It’s June 6 and time for my annual D-Day post. This year I thought I would concentrate on the goings-on on Juno Beach, the sector of the Normandy coastline allotted to the Canadian Army, supported by the Royal Canadian Navy and the Royal Canadian Airforce.
Juno was the second-most easterly beach of the five assaulted that morning, sandwiched between Sword and Gold, the responsibility of the British while the Americans attacked Utah and Omaha beaches to the west. It was defended by the 716th Infantry Division and the 22nd Panzers. The 718th was not a first-class unit; like most German static defensive formations they were recruited from older troops and foreign conscripts (in this case largely Ukrainian). They had seen no combat but the Panzers were a veteran force, having fought with the Afrika Korps under Rommel.
Few of the Canadian troops had seen battle either. Their brothers in arms had fared badly at Hong Kong and Dieppe but had done great things in Sicily and the Italian peninsula as well as battling the Japanese in Burma. The regiments chosen for the Normandy assault were drawn from across the country. The 1st Canadian Scottish, for example were a British Columbia unit; the Regina Rifles and the Royal Winnipeg Rifles represented the prairies; the Cameron Highlanders and the Queen’s Own Rifles came from Ontario; the Régiment de la Chaudière was Québécois; while the North Shore Regiment and the North Nova Scotia Highlanders hailed from the Maritime provinces.
Shortly before 8:00 a.m. the first wave of infantry landed, supported by amphibious tanks. They took very heavy casualties; some perished when their landing craft hit mines, some were killed by pill-box fire as they disembarked and tried to clear barbed wire emplacements, or raced to the seawall against machine-gun fire. The Queen’s Own took the worst of it, facing a dug-in enemy who had not been affected by shelling from the initial bombardments. Eventually they fought their way off the shore and established a beach-head. Reserve units landed and moved inland, breaching the first German line of resistance. By the end of the day’s fighting, the Canadians had not reached their hoped-for objectives but had penetrated farther than any other Allied army, at a cost in casualties much higher than other Commonwealth forces. The dead, wounded, and captured totaled 960 men. Only the Americans on Omaha beach suffered higher losses.
Worse was to come in the following days as the Germans counter-attacked with elite SS troops and tanks that were vastly superior to the under-gunned Shermans and Churchills. It would not be August that the Allies were in a position to break out of northeast France and head for Paris.