IHe must have a long spoon that must eat with the devil.
Foundations of Victory
On the sixth day of June, 1944, five divisions of Allied troops from three different nations landed on the German-held coast of Lower Normandy, and three other divisions, in which the same nations were all represented, came down upon this region from the air. This was the beginning of what may well be called the most momentous military enterprise in modern history; for these eight divisions were only the vanguard of a tremendous armament, and the events of that day led directly to another day, eleven months later, which saw the unconditional surrender of the once proud armies that had subjugated Western Europe for Adolf Hitler.
The Long Road to Normandy
In Modern war, successes such as this are the fruits of many months of arduous preparation. In one sense, indeed, the preparation for Operation OVERLORD began immediately after the British Army was driven from the soil of France in June, 1940; for when the Government and people of Britain set about the re-equipment and reorganization of their military forces, they thought in terms not only of the immediate task--the defence of their island fortress--but also of the day when the Empire's armies could resume the offensive in Europe, re-cross the Channel and take the arrogant aggressor by the throat. At least as early as the summer of 1941, British military
planners were specifically contemplating an invasion of Western Europe; for the German attack on Russia had suddenly made such an operation infinitely more practicable than it could have been in any other circumstances. In the following December, Japan, followed immediately by Germany and Italy, attacked the United States; a few months thereafter, American soldiers began to appear in the British Isles, and the prospect of great American armies being available for the assault brought it still closer to realization.
Nevertheless, that so-called "Second Front" for which anonymous publicists were now chalking up demands on walls was considerably delayed; for there was much to be done elsewhere before the day of liberation dawned for France. During 1942, the Chiefs of the Allied nations were in repeated anxious conference concerning the times and places where their forces might most effectively and with the least possible delay pass to the offensive against the common enemy. By the end of July plans were "firm": orders had been issued for the invasion of French North Africa. This entailed the abandonment of any project for immediate large-scale operations in North-West Europe.
It was necessary, nevertheless, to keep the enemy in constant doubt as to our intentions on the Channel; it was no less essential to give every possible diversionary aid to our Russian allies, who were engaged in battles of almost inconceivable scope and ferocity in the East; and it was essential also to obtain information concerning the German system of defence in France, and the best means of
Before the Invasion of Normandy
His Majesty The King, visiting the 3rd Canadian Division,
inspects a guard of honour mounted by the Cameron Highlanders of Ottawa (M.G.),
25 April 1944.
(Note the new-pattern steel helmets.)
overcoming it. It was with these objects in view that the great raid against Dieppe was executed, by a military force of which five-sixths was Canadian, on 19 August 1942. And in a very definite sense, that raid is the milepost which marks the specific beginning of the road that led directly to Operation OVERLORD.
On 2 August 1944, Mr. Churchill, looking back upon the successful assault in Normandy and the long train of events preceding it, told the House of Commons, "I was opposed to making this great invasion across the Channel in 1942, and, thereafter, it was plainly impossible in 1943, owing to our having chosen the Mediterranean and to our amphibious resources all being concentrated there ... I do not believe myself that this vast enterprise could have been executed earlier. We had not the experience; we had not the tackle." By the spring of 1944, however, things were very different; the enemy had been cleared out of Africa and Sicily and driven halfway up the Italian Peninsula; the experience of Dieppe had been supplemented by that of "five successful opposed landings in the Mediterranean", and "a mass of wonderful craft of all kinds", developed by British and American experts, had been tested in these operations and was available for work in the Channel.
Throughout 1943, while success followed success in the Mediterranean, Allied statesmen and officers had been planning in increasing detail the still greater enterprise ahead. Intensive planning began in London in April under the direction of a British officer, Lieutenant-General F.E. Morgan, who was designated as "COSSAC"--Chief of Staff to a Supreme Allied Commander who had not yet been appointed. By July, an outline plan for the invasion of the Continent was in existence. This plan recommended
Final Training for the Invasion
"Priest" self-propelled guns of the 1th Field Regiment, R.C.A.,
at work in Hampshire, May 1944.
