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Canada and the Normandy Campaign

Infanteer

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I've found myself returning to readings on the Normandy Campaign of late, amongst other things. I'm currently reading Marc Milner's Stopping the Panzers. So far, I think the book is great, and I intend to post more of my thoughts when I finish it, but I also found these (very recently) published webinars on the campaign by the Laurier Institute. The first two editions feature Terry Copp and Marc Milner, two very respected Canadian military historians.



Some time investment required, but worth the watch.
 

FJAG

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I'd be remise if I didn't point out this gem on the Canadians in the Normandy campaign by one of our members:

51ik3jgrnfL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg



🍻
 

mariomike

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Hopefully, the author will mention the role Canadians in Bomber Command played in the Normandy Campaign.

The bombing of Caen. Field Marshall Montgomery wrote,

I decided to seek the assistance of Bomber Command in a close support role on the battlefield...The Supreme Commander ( Eisenhower ) supported my request for the assistance of Bomber Command, and the task was readily accepted by Air Chief Marshall Sir Arthur Harris.

Bomber Command also was assigned a bombing campaign by Eisenhower called The Transportation Plan for strategic bombing against bridges, railway centres, including marshalling yards and repair shops in France with the goal of limiting the German military response to Normandy.

A German report stated,

"The raids...have caused the breakdown of all main lines; the coast defences have been cut off from the supply bases in the interior...producing a situation which threatens to have serious consequences." and that although "transportation of essential supplies for the civilian population have been completely...large scale strategic movement of German troops by rail is practically impossible at the present time and must remain so while attacks are maintained at their present intensity"

The Bomber Command raid at Mailly-le-Camp was one example,

The mission against the Panzer training center at Mailly-le-Camp was just one mission in a series of missions to soften up the German defenses in preparation for the D-Day landings. At Mailly had been a Panzer regiment headquarters unit, three panzer battalions that were refitting from units on the East Front, elements of two other panzer battalions, and the camp's training staff. Once underway, the bombing was accurate.
Some 1,500 tons of high explosives were delivered on the camp, causing massive destruction. The training base at Mailly-le-Camp was largely leveled. Destroyed in the bombing were 114 barrack buildings, 47 transport sheds, 65 vehicles, and 37 tanks, while 218 instructors and soldiers were killed with 156 more being wounded.

That was in addition to keeping up the pressure on German war production that never made it to the Normandy Battle Area.

German Armaments Minister Albert Speer reported, in 1944, the German army was to be provided with 14,000 new trucks a month. But, during the best months, only 8500 were built. 3200 tanks were to be produced per month, but only 1800 rolled off the assembly line during the best month.

So it went all down the line. Even when they had the trucks and tanks, German oil production was bombed. By day Bomber Command might be bombing targets only a few yards from the battle lines in Normandy. A few hours later they could be bombing an oil refinery in the Ruhr.
 

daftandbarmy

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Hopefully, the author will mention the role Canadians in Bomber Command played in the Normandy Campaign.

The bombing of Caen. Field Marshall Montgomery wrote,



Bomber Command also was assigned a bombing campaign by Eisenhower called The Transportation Plan for strategic bombing against bridges, railway centres, including marshalling yards and repair shops in France with the goal of limiting the German military response to Normandy.

A German report stated,



The Bomber Command raid at Mailly-le-Camp was one example,



That was in addition to keeping up the pressure on German war production that never made it to the Normandy Battle Area.

German Armaments Minister Albert Speer reported, in 1944, the German army was to be provided with 14,000 new trucks a month. But, during the best months, only 8500 were built. 3200 tanks were to be produced per month, but only 1800 rolled off the assembly line during the best month.

So it went all down the line. Even when they had the trucks and tanks, German oil production was bombed. By day Bomber Command might be bombing targets only a few yards from the battle lines in Normandy. A few hours later they could be bombing an oil refinery in the Ruhr.

They also bombed my Dad, amongst others, in 3 Cdn Div.

He said: "You haven't been to a real war unless you've been bombed by your own Air force." :)

Report on the Bombing of Our Own Troops during Operation “Tractable”: 14 August 1944

Editor’s Note: Operation “Tractable“ was the second major Canadian operation in Normandy designed to break through the German defensive perimeter to reach Falaise. Like its predecessor, Operation “Totalize,“ “Tractable“ was to employ heavy bombers to augment the firepower available to the troops. The use of heavy bombers in a tactical role was a relatively new tasking for the strategic force and required precise targetting to destroy and disrupt enemy positions. The strategic bomber force, British and American, had made significant contributions to the land battle in Normandy, but there had been mistakes, most notably during Operation “Cobra” when the American 8th Air Force had twice bombed their own troops on 24–25 July causing 136 deaths and an additional 621 casualties. For Operation “Tractable,” the medium bombers of 2 Group, 2nd Tactical Air Force were to bomb German gun, mortar and tank positions along the startline immediately prior to H-Hour. This was to be followed by a large attack by Bomber Command hours after the start of the advance. This bombing was intended “to destroy or neutralize enemy guns, harbours, and defended lacalities on the right flank and to prevent any enemy movement from this area to the area of attack.” (First Canadian Army Op Instruction No. 14, August 1944). Though the air support was largely a success, a number of aircraft mistakenly bombed short hitting units of First Canadian Army. In total, over 150 Allied soldiers were killed and 241 wounded by the short bombing. Though it had little impact on the outcome of “Tractable,” there were a number of investigations launched to understand why the short bombing occurred. The report which follows, dated 25 August 1944 and written by Air Chief Marshal Arthur Harris, Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief of Bomber Command, contains the official RAF post–mortem on the reasons for the accidental bombing of First Canadian Army.

