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D-Day: The naval attack at Normandy

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.

The coast of Normandy is a place the Germans have been careful to defend. Thousands of mines have been laid underwater in the English Channel to deter Allied vessels, and the beaches are dotted with gun positions for firing at incoming attackers. On the Royal Canadian Navy destroyer HMCS Sioux, CBC reporter Leonard Brockington sees things from a sailor's perspective as the Allied navies tackle enemy defences on D-Day.

The destroyer is escorting a flotilla of minesweepers whose duty is to clear the channel of mines and make a safe path for landing craft and other vessels. As H-Hour -- 7:45 a.m. -- draws near, Sioux gets closer. Now its job is to fire on the coast, engaging the German guns and softening up the defences before the infantry lands. Once the smoke clears, it's time to eat breakfast and watch as planes fly overhead. 
• Minesweepers work by detaching mines that have been anchored to the ocean floor. Each minesweeper is equipped with a "floater" attached to a steel cable, along with a steel frame that keeps another wire level in the water. On that wire is a sharp cutting blade. When the wire contacts a mine cable, it slides along until the blade reaches it, severing the mine. It floats to the surface and is detonated by a crew member's bullet.

• There were 20 Canadian minesweepers clearing the channel on D-Day. Each one carried a crew of 83 men.
• Canadian navy ships — 110 in total — made up about four per cent of the Allied naval power on D-Day.
• At the start of the Second World War Canada had just 13 vessels in its naval fleet. By the end of the war there were 450 ships as well as smaller auxiliary units.

• A destroyer is a small, fast warship large enough for ocean crossings and high seas. In the Second World War, Canadian destroyers were used mainly to neutralize enemy submarines and their torpedoes.
• The Royal Canadian Navy had six destroyers when the Second World War began, then added 14 more from the British and U.S. navies. In 1943 the Navy commissioned four more from a British shipbuilder.

• According to Stephen J. Ambrose in D-Day, June 6, 1944: The Climactic Battle of World War II, the bombardment from the British Royal Navy on Juno Beach was "the heaviest bombardment ever fired from ship to shore."
• The resulting smoke "was so thick… the German defenders could not see out to sea." But it also meant the destroyers could not see their targets, and just 14 per cent of the German bunkers were demolished.
Medium: Radio
Program: CBC War Recordings
Broadcast Date: June 18, 1944
Reporter: Leonard Brockington
Duration: 6:09

Last updated: April 3, 2012

Page consulted on December 6, 2013

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