PREPARING FOR THE ASSAULT
After German defeat and occupation of France in 1940, the Allies began planning to liberate Western Europe through an amphibious assault launched from southern England. After a massive build-up of men, vehicles, aircraft, ships, and military supplies
of all kinds, a combined American and British staff began planning in April 1943 for Operation OVERLORD, the most complex and large-scale seaborne invasion ever undertaken.
The landings would be made in Normandy, at five separate assault beaches codenamed, from west to east, UTAH, OMAHA, GOLD, JUNO, and SWORD. The first two were in the American sector and the remaining three in the British sector, with the Canadians responsible
for assaulting JUNO. The 3rd Canadian Infantry Division and the 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade, the latter using water-proofed Sherman tanks modified with the addition of propellers to ‘swim’ ashore, would land on a seven-kilometre frontage which included
the seaside villages of Vaux, Graye-sur-Mer, Courseulles-sur-Mer, Bernières-sur-Mer, and St. Aubin-sur-Mer. The plan called for the Canadians to secure this area, strike inland about 15 kilometres, and link up with British forces on either side of them.
The Canadians trained for their assault for months using specialized landing craft, engaging in several major exercises and dress rehearsals in Scotland. In addition to these forces, about 450 paratroopers of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, serving
in the British 6th Airborne Division, were preparing to attack key communication and transportation targets behind enemy lines in advance of the actual landings.
In the meantime, the Germans fortified the entire coastline of Western Europe, constructing defensive measures known collectively as the Atlantic Wall. In Normandy, German beach defences were sophisticated and consisted of a dense network of minefields,
barbed wire, submerged obstacles designed to damage or sink landing craft, beachfront steel-reinforced concrete bunkers housing machine guns and small- and medium-calibre cannons, and mazes of communications bunkers, machine-gun pits, mortar positions,
and underground storage and personnel chambers linked by tunnels to defended trenches. The landing areas were also subject to longer-range German artillery set further inland. The Normandy coast would be a tough nut to crack.