Canadians step up on D-Day

Article / June 5, 2017 / Project number: 16-1050

By Steven Fouchard, Army Public Affairs

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Canada’s military history is filled with courage and sacrifice. Since Confederation, two million Canadian sailors, soldiers, airmen and airwomen of many backgrounds have served Canada with distinction overseas. More than 100,000 of them have made the ultimate sacrifice. To help commemorate that heritage and mark Canada’s 150th year as a nation, we are presenting a series of stories to salute the bravery of our military predecessors who fought to defend Canadian values at home and abroad. In this installment, we look back at D-Day, June 6, 1944.

Ottawa, Ontario — In the summer of 1943, with German forces on the retreat in Italy and weakening in Russia, it was decided to open up yet another front in France.

The most obvious location from which to launch an assault on France was Pas de Calais, which sits at the shortest distance from England across the English Channel. The Allies strove to give the impression that it was their objective, even creating a faux army of wood and papier-maché equipment on England’s southeast coast while forces actually marshalled in the southwest.

The real landing site would be Normandy, however and, in a testimony to Canada’s valued contributions, its forces were given sole responsibility for capturing an area code named Juno Beach. The U.S. and Britain were the only other Allied nations to be tasked in such a way.

On June 6, 1944, more than 100 Canadian ships, just a small part of the larger armada of nearly 7,000, arrived at the French coastline just before daybreak. The 3rd Canadian Infantry Division would be first ashore at Juno. Most of its members had been training for over a year in England and Scotland and had yet to see action.

The German defences were largely unaffected by bombardments from both sea and air prior to the landing, leaving the troops exposed to heavy enemy fire. This makes the ultimate success of the invasion all the more impressive.

Among the most notable individual contributions to D-Day was that of the Regina Rifles' Lieutenant William David Grayson. Lt Grayson was given the Military Cross for, among other acts of bravery, capturing a German machine gun post while armed only with his pistol.

D-Day was just the beginning of what would be a long fight through France,  lasting until late August of 1944. It was essential that the Allies have a secure port from which to sustain the effort.

Total Allied casualties on the day exceeded 10,000, including 359 Canadians killed.

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