Friday, June 6, 2014

The Coming Storm



By Chris Charland
Associate Air Force Historian

Chris Charland, Associate Air Force Historian has pulled together in on place the entirety of the Canadian effort on D-Day. In one place we can see the full battle order for the Canadian Army's 1st Canadian paras, the 3rd Division, the RCN and the RCAF. On June 6th 70 years ago, Canucks were punching way above our weight. Here's to all the Canadian men we lost that day and the weeks after before break out. And here's to all the men there that day, that are still with us today... witness to greatness.

The Coming Storm

In February of 1943, A high-level conference took place at Casablanca, Morocco
between the President of the United States,  Franklin D. Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and their respective advisors.  They were there to discuss the future conduct of the war.  It was decided that plans for the re-entry in to Europe must be given top priority.  The concentration of forces and materials needed for the forthcoming invasion commenced.  In March 1943, U.S. Army General Dwight D. Eisenhower selected the British Army's Acting Lieutenant General Frederick Edgworth Morgan as Chief of Staff to the Supreme Allied Commander of the allied force that would invade northern Europe.  Morgan is credited as being the original planner for the invasion of Europe.  Lingering concerns and differences of opinion on Operation Neptune, the assault phase of Operation Overlord, were addressed at the Quebec Conference in August 1943.  It was agreed that the invasion of France take place in May 1944.

On the 28th of November 1943, General Dwight D. Eisenhower affectionately known as ‘Ike’ was appointed the Supreme Allied Commander.  His duty was no less than to enter the continent of Europe in conjunction with all other allied nations, undertake operations aimed at the heart of Germany and destroy its forces.  The proposed execution date of the 1st of June 1944, set the time for an invasion on a scale never attempted before.  Due to unforeseen problems including extremely inclement weather, the date was set back to the 6th of June.

The entire daring escapade was a monumental logistics nightmare.  In all, over 7,000 vessels carrying more than 150,000 troops would have to cross the English Channel to France undetected and arrive exactly on time to forge a beachhead.  Once the details of invasion were coordinated, the land forces under Field Marshal Sir Bernard L. ‘Monty’ Montgomery put forth the logistical requirements. All allied air operations would be under the command of Royal Air Force, Air Chief Marshal Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory

 The build-up had to provide for the debarkation of reinforcements without interruption for five to six weeks after the landing…any delay would carry heavy consequences.
The initial landing was delayed due to menacing weather, which also indirectly caused the sinking of the minesweeper U.S.S. Osprey.  Additionally, an American tank landing craft US LCT2498 broke down and subsequently capsized and sank in the vicious swell.  Mother Nature, not the Germans had dealt the first blows against Operation Overlord.  Nevertheless, D-day arrived at the beaches of Normandy with full force on the morning of the 6th of June.

Pegasus Up 

The crack 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion (1 Can Para) led by Lt. Col. G.F.P. Bradbrooke was part of the tough and tumble 3rd Brigade of the British 6th Airborne Division.  The Canadian ‘Red Devils’ were to land one hour prior to the arrival of the rest of the brigade with the aim of securing the DZ (Drop Zone); capturing the enemy H.Q. (Headquarters) located at the site and destroy the local radio station at Varaville.  After that, the Canadians were to destroy vehicle bridges over the Dives River and its tributaries at Varaville. Having done that, they were to proceed with neutralizing various fortified positions at the crossroads.  Additional responsibilities included protecting the left (southern) flank of the 9th Battalion as the battalion assaulted the Merival gun battery. Upon completing that, the Canadians were to hold the position at the Le Mesnil crossroads which was deemed a strategic position located at the centre of the bridge.  Remarkably, the Canadians had accomplished all they set out to do by mid-day of June the 6th.

The 3rd Div’s Norman Adventure
The Canadian Army’s 3rd Canadian Division led Major General R. F. ‘Rod’ Keller along with the 2nd Canadian Armored Brigade under the command of Brigadier R.A. Wyman formed part of General Miles Dempsey’s 2nd British Army. The Canadians, numbering just over 14,000 came ashore at Juno Beach.  The five-mile wide Juno Beach was divided into two primary sectors, Mike and Nan.  In turn, each of these was sub-divided into smaller sections denoted by the sector name followed by a colour.  Many heroic deeds were performed on the first day at Juno Beach.  The allies had come to expect nothing less. The relentless pursuit of the Canadian Army’s objectives was measured in human currency.  It was a costly toll. Of the 14,000 Canadians that stormed Juno Beach, 340 killed, 574 wounded and 49 captured by the defending Germans. This was small comfort considering planners had predicted a much higher casualty rate.

