Part 2, The Allies Return

JUNO

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.

Aerial image of the Juno beach sector

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.

Landing Table Juno.jpg

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.

Juno beach map

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.

Frenchman welcomes Canadians Normandy

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.

Canadian Scottish troops D-Day

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.

A 1945 aerial reconnaissance photo of the La Valette area of 'Juno" beach. At the far left is the village of Graye-sur-Mer. To the right of it and in the left half of the picture its the tiny hamlet of La Valette. Within the woods pictured on the right is Vaux and the "castle." US National Archives

Soon, Schjelderup’s platoon had appeared and together with the company’s headquarters section, they managed to clear Axis forces from the woods around the chateau which itself was soon surrounded. The company commander Major Desmond Crofton ordered flame-throwers to be brought up to flush the “Russians” out. In the end two grenades hurled inside the building prompted enemy resistance to collapse.

Schjelderup was then sent to clear the woods south if the chateau. To get it they needed to go through a grain field where more German snipers were hiding. By the end of D-Day, only 19 out of Schjelderup’s 45 men would still be standing. Nevertheless, by 8.30 am, the 1st Canadian Scottish had consolidated 1,400 yards south of the beach. By 9.30, the rest of the 1st Canadian Scottish had started landing and trailed after “C” Company, Winnipegs as they went towards La Valette.

At Bernieres, meantime, Lt-Col. Spragge’s Queen’s own Rifles were battling Germans at the WN28 “Cassine” strongpoint. Behind this strongpoint, an anti-tank ditch had prevented the tanks of Major Bray’s C Squadron, Fort Garry Horse from flanking the defenses. Already the tanks were late, having been launched too far out to sea. A special force of Churchill AVREs (Team Z) had also been landed in the wrong location, 300 yards to the east.

The 79th Division history records what happened next: These tanks were “at once engaged by 50mm fire from the right. The Bridge AVRE was hit and another AVRE commander killed: one of these guns later fell to a ‘Dustbin.’ The 12-foot sea wall was only about 50 yards away and [Sherman] Crabs flailed up to it. Petards, of which two were out of action, failed to make sufficient gap and the crater caused was soft and steep. Meanwhile the infantry led the way to a beach ramp blocked by Element C. These were demolished by Petard fire, the Crabs flailed up the ramp; one was caught in wire but was freed under cover of smoke, the ditch was filled by a fascine and the lane, at last, through to the road. A second gap was later made to by-pass Bernières.”

Being deprived of tank support was just one of  the Queen’s own Rifles many problems. The landing itself had been mess. Several LCAs hit mines on the run-in and were knocked out. In addition, the tide had set them east by about 200 yards. By when the battalion landed, it was 8.05 am and the infantry found it had to wade in, waist-deep. The battalion’s “A” Company, commander by Major Hume Dalton, lost about a dozen men to mortar-fire and from the beach, bullets from a single machinegun. But "B" Company, which landed directly across from WN28 went straight into a hailstorm of machinegun and 50mm fire, plus larger shells being fired by a fixed tank turret and mortars. Most of the men died right there on the beach. By when the company crossed the beach about 65 (or a third of the company) were dead or wounded.

In desperation, the company commander, Major Charles Dalton (Hume Dalton’s brother) called in fire from an ack-ack ship in the bay. As a withering hail of 40mm shellfire pummeled the German positions, several troops threw grenades at the concrete bunkers. At this moment, Charles Dalton was hit and critically wounded. Another officer, Lt MacLean died but the bunkers were neutralized.

Hume Dalton was told that Charles had died. “While I grieved, I had a job to do and had to carry on,” he said. But later Hume himself was wounded and returned to England, where he discovered Charles alive and well in the same hospital.

The Dalton brothers. Hume (left) and Charles. Juno Beach Centre

At 8.45 am, the second wave: "C" and "D" Companies of the Queen’s own arrived but nearly all of the landing craft had been damaged by underwater obstacles or mines and the men had to wade in. Fifteen minutes later, Bernieres was clear of German forces.