 

TangoTwoBravo

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I've found myself returning to readings on the Normandy Campaign of late, amongst other things. I'm currently reading Marc Milner's Stopping the Panzers. So far, I think the book is great, and I intend to post more of my thoughts when I finish it, but I also found these (very recently) published webinars on the campaign by the Laurier Institute. The first two editions feature Terry Copp and Marc Milner, two very respected Canadian military historians.



Some time investment required, but worth the watch.
Thanks for the time warning - is there a TikTok version?

Put this on last night and this morning while I assembled some models on leave. Thanks for sharing! While I have studied the period immediately after the landings in some depth, I still learned some things about the wider context. I have to admit I have not really studied the plans that led to OVERLORD, and it was interesting to see how the Canadians were involved.

The bit about the Canadian PM at the time wanting Canadians to be mentioned is, perhaps, the theme of the lecture. We Canadians feel somewhat overlooked compared to our US and British counterparts. We have a bit of an inferiority complex when it comes to PR! Milner is correct that if the Reginas at Bretteville had been a US battalion it would have been a movie long ago. While he only briefly touches on it, our failure to close the Falaise Gap is still a sensitive point and is often the only thing that US readers might know about us. Perhaps something for a later discussion.

I think that Canadians fought at battlion-level and below as well as anyone at the time, which is remarkable given that they were not battle-hardened troops. While the soldiers in 12 SS were young (although they were 18 by the time of the battles), their NCOs and officers were Eastern front combat veterans. At the risk of passing on German propaganda, at higher levels the feel of German formation commanders for the battles seems better than the majority of their Canadian counterparts. On 7 Jun, Meyer as a Regimental (brigade equivalent) commander makes his plan from a vantage point and then joins each battalion during the ensuing battle. The Canadian Brigade commander complains in the war diary that the SITREPs from the Canadian battalions sent to his HQ were lacking...Perhaps I am being unfair, but there it is.

The Michael Reynolds author mentioned in the video is a good one. His book on the SS Panzer Corps in Normandy highlights the fighting power of those Divisions without simply regurgitating Meyer's self-serving biography. It also gives a great view of the Canadians from a British author. That 3rd Canadian Division bore the brunt of the early fighting against 12 SS as well as the later ferocious battles of the bridgehead and attempts to breakout should be a point of pride.
 

mariomike

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They also bombed my Dad, amongst others, in 3 Cdn Div.

He said: "You haven't been to a real war unless you've been bombed by your own Air force." :)

Report on the Bombing of Our Own Troops during Operation “Tractable”: 14 August 1944

Editor’s Note: Operation “Tractable“ was the second major Canadian operation in Normandy designed to break through the German defensive perimeter to reach Falaise. Like its predecessor, Operation “Totalize,“ “Tractable“ was to employ heavy bombers to augment the firepower available to the troops. The use of heavy bombers in a tactical role was a relatively new tasking for the strategic force and required precise targetting to destroy and disrupt enemy positions. The strategic bomber force, British and American, had made significant contributions to the land battle in Normandy, but there had been mistakes, most notably during Operation “Cobra” when the American 8th Air Force had twice bombed their own troops on 24–25 July causing 136 deaths and an additional 621 casualties. For Operation “Tractable,” the medium bombers of 2 Group, 2nd Tactical Air Force were to bomb German gun, mortar and tank positions along the startline immediately prior to H-Hour. This was to be followed by a large attack by Bomber Command hours after the start of the advance. This bombing was intended “to destroy or neutralize enemy guns, harbours, and defended lacalities on the right flank and to prevent any enemy movement from this area to the area of attack.” (First Canadian Army Op Instruction No. 14, August 1944). Though the air support was largely a success, a number of aircraft mistakenly bombed short hitting units of First Canadian Army. In total, over 150 Allied soldiers were killed and 241 wounded by the short bombing. Though it had little impact on the outcome of “Tractable,” there were a number of investigations launched to understand why the short bombing occurred. The report which follows, dated 25 August 1944 and written by Air Chief Marshal Arthur Harris, Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief of Bomber Command, contains the official RAF post–mortem on the reasons for the accidental bombing of First Canadian Army.

My uncle was on the Caen raid. But, was already dead by Operation Tractable.
 

