Why we remember D-Day

By Susan Lucas

 

The long awaited invasion into Northwest Europe happened June 6, 1944.

This was called Operation Overlord, D-Day.

To understand the importance of D-Day, you would have to realize how the war started.

It began September 1, 1939, with the German Invasion of Poland. Germany had set the wheels in motion to establish a large empire for itself in Europe. The Germans had dubbed the invasion as “Blitzkreg,” or lightening war.  Invasions of Silisia-Solvakia, or “Czechoslovakia,” Pomerania, East Prussia, all were overwhelming Victories, as was the invasion of Poland.

The Luftwaffe had air superiority; they destroyed most of the Polish aircraft, and with bombs hitting their targets, their communications, and their headquarters, they were lost.

Britain and France demanded Germany withdraw from Poland.  Poland’s Allies call for an international conference to halt the conflict.  September 10, 1939 an ultimatum is given to Germany to withdraw its forces.   They would have until 11:00 to make those assurances; if they were not forthcoming, Britain would consider itself at war with Germany.

Germany did not give these assurances, and at 11:00am, Britain declares war.

The French declared war on Germany hours later, as did India, Australia, New Zealand, and the Dominions, including Canada.

The Axis countries were Germany, Italy, Japan, Finland, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia, and Slovakia.

Allied Countries were United Kingdom and all its Dominions, the Soviet Union, France, Canada, Australia, China, Poland, Greece, Netherlands, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Luxembourg, Norway, and Yugoslavia.  The United States joined the war only when Germany declared war on the US shortly after the US declared war on Japan after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor.

Germany’s forces between 1939 and 1945 had conquered most of Western Europe, and the desserts of North Africa. They began their push into Russia in 1941. The World was truly at war.  Canada, at the break out of World War 1l, had a population of roughly 11.5 million people, out of that, just over one million served in uniform during this conflict.

We distinguished ourselves not only in battle, but on the home front. We produced warships, bombers, vehicles, and military hardware of all kinds. Farmers began producing more food, not only to feed Canada, but the overall war effort, and all its allies. The Royal Canadian Navy grew to a force of nearly 100,000.  It maintained vital sea lanes to Britain in the face of the superior tactics of the German Submarine Wolf packs. The Canadian Navy also served in the Pacific, Caribbean, Mediterranean, and the Arctic.

The RCN distinguished themselves in the “Battle of the Atlantic” and led merchant ships to supply the UK and the Soviet Union by way of Murmansk.

In November, 1943, a meeting was held with Joseph Stalin, the leader of the USSR, Winston Churchill, and Franklin D. Roosevelt, and they met in Teheran Iran to discuss war strategies.

It was Stalin who demanded the Allies open a second front.  It was a legitimate demand, since the USSR, which was invaded by Germany in 1941 had been fighting Germany continuously, and was occupying much of Germany’s attention then, reducing daily German potential for invading the UK, that clearly had been Hitler’s plan.  Stalin knew without opening this second front, Russia would be overrun, and the USSR had already sustained heavy casualties.

The Allies agreed to a new major offensive, “Operation Overlord” in Normandy, France.

The Canadians would take the code-named beachheads, “Juno Beach,” the British would take “Sword Beach” and “Gold Beach,” while the Americans would take “Omaha” and “Utah” Beaches.

The offensive began in the early morning of June 6, 1944.   The allies flew thousands of sorties ahead of the D-day landings, attempting to take out German communications, pill boxes and bridges.

The channel crossing was made in rough weather; large waves crashed relentlessly over the bows of the ships that carried the troops.   Thousands of ships took part in this invasion armada: The largest in History.

Many men by this time were seasick, but ready when they landed.   Allied paratroopers, including 450 Canadians, jumped from Aircraft and landed in gliders.  Their job was to capture the German Headquarters, take out any key bridges, and cause general confusion in the German ranks.

When the Canadians finally hit the beaches, they were met with mines hidden by the high tide, near impenetrable fortifications and German pill boxes pinning them down, while Allied warships pounded the coast overhead of these men as they began their advance from the beaches.  The sounds must have been deafening. If your buddy fell beside you, you kept moving.  There was no time to stop; if you did, you would have made an easy target.

The Canadians kept moving forward and by evening had advanced inland further than the other allies. They broke through German defenses.  It was an outstanding military achievement and a testament to the courage and bravery of our military.  But the sand and water flowed red with blood, 359 Canadians died, 715 were wounded and 47 taken prisoner. By nightfall both the British and Americans held a continuous front, landing 155 thousand troops, 6000 vehicles and 4000 tons of supplies. That day turned the tide for Victory, and brought closer the war’s end.

At this point, Germany was faced with ferocious enemies battling them on both the Eastern and Western Fronts.  A year later, German and the Axis forces surrendered, unconditionally.

The world became a different place.

Susan, a Military Historian, has contributed to numerous military and naval books and publications.  She has written the storyboards for the Battle of the Atlantic and the Admiral Lord Nelson Bicentennial exhibits for the Military Museums of Alberta.   She is a member of RCL Branch 122, The Naval Officers’ Association of Canada, Royal Canadian Army Service Corps, HMS Tenby Association, Organization of Military Museums (OMMC) and the Royal Alberta United Service Institute.

submitted by Terry Hicky,

Public Relations

Royal Canadian Legion Br. #122, Golden, B.C. (www.RCL122.ca)