D-Day, 6th June 1944 – Part Eight The Canadian 3rd Infantry Division at JUNO Beach

This post is dedicated to the memory of those who died on Tuesday 6 June 1944 in pursuit of freedom. It is through their sacrifice that we enjoy the freedoms we have today.

In this the eighth part of the story of D-Day, 6 June 1944 we concentrate on the actions of the Canadian 3rd Infantry Division at JUNO Beach. This is their story…

Introduction

JUNO Beach was the centre of the three British landing Beaches on D-Day, 6 June 1944 and was located to the left (east) of GOLD Beach. It was about six miles long stretching from Graye-sur-Mer in the west to Saint-Aubin-sur-Mer in the east and was roughly centred on Courseulles-sur-Mer. JUNO Beach is often referred to as the “Canadian Beach” as the landings on D-Day were assigned to the Canadian 3rd Infantry Division commanded by Major General R F L Keller.

JUNO Beach was defended by elements of the German 716th Static Division, particularly the 736th Regiment. They had occupied and fortified the smaller coastal villages that lay behind the dunes and the seafront houses offered excellent observation and fire positions. There were eleven Coastal Artillery Batteries equipped with 155 mm guns and nine Close Beach Defensive positions equipped with 75 mm guns as well as machine-gun nests, pillboxes and other concrete fortifications in the JUNO Beach area. Added to this was a 20 ft high seawall, twice the height of the one at OMAHA Beach, and a series of offshore reefs or shoals.

The first wave at JUNO Beach landed at 07.55 hours, ten minutes late so that the landing craft were able to clear the offshore reefs on the rising tide. This presented the Canadians with a difficult situation as many of the beach obstacles were already partially submerged by the rising sea and the engineers were unable to clear suitable lanes to the beach. The landing craft had to feel their way in and the mines took a heavy toll, with about 30% of the landing craft at JUNO being either destroyed or damaged.

As the Canadian Infantry left the landing craft they suffered very few casualties, but as they made their way across the beach through the series of beach obstacles they entered the enfilade killing zones of the German positions. B Company of the Royal Winnipeg Rifles was reduced to one officer and 25 men by the time it reached the seawall and the first wave at JUNO Beach suffered 50% casualties, the second highest of the five D-Day beaches.

Despite the obstacles and enemy enfilade fire however, the Canadians fought their way off the beach and began to advance inland. By mid-morning the town of Bernières-sur-Mer was in Canadian hands and later Saint-Aubin-sur-Mer was also occupied. Throughout the day the Canadians pressed on inland and a troop of tanks from the 6th Canadian Armoured Regiment (1st Hussars) was the only Allied unit to meet its D-Day objectives when it crossed the Caen–Bayeux highway about 10 miles inland. It was later forced to withdraw however lacking the infantry support to hold its position.

By the end of D-Day, 21,400 Canadians had landed on JUNO Beach of which 1,200 were casualties. The Canadian 3rd Infantry Division had penetrated further into France than any other Allied force, despite having faced such strong resistance at the beachhead. By evening they had managed to link up with the British 50th (Northumbrian) Division from GOLD Beach, but had been unable to make contact with the British 3rd Infantry Division who came ashore on SWORD Beach.

The link up between JUNO and SWORD Beaches was prevented by elements of the German 21st Panzer Division that had launched the first D-Day counterattack into the two-mile wide gap between JUNO and SWORD Beaches. The Canadians held against this and several stiff counterattacks including those mounted by the 12th SS Panzer Division Hitlerjugend on 7 and 8 June.

Ian R Gumm
at Willowmead

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