Part 2, The Allies Return
On Sword’s right was “Juno Beach,” due to be taken by the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division, and the amphibious tanks of the 2nd Canadian Armored Brigade.
The Canadian 7th Brigade was to come ashore west of La Rivere, in the area around Courseulles-sur-Seuelles, while Brigadier K G Blackader’s 8th Brigade was land at Bernieres and Saint-Aubin. This brigade had two prongs of attack. The Regiment de la Chaudiere and the Queen’s own (Canada) Rifles would hit Bernieres while Lt-Col. D B Beull’s North Shore Regiment attacked Saint-Aubin, described as a village of 3,000 “peaceful” souls, backed by the tanks of the tanks of the Fort Garry Horse (10th Armored Regiment).
Later, it would turn out that the village was rife with pro-German collaborators. Meanwhile, British Marines from Lt-Col. J L Moulton’s No 48 Royal Marine Commando was to land at Saint-Aubin alongside the North Shores, but were then to veer eastwards to attack Langrune-sur-Mer. The commandos were apprehensive. D-Day was to be their baptism to fire. The North Shores, meantime, were to advance south on Tailleville and knock out the German radar station at Basly-Douvres, which was their D-Day objective.
The British battleship, HMS Warspite, opens fire on German positions during D-Day. The warship was one of the first Allied vessels to open fire, heralding the start of the naval bombardment. Royal Navy
On Sword’s right was “Juno Beach,” due to be taken by the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division and the amphibious Sherman DD tanks of the 2nd Canadian Armored Brigade.
In the minutes before the seaborne assault was launched, the troop’s naval support from Force J, the battleships Ramilles and Warspite and the heavy cruiser HMS Jamaica plus 12 light cruisers had been blasting the beachhead and now as the landing craft moved towards the shore, two Canadian destroyers, eight British destroyers and one Free French destroyer began moving closer to shore to unleash direct fire on German concentrations. (Graphic of naval bombardment)
Among them was the HMCS Algonquin, under Lt-Commander Desmond Piers which took up-station off Saint-Aubin and began blasting seaside locations to rubble, including a pristine-looking summer hotel right on the beach. “We blew it to smithereens. Pleased with the progress of the battle,” Piers wrote in his log-book.
But for all of his exuberance, he could not fathom why the German heavy guns had not torn the destroyers to pieces. No doubt a “nasty surprise in the form of some new German secret weapons,” he added.
But little happened. As Admiral Philip Vian, the Commander of the Eastern Task Force would comment. Enemy fire at the leading flight of landing craft “began to manifest itself at 3,000 yards from the beach and even then, fire was desultory and inaccurate.”
'Minesweepers sweeping ahead of the destroyers on D-Day. Painting by Norman Wilkinson. Royal Museums Greenwich
In response, the Allied destroyers, joined by eight Landing Craft Tank (Rocket) which could fire more than a thousand rockets in 26-salovos, began churning the landing sites into dust. There were also 16 LCTs upon which four entire Canadian artillery regiments were perched, each LCT carrying four Priest self-propelled guns of a single artillery troop, plus support radios, jeeps and Bren carriers. In addition, one LCT carrying two Sherman Firefly tanks (a special variant of the Sherman armed with a more powerful 17-pounder gun) from Lt Ladd Irving's “C” Squadron, 1st Hussars had the task of concentrating fire on a German bunker network near Courseulles which Allied planners believed would survive the initial bombardment. An after-action analysis of the Royal Navy bombardment would later conclude that only 14 per cent of 106 German positions targeted by naval guns across Normandy were put out of action. Most of these were knocked out by the close-range fire from the destroyers.
Because of heavy seas, the first assault wave touched the shoreline at Nan at 7.55 am at Nan Sector – 10 minutes after H-Hour and a full three hours after the desired low tide. This turn of events left the Canadians in an unenviable situation.
A composite image of the Juno beachhead on D-Day. Click the image or use the button to download the 13 mb high-resolution image. US National Archives
Rommel’s beach obstacles were partly submerged, and allied engineers were unable to clear paths to the beach. Forced to "feel" their way in, the landing crafts began to impact mine after mines. Roughly 30 percent of Juno’s landing crafts would be destroyed or badly damaged.