Old Sweat

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Re the Tractable bombing, I am in possession of an internal Bomber Command memo from the British Archives courtesy of the Kingston Staff College. It was written post-Tractable and the inevitable sh.t storm it created, as the ground troops had displayed yellow marker panels and yellow smoke before the bombers arrived. Harris, the AOC-in-C, ordered his staff to prepare a "long, nasty, letter", castigating Eisenhower et al for not letting Bomber Command know that yellow was the recognition signal; indeed yellow was the target marker colour in use that day. He must have had second thoughts, because he directed his staff to check that in fact no such information had been received before signing the letter. Lucky, too, for him. A SASO replied that that very information had been received before the invasion, but had been filed Obviously Bomber Command let the matter die a natural death, and the letter was not signed and sent.

Old Sweat aka Brian Reid
 

klambie

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Series is ongoing, covered events south of Caen June 30 and will discuss airpower July 14.

 

Colin Parkinson

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To be fair to Canadian troops and leaders, from my reading all of the Allied troops had done a poor job in practising combined operations and lessons learned in Italy were generally outright ignored for whatever reasons. Those lessons were relearned the hard way. Also the terrain lent itself to defense which made the Germans look good, till they tried to counterattack.
 

Infanteer

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Finished Milner's book today. Overall, I rate it as a great read and an essential contribution to the Normandy literature. What follows is my analysis of what the book presents.

Milner's prime objective is to carry on with Terry Copp's effort to establish a "new balance sheet" (a play to Stacey's original remark in the Official History). Milner establishes that there is a problem with Stacey's narrative in the official history, which sets a general tone that the Canadians came off "second-best" and that opportunities were missed.

I went back and reviewed chapter 5 and 6 of the Victory Campaign (Vol III of the Official History) and while I found numerous instances where Stacey praised the Canadians and critiqued the Germans, his messaging in chapter 11 is unambiguous; the Canadian Army "did well, but they would certainly have done better had they not been learning the business as they fought" and that "Man for man and unit for unit, it cannot be said that it was by tactical superiority that we won the Battle of Normandy." Stacey puts the blame squarely on unit leadership; "we had probably not got as much out of our long training as we might have....Regimental officers of this type, where they existed, were probably the weakest element in the Army." As a result, "It is not difficult to put one's finger upon occasions in the Normandy campaign when Canadian formations failed to make the most of their opportunities."

The problem with the history of the Canadians in Normandy is that Stacey's narrative, written in 1960, has become the conventional narrative that carries on through the literature. I went through the works of Keegan, D'Este, Hastings, and Hart, who all wrote on the Normandy Campaign from the 80s to 2000, and their coverage of Canada's fight is taken from Stacey (and why not, its the official history after all!). Our own Jack English picks up on Stacey's narrative, but adjusts the aimpoint somewhat to take aim at the generals, calling the Canadian campaign a "less than successful performance."

It is this 50-year narrative that Milner seeks to change and, for at least the first four days of the campaign, he succeeds in doing so. Milner's thesis is that the 3rd Cdn Div's D-Day mission was to occupy positions astride the Bayeux-Caen Road and to "defeat the counterattack," and that it was successful in doing so. Allied planners, in looking at the terrain, considered the Canadian AO as the most advantageous area for a German armoured thrust, and they were right. Milner identifies six significant engagements in the Canadian AO from the period of 6-10 June 1944 that tell the story of this mission.

6 June - Beachhead Battles: Two Canadian brigades conduct a successful amphibious assault against three sites; Courseulles-sur-Mer, Bernieres-sur-Mer, and St. Aubin-sur-Mer and destroy the garrison forces (II/736 Inf Regt and 441 Ost Bn of the 716 Inf Div). The conventional account is that the Canadians, and indeed the entire 2nd British Army, failed to achieve its D-Day objectives. Milner is apt to point out, however, that it was 2nd British Army Comd (Dempsey) who imposed the halt due to the nature of the heavy fighting on the beachheads and the fact that a counterattack by Kampfgruppe (KG) Oppeln of the 21st Pzr Div had actually reached the beaches between 3rd Cdn Div and 3rds UK Div, splitting I UK Corps. In light of this, Dempsey's halt seems prudent. For 3rd Cdn Div, D-Day was an unqualified success, and this is something Stacey acknowledges in the official history.

7 June - Buron: The 9 Bde vanguard of the North Nova Scotia Highlanders (NNSH) with the Sherbrooke Fus is cut up at Buron as it tries to get to its objective at Carpiquet. Milner's issue is that Stacey (and hence the conventional wisdom) claims the NNSH were caught off-guard and came out second-best against a similar sized force. Milner argues that subsequent research has shown that the NNSH faced a larger enemy forces than what was normally understood to be present. Against the NNSH in Buron was KG Meyer built around 25 SS PzrGr Regt, KG Rauch of the 21st Pzr Div, and an ersatz Bn of the 716 Div. Milner says despite 3-4:1 odds, and no fire support, the NNSH gave as good as they got before being decimated and thrown out of town. The rallied and counterattacked that night, retaking Buron, but withdrew due to the indefensible nature of the area. Stacey calls this action "clumsy", and English says it was likely an ambush, but these assessments are drawn from Meyer's self-serving bio. In reality, Milner establishes that the NNSH dug in after taking fire from three sides and fought a day-long battle against a superior force, with no fire support (more on that below).