* The 3rd Canadian Infantry Division was comprised of the following units:

 7th Canadian Infantry Brigade
Royal Winnipeg Rifles
Regina Rifle Regiment  
Canadian Scottish Regiment

  8th Canadian Infantry Brigade
Queen's Own Rifles of Canada
Le Régiment de la Chaudière
North Shore (New Brunswick) Regiment

9th Infantry Brigade
Light Infantry of Canada
Stormont, Dundas, and Glengarry Highlanders
Nova Scotia Highlanders
Cameron Highlanders of Ottawa (M.G.)  
7th Reconnaissance Regiment
(17th Duke of York's Royal Canadian Hussars)

Divisional Royal Canadian Artillery

12th Field Regiment, Royal Canadian Artillery
13th Field Regiment, Royal Canadian Artillery
14th Field Regiment, Royal Canadian Artillery
19th Army Field Regiment, Royal Canadian Artillery
3rd Anti-Tank Regiment, Royal Canadian Artillery
4th Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment, Royal Canadian Artillery  

Divisional Royal Canadian Engineers

5th Field Company, Royal Canadian Engineers
6th Field Company, Royal Canadian Engineers
16th Field Company, Royal Canadian Engineers
18th Field Company, Royal Canadian Engineers
3rd Canadian Field Park Company, Royal Canadian Engineers
3rd Canadian Divisional Bridge Platoon, Royal Canadian Engineers

Royal Canadian Corps of Signals

3rd Infantry Divisional Signals

Royal Canadian Army Service Corps

3rd Infantry Divisional Troops Company  

Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps

No.14 Field Ambulance
No.22 Field Ambulance
No.23 Field Ambulance  
2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade
6th Canadian Armoured Regiment (1st Hussars)
10th Canadian Armoured Regiment (Fort Garry Horse)
27th Armoured Regiment (Sherbrooke Fusiliers)

* Also providing vital support during the landings were units of the Royal Canadian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers and the Royal Canadian Ordnance Corps.

British units that support the Canadian landing on Juno Beach were:
No. 48 Royal Marine Commando
4th Special Service Brigade
26th Assault Squadron
80th Assault Squadron
5th Assault Regiment, Royal Engineers
6th Assault Regiment, Royal Engineers (equipped with the Churchill AVRE tank)
Detachments x 2 of the 22nd Dragoons, 79th Armoured Division. (equipped with the Crab flail tanks)
3rd Battery 2nd Royal Marine Armoured Support Regiment (Centaurs)
4th Battery, 2nd Royal Marine Armoured Support Regiment (Centaurs)
‘C’ Squadron, Inns of Court Regiment (Armoured Reconnaissance vehicles)

‘Ready Aye Ready’

The Royal Canadian Navy was very active prior to and on the first day of Operation Overlord.   A force of 19 corvettes was assigned to provide escort service to the many ships and floating docks heading for assembly points on the south coast of England Eleven frigates, nine destroyers and five corvettes were seconded to the Royal Navy to provide an asdic (Anti-Submarine Detection Investigation Committee) screen around the western approaches to the English Channel one week prior to the invasion date.  This was to guard against the constant German U-Boat threat.

 Only hours before the invasion, Canadian ‘Bangor’ Class minesweepers cleared shipping lanes of mines and then ensured that the anchorage swept clear. The last part of their assignment was to sweep the lanes for the assault boats, right to the limit of the deep water.  While under a moon lit sky, they crept within a mile and a half of shore, pretty well under the noses of the unsuspecting Germans.  Thankfully they were not spotted.
The German coastal artillery guns would have made mincemeat of them.

The R.C.N.’s two landing ships, H.M.C.S. Prince Henry and H.M.C.S. Prince David carried fourteen landing craft (L.C.I. or Landing Craft Infantry) to a point where they could be launched for the run into the beachhead.  In the British sector, Thirty ‘Fleet’ Class destroyers including H.M.C.S. Algonquin and H.M.C.S. Sioux, provided direct fire support for the landing craft carrying part of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division after they were launched from the landing ships.  Mines and other underwater obstructions were a constant threat to the landing craft.   Not very many escaped without some sort of damage.  Leading the second wave were 26 landing craft of the  R.C.N.’s 260th, 262nd and 264th Flotillas.  These flotillas were carrying a combined force of 4,617 soldiers, primarily from the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division.  Six speedy and deadly MTB’s (Motor Torpedo Boat) were assigned to patrol the Seine estuary.  Corvettes of the R.C.N. would go on to escort additional convoys into Baie de la Seine. during the rest of the day.  Naval losses were described as “incredibly light”, especially when you consider how many long range naval-guns and other weapons the Germans still had operational at the time of the landings.

