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Defense of the Normandy Beaches
"Canada's heroic defence of the Normandy beaches" June 7-12, 1944.
 

"At D-Day's end, the Canadians, who had landed on Juno Beach, were six miles inland — the deepest penetration achieved by Allied forces on this infamous day. But every soldier on this front line knew worse was yet to come. For in the darkness the Germans were massing, intent on throwing them back to sea."  - Holding Juno: Canada's Heroic Defense of the D-Day Beaches.

 
"Holding Juno" by Mark Zuehlke.
The 12th SS moved forward towards the front starting at dawn on D-Day but air attacks slowed their advance. The division's vanguard, the 25th Panzer Grenadier Regiment, commanded by Colonel Kurt Meyer moved into the area west of Caen. Meyer established his headquarters in the Ardennes Abbey on June 7 (D-Day + 1) and discovered the Canadian 9th Brigade advancing toward Carpiquet airport. The 25th Panzer Grenadiers attacked the exposed Canadian flank with two battalions supported by tanks. The Germans struck with great force and in vicious close quarter battles forced the Canadians out of Authie and Buron after heavy losses in tanks and men.

In defence, the Canadians infantry proved as stubbornly ferocious as the Germans, especially once they were able to bring their artillery to bear. In Normandy artillery was the most lethal weapon on both sides, causing three out of every four wounds. Supported by the big guns of a British cruiser, and the 12 remaining Sherbrooke Fusiliers tanks, the 9th Brigade fought their way back in forcing the Germans in turn to withdraw from Buron. The vanguard of the 9th Brigade was decimated. The North Nova Scotia casualties were 84 killed, 30 wounded and 128 captured. The Sherbrookes casualties were 26 killed and 34 wounded along with 28 tanks destroyed or damaged. The Germans had also paid, the Sherbrookes claiming to have destroyed up to 35 German tanks, thus reducing the effectiveness of the 25th Panzer Grenadier Regiment.

At dawn on June 8th the 26th Panzer Grenadier Regiment of the 12th SS attacked the Canadian 7th Brigade that had advanced up to the Caen-Bayeux road. The Germans attacked the town of Putot-en-Bessin with two battalions and surrounded the Winnipeg Rifles. The Canadian Scottish supported by the 1st Hussars moved back into the village under a creeping artillery barrage. After two hours of fierce fighting the Canadians recaptured Putot-en-Bessin and linked up with the remnants of the Winnipegs still holding on.

A third German battalion attacked Bretteville. The Regina Rifles stubbornly defended the town and the battle raged all night in the village streets. At dawn the next morning the 12th SS retreated after suffering heavy losses. To stop the German counter attack the Canadians paid a high price. The Winnipeg Rifles lost 256 men including 105 killed. The Canadian Scottish lost 125 men, including 45 killed while the Regina Rifles losses were smaller.

Many of the Winnipeg Rifles had been taken prisoner and were among the 45 Canadians executed by the 12th SS at the Abbey of Ardenne on June 8th. The previous day, 23 Canadian prisoners from the North Novas and Sherbrookes were shot by the men of the 12th SS. After the war Kurt Meyer would be held responsible for these war crimes and sentenced to death, a sentence later commuted to life imprisonment.

The German army had become experts in defensive techniques on the Russian front. They were able to use the Normandy terrain to their advantage and inflict heavy losses on the Allies when they advanced. However when the Germans attempted offensive operations in Normandy they were faced with the same difficulties. The Allies superior artillery brought overwhelming firepower down on the Germans and decimated them. Starting with the 21st Division counter attack on June 6th and in subsequent attacks, the Germans suffered their heaviest losses when they left their defensive positions and attacked the Allies.

 Photo Gallery
Personnel of 'D' Company, Regina Rifles, occupying forward position, France, 8-10 June 1944.
Infantrymen of an unidentified regiment of the 9th Canadian Infantry Brigade resting in the Normandy bridgehead. June 8-9, 1944, Normandy, France.
Private D.D. Martin on sentry guard. 10 June 1944, Normandy, France.
Unidentified Canadian soldier outside No.3 Canadian Public relations Group headquarters. 9 June 1944, France.
Pte. R.L. Randolf, First Canadian Scot Regiment, cooks dinner with a 2" mortar ready in trench. 12 June, 1944.
Infantrymen of an unidentified regiment of the 9th Canadian Infantry Brigade in the Normandy bridgehead. June 8-9, 1944, Normandy, France.
PIAT gunners of the Regina Rifles who knocked out a Pz.Kpfw.V'Panther' tank thirty yards from Battalion HQ. 8 June 1944, Normandy, France.
Lt. J.A.R. Gregoire of Québec leading a platoon past shot-up Nazi German half trucks. 10 June 1944, France.
Stretcher bearer of an unidentified regiment of the 9th Canadian Infantry Brigade in the Normandy bridgehead. June 8-9, 1944, Normandy, France.
Mortar crew, Headquarters Company, Regina Rifle Regiment. June 9, 1944, Normandy, France.
Lieutenant Ken Bell of Canadian Film Photo unit digs in. 10 June 1944, Normandy, France.
 
Sources: Juno Beach

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