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The 75th Anniversary of D-Day

Juno Beach:
A Soldier’s
Story

On June 6, 1944, about 14,000 Canadians stormed the beaches of Normandy as the Allies launched Operation Overlord. They stepped forward and fought to secure a beachhead on an 8-km stretch of Normandy coast, many falling before reaching the shore. Still, the brave Canadians pushed on, advancing farther than any of the Allies and clearing the way for the invading forces that followed.

This is the 6+ hours of D-Day
told through the lens of a Canadian soldier.

Leaping Into Peril

Red light!” We move into position inside the bomber. No one is speaking, we’re waiting for the green light to come on… and there it is. It’s 0020 hours and for us, D-Day has begun. One by one, we jump feet first into the dark night and float down towards our fate…

Paratroopers of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion in a transit camp staging area prior to D-Day, England, ca. 1-5 June 1944.
Personnel of the 1st Canada Parachute Battalion getting ready to leave Carter Barracks for their D-Day transit camp.

They came from the sky. Shortly after midnight on June 6, 1944, the paratroopers of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion began to drop behind enemy lines. Their mission: Destroy bridges, neutralize key targets and secure the flanks of the D-Day invasion area.

On D-Day, Canada’s “maroon berets” were the first Canadian troops to set foot on French soil. Jumping feet first into peril, they had to overcome a flak barrage, wayward drops, heavy losses and all the dangers that come with being in the enemy’s midst. But they prevailed.

The 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion succeeded in capturing all of its D-Day objectives: A Company assisted the assault on artillery positions at Merville, where the guns would have hampered the landings at Juno and Sword Beaches; B Company cut a bridge at Robehomme before re-joining the battalion at the Le Mesnil crossroads; and C Company secured the drop zone then cleared out an enemy garrison at Varaville. A reinforced battalion continued to play an offensive role until the war’s end, eventually reaching the Baltic Sea on May 2, 1945.

They were young, in top physical condition, extremely well trained and confident they could do anything. They believed that it was a job to be done, and they committed to do it to the best of their ability...”

– Mrs. Joanne de Vries

A First Step

The ramp drops. One-by-one, we grip our rifles before dropping into the cold surf and into enemy fire. This is it; I’ve trained for this moment. But this isn’t a training exercise: if I make it past the beach, I know this is just the beginning… There’s a hand on my shoulder. It’s my turn, and I know what I have to do. For all of us here at Juno Beach, there is no looking back, only forward.

Commemorative Collector Keepsake

75th Anniversary of D-Day

2019 Commemorative Collector Keepsake

$21.95

They came by sea. Their target: Juno Beach.

On June 6, 1944, some 14,000 Canadians stormed the beaches of Normandy as the Allies launched Operation Overlord. D-Day was the largest amphibious landings in history and the stakes were high: to gain a foothold in Fortress Europe, Allied troops had to break through a coastline fortified with mined obstacles, concrete pillboxes, machine-gun nests and heavy artillery batteries.

From battleships and destroyers to landing craft infantry (LCIs) and transport ships, nearly 7,000 Allied vessels took part in the assault phase known as Operation Neptune.

All forces — air, ground and naval — had undergone intensive training to eliminate potential communication or logistic issues. Troops knew their landing destination by code name: Utah and Omaha Beaches (American forces) in the west; Gold Beach (British forces) and Sword Beach (British and French forces) in the east; and in the centre, Juno Beach (14,000 Canadian and 8,000 British forces).

...one can only imagine with difficulty the fear — and the hope — they felt as their landing craft approached the far shore.”

- Dr. Stephen Harris, CD, PhD
Directorate of History and Heritage, Canadian Armed Forces

True Story Behind the Coin

Learn how historians across Canada, along with the North Shore Regiment, helped the Royal Canadian Mint unlock the identity of the soldier who inspired its 2019 Proof Silver Dollar, honouring the 75th anniversary of D-Day.

Read the blog post
Image sequence of the solider who inspired the artwork from the 75th Anniversary of D-Day Proof Silver Dollar

2019 D-Day Commemorative Collector Keepsake

A SIX-COIN SET

Your D-Day Commemorative Collector Keepsake includes the Canadian 2019 circulation coins.

Artist at work designing the D-Day Proof Silver Dollar coin
Closeup of D-Day Proof Silver Dollar coin artwork
The artist behind the D-Day Proof Silver Dollar coin design

A Footstep in Time

Stepping off the LCA, I plunged into action. It was a 45-metre dash through the cold surf just to reach the shore. Now, it’s a mad race across the open beach to reach the seawall. We’ve come under heavy fire every step of the way. But we’re doing the unthinkable here: we’re breaching the Atlantic Wall, like a giant wave crashing down on the occupying forces in Western Europe. Every new boot print in the sand is one step closer to victory…

Stepping out of the landing crafts, Canadians fought to come ashore at Saint-Aubin-sur-Mer, Bernières-sur-Mer, Courseulles-sur-Mer and Graye-sur-Mer, knowing that success on D-Day was just the beginning.

