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1944: Canadians storm Juno Beach on D-Day

They sailed in under cover of darkness to smash down the walls of "Fortress Europe." On June 6, 1944, the Allied forces invaded the Normandy coast of Nazi-occupied France. The Canadians' entry point was a stretch of sand code-named Juno Beach. Many would die there but, for the Canadian forces, D-Day was a triumph that is still honoured at home and on the beach they called Juno.

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"The dagger pointed at the heart of Berlin has been driven into the side of Nazi Europe." It's a dramatic start for CBC newsreader Earl Cameron, but this isn't an everyday war report. D-Day has arrived, and British, American and Canadian forces have wrought their full military might on the French coast. By sea, from the air, and across the beaches, the Allies have attacked enemy positions to gain a foothold in Europe.

As the landing starts, it's not known which Canadian troops are involved, or how many. There's word beach landings were purely Canadian in some sections, and that Canadians have reached the city of Caen and are fighting there. The report repeats Canadian General H.D.G. Crerar's charge to his troops: "As Canadians we inherit military characteristics which were feared by the enemy in the last Great War. They will be still more feared before this war terminates."

Cameron reports that news of the successful invasion met with jubilation in Parliament. Members of the House of Commons thumped their desks, clapped, and later sang a round of the French national anthem followed by God Save the King. The update wraps by paraphrasing the day's broadcast by King George VI himself: "This time the challenge was not to fight to survive, but to fight to win the final victory for the good cause."
• Of the five Normandy beaches targeted on D-Day, the Canadians were assigned to one code-named Juno Beach.

• Juno Beach was about eight kilometres long, encompassing four seaside villages.

• The beach was divided into two sectors designated "Mike" and "Nan," stormed by the 7th Canadian Brigade and the 8th Canadian Brigade respectively. The 9th Canadian Brigade came ashore two and a half hours later as backup.

• Among the first Canadian troops to hit the eastern beach were the North Shore Regiment and the Queen's Own Rifles just after 8 a.m. Their original landing time was 7:45 a.m., but they were delayed by choppy waters that made many men seasick.

• The waves also meant that amphibious tanks, which had been designed to "swim" ashore, had to be deposited directly on the beach instead.

• Landing craft had to navigate through mines, or explosive devices, to reach shore. Submerged obstacles designed to block and damage boats also made it difficult to manoeuvre.

• At least half of the landing craft at Juno were damaged; one-quarter were sunk. The mines were not only a threat on the way in. On the way out, after the craft had dumped men and equipment, they floated higher and were susceptible to waves that pushed them onto mines.

• The German defences at Juno consisted of Widerstandnester (resistance nests) at the seaside villages of Courseulles-sur-Mer, Bernières-sur-Mer and St. Aubin-sur-Mer. These were fortified with concrete and surrounded by barbed wire and landmines. There were also about 20 medium and large gun batteries nearby.

• On the beaches the Germans had constructed "pillboxes" -- reinforced concrete bunkers with narrow slits from which they shot at Allied soldiers swarming across the sand.

• Most of the German soldiers the Canadians encountered were either over age 35 or under 18. With just 400 such men, they were well outnumbered by the first wave of Canadians.

• By day's end 340 Canadians had been killed, 574 wounded and 47 captured. According to the Army's official historian these numbers were about half what planners had feared.

• Veterans Affairs Canada estimates that 15,000 Canadians from all three branches (Army, Navy and Air Force) landed on D-Day.

• H-Hour differed from beach to beach. On Utah and Omaha it was 6:30 a.m.; on Gold and Sword, 7:30 a.m.; and on Juno, 7:45 a.m.

• About one man in 19 who landed on Juno Beach became a casualty (killed, wounded or captured). Among the first assault waves that morning the ratio was closer to one in two.

• In total, about 100,000 Canadians played a role in the D-Day invasion and subsequent Normandy campaign. About 10,000 were sailors.
Medium: Radio
Program: CBC War Recordings
Broadcast Date: June 6, 1944
Announcer: Earl Cameron
Duration: 14:47

Last updated: September 20, 2013

Page consulted on September 10, 2014

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