A Canadian's Journey Through D-Day Part 2: Day of Days
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Soldiers, Sailors, and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force:
You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months.
The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you.
In company with our brave Allies and brothers-in-arms on other Fronts you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.
Your task will not be an easy one.
- General Dwight D. Eisenhower
The time was 9:00 pm, and the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion were aboard their bomber aircrafts heading for the coasts of Normandy. They have trained for many long months for this day and were to be the very first to lead the attack. As 10:30 pm rolled by, the planes started flying over the English Channel and the 7000 Allied naval landing crafts beneath them were in sight. The men watch in great awe while also anticipating their own mission, as each of the 3 company’s A, B, and C all had to preform different roles.
A depiction of what it would have looked like flying over the English channel and heading to Normandy.
One of many objectives of the mission included landing 15km behind enemy lines to destroy and capture German guns, bridges, and any means of communication 9 hours ahead of the beach landings.
The first mission objective revolved around the Le Mesnil cross roads. Company A’s task was covering the 9th infantry brigade on their initial assault and their later push towards Le Mesnil. Company B’s task was to demolish some major bridges connected to the crossroads and to hold the Le Mesnil position until ordered otherwise. And Finally, company C was tasked with securing their drop zone as well as locating and destroying any major enemy headquarters. Along with that, company C needed to take down a radio tower and bridge before meeting the other 2 companies at Le Mesnil.
It was now 1:00 am as the men stood nervously in single file lines awaiting their drop deep down into Nazi occupied France. As the minutes rolled by the hatches to the planes were opened and allowed the Canadians an ominous view of the landing zone below. The men watched with absolute horror as enemy anti-aircraft rounds and bullets lit up the night’s sky. Enemy 88mm Flak rounds could be seen blowing up around the aircraft and bullets could be heard ricocheting off the aircraft’s metal bodies. The men were not as protected as they hoped as some bullets were making it into the planes and taking casualties before the drop even took place. The men remained as calm as possible as they stared restlessly at the blank indication light by the hatch, waiting for its red glow to release them from this chaos.
1:30 am was approaching the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion when suddenly the red lights started alerting them of their 2 minute notice before the jump. Around the aircrafts, the men could see their fellow paratroopers being engulfed by flames as the bombers start being shot down around them, with some planes accidentally clipping soldiers sailing down from their parachutes. Alarms are set off as the indication light glows green and the men quickly start exiting the craft as fast a possible. The speed was to lower confusion and disarray as the men tried to all drop in the same zone with a 15 second exit timing. One by one the men would jump from their planes and deploy their parachutes into the blackness of night. Many thoughts were running through the soldier’s minds while they prayed not to be hit by enemy bullets or land in an unfavourable location.
Allied paratroopers dropping into France from their bomber planes.
The ones fortunate enough to land safely on the ground would swiftly remove their parachutes as they became huge targets. The men hurried to their rallying points while trying to blend into the night with 70 pounds of gear on their backs. This task was deemed much more difficult in reality as some men lost their weapons upon jumping and most if not all units landed in incorrect locations in this great panic. Each solider frantically tried to gather with any fellow paratroopers they could spot regardless of what company they were apart of. They would use their compasses to the best of their abilities to find out where they were and where they should be.
It was pitch black with only the enemy’s muzzle flashes and burning wreckage available for lights as the men slowly crept through the marshy lands filled with German soldiers awaiting their arrival. Most of the remaining bombers have flown by already and were on route to destroy enemy airfields and bridges, leaving the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion to secure to area for the next set of paratroopers to drop.
As for the infantry men awaiting the beach landing, things weren’t looking so smooth either. The time was 11:30 PM just before midnight and the men were awoken by a terrible loud roar of explosions. The Allied bomber planes, which were made up of the British, Canadian, and American forces had started a bombardment of the beach front and German defence system. The goal was to soften up the landing for the troops and destroy Hitler’s Atlantic wall defence effortlessly. Little did the allies know, less than 30% of the German concrete fortifications were even affected and were far from the so called planned destruction of them, which would have allowed landing with ease…
Allied aerial bombardment of the Normandy beaches are underway to soften up the Atlantic Wall's defences.
Starting in 1942, Hitler had begun the construction of the Atlantic Wall with his respected commander Erwin Rommel to oversee the development. The Atlantic Wall was a coastal defence system that ran across the shoreline of Europe. The purpose of the defence system came from the lingering anticipation of an Allied sea attack . Some parts of the defence system were quite heavily defended while some regions were sparse, although each followed the same type of motive. This included the idea of destroying any enemy landing crafts before they even reached the beach which was seen with the most success for the Germans in their Italian Battles.
The positioning design consisted initially with mines and obstacles scattered along the water and beaches of areas deemed with a high probability of invasion.
Among Rommel’s arsenal were the wooden “Ramps” that the Germans would place along the beach which would be half submerged under the water. The aim of the ramps was to stop amphibious landing crafts as they would drive up the hidden ramp and detonate a mine at the top. These ramps were usually set up along side regular wooden beams and “nutcracker” mines and were abundant as 11,000 were used.
Accompanying the ramps and mines were tetrahedrons and Czech hedge hogs. Tetrahedrons were massive triangular prisms that where hollow in the middle to support a spot for an anti-tank mine. The tetrahedron was usually made from steel or concreate and were used to hinder tank advancements and stop amphibious landing crafts, although were deemed some what ineffective in the end. A much more effective tank and landing craft obstacle was the infamous Czech hedge hogs which were made from large steel beams which were welded together in an angle formation and sometimes supported a concreate base. During the landing there was a low tide therefore many of the 3600 hedge hogs were exposed and were easily avoided and even acted as cover from enemy fire for the men on the beach.
