It was the spring of 1944 and the Allies could not wait any longer. It was time to roll the dice in the greatest military operation in history. The Allies—British, American, Canadian—would land on five beaches on France’s Normandy coast in the early hours of June 6—D-Day. Read about Canada’s role in the spearhead force to liberate Europe.
American General Dwight D. Eisenhower was appointed supreme commander of the Allied forces in Western Europe in early 1944 and immediately takes charge of planning the largest seaborne invasion in history.
The invasion began with the Canadians assigned to Juno Beach, one of five beaches stretching over 80 kilometres along the Normandy coast. The Allies were brought to Europe in 6,900 vessels, including more than 1,000 warships.
The Canadians had landed successfully, but had to keep on moving, eventually reaching some 11 kilometres inland, the farthest of any of the Allied commands that day. In all, some 150,000 soldiers, 900 tanks and 5,000 assorted vehicles had come ashore.
The British were determined to capture Caen but first the Canadians had to capture nearby Capriquet and its airfield. Major-General Rod Keller designed a set-piece attack using a creeping barrage of artillery landing in front of advancing infantry.
The British and Canadian Forces were not advancing as quickly as planned. Lieutenant-General Guy Simmonds ordered a hastily planned attack on Verrières Ridge and the villages around it. Canada’s Black Watch lost 324 men charging the ridge with little artillery support.
With the British and Canadian forces advancing in the north and the Americans advancing in the south, the leaders realized they had an opportunity to capture or destroy two German armies if they could encircle them as they retreated and end the Battle of Normandy.