The 70th anniversary of D-Day will occur on the June 6 this year. It is indeed a moment to remember. I wanted to pay tribute to the Canadians who took part in “the longest day,” so this time out: ships, planes and paratroopers, and a beach called JUNO.
• Ships — The Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) played a big part in D- Day. Canadian ships fought hard along the Channel coast of France in the months leading up to the invasion in an effort to destroy German naval opposition. On June 6, the Allies put 6,939 vessels with more than 195,000 naval personnel from eight countries into the battle.
As part of this armada, some 10,000 Canadian sailors aboard over 100 RCN ships and craft provided minesweeping, naval gunfire support and manned amphibious assault ships and craft. Among the first into action were the Canadian minesweepers, which sailed on June 5 to help clear the path for the assaulting waves, primarily working in support of the American landings on OMAHA Beach.
• Planes and paratroopers — The Allies mounted a tremendous air campaign leading up to D-Day designed to cripple the German defenders and to prevent them from counter-attacking the landings. The Allied air armada committed on June 6 numbered some 11,000 aircraft. Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) aircraft were prominent, with 37 Canadian squadrons providing fighter, bomber and coastal support for the invasion.
The first Canadians into France were transported in aircraft. The members of 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion jumped from 50 transport aircraft around 1 a.m. on June 6 in support of the British and Canadian beaches. They achieved all of their objectives that night. Of the 543 Canadian paratroopers who jumped, 19 were killed, 10 wounded and 84 had been captured by the end of the day.
• A beach called JUNO — The Allies landed on five beaches on D-Day. JUNO Beach was the code name for the Canadian landing area. Beginning just before 8 a.m. on June 6, some 14,000 soldiers from 3rd Canadian Division and 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade stormed ashore, with supporting attacks by British Royal Marines. German resistance was fierce, and by the end of the day, 961 Canadians had been killed, wounded or captured.
In spite of this, the Canadian units had taken their objectives and advanced the furthest inland of any Allied troops.
D-Day was the beginning of the end for Germany in Western Europe. Canadians were front and centre on June 6 and in the subsequent fighting which liberated millions from Nazi tyranny.
We can be proud that our military was not a conquering, but rather, a liberating force during the Second World War.
Indeed, that tradition of liberating the oppressed remains true of our men and women in uniform to this day.
So take a moment on Friday, June 6, 2014, to marvel at what your fellow Canadians did on a stormy beach, far from home, 70 years ago. And if you get the opportunity, thank a veteran. You will be shaking the hand of a real Canadian hero.
» Marc George is a retired soldier who served 25 years in the Canadian Army. He is currently the director of The RCA Museum in Shilo. He can be contacted via email@example.com or via twitter @TheRCAMuseum