The following 109 ships and vessels of His Majesty’s Canadian Navy took part in the invasion of Normandy:

‘Tribal’ Class Destroyer

H.M.C.S. Haida
H.M.C.S. Huron

‘V’ Class Destroyer

H.M.C.S. Algonquin
H.M.C.S. Sioux

‘River’ Class Destroyer (British)
H.M.C.S. Gatineau
H.M.C.S. Kootenay
H.M.C.S. Qu’Appelle
H.M.C.S. Ottawa (II)
H.M.C.S. Chaudiere
H.M.C.S. Restigouche
H.M.C.S. Skeena
H.M.C.S. St. Laurent

‘Mackenzie’ Class Destroyer Escort

H.M.C.S. Saskatchewan

‘River’ Class Frigate

H.M.C.S. Meon
H.M.C.S. Teme

‘River’ Class Frigate (1942-1943 Program)
H.M.C.S. Matane
H.M.C.S. Outremont
H.M.C.S. Port Colberne
H.M.C.S. Saint John
H.M.C.S. Swansea

‘Flower’ Class Corvette (1939-1940)
H.M.C.S. Alberni
H.M.C.S. Baddeck
H.M.C.S. Camrose
H.M.C.S. Drumheller
H.M.C.S. Louisburg (II)
H.M.C.S. Lunenburg
H.M.C.S. Mayflower
H.M.C.S. Moose Jaw
H.M.C.S. Summerside
H.M.C.S. Prescott

Troop Landing Ship

H.M.C.S. Prince David
H.M.C.S. Prince Henry

Revised ‘Flower’ Class Corvette (1940-1941 Program)
H.M.C.S. Kitchener
H.M.C.S. Port Arthur
H.M.C.S. Woodstock

Revised ‘Flower’ Class Corvette

H.M.C.S. Mimico

‘River’ Class Frigate (1942 –1943 Program)
H.M.C.S. Cape Breton
H.M.C.S. Grou
H.M.C.S. Waskesiu

‘Bangor’ Class Minesweeper
H.M.C.S. Bayfield
H.M.C.S. Guysborough

‘Bangor’ Class Minesweeper (1941-1942 Program)
H.M.C.S. Kenora
H.M.C.S. Mulgrave

‘Bangor’ Class Minesweeper (1940-1941 Regular Program)
H.M.C.S. Vegreville

Revised ‘Flower’ Class Corvette (1942-1943 Program)
H.M.C.S. Lindsay

Revised ‘Flower’ Class Corvette (1940-1941 Program)
H.M.C.S. Calgary
H.M.C.S. Regina

29th Motor Torpedo Boat Flotilla
MTB’s  459, 460, 461, 462, 463, 464, 465 and 466

65th Motor Torpedo Boat Flotilla
MTB’s 726, 727, 735, 736, 743, 744, 745, 747, 748

260th L.C.I. L. Flotilla
L.C.I. L’s 117, 121, 166, 177, 249, 266, 271, 277, 285, 298 and 301

262nd L.C.I.L. Flotilla
L.C.I.L’s 115, 118, 125, 135, 250, 252, 262, 263, 270, 276, 299 and 306

264th L.C.I.L. Flotilla
L.C.I.L.’s 255, 288, 295, 302, 305, 310 and 311

528th Assault Flotilla
L.C.A.’s 736, 850, 856, 925, 1021, 1033, 1371 and 1372

529th Assault Flotilla
L.C.A.’s 1957, 1059, 1137, 1138, 1150, 1151, 1374 and 1375

Per Ardua Ad Astra

It was a maximum effort for the crews of Bomber Command’s No. 6 (RCAF) Group on the night of the 5th/6th of June, 1944.  A force of 190 aircraft comprised of Avro Lancaster and Handley Page Halifax four-engine heavy bombers flew 230 sorties in support of pre-invasion operations. A large number of targets were struck with particular attention to the German coastal artillery emplacements on the beachhead.  In all over 870 tons of high explosives were dropped for the loss of one Canadian Halifax.

R.C.A.F. fighter and fighter-bomber squadrons went into action providing support to the Canadian ground forces as the invasion kicked into high gear.  The deafening sounds of the aerial activity over Normandy resembled clouds of locust.  The planes just kept coming and coming with no end in sight.  An estimated 1,000 aircraft from 39 of the 42 Royal Canadian Air Force squadrons stationed in England would take part in the aerial support of the invasion with roles ranging bombing, air superiority, ground attack and photo reconnaissance. The R.C.A.F. lost a Vickers Wellington G.R. Mk. XIV (L/L), a Supermarine Spitfire Mk. IX, a Hawker Typhoon Mk. Ib and a North American Mustang Mk. I for total of 14 dead.  A further 23 R.C.A.F. members serving with Royal Air Force squadrons were also killed in action as a result of D-Day operations

 * The following Royal Canadian Air Force squadrons were involved in pre-invasion activities and in support of the actual invasion.