Many fell before reaching the shore. Bullets rained down on the infantry as they waded through the water, and more dangers awaited them on land. Obstacles, hidden mines and machine gun fire made for a harrowing race across 200 metres of open beach. And behind the seawall were concrete bunkers, machine gun nests, anti-tank guns and pillboxes.

…as they crossed the beach and began the liberation campaign in Northwest Europe, they left their own everlasting mark...”

- Dr. Stephen Harris, CD, PhD
Directorate of History and Heritage, Canadian Armed Forces

D-Day at Juno Beach coin

75th Anniversary of D-Day

D-Day at Juno Beach

$24.95
NO GST/HST*

75th Anniversary of D-Day - Pure Silver Coin

A Footstep that Led to a Foothold

The boot print belongs to the young soldier featured on the 2019 proof dollar. Both coins are part of a year-long journey of remembrance; each one is a different chapter in the story of Canada in the Normandy Campaign.

Bootprint artwork from the D-Day at Juno Beach coin
Closeup of bootprint artwork from the D-Day at Juno Beach coin
Self-portrait of the artist behind the  D-Day at Juno Beach coin design

A Snapshot in Time and the View from the Sky

We were young, but we had bravery well beyond our years. We didn’t go into Normandy to leave our mark on history — we went in to liberate France from the Nazis, knowing how much hinged on our success. On land, on water and in the air, we gave our all for victory at Juno Beach and beyond.

Infantry and armoured units continued to pour onto the increasingly congested beach as the enemy held its position. By 10 a.m., several beach exits were cleared and reserve battalions began moving in. By 12 p.m., all units of the 3rd Canadian Division had come ashore.

Casualties were highest among the first wave of soldiers that broke through the German defences. By day’s end, 340 Canadians had made the ultimate sacrifice, with another 574 wounded. Still, the Canadians pushed on, advancing farther than any other Allies and clearing the way for the invading forces that followed.

Canada had a frontline view of victory on D-Day and throughout the Normandy campaign. It was at Juno Beach that 3rd Canadian Infantry Division supported by 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade came ashore. And it was here that valour and sacrifice in the sand, sea and sky laid the foundations of a greater victory, one that extended beyond the beaches and first-day objectives.

Landing craft, Infantry (Large) LCI(L) heading towards the beaches at Normandy 1944.
Infantrymen of the Highland Light Infantry of Canada aboard LCI(L) 306 of the 2nd Canadian (262nd RN) Flotilla on D-Day.

My steely resolve

Iam courage. I am strength. I am resolve and duty. Time, distance and experience separate me from the beach where my war began. The enemy was driven out of this area just yesterday, but his mortar shells show us he’s still within range. Our job is to keep up the pressure and pin down the enemy. So we attack, knowing a counterattack usually follows…

It began on Juno Beach, and it continued at Buron. Autie. Carpiquet. Caen. Falaise. D-Day marked the opening of a Second Front and the beginning of the Liberation of Western Europe. But if the landings caught the enemy unawares, the push inland brought Canadians face to face with the backbone of the enemy fighting force, the elite Panzer divisions.

Moving through the Mue and Orne river valleys, the 3rd Canadian Division and 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade fought to protect the beachhead and prevent a counter-offensive, but their advance was stalled by the enemy’s armoured reserves.

The Canadian spearhead suffered heavy losses at Buron and Authie, where it first encountered the 12th SS Panzer Division; and it was forced to retreat from Putot-en-Bassin before recapturing it. On 11-12 June, Canadian and British units were able to push the Germans out of the town of Rots, but the Canadian attack on Le Mesnil-Patry was repulsed with heavy losses.

In July, with the bridgehead finally secure, 2nd Canadian Infantry Division and 4th Canadian Armoured Division joined the fray as 21 Army Group clawed its way forward. There was heavy fighting for Caen, on the approaches to Falaise, and in the final battles that trapped remaining enemy forces in Normandy and opened the way to the Seine.

From D-Day until the end of the Nomandy campaign, Canadian casualties numbered 18,444, of which 5,021 were fatal.

…by the end of the month the soldiers of 3rd Division and 2nd Armoured Brigade had beaten off the German armour… They were now veterans...”

- Dr. Stephen Harris, CD, PhD, Directorate of History and Heritage, Canadian Armed Forces

Canadian infantrymen holding a former German position on the airfield at Carpiquet, France, 12 July 1944.
Sherman tanks of the Sherbrooke Fusiliers advancing into Caen.