For Canadians, the Normandy Invasion at Juno Beach was huge success. Even though casualties were the second highest of any of the five beaches, the 3rd Canadian infantry division was arguably the most successful of the five allied divisions deployed that day. However, to many Canadians the success of Operation Neptune was more than just the victory in Europe. It severed as an opportunity to show the world that we had military might comparable to the two super powers on our flanks. It was also an opportunity at redemption for the men who needlessly gave their lives during the catastrophic failure of the Dieppe raid. Finally, Operation Neptune helped to strengthen the Canadian sense of nationalism and solidify our independence on the world stage.
In 1940, Canada was still a very small country with only about 11.5 million people. By 1940, about
500 000 Canadians military personnel occupied England. Come D-Day, 21 400 Canadians made up the invasion force that was to storm Juno beach. The Americans sent 75 250 troops to beaches Utah and Omaha; their population at the time was more than 138 million people at the time. England had nearly 4 times as many people as Canada at 46.5 million people and they supplied 46 845 troops to the cause. When the numbers are compared it is easy to see Canadians made an amazing contribution to D-Day. This accumulation of firepower was a major Canadian accomplishment. More important however was the undeniable success of the 3rd Canadian infantry division. They advanced farther into France than any other divisional element on D-day, nearly 8 kilometers. By the end of the day, however still short of their overall D-day objectives, the Canadians were less than 5 kilometers for Caen and the objective line. This does not include the men in three Sherman tanks who managed to make their way to the railway line just outside of Caen which was the final day objective before turning back. Mark Zuehlke, a Canadian historian, credits the Canadians: “There has been a sense in many writings that the Canadian performance on D-day was disappointing because the final June 6 objectives were not attained. Coupled with an oft-drawn conclusion that the opposing 716th Infantry Division had neither the heart nor the ability to offer serious resistance, the interference is drawn that the Canadians… could and should have done better. Seldom do Canadian writers addressing the subject credit the fact that (the) 3rd Canadian Infantry Division ended the day ahead of either the U.S. or British division despite the facts that they landed last and only the Americans at Omaha faced more difficulty winning a toehold in the sand.” Combine the number of Canadian troops amassed in England with the ultimate success of the Canadian part of the mission. I think it is fair to say that the Canada flexed its military muscles that day of June 6, 1944.
When Canadians were given a second chance to cross the English Channel, failure would not be acceptable. The Dieppe Raid that had happened just two years earlier was a mission some say was designed to fail to learn what it would really take to invade continental Europe. After two years of doing nothing but training and garrison duties, the Canadians were selected to be slaughtered on the beaches outside the port town of Dieppe. While many lessons were learned, they were hardly necessary for the high command already knew what the ‘lessons’ were. For example, idea for mobile docks, to avoid attacking a port town head on, already existed however, the technology was not being produced yet. High command also knew that without vital air and naval support the mission was bound to end tragically however, again, because they were attacking a civilian inhabited town, heavy shelling/bombing of the town was not an option. The most curious is the debate about prior German knowledge. One of the commanding officers, Lt. Colonel Labatt, reported to having seen markers used for mortar practice that appeared to have been placed recently on the beach. Finally, and maybe most convincingly, were that the Churchill tanks the Canadians were using were supposed to be able to travel smoothly along the beaches, however come invasion day, the ‘shingle’ the beach consited of gripped the tracks on the tanks and tore them off. Considering this information, Dieppe looks more and more like a set up. To Canadians, Juno beach was a chance to redeem them for what the world viewed as a failure in the hand of the Canadians. Juno beach was an opportunity to once again, prove to the world that Canadians were elite forces, not just political pawns.
The success of Juno beach was not just a victory for the allies or the Canadian forces but more specifically for the entire country of Canada. Because of Canada’s everlasting ties with Great Brittan, it is difficult to determine an exact date of independence. While legally Canada was (legislatively) independent after the signing of the Statute of Westminster (December 11, 1931), Great Brittan still commanded the Canadian military, Dieppe as mentioned above is a great example of this. Also, during the early years of independence, because of the small population of the country, Canada was still very much reliant on the commonwealth. The success of Canadian troops on Juno beach, in conjunction with past military success such as Vimy Ridge, Passchendaele, and the Italian campaign, ratified the feeling in Canadians that Canada was a rising world power and helped to certify our military independence along with the legislative independence the country already possessed. The Canadian victory at Juno beach, lead to Canada earning an independent seat in the newly formed United Nations at the end of the war. Just two years later Canada earned a seat in the UN Security Council as a non-permanent member. Since then Canada has sever a total of 12 years on the UN most prestigious council, behind just five other nations, all of which are larger. Canada has also participated in more peacekeeping missions than any other nation, most notably in Rwanda. Just as the battle proved to the world that the Canadians were an elite military force it was a giant step for the country in certifying its independence and the Canadian sense of nationalism.
The success of Juno beach had many implications on Canadians today, and in 1944. Canada proved that it had a military force comparable to both of the other western allies that participated in the operation by the way they amassed a considerable force in England and by the ultimate success of their mission. Canadians also redeemed their brothers-in-arms from the intentional failure at Dieppe. Finally, and maybe most importantly, Canadians were inspired by the victory and were finally recognized by the world as an independent state. The Normandy Invasion at Juno beach will forever be remembered as one of Canada’s most significant days in terms of national self-interest.
• Juno Beach by Mark Zuehlke
• The Dieppe Raid – The Story of The Disastrous 1942 Expedition by Robin Neillands