.

The greatest seaborne invasion in history was aimed at 80 kilometres of mostly flat, sandy beach along the Normandy coast, west of the Seine River, east of the jutting Cotentin Peninsula. Canada’s objective was right in the middle.

There were about 155,000 soldiers, 5,000 ships and landing craft, 50,000 vehicles and 11,000 planes set for the coming battle.

Before dawn on D-Day, 230 heavy bombers from RCAF No.6 Group pounded German shore batteries with 860 tons of bombs. And in the daylight hours, RCAF fighter squadrons flew top cover for the invasion beaches. Fifty Canadian destroyers, frigates and corvettes assisted in covering the invasion, providing anti-submarine escort and bombarding shore targets. 14,000 Canadians stormed ashore on Juno Beach and were the only force to capture all their initial objectives that day, at a cost of 1000 casualties, of which 350 were fatal.

In preparation for the invasion, Americans, British and Canadians underwent months of special training. Supplies were amassed in southern England. Ground, sea and air forces rehearsed endlessly to ensure perfect timing and co-operation.

Objectives
The Canadians were responsible for "Juno" in the centre of the British front.
  • Establish a beachhead along the five miles between Courseulles and St-Aubin-sur-Mer
  • Push through the gap between Bayeux and Caen
  • Penetrate to Carpiquet airfield some eleven miles inland

  Objectives of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion:

  • Cut the bridges on the Dives and Divette Rivers in Varaville and Robehomme.
  • Protect the left flank of the 9th Parachute Battalion as it attacked the German artillery position in Merville.
  • To take a strategic position at a crossroad in Le Mesnil.
Juno Footage
Video: First wave of the North Shore Regiment (3rd Canadian Division) at Nan sector, Juno beach. The Canadians hit the beaches and began the deadliest run of their lives. As they worked their way through the obstacles and minefields they came into the killing zones of the German gun positions.
 
 

Landing

Juno beach was five miles wide and stretched on either side of the small fishing port of Courseulles-sur-Mer, France. Two smaller villages, Bernières and St. Aubin, lay to the east of Courseulles. The coastline had been fortified by the occupying Germans and bristled with guns, concrete emplacements, pillboxes, fields of barbed wire and mines.

The 3rd Canadian Infantry Division reinforced by the 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade landed in two brigade groups:

  • 7th Brigade consisting of the Royal Winnipeg Rifles, Regina Rifles, and Canadian Scottish regiments
  • 8th Brigade consisting of the North Shore Regiment, Queen’s Own Rifles, and Le Régiment de la Chaudière

Each Brigade group was comprised of 3 infantry battalions (regiments), and supported by an armoured regiment, 2 artillery field regiments, combat engineer companies and extra units such as Armoured Vehicles, Royal Engineers (AVRE’s). The Fort Garry Horse tanks (10th Armoured Regiment) supported the 7th brigade landing on the left and the1st Hussars tanks (6th Armoured Regiment) supported the landing on the right.

The 9th Brigade consisting of the Highland Light Infantry, Stormont Dundas and Glengarry Highlanders, and North Nova Scotia Highlanders regiments landed later in the morning and advanced through the lead brigades. The Sherbrooke Fusiliers tanks (27th Armoured Regiment) provided tank support.

Although a total of 14,000 Canadians stormed Juno Beach on D-Day, there were not more than three thousand young Canadians in the first wave - all ranks. The initial assault was the responsibility of four regiments with two additional companies supporting the flanks:
 
- North Shore Regiment on the left at St. Aubin (Nan Red beach)
- Queen’s Own Rifles in the centre at Bernières (Nan White beach)
- Regina Rifles at Courseulles (Nan Green beach)
- Royal Winnipeg Rifles on the western edge of Courseulles (Mike Red and Mike Green beaches)
 
Above: The 1st Battalion, The Regina Rifle Regiment, Assault Landing at Courseulles, France, June 1944.

