Communities from Oshawa to Mississauga mark the 79th anniversary of the D-Day landings

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Published June 6, 2023 at 9:00 am

Hollywood has always paid attention to D-Day and the Allied invasion of German-occupied France in the Normandy landings of June 6, 1944: 79 years ago today.

But Hollywood being Hollywood, an American entertainment entity, has always focussed on Omaha and Utah, the two (of five) beaches that were the responsibility of American forces, with an occasional mention of Sword and Gold, the two British landing zones.

News flash to American movie watchers (and, unfortunately, some Canadians as well), Canada was there that day, as they were every day from 1939 to 1945. And despite taking heavier resistance from the Germans than any other beach save perhaps Utah, it was the Canadians, at the cost of an estimated 1,000 men, who pushed further inland that day than any of the other forces.

There were plenty of heroes on this day, but those who made it through what could only be described as an apocalypse of bombs and artillery fire that greeted them on the landing would better describe themselves simply as survivors.

There was James Doohan of the Royal Winnipeg Rifles ‘D’ Company, who was shot six times and would go on to become ‘Scotty’ of Star Trek fame; there was Pvt. George Savage – father of Jamie – of the 3rd Canadian Infantry who braved the barrage of hellfire to land on Juno Beach that day.

Cobby Engelberg survived that day as well, but only because of the sacrifice of his pilot, Harvey Edgar Jones. Warrant Officer Engleberg was a wireless radio /air gunner aboard a Dakota transport plane that morning when it was shot down by German forces. The 22 paratroopers on the plane were able to jump to safety and Jones, who hailed from Niagara Falls, was able to crash land the plane while keeping his gunner, who had suffered a fractured skull in the attack and was unconscious, alive. Jones would be killed on contact, but Engelbert would be rescued from the burning wreckage by a local French family, who would nurse him back to health and an eventual return to Canada.

Taking Juno was the responsibility of the Canadian Army, with sea transport, mine sweeping, and a naval bombardment force from the Free French, Norwegian, and other allies. The objectives of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division on D-Day were to capture the Caen-Bayeux Road, seize Carpiquet airport west of Caen, and form a link between the two British beaches on either flank.

The beach was defended by two battalions of the German 716 Infantry Division, with elements of the 21st Panzer Division held in reserve near Caen.

Other Canadian battalions and regiments involved included the 7th and 8th Canadian Infantry Brigades, the Royal Winnipeg Rifles, the Canadian Scottish Regiment, the 1st Hussars, the Regina Rifles, and North Shore and Queen’s Own Rifles regiments. Tanks of the Fort Garry Horse would provide support and the operational plan would also call for the 9th Canadian Infantry Brigade and the Sherbrooke Fusiliers.

On Juno, the defences of the Atlantic Wall were greater than at most of the other landing sectors, with the Germans deploying a ‘devil’s garden’ of beach obstacles.

Predictions of the casualties on Juno had been about 2,000 men, including 600 drowned and while the Canadian fighting forces had been able to reduce those numbers by half, the fact the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division had succeeded by nightfall in advancing farther than any other divisional element in the Allied Expeditionary Force came at great cost.

D-Day, however, was to be the turning point in the war, with the Allied forces celebrating victory in Europe 11 months later.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-Day in 2019. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

The Engelberg story courtesy of local author Ted Barris and with files from Wikipedia

 

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