8 June - Putot/Bretteville: With 9 Bde fought to a standstill on the Canadian's eastern flank, the action shifted to 7 Bde on the western flank. The Germans put in two separate attacks this day to clear the Caen-Bayeaux road as a line of departure for a three Pzr Div attack to take the Normandy beaches. The coordination is poor, with Pzr Lehr Div and 12 SS Pzr Div trying to occupy the same ground. In the morning, on the western edge, KG Mohnke (26 SS PzrGr Regt) attacks the Winnipeg Rif at Putot and overwhelms them, getting between their forward position and into the town, cutting them off. The Winnpeg Bn takes heavy losses. A counter-attack in the evening by the Can Scots retakes Putot. The performance of the Winnipeg Rifles is again held up as a sign of poor performance in the conventional histories (why don't we focus on the successful counterattack?). On the same day, Meyer forms a new KG with part of 12 SS Pzr Regt, and attacks the Regina Rifles in Bretteville. The attack is poorly coordinated (the infantry don't show up and the tanks on their own are shot up) and is repulsed. What's more, I/902 PzrGr Regt of Pzr Lehr Div is spotted in depth and wiped out by naval gunfire.

9/10 June - Putot/Norrey: Pzr Lehr Div is pushed west to stop the British south of Bayeaux. 12 SS Pzr Div consolidates infront of 7 Bde and again tries to clear the I SS Pzr Corps line of departure. KG Mohnke (26 SS PzrGr Regt) attacks Putot again, and is repulsed by the CanScots. Meyer organizes another attack by 12 SS Pzr Regt at Norrey, south of Brettville, but it is shot to pieces. He tries once more with a night attack by the Div's pioneer battalion, but it is repulsed.

After this, the Germans realize their counterattack to the beaches will not work, and change their operational approach to contain the expanding beachhead.

Overall, if you look at the record of the six major engagements, you see that the Canadians were successful in four of six. Despite this, it is the two unsuccessful engagements which seem to set the conventional narrative. The strength of Milner's analysis is that he digs into both Canadian and German sources to look at the tactical fight, and combines this with years of visits to walk the ground. It has all the components of great battlefield analysis. The only shortcoming I found with it was that it was overly focussed (on the Canadian side) on the battalion level. There is very little reference to what the Brigade commanders or even the Div Comd is up to.

The defeat of the NNSH at Buron was due to one reason; the complete lack of fire support. There were 2x RCA Regts (14 and 19) and NGS on call. If I look at this engagement from an AAR perspective, I can't help but fault the 9 Bde Comd, Brig Gordon Cunningham (who was later relieved of command following Op SPRING). Inexcusably, 19 RCA was committed to 8 Bde clearing operations in the rear, 14 RCA was offline for a move, and the Naval Gunfire Support could not be raised. I can't see how, tactically, a brigade commander could pitch his vanguard forward into an area with known enemy armoured concentrations (21 Pzr Div had attacked out of Caen the day before) without confirming fire support was available. If Buron was a tactical failure, it wasn't on account of the NNSH.

The defeat of the Winnipeg Rif at Putot seems, from my reading of Milner, to be due to poor tactical siting of the Bn by the CO (LCol Meldram) south of the town, which allowed its companies to be by-passed and cut-off by a superior-size force (26 PzrGr Regt). I deduce this as the cause due to the ability of the Can Scot's to successfully defend the town the next day with much tighter perimeter within Putot. While the 9 Bde may have had a unit poorly positioned, it made up with a bold evening counterattack by the Can Scots to retake the position (something the histories routinely praise the Germans for).

Finally, it is worth comparing these to the German performance. Even Stacey condemns the German counterattacks as clumsy. Milner cites frequent examples of poor coordination and a over complicated series of command relationships that led to piecemeal commitment of German counterattack forces. Multiple attacks by 12 SS Pzr featured poor interarm cooperation, which is likely due to the fact that their training was based more on Nazi ideal than sound tactical principles. It is difficult, when you look at the ledger, to accept the conventional wisdom that the Canadian Army was tactically inferior to the Germans in Normandy, at least for the 6-10 June period.

In the end, the Canadian Army was successful in four of six key engagements in the opening Normandy battles, recovered a fifth with a successful counterattack, and suffered a sixth through poor support to a forward unit. This was all against the elite Wehrmacht formations in France, the three Panzer Divs (21, 12 SS, Pzr Lehr) that made it to the beachheads in the first few days. More importantly, 3rd Cdn Div achieved its Op OVERLORD mission. From 6-10 June, it conducted an amphibious assault, gained lodgment, established itself on the Bayeaux-Caen road (where it was supposed to be), and defeated the primary German counterattack against the beachheads. 9 Bde's defence at Putot-Bretteville-Norrey from 7-10 June prevented the Germans from establishing the I SS Pzr Corps line of departure.

In all, mission success, due to tough fighting and tactical employment that was "good enough" for a formation that was new to battle. This book goes to show that there is still work to do in understanding the Canadian Army's fight in Normandy in 1944.
 
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mariomike

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Re the Tractable bombing,

What is seldom, if ever - it seems to me - mentioned by Canadian historians, is the extreme care Bomber Command took to avoid French civilian casualties, while bombing transportation targets in Eastern France, in support of the army in Normandy.
 

Good2Golf

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Finished Milner's book today. Overall, I rate it as a great read and an essential contribution to the Normandy literature. What follows is my analysis of what the book presents.

In all, mission success, due to tough fighting and tactical employment that was "good enough" for a formation that was new to battle. This book goes to show that there is still work to do in understanding the Canadian Army's fight in Normandy in 1944.
Infanteer, thanks for this great assessment! Ordering the book now. My Grandpa told me about the RRR ‘punching Meyer in the nose at Betteville’, so looking forward to a more even-keeled assessment than Stacey’s “stumbling success.”

Regards
G2G
 

TangoTwoBravo

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Finished Milner's book today. Overall, I rate it as a great read and an essential contribution to the Normandy literature. What follows is my analysis of what the book presents.

Milner's prime objective is to carry on with Terry Copp's effort to establish a "new balance sheet" (a play to Stacey's original remark in the Official History). Milner establishes that there is a problem with Stacey's narrative in the official history, which sets a general tone that the Canadians came off "second-best" and that opportunities were missed.

I went back and reviewed chapter 5 and 6 of the Victory Campaign (Vol III of the Official History) and while I found numerous instances where Stacey praised the Canadians and critiqued the Germans, his messaging in chapter 11 is unambiguous; the Canadian Army "did well, but they would certainly have done better had they not been learning the business as they fought" and that "Man for man and unit for unit, it cannot be said that it was by tactical superiority that we won the Battle of Normandy." Stacey puts the blame squarely on unit leadership; "we had probably not got as much out of our long training as we might have....Regimental officers of this type, where they existed, were probably the weakest element in the Army." As a result, "It is not difficult to put one's finger upon occasions in the Normandy campaign when Canadian formations failed to make the most of their opportunities."

The problem with the history of the Canadians in Normandy is that Stacey's narrative, written in 1960, has become the conventional narrative that carries on through the literature. I went through the works of Keegan, D'Este, Hastings, and Hart, who all wrote on the Normandy Campaign from the 80s to 2000, and their coverage of Canada's fight is taken from Stacey (and why not, its the official history after all!). Our own Jack English picks up on Stacey's narrative, but adjusts the aimpoint somewhat to take aim at the generals, calling the Canadian campaign a "less than successful performance."

It is this 50-year narrative that Milner seeks to change and, for at least the first four days of the campaign, he succeeds in doing so. Milner's thesis is that the 3rd Cdn Div's D-Day mission was to occupy positions astride the Bayeux-Caen Road and to "defeat the counterattack," and that it was successful in doing so. Allied planners, in looking at the terrain, considered the Canadian AO as the most advantageous area for a German armoured thrust, and they were right. Milner identifies six significant engagements in the Canadian AO from the period of 6-10 June 1944 that tell the story of this mission.

6 June - Beachhead Battles: Two Canadian brigades conduct a successful amphibious assault against three sites; Courseulles-sur-Mer, Bernieres-sur-Mer, and St. Aubin-sur-Mer and destroy the garrison forces (II/736 Inf Regt and 441 Ost Bn of the 716 Inf Div). The conventional account is that the Canadians, and indeed the entire 1st British Army, failed to achieve its D-Day objectives. Milner is apt to point out, however, that it was 1st British Army Comd (Dempsey) who imposed the halt due to the nature of the heavy fighting on the beachheads and the fact that a counterattack by Kampfgruppe (KG) Oppeln of the 21st Pzr Div had actually reached the beaches between 3rd Cdn Div and 3rds UK Div, splitting I UK Corps. In light of this, Dempsey's halt seems prudent. For 3rd Cdn Div, D-Day was an unqualified success, and this is something Stacey acknowledges in the official history.

7 June - Buron: The 9 Bde vanguard of the North Nova Scotia Highlanders (NNSH) with the Sherbrooke Fus is cut up at Buron as it tries to get to its objective at Carpiquet. Milner's issue is that Stacey (and hence the conventional wisdom) claims the NNSH were caught off-guard and came out second-best against a similar sized force. Milner argues that subsequent research has shown that the NNSH faced a larger enemy forces than what was normally understood to be present. Against the NNSH in Buron was KG Meyer built around 25 SS PzrGr Regt, KG Rauch of the 21st Pzr Div, and an ersatz Bn of the 716 Div. Milner says despite 3-4:1 odds, and no fire support, the NNSH gave as good as they got before being decimated and thrown out of town. The rallied and counterattacked that night, retaking Buron, but withdrew due to the indefensible nature of the area. Stacey calls this action "clumsy", and English says it was likely an ambush, but these assessments are drawn from Meyer's self-serving bio. In reality, Milner establishes that the NNSH dug in after taking fire from three sides and fought a day-long battle against a superior force, with no fire support (more on that below).

8 June - Putot/Bretteville: With 9 Bde fought to a standstill on the Canadian's eastern flank, the action shifted to 7 Bde on the western flank. The Germans put in two separate attacks this day to clear the Caen-Bayeaux road as a line of departure for a three Pzr Div attack to take the Normandy beaches. The coordination is poor, with Pzr Lehr Div and 12 SS Pzr Div trying to occupy the same ground. In the morning, on the western edge, KG Mohnke (26 SS PzrGr Regt) attacks the Winnipeg Rif at Putot and overwhelms them, getting between their forward position and into the town, cutting them off. The Winnpeg Bn takes heavy losses. A counter-attack in the evening by the Can Scots retakes Putot. The performance of the Winnipeg Rifles is again held up as a sign of poor performance in the conventional histories (why don't we focus on the successful counterattack?). On the same day, Meyer forms a new KG with part of 12 SS Pzr Regt, and attacks the Regina Rifles in Bretteville. The attack is poorly coordinated (the infantry don't show up and the tanks on their own are shot up) and is repulsed. What's more, I/902 PzrGr Regt of Pzr Lehr Div is spotted in depth and wiped out by naval gunfire.

9/10 June - Putot/Norrey: Pzr Lehr Div is pushed west to stop the British south of Bayeaux. 12 SS Pzr Div consolidates infront of 7 Bde and again tries to clear the I SS Pzr Corps line of departure. KG Mohnke (26 SS PzrGr Regt) attacks Putot again, and is repulsed by the CanScots. Meyer organizes another attack by 12 SS Pzr Regt at Norrey, south of Brettville, but it is shot to pieces. He tries once more with a night attack by the Div's pioneer battalion, but it is repulsed.

After this, the Germans realize their counterattack to the beaches will not work, and change their operational approach to contain the expanding beachhead.

Overall, if you look at the record of the six major engagements, you see that the Canadians were successful in four of six. Despite this, it is the two unsuccessful engagements which seem to set the conventional narrative. The strength of Milner's analysis is that he digs into both Canadian and German sources to look at the tactical fight, and combines this with years of visits to walk the ground. It has all the components of great battlefield analysis. The only shortcoming I found with it was that it was overly focussed (on the Canadian side) on the battalion level. There is very little reference to what the Brigade commanders or even the Div Comd is up to.

The defeat of the NNSH at Buron was due to one reason; the complete lack of fire support. There were 2x RCA Regts (14 and 19) and NGS on call. If I look at this engagement from an AAR perspective, I can't help but fault the 9 Bde Comd, Brig Gordon Cunningham (who was later relieved of command following Op SPRING). Inexcusably, 19 RCA was committed to 8 Bde clearing operations in the rear, 14 RCA was offline for a move, and the Naval Gunfire Support could not be raised. I can't see how, tactically, a brigade commander could pitch his vanguard forward into an area with known enemy armoured concentrations (21 Pzr Div had attacked out of Caen the day before) without confirming fire support was available. If Buron was a tactical failure, it wasn't on account of the NNSH.

The defeat of the Winnipeg Rif at Putot seems, from my reading of Milner, to be due to poor tactical siting of the Bn by the CO (LCol Meldram) south of the town, which allowed its companies to be by-passed and cut-off by a superior-size force (26 PzrGr Regt). I deduce this as the cause due to the ability of the Can Scot's to successfully defend the town the next day with much tighter perimeter within Putot. While the 9 Bde may have had a unit poorly positioned, it made up with a bold evening counterattack by the Can Scots to retake the position (something the histories routinely praise the Germans for).

Finally, it is worth comparing these to the German performance. Even Stacey condemns the German counterattacks as clumsy. Milner cites frequent examples of poor coordination and a over complicated series of command relationships that led to piecemeal commitment of German counterattack forces. Multiple attacks by 12 SS Pzr featured poor interarm cooperation, which is likely due to the fact that their training was based more on Nazi ideal than sound tactical principles. It is difficult, when you look at the ledger, to accept the conventional wisdom that the Canadian Army was tactically inferior to the Germans in Normandy, at least for the 6-10 June period.

In the end, the Canadian Army was successful in four of six key engagements in the opening Normandy battles, recovered a fifth with a successful counterattack, and suffered a sixth through poor support to a forward unit. This was all against the elite Wehrmacht formations in France, the three Panzer Divs (21, 12 SS, Pzr Lehr) that made it to the beachheads in the first few days. More importantly, 3rd Cdn Div achieved its Op OVERLORD mission. From 6-10 June, it conducted an amphibious assault, gained lodgment, established itself on the Bayeaux-Caen road (where it was supposed to be), and defeated the primary German counterattack against the beachheads. 9 Bde's defence at Putot-Bretteville-Norrey from 7-10 June prevented the Germans from establishing the I SS Pzr Corps line of departure.

In all, mission success, due to tough fighting and tactical employment that was "good enough" for a formation that was new to battle. This book goes to show that there is still work to do in understanding the Canadian Army's fight in Normandy in 1944.
About ten years ago I looked at those early bridgehead battles between 3rd Cdn Div and 12 SS. Two divisions, one having just conducting an assault landing and other an approach march collided - a divisional meeting engagement. Tactically the honours were roughly even, although perhaps the Germans have an edge. The virtual destruction of the 1st Hussars and Royal Winnipeg Rifles at Le Mesnil Patry is a terrible conclusion to those early fights. When we look at the aim of those divisions nested in the higher operational plan, though, I think its a Canadian victory. It is true that the bridgehead was not enlarged to the point envisioned. For the Germans, though, this was pretty much the only real opportunity that they had to achieve Rommel's design of an early counterattack "throwing the allies into the sea." There was much terrible fighting to do done, but the result was inevitable after the frustration of the first real German counter-attacks.

