Speaking in Portsmouth this morning at the National Commemoration for the 75thanniversary of D-Day, Her Majesty The Queen said, “The fate of the world depending on their success.”
Large contributors to that success, the victories of WWII and WWI came from Canada. Canada supplied men, arms, materials and resources to Britain and her Allies in both world wars. Convoys from Halifax and Sydney were Britain’s lifeblood. It’s important to remember.
Here are some of the ways Canadians participated in D-Day:
- The invasion was conceived at a meeting between Prime Minister Winston Churchill and U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt on battleships moored in Placentia Bay, in what was then the Dominion of Newfoundland.
- Planning for the invasion was conducted by 700 generals, admirals, air marshals and military staff housed at the Chateau Frontenac and Citadel at the 1943 Quebec Conference.
- Of the 10,743 Allied missions flown in the invasion, the first mission flown and the first of the 25 million bombs dropped were by 431 Squadron the Canadian Pathfinders.
- Among the first people on the ground were the 6thAirborne Division of the First Canadian Parachute Battalion. They dropped to the ground at 12:45 am June 6. They blew up their objective, a bridge over the River Dives, three hours ahead of schedule. Then spent the next two days dug in behind enemy lines, keeping the German 15thArmy from retaking the position and fortifying the invasion beaches.
- Of the many inventions and innovations to aid the invasion,
Imperial Oil’s top asphalt scientist, Charles Baskin, developed a prefabricated airstrip which enabled military engineers to lay down a full, functioning runway in 24 hours versus several weeks using traditional construction methods.
- Normandy was chosen for the invasion because of the lessons learned by military planners from the Dieppe Raid, which was so costly for Canadians. Among that important information was the immobilizing impact of beach “shingle” on caterpillar tracks which propel tanks and armoured vehicles.
- On the first day of the 11-week invasion, Canadians were the only Allied force to meet their objectives.
- 60% of the prisons taken by the Allies in the initial phase of the invasion were captured by Canadians.
Canadian veterans returned from the wars and didn’t speak of their contribution and experiences. They looked forward, not to the past.With the passage of time surviving veterans realized their silence meant their – and their comrades’ – contributions were lost.
One lost story is that of George C. Baker of Kentville, Nova Scotia. Mr. Baker was my first publisher. In civilian life he owned a series of community newspapers, a printing company, was a consulting engineer and simultaneously served as the head of the Public Utilities Commissions of three provinces.
In 2014, reading his obituary I and our community learned he had been made a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE) for his role in the invasion. Mr. Baker’s engineering brilliance changed the communications equipment used in executing the invasion and war. Good communications saves lives. An invasion miscommunication resulted in the US mistakenly bombing the Second Canadian Division in the Falaise Gap area.
From the invasion to war’s conclusion Mr. Baker personally managed the communications for three infantry and two armoured divisions. In his posthumously published memoir he told how a group of Canadians, without the use of the Enigma machine, broke the German codes.
He wrote Jack Anderson’s Special Wireless Section “solved the German tactical code every day by 11 o’clock in the morning. The section was able to do this because of German fondness for routine. Every morning a German aircraft went to the same designated spots in the English channel, made the same weather observations and reported in the same form. The cryptographers knew from our own radar and weather data what the messages contained and that made it a routine matter to break the code.”