A Canadian's Journey Through D-Day Part 1: Preparation
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Canadian troops , as they bravely storm the shoreline toward's Juno Beach.
Leading up to D-Day
By 1940 the Germans had successfully occupied Paris France, and with its tight hold on Europe, there was little in their way to regulate the continent under Nazi control. As 1941 came around, Hitler’s forces invaded the USSR and managed to push Stalin’s Soviet army back to the far reaches of Moscow with operation Barbarossa. The Soviet’s were able to hold back the German advance but not without substantial causalities. Russia had marked a crucial gain in a potential turning point in the war but knew they couldn’t do it alone. Russia requested that the Allies open a second front, and by 1943 the Allies conducted operation Husky, which gave much needed relief to Stalin’s troops. This left the Allies with one final objective, liberate Western Europe starting with France.
Operation Overlord Planning
To liberate France came the beginning of Operation Overlord which took 1 year of meticulous planning and would be the largest seaborne invasion in history. The chosen location for the invasion was Normandy, primarily across an 50 km beachfront. This beachfront would later be divided into 5 sections known as Omaha and Utah beach which would be spearheaded by the Americans, Sword and Gold beach which would be led by the British, and Juno beach which would be stormed by the Canadian forces.
Within Operation Overlord's main Battle of Normandy came Operation Neptune, which consisted of the main beach landings.
Normandy had been chosen due to numerous factors when taking into account the level of Nazi defence, the logistical value when it came to transporting supplies and troops, as well as many tactical and geographical advantages that Normandy held. The plan of attack consisted of a heavy naval and airborne bombardment of the beachfront to eliminate most of the German defences and soften up the landing for the troops. As dawn rolled in, the Allies were to then deploy their respective airborne divisions over the beachfront, behind enemy defences. And by 6:30 am that day, 24,000 troops were to embark on a mighty endeavour as they were to conduct an amphibious landing to capture the beachfront.
After the American's captured Omaha Beach, landing crafts and other ships were then able to bring in supplies with relative ease due to the location.
This plan was to change the history of the world forever and help bring an end to the war.
One portion of the strategy that was often overlooked when observing what made operation Overlord a successful plan was the attention to detail when picking the correct day for landing. Many attributes were considered when choosing the D-Day date such as the moon, tides and weather patterns.
When the airborne operations were to take place, the pilots would require that there be a full moon present and little to no cloud cover (IWM, 2018). These weather conditions would ensure clear skies for the bomber and fighter pilots, although the full moon would leave the parachute battalions exposed at certain times. The strenuous task of choosing the day correctly also meant you had to pick a day that favoured some factors and troops more than others. With the help of British mathematician Arthur Thomas Doodson, came the invention of the tide-prediction machine which led to determining the perfect time of day to land and that June 5 to June 7 would be the most promising days to do so (IWM, 2018).
Arthur Thomas Doodson's invention , also known as Kelvin's Tide-Machine , was built for Lord Kelvin, and was to accurately predict the tides for the D-Day Normandy invasion (Bruce Parker , 2011).
As for the Naval operations, they required that there be low winds and low tides to ensure that the troops would make it ashore as smoothly as possible (IWM, 2018).
Lastly, the ground troops who were heading towards the beach were hoping for a calm day with pleasant weather for an easier transition from the ship to land. Another large requirement for the ground troops was for there to be a low tide, therefore all mines and obstacles would be exposed and easier to deal with.
In 1943, a full year before the D-Day events were to take place the Allied nations were strategizing a plan that would act as a diversion to the main Overlord plan. The diversion plan was named “Body Guard” and was made up of a series of operations that would confuse German intelligence of where the real invasion would take place.
At this point in time most of the German secret intelligence agents hiding in the United Kingdom were caught and the infamous Enigma machine had been cracked, although the Allies still feared that Hitler’s forces would have some sort of notion that an Invasion was coming (History, 2014). An early draft of the plan known as code-name Jael was presented in front of Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Joseph Stalin, where they all agreed and choose a few points around Europe for misleading attacks.
Joseph Stalin, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill at the 1943 Tehran conference, where Operation Bodyguard was proposed.
The main diversion would take place in Pas de Calais, as well as a few surrounding towns, ultimately thinning out Hitler’s defences. This section of Operation Body Guard was known as “Fortitude”, where the Allies successfully mislead the German high command that an invasion in North France and Norway were on there way. This diversion had backed up the German reinforcements for 7 weeks as they frantically tried to return to Normandy when it should have taken 2 weeks. This major delay in the time that enemy reinforcements could have arrived to meet the allied troops could have halted D-Day significantly and changed the outcome of the Battle for Normandy.
The Allies also deployed many fake inflatable tanks, naval ships , and aircraft in order to trick the German forces that there were more Allied troops and weapons then there actually was. This plan seemed to have worked, and had the German soldiers spooked.
The Allied forces knew that in order to win the war they had to keep constant momentum to their advance through Normandy. The entire backbone of the operation ran on petrol powered machines to support the men fighting. The Allies decided to implement P.L.U.T.O , which stood for pipe lines under the ocean. This was done in order to provide fuel to all the aircraft and land vehicles.