Wading through the water onto the building encrusted coast, the Canadians were surprised to discover little opposition, but their troubles started as they worked their way through the obstacles. A heavy barrage of enfilading fire from the beachfront houses struck the first wave. Among them were men of Major MacNaughton’s “A” Company, North Shores who arrived at Saint-Aubin with the Sherman DDs of "A" Company, Fort Garry Horse at 8 am. Most of the tanks reached the coastal road at 9.50 am at the cost of eight men killed and 25 wounded.
In this illustration, Allied frogmen try to disable Type "C" beach obstacles.
Three Shermans had sunk before reaching the beach. Machinegun fire racked the infantry as they left the landing craft. Soon, explosions were ringing out as those lucky to survive the carnage blundered into mines and booby traps on the beach. Pushing on, the company roared through Saint-Aubin, routing the 40-strong enemy garrison, many of whom were Russian or Polish “volunteers.”
On the company’s right flank, troops of Lt. M M Keith’s “B” Company, Queen’s own Rifles were landing to the noise of heavy German fire and exploding mines. Most of the troops reached the sea wall. Held back by barbed wire, Keith called for a Bangalore torpedo. When it was set off, it detonated another mine which killed the man operating the Bangalore torpedo, Private G H Elles, and badly wounded Keith.
Meantime, Major Bob Forbes “B” Company, North Shores was sailing towards the shoreline. The men in Lt. Richardson’s 4 Platoon were in high spirits. Richardson gazed at the sky as German 20mm ack-ack fire populated the sky even as the voices of his men singing “Roll Me Over, Lay Me Down,” filled the LCA. As the craft closed to the shore, German bullets could be heard pinging against the landing craft. Then, an armor-piercing breached the front ramp and dealt Private White a “stunning blow to the forehead" and putting himself out of action.
This was just the beginning. “B” Company had landed close to the German WN27 strongpoint. It was 8 am. Soon, the company was withering under heavy German fire. LCTs came in close to shore to pummel the strongpoint with 105mm howitzers but it appeared to make no difference to the concrete bunkers.
Lt Gerry Moran, the commander of 5 Platoon bolted across 900 meters of beach to reach the seal wall, and once then, attempted to work around the left flank, only to draw heavy enfilading fire. A sniper hit Moran in the arm and back as he waved to his men to advance. He fell, seriously wounded. As more gunfire plunged into the group, more men began toppling. To make matters worse, mortar bombs began landing among the infantry and a 50mm gun was blasting the beachhead.
Forbes was supposed be reinforced by a troop of Shermans of the Fort Garry Horse but they had not arrived. It would be 10 am before some Sherman DD landed to reinforce Forbes. One of the first to land was knocked out by a 50mm gun. By this point, 17 Canadians of “B” Company had been killed or wounded.
The surviving Shermans went into the fray, blasting the German positions and wire. Captain Bill Harvey, second-in-command of “B” Company, and some men had forced their way onto Rue Canet, a street lying perpendicular to the coast road, where he spotted the 50mm gun emplacement which was well-sheathed behind a barricade of logs and protected by a large group of snipers.
A mortar bombardment of position did nothing, and so Harvey called up a Churchill AVRE from the 26 Squadron, Royal Engineers, which hefted charge after charge at the position only the see the gun position survive detonation after detonation. In fact, the German gun crew fought for over 45 minutes, before they were finally destroyed. It had taken about fifty 35-kg shells to destroy the position.
Canadian soldiers race through shallow water, towards the beach on Courseulles on D-Day. Getty Images
Canadians filtered into the WN27 strongpoint with its maze of entrenchments. A white flag was seen being waved from the German positions. Several Canadians moved forward to rake their surrender only to be shot in a hail of fire. The battle resumed, with the Canadians determined to take no prisoners. Two hours later, the strongpoint was in Canadian hands. Fifty Germans lay dead or wounded; another 79 were captives of the Canadians. Sporadic fighting at Saint-Aubin would ensure that the town would not be secure until 6 pm that evening. However, the North Shores moved off towards Tailleville, with “A,” “C” and “D” companies advancing along a broad line, with Sherman tanks and Bren-gun carriers towing 6-pounder gun. By 9.48 am, “A” Company was at the “Yew” Line.
