D-Day is often retold today from the view of our American allies through television, movies and video games. Images from Saving Private Ryan and levels from old Call Of Duty games come to the minds of many when thinking about that historic day, but many often forget that Canada fought on their own beach that day: code named Juno beach.
If you recognize that word, Juno, it’s because since D-Day the word has become a staple of the Canadian identity. Interestingly, Juno in Latin means young, much like how young Canada was as a nation compared to our European allies.
More fascinating still is that London Ontario made history that June morning when soldiers from the 1st Hussars armored regiment squeezed into their newly developed amphibious tanks and headed into the water. This proved to be a fatal move for many tank crews as the rough waters of the English Channel would throw waves over the tops of the skirts that surrounded the vehicle, and would cause the tanks to sink before even seeing the beach. The Hussars lost a third of their 120 vehicles this way.
While the tanks where being deployed into the water, thousands of other Canadians were boarding a landing crafts and heading towards the French coast. The Germans had been preparing for an invasion since 1940. Along most of the coast stood Hitler’s sea wall; a mass of mines, barbed wire, concrete and dirt that kept any invading force on the beach- unless breached by explosives. The sea wall was also an invading soldiers only safe spot from enemy fire on the beach.
Andrew Johnson, the assistant curator of the 1st Hussars Museum in London, said many tanks demanded to be deployed directly onto the beach rather then try and float in. After watching so many sink in their attempt, this resulted in many tanks making the beach before the infantry made it ashore. With the rough waters many of the landing craft landed at the wrong spot, often dropping their ramp right in front of Nazi gun positions. To make matters worse many tanks became immobile in the last few yards of water, having their engines flooded, making them easy targets for German artillery and anti-tank teams.
For every Canadian landing at Juno, the beach hold have been littered with bodies and explosions. Many of their comrades would be too scared to provide leadership and a wall of German bullets and open ground stood between them and the only safe spot on the beach. Despite these obstacles the Canadians broke through the enemy defenses, and the 1st Hussars pushed inland. So far in fact that that reached their objective near the city of Caen before the Americans had broken out of Omaha beach. However as Johnson explained, due to the infantry being much slower then the tanks, the Hussars had no support and had to turn back.
Despite this set back, London’s 1st Hussars pushed farther into France then any other allied unit on D-Day.
At the end of the day, the Canadians suffered over 1000 casualties and almost 400 dead. The 1st Hussars lost a third of their tanks before even making the beach, but only suffered a few losses upon reaching Juno’s sand. This battle would ultimately lead to the liberation of France, Belgium, The Netherlands and to the destruction of Nazi Germany.
It is part of the reason why we have the freedoms we so often take for granted today.
The 1st Hussars would continue fighting to the end of the war, only bring back one tank that lasted from D-Day to the downfall of Berlin. The Holy Roller tank now sits in Victoria Park.
Shortly after the Canadians landed on Juno, A German Colonel prepping for a counter attack was quoted,
calling the Canadians “little fish that will be pushed back into the sea.”
Winston Churchill had the best response when asked about the Canadians actions on Juno by calling them “Some Fish.”
Make sure to tune into this Sundays X in the City on 106.9 the X at 8 A.M for a full feature on this battle.