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Background story of Canada’s D-day Tour

Canada’s D-day Missions

The 1944 Battle of Normandy (from the D-Day landings on 6 June through to the encirclement of the German army at Falaise on 21 August) was one of the pivotal events of WWII and the scene of some of Canada’s greatest feats of arms. Canadian sailors, soldiers and airmen played a critical role in the Allied invasion of Normandy, also called Operation Overlord, beginning the bloody campaign to liberate Western Europe from Nazi occupation. Nearly 150,000 Allied troops landed or parachuted into the invasion area on D-Day, of which 14,000 Canadians landed at Juno Beach. The Royal Canadian Navy contributed 110 ships and 10,000 sailors and the RCAF 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. By the end of the Battle of Normandy, the Allies had suffered 209,000 casualties, including more than 18,700 Canadians. Over 5,000 Canadian soldiers died.

Originally scheduled for 5 June, the invasion was postponed for a day by bad weather. Finally, in the early pre-dawn hours of 6 June (D-Day) waves of aircraft and gliders began delivering paratroopers into the Norman countryside, many of them missing their landing zones due to anti-aircraft fire and confusion. Many paratroopers also drowned after landing in fields flooded by the Germans.  In the English Channel, an armada of more than 6,900 ships, including 110 Canadian warships, approached the coastline.

Eisenhower and British General Bernard Montgomery had expected to have their armies advancing east across France within weeks. Instead, it took a whole summer of hard fighting, often against skilled Nazi panzer (armoured) units, for the Allies to break out of their narrow Normandy bridgehead.

British and Canadians waged war around the Norman capital city of Caen — originally a D-Day objective that had not been captured. The first week after D-Day, Canadian forces were in the vanguard of the push toward Caen. They encountered fierce opposition from the 12th SS Panzer Division.

On 4 July, Canadian units, already worn-out from weeks of hard fighting, began an assault on Carpiquet airport, outside Caen. Major Lockie Fulton, who had stormed Juno Beach with the Royal Winnipeg Rifles, emerged from the battle for Carpiquet as his company’s only surviving officer. He called it his “worst day of the entire war.”

The Canadians, assisted by British, Polish and other formations fought battle after battle, assaulting strategic high points or crossroads south of Caen, at Vaucelles, Bourguébus Ridge and Verrières Ridge.

By early August, the Allied armies had launched a huge pincer movement — with British, Canadian and Polish units moving south towards the town of Falaise and American forces, having finally broken through enemy lines in the west, circling south and east around what remained of the German Army in Normandy. The Falaise “Gap” through which the Germans were retreating was closed on 20 August, with the linking up of American, Canadian and Polish forces. Scenes of desperate and confused fighting unfolded in the final days of the battle, as the Allies tried to trap German forces on the run. Amid the chaos, Major David Currie of the South Alberta Regiment was awarded the Victoria Cross for seizing and holding, with his unit, a critical village in the Gap.

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