By Barb Brouwer
For the Allies, D-Day was a long time coming and a much-needed boost in the war effort.
Joe Green, a 95-year-old Salmon Arm resident, was in Halifax on June 6, 1944, waiting to sail across the Atlantic to join the Allied effort by escorting merchant ships carrying material to Russia.
“We were happy about it and everywhere they were playing ‘We’re gonna hang out our washing on the Siegfried Line,’” said Green of the German defensive line that was built in the 1930s and ran from the border of the Netherlands to the border of Switzerland. “We knew it was going to be a big part of the battle and we were happy we were finally doing the invasion.”
The Battle of Normandy stands as a proud moment in Canadian military history, though it came at a huge cost.
Seventy-five years ago, D-Day, as it became known, is described on the Liberation Route Europe website as the most dramatic part of Operation Overlord. The campaign marked the beginning of the liberation from Germany’s four-year occupation of Western Europe.
An enormous undertaking, preparation for Operation Overlord involved a vast number of people who worked on various elements of the campaign, from providing safe harbours for the travelling fleet to ensuring fuel would be in plentiful supply.
A number of sites linked to the planning, preparation and implementation of D-Day were located across Britain, from embarkation area headquarters along coastal regions to the inland headquarters of the Allied commanders.
On June 6, 1944, troops from Britain, Canada, the U.S. and 16 other countries sailed across the English Channel to begin the campaign to gain victory against the German forces.
A fleet of more than 6,900 vessels was used to land the assault forces of more than 156,000 men on five beaches, that received code names (from west to east) Utah and Omaha (U.S.), Gold (British), Juno (Canadian) and Sword (British).
Despite poor weather conditions and fierce resistance from German units, the operations were successful. At the end of the day, the Allies had gained a foothold on all five beaches.
The Canadian Army’s 3rd Infantry Division and 2nd Armoured Brigade seized the 10-kilometre stretch of French coastline and its seaside villages while under intense fire from German defenders, “an extraordinary example of military skill, reinforced by countless acts of personal courage,” notes the Liberation Route Foundation, which works with many organizations and governments to bring together national perspectives on the liberation of Europe.
More than 14,000 Canadian soldiers landed or parachuted into France on D-Day. The Royal Canadian Navy contributed 110 warships and 10,000 sailors and the RCAF contributed 15 fighter and fighter-bomber squadrons.
There were 1,074 Canadian casualties, including 359 who lost their lives in battle on Juno Beach. Total Allied casualties on D-Day reached more than 10,000.
The 1944 Battle of Normandy, through to the encirclement of the German army at Falaise on Aug. 21, is considered to be one of the pivotal events of the Second World War and the scene of some of Canada’s greatest feats of arms.
By the end of the Battle of Normandy in August, the Allies had suffered 209,000 casualties, including more than 18,700 Canadians. More than 5,000 Canadian soldiers died.