Sunday, March 29, 2015

Tales Finally Told: Canada and D-Day

When I was at a conference in New Brunswick, Marc Milner, one of the hosts and a military historian, chatted briefly about his new book: Stopping the Panzers: the Untold Story of D-Day.  It turns out that historians have slighted the Canadian contribution in June in France 1944.  We should not be surprised by this since most of this history was written by Brits and Americans who focused on their own forces.  This book fills a big gap, explaining that the Canadian army did exactly what they were supposed to do, even though it was very, very hard.

The traditional history has the Canadians stumbling around Caen, failing to take that city early.  As it turns out, the planners of the invasion identified the key threat to the invasion--a German counter-attack through the most tank-friendly country.  They built a largely Canadian unit to occupy that space, giving it more much anti-tank capability than any other unit that landed on June 6th.  This unit was trained and equipped to stop the likely Panzer assault.

As it turned out, the planners knew what they were doing--they predicted quite well what the Germans were going to try to do--run the tanks up through the allied beachhead to the sea.  But they failed due to the actions of the Canadians.  So rather than being stuck in place, the actual story is really more of the Canadians doing exactly what they were supposed to do and do it quite well.  And the cost was higher than it should be as they faced SS and Hitler Youth units that executed a larger number of POWs.

In this case, not losing was very much winning.  The Canadians protected the beachhead so that the allies could land the units and materiel that would eventually be used to break out of Normandy.  The book may overplay sometimes the Canadian contribution--when it focuses on the Canadian units in the fake army that was used by the allies to persuade the Germans that Normandy was a feint and that the real attack was coming at Pas de Calais.  Yes, that disception was important, but I am not so sure that the Germans were convinced by the apparent presence of the Canadian units in that effort.  It might have mattered but not that much.

I am not a military historian and for good reason.  This research was far more thorough in the getting all the details lined up to tell a very interesting story about this overlooked part of the most studied military campaign.  it was a good read that also taught me the importance of artillery in tank warfare. 

No comments: