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Shortly before midnight on June 5th.1944, the familiar drone hundreds of aeroplane engines above the south coast of Britain caused people to lift the black-out curtains of their rooms and peer up at the sky. For months the noise of Allied bombers going out and returning had been heard, but that night it seemed to be much louder than before. Graham Knight
D-Day. June 6th 1944. - The longest day.- The breaching of the Atlantic Wall.- The striking of a major blow to Nazi Germany, forcing it to defend itself, on a third front besides Italy and Eastern Europe.
The landings in Normandy that day by British, Canadian and American troops, supported by thousands of Allied aircraft and ships opened a new chapter in the story of World War11 one that was key to ending the war in Europe a year later
D-Day was also monumental date in the lives of thousands who took part in the invasion and millions who followed the events from elsewhere!
The first task was crossing the Channel from England to France. From the mother ship there would be barges that would carry 30 to 40 men to the beach. Visibility limited due to smoke and flashing lights on shore guided them to the beach –there they would drive in until the barge scraped, lower the end gate and unload. This started at daybreak and continued till nightfall, picking up troops, taking them to the beach, backing out, turning around and returning as quickly as possible. What a terrible thing to watch the men go ashore seasick- frightened wet and cold while their buddies were dying right and left …….
The Allied plan of attack called for three airborne divisions, including two American - one British including the 1st Cdn Parachute Battalion to secure the flanks the night before the seaborne invaders were to touch down. Then the Americans were to land on the two westernmost beaches Utah and Omaha The British in the centre Gold beach and the Easternmost flank Sword. The third Canadian Inf. Division was to hit Juno beach between the British landing beaches.
To no ones surprise nothing went as planned – the hardest struggle was at Omaha beach where the Americans suffered terrible casualties The underwater and beach defenses of Hitler’s Atlantic Wall posed a deadly threat to landing craft.. Despite the underwater mines regiments made it to the beach faced a withering enemy!
Now the Germans’ main forces came into play - But what shook Canadian solders- they soon learned that captured soldiers were murdered by SS troops and in some cases ground to pulp under tank treads. The SS troops became the most hated troops faced by Canadians
The fighting went on and next the 13th SS troops hammered Regina’s Rifles and Winnipeg’s Queens own Rifles.
After the dust had cleared the battered Regina’s still held there positions as did all the divisions units. Both sides had taken heavy casualties and lost many tanks while the Canadian Artillery had begun to establish its dominancy The German attempt to drive the Canadians- the British and the American forces into the sea had failed. The battle of the bridgehead was over and the Canadian’s had won.
The Americans launching Operation Cobra had broken out of the hedgerows and Hitler ordered a counter attack with the Nazis moving west there was the opportunity to trap German forces in Normandy in a giant pocket and bag the lot.
More than a thousand British and Canadian bombers dropped the bombs successfully – but churned up so much dust they couldn’t see the Germans. Americans roared into to hit Nazi positions, but their bombs fell short, pounding Canadian and Polish positions – A tragedy - three hundred were killed or wounded.
At last the enemy resistance slackened under the weight of fire and superior numbers.
The cost of victory was terrible from D-Day to August 23 150,000 troops stormed Normandy beaches. About 2,500 GI's died on the beaches and 2,600 paratroopers died. And 3,100 Germans died.
Casualties on the British beaches were roughly 1000 on Gold Beach and the same number on Sword Beach.
The casualties at Utah Beach were relatively light: 197, including 60 missing. However, the US 1st and 29th Divisions together suffered around 2000 casualties at Omaha Beach.
Canadian casualties 18,444 with 5,021 killed. Was it worth? Was it worth the death and maiming the shattered hopes, the ruination of lives? There can only be one answer that Hitler and his Nazis were a monstrous evil that had to be destroyed, and the Allies had to invade France to do so. As a partner in the war on freedom Canadians had to carry their share of the burden. And they did. The liberation of France was an Allied victory on which Canadians did their full part. Freedom survived. Was it worth it? Oh Yes!