“At the end of the day, its forward elements stood deeper into France than those of any other division. The opposition the Canadians faced was stronger than that of any other beach save Omaha. That was an accomplishment in which the whole nation could take considerable pride.” - John Keegan, British historian.
On June 6, 1944, now known to history as D-Day, Operation Overlord, the long-awaited invasion of Northwest Europe, began with Allied landings on the coast of Normandy. The task was formidable for the Germans had turned the coastline into a continuous fortress with guns, pillboxes, wire, mines and beach obstacles - and on it depended the outcome of the war.
The military planners had given Canada a major role on D-Day: to take one of the five designated beaches where Allied forces were to land to begin the liberation of Europe from Nazi Germany. The Americans had Utah and Omaha beaches in the west, then came the British at Gold, then the Canadians at Juno Beach and finally the British at Sword on the east.
The greatest seaborne invasion in history was aimed at 80 kilometres of mostly flat, sandy beach along the Normandy coast, west of the Seine River, east of the jutting Cotentin Peninsula. Canada’s objective was right in the middle.
There were about 155,000 soldiers, 5,000 ships and landing craft, 50,000 vehicles and 11,000 planes set for the coming battle.
Before dawn on D-Day, 230 heavy bombers from RCAF No.6 Group pounded German shore batteries with 860 tons of bombs. And in the daylight hours, RCAF fighter squadrons flew top cover for the invasion beaches. Fifty Canadian destroyers, frigates and corvettes assisted in covering the invasion, providing anti-submarine escort and bombarding shore targets. 14,000 Canadians stormed ashore on Juno Beach and were the only force to capture all their initial objectives that day, at a cost of 1000 casualties, of which 350 were fatal.
In preparation for the invasion, Americans, British and Canadians underwent months of special training. Supplies were amassed in southern England. Ground, sea and air forces rehearsed endlessly to ensure perfect timing and co-operation.