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Part I of the Beaches of Normandy Then and Now Series

Juno Beach

May 29, 2015

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Reproduced from Wikipedia

Canadian troops coming ashore at Bernieres-sur-Mer in the days after D-Day. The famous Canadian House can be seen on the shore. It featured in many photos of Juno Beach taken in 1944, including several in this photo essay.

The Canadians in Normandy in the Summer of 1944

In the early morning hours of June 6, 1944, thousands of Canadian assault troops anxiously waited aboard their landing craft, straining to launch themselves against Hitler's Fortress Europe. They were taking part in Operation Overlord, the largest amphibious operation in history. The Canadians and their British and American allies would storm the beaches of Normandy and begin the long and arduous task of liberating occupied Europe.

The sector assigned to the Canadians was codenamed Juno. Stretching along five miles of sandy beaches, Juno Beach included the three small resort towns of Courseulles-sur-Mer, Bernieres-sur-Mer and Saint-Aubin-sur-Mer. Waiting for them were men of the German 716th Division. They had erected thousands of obstacles, belts of thick barbed wire and dozens of minefields. Steel-reinforced concrete bunkers brimming with anti-tank guns, machine guns, and riflemen overlooked the beaches. Mortars and artillery were pre-sighted on the landing grounds. They were determined to prevent the Allies gaining a foothold in France.

Victory at Juno would come at a heavy price: by the end of the day 340 Canadians lay dead. Hundreds more were wounded. These were the heaviest casualties on any beach save the near-disastrous American assault on Omaha. Yet the Canadians were also the only units to reach their D-Day objectives, advancing further inland than any other Allied army. As the historian John Keegan remarked, "That was an accomplishment in which the whole nation could take considerable pride."

In this photo essay we'll take a tour of Juno Beach today, learning about the men drawn from across Canada who fought on these beaches and carried the day. I took all the recent photos myself in May 2015, while the historical photos are drawn from a variety of sources.

This is Juno Beach. We'll start by examining the fighting at Courseulles in the West, and move east through Bernieres and then Saint-Aubin, before moving inland towards Caen.

Courseulles-sur-Mer

At Courseulles there is a small harbour for fishing vessels. To the west of the harbour is a long sandy beach backed by a short rise in the ground. On June 6 a dozen machine gun nests and a number of anti-tank guns defended this stretch of beach. The Winnipeg Rifles and a company of the Canadian Scottish (Victoria, B.C.) landed here and were met by a torrent of machine gun and mortar fire, but they were able to claw their way ashore. In front of Courseulles itself the Regina Rifles landed. They took heavy casualties coming to grips with the Germans - one landing craft boatswain reported six men killed before reached the bottom of the ramp. Yet they too were able to work their way into the town and secure a toehold.

Reproduced from Courseulles-sur-Mer Online Postcard Collection

A German 50mm gun position protecting the harbour of Courseulles. You can see from the holes in the gun shield that the gun has taken a direct hit, probably from a Canadian tank. Courseulles was heavily defended with concrete bunkers housing anti-tank guns, machine gun nests and mortar pits but the Canadian troops were able to quickly overcome these defenses and clear the beaches.

Reproduced from the Juno Beach Centre Collection

The Sherman DD tank commanded by Leo Gariepy rumbles through the streets of Courseulles in the first moments after the invasion. Shortly before this photo was taken his tank had knocked out a German anti-tank bunker. In Courseulles a street and a memorial are named after him and he has a rather lengthy entry on the French Wikipedia. Gariepy returned to Courseulles in 1964 to a warm welcome. When the Mayor of Courseulles and local dignitaries were greeting him a young man approached the veteran and said "Je n'etais pas ne en 1944. Permettez-moi de vous serrer la main." "I was not born in 1944. Allow me to shake your hand." It was a moment of high emotion that is remembered by the people in the picturesque town today. Gariepy was made an honourary citizen of Courseulles and lived out the rest of his days there.

Reproduced from the Juno Beach Centre Collection

Troops from the Regina Rifles follow Gariepy's tank through the streets of Courseulles at about 9:00 in the morning. They will shortly be engaged in battle with a German strongpoint located several hundred yards ahead in the fields just behind the town. Gariepy's tank is credited with helping overrun the position, knocking out machine gun nests and forcing the surrender of 50 Germans. These are sometimes claimed to be the first prisoners taken by the seaborne forces during Operation Overlord.

Reproduced from the Juno Beach Centre Collection

Troops from the Regina Rifles follow Gariepy's tank through the streets of Courseulles at about 9:00 in the morning. They will shortly be engaged in battle with a German strongpoint located several hundred yards ahead in the fields just behind the town. Gariepy's tank is credited with helping overrun the position, knocking out machine gun nests and forcing the surrender of 50 Germans. These are sometimes claimed to be the first prisoners taken by the seaborne forces during Operation Overlord.

Reproduced from the Canadian War Museum website

The disembarkation of men and supplies at Courseulles is seen continuing here in August. Today the Juno Beach Centre, a museum commemorating Canada's role on D-Day, is right behind the rise in the ground. It is well worth a visit.

A few more photos of Courseulles today
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