“C” Company which was headed into the center of Tailleville met no opposition until it was two miles (3.5 km) from the village. Then, all hell broke loose from a Chateau nearby. The Germans were using the fortified building as a headquarters for their 2nd Battalion, 736th Infantry. The Germans appeared to soak up gunfire without effect until 6 pm when tanks of C Squadron, Fort Garry Horse broke the garrison's morale. Some 50 men came out with their hands up but others continued to hold up the Canadians until they were flushed out with flamethrowers. Some fourteen Canadians had died before resistance was neutralized, including Major MacNaughton of “A” Company. The North Shores would fail to capture the sprawling radar station at Douvres which was their final objectives. The station would remain in German hands, as a pocket of Nazi resistance, for an astonishing 11 days.
Meantime, Lt-Col. Moulton’s 48 Royal Marine Commando which was attack Langrune had run into problems. They had approached shore at Nan Red at 8.43 am, only to have two of six LCI(S)s blunder into mines and sink. Several Marines had drowned, which caused a stir among the survivors. Those that came ashore found that in addition to their inexperience, the battalion lacked heavy weapons to get the job done at Langrune.
Although the beachhead had tanks from the Fort Garry Horse and “Funnies” of B Squadron, 22nd Dragoons, plus the AVREs of the 80th Assault Squadron and six Centaurs of the 2nd Armored (Royal Marine) Support Regiment, none of the tanks headed towards Langrune, barring two Centaurs. One was soon out of action, having hit a road mine. The other could do little against the concrete WN26 strongpoint in the village around which German resistance coalesced. The Marines were stuck. WN26 would only fall on June 8, by which time, the commandoes had suffered 50% casualties.
As all this was going on, Brigadier H W Foster’s 7th Brigade was landing at neighboring Nan Green and Mike Red, across from the large seaside town of Courseulles, where Seulles River discharged into the bay. Coming ashore with two assault battalions (Lt-Col. Matheson’s Regina Rifles on Nan Green and Lt-Colonel Meldram’s Royal Winnipeg Rifles on Mike Red), each backed by a squadron of Sherman DD Tanks plus British AVRE tanks of the Royal Engineers, the brigade found itself planted right between the crossfire of two German strongpoints.
By all accounts, the two leading companies of the Royal Winnipegs landed at 7.49 am – and were hit with every weapon in the German arsenal, including one 88mm gun, one 75mm guns, plus two more in a flanking position, three heavy machineguns, plus 12 pillboxes packed with MG42 machineguns and two with 50mm mortars. Whereas the leading Winnipeg companies got ashore in just seven minutes, heavy fire enveloped the Regina Rifles as they landed at 8 am, minus their Sherman DD tank support from the 1st Canadian Hussars.
The 19 tanks of “A’ Squadron were supposed to have landed before the infantry but were experiencing problems. The commander of the Squadron, Major Brooks commented that while his tanks were launched about 1,500 yards from the beach, that the “launching took too long, and the LCTs drifted down [east] on the tide. All craft were not in the proper formation for launching and were being subjected to mortar and other enemy fire.” In the end only 10 Sherman DD actually launched from the LCTs, and of these, only seven reached the beach - six minutes after the infantry had. A further five tanks were deposited directly on the beach by their LCT. The last four could not launch because their LCT had its ramp shot off.
But if this was a fiasco, the operations of the tanks of “B” Squadron were a bonafide mishap. Again, four tanks could not launch because their LCT had hit a mine, which had damaged the ramp. The remaining 15 tanks did launch from 4,000 yards (3,600 m), but had difficulties. One sank – this was the machine of the squadron commander, Major Duncan, and the remaining nine landed too far east and could not support Major Grosch’s “A” Company which under fire from a casemate designated H612, where the 88mm gun was pummeling the invaders.
Canadian tanker Leo Gariepy in 1943
There were also no Royal Marine Centaur tanks available - these were still at sea and none of the AVRE’s which were also still on LCTs. The special support tanks would only arrive at 9.45 am. Meantime, Major F L Peters’ “B” Company, Regina Rifles was pushing off the beach as five of the B Squadron Sherman tanks and special vehicles arrived. Among them was a Sherman DD nicknamed “Bucéphale,” commanded by Sgt. Leo Gariepy.
