Michael Dawe: Red Deer greeted D-Day with mix of joy and apprehension

Poor weather delayed invasion by a day

June 6 marks the 75th anniversary of one of the most important events in modern world history.

On that day, in 1944, the largest seaborne invasion in history took place when the Allied forces successfully landed 155,000 men onto the coast of Normandy.

Initially, it meant the opening of a second front in the war against Germany. However, to most, it also meant the beginning of the end of the Second World War.

The invasion had been expected for some time. After the very dark days of 1940-41, when the sudden success of the German Blitzkrieg made it appear that Hitler and the Nazis might indeed conquer the world, the tide of battle had turned.

The United States had entered the war in December 1941 after the unexpected attack on Pearl Harbor. In 1943, the Allied forces had successfully invaded Sicily and Italy, with Canadians having a significant role in the fighting.

Now, attention turned to what was often referred to as Fortress Europe. The challenge to successfully invade the Atlantic Wall in France was enormous.

Huge numbers of men and weaponry would have to be ferried across the English Channel.

This massive movement would have to include an element of surprise to succeed. Careful planning and preparation was essential. Allied troops were intensively trained for nearly a year in amphibious assaults, combined operations, embarkations and disembarkations.

The Allied Command also looked to the experience of the Dieppe raid of August 1942 for guidance. That terrible disaster showed what needed to be done and what must be avoided.

Tragically, it was a lesson that had been gained with a huge loss of Canadian lives.

By early 1944, the Allied forces were thought to be ready for the big invasion. The Canadian troops were widely regarded as being among the best trained and best prepared troops under the Allied Command.

Under the master plan for the invasion, the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division and the 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade were assigned the job of landing at Juno Beach, between the French villages of Vaux and St. Aubin Sur Mer.

The 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion was to join in aerial landings beyond the beaches.

The invasion was set for Monday, June 5. However, due to bad weather, the invasion had to be postponed, even though that increased the chances of detection.

Despite continuing rough seas, the unprecedented armada set out for France the next day. Hundreds of bombers and fighter aircraft swarmed overhead.

Heavy bombing of the German defences was carried out from midnight until dawn, followed by naval shelling. Meanwhile, Canadian paratroopers landed before dawn behind the enemy lines and helped to make any attempt by the Germans to repel the invasion more difficult.

By 8 a.m., the seaborne landings began. Despite the large numbers of mines and the heavy fire from the German defenders, the Canadians successfully made their way ashore at Juno Beach. After consolidating their positions, several units began to fight their way inland.

There was great success, but at a great cost. On D-Day, the Canadians suffered nearly 1,000 casualties, including more than 340 men killed in action.

Meanwhile, back in Red Deer, the news of the great invasion was greeted with joy, but also a great deal of worry and concern.

In the morning, there was a brief ceremony at the A-20 Army Camp. The troops in training gathered on the parade square for a special religious service. Then there was a ceremonial parade with the salute taken by the camp commandant, Col. Burton-Willison.

In the afternoon, 1,000 people gathered at the City Square in a public service of prayer. The service was led by the Red Deer Ministerial Association.

The mayor and city council were present on the platform, as were various military officers from the A-20 Army camp. The camp band played hymns.

The Nazarene College choir led the singing, along with the students from local schools and the local sea cadets.

Over the following days and weeks, there was more news of victory, but again with an ongoing loss of lives. Nevertheless, the long-hoped-for end to the terrible war finally seemed in sight. Moreover, Canadian troops had once again proven their great courage and skill in battle.

Red Deer historian Michael Dawe’s column appears Wednesdays.

Just Posted

Road allowance closure passes first reading

County of Wetaskiwin sends application to province

Contact Maskwacis RCMP about missing Antoine Mackinaw

Maskwacis RCMP seeking public assistance in locating male

Graduations mark the beginning of the end

Hard to believe these blue jeaned, scruffy teens clean up so well

County of Wetaskiwin assumes control of weed-problem property

Council voted ‘reclamation’ of Von Arx’ property at June 6 meeting

Donation provides City of Wetaskiwin residents with free reusable bags

John Maude and Susan Quinn Charitable Foundation donated $15,000 to city

VIDEO: ‘Avengers: Endgame’ to be re-released with new footage

‘Avatar’ holds global box office record at $2.788 billion, while ‘Endgame’ stands at $2.743 billion…

Air Canada expects Boeing 737 Max to resume flying by September or October

Air Canada isn’t worried about safety of the planes, says vice-president

More than 700 wildlfire evacuees in Alberta can soon return to Metis community

Evacuees from the Paddle Prairie Metis Settlement can safely return starting on Thursday

B.C. files second legal challenge against Alberta over turn-off-taps law

B.C. government filed a second lawsuit against Alberta on June 14

Tax credits, penalizing big polluters, key to Conservative climate plan

Canada’s commitment is to cut emissions to 70 per cent of what they were in 2005 before 2030

VIDEO: Acknowledging skeptics, finance minister vows to build Trans Mountain project

Bill Morneau said he recognizes ‘huge amount of anxiety’ in Calgary over future of oil and gas sector

Shovels could be in the ground on Trans Mountain by September, CEO says

Ian Anderson points to weeks likely required for NEB to reinstate 2016 regulatory record

Calgary man facing charges after B.C. police service dog aids in arrest

Heavy police presence results in PSD Jagger finding suspect

RCMP allows officers to grow beards

Members can now wear beards and goatees, as long as they’re neatly groomed

Most Read