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20 years after D-Day

The Story

The Canadians were all but annihilated at Dieppe in August 1942. Of an attacking force of 4,963, 907 men were killed, 586 wounded and 1,946 taken prisoner. But Canadian General H.D.G. Crerar says D-Day would have been a disaster were it not for the lessons of Dieppe. Among those lessons: don't assault a fortified fort; rather, attack on the beaches, give infantry support and plan it all down to the last hand grenade. For all the planning, the weather nearly scuppered everything. Originally set for June 5 when tide conditions were ideal, D-Day was postponed a day due to rough weather. Things weren't much better 24 hours later, but the Supreme Allied Commander, U.S. General Dwight D. Eisenhower, pushed ahead. In this 20th anniversary CBC TV documentary, English General Sir Bernard Montgomery, commander of the land invasion, remembers Eisenhower's words: "All right boys, we'll go." 

Medium: Television
Program: Horizon
Broadcast Date: May 24, 1964
Guests: H.D.G. Crerar, Bernard Montgomery, Geoffrey Oliver, P.A.S. Todd
Reporter: J. Frank Willis
Duration: 56:12

Did You know?

• Planning for D-Day began in late April of 1943, when the Combined Chiefs of Staff for the Allied forces gave a directive to British Lt. Gen. Frederick Morgan, Chief of Staff to the Supreme Allied Commander (COSSAC). The directive called for "a full-scale assault against the Continent in 1944, as early as possible."
• Many criteria were considered when choosing the Allies' landing site. It had to be reachable by Allied planes, with a nearby port, and reasonably close to Germany.

• An obvious attack point was the Pas-de-Calais coast of France. It was the closest point across the English Channel and was also near Germany. But it was heavily defended for the same reasons. The beaches of the Calvados coast, in the province of Normandy, were chosen as the next most feasible invasion point.
• Aerial reconnaissance photos, collected in 1942 and 1943, were useful in planning the attack. The French Resistance and local almanacs also provided valuable information.

• A key concern was whether the terrain of the beaches would be able to support heavy tanks, trucks and other machines as they rolled ashore. On New Year's Eve 1943, a British reconnaissance team approached one of the beaches in a mini-submarine. The two officers who swam up to take sand samples could hear Germans singing to celebrate the new year.
• Tests showed the sand would indeed bear the weight of the machinery.

• With such a large-scale invasion in the works, Allied planners also had to engage in subterfuge to keep the Germans from guessing their aims. Code-named Fortitude, the feints included such tactics as creating radio traffic in Scotland to lead the Germans to believe the Allies were plotting an invasion of Norway. Entire divisions of soldiers were invented and fields of papier-mâché tanks were assembled near Dover to create the illusion of a planned attack on Pas-de-Calais.

• COSSAC targeted the date of the invasion for May 1, 1944, but it was pushed back a month to allow time to manufacture more landing ship tanks (LSTs). These were ships that could carry and deposit up to 20 tanks on a beach. The delay in their manufacture was a source of great annoyance for British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who said: "The destinies of two great empires seem to be tied up on some god-damned things called LSTs."

• Planners wanted to launch the attack on a night with sufficient moonlight to let paratroopers land and reach their objectives safely.
• They also wanted to go in on a rising tide so the landing craft could coast right onto the beaches, then float free again when the tide rose.
• These criteria put the launch date on June 5, 6 or 7.

• In 2004 new evidence showed the "lessons of Dieppe" were simply a public-relations ploy meant to deflect attention from a military disaster. In planning for the aftermath of a failed raid, British military leaders devised a strategy to "stress the success of the operation as an essential test in the employment of substantial forces and heavy equipment." The plan was uncovered by Timothy Balzer, a graduate student at the University of Victoria. (Source: Globe and Mail)



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