Turning Point – 1943

Normandy and Northwest Europe

Canadian Participation in Operations Overlord and Neptune

Canadian operations in North-West Europe, 6 June 1944 - 8 May 1945

Caption: Canadian operations in North-West Europe, 6 June 1944 - 8 May 1945

As the great Canadian military historian Desmond Morton puts it, in June 1944 Canada was conducting total war on its own territory - with the mobilization of its national human, physical, economic and financial resources, and with its propaganda, censorship and so on - while conducting a limited external war based totally on the voluntary sacrifice of hundreds of thousands of its young men and women. From this standpoint, Canada's participation in the Normandy landings and campaign represents the culmination of a colossal effort. As soon as Canada agreed to take part in Operation OVERLORD, the Canadians assumed responsibility for their own landing.

Canada participated in the naval and air preparations for the landing, Operation NEPTUNE. However, the Canadian vessels were generally not used in direct support of Canadian land forces. There was a complete lack of co-ordination among the three Canadian elements, with each operating under a different command. For example, Canada provided 16 of the 247 minesweepers: 10 Canadian minesweepers in the 31st Flotilla opened a channel opposite Omaha Beach in the American sector, with the remaining six dispersed in various other flotillas. Canada also had two infantry landing ships, serving primarily the British Gold Beach and secondarily the Canadian Juno Beach. For weeks on end the 19 Canadian corvettes in the force of 181 Allied escort vessels would protect cross-Channel logistics. Another part of Canada's sea forces, made up of destroyers and coastal aircraft, would patrol the western portion of Neptune Zone and the high seas hunting German ships and submarines. No. 162 Squadron of the Royal Canadian Air Force would thus be credited with destroying five U-boats.

The 260th Flotilla of infantry landing craft, however, would be assigned to Juno Beach. Two Canadian destroyers, Algonquin and Sioux, would make themselves very useful in the early landing phases, with Algonquin shelling and destroying an enemy artillery position. Meanwhile the 29th Canadian Torpedo Boat Flotilla would have the role of intercepting coastal trade and enemy warships operating in the landing zone.

The 2nd Tactical Air Force included a number of Canadian squadrons that were among the first to be based at temporary airfields in Normandy itself. On 10 June, 441, 442 and 443 squadrons of No. 144 (Canadian) Wing landed in Normandy. At the end of the month they were joined by Nos. 126 and 127. The air casualties the Canadians inflicted on the enemy that June amounted to approximately 100 aircraft.

The Typhoon fighter bombers of 438, 439 and 440 squadrons of No. 143 (Canadian) Wing reached the bridgehead towards the middle of June. They would soon be joined by the RCAF's 39 Reconnaissance Wing with 400, 414 and 430 squadrons.

This Canadian naval and air effort is too often written off. Neither of these elements, however, met as fierce an opposition as the army. From the very first day, the army counted more dead than the naval and air units in Normandy would together suffer in the entire campaign.

Additional Images

Motor torpedo boat
Supermarine Spitfire L.F. Mk. IX in the markings of 421 Squadron, Royal Canadian Air Force
Dido-class anti-aircraft cruiser, Royal Navy, 6 June 1944