September 13, 2021 by archyde
In the three-quarters of a century that have elapsed since the Normandy landings in June 1944, Canadian survivors have seen their involvement neglected and partially forgotten compared to that of the British and Americans. However, his sacrifice on D-Day was not only important, but essential to the ultimate success of the operation that ultimately drove Hitler out of France and turned the tide of World War II. In total, 15,000 soldiers full of hatred and a desire for revenge for the massacre he had suffered in the battle of Dieppe, against the Nazis, in August 1942.
That tragedy made them the only ones with direct experience attacking the Nazis’ Atlantic Wall. Neither the United States, nor Great Britain nor any other country of all those who participated in the Normandy landings knew what such an operation entailed, although Canada would have had to pay a very high price for experiencing it: nine hundred dead and nineteen hundred captured soldiers who they were sent to concentration camps. Very few survived that other hell.
The Dieppe landing It was a nightmare that is still considered one of the greatest disasters in the history of Canada, as reflected by the head of its Army, the general Harry Crerar, in his harangue to the troops the day before D-Day: “The plans, preparations, methods and techniques that we will employ are based on the knowledge and experience acquired and paid for in Dieppe. The contribution of this dangerous operation cannot be underestimated. We will show that it was the essential prelude to our next and ultimate success.
The Unknown Company C
After his words, Crerar offered his officers the flags of Canada to display at the headquarters of their brigades for the first time in history, as revealed by Manuel Pérez Villatoro and Pere Cardona in
‘What they never told you about D-Day’ (Principal, 2019). A daring gesture considering that they were still politically dependent on the British and had an obligation to fight under their banner. These were not similar to the current ones, but the general wanted to record in that feat that his was already a country that was beginning to fly alone, away from the influence of the English.
The same idea was also had in mind the ten heroes who carried out the first jump over Normandy in the early morning of August 5, 1942. Ten paratroopers who became the first of the 157,000 allied soldiers who were ready to attack by land and air that midnight. They jumped before any of the 15,500 US paratroopers who started the operation and, consequently, they were also the first of the more than two million troops who participated in Overlord … and formed the Company C of the 1st Canadian Battalion.
Shortly after takeoff at 23.00, Lieutenant John Russell Madden he had to shout over the noise of the Albemarle bomber engines for his men to hear him. He was only 20 years old, but he was in charge of the nine paratroopers of the aforementioned company who were preparing to jump over the juno beach, in Normandy. With the responsibility of being the first outpost of the invasion, the tension was unbearable. Furthermore, they could barely stand up with the more than 45 kilos of equipment they carried and were unable to stand fully upright. The ceiling of the plane was too low.
The sectors in which the Juno beach was divided were In, Mike and Love, although in the latter there was no disembarkation. The first was to be conquered by the 8th Infantry Brigade formed by The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada and the North Shore Regiment, which would be followed by other Canadian and British troops. While the second, by troops from the 7th Infantry Brigade, made up of the Royal Winnipeg Rifles and Scottish Canadian Rifles regiments.
None of this mattered to our paratroopers. They only had to wait a few minutes for the clock to hit 0.20. At that moment, the green pilot would light up and they would have to dive head first and lose themselves in the dead of night. Russell knelt for the moment, his hands resting on either side of the hatch in the ground, as he looked out into the mist that spread down over the shoreline. Suddenly, the Albemarle plunged to 500 feet, the agreed height for the jump. The lieutenant would be the first and, immediately afterwards, his men would follow him with the aim of securing the area on which, 28 minutes later, two other paratrooper battalions would descend: one British and one Canadian.
When the time came, Russell thought he heard someone shouting behind him, “Green on!” The lieutenant hesitated: “Did you say Green?” He yelled over the din. “Yes, I said green,” the voice insisted. And he dove head first without thinking twice. He heard the loud crack of the parachute opening, then silence. When he reached the ground, he located five of his soldiers. Of the other four, no sign. When he looked up at the sky for the Douglas C-47 Dakota that were going to bring in the rest of the paratroopers … nothing.
Terrified, he thought that Operation Overlord had been postponed at the last second, as had already happened the day before due to bad weather. The confusion was so great up there that it is possible that he had not heard the order to turn around in the instant of jumping. He also had no way of knowing if the rest of the company had jumped. My God, they have decided not to continue and five boys and I have started the invasion, he thought, puzzled.
Where the hell am I?
Although Lieutenant Russell didn’t know it, he wasn’t the only one who got lost. Decades later, Jan de Vries, a paratrooper from another Canadian battalion, landed several kilometers from the planned area. I was wondering where the hell he was. I spent the whole night trying to find the rendezvous point near Juno’s shore in the dark, dodging enemy patrols the entire way. But they were not alone, Operation Overlord was underway and the next 24 hours were going to be the most decisive of the entire Second World War.
Young Lieutenant Russell and his men were still lost in the thick of the night when they heard the Albemarle that had transported them drop the first bombs. Only then were they relieved to know that they were not alone. It was followed by a group of Lancaster bombers, dropping another 5,000 tons of explosives until just after 5 a.m. The goal of this first move was to smash Germany’s coastal defenses and wreak havoc among the Nazis, as fighter pilots scoured the skies above them in search of Luftwaffe fighters.
The rest of the Canadian troops had been at sea for several hours. The loading process had lasted five days in which the vehicles and the number of soldiers to be transported by each of its 110 boats had been carefully calculated, all with their 27 kilogram backpacks and their Lee Enfield rifles. Many of those young people were left with the image “of thousands and thousands of boats of all kinds stretching across the horizon” when they were gathered in the well-known Zebra Area – colloquially called “Picadilly Circus” -, in the middle of the English Channel. .
Operation Overlord, underway
Everything was in motion and Russell and his nine paratroopers would always carry with pride having been the first of that operation that had begun to be prepared a year before in secret and that now continued on the eight kilometers of beach that formed Juno, between the towns of La Rivière and Saint-Aubin-sur-Mer. An especially dangerous assault, since the towns were very close to the coast and the houses became the perfect refuge for German snipers, who could easily mow down anyone who poked their head out of the water or appeared in the water. Heaven, as Company C of the 1st Canadian Battalion had done.
The soldier Leonard W. Brockingham, who was aboard the Canadian destroyer HMCS Sioux, recounted years later that, during the voyage, he heard a British officer sitting next to him describe the invasion as “what Philip of Spain tried and failed, what Napoleon wanted and couldn’t. and what Hitler never had the courage to try. ‘ “We entered this decisive phase of the struggle with full faith in our cause,” added Crerar, “with serene confidence in our abilities and with the determination necessary to quickly and unequivocally finish this work that we have come to do abroad.” .