(From a watercolour by Capt. O.N. Fisher)
breaking into Europe by way of that part of the coast of Lower Normandy near Caen; and it was approved by the Allied leaders during their historic conference at Quebec in August.
On Christmas Eve, 1943, London and Washington announced the appointment, as Supreme Allied Commander, of the American officer who in a similar appointment in the Mediterranean had shown himself to have almost superhuman gifts for the coordination of the efforts of allies and the management of all sorts of men: General (now General of the Army) Dwight D. Eisenhower. Simultaneously, it was announced that Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Tedder would serve as his Deputy. It
was also made known that General (now Field Marshal) Sir Bernard Montgomery, the commander in Africa, Sicily and Italy of the victorious Eight Army, would command the British group of armies mobilized in Britain for the invasion of Europe. Only after the invasion had begun was it announced that, in addition to commanding the British armies, General Montgomery was in fact directing all the ground forces engaged. The Allied Naval Commander, Expediitonary Force [ANCXF], ws to be Admiral Sir Bertam Ramsay; and Air Chief Marshal Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory was appointeed Air Commander-in-Chief, Allied Expeditionary Air Force.
General Montgomery arrived in England from Italy in the first week of 1944. Thereafter, the COSSAC outline plan was somewhat amended; the front of attack was widened to include the lower part of ther Cherbourg peninsula, and the force to be employed in the first assault was considerably increased. By February, the naval, ground and air commanders had completed an Initial Joint Plan, which provided the basis on which planning by subordinate commanders proceeded, and included all the essential features of the assault as finally carried out.
The Canadian Army Prepares
Canadian military forces had begun to arrive in the United Kingdom in 1939, and from that yearonwards they had grown steadily in numbers and in efficiency. The French collapse in 1940 resulted in their finding themselves confined for a long period to a role which, however significant, was to static for their liking--the defence of Britain against an invasion whiich Hitler never ventured.1 In these circumstances, they looked more and more
The Supreme Commander, Allied Expeditionary Force
General of the Army Dwight D. Eisenhower
to the coming assault on Fortress Euorope as the fulfilment of their destiny. In this supreme enterprise, they were to play no minor part.
The Canadian Army which had taken shapre in the United Kingdom consisted by 1943 of an Army Headquarters, two Corps Headquarters, three infantry divisions, two armoured division, two independent armoured brigades and a great number of miscellaneous Corps, Army, G.H.Q. and Lines of Communication units. For a long period it had been anticipated that this force would operate as a national entity when the time came to take the oiffensive on the continent. During 1943, however, a considerqabgle part of teh force was despatched to the Mediterranean for service there.2 The 1st Canadian Division and 1st Canadian Armoured Brigade played a significant part in the Sicilian campaign, and, subsequently, the 5th Canadian Armoured Division and the Headquarters and Corps Troops of the 1st Canadian Corps, then commanded by Lieutenant-General (now General) H.D.G. Crerar, joined them for the 1944 campaign on the Italian mainland. The consequence was that the approach of Operation OVERLORD found the Canadian force in the United Kingdom reduced to the Headquarters of the First Canadian Army, the HEadquarters of the 2nd Canadian Corps, the 2nd and 3rd Canadian Infantry Divisions, the 4th Canadian Armoured Division, the 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade and a large force of ancillary troops. Since Canada had contributed one Corps of her Army for service in Italy, where it now formed a large proportion of the Eight hBritish Army, the British War Office would have to find the substitue troops to take its place under the Canadian Army in OVERLORD.
Men of the 3rd Canadian Division Embarking on Infantry Landing Craft
of the Royal Canadian Navy at Southampton for the Invasion of Normandy
(From a watercolour by Lieut. T.C. Wood, R.C.N.V.R.)
