An Allied defeat on the beaches of Normandy would have been disastrous as there was no way to safely evacuate troops in large numbers, so huge casualties would be inevitable. If the landings were successful, however, our forces would finally gain that all-important foothold in Western Europe and could begin the liberation campaign after years of harsh German occupation. Allied warplanes helped pave the way for the Normandy landings. They undertook countless missions attacking coastal defences and lines of transport in occupied Europe in the months leading up to Operation Overlord.
Some 7, naval vessels of all types, including major combat ships, took part in Operation Neptune as the sea-borne assault phase of the D-Day offensive was codenamed.
Destroyers and supporting craft of the Royal Canadian Navy shelled German positions onshore and cleared sea mines in the approaches to the French beaches. Canadian soldiers and tanks landing at Courseulles-sur-Mer, France, on June 6, More than members of the 1 st Canadian Parachute Battalion jumped inland before dawn on June 6 and were the first of our soldiers to engage the enemy on D-Day.
A few hours later, some 14, Canadian troops from the 3 rd Canadian Infantry Division and the 2 nd Canadian Armoured Brigade—composed of military units from coast to coast—would begin to come ashore at Juno Beach. Our soldiers would then push inland towards the city of Caen, an important communications and transport centre. Many Canadian soldiers were young and new to battle, but our infantry and armoured troops would be thrown into action against some of the best of the German forces in Normandy.
The Canadians successfully captured their shoreline positions at Juno Beach and penetrated the farthest inland of any of the some , Allied troops who had landed on June 6, , but D-Day was only the beginning of the struggle to liberate France. Clashes in the days that followed badly bloodied our soldiers and they repeatedly found themselves pitted against the elite 12 th SS Panzer Division, manned by fanatical troops under the command of ruthless and experienced German officers. The first month of fighting was an exercise in grim endurance for the Canadians as the combat intensified and capturing Caen remained elusive.
The Canadians would bend but not break; however, the memory of the bitter fighting they encountered in villages like Authie, Buron and Carpiquet would haunt our Veterans for years to come. All rights reserved.
I first went to Normandy in I was a year-old news photographer shooting the French presidential election, and my visit happened to coincide with the 30th anniversary of the D-Day landings. I was amazed that the French still welcomed American veterans as their liberators—a warm feeling between the countries that still exists today.
I see my responsibility as bridging the gap with photography to help people, particularly young people, understand the importance of what happened there—not just the soldiers who died, but also how the Allied invasion of German-occupied France changed the world. The artillery pieces required disabling and La Pointe du Hoc was the scene of a daring assault in the early hours of 6 June , when US Army Rangers scaled the perilously steep 30m-high cliffs.
After capturing the site, the soldiers discovered the guns had been moved inland, so set off to successfully find and disable them, while enduring enemy counterattacks. By the time the force was relieved on 8 June, only around 90 men had survived. The heroic attack is commemorated by battle-scarred concrete bunkers and casemates and a dagger-shaped memorial; an informative visitor centre is also at the site.
Continue west along the D to link up with the N13 and then head northeast along the D to conclude the drive at Utah Beach around 45km from La Pointe du Hoc. A host of minibus tours roam across Normandy to the D-Day sights, which can be an excellent way of lassoing in the crucial must-sees.
Also check out our guide to the story of the D-Day beach landings. L'Alchimie serves superbly presented modern French cuisine in Bayeux. This article was first published in August