Looking at those early fights, we can see tactical missteps on both sides. Sending Panthers into a defended village at night was not, perhaps, the greatest display of tactical acumen. The destruction of two units at Le Mesnil Patry was also, perhaps, avoidable. One factor that seems to play into each fight was artillery support. In two of the Canadian losses artillery was either out of range or unavailable (the FOO at Le Mesnil Patry could not get comms). Regarding 12 SS, their drive on 7 Jun faltered when they outstripped their own fire support and came into range of naval gunfire.

The human dimension of those battles is something to consider. The Canadians, thoroughly trained but entering into a fight the day or days after being part of an amphibious assault. The pent-up anxiety and excitement of the days, weeks and months before the invasion would have come to a point on the afternoon of 6 June - success! But then what? The next day you are in some of the most ferocious tactical fights the war would see. They came up against young, indoctrinated troops who had been trained and led for months by combat-hardened veterans. It speaks to the quality of the soldiers of 3rd Canadian Division and their leadership that they achieved what they did and did not break.

Regarding the entire campaign, the narrative regarding the Canadians has indeed been mixed. Our leadership comes under scrutiny as does our inability to close the Falaise Gap. Meyer's self-promotion and bad-boy image seem to endear him to some writers and he easily juxtaposes against less flashy Canadian leaders. His command style was certainly engaged, but it was at the bleeding edge of appropriateness for a Brigade Commander to lead from a motorcycle. Some of the lack of coordination of his own Regiment's (a Brigade in our parlance) attacks in those early days must land on him. Stacey's willingness to throw mid-grade Canadian leadership under the bus also contributes to that narrative. On the other hand, it is not hard to find incompetent Canadian leadership. It is, unfortunate, that a wide brush is then used to paint all the Canadian leadership.
 

Infanteer

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A few points come to mind:

1. Someone smarter than me once said to never use victory and defeat when evaluating military performance. The terms are loaded. What we are really looking for is did a fighting organization achieve what it set out to do, at what cost did it achieve it, and was it able to operationally utilize a tactical success. The terms "succeed" and "failed" are better. So, if we look at 3 Cdn Div, it achieved its OVERLORD mission (defeat the counterattack), at a heavy cost (as it faced the brunt of the German counterattack). I SS Pzr Corps failed in its mission, which was to drive to the beaches to defeat the invasion, and at heavy cost as well.

2. Milner doesn't look to much into Mesnil-Patry (and nor did I) as, although it was the last engagement of the initial beachhead battles, it occurred after the initial "mission success" (defeat the German counterattack). From what I read, it was poorly put together and executed, and the units involved were opposed to it. This, with my critique of Cunningham above, might give credence to English's thesis that the real weakness was with Bde and Div commanders.

3. Stacey wouldn't say it was with Bde and Div Commanders because they were running the Army at the time.
 

daftandbarmy

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The human dimension of those battles is something to consider. The Canadians, thoroughly trained but entering into a fight the day or days after being part of an amphibious assault. The pent-up anxiety and excitement of the days, weeks and months before the invasion would have come to a point on the afternoon of 6 June - success! But then what? The next day you are in some of the most ferocious tactical fights the war would see. They came up against young, indoctrinated troops who had been trained and led for months by combat-hardened veterans. It speaks to the quality of the soldiers of 3rd Canadian Division and their leadership that they achieved what they did and did not break.

Despite this success, Montgomery wasn't too happy with their higher level leadership, apparently.

An interesting article by Jack Granatstein:

Montgomery, Crerar and the Possibility of Canadian Military Independence, 1944

"By the time Crerar had been in Normandy for a month, Montgomery was unhappy with what he perceived as the lack of drive in Crerar’s conduct of operations. The Field Marshal concluded that Simonds, then leading II Canadian Corps in the vicious fighting south of Caen, ought to be commanding First Canadian Army."

 

Old Sweat

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"Stacey wouldn't say it was with Bde and Div Commanders because they were running the Army at the time."

This is a key factor, even if historians are reluctant to state for a lack of concrete proof.

A couple of points, first it was the Queen's Own Rifles at Mesnil-le-Patry, not the Royal Winnipeg Rifles.

The RWR were attacked by 2nd Battalion, 25 PGR and the Div Recce Bn. Both of these units later were implicated in the murder of Canadian POWs after the engagement, and the CO of the 2nd Bn was court martialed and executed by the British for this post war.

How much of the "sloppy" performance of the div in the immediate few days ashore can be attributed to poor employment of their field artillery is moot. For the landing the two assault brigades each were supported by an"artillery" group - which is Great War terminology - of two field regiments, and the CRA was slow in reforming the divisional artillery under his control. This played a part, and I think Marc Milner may come up with something on this.

