D-Day June 6, 1944
Normandy Landing During World War Two
– Hilary LeBlanc –
On June 6, 1944, during World War II, an invasion force comprised of U.S., British and Canadian troops landed on the coast of Normandy, France. This date known to history as D-Day, refers to the long-awaited invasion of northwest Europe to open a Second Front against the Nazi forces of Adolf Hitler who had occupied France and most of Europe and had been waging a savage war against the Soviet Union. To that time, the Soviet Union had borne the brunt of the fight against Hitler. From 1941 to 1945, the Soviet peoples fought more than 75 per cent of the German and Axis forces and suffered the loss during the war, all-told, of more than 20 million people.
The landing at Normandy is said to be the largest amphibious invasion in history. The allies were able to establish a beachhead as part of Operation Overlord. The First United States Army attacked on the beaches, code-named “Utah” and “Omaha.” The Second British Army assaulted the beaches, code-named “Gold,” “Juno” and “Sword” with the Canadians responsible for Juno in the centre of the British front. The venture was formidable because the Germans had turned the coastline into a continuous fortress with guns, pillboxes, wire, mines and other obstacles.
Nearly 150,000 Allied troops landed or parachuted into the invasion area on D-Day, including 14,000 Canadians at Juno Beach. The Royal Canadian Navy contributed 110 ships and 10,000 sailors and the Royal Canadian Air Force contributed 15 fighter and fighter-bomber squadrons to the assault. Total Allied casualties on D-Day reached more than 10,000, including 1,074 Canadians, of whom 359 were killed. Eleven more months of fighting followed the Normandy landing until in May 1945, the Red Army marched into Berlin and the Germans capitulated. Today May 9 is celebrated as Victory in Europe Day to honour all those who gave their lives to defeat the Nazi-fascists.
Historica Canada points out:
For years, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin had pressured the British and Americans to open another front in the war, by invading occupied France in the west. In the summer of 1943, the Allies agreed they were ready to launch the invasion the following year. American General Dwight Eisenhower was appointed supreme commander of an amphibious invasion of unprecedented size and scope, code-named Operation Overlord.
The Allies needed a French harbour from which to supply and sustain a successful invasion force. However, the disastrous 1942 raid on the French port of Dieppe, in which 3,369 Canadians were killed, wounded or captured, had convinced military planners that a seaborne assault against a well-defended port was folly.
In fact, much of the French side of the English Channel had been turned into what was called the “Atlantic Wall” — mile after mile of concrete bunkers, machine gun nests, and other fortifications built by the Germans, overlooking beaches and tidal estuaries strewn with layers of barbed wire, anti-tank ditches, mines and other obstacles designed to obstruct an invading army. […]
The Normandy campaign finally ended on August 21, 1944, with Canadians playing an important role in closing the Falaise Gap and assisting in the capture of approximately 150,000 German soldiers. Now the pursuit of the enemy into the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany could begin.
Today it is commonplace to hear the Anglo-American and European imperialists dismiss the feats of the Soviet peoples in defeating Hitler, while claiming that it was the historic landing in Normandy on June 6, 1944, which broke Hitler’s back. This makes it possible to claim that the United States played the decisive role in saving the world from Hitlerism and describing current U.S. wars of aggression and occupation as wars of liberation. All U.S. military interventions since the landing at Normandy are said to oppose dictatorships and tyrannies similar to Hitler’s, thus faithfully following in the tradition of the landing at Normandy.
This is not the case. The Red Army broke Hitler’s back in Stalingrad and then chased his Nazi forces all the way back to Berlin where they were finally forced to surrender. This does not take away from the fact that the Second Front kept many Nazi troops engaged and away from the eastern front. German casualties (killed and wounded) in the Normandy campaign were estimated at more than 200,000, while the Allies suffered 209,000 casualties among the more than two million soldiers who landed in France following the D-Day landing. Among the Allied casualties were more than 18,700 Canadians, including more than 5,000 soldiers killed. Had the Anglo-American powers joined the anti-fascist front called for and established by the Soviet Union under Stalin, losses caused by the Hitlerite occupation of Europe and invasion of the Soviet Union would not have been so grave. Instead they were driven by an aim to make sure they, not the Soviets, would control the outcome of the war.
On this anniversary, Canadians pay deepest respects to all the men and women who contributed to the defeat of the Nazi-fascists and Japanese militarists in World War II. Their cause for peace, democracy and freedom is not the same as the cause for which the U.S. imperialists and big powers wage wars today. Today the fight to secure peace, freedom and justice requires establishing anti-war governments and making sure countries are zones for peace, not war.
(With files from HBRC archives, Historica Canada)