The command of the Anglo-Canadian force preparing for action in the United Kingdom had available two Army Headquarters: that of the Second British Army, commanded by Lieutenant-General NM.C. (now Sir Miles) Dempsey, and that of the First Canadian Army, commanded in the beginning by Lieutenant-General (now General) A.G.L. McNaughton, and after the latter's retirement by General Crerar, who returned from Italy to the United Kingdom and assumed command of the Army on 16 March 1944.3 As it turned out, these two Army Headquarters were to share between them the
troops of the 21st Army Group, on a strictly operational basis, precisely as the needs of any existing military situation might dictate; thus, while the bulk of the Canadian troops were usually under General Crerar's command, Canadian formations frequently fought under General Dempsey, and throughout the campaign (until the return of the 1st Canadian Corps from Italy in the early spring of 1945) about fifty per cent of the divisions of the First Canadian Army were normally British or Allied. But the composition of both Armies changed constantly with the operational situation; and for a time in February 1945, General Crerar actually had under his command almost every British division on the Western Front--a situation which was misunderstood even by "military correspondents".
At an early date, it had been decided that, so far as the Anglo-Canadian forces were concerned, the Second Army would have the task of establishing the bridgehead on the continent, while the role of the First Canadian Army would be the break-out and advance from the bridgehead. This had been settled even before Exercise SPARTAN, the great Army manoeuvres held in southern and central England in March 1943. In that exercise, the First Canadian Army, with a strength of six division, three of which were British, practised the task to which it had already been assigned; it was assumed that the south coast of England represented part of the continent of Europe, and the Canadian Army brooke out from a theoretical bridgehead there and advanced north to encounter the "German" forces that rushed to meet it.
Although this designated role deprived her Army as a whole of a leading share in the earliest phase of operations, Canada was nevertheless to be well represented in the first
A PERSONAL MESSAGE
LT-GEN H.D.G. CRERAR, C.B., D.S.O.,
GOC-in-C, FIRST CDN ARMY
It is not possible for me to speak to each one of you, but by means of this personal message, I want all ranks of the Canadian Army to know what is in my mind, as the hour approaches when we go forward into battle.
I have completed confidence in our ability to meet the tests which lie ahead. We are excellently trained and equipped. The quality of both senior and junior leadership is of the highest. As Canadians, we inherit military characteristics which were feared by the enemy in the last Great War. They will be still more feared before this war terminates.
The Canadian formations in the assault landing will have a vital part to play. The plans, the preparations, the methods and the technique, which will be employed, are based on knowledge and experience, bought and paid for by 2 Canadian Division at DIEPPE. The contribution of that hazardous operation cannot be over-estimated. It will prove to have been the essential prelude to our forthcoming and final success.
We enter into this decisive phase of the war with full faith in our cause, with calm confidence in our abilities and with grim determination to finish quickly and unmistakably this job we came overseas to do.
As in 1918, the Canadians, in Italy and iun North West Europe, will hit the enemy again and again, until at some not distant time, the converging Allied Armies link together and we will be rejoined, in Victory, with our comrades of 1 Canadian Corps.
(H.D.G. Crerar) Lt-Gen
To be read to all troops.
General Crerar's personal message to Canadian Troops
before the launching of Operation OVERLORD
attack on Hitler's Atlantic Wall. It was decided about a year before OVERLORD was launched that one Canadian division should participate in the assault; and on 3 July 1943, General McNaughton wrote to the Commander of the 1st Canadian Corps, formally advising him that the 3rd Canadian Division had been "selected for assault training with a view to taking part in the assault in Operation OVERLORD".
The 3rd Canadian Infantry Division was commanded by Major-General R.F.L. Keller. It had never been in action. The first stage of its assault training was directed by the 1st Canadian Corps; but from 1 December 1943 it passed for "operational direction" under the 1st British Corps, which was to command it in the assault, and on 30 January 1944 was placed under the actual command of that Corps. Through the summer and autumn of 1943, the Division, and the 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade with it, were training hard for their perilous task. A period of preliminary and elementary combined operations training was followed by more advanced training at Combined Training Centres in Scotland; and by the autumn the Division was back on the Channel coast ready to carry out large-scale assault exercises in conjunction with the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force. Its Advanced Headquarters was set up at Brockenhurst, in the New Forest, where it remained until April, when it moved a short distance to the vicinity of Winchester. Various changes in organization suitable to the assault role were carried out, the most important being the addition to the Division of a fourth regiment of field artillery, and the equipment of all four regiments with "Priest" 105-millimetre self-propelled guns.
The arrangements for combined training with the Navy were highly effective. The Division trained throughout with Force "J",* the special assault force which on D Day was actually to carry it and its attached troops to France. The Division and Force "J" thus came to know each other in a most friendly and familiar way--a very desirable situation in deed. Force "J" was commanded in the assault by Commodore G.N. Oliver, R.N.
The Atlantic Wall
Already men are beginning to forget how formidable was the task of breaching the Atlantic Wall: how tremendous was the responsibility of the planners, how grim the prospect that faced the soldiers who had to storm the beaches. Since 1940, an enemy fertile in expedients and bold in the field had been entrenched upon the Channel coast. During much of that time, Allied spokesmen had been promising him an invasion of North-West Europe; and he had taken them at their word. The French coast, strong by nature, had increasingly sprouted, as the months passed, every artificial barrier that German ingenuity could devise to render it impregnable: coast-defence batteries, anti-tank guns, concrete pillboxes and other work in great profusion, fields of barbed wire and of mines, obstructions on open spaces that might serve as landing grounds, beach obstacles of many varieties. The one major Allied enterprise against this bristling coast, the raid on Dieppe, had failed to achieve its short-term objects and had cost many hundreds of casualties; the men who were now to deliver the main attack would inevitably have Dieppe in the backs of their minds--and would know that the enemy had still further strengthened his defences since 1942. They would know also that they were now
*[Separate forces were established and named for the individual assault beaches: GOLD, JUNO, SWORD, OMAHA, and UTAH. --HyperWar]
setting out upon an operation which the Germany Army in 1940, at the height of its pride and success, had not dared attempt: an assault across the English Channel. Such was the outlook in the months before the attack; and posterity should remember it.
During the months that had passed since the DIeppe raid, much thought had been devoted to analysing the lessons of that eventful day. The most important of these was the need for the development of overwhelming fire support in the earliest stage of an assault operation against a strongly-held coast. No reliance, it was clear, could be placed upon the mere achievement of surprise; every form of power available to Allied forces had to be directed against the enemy positions to clear the way for the assaulting troops. In the last week of July 1943, the 1st Canadian Corps held a Combined Operations Study Period, based upon a hypothetical renewal of the attack on Dieppe, in the course of which the whole problem was intensively considered; and at the end of the sessions General Crerar summed up in an address on fire support which foreshadowed in detail the principles followed in the assault on Normandy.
In October, the 3rd Canadian Division, in an exercise known as PIRATE, held at Studland Bay on the coast of Dorset, applied in practice, for the first time on any large scale, the new technique that was being developed. The assault brigade (the 7th Canadian Infantry Brigade) went ashore on 17 October under cover of supporting fire form all three services. Destroyers (representing much heavier ships that would be available on "the day") brought down a heavy bombardment, and in addition,m the Navy provided a rocket barrage fired by Landing Craft Tank (Rocket). The R.A.F. bombing attack which was an
important part of the plan had to be cancelled owing to unfavourable weather, but fighter-bombers duly put in cannon attacks. And the Army itself now helped to clear the way for its own assault; for self-propelled field artillery fired on the beaches from tank landing craft during the run-in. When the exercise was over, the experts, analysing the results, decided that this combined "fire plan" had proved "workable and feasible". Many details remained to be worked out; but a basis had been found for the great operation ahead, and the tremendous bombardment by land, sea and air which struck the Germans on the coast of Normandy on 6 June 19844 may be said to have had its first prototype in this exercise eight months before. The 2nd Canadian Division, at Dieppe, had gained the hard-won experience on which the plan was based; the 3rd Canadian Division served the Allied forces as the laboratory in which the plan was worked out in detail.
There were still doubts in some minds concerning the practicability of self-propelled guns firing while seaborne; and these were not resolved until Exercise SAVVY, an assault exercise with the 8th Canadian Infantry Brigade, which took place on 12 February 1944 under the eye of General Montgomery. This exercise was designed to be the crucial test of this feature of the plan; and it proved to be completely successful.
PIRATE was followed by a succession of similar schemes in which the assault technique was developed and elaborated. From January 1944 onwards, the relationship between exercises and the actual divisional plan for the assault was very close; more and more, the exercises became dress rehearsals for D Day. During February the planning staff of the 3rd Division worked in London,
"Bouncing shorewards across the far from placid sea,
the little craft looked to one observer 'like schools of water-bugs'"
Assault craft approaching the Canadian beaches, 6 June 1944.
developing a detailed divisional plan within the framework of the joint plan for the operation; and in March planning began on the brigade level. On 13 March the commanders of infantry battalions were "put in the picture" concerning the roles of the brigades to which they belonged.
The final full-scale rehearsal, known to the Canadians as Exercise FABIUS III, took place at Bracklesham Bay, east of Portsmouth, on 4 May. This portion of the English coast had been selected because of its striking similarity to the region of Normandy which the Canadians
were to assault. The exercise was considerably hampered by bad weather; it was postponed for 24 hours as the result of rough seas, and when it was finally held, the sea was still so rough that the Naval authorities were soon compelled to put a stop to disembarkation.
For nearly eight months prior to the assault on Normandy, the 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade worked as part of the 3rd Canadian Division, and its three armoured regiments carried out intensive amphibious training in conjunction with the infantry brigades to which they were attached. The armored regiments attached to the two assault brigades had to be reorganized for the operation, two of the three squadrons in each regiment being equipped with highly secret vehicles: D.D. tanks, amphibious Shermans capable of leaving tank landing craft some distance from the coast and "swimming" ashore under their own power. These were to form the first wave of the assault, going in five minutes before the actual H Hour--the moment at which the first flight of landing craft hit the beach.
The Balloon Goes Up
By the last days of May, all was in readiness. General Keller's force was completely equipped for its task, the equipment including some items now issued to Canadian troops for the first time. One of these was the new-pattern steel helmet (a cross between the old British "wash-basin" patter and the American type) which gave additional protection to the back of the head. Equipping the force had inevitably been no small job. The Armoured Brigade, for example, which had trained with Rams and Valentines, had only lately received its full complement of Sherman tanks. As recently as January, it had possessed
only ten Shermans, and the change-over was in fact fully completed only at the end of May. Much hard work by unit fitters and the men of the Royal Canadian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers was needed to ensure that every tank was battle-worthy for the day.
While the Canadian assault troops were making their final preparations in Hampshire, the formations that were to follow them into France were busy elsewhere. Spring had found the Headquarters of the 2nd Canadian Corps located at Three Bridges in Sussex, but in April it moved eastward into the toe of Kent, a region of which Canadian troops had hitherto seen little, and set up in the sylvan surroundings of Eastling Wood, about four miles north of Dover. A great part of the Corps Troops also moved into East Kent, as did the 2nd Canadian Division, which established its Headquarters in Dover itself. The 4th Canadian Armoured Division remained in Sussex.
As the day of the tremendous enterprise drew near, the camps of the Canadian assault force,lying between Winchester and Southampton, were "sealed"; all contact with the outside world ceased. Alike in Kent and in Hampshire, measures were taken to provide against that interference with our invasion preparations which the enemy seemed almost certain to attempt. Action stations were allotted for operations against parachutists, and antiaircraft guns deployed and slit trenches dug for protection in case of air attack. An especially uncertain element in the situation was provided by those "military installations", so obviously connected with "new forms of attack" against the United Kingdom, which had been observed upon the French coast, and which the Allied air forces had been pounding since December. Our information on the German "secret" weapons was, however,
good; a month before D Day, Canadian anti-aircraft units received accurate statements of the characteristics of the flying bomb. It was a source of astonishment at the time, and continues to be a source of astonishment still, that the enemy actually made no effort to disturb our concentration for the great attack upon him. No paratroops dropped, no heavy bombing raids developed (though there was some night bombing of the Portsmouth area and Sussex during the weeks before D Day); and the "military installations" discharged no missiles until a week after our vanguard had landed in Normandy.
During these last weeks before the assault, the nerves of the waiting soldiers were under severe strain. The burden of the great secret lay like lead upon them, particularly upon those officers who had most knowledge; to be entrusted with information of events which the whole world was awaiting with bated breath, and to be unable to utter a word of it to any friend, however intimate, unless he too was officially and certainly "in the know", was most painful and wearing; yet the secret--known though it was to so many thousands of people--was kept and well kept, and the enemy was obviously completely in the dark about our plans to the moment when our blow fell. And let it be remembered that in these weeks, every officer and every man was fighting a battle against private, unspoken fears within himself as he faced the prospect of assailing that truly tremendous bogey, the Atlantic Wall. There were isolated individuals, here and there, who could not stand the strain; occasionally one heard of a case of "Channel fever;" but the great mass of these thousands upon thousands of ordinary men, who would have laughed at any suggestion that they were heroes, choked down their apprehensions and--sustained
The town of Bernières, one of the targets of the 8th Canadian Infantry Brigade,
seen from the sea.
by discipline and good comradeship, by confidence in their leaders, their training and their equipment, and by a real if inarticulate conviction of the goodness of their cause--steadily confronted the terrors ahead.
Dauntless the slug-horn to my lips I set,
And blew. Childe Roland to the Dark
It is scarcely necessary to say that the most careful consideration had been given to selecting the date for the assault. The "target date" fixed in the Initial Joint Plan--the date "in respect of which all preparations will be completed"--was 31 May. It had been decided to attack in daylight; half an hour of good light was essential to ensure the greatest possible accuracy for the preliminary naval bombardment, and would moreover enable the Navy to land the troops with much greater certainty at the precise points desired. The flotillas, accordingly, would cross the Channel under cover of darkness and assault soon after dawn. It was further considered that the most favourable moment for the first wave of landing craft to hit the beaches was about three hours before high water. The assault was therefore indicated for a morning when this state of the tide would exist half an hour after the beginning of clear daylight. From the point of view of the airborne forces, moreover, it was desirable that the night preceding D Day should be moonlit. All these conditions would obtain towards the end of the first week in June. On 8 May 1944, the momentous decision was taken to designate 5 June as D Day, with postponement acceptable if necessary to 6 or 7 June.
As 5 June approached, the weather became a decisive and most disturbing factor. Upon the Supreme Allied Commander there fell the terrible responsibility of deciding, on the basis of meteorological advice, whether, and precisely when, the operation should be launched. After a long series of hopeful reports, the most unfavourable meteorological forecast in months suddenly came in on the morning of 4 June, when American landing craft were already moving from the more distant western ports. This movement was checked; D Day was postponed for twenty-four hours; and General Eisenhower considered a further postponement. The operation might be put off one or perhaps two more days, or to the next suitable tidal period, which would mean waiting nearly a fortnight. Hurried consultations, however, revealed almost insuperable administrative difficulties; some troops had already been on board their cramped craft for several days, and the problems of landing the great force for rest, exercise and feeding, and subsequently re-embarking it, amounted to a nightmare. Moreover, every day's delay lessened the possibility of surprising the enemy. In these dramatic circumstances, the Supreme Commander, at eleven o'clock on the night of 4-5 June, issued orders to the effect that, subject to verification on the following day D Day would be 6 June. Before five in the morning of 5 June, D Day was duly verified; and Operation OVERLORD went in next day, in weather very far from ideal.
The total number of landing ships and craft required to carry the troops and vehicles for the assault and immediate follow-up phases of the operation was 2,154. In the operation as a whole, 6,483 ships and craft of all types were employed. Of the naval vessels, a large number were provided by the Royal Canadian Navy, and many of
"Nearly every foot of the town was known long before it was ever entered"
On shipboard, a subaltern of the Regina Rifle Regiment briefs a group of N.C.O.s with a map of Courseulles.
these, most appropriately, were in Force "J". Two Canadian Landing Ships Infantry (Medium), H.M.C. Ships Prince Henry and Prince David, were included in this force, as were two flotillas of Canadian Landing Craft Infantry (Large), while a third flotilla was assigned to another force. Of the minesweepers charged with the hazardous duty of moving ahead of the assault forces and clearing safe passages for them, sixteen were Canadian; four Canadian Tribal Class destroyers, and several Escort Groups composed of Canadian destroyers, frigates and corvettes were also taking part; and finally, two Canadian Fleet Class destroyers, H.M.C. ships Algonquin and Sioux, were elements of the bombarding force attached to Force "J". General Keller's headquarters ship was H.M.S. Hilary, which had served General Simonds and the 1st Canadian Division in the same capacity for the assault on Sicily.
The long suspense was over. The day to which the oppressed nations of Europe had looked forward through four miserable years, and which the German warlords had awaited with such insolently affected confidence, was at last at hand. During 5 June, landing ships and craft and their escorts were slipping unostentatiously to sea from many English ports, large and small. The Americans, assaulting to the west, had embarked at the harbours of Dorset, South Devon and Cornwall; the British and Canadians were served mainly by those of Sussex and Hampshire, and particularly by Portsmouth and Southampton; parts of the "follow-up" force came from as far east as Felixstow, in Suffolk. The waiting troops had gazed in astonishment at the seemingly endless expanse of vessels. "The concentration of shipping in Southampton and the Solent has to be seen to be believed", wrote one Canadian unit diarist. In the evening of 5 June, the groups of craft carrying the 3rde Canadian Division and the 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade put out successively from behind the Isle of Wight into the grey and turbulent Channel.
The units had been stripped to "assault scales"; no men were to be landed on D Day who did not have urgent jobs to do. The force embarked under General Keller's command for the actual assault amounted to just over 15,000 Canadians, with over 9.000 British troops attached. Included among the latter were the 4th Special Service (Commando) Brigade. These 15,000, plus the men of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, then emplaning for the operation with the 6th British Airborne Division, were the Canadian Army's spearhead in the invasion of North-West Europe. They were now going into their first battle--a battle that would perhaps decide the fate of western civilization. The Canadian Army Overseas
D Day: The Assault
(From an oil painting by Capt. O.N.Fisher)
[Blank page (back of colour plate)]
was at last fully launched upon the task that had brought more than a quarter of a million Canadian soldiers across the Atlantic since 1939.
Before the expedition sailed, a personal message from General Crerar had been read to all troops. It ran in part:
I have complete confidence in our ability to meet the tests which lie ahead. We are excellently trained and equipped. The quality of both senior and junior leadership is of the highest. As Canadians, we inherit military characteristics which were feared by the enemy in the last Great War. They will be still more feared before this war terminates.
The Canadian formations in the assault landing will have a vital part to play. The plans, the preparations, the methods and technique, which will be employed,d are based on knowledge and experience, bought and paid for by 2 Canadian Division at DIEPPE. The contribution of that hazardous operation cannot be over-estimated. It will prove to have been the essential prelude to our forthcoming and final success.
We enter into this decisive phase of the war with full faith in our cause, with calm confidence in our abilities and with grim determination to finish quickly and unmistakably this job we came overseas to do.
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