- A company of the Canadian Scottish secured the right flank
- A company of British, Royal Marine Commandos secured the left flank

The first wave of Canadian infantry was brought into shore by LCA’s landing at 7:55. When the ramps lowered the troops disembarked and waded ashore. The soldiers hit the beaches and began the deadliest run of their lives. As they worked their way through the obstacles and minefields they came into the killing zones of the German gun positions. The assault troops raced across the beaches through the curtain of machine gun fire, rushed the pillboxes and eliminated the German strong-points with Sten-guns, small arms fire and grenades. The first wave took heavy casualties on the beaches. DD tanks arrived on the beaches and fired on the pillboxes, decimating the remaining strong-points. In bitter hand-to-hand fighting the Canadians cleared the enemy gun positions and fought their way into the towns.

All morning long the battle raged along the precious strip of coast. The Regina Rifles and Royal Winnipeg Rifles fought their way through Courseulles and Graye-sur-Mer. The North Shore Regiment captured St.Aubin while the Queen’s Own Rifles took the town of Bernières. Tanks and infantry struck inland all that day and pressed on through villages, fields and groves of trees defended by determined Germans.

Facing formidable gun emplacements, machine gun nests and snipers, the brave Canadian soldiers did not hesitate in their advance. Determined officers led their well trained platoons to take out the enemy strongholds. Countless times the soldiers showed acts of valour by engaging the enemy in vicious close quarter fighting. Soldiers lost their close friends in the fighting and somehow found the courage to keep going. Through the terror of the battle the disciplined soldiers pushed on to overcome the enemy positions. The fierce battles were won by the bravery of the individual Canadian soldiers and the collective actions of their regimental units.

Numbers
  • The Royal Canadian Navy supplied ships and about 10,000 sailors.
  • 14,000 Canadian soldiers were to land on the beaches.
  • 516 Canadian Paratroopers were to drop behind enemy lines by parachute or glider.
  • Lancaster bombers and Spitfire fighters from the Royal Canadian Air Force supported the invasion.
"Juno Beach: Canada’s D-Day Victory" by Mark Zuehlke. 
Defenses
The German resistance at Juno Beach is relentless.
Juno beach was five miles wide and stretched on either side of the small fishing port of Courseulles-sur-Mer, France. Two smaller villages, Bernières and St. Aubin, lay to the east of Courseulles. The coastline had been fortified by the occupying Germans and bristled with guns, concrete emplacements, pillboxes, fields of barbed wire and mines.
 
The Germans used millions of slave labourers during four years of occupation to construct the ’Atlantic Wall’ - a modern fortification system along the coast of France. The fortifications consisted of a series of reinforced concrete gun emplacements supported by well protected infantry strong-points and heavy machine gun nests overlooking the beaches. These were surrounded by trenches with mortars and machine guns. The beaches were strewn with obstacles and mines. Tetrahedral obstacles - three iron bars intersecting at rights angles had been constructed on the beaches. Fields of barbed wire and mines covered the land past the beaches. Also the seafront houses provided excellent observation and firing positions for snipers. There were 32 static infantry Divisions of widely varying quality defending these fortifications along the French and Dutch coast.
 
This first line of defence was backed up by Panzer Divisions (armoured and motorized divisions) positioned inland from the Atlantic wall. The strategy was, if the Atlantic wall were breached, theses elite formations of crack mobile troops would strike as soon as possible after the landing and throw the Canadians and the Allies back into the sea. Within striking distance of the coast were five first-class divisions: the 21st Panzer Division with an estimated 350 tanks, the 12th SS with 150 tanks, the Panzer Lehr Division in the Le Mans area and two more tank divisions in the Seine. The proximity of 12th SS and 21st Panzer Divisions made it difficult for the British and Canadians to capture their objectives of Caen on D-Day.
  • Juno beach was defended by 3 battalions of the 716th Infantry Division with a strength of 7,771 soldiers all ranks.

The German plan was for the 716th Division to delay the Allied advance with artillery, mortars, mines and anti-tank guns until reinforcements from the 12th SS and 21st Panzer Divisions positioned near Caen could arrive.

The 12th SS Division positioned 50 miles behind the coast had 20,540 men and a full establishment of 150 tanks. The 12th SS was a fanatical Hitler Youth formation raised to believe in the German master race and the Fuhrer. Two thirds of these soldiers were18 years of age and had received sophisticated battle training starting at the age of 16. They were a dangerous combination of patriotism, self righteousness and brutality. Colonel Kurt Meyer commanded three battalions of the 25th Panzer Grenadier Regiment. Meyer and the 12th SS would become the nemesis of the Canadian Army in Normandy.

