6 June 2017


Today is the seventy-third anniversary of D-day. Canadians, British and American soldiers stormed ashore under heavy fire to gain a foothold in France. Their courage and sacrifice helped bring about the end of the Nazi Tyranny, and should never be forgotten.

Most of the popular culture portrayals of D-Day are focused on the American experience, and usually at the disaster of Omaha beach. Saving Private Ryan, for instance, begins with a graphic depiction of the landing at Omaha. I have heard many people say it is the most graphic and realistic portrayal of the battle. In actual fact, the battle was far, far, worse. The movie makes it seem as though the Americans were hung up on the beach for twenty minutes or so, when in actual fact they were pinned down for hours. Take what happened in the movie, and multiply it by ten, and you will begin to have an inkling of just how little you will ever comprehend what the men went through on the beach. Through shear guts and determination they waded through the bloody tide and took control of the beach. By the end of the day they were one mile inland.

Less attention is paid to the other American beach, Utah. That was the cakewalk of the entire operation, with the fewest casualties and the farthest advance inland. It was also a mistake. The boat guiding the landing craft in hit a mine and sank. The rest of the craft got caught in a crosswind and strong current, and landed far from their original target, in a spot where the Germans had barely begun to construct their defenses.

The Americans had the extremes of experience on D-Day, both the best and the worst. The British and Canadians forces fell somewhere in between. Of the three British/Canadian Beaches, the most successful was the landing at Juno, the Canadian beach. They pushed far inland and were second only to the landings at Utah.

Yet the landings at D-day failed to achieve the lofty goals of the planners. The troops were to rush inland, link up with paratroopers who had been dropped to secure vital points and throw a defensive perimeter around the city of Caen. The men who sat far from the battlefields and drew lines on a map had set impossible goals for the troops. Caen was not captured on D-Day nor D plus ten nor D plus twenty. It fell over a month after the landings, and then only after it had been obliterated. The month in between had been full of hard fought inches and massacres on both sides. The landings of D-Day were a prelude to slaughter.

The old men who gather today on the beaches and remember lost chums and old friends have lived through horrors none of us, who live under the shadow of safety and peace their sacrifice provided, will ever understand. Their courage and devotion should never, ever be forgotten.


John the Mad said...

Are you sure of your facts regarding the American advance? My understanding is that the Canadian army landing at Juno Beach reached all its objectives on D-Day and that the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division, supported by the 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade, advanced further inland than any of the other allied forces that landed on the Normandy beaches that day. In any case, the Normandy landings were a remarkable feat of arms by the allies. At the going down of the sun and in the morning we will remember them.

Per ardua ad astra,

John the Mad CD, Major (Ret'd)

Bear said...

I've heard both claims. The Canadians advanced farthest of the British forces, but those who landed at Utah were over twenty miles inland by nightfall. Not sure of the exact mileage of the Canadians. Omaha, by contrast, was barely one.

John the Mad said...

You may be correct, but on the juno Beach info website (http://www.junobeach.info) they quote the following:

John Keegan, eminent British historian who wrote Six Armies in Normandy, stated the following concerning the Canadian 3rd Division on D-Day: “At the end of the day, its forward elements stood deeper into France than those of any other division. The opposition the Canadians faced was stronger than that of any other beach save Omaha. That was an accomplishment in which the whole nation could take considerable pride.”

Bear said...

Odd. I'll have to look up the old books again. I was certain the forces that landed at Utah were twenty miles inland by the end of the day, but Wikipedia puts it at slightly more thaan six. It also has the Canadians as going the farthest inland on D-Day.