D-Day landing in Normandy was 70 years ago
“You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers-in-arms on other Fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.”
Dwight Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander
It was the beginning of the end of Hitler’s twisted empire.
Around 6:30 a.m. on June 6, 1944 more than 130,000 mostly Canadians, Americans and British began hitting the beach at Normandy on the coast of France.
They would gain a vital hold on the continent and eventually push on into Germany and help bring about the end of the Second World War in Europe.
Near the middle of the invasion target was Juno Beach.
It was there that more than 21,000 members of the Canadian 3rd Division landed around 7:45 a.m.
About 1,000 of them would be killed or wounded.
With the Canadians was Frank Warren, a private and mechanic and one of 20 British Royal Engineers who were under the command of the 1st Canadian Army.
“We landed with the North Shore Regiment from New Brunswick,” said Warren now 91 and an east Mountain resident. “We were the second wave to go in.”
Warren said he can still recall the bullets whizzing past his head and the deafening sounds of artillery and aircraft fire and the blasts from British warships in the English Channel who had pounding the Normandy coast to soften it up for the invasion.
“As the ramp (of the landing craft) went down, everybody rushes off looking for cover,”Warren said. “We were wet and nervous.”
Making their way along the beach below the concrete seawall Warren and his fellow engineers found themselves squatting amongst dozens of dead soldiers and sailors who were killed on the beach earlier in the assault.
He said the most memorable day of the war for him was May 5, 1945 when the ceasefire order was issued.
D-Day was something Halifax pilot Jack Dundas said he would never forget.
Dundas said they took off from England at about 2 a.m. on what they thought was a routine bombing run near Caen.
Flying over the channel, the aircraft’s radar picked up the allied activity below.
“The navigator and the bomb aimer who were watching the screen let out a yell and they said you ought to come down and see what’s on here,”Dundas recalled. “The whole screen was lit up with blips…that gave us the information and confirmed what we suspected that it was D-Day and these ships were already on their way to the coast of France.”
On the way back form their mission,Dundas noted the sky was filled with Allied aircraft of every description heading for Normandy.
They were ordered not to fly above 200 feet in the air.
Canadian historian Jack Granatstein noted depending where they landed the Allies either faced surprisingly weak resistance or were cut down on the beach.
“Juno Beach was I think probably the second most difficult of the beaches in terms of the opposition that was there,” said Granatstein, who noted the American target Omaha Beach was the “blood bath of the D-Day invasion.”
Deception played a key role in the success of the invasion.
Granatstein said the Allies had convinced the Germans that the invasion would take place further north at the Pas-de-Calais, the shortest distance between Britain and France.
“The (Germans) thought incredibly that Normandy was a diversion,” Granatstein said. “It had an enormous impact in keeping German armour away from the Normandy invasion in the first few days and to some extent in the month that followed.”
Normandy was also considered an unlikely target since it had no port facilities that would be necessary to handle the huge amount of supplies the invasion force would require.
The Allies built two Mulberry portable harbours that were floated across the channel.
“One of the lessons of the Dieppe raid (1942) … was that it was very difficult to attack a defended port,” Granatstein said. “The answer to that was to bring your own port with you.”
(The comments from Jack Dundas and Jack Granatstein come from interviews Mark Newman did in May 1994 as a reporter with CHML radio)