At 9.30, the French Canadians of the Regiment de la Chaudiere began landing. To the French who came upon these French-speaking men from across the Atlantic, they were a sensation. Soon cries of “Long live Canada! Long live France” were being shouted in the streets as flowers began raining down on the troops. Said the French-Canadian journalist Marcel Ouimet later: “We had been in France for five days but it could be said, especially for French-speaking Canadians, that we had always been there. Normandy, this Normandy, where we always plan to go back home, as the song goes, after all, it is a little home, especially when some of our guys have made it their final resting place under this rich soil that their ancestor left to go and found the new France. Yes, for us French Canadians, it was bit of a homecoming.”

 

At about time, tanks and 105mm Priest self-propelled guns of the 14th Field Artillery came ashore together infantry and armor went south. Soon, four Priests were on fire, hit by a single 88mm gun 1,500 meters to the south. Before it could do more damage, the position was overrun by three Sherman tanks loaded with infantry which roared up top speed. By 10.30 am, the rest of the 14th Field Artillery were south of Bernieres.

Just as it was on “Sword” beach, so it was on “Juno’s” Nan White where a mass of vehicles became caught in gridlock traffic trying to get off the beach and inland, through the narrow streets of Bernieres. The divisional commander, Maj-General Ronald Keller, aboard the former passenger liner, HMS Hillary, monitored the situation with some angst. Although at 10.30 am, he had sent a communique to his superior, General Harry Crerar, command of the Canadian I Corps, that the beachhead had been gained. "Well on our way to our immediate objectives,” he did not yet know how much progress the 7th and 8th Brigades had made. He did not even know that Nan White where the 9th Brigade was scheduled to land between 12 and 2 pm was congested with traffic and that Royal Navy had closed off the neighboring Nan Red beach which was also overrun with vehicles.

The 9th Brigade’s arrival on the beach added to the chaos. Said the intrepid Canadian war correspondent Ross Munroe who was at Bernieres: “The landing of the 9th Brigade began amid such chaos… The roads were blocked by eager soldiers wanting to press on quickly ahead. Fortunately, the Germans did not bombard the area.”

British Priest artillery gun

A battery of M7 Priest 105mm self-propelled guns. These are actually from the British 3rd Infantry division in the neighboring "Sword" sector, near Hermanville-sur-Mer on D-Day. One thing I am struck about in this photo is how clean this vehicle looks. IWM B 5032

General Keller and other Canadian staff officers at Bernieres

The 3rd Division commander, Maj-General Ronald Keller (third from left) and other officers come ashore at Bernieres. At the far right is Brigadier Wyman of the 2nd Armored Brigade. Behind the group is the famed "Canada House," which one of the first buildings captured by the Canadians on D-Day.

Trooper John Dionne of Montreal, 20, a member of the 17th Duke of York’s Royal Canadian Hussars was among the last of the brigade to land. By the time his unit got to shore, he remembered that the beach was quiet.

 

“The odd bomb was landing on it, but there was no excitement there. The only excitement that we had in my jeep was when I got off: I had water right up to my chin, sitting in a damn jeep and the damn thing went haywire on me and it stalled. Nobody got out, they just sat there. So, I had to get out and I just waved my hands and all of a sudden, I saw this tractor coming towards me. So, I waited and he came to me and he said, ‘Here, hitch this cable onto your jeep.’ He took us out. Brought us right onto the beach, and unhooked us. I figured, ‘I’ll never get this thing started now,’ and so I tried it and the goddamned thing started! It was just a miracle,” he said.

 

Keller himself came ashore at 12.45 pm with a party of his junior brass, including Brigadier R A Wyman, commander of the 2nd Armored Division.