Some of the more obscure obstacles that were found in the Atlantic Wall included Belgian gates and Rommel’s asparagus which weren’t as commonly found on the actual beach. Belgian gates, also known as Cointet Element was a steel barn-door looking wall with metal wedge shaped frames holding them into the sand. The Belgian gates were used in the water, on the beach, and up the roads to stop tanks and landing crafts from advancing, as they were an effective barrier when strung along side one another. Rommel’s asparagus was more commonly found after the beach front to further delay the allied progression past the first line of defence. They were usually long wooden pole pieces that would cover the landscape and were entwined with deadly barbwire which supported grenade and mine attachments. This was an obstacle that Rommel saw used effectively against the allied force’s grandfathers during the first world war.
Meanwhile back at sea, the infantry divisions were awake and preparing for the landing as the time was now 5:30 am. The two British warships known as HMS Belfast and Diadem headed towards Juno beach, while the men watch as the two naval crafts begun their thunderous bombardment of the beach front. Even after the air forces and navy’s efforts, Juno beach along with Omaha and Gold beach, were practically fully intact without allies knowing of their failure.
The men waiting in their ships were served a large breakfast before the battle, something later that would hamper the soldier’s ability to preform at their best. The large meal was given as an optimistic gesture that would brighten spirits as it was some of the men’s last meal ever. Although this last meal would add to the men’s sickly states as they were very nauseous from being stuck at sea for 3 whole days. After being delayed a full 24 hours due to bad weather the men waited anxiously as they went over their plans of when they were to land at their two main points on Juno Beach known as the Mike Red and Nan Green sectors.
Allied warship commencing the beach bombardment.
The beach itself was stretched across 10km and supported an initial obstacle field of Czech hedge hogs, ramps and other impediments that harboured mines. Moving forward would lead to a scattered garden of more Czech hedge hogs and landmines that were to finish off any tanks that made it that far. From there was the final stretch, a straight path through landmines and a wall of barbed wire that led to the objective point of the seawall. All of this was accompanied by 3 battalions of 7,771 men of the 716th German infantry division. The Germans had spread a line of machine gun defence every 1,000 yards back to ensure maximum defence. At Juno beach the bluffs weren’t as high at some at Omaha and maintained many machine gun nest lower down in the sand banks and hill right above the beachfront. In addition, the Germans had created fortified concreate pill boxes along Juno protecting the enemy’s machine guns and anti-tank weapons.
The time was now 7:00 am and the Canadian’s were boarding there Higgins boats, which were small cramped landing crafts made to hold 36 men. Each man nervously lined up in their position trying to hide any fear and were noticing that the Naval bombardment had stopped as the infantry was now starting to run behind schedule due to tide conditions. Rumours were floating around that only 2 in every 5 men were going to make it off this beach, with this news and the violent rocking of the waves, had soldiers vomiting and trembling in fear as they could now hear the enemy firing back.
There was no turning back now, the Higgins boats had been filled with men and were finished circling, the Canadians were now heading towards the beach. As the men grew closer they started noticing all the intact buildings and structures on the beach, almost as if they weren’t touch by the Allied bombardment at all. Not a single armoured vehicle could be seen on the beach either, the men knew this was not going to be easy. Just moments before boarding the boats, the men were reminded to not stop for any wounded soldiers and no matter what keep moving off the beach to make room for the next waves. The men were trained to exit the vehicles from the front, then left, then right and were to run in a zig-zag fashion to increase the difficulty for enemies to hit their target. Jumping over the side of the landing craft and ditching any of the hefty equipment was heavily advised against as well. As the minutes went by the Higgins boat driver would yell how many yards they were from the beach, constantly reminding the soldiers that they were close. At 7:30 am, just yards from the beach, explosions could be heard going off around them in the water and bullet deflecting off the boat, the landing crafts doors quickly sprung open and the Canadians started to storm the beach.
Canadian soldiers storming the shoreline of Juno Beach.
The 7th Canadian infantry brigade was immediately met by a heavy resistance of machine gun fire and were taking many causalities even before they got out of the water. The German machine gun of choice was their newly design MG42 which was the fastest firing machine at that time and would be 2 to 3 times faster then anything the Canadian brought that day. The gun was frequently called “Hitler’s Zipper” as the firing rate was so fast each individual bullet could not be heard and was often compared to the sound of ripping fabric.
The lowering of the boat doors was a signal for all enemy guns to lock on target and to start mowing down men as they exited the craft. Some soldiers were even forced to start jumping off the sides of their crafts to avoid direct fire, the equipment and nausea led to many drowning incidents has they frantically tried to make it ashore. The men tried their best to maneuver around the obstacles to find some sort of crater for protection although it was soon realized that there was little to no cover on beach. They kept moving forward and slowly located where the enemy fire was coming from, in most cases there were 1-3 concrete pill boxes protected by a few machine gun nests in the sand. Little by little the men start inching their way up the sand dunes returning covering fire to allow men to keep running forward.
As for the troops that made it this far, the view was of soldiers piled over top of other soldiers trying to stay low as they could as they could go no farther. The Canadian’s were pinned down and were unable to raise their heads or move on wards due to the barbwire walls in front of them.
Therefore, the next objective was to get pass the barbwire wall that separated the 2 forces...
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