Toronto's Queen's Own Rifles of Canada were assigned the central sector of the beach, in front of Bernieres. Their tank support arrived late. The first boat dropped its ramp directly in front of a German resistance point. Only one of the first 11 men off that boat made it more than a few steps before being cut down. A number of the landing craft hit mines on the way in, drowning many men. Facing a bloodbath, for the men of the Queen's Own there was nowhere to go but forward. Though this was their first taste of combat, years of training had prepared them for this day, and they were able to flank the bunkers and kill their crews with grenades and small arms, making the beach secure for the followup waves. Leaving many dead and wounded on the beach, they advanced into Bernieres and cleared the town of German snipers and mortars before pushing resolutely inland. Though taking 143 casualties, the highest of any Canadian regiment, the Queen's Own had advanced a remarkable seven miles inland by nightfall, one of the only Allied units in Normandy to secure their D-Day objective.
Canadian troops with bicycles disembark from LCIs (Landing Craft Infantry) on the afternoon of June 6. The original photographer was standing on the deck of an LCI when he took this photo and unfortunately I had no LCI to stand on to get the perspective just right.
Sergeant Major Charlie Martin of the Queen's Own describes landing on this stretch of beach in his diary:
The moment the ramp came down, heavy machine-gun fire broke out from somewhere back of the seawall. Mortars were dropping all over the beach. The men rose, starboard line turning right, port turning left. I said to Jack, across from me, and to everyone: "Move! Fast! Don't stop for anything. Go! Go! Go!" We raced down the ramp, Jack and I side by side, the men closely following. We fanned out as fast as we could, heading for that sea wall. None of us really grasped at that point, spread across such a large beach front, just how thin on the ground we were. Each of the ten boatloads had become an independent fighting unit.
Our part of the beach was clear but there were mines buried in the sand. On the dead run you just chose the path that looked best. Bert Shepard, Bill Bettridge and I were running at top speed and firing from the hip. To our left we spotted a small gap in the wall. They had placed a belt-fed machine gun there as part of the defence and only one man was on it. We knew from our training that you cannot be on the move and fire accurately at the same time. If you stop you become a target. In any case, Bill did stop for a split second. He took his aim and that seemed to be the bullet that took the gunner out, although Bert and I were firing too. We got to the wall and over it, then raced across the railway line.
Canadian troops digging in on the beach while the wounded await evacuation. They are in front of the knocked out antitank gun position previously mentioned. Note the impact mark on the bunker's wall.
The Regiment de la Chaudiere landed hot on the heels of the Queen's Own. Here they are in front of Canada House speaking with French civilians, who were reportedly enthused at the 'earthy' variety of French spoken by the soldiers from Quebec. Soon they would be pressing inland to engage the enemy.
A batch of Wehrmacht prisoners is marched to waiting ships to be taken into captivity in England.
A few more photos of Bernieres today
The North Shore Regiment from New Brunswick landed at Saint-Aubin, supported by tanks of Winnipeg's Fort Garry Horse. The troops leapt from the landing craft only to find themselves up to their necks in water, all the while machine gun bullets ripped through the air around them. The strongpoint ahead of them had been untouched by the naval bombardment and the North Shore men took heavy casualties crossing the wide beach. Many of them stepped on land mines. The German strongpoint was anchored on an anti-tank gun bunker. Photos from the time allow us to retrace what happened next.
The Then photo is a still taken from this video of men from New Brunswick's North Shore Regiment landing at Saint-Aubin. I walked up and down the entire beach sector and could not find houses matching those in the video, so this is my best guess as to where they landed. The video itself is one of the most famous in Canada's history, and represents the only footage from any army of first wave troops landing on D-Day.
Saint-Aubin after the battle. One of the DD Sherman tanks from the Fort Garry House has been knocked out, its gun aiming towards the photographer. What the picture doesn't reveal is that the photographer was standing almost on top of the anti-tank bunker that knocked the tank out at nearly point-blank range. One imagines moments of frantic and gut-wrenching human drama.
This is the gun emplacement that knocked out the DD tank from the previous photo. Its cannon was still pointed back at the tank at the time. It also accounted for three more of the Winnipegger tanks. It proved impossible for the tanks on the beach to neutralize this position - the only way to knock out these bunkers was to put a shell directly in the embrasure. It was only when another DD Sherman penetrated the town and attacked the gun from the land side that the gun was put out of action.
This dramatic photo shows that other DD Sherman approaching from the land side. The bunker is just down the street, about 30 metres in front of the tank. This photo was taken within moments of the tank firing on the bunker and putting a shell right in the embrasure, killing the gun crew.
This is the P-47 Thunderbolt from several photos back as seen from a different angle. The American aircraft crash-landed on the beach at Saint-Aubin on June 10, several days after D-Day. This photo was taken a few weeks after that.