No. 39 (Reconnaissance) Wing - RCAF

No. 400 ‘City of Toronto’ (FR) Squadron – North American Mustang Mk. I
No. 414 ‘Sarnia Imperials’ (FR) Squadron - North American Mustang Mk. I
No. 430 ‘City of Sudbury’ (FR) Squadron - North American Mustang Mk. I

No. 126  (Fighter) Wing - RCAF

No. 401 ‘Ram’ (F) Squadron - Supermarine Spitfire Mk. IXb
N. 411 ’Grizzly Bear’ (F) Supermarine Spitfire Mk. IXb
No. 412 ‘Falcon’ (F) Squadron - Supermarine Spitfire Mk. IXb

No. 127 (Fighter) Wing - RCAF

No. 403 ‘Wolf’ (F) Squadron – Supermarine Spitfire Mk. IXb
No. 416 ‘Lynx’ (F) Squadron – Supermarine Spitfire Mk. IXb
No. 421 ‘Red Indian’ (F) Squadron – Supermarine Spitfire Mk. IXb

No. 143 (Fighter) Wing - RCAF

No. 438 ‘Wild Cat’ (FB) Squadron - Hawker Typhoon Mk. Ib
No. 439 ‘Westmount’ (FB) Squadron - Hawker Typhoon Mk. Ib
No. 440 ‘City of Ottawa’ (FB) Squadron – Hawker Typhoon Mk. Ib

No. 144 (Fighter) Wing - RCAF

No. 441 ‘Silver Fox’ (F) Supermarine Spitfire Mk. IXb
No. 442 ‘Caribou’ (F) Squadron – Supermarine Spitfire Mk. IXb
No. 443 ‘Hornet’ (F) Squadron – Supermarine Spitfire Mk. IXb

No. 148 (Night Fighter) Wing
No. 409 ‘Nighthawk’ (NF) Squadron – de Havilland Mosquito N.F. Mk. XIII

No. 149 (Long Range Fighter ) Wing

No. 410 ‘Cougar’ (NF) Squadron - de Havilland Mosquito N.F. Mk. XIII

Air Defence of Great Britain

No. 406 ‘Lynx’ (NF) Squadron – Bristol Beaufighter Mk. VIIF / de Havilland Mosquito N.F. Mk. XII

No. 11 (Fighter) Group

No. 418 ‘City of Edmonton’ (I) Squadron – de Havilland Mosquito Mk. II
No. 402 ‘City of Winnipeg’ (F)  Squadron -  Supermarine Spitfire Mk. Vc

No. 6 (RCAF) Group
No. 408 ‘Goose’ (B) Squadron – Avro Lancaster B. Mk. II
No. 419 ‘Moose’ (B) Squadron – Avro Lancaster B. Mk. X * Canadian-built Lancaster
No. 420 ‘Snowy Owl’ (B) Squadron - – Handley Page Halifax B. Mk. III
No. 424 ‘Tiger’ (B) Squadron - – Handley Page Halifax B. Mk. III
No. 425 ‘Alouette’ (B) Squadron - – Handley Page Halifax B. Mk. III
No. 426 ‘Thunderbird’ (B) Squadron - – Handley Page Halifax B. Mk. III
No. 427 ‘Lion’ (B) Squadron –  Handley Page Halifax B. Mk. III
No. 428 ‘Ghost’ (B) Squadron –  Handley Page Halifax B. Mk. II
No. 429 ‘Bison’ (B) Squadron – Handley Page Halifax B. Mk. III
No. 431 ‘Iroquois’ (B) Squadron  – Handley Page Halifax B. Mk. III
No. 433 ‘Porcupine’ (B) Squadron – Handley Page Halifax B. Mk. III
No. 434 ‘Bluenose’ (B) Squadron  – Handley Page Halifax B. Mk. III

No. 8 (PFF) Group

No. 405 ‘Vancouver’ (B) Squadron – Avro Lancaster Mk. I and Mk. III
* They were a Pathfinder Force squadron

No. 15 (General Reconnaissance) Group
No. 422 ‘Flying Yachtsman’ (GR) Squadron – Short Sunderland Mk. III
No. 423  (GR) Squadron – Short Sunderland Mk. III

No. 19 (General Reconnaissance) Group

No. 404 ‘Buffalo’ (CF) Squadron – Bristol Beaufighter T.F. Mk. XC
No. 407 ‘Demon’ (GR) Squadron – Vickers Wellington G.R. Mk. XIV (L/L)

In Conclusion

All in all, Canadian combatants from all three services gave an outstanding account of themselves on the first day of the battle.  They would continue to distinguish themselves by dogged determination and selfless acts of heroism, helping write the final chapter and finally closing the book on the Third Reich’s supposed one thousand-year reign.

1 comment:

  1. War is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

    Your article is very well done, a good read.