D-Day 65: The Canadian Zone

Canadian Second World War veteran Sam Wormington, 88, shows his medals in Caen, France, on Thursday, prior to the start of ceremonies marking the 65th anniversary of the D-Day landings and the Battle of Normandy. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Canadian Second World War veteran Sam Wormington, 88, shows his medals in Caen, France, on Thursday, prior to the start of ceremonies marking the 65th anniversary of the D-Day landings and the Battle of Normandy. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

 from CBC news

Canadian troops honoured for role in D-Day invasion

A monument commemorating the role of the Royal Canadian Navy in the Allies’ success on the beaches of Normandy in June 1944 was unveiled Friday in France.

The statue and plaque were unveiled in a ceremony held at the Juno Beach Centre in Courseulles-sur-Mer.

“The huge armada that was part of this operation allowed the Allied forces to land on the continent and to bring freedom to this continent,” said Cmdr. Peter Ellis, speaking at Juno Beach on Friday.

Ellis said it would have been “impossible to imagine Europe without the Juno Beach landings.”

Over 14,000 men of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division stormed Juno beach, and 340 of them died that morning.

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Rifle regiments and tanks from Toronto, Winnipeg, Regina and northern New Brunswick, among others, hit the beach shortly after dawn.

“It took guts and training and the support of the ships offshore to get them established on that beach,” Granatstein said.

In fierce hand-to-hand fighting, they fought their way into the towns of Bernières, Courseulles and St. Aubin.

By the end of the day, facing ferocious resistance, Canadian troops had struck farther inland than any other Allied division.

1st Canadian Parachute Battalion

The successes of British and German paratroopers led HQ to the conclusion that airborne troops could play a key role in defending remote areas, and even help retake positions taken by enemy paratrooper units.

On that basis, the Canadian Army created the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion on July 1st, 1942. After the British model, the battalion was comprised of an HQ, a Headquarters company, and of three rifle companies, 26 officers and 590 men of all ranks.

The initial call for volunteers, targeting men who already had infantry experience, was disappointing. Soldiers in training were concerned that serving with a parachute company would limit them to territorial defence, a prospect of little appeal for young men eager for action. A second call, directed at active forces, i.e. at those who had already signed up for service overseas, changed dramatically that image: the paratrooper mystique, the possibility of joining an elite corps, fired the imagination of young recruits looking for excitement and adventure.

Training

Paratrooper training began at Fort Benning, Georgia, until the construction of a Canadian facility at Camp Shilo, Manitoba, was completed. The four-week training programme at Fort Benning aimed first at developing physical stamina and discipline, then at familiarizing recruits with the equipment and jump techniques. Jumping exercises first used a 10-metre tower, tall enough to give the impression of a great height. Then trainees move to a 75-metre tower, and finally jump from planes. To be qualified, a recruit must make at least five successful jumps from a plane.

 On December 7th, 1942, 97 recruits, under Capt Beckett, left Fort Benning for additional training at Fort Harrison, Montana. They make up the 2nd Canadian Parachute Battalion, a unit that was later integrated with the First Special Service Force, a Canada-U.S. shock unit better known as the “Devil’s Brigade”.

Starting April 15th, 1943, the 1st Battalion starts training at Camp Shilo, where a 75-metre tower, like the one at Fort Benning, has just been completed. Training follows essentially the U.S. programme and an attempt is made at recreating combat conditions that paratroopers are expected to encounter. Unfortunately, the nearest airfield is at Rivers, 64 km away, and recruits have to get there first.

Jump training from the 75-metre tower at Fort Benning, Georgia, 12 March, 1943

Jump training from the 75-metre tower at Fort Benning, Georgia, 12 March, 1943

As the possibility of an invasion of Canada appears less and less realistic, starting in 1943, the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion is attached to the British 6th Airborne Division, to take part in the attack against Germany. At the end of July 1943, 31 officers and 548 men, fully trained and equipped, leave for England aboard the ocean liner, Queen Elizabeth. Their battalion is now part of the 3rd Parachute Brigade, under Brig S. James Hill; the Brigade also includes two British battalions, the 8th and 9th.

In England, more training awaits the Canadians, this time at Carter Barracks in Bulford, near Salisbury. The men need to work on their physical performance and take part in combat exercises at the battalion and at the brigade level.

Mass drop of the 1st Battalion from Douglas Dakota aircrafts, Salisbury Plain, England, February 6th, 1944.

Mass drop of the 1st Battalion from Douglas Dakota aircrafts, Salisbury Plain, England, February 6th, 1944.

Brig S. James Hill is a strong believer in the importance of optimal physical and mental condition, as the key to survival in an action context. His programme is a simple one, based on four principles:

Speed: Speed in action: paratroopers must move twice as fast as anybody else must on the operation theatre; speed in decision making: paratroopers must always be ten minutes ahead of others.

Simplicity: Simplicity allows speed and eliminates the possibility of mistakes.

Control: Tight control is essential to optimize resources and keep units organized, since paratroopers battalions are small units (some 500 men) and have little ammunition. They may also find themselves scattered over the drop zone.

Fire Effect: A paratrooper must also be a sharpshooter and proficient with a wide range of weapons, including those of the enemy. And as paratroopers carry little ammunition and equipment they must make sure that their fire is on target. They go by the following: wait until you see the white of their eyes before shooting.

To meet Brig Hill’s standards, paratroopers must follow a demanding regime of foot races, forced marches and combat exercises. In August and September 1943, they run 8 km every morning. Each battalion must pass the following test: an 80-km march with full gear within 18 hours. The 1st Canadian Battalion makes it on November 19th, 1943. Then, until April 1944, it takes part in major combat exercices, simulating a landing on French shores. On May 24th, 1944, the battalion leaves Bulford for the Down Ampney transit camp. They are ready to fight…

Read about the 1st Canadian Parachute Regiment’s involvement in D-Day here: http://www.junobeach.org/e/4/can-tac-par-e.htm



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