Troops of the Régiment de la Chaudière, push inland from Juno Beach toward Bény-sur-Mer on D-Day.
As Bucéphale approached a blockhouse which was the crew’s target, Gariepy saw the roof had been blown off the structure. He assumed it had been knocked out and so, he had the tank stopped close the building. Looking back at the beach, he saw several other Shermans floundering the water as heavy shell bracketed the landing craft coming in. “It was like a scene out of Dante’s Inferno,” he said.
A massive blast lurched Bucéphale. When it crew had regained its senses, Gariepy was stunned see a massive gun recoiling from having fired in rthe supposedly destroyed blockhouse. Realizing that the gun could not get a bead on him because he was close to the wall, he moved the tank further out of the gun’s line of sight and from that position, fired shell after armor-piercing shell into the embrasure. Then, to be safe, he drove around behind the blockhouse and fired another eight or 10 rounds at the steel door entrance.
At the receiving end was Private Heinrich Siebel of the 6th Company of the 716th Division’s Panzerjagerkompanie, who was helping to man an 88mm gun. (It is not known if Siebel was at the specific blockhouse targeted by Gariepy but the descriptions match).
“We shot and shot, especially at the strange tanks that came up the beach,” Siebel said. “It was hard for us to see much because of the smoke but I believe we destroyed two tanks before our gun received a direct hit. There was a flash and a great bang and I was blown backwards onto the concrete floor and knew nothing else for a time. When I woke up, I found two of our men dead and more wounded. Our gun was destroyed and all I could think of was escape. I tried to get out through the rear exit, pulling one of my wounded friends with me, but debris made this difficult. There was a lot of shooting, then some British soldiers came and with their help I was able to escape. My comrade was treated, but he died.”
As this was going on, the Regina Rifles were being mauled. “A” Company lost a fifth of their strength in the beach as they landed exactly in front of WN29, while Captain Gower’s “B” Company landed at 8.15 am, six minutes later, managing to breach the sea wall and filter into Courseulles. Fierce house-to-house combat erupted for the next two hours as the company pushed on towards the train station.
Infantry reinforcements arrived on the beachhead in the form of the Regina Rifles’ C and D Companies. Their landings had been a disaster. It was high tide and LCAs piled up against beach obstacles and mines. In D Company, over 60 men out of 109 were killed or wounded before reaching the shore, including their company commander, Major John Love.
Courseulles turned out to be a hotbed of resistance. A Frenchman rushed up to Gariepy’s tank and began gesticulating wildly. When Gariepy asked him what he wanted, he began shouting: “Boche, Boche,” and pointing up the street. He attempted further explanation in what Gariepy described as “extremely bad English,” before Gariepy cut him short in French.
“He was flabbergasted that I could speak French but I finally cooled him long enough for him to tell me that there was a group of enemy hidden inside a large park behind an eight-foot-high wall. A naval shell had made a large hole in the wall and every time the infantry tried to advance past the hole, the enemy sprayed them with machine gunfire,” Gariepy said.
A Regina Rifles officer asked Gariepy to block the hole in the wall with the hulk of his tank so that his infantry could flank the building. Apalled Gariepy said he would prefer to trundle through the park to wipe out the machinegunners.
“I took a position directly in front of the wall, butted through it with my tank and fired a smoke shell into a large enclosure, following it up with machine-gun fire. Then we fired two HE shells into a sentry box in the far corner of the area. This had the desired effect and some thirty-two German prisoners gave themselves up,” he said.
Courseulles would only fall at 1 am, after tanks and flamethrowers pummeled German positions. It would yield only 80 prisoners. Meantime, the survivors of “C” and “D” Company had turned west towards the town of Reviers, arriving within the village at 11 am. A close-quartered battle erupted. When six Sherman DD tanks from “A” Squadron, 1st Canadian Hussars emerged from the sea to support to Reviers advance they began to take a plastering from two 75 mm guns set within casemates, plus another 8mm gun. Bodies lay all over the village. Out of the 160 Canadians who had attacked the town, 48 were dead and 85 were wounded.
