At 05:30 on this day 72 years ago German shore batteries opened fire on what was the largest invasion fleet in History.
Six thousand nine hundred allied ships, including 1,213 war ships were just off the coast of Normandy France and the Invasion of Europe, Operation Overlord, was about to begin with the largest amphibious assault, Operation Neptune, in history making its way to the beaches. There were 5 beaches, running from west to east in order were; Utah, Omaha (US), Gold, Juno, Sword, Gold and Sword were British and sandwiched in between them was Juno, the Canadian beach. It is Juno Beach that I will focus on.
At 06:30 the assault on the beaches commences and at Juno the Cdn. 3rd Div. landing is made more difficult because of strong currents. The hour delay (07:30) allows the Germans to prepare a stiff defense and the Royal Winnipeg and the Queens’ Own Rifles sustained heavy casualties. After roughly 2 hours the break through from the beach had succeeded and the thrust inland began. I am not going to go into a great deal of detail but by 2100hrs when a halt was ordered the 3rd Canadian Division had pushed inland further than any other allied force. The cost had been high out of the 14,000 Canadians who went ashore 340 were dead and 574 wounded. In all the allies sustained 10,000 casualties with 4,414 dead in what Field Marshall Irwin Rommel would call “Der Langste Tag”, The Longest Day. Here again the Canadian Infantryman proved his mettle as their fathers had in the abattoir of the Wester Front in WW I. Here again because of their courage and spirit they would find themselves on the “Sharp End” with the long slugging clearance of the Channel Ports after the Normandy breakout.
Canada had 1,000,000 men and women in the armed forces. That was about 10% of a population of just over 11,000,000. Per Capita no other allied nation had that percentage of its’ population engaged in fighting. From 1939 until 1945 Canada lost 42,000 of her sons and daughters fighting to keep us free. These casualties included not just those who fought in the Battle of the Atlantic where the Royal Canadian Navy grew to over 400 ships, the 3rd largest in the world and would sustain 2,024 casualties. The Royal Canadian Air Force would also grow to be the 4th largest but at a cost of 13,000 dead. While the Normandy Campaign was going on the so called “D-Day Dodgers” the Canadians fighting their way through Sicily and up the Italian boot would sustain 26,000 casualties including 6,000 dead.
From the birth of our nation 149 years ago to the present whenever Canada has been called on she has stepped up and done her duty much to her honour. In the affairs of the world we are still a young nation and a small nation in terms of population and our Armed forces are not large by any standard but the men and women who serve to-day are of the same mettle and spirit as their fore fathers.
“LEST WE FORGET: