The Campaign in Normandy, France
Codenamed Operation OVERLORD, the Normandy Campaign comprised a series of Allied operations meant to liberate German-occupied territory in northwestern France and pave the way for an eventual invasion of Germany itself. Though ultimately successful the Normandy Campaign cost over 18,700 Canadian casualties, more than 5,000 of whom were killed.
- Canadian Operations in Normandy began on 6 June 1944
- The first part of the campaign consisted of the landings on D-Day, securing the bridgehead, and securing the city of Caen
- Following the capture of Caen, from a Canadian perspective the campaign would concentrate on encircling German forces remaining in Normandy by linking up with the American Army near Falaise.
- Canadian Operations in Normandy ended on 23 August 1944
Operation OVERLORD, 6 June 1944
The first phase of Operation OVERLORD, itself codenamed Operation NEPTUNE, was to transport Allied soldiers across the English channel to the beaches of Normandy, from which they would advance inland: close to the city of Caen in the Anglo-Canadian sector. The weather was bad on D-Day making the landings very difficult. The 3rd Canadian Infantry Division and 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade landed at Juno Beach, flanked on each side by a British division. Despite heavy bombardment, many of the German defences were intact. While the Canadians fought to reach the high ground around Caen, the German 12th SS Panzer Division made progress slow. The Allies struggled against strong counterattacks for weeks, forcing the Canadians to dig in northwest of the city.
Operation EPSOM, 26 June 1944
Operation EPSOM intended to go to the west of Caen and secure the Caen-Falaise plateau. The 3rd Canadian Division was ordered to secure the town of Carpiquet and its heavily-guarded airport. The German 12th SS Panzer Division intercepted radio traffic outlining exactly where the Canadians were and shelled their positions with shellfire. After hard fighting and numerous casualties, the Canadians were able to break into and hold the village.
Operation CHARNWOOD, 8 July 1944
The next phase intended to reach Caen and cross the Orne River. Aerial bombardments preceded the Canadian and British attack by six hours. This delay gave the Germans time to prepare although they continued to be fired on by British and Canadian artillery. The Canadians slowly made their way towards the city from the west, facing strong opposition as they went. The attack resulted in Caen falling into allied hands.
Operation ATLANTIC, 18 July 1944
Operation ATLANTIC was the code name given to the Canadian portion of Operation GOODWOOD. Operation GOODWOOD was the first British and Canadian operation to dislodge the Germans on the high ground south of the Orne River. The aim of Operation ATLANTIC was to have the 2nd Canadian Corps capture Faubourg de Vaucelles. The 3rd Canadian Division advanced from the east while the 2nd Canadian Division advanced from the west, eventually meeting and pushing forward towards Verrières Ridge. All along the top of the ridge were fortified villages and German reinforcements. Although the Canadian units involved suffered heavy casualties, they eventually pushed the Germans back and gained a foothold on Bourguébus Ridge.
Operation SPRING, 25 July 1944
The aim of Operation SPRING was the capture of the high ground around Verrières Ridge up to the villages of Fontenay-le-Marmion and Roquancourt. Overall, this operation did not attain its intended objectives and was very bloody for the Canadian Army. The Canadians suffered in excess of 1200 casualties, including some 360 fatalities, as a result of Operation SPRING. The only minor success was the capture and holding of the village of Verrières by The Royal Hamilton Light Infantry, well short of the planned objectives.
Operation TOTALIZE, 8 August 1944
By this point in the Normandy campaign, the American Operation COBRA had broken through the German lines to the south of St-Lô, thereby threatening the German Army in Normandy with encirclement. The objective was to break the German positions to the south-east of Caen as part of the broad allied strategy of forcing the enemy back to the Seine. It would be the first operation planned by First Canadian Army and involve several Canadian and British Divisions and one Polish Division. Although the operation was initially very successful in breaking the German lines, the attack slowly lost momentum. In order to maintain pressure on the German forces, as the battle wound down, commanders planned the next offensive, Operation TRACTABLE to begin only a few days later.
Operation TRACTABLE, 14 August 1944
Operation TRACTABLE was a final armoured push to break through the German defensive lines and cross the Laison River. Although ordered to take Falaise the most important part of the operation was 4th Canadian Division’s move east to the village of Trun, where it was hoped there would be a link up with American Forces advancing from Argentan. This would then trap the German Army in Normandy in what would be called the Falaise Pocket. Because of this potential encirclement, on 16 August, the German commander in Normandy received permission to retreat but by now there was only the small gap in the Dives Valley to do so; 100,000 men and vehicles moved through the valley in columns easily spotted and destroyed by Allied aircraft and artillery. The closing of the Falaise Gap resulted in very heavy fighting in the area around Trun, Chambois and Coudehard for Canadian, British and Polish forces who were blocking the German retreat north. After successfully playing a significant role in defeating the German Army in Normandy, the Canadian Army’s operations in Normandy effectively ended on 23 August.
Over 260 soldiers of the First Canadian Army killed in action between 6 and 23 August 1944 have no known grave. Using a combination of historical research, forensic anthropological and odontological analysis, and genetic (DNA) analysis, the Directorate of History and Heritage of the Department of National Defence has identified the following soldiers whose remains were recovered due to modern human activity.
- Collis, John Albert, The Royal Hamilton Light Infantry
- Ferns, Ralph Tupper, The Royal Regiment of Canada
Information about casualty identification
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