The passage of 75 years of history has not diminished the enormity of what took place along the coast of France on June 6, 1944.
Known then as Operation Overlord and forever since as D-Day, the mammoth effort by Allied Forces to establish a beachhead at Normandy was a key step in the march toward ending the Second World War.
Weather played a pivotal role in the decision to delay another 24 hours from an attempt planned for June 5. The Allies needed to take advantage of a three-day window provided by a full moon to ensure clear skies for air operations, and ground troops had to land at low tide when beach obstacles installed by the Germans were the most visible.
The efforts on a scope never witnessed before included 7,000 ships and boats, as well as 289 escort vessels and 277 minesweepers. More than 8,000 bombers, transport planes and fighters pounded German defences and dropped thousands of paratroopers behind enemy lines, while 160,000 British, American and Canadian soldiers braved high winds and rough seas in 5,000 landing and assault craft specifically engineered for the task. They came under deadly fire at beaches named Gold, Omaha, Sword, Juno and Utah. Less than a month later, a staggering one million troops – 13 American, 11 British and one Canadian division – were ashore, supported by 171,532 vehicles and 566,648 tons of supplies.
In the buildup to the invasion, the Allies resorted to subterfuge and sleight of hand to convince the Germans the attack was not aimed at Normandy. Thousands of imitation vehicles and aircraft, many consisting of simply balsa wood and painted canvass, were created to give the illusion the Allies were targeting the beaches at Calais. Operation Titanic further confused German intelligence by dropping rubber dummies throughout Normandy during the evenings of June 5 and 6 while the real paratroopers floated from the sky far away from the intended drop zones. Those efforts created enough uncertainty that the Germans had no clear picture of what or where the opening gamuts of Operation Overlord would be.
In the weeks before D-Day, Operation Bolero saw U.S. Navy and merchant marine ships transport 1,200,000 troops to Britain. In addition, 1,000 locomotives and 20,000 rail cars were deployed to replace the inadequate infrastructure destroyed by German bombers.
The most sobering statistics resulting from D-Day, however, are the 425,000 casualties that occurred on both sides of the conflict between June 6 and Aug. 30, 1944, when the Germans were finally forced to retreat across the Seine River.
– Source materials courtesy of the D-Day Encyclopedia.
Canada’s efforts played an integral role
Canada’s involvement in the D-Day invasion exactly three-quarters of a century ago will always remain a pivotal point that future generations are obliged to remember.
Alongside their American and British comrades in arms, Canadian sailors, soldiers and pilots played a critical role in the largest invasion in military history. The Royal Canadian Navy alone had 110 ships and 10,000 sailors involved in the battle of Normandy. The Royal Canadian Air Force flew 15 fighter and fighter-bomber squadrons in the skies above, while 14,000 Canadians waded ashore at Juno Beach, one of five strategic points along the coastline of France targeted by Allied Forces.
Close to 1,100 of the 10,000 Allied casualties were Canadians; 359 sacrificed their lives on that fateful day. It was the price that had to be paid for freeing Europe from the stranglehold of a Nazi war machine bent on world domination.
When the Battle of Normandy was finally completed with the encirclement of the German army at Falaise on Aug. 21, nearly 210,000 casualties were listed by Allied forces. Canadians represented in excess of 18,700 of that total, which included the 5,000 who never returned home. The list of those who survived lessens with the passing of each year, underlining forever the importance of acknowledging the price they paid for the freedom we enjoy today.
Information and statistics courtesy of D-Day and the Battle of Normandy by Richard Foot, first published online Feb. 7, 2006, and last edited May 3, 2009.