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Canada and the Normandy Campaign

TangoTwoBravo

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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.
The performance of Keller is hard to characterize as good (are we allowed to say "good" or "poor?"). During the later battles it is hard to see any of the Div Comds as stellar, and at least one Bde Comd was apparently drunk in battle. during Totalize.

Some authors are quite precious regarding Simonds (for the later battles), but freely castigate leadership above and below him.

The 11 Jun battle was advanced by a day, having been intended to occur on 12 Jun. On 10 Jun, however, Gen Dempsey (Brit Army Commander)) ordered it moved forward by a day, and somehow this advancement in the timetable took 15 hours to reach the CO of 1H. Bde Orders were held at 2200 hrs on 10 Jun based on the original H-Hour on 12 Jun. At 0400 on 11 Jun the CO was beginning battle procedure for an attack he thought would start on 12 Jun. At 0730 hrs the advancement in the timetable was received at Bde HQ, and about 30 minutes later the CO was aware. The loss of 30 minutes between receipt at Bde and dispatch to Regt makes sense - commanders and staff need time to process and maybe ask in 1944 language "WTF?" The mystery is the path that the advancement in timing took from Army to Corps to Div and then to Bde.

The QOR received their orders at 1100 hrs, and CO 1H issued his orders to his Sqn Comds at 1215 hrs, 45 minutes before H-Hour. The H-Hour timing was pushed back to 1430 hrs, but BP was still very rushed.

There were tactical mistakes, to be sure, but an operation intended to be a deliberate attack turned into a very hasty attack that included a re-grouping before going in.
 

Infanteer

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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
Milner discusses this a bit in his book.

First, from the historical perspective, Caen was the D-Day objective of 3 UK Div, but this was aspirational. Milner notes that these objectives (and the landing plan) were already set by May, when the intelligence assessments started to note the influx of Panzer Divisions into Normandy. Plus, the German Corps Commander (Marcks, 84th) was decisive in getting a KG from 21st Pzr Div across the Orne River and into action during 6 Jun. Anyone arguing that 3 UK Div missed an opportunity or should have exploited more needs to explain how a Division conducts an opposed landing and then, while offloading its echelon, punches through a prepared and full-strength armoured Division to seize a major urban centre that is recognized by the Germans as key terrain.

From the ahistorical perspective, Milner poses a bit of "so what" - if, somehow, the Brits did take Caen, what would it really enable? It wouldn't change the fact that I SS Pzr Corps was rapidly moving into the Caen area and was focused on a counterattack down the Mue River. They already had secure crossing sites over the Orne river that were taken by 6 UK Abn Div. Taking Caen may have alleviated some heartache further down the road, but who's to say. But Milner makes a convincing argument that from the initial D-Day mission perspective (Defeat the Counterattack vs. Counterattack to push allies into the sea) Caen was not the critical piece of ground.
 

TangoTwoBravo

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A framework in terms of timeline could be useful to discuss the Canadians in Normandy. Perhaps something like:

a. The Landings on 6 June (because they do standout)
b. The initial bridehead battles (7 to 11 Jun - could debate the end date)
c. The battle for Caen (including Windsor and Charnwood) - early Jul
d. Atlantic and Spring (mid Jul to late Jul) - 2nd Canadian Corps with Simonds is now operational along with 2nd and 3rd Cdn Divs
e. Totalize and Tractable (Aug) - 1st Canadian Army is now operational and 4th Canadian Armd Div is engaged as well

While they faced difficulties, the Canadians were successful in the landings. The bridgehead battles were very costly, but they did succeed in foiling the most dangerous early German counterattack. 3rd Cdn Div was also exhausted after those engagements: 1H, for example, lost virtually all of its tanks and required extensive personnel replacements.

The brutal battle for Caen reveals concerns in British circles regarding Gen Keller's handling of 3rd Cdn Div. Atlantic and Spring are very costly, and it is hard to characterize either as successful. I suppose Spring could be explained as a holding action for Cobra, but that might be post-facto rationalization. Totalize and Tractable can occupy volumes of writing! This is the fight that US scholars know about with the failure to close the Falaise Gap. Lots to debate there.
 

