Juno Beach, 6 June 1944

The landing on Juno Beach was the main Canadian contribution on D-Day, and saw the Canadian 3rd Infantry Division and 2nd Armoured Brigade overcome some of the strongest German defences and a late arrival to achieve the deepest penetration into France of any Allied troops on 6 June (Operation Overlord).

Juno and Gold Beaches were the only two of the five Allied landing zones to be in direct contact with each other, with the boundary drawn just to the east of la Rivière. Despite this the Canadian troops landing on Juno Beach were part of the British 1st Corps (General John Crocker), as was the Britsh 3rd Division, further to the east on Sword. 1st Corps had the task of capturing Caen, the most ambitious of the D-Day objectives, even before the German 21st Panzer Division moved into the area.

Juno and Gold Beaches were physically similar, rising gently to an area of low flat ground.  A series of coastal resort villages lined the beaches, and the Germans had constructed many of their defences within the villages. The beach was split in two by the Seulles Rive, which flows into the sea just to the west of Courseulles.

The Canadian 7th Brigade landed west of the Seulles River, with the Royal Winnipeg Regiment and the Regina Rifles in the first wave, the Canadian 1st Hussars providing the DD tanks and the Canadian Scottish in reserve.

9th Canadian Division land on Juno Beach
9th Canadian Division
land on Juno Beach

The Canadian 8th Brigade landed east of the river, with the Queen's Own Rifles of Canada and the North Shore Regiment in the lead, Le Regiment de la Chaudiere in reserve and the Fort Garry Horse providing the DD tanks.

The beach was defended by elements of Generalleutnant Wilhelm Richter's 716th Infantry Division. About 400 German and eastern European troops manned the defences on Juno Beach (the first wave of attackers was 2,400 strong). 

British 2nd Army on D-Day
British 2nd Army
on D-Day

The Canadians were meant to have landed at 7.45am, later than on any other beach, but the rough seas meant they were delayed even further, giving the tide time to rise far enough for some of the German beach obstructions to become effective. The delay also meant that there was gap between the end of the naval bombardment and the actual landings. Only about 14% of the bunkers were destroyed by the naval guns, but where there was a shorter gap between the gunfire stopping and the landings the occupants of many bunkers were still suffering from shock. At Juno they had time to recover and man their guns.

An unusually high proportion of landing craft were sunk or damaged during the landings on Juno beach, but the mines were often not powerful enough to stop them from reaching the beach. On the Canadian left the first three craft were all blow up, but only three men were killed, and the rest reached the beach.

Utah Beach on D-Day
Juno Beach on D-Day

Crossing the beach was the most dangerous part of the assault. A high proportion of the total casualties suffered during the day came during the dash from the landing craft to the cover provided by the sea wall. Here the parallels with Omaha Beach end. The Canadian's were supported by a much higher proportion of their armour than on Omaha Beach, there was no shingle bank to block the tanks and no bluff to give the defenders the advantage of height. On the right the DD tanks played an important part in the fighting, clearing a number of German strongpoints before the second wave of tanks arrived. On the left the infantry were able to clear the Germans out of Courselles and Bernières so quickly that neither the tanks nor the Régiment de la Chaudière found much to do on the beach.

By 9.30 the flail tanks had opened up routes through the minefields on both sides of the Seulles, and the Canadians began to advance through the virtually undefended countryside behind their beaches. The advance inland was slower than had been hoped, and only one tank unit managed to reach their final D-Day objective – the Caen to Bayeux road – before being forced to pull back by a lack of support.

D-Day beachheads at midnight, 6-7 June 1944
D-Day beachheads at
midnight, 6-7 June 1944

The delay was caused by a mix of factors, key amongst them terrible congestion on the beach as the rapid build-up of armour and vehicles overwhelmed the exits; the knowledge that the 21st Panzer Division was in the area – a small force of German tanks advanced into the gap between the Canadians on Juno and the British to their east on Sword Beach, but retreated when a massive formation of gliders flew overhead carrying reinforcements for the airborne division; and the over ambitious plans for D-Day, which did at least have the benefit of making sure there was no repeat of the stalemate at Anzio. The decision not to attempt to push on to Caen on the first day was almost certainly correct – as it was the Canadians had to fight off a major counterattack on D-Day+1, which would have been much more dangerous if the Canadian 9th Brigade, which had made the most progress towards Caen, had been any more advanced.

By the end of the day 21,400 men had landed on Juno Beach and the Canadians had advanced further inland than any other Allied troops, at the cost of 1,200 casualties. The Canadian victory on D-Day more than made up for the disaster at Dieppe two years earlier.

The D-Day Companion, ed. Jane Penrose. A selection of thirteen separate essays on different aspects of the D-Day lands, from the initial planning to post-war memorials; this is an excellent piece of work that sets the D-Day landings firmly in context. An excellent starting point for anyone who wants to learn more about Operation Overlord, but its wide range of topics means it is likely to be of value to anyone with an interest in the subject. [see more]
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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (13 May 2009), Juno Beach, 6 June 1944 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_juno_beach.html

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