July 25th 1944 was one of the bloodiest days for Canadians of World War II.
450 Canadian soldiers were killed, and 1100 were wounded in the French town of Verrieres, during the Anglo-Canadian advance toward Caen, part of the Normandy campaign.
Canadian soldiers display a Nazi flag captured during the Battle of Normandy.
Following the D-Day landings 6 June 1944, the Normandy campaign continued until 25 August. During this time some of the bloodiest combat experienced during World War II took place in and around the major objective towns and cities Caen, Bayeux, St. Lô, Carentan, and Cherbourg.
At various phases of the Normandy campaign, casualties approached World War I proportions. Because of the continual increase of Allied forces as they moved across the beaches to the battle fronts, and a similar dynamic commitment of Wehrmacht forces, it is difficult to put a measuring rod on the troop numbers involved in the Normandy campaign.
The total number of casualties suffered by the Allied forces up to the end of August: 36,976 killed, 153,475 wounded and 19,221 missing. (Anglo-Canadian: 16,138 killed, 58,594 wounded and 9,093 missing; American: 20,838 killed, 94,881 wounded and 10,128 missing.)
These figures represent a little over 10% of the 2,052,299 Allied forces present in northern France by 21 August.
The Canadian cemetary at Beny-sur-Mer, Normandy.
German Wehrmacht casualties during the Normandy campaign were approximately 240,000 killed or wounded, 210,000 taken prisoner. This is represents about 55% of the estimated 1 million committed to the Normandy Campaign
As many as 70,000 French civilians may have been killed during the liberation of France in 1944. 19,860 French civilians were killed during the liberation of Normandy, and an even greater number were wounded. Furthermore, in preparation of the invasion 15,000 civilians killed and the 19,000 wounded in the bombings of Normandy from January to June of 1944. Many cities and towns in Normandy and northern France were totally devastated by the fighting and the bombings.
The strategic crossroads of St. Lô was so thoroughly destroyed it was even questioned whether to rebuild it or to leave the ruins intact as a testimony to the bombing.
Following the landings, securing the beachheads and the initial objectives, the Normandy campaign developed into two sub-theaters; American and Anglo-Canadian. Some historians have criticized the British Commonwealth forces for failing to seize one of their initial objectives - the city of Caen - until July 9th. This criticism is undeserved; British forces tied down major German armor formations to the eastern side of the battlefront, which assisted Americans in seizing their key objectives of Carentan on 14 June, and Cherbourg on 26 June.
It is also significant to note that despite American maneuverability, German forces investing the hedgerows of the Norman bocage countryside were able to keep Amercan forces from liberating the critical road junction at St. Lô (a D-Day objective) until July 18th. American forces did not reach the western end of the Cotentin Peninsula until 28 July
Key phases of the Normandy campaign include:
Battle of the Hedgerows: July 7-15, 1944
American military units encountered stiff resistance from German armed forces in the broken farmlands around St. Lo. Progress was slow. Costly German counterattacks continued.
US 1st Army Advance to St. Lô: July 10-18, 1944
American efforts to breakthrough to St. Lo remained slow. German armed forces put up a determined defense. The US armed forces advanced at less than one mile per day.
Operation Goodwood: July 18-20, 1944
British armored forces attempted to outflank Caen from the left while Canadian units continued to press forward through and and to the right. German military units, primarily of the Waffen SS, fought an aggressive defensive battle and withdrew before being trapped by Allied advances.
Operation Spring: July 25, 1944
Canadian forces advanced towards Verrieres.
The final two major phases of the campaign represent the American and Anglo-Canadian forces working toward the final breakout from the Normandy, and the beginning of the drive toward Paris:
Operation Cobra: July 24-31, 1944
Benefiting from the British-led operations around Caen, American armed forces made somewhat better progress in the effort to breakout on the right flank of the Allied line. German counterattacks continued, however, and progress remained relatively slow.
Operation Totalize: August 7-11, 1944
Canadian II Corps drove southwest from Caen in the direction of Falaise. Royal Air Force heavy bombers provided support for the effort.