Infanteer

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That is a good framework. And within each of those segments, a methodology is required to pick apart engagements; understanding the mission on both sides, the quality of the forces engaged, the orders that were given, and the actions of commanders all contributes to a more fulsome understanding of what actually transpired and which side was more successful.

I like the work of T.N. Dupuy, as contested as his models may be, because it is proper approach to operational analysis. To quote one of his successors, it is easy to make judgements of battlefield actions based on a few case studies, but to properly understand what is happening, you need to study the whole thing, as reality is probably evident in the sea of less spectacular engagements that occur. To bring it back to Milner's work - 3rd Canadian Division looks less than stellar if all you focus on is the two failed actions, but when you look at the whole picture, you get a different story.

Sounds like a good PhD project - essentially rewriting the official histories....
 

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.

Being with the CScotR I was interested in having some of the 'old boys' speak to the troops every once in awhile. No one else seemed to be interested in engaging them from the point of view of learning anything from them, which was, well, odd.

A former CO, who landed on D + 1 at Normandy as a Pl Comd, was an excellent speaker and I had him in a few times to chat to the troops.

At Normandy, he was very clear that he had been provided with the best trained platoon possible. They had all been together for quite awhile, and all had been selected and prepared well by the training system with no 'awkward squad' types. The workup to the assualt was hard and relentless and really put everyone through the ringer, with good results. This was my biggest take away: tough training pays dividends, even with troops who had never experienced battle before.

He was directly involved in repulsing the German counter attacks of June 7th and spoke about it like it was a Turkey shoot, almost. They were well prepared, knew it was coming, and had all the resources they needed to kick serious butt. Of course everyone was nervous about the whole thing but he said that everyone performed magnificently, especially the artillery/NGS which arrived in the nick of time to decimate the German attacks time and again. He was amazed that the Germans, who were supposed to be so experienced, seemed to lack any initiative and continued to reinforce failure with drastic consequences.

Of course there were screw ups now and then, but he came away from the whole experience with a high degree of confidence in the 'Canadian way of war'.

Sadly, our national inferiority complex seems to get in the way of telling the realy inspiring story of Canada's contribution to the campaign.
 

FJAG

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... 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. ...
Fun Fact:

james-doohan-in-england-during-ww2.jpg


Lieutenant James Montgomery Doohan of the 14th Field Regiment of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division - landed at Normandy June 6th.

636086596256738838-XXX-Scotty2.JPG

Chief Engineer Montgomery Scott, USS Enterprise

:cdn:
 

Infanteer

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Yeah, he was mentioned in the book. He didn't last long as he was shot by a friendly sentry and evac'd. Returned to duty though, before running a starship.
 

Brad Sallows

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Finally got around to watching the Milner video. Very enlightening. Just wish facilitators would not babble and would just read the questions asked.
 

daftandbarmy

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Some footage of of the fight for Carpiquet airfield

Some tough opposition form the 12th SS....


Operation Windsor​

​Windsor was the first set-piece attack by the 3rd Canadian Division and left the Germans in control of Carpiquet airport, which obliged the 43rd Division to retire from Verson and Fontaine-Etoupefour. In 2005, Reid wrote that the attack should have been made by two brigades rather than one and an extra battalion. The attached battalion managed to reach the hangars and fight their way through them but were ordered to withdraw twice. The success of the Germans defenders in maintaining their hold on the airfield, except for the north end and Carpiquet village, left the Canadians in a salient which was counter-attacked several times. The failure of the brigade to reach all its objectives, led to doubts about the fitness of Keller for his command, although the preparations for Operation Charnwood might have been the reason for Keller delegating planning for Operation Windsor to the 8th Canadian Infantry Brigade commander, Brigadier K. G. Blackader.[23]

 