On D Day the guns first bombarded the landing sites from their landing craft on the run in, but later had trouble getting ashore because of beach congestion, By 0900 the 24 105mm SPs of the 12th Field Regiment came into action on the beach itself, and were firing in support of the Winnipegs. Their first mission was fired at a range of under 1000 yds. This was the first Allied artillery ashore on any of the beaches, and they soon moved inland to planned gun positions. The CRA was reluctant to ever discuss this time frame, perhaps because he really did not have a good grip on the details, as it was very confused. (Incidentally, he [Brig PAS Todd] was commanding the 4th Field Regiment in the 2nd Div at the time of the Dieppe Raid, and had proposed mounting his guns in landing craft to support the effort on the main beach. He was overruled, but his idea was later implemented for the the three Anglo-Canadian beaches for D Day.)
 

Brad Sallows

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Montgomery was unhappy with what he perceived as the lack of drive

I have more appreciation of Montgomery's abilities than most, but coming from him that's funny.

A couple of things that mystify me still - because I've never found an explanation of where the thinking comes from - are the (apparently) widely held notions that the British should have been able to take Caen on day 1 and that the northern side of the Falaise pocket "neck" should have been closed sooner. To borrow from Sosabowski, presumably the Germans knew the importance of holding those points, too (and acted accordingly).
 

Weinie

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"Stacey wouldn't say it was with Bde and Div Commanders because they were running the Army at the time."

This is a key factor, even if historians are reluctant to state for a lack of concrete proof.

A couple of points, first it was the Queen's Own Rifles at Mesnil-le-Patry, not the Royal Winnipeg Rifles.

The RWR were attacked by 2nd Battalion, 25 PGR and the Div Recce Bn. Both of these units later were implicated in the murder of Canadian POWs after the engagement, and the CO of the 2nd Bn was court martialed and executed by the British for this post war.

How much of the "sloppy" performance of the div in the immediate few days ashore can be attributed to poor employment of their field artillery is moot. For the landing the two assault brigades each were supported by an"artillery" group - which is Great War terminology - of two field regiments, and the CRA was slow in reforming the divisional artillery under his control. This played a part, and I think Marc Milner may come up with something on this.

On D Day the guns first bombarded the landing sites from their landing craft on the run in, but later had trouble getting ashore because of beach congestion, By 0900 the 24 105mm SPs of the 12th Field Regiment came into action on the beach itself, and were firing in support of the Winnipegs. Their first mission was fired at a range of under 1000 yds. This was the first Allied artillery ashore on any of the beaches, and they soon moved inland to planned gun positions. The CRA was reluctant to ever discuss this time frame, perhaps because he really did not have a good grip on the details, as it was very confused. (Incidentally, he [Brig PAS Todd] was commanding the 4th Field Regiment in the 2nd Div at the time of the Dieppe Raid, and had proposed mounting his guns in landing craft to support the effort on the main beach. He was overruled, but his idea was later implemented for the the three Anglo-Canadian beaches for D Day.)
I met Brig Todd in Pet in the 90's. He was pretty frail, but a true gentleman, and very humble.
 

Colin Parkinson

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I always got the sense that most of the pre-invasion training involved getting onto the beach and defending the beachhead. After that they seemed to be less prepared.
 

TangoTwoBravo

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"Stacey wouldn't say it was with Bde and Div Commanders because they were running the Army at the time."

This is a key factor, even if historians are reluctant to state for a lack of concrete proof.

A couple of points, first it was the Queen's Own Rifles at Mesnil-le-Patry, not the Royal Winnipeg Rifles.

The RWR were attacked by 2nd Battalion, 25 PGR and the Div Recce Bn. Both of these units later were implicated in the murder of Canadian POWs after the engagement, and the CO of the 2nd Bn was court martialed and executed by the British for this post war.

How much of the "sloppy" performance of the div in the immediate few days ashore can be attributed to poor employment of their field artillery is moot. For the landing the two assault brigades each were supported by an"artillery" group - which is Great War terminology - of two field regiments, and the CRA was slow in reforming the divisional artillery under his control. This played a part, and I think Marc Milner may come up with something on this.

On D Day the guns first bombarded the landing sites from their landing craft on the run in, but later had trouble getting ashore because of beach congestion, By 0900 the 24 105mm SPs of the 12th Field Regiment came into action on the beach itself, and were firing in support of the Winnipegs. Their first mission was fired at a range of under 1000 yds. This was the first Allied artillery ashore on any of the beaches, and they soon moved inland to planned gun positions. The CRA was reluctant to ever discuss this time frame, perhaps because he really did not have a good grip on the details, as it was very confused. (Incidentally, he [Brig PAS Todd] was commanding the 4th Field Regiment in the 2nd Div at the time of the Dieppe Raid, and had proposed mounting his guns in landing craft to support the effort on the main beach. He was overruled, but his idea was later implemented for the the three Anglo-Canadian beaches for D Day.)
Indeed - I know better on the Regiments! Sloppy posting on a Saturday morning!

Point remains, though, that artillery support was absent on 11 Jun (the FOO's radios failed - as the battle progressed an LO was sent to Bde HQ to try to organize fire support). Battle procedure was also very rushed - the CO of 1H issued orders 45mins before H Hour, which in turn hampered fire support arrangements.
 
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