Monday, June 6, 2011
Busy on the road this year, so it is my pleasure today to link to an earlier post about Ben Leavell, Canadian veteran of the Normandy Campaign. Ben was the father of a good friend of mine - he departed this earth last summer, but not before seeing his story presented on STORMBRINGER - which I am told brought much pleasure to himself, his family and their circle of friends and acquaintances in the city of Collingwood, Ontario.
When Americans think of the great Normandy Invasion, visions of the troops landing under terrible fire at Omaha Beach come to mind.
I must admit, for years I believed (falsely) that the Canadian landings at Juno Beach were a cake walk, that opposition was so light that Canadian troops were able to wade ashore with bicycles over their shoulders.
Au contraire - the Canadians faced a frightening Atlantic Wall, like the Americans at Omaha. Juno Beach was defended by elements of the 736th Regiment of the 716th German Infantry Division, composed of 29 companies and armed with 500 machineguns, 50 mortars and 90 various types of guns.
The main immediate opposition came from three, fairly low grade, battalions of the 716th Division, but the presence of offshore rocks meant that the tide would not be high enough for the landings to begin until half an hour later than those elsewhere, and so the Canadians faced an alerted enemy.
As on the other invasion beaches, the Canadian landings were preceded by heavy air and then naval bombardment, two hours before the beginning of the landing. Frogmen were charged to open several accesses to the beach, 20 minutes before H Hour, in order to facilitate the navigation of the landing crafts.
In the early morning of June 6, 1944, however the preceding days storm in the English Channel was still not over, although definitely less powerful than the day before. There was strong surge to the seas at Juno, and the waves increased progressively during the approach to the beach.
The attack start time of 0735 hrs was delayed by this strong swell and the lack of visibility affected navigation of the landing crafts. Because the high tide covered much of the beach defenses, the hulls of many landing craft were pierced, causing them to sink. Several of the amphibious "Duplex Drive" tanks became submerged by waves passing above the floating system.
Sappers - charged to open and mark out breaches through the forest of beach defenses - could not work efficiently in the heavy surge. As on Omaha Beach, not enough exits were created before the arrival of the tanks and the landing craft of the second wave.
Despite the risk, the ships transporting the amphibious tanks (Landing Craft Tank, LCT) had to approach close to the beach in order to limit the losses. Thus, some tanks crossed a distance of 600 meters, but the waves remained dangerous.
These delays made it possible for the Germans to reorganize and effectively defend the beaches. By the evening of June 6, 1944, the losses of the 3rd Infantry Division were very high: 1,074 soldiers were killed or wounded; it was the heaviest ratio of losses of the three Commonwealth invasion beaches.
Today's Bird HERE