Old Sweat

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Re Keller, there was a very uncomplimentary saying in vogue at the time about him that circulated, not least of all, among his senior commanders and staff. It was "Keller was Yeller". His CRA, Brig Stan Todd, actually dropped it once in the late 70s or early 80s in front of the assembled command, staff, and students of the Kingston Staff College, but then apologized for using it. I alluded to it in NHB, but did not repeat it. I believe Todd had used it because Brig Cunningham and one other brigade commander had come to him, to seek his support in refusing to carry out his orders for Operation Spring. Todd refused, as he was not into mutiny, despite his personal opinion of Keller and his plan. I heard all this from a very senior member of the college staff who was present for Todd's utterance. My friend requested upmost discretion in repeating it. This is my first breach, and hopefully the last, of his request.

And I actually met Todd on one occasion. He was retiring as Colonel Commandant of the RCA and visited 1 RCHA on his farewell tour in 1962. I was appointed his ADC, which was great. One highlight: my BSM had commanded a gun detachment in the 12th Field Regiment on D Day, and after engaging the beach defences with his 105mm SP on the run-in, had come into action firing above the high water line on Juno Beach on the start of the long road to Germany. I asked the BSM if he could collect some 3rd Div Arty mess members to met Todd in the Sergeant's Mess. He did, and they had a glorious reunion. The CO was a bit miffed, as it took a lot of persuasion to get Uncle Stanley - his universal nickname in the RCA - back on programme.
 

daftandbarmy

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Re Keller, there was a very uncomplimentary saying in vogue at the time about him that circulated, not least of all, among his senior commanders and staff. It was "Keller was Yeller". His CRA, Brig Stan Todd, actually dropped it once in the late 70s or early 80s in front of the assembled command, staff, and students of the Kingston Staff College, but then apologized for using it. I alluded to it in NHB, but did not repeat it. I believe Todd had used it because Brig Cunningham and one other brigade commander had come to him, to seek his support in refusing to carry out his orders for Operation Spring. Todd refused, as he was not into mutiny, despite his personal opinion of Keller and his plan. I heard all this from a very senior member of the college staff who was present for Todd's utterance. My friend requested upmost discretion in repeating it. This is my first breach, and hopefully the last, of his request.

And I actually met Todd on one occasion. He was retiring as Colonel Commandant of the RCA and visited 1 RCHA on his farewell tour in 1962. I was appointed his ADC, which was great. One highlight: my BSM had commanded a gun detachment in the 12th Field Regiment on D Day, and after engaging the beach defences with his 105mm SP on the run-in, had come into action firing above the high water line on Juno Beach on the start of the long road to Germany. I asked the BSM if he could collect some 3rd Div Arty mess members to met Todd in the Sergeant's Mess. He did, and they had a glorious reunion. The CO was a bit miffed, as it took a lot of persuasion to get Uncle Stanley - his universal nickname in the RCA - back on programme.

My Dad (3 Div Arty) was pretty clear that if the USAF hadn't wounded him, somebody else on our side would have :)

Major-General R.F.L. Keller​


September 8th, 1942, and August 8th, 1944, he served as General Officer Commanding the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division. On D-Day, he led the charge of that division on the beaches of Normandy. He was wounded by friendly fire on August 8th, when US bombers targeted Canadian troops during Operation Tractable.

Major-General Keller was popular with his troops, who appreciated his manners and outspoken language; however, a drinking problem and several breaches of security measures before D-Day cost him the support of his superior officers. After August 8th, 1944, Keller received no further command. He died ten years later, while visiting Normandy.

 

mariomike

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In case anyone is interested,

The official opening of the British Normandy Memorial was on 6 June, 2021.
The names of 22,442 servicemembers under British command who fell during the Battle of Normandy in the summer of 1944 are engraved into the memorial.

This is relevant to "Canada and the Normandy Campaign" because,

The names of RCAF members of Bomber Command who were KIA many miles ahead of advancing ground units attacking lines of commuincation and infastructure to delay German troops reaching Normandy are also engraved into the memorial.

( RCAF Bomber Command aircrew were under British Command. )
 
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