 

He realized that the Regiment de la Chaudiere still had not advanced on Beny-sur-Mer. In fact, the Queen’s own “C” Company were pinned down just outside Bernieres by heavy, long-range fire. When the Shermans of the Fort Garry Horse moved they were struck by fire by a screen of 10 anti-tank self-propelled guns and 11 towed guns sited in the slopes rising up to Beny-sur-Mer. Two of these were the daunted 88mm variety.

Rifleman Bull Ross watched in shock as the advance ground to a halt under heavy fire. “There was heavy congestion of equipment. Some vehicles were directed to go left into an apple orchard. On the right of the road tanks and self-propelled guns moved into a hayfield. Several tanks had taken hits. An 88mm [probably a 75mm] emplacement was well sited about half a mile ahead of us. Lt-Col. Jock Spragge called for smoke, the mortars laid down a smokescreen that blocked the Germans’ view. The tanks were blowing up. The crews inside were screaming. Shreds of tank metal were flying around everywhere. A German machine gun in a trench on the right began to spray us. Just behind me, an artillery observation officer had been trying to find where the 88mm was located; he was hit by a burst of fire.”

Eventually some of the Queens rallied and cooperating with the surviving tanks, knocked out one of the 88mm guns and took several men prisoners.

Meantime, the Royal Winnipegs were moving on to Pierrepont, closely accompanied by the tanks of “B” Squadron 1st Hussars. This heavy support came with a cost. Soon, “B” Squadron was down to nine tanks (or half-strength). One 88mm gun knocked out five tanks. Said Sgt. Leo Gariepy: “I saw Lieutenant McLeod’s tank burst high in flame. The troop corporal’s tank suffered the same fate, and I saw several other tanks knocked out.”

His blood up, Gariepy saw the muzzle on an 88mm gun rising from a hidden emplacement 30 yards ahead, the barrel pointing directly at him. “I gave rapid evasive orders to my driver and told my gunner to blast him. He fired two rounds; the second scoring a direct hit.”

Gariepy then moved up and “shot all the crew of 14 cowering in the trench.”

2 kurt tank inpection luftwaffe aircraft

In this September 1942 photo, Hauptmann Josef “Pips” Priller (then commander of III./JG 26) stands with the famous aircraft designer, Professor Kurt Tank who designed the potent Focke-Wulf Fw190 fighter at Wevelghem, Belgium.

Meantime, early that morning, on a small field outside the steel-producing town of Lille, Colonel Josef “Pips” Priller, the squat but tough commander of Jagdgeschwader 26 (Fighter Wing 26), famed as the “Yellow-Noses” or the “Abbeville Boys,” was rudely awoken by the ringing of the telephone.

His superior was on the line. “The allies have landed,” he said. “Get your wing up there and attack.”

Moment later, when Priller dropped the receiver back onto its cradle, he was more angry than shocked. He just two planes at his disposal. The rest of his wing was scattered all over France or was in the process of re-deployment. Deciding to attack anyway, Priller awoke his wingman, Sergeant Heinz Wodarczyk. Nearly an hour elapsed before they could get ready and rev up their Focke-Wulf fighters. By 9 am the two fighters were speeding down towards Caen.

Hugging the hedgerows to evade Allied fighters, the two Germans suddenly swung into a thick dark cloud base just before the beaches. Emerging moments later, they discovered an amazing spectacle. Ships lined the horizon, landing crafts plowed onto the beaches, and black puffs of flak exploded harmlessly near them. Looking below, Priller saw hundreds of thousands of troops along with vehicles swarming over the landscape.

“What a show, what a show!” he said, breaking radio silence: “There’s everything out there – Believe me this is the invasion.”

Diving, Priller and Wodarczyk tore down Anglo-American beaches at breakneck speed and at less than 150 ft off the ground. There was no time to aim, just press and hold down the gun button. Every ship in the Channel opened up, but the ack-ack seemed not to touch the Germans who flew through the barrage, evaded a screen of barrage balloons, turned inland and swooped into the skies, unscathed. So ended the Luftwaffe’s first daylight combat action of D-Day.

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