  • On D-Day the 716th Infantry Division took the main weight of the Canadian assault and was virtually destroyed. By evening they had lost 80% of their artillery.

Conclusion

“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.” - John Keegan, British historian.

The Canadian achievements on D-Day were remarkable. By the end of the day the 3rd Canadian Division was well established on its intermediate objectives, and had progressed further inland than any of the Allies. Although short of the planned final D-day objectives the Canadians had broken through the ’Atlantic Wall’ and smashed the first line of German defences.
 
Ahead lay eleven more months of bitter fighting. In June the Canadians would fight and overcome the brutal killing machine of the 12th SS. They would stubbornly hold and defend their positions against the vicious German counter-attacks. They would fight a costly battle for Carpiquet on July 4th before finally taking Caen on July 9th.
 Photo Gallery
Supermarine Spitfire recieves its D-Day markings, June 5th at Tangmere, Sussex.
Landing Craft Assault (LCAs) going ashore from H.M.C.S. Prince Henry during a D-Day training exercise.
Canadians, sometime before D-Day, aboard an LCT.
Canadian troops aboard LCI(L) 306 of the 262nd Flotilla, R.C.N., en route to France - 6 June 1944.
A LCA just launched off HMCS Prince Henry carrying troops towards the Normandy beaches.
On board their assault landing crafts, men of the Royal Winnipeg Rifles heading towards their sector of Juno Beach, June 6th, 1944.
Canadian soldiers hit the beaches and began the deadliest run of their lives. As they worked their way through the obstacles and minefields they came into the killing zones of the German gun positions.
North Nova Scotia Highlanders going ashore from L.C.I.(L.) 118
Two German officers in a group of prisoners who surrendered to Canadian troops in Courseulles, June 6th, 1944.
Berniers Sur Mer - German prisoners guarded by Canadian troops on Juno Beach on D-Day, 6 June 1944.
Highland Light Infantry of Canada examine wreck of Landing Ship, Infantry (L.S.I.) in which they came ashore during "D" Day operations.
Troops of the Highland Light Infantry of Canada going aboard an L.C.I.(L) at dawn - 6 June 1944.
Reinforcements going ashore from a (LCA) Landing Craft Assault from H.M.C.S. Prince Henry off the Normandy bridgehead.
View from LCI(L) 306 of the 2nd Canadian (262nd RN) Flotilla showing ships of Force ’J’ en route to France on D-Day - 6 June 1944.
On D-Day, the reserve brigade lands after Juno was secured.
On D-Day, the reserve brigade lands after Juno was secured.
Wounded await evacuation on Juno beach. (National Archives of Canada PA 133971).
Berniers Sur Mer: German prisoners captured by Canadian troops at Juno Beach on D-Day. 6 June 1944.
Tanks and Regiment de la Chaudière moving along French village road, Normandy Beach head. 6 June 1944.
"D" Day: wounded soldiers lying on beach awaiting transfer to casualty clearing station, Normandy, France, 6 June, 1944.
German prisoners before their transfer by LCT to England on Juno beach.
Canadian troops after the landings on the Normandy beach head.
Personnel of the Highland Light Infantry of Canada and the North Nova Scotia Highlanders aboard LCI(L) en route to France.
Canadians before D-Day.
Personnel of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division landing from L.C.I.(L) 299 of the 262nd Flotilla - 6 June 1944.
Personnel of Royal Canadian Navy Beach Commando "W" landing on Mike Beach, Juno sector of the Normandy beachhead.
Equipment wrecked on the beach, D-Day landings. 6 June 1944, Bernieres-Sur-Mer, Normandy, France.
Invasion craft en route to France on D-Day - 6 June 1944.
Personnel of the 9th Canadian Infantry Brigade landing from LCI(L) 125 of the 3rd Canadian (264th RN) Flotilla on ’Nan White’ Beach on D-Day - 6 June 1944.
Canadian soldiers studying a German plan of the beach during D-Day landing operations - 6 June 1944.
Lieut. Jack Beveridge, wounded by an exploding mine, being brought aboard H.M.C.S. Prince David off Bernières-sur-Mer - 6 June 1944.
North Shore Company Commander briefs his officers.
 
Sources: CBC Archives, Veterans Affairs Canada, Canadian War Museum, Library and Archives Canada

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