Two PLUTO pipelines ran from the Isle of Wight to Port-en-Bessin - the linkup point between Omaha and Gold beach. Another pipeline was added later, running from Dungeness on the Kent coast to Boulogne in France, and the PLUTO network continued to expand as the Allies advanced across Europe (IWM, T 30).
Canada’s Contribution to the Planning of D-Day
Canada had fully trained 14,000 young men who were to make up the 3rd infantry division for its very own designated assault on their landing point known as Juno Beach . The soldier’s average age was about 22, with some soldiers as young as 16 taking part in the landing. The men would be training for that fateful day for 1-4 years throughout the United Kingdom. In addition to mandatory military training, the infantry men would take part in countless amounts of beach landing rehearsals and movement tactics. The infantry men were taught to never jump over the side of their landing craft and not to stall inside it, but rather to run out as soon as possible. During the actual landing, this was deemed suicidal and the men soon realized that going over the side to avoid enemy fire was the best course of action. Once on the beach, the men were ordered to run forward in a zig-zag movement to make it more difficult for the enemy machine guns to hit their target. It was also encouraged to not stop for wounded soldiers, but to make it to the banks as soon as possible (Tom Douglas, 1944).
Allied troops rehearsing for the Normandy landings at various top secret locations.
Armour and Tank Division
The infantry men would not be alone during the assault on the beach. The 2nd Canadian Tank Brigade was also training for the landing. A variety of tanks and armoured vehicles would be used on that day, including some designs never seen before, these abnormal tanks would later be known as “Hobart’s Funnies”. Some of these vehicles included:
The Armoured Bulldozer, that was used to clear the beach obstacles and rubble from roads (Juno Beach Info, 2014).
The Crocodile, which was a modified Churchill tank that hauled around a large mounted flamethrower gun (Juno Beach Info, 2014).
The Crab, which was a Sherman tank supporting a front end rotating drum that was flailing 43 chains in the attempt to detonate land mines that were 10 inches from the surface of the beach. (Juno Beach Info, 2014).
There were many other armoured vehicles and tanks such as the ones above involved in the post landing events. One the most famous used that day was deployed during the actual landing operation and were known as the “DD Tanks” which stood for Duplex Drive Tank. This vehicle was a Sherman Tank surrounded by a canvas curtain, propellers, and flotation devices to allow the vehicles to stay afloat. The Tank was hauled by a landing craft 7000 yards from the beach before being launched into the water to then make its way to the shore, stripping down its curtains and being ready to fight (Juno Beach Info, 2014).
At Juno beach the sea was deemed too rough so the DD tanks were forced to hault their advance and later deploy hundreds of yards away from the beach. Omaha beach , which was currently being captured by the Americans , had already lost 27 of the 29 DD tanks due to the 6 ft high waves and being deployed miles away from the beach (WW2HQ, 2006).
The infantry men also had help from above with the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion. In 1941 there had been sightings of German U-boats near the St. Lawrence, so the threats of an attack on Canadian soil generated the creation of a Parachute Battalion that could be deployed in remote areas (Juno Beach Centre, 2018). These men have been training at Camp Shilo in Manitoba, preparing to jump down into enemy territory a few hours before the infantry.
The men have been well trained at Fort Benning, Georgia as well as Fort Harrison, Montana in many training exercises and jumping from planes before Manitoba as well. This allowed Canada to form the 2nd Canadian Parachute Battalion that joined the 1st in Manitoba, who would collectively join together in England for more training to be up to British and American standards. After assisting the British in an attack in 1943, and the formation of a 3rd Battalion, the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion of just under 600 men were ready for D-Day , accompanying the 6th British Airborne Division (Juno Beach Centre, 2018).
At Fort Benning , Georgia , the Canadian's would have to endure a 4 week training program. The exercises were designed to get the troops familiar with their equipment and follow orders under great discipline. The Canadian's first had to jump from 10 ft heights, then slowly progress to 75 ft (like the picture demonstrates). Eventually the men conquered any fear of heights and were learning to perfect their jump from airplanes by the end of 4 weeks (Juno Beach Centre, 2018).
Photo by Ed. Smith. Department of National Defence / National Archives of Canada, PA-141396.
The photo above displays a reproduction of the 1st Canadian Parachute Corps Beret badge that the men would have worn.
The Royal Canadian Airforce
The RCAF played a huge roll in the planning of D-Day, with it being the primary mode of protection of air attacks and cover fire with ground support.
The RCAF were able to contribute 15 Squadrons of Spitfires to provides ground support and to escort the larger bombers to their designated points (Lermuseum, 2018).
Canadian forces we also able to deploy 4 tactical units of Typhoons, which were heavily armoured and geared towards ground bombardments (Lermuseum, 2018).
The RCAF flew a group of 14 Bomber squadrons over the beach to destroy key strategic points (Lermuseum, 2018).
Commemorate With Us
With the 75th Anniversary of Canada’s Invasion into Normandy, let us join together, in celebration and thanks for the Canadians who sacrificed so much for us. In their honour, we travel to Normandy for the 75th Juno Beach Commemorative events. Join us to remember the bravery and vigour of our boys on the battlefields during D-Day. Embrace the France that we know and love today, and help us honour the sacrifice endured by keeping our Canadian story alive.
If you would like to join us on the upcoming program commemorating the 75th Anniversary of Canadians in D-Day , or if you would like more information in regards to the events taking place in France for the anniversary, Click Here