The first waves of the Regina Rifles had been gutted. If “A” Company had been decimated, “B” Company was near unfit for combat. By the end of the D-Day, it would have only 26 men in fighting form.
The Winnipeg Rifles had no better luck. Their assault had stark similarities to the butchery which had transpired along certain stretches of “Omaha” beach such as Dog Green. The battalion’s “B” and “D” Companies had landed to the west of WN31 minus their Sherman DD tank support which landed behind them. Air reconnaissance had showing three large concrete fortifications, running behind sand dunes where could be used to channel reinforcements. There were also 15 smaller concrete machinegun positions, along with mortar and antitank pits. A Winnipeg officer, Major Fulton, added that: “Just before D-Day another cement bunker appeared on the air photos. It was difficult to tell whether it was complete or not and in use, but to make sure, a platoon from ‘C’ Company was added to ‘B’ Company’s assault. As it turned out the fortification was not completed and the platoon had very little trouble.”
“I was the second man in our section and the lad in front of me was Rifleman Gianelli, and as the ramp went down, he took a burst of machine gunfire in his stomach, ahead of me... There was a tracer in the burst, and you could see it coming to us, and Gianelli was killed instantly.” Canadian soldier
However, for the rest of the invaders, the ante was up. No sooner had the leading troops of the Winnipeg first wave landed at 7.49 am when they began to take heavy fire while still 700 yards out at sea. One soldier, Private Hamilton, whose landing craft had just limped to shore on one engine, was acutely aware that his platoon had become cut-off from the rest of the first wave.
“I was the second man in our section,” Hamilton said. “And the lad in front of me was Rifleman Gianelli, and as the ramp went down, he took a burst of machine gunfire in his stomach, ahead of me... There was a tracer in the burst, and you could see it coming to us, and Gianelli was killed instantly.”
A German Grenadier Hans Weiner who was doing some of the shooting recalled that he had held his fire until the Canadians were wading in the water towards land. “The first Tommies jumped into the sea, which was quite shallow. The bullets hit them and their boats to good effect and I was a little surprised to see them falling – I don’t know why. Never having been in a battle before it did shake me to be hurting those men, although they were enemies. Even then in my naivety, I thought that I was only hurting them. ‘But we were under fire; bits and pieces were flying all around our embrasures as the Tommies who survived tried to rush behind us,” he said.
Troops of the Canadian-French Regiment de la Chaudiere wait to hit the beach on D-Day.
However, the movement of the Canadian assaulters were slow as they were encumbered by gear and what was worse, the landward side of beach was blocked off with barbed wire. More men began to drop as they hastened towards Weiner’s bunker. Some of the lucky ones succeeded in the reach the beach end where there was cover.
Private Hamilton was one of these fortunate ones. He had bolted out of the landing craft and sprinted towards the edge of the beach before landing in front of a sand dune which offered him some protection from the gunfire. But then a mortar blast erupted nearby and pieces of shrapnel struck his head. He was knocked unconscious “for some time,” he said later.
He was comparatively lucky. Scores of Canadians fell amid the chattering fire and the whumpf of mortar shells. Shrapnel plunged into Lt Rod Beattie, a platoon commander in “B” Company, impacting his spine. He fell, paralyzed. As he wallowed in the surf, he saw one of his men: Rifleman Jake Miller reach the beach in front of WN31. Miller was distracted by a sniper’s bullet grazing his leg as he lay prone emptying his rile into the slit of a bunker. Then, a mortar bomb landed on his right, spraying him with shrapnel. Something metal plunged in his right knee area and he started to crawl away when he heard Beattie yell: “Don’t leave me!”
Miller crawled back to Beattie's position and struggled to pull him away from the incoming tide. Eventually, their platoon sergeant saw them wallowing and carried the officer to safety. Elsewhere, a sapper flung himself on the concertina wire to allow others to step over him and into the breach.
