Day of Days

Updated: Jun 6, 2019


Tuesday, 6 June 1944.

156,000 men storm the beaches of Normandy in the Allied invasion of Europe under Operation Overlord.

The invasion day itself, Codenamed Operation Neptune or D Day, was the largest seaborne invasion in the history of warfare with over 5,000 landing and assault craft, 289 escort vessels, and 277 minesweepers participating.

It began the liberation of German-occupied northwestern Europe from Nazi control, and laid the foundations of the Allied victory on the Western Front.

The amphibious landings were preceded by extensive aerial and naval bombardment and an airborne assault—the landing of 24,000 American, British, and Canadian airborne troops shortly after midnight.

Allied infantry and armoured divisions began landing on the coast of France at 06:30. The target 50-mile (80 km) stretch of the Normandy coast was divided into five sectors:

Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword.

Despite the enormous size of the Allied forces, they failed to achieve most of their goals on the first day.

Carentan, St. Lô, and Bayeux remained in German hands - and Caen, a major objective, was not captured until 21 July.

Despite all five of the beachheads not being connected until 12 June, two of the beaches were linked on the first day.

Juno beach, considered to be one of the hardest to capture, was one of them.

Taking Juno was the responsibility of the Canadian Army, and was considered one of the most strategically successful of all the landings.

Juno

The name "Juno" arose because Winston Churchill considered that the original code name — Jelly — sounded inappropriate.

The code names for the beaches to be taken by British and Commonwealth forces were named after types of fish: Goldfish, Swordfish and Jellyfish, abbreviated to Gold, Sword and Jelly.

Churchill "disapproved of the name Jelly for a beach on which so many men might die". He insisted on a change to the more dignified name Juno.

Prior to the invasion, the Germans laid 1,200,000 tons of steel and 13,200,000 cubic meters of concrete reinforcements.

The coast itself was surrounded with four million anti-tank and anti-personnel mines and 500,000 beach obstacles.

On Juno, the defences of the Atlantic Wall were greater than at many other landing sectors.


The Germans assumed that the Allies would land during high tide, to minimize the distance during which they would be exposed on the beaches and created a 'devil's garden' of beach obstacles, deployed in rows between 12–17 ft (3.7–5.2 m) above the low-tide mark.

Strongpoints of machine-gun positions, antitank and anti-personnel artillery and bunkers were located every 910 meters, manned by several platoons with mortars.

Minefields were deployed surrounding these strongpoints, and additional defences were present in the Courseulles harbour.

The Invasion

The objectives of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division on D-Day were to cut the Caen-Bayeux road, seize the Carpiquet airport west of Caen, and form a link between the two British beaches of Gold and Sword on either side of Juno Beach.


The beach was defended by two battalions of the German 716th Infantry Division, with elements of the 21st Panzer Division held in reserve near Caen.

The invasion plan called for two brigades of the 3rd Canadian Division to land on two beach sectors—Mike and Nan—focusing on Courseulles, Bernières and Saint-Aubin.

It was hoped that the preliminary naval and air bombardments would soften up the beach defences and destroy coastal strong points.

Unfortunately for the Canadians, most of the offshore bombardment had missed the German defences.

Close support on the beaches was to be provided by amphibious tanks of the 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade and specialized armoured vehicles of the 79th Armoured Division (United Kingdom).

Once the landing zones were secured, the plan called for the 9th Canadian Infantry Brigade to land reserve battalions and deploy inland, the Royal Marine commandos to establish contact with the British 3rd Infantry Division on Sword and the 7th Canadian Infantry Brigade to link up with the British 50th Infantry Division on Gold.

The 3rd Canadian Division's D-Day objectives were to capture Carpiquet Airfield and reach the Caen–Bayeux railway line by nightfall.

The landings initially encountered heavy resistance from the German 716th Division; the preliminary bombardment proved less effective than had been hoped, and rough weather forced the first wave to be delayed until 07:35.

Several assault companies—notably those of the Royal Winnipeg Rifles and The Queen's Own Rifles of Canada—took heavy casualties in the opening minutes of the first wave.

Strength of numbers, coordinated fire support from artillery and armoured squadrons, cleared most of the coastal defences within two hours of landing. The reserves of the 7th and 8th brigades began deploying at 08:30 (along with the Royal Marines), while the 9th Brigade began its deployment at 11:40.


The subsequent push inland towards Carpiquet and the Caen–Bayeux railway line achieved mixed results.

The sheer numbers of men and vehicles on the beaches created lengthy delays between the landing of the 9th Brigade and the beginning of substantive attacks to the south.

The 7th Brigade encountered heavy initial opposition before pushing south and making contact with the British 50th Division at Creully.

The 8th Brigade encountered heavy resistance from a battalion of the 716th at Tailleville, while the 9th Brigade deployed towards Carpiquet early in the evening.

Resistance in Saint-Aubin prevented the Royal Marines from establishing contact with the British 3rd Division on Sword.

By the time all operations on the Anglo-Canadian front were ordered to halt at 21:00, The Queen's Own Rifles of Canada had reached its D-Day objective and the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division had succeeded in pushing farther inland than any other landing force on D-Day.

Though at a heavy cost, with casualties at Juno of 961 men.

Despite the failure to capture any of the final D-Day objectives, the assault on Juno is generally considered the most strategically successful of the D-Day landings.

Historians suggest a variety of reasons for this success, while Mark Zuehlke notes that "the Canadians ended the day ahead of either the US or British divisions despite the facts that they landed last and that only the Americans at Omaha faced more difficulty winning a toehold on the sand", suggesting that the calibre of the training the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division had received beforehand explains their success.




ABOUT THE AUTHOR


Jozef Lalka is a former Infantryman with the Canadian Armed Forces and founder of War Doll. Since releasing from the military, Jozef continues to rigorously train and expand his knowledge of a variety of weapons platforms and tactics.


Having earned a diploma in Media & Video production, Jozef works as a graphic designer, photographer and videographer while pursing a passion for current global conflicts and how they relate to historical events.