Remembering D-Day, Seventy Years On

This year, historians and veterans around the world commemorate the seventieth anniversary of D-Day, the Allied invasion of Normandy and one of the climactic battles of the Second World War. The Canadian army played a major role in the invasion, taking full responsibility for Juno Beach, one of the five invasion beaches. The Canadian 3rd Infantry Division landed there on the morning of June 6th, followed by the rest of 2nd Canadian Corps and eventually by First Canadian Army.

Fields of Fire

Cinderella Army

Canada's Army






This year, University of Toronto Press has re-released Terry Copp’s award-winning analysis of the Normandy campaign, Fields of Fire: The Canadians in Normandy. The second edition of this book, which won the Society for Military History’s Distinguished Book Award when it first appeared, features a new preface by the author that discusses the strategic context that brought the Canadians to Normandy.

When Copp first presented the arguments in Fields of Fire as the 1998 Joanne Goodman Lectures, the scholarly consensus was that the Canadian army had not fought particularly well in Normandy, outmatched by the Germans and reliant on the brute force of artillery and air support for its successes. Using a range of sources, Copp argued that the Canadians were far more flexible and innovative than critics had given them credit. He followed up, in 2006, with Cinderella Army: The Canadians in Northwest Europe, 1944–1945, which followed First Canadian Army from Normandy into Belgium, the Netherlands, and the Rhineland, until the end of the war. Again, he argued that “the achievement of the Allied and especially the Canadian armies … has been greatly underrated while the effectiveness of the German army has been greatly exaggerated.”

Since then, many historians have come to accept Copp’s interpretation of the battle. In his overview of Canada’s military history, Canada’s Army: Waging War and Keeping the Peace, J.L. Granatstein observes that in Normandy, “The Canadians, in fact, performed well in action, certainly as well as or better than British or American troops with similar battle experience.”


The Shock of War






The battlefield the Canadians faced was a harsh and unforgiving one. Between the 7th and the 17th of June, soldiers from the 12th SS Panzer Division, murdered 156 Canadian prisoners of war. In Conduct Unbecoming: The Story of the Murder of Canadian Prisoners of War in Normandy, Howard Margolian reveals that, despite months of post-war investigation by Allied courts, only two senior officers of the 12th SS were ever tried for these war crimes.

The experience in Normandy was equally, if not more, traumatic for the civilians who found themselves caught in the midst of the battle. The Shock of War: Civilian Experiences, 1937–1945 by Sean Kennedy quotes a British officer on the situation:

“the French are having a pretty thin time at present. First the Germans dig holes all over the place and pull down houses, then we shell and bomb their homes and drive [our] vehicles all over the fields. Naturally their attitude towards us is inclined to be a bit stiff; however, I think they are mostly for us, though they are desperately tired of the war and the misery it has caused them.”

 You can see more UTP titles on Canada’s military history, including Canada between Vichy and Free France, 1940–1945 and The Politics of Command: Lieutenant-General A.G.L. McNaughton and the Canadian Army, 1939–1943, by clicking here.





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