Gruesome, heroic scenes followed. One soldier, Rifleman Kimmnel, a signaler attached to the Company, single-handedly neutralized a pillbox. Another man, Corporal Slatter, was hit in the stomach, and was seen on his hands and knees still trying to get up to the pillbox, while at the same time trying to direct his remaining section by shouting orders. Yet, another Canadian, Corporal Klos who was also hit in the stomach plus the legs while exiting his landing craft and nevertheless made his way to WN31, where he killed two Germans. When his company commander, Captain Gower, came across him, Klos was seen sitting on one German, his hands around his throat.
Meantime, Grenadier Weiner was under siege. “[Canadian] tanks began shooting at us with cannon and machine gun and we were forced to get down. Part of our blockhouse collapsed and we thought we would be buried alive. By some miracle we were not and our Gefreiter reached us to say that all the other men were dead or wounded – but we would not give up. Then some of the Tommies came very close as they fired and we knew it was hopeless. The enemy were shouting and firing and then we ran out of ammunition, so it seemed the sensible thing to surrender, if we could do so without being shot.”
Weiner and the other men with him began throwing their helmets out of the hole in their bunker at the back. Canadian troops called on them to come out with their hands up and when they did they found 10 Canadians pointing their guns at them. The Germans were quickly searched and told to lie down on the beach. A few hours later, Weiner and the other prisoners were on a landing craft headed to England.
It took two hours for the Winnipegs to secure WN31. In the end only Captain Gower and 26 men were still fit for combat. Ninety men were casualties. The battle had been one of the most savage of D-Day. Gower was awarded a Military Cross for his leadership. By right, every man under his command, should have been decorated.
A Frenchman and his granddaughter wave on Canadian troops in Normandy.
With "Mike Red" finally breached, the Canadians rapidly traversed the inland, and cleared a way through the minefield in front of the hamlet of La Valette. “D” Company was on its way to the hamlet of La Valette and Graye-sur-Mer. Warning signs for minefields were everywhere but the Canadians soon discovered that “Achtung Minen” stenciled in yellow signified dummy minefields. Those in white were the real thing.
The village of Graye-sur-Mere was rapidly liberated, while follow companies (“A” and “C”) moved on to Banville. At St. Croix-sur-Mer, home to a future landing strip, “A” Company began to run into more problems.
Meantime, back on the beach, at Mike Green, “C” Company of Lt-Colonel Fred Cabeldu’s 1st Canadian Scottish Regiment who had been attached to the Winnipegs, landed and roared on towards Vaux Castle, where a company of “Russian” volunteers had holed up. The company had been included in the preliminary assault because Allied planners were afraid that there would be too much of a gap between the Canadians and the British Army’s 50th Division which was landing in neighboring “Gold” Beach.
Troops of the 1st Canadian Scottish Regiment wait grim-faced in their LCA. Legion Magazine
The Canadian-Scots were astounded by eerie silence of that gray beachline. One of their officers, Lt Roger Schjelderup remarked that there was “not a person in sight.” But soon an MG42 had started firing somewhere on their left.
Schjelderup’s immediate objective was a pillbox supposedly with a 75 mm gun and several machineguns, but as his men cut the barbed wire and attacked the pillbox, nothing happened. The Germans might as well have not existed. And they had not. A lucky naval shell had blasted the pillbox’s inhabitants to oblivion.
Meantime, another platoon under Lt. F Radcliff approached Vaux Castle from the left. The chateau was set within a wooded park which bristled with snipers. As Radcliffe led his men past the wire on the beach, a hail of fire hit the Canadians. Radcliffe fell, mortally wounded. Sgt. Carney, the second-in-command, took over but soon scattered machineguns were firing on the platoon from a small knoll to the right of the chateau.
Lt. “Sandy” Hay from an adjoining platoon ordered his men to wipe out the Germans on the knoll. A section charged the Germans and began losing men. Among the dead was their leader, Corporal Ritchie. It was about this time that a native Indian, Private B M Francis, began picking off the German snipers one by one, including one man he killed from a range of 50 yards with a shot from the hip. Moments later, a German round had plunged into Francis, killing him.
With raking fire searing out from another German gun emplacement, a superior officer ordered Lt Bernie Clarke to knock it out. “Who? Me?” Clarke asked - an exchange which entered Scottish Canadian lore.