• Thanks for stopping by. Logging in to a registered account will remove all generic ads. Please reach out with any questions or concerns.

By Jack Granatstein: "Why Canada’s casualties were so high in Normandy"

MarkOttawa

Army.ca Fixture
Reaction score
54
Points
560
As bad as WW I:

Why Canada’s casualties were so high in Normandy
The Normandy campaign, from D-Day until late August 1944, saw almost 5,000 Canadian soldiers perish. But that offensive, launched 75 years ago, jumpstarted the liberation of Western Europe.

J.L. Granatstein is a former Director and CEO of the Canadian War Museum and author of many books, including Canada’s Army: Waging War and Keeping the Peace.

Normandy is full of the dead: 9,400 American graves in a huge cemetery just behind Omaha Beach, 23,000 German dead buried nearby, and 10,000 British graves to the east. In two Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemeteries, one at Bény-sur-Mer and the second at Bretteville-sur-Laize, almost 5,000 Canadian dead lie, their white tombstones arranged in neat rows. In all, between D-Day, June 6, 1944 and late August, when the Normandy campaign came to its end and the Germans were in full retreat eastward, more than 18,000 Canadian soldiers were killed, wounded or taken prisoner. The Normandy battlefields were marked by sheer butchery, the losses equal to the worst of those of the First World War.

The huge Allied invasion fleet had put 130,000 men ashore on D-Day along with 6,000 vehicles and 600 guns. Allied aircraft logged 14,000 sorties while the Luftwaffe could put a mere 250 aircraft in the air. But the Germans had tough, powerful panzer divisions in reach of the beaches and, although the Canadians successfully drove off the first counterattacks, their advance ground to a halt, the fighting quickly turning into a slugging match.

Facing the Canadians of the 3rd Infantry Division and 2nd Armoured Brigade in the first days after the invasion was the 12th SS Panzer Division made up of Hitler Youth teenagers led by NCOs and officers who had fought against the Red Army. Fanatical and well-trained, the Waffen SS troopers fought a vicious war, aided and abetted by their leaders. One hundred and fifty-six Canadian prisoners were murdered in cold blood in the immediate aftermath of D-Day, including two soldiers left on a roadway to be pulped by passing armoured vehicles and trucks, and a padre, Honorary Capt. Walter Brown. “My unit takes no prisoners,” Standartenführer Kurt Meyer had told his young soldiers, and at least some of them had obeyed...
https://www.macleans.ca/history/why-canadas-casualties-were-so-high-in-normandy/

And it wasn't just Normandy, note casualty rates at end of post:

The Brutal Allied Campaign in North-West Europe, 1944-45, American View
https://mark3ds.wordpress.com/2013/06/24/mark-collins-the-brutal-allied-campaign-in-north-west-europe-1944-45-american-view/

See also:

World War II: The All-Too-Good Deutsche Wehrmacht
https://mark3ds.wordpress.com/2015/01/25/mark-collins-world-war-ii-the-all-too-good-deutsche-wehrmacht/

Mark
Ottawa

Mark
Ottawa
 

Brad Sallows

Army.ca Fixture
Reaction score
762
Points
910
I read the article, but am still puzzled as to what exactly the answer to "Why Canada’s casualties were so high in Normandy" is supposed to be.
 

Humphrey Bogart

Moderator
Staff member
Directing Staff
Subscriber
Reaction score
450
Points
1,010
Brad Sallows said:
I read the article, but am still puzzled as to what exactly the answer to "Why Canada’s casualties were so high in Normandy" is supposed to be.

I inferred it as inferior training and equipment but he did a poor job making the point.
 

daftandbarmy

Army.ca Relic
Reaction score
3,495
Points
1,060
Brad Sallows said:
I read the article, but am still puzzled as to what exactly the answer to "Why Canada’s casualties were so high in Normandy" is supposed to be.

Taking the brunt of the German counter-attacks, and drawing them in (through continual offensives) so the breakout on the right flank could occur, might have had something to do with it as well.
 

mariomike

Moderator
Staff member
Directing Staff
Subscriber
Mentor
Reaction score
330
Points
1,130
Sometimes a high price had  to be paid. Although Revigny was a small town it boasted a very large and important railway junction. It was on a direct route from the Ruhr to North-Eastern France and the Germans were making full use of it to supply the Normandy battle zone. It therefore had to be destroyed.

In accordance with agreements, radio warnings were broadcast, to give the French a chance to evacuate.

It did not help that Bomber Command was routed near an active Luftwaffe night-fighter base.

The target was hit, and the rail lines to Normandy were cut.

41 Lancasters were shot down, and 231 aircrew were killed. Nearly 22% of the force sent.

 

Brad Sallows

Army.ca Fixture
Reaction score
762
Points
910
>Taking the brunt of the German counter-attacks, and drawing them in (through continual offensives) so the breakout on the right flank could occur, might have had something to do with it as well.

Exactly.  A conclusion I reached 20 years ago, but apparently few seem to share: the Germans had a say in the fight, and apparently they (to paraphrase and re-situate a line from A Bridge Too Far which I don't know whether Sosaboski actually uttered) knew Caen was important to them, too.  I'm so tired of "waffle waffle led by donkeys waffle waffle Sherman Ronsons waffle waffle sweep the Germans aside and take Falaise waffle waffle...".
 

daftandbarmy

Army.ca Relic
Reaction score
3,495
Points
1,060
Brad Sallows said:
>Taking the brunt of the German counter-attacks, and drawing them in (through continual offensives) so the breakout on the right flank could occur, might have had something to do with it as well.

Exactly.  A conclusion I reached 20 years ago, but apparently few seem to share: the Germans had a say in the fight, and apparently they (to paraphrase and re-situate a line from A Bridge Too Far which I don't know whether Sosaboski actually uttered) knew Caen was important to them, too.  I'm so tired of "waffle waffle led by donkeys waffle waffle Sherman Ronsons waffle waffle sweep the Germans aside and take Falaise waffle waffle...".

My Dad was with the 3rd Div at Normandy, a gunner. He said their battle cry was 'The British are always willing to fight to the last Canadian.'
 

Old Sweat

Army.ca Fixture
Donor
Reaction score
56
Points
480
In my opinion, the article is a fair effort, but does not "close with and destroy" the issue. Sure the Sherman burned, but that was a matter of ammunition stowage, rather than fuel. There also were not all that many 88s; a lot of tank losses attributed to the 88 were actually caused by the German 76mm anti-tank gun. The factors are far too complicated to go into here, but by the luck of the draw, we got some really difficult tasks. If I had to pick a few, I would include lack of combat experience, especially on the part of our senior commanders at the top of the list. Compare the experience of our brigade and divisional commanders to those of the Canadian Corps in the Great War, and our 1944 force that fought in Normandy looks pretty lame.
 

Czech_pivo

Full Member
Reaction score
114
Points
530
Old Sweat said:
In my opinion, the article is a fair effort, but does not "close with and destroy" the issue. Sure the Sherman burned, but that was a matter of ammunition stowage, rather than fuel. There also were not all that many 88s; a lot of tank losses attributed to the 88 were actually caused by the German 76mm anti-tank gun. The factors are far too complicated to go into here, but by the luck of the draw, we got some really difficult tasks. If I had to pick a few, I would include lack of combat experience, especially on the part of our senior commanders at the top of the list. Compare the experience of our brigade and divisional commanders to those of the Canadian Corps in the Great War, and our 1944 force that fought in Normandy looks pretty lame.

I was told by an old vet from the Essex Scottish who fought in North Africa and then through Italy, (never heard the story which unit he ended up with that allowed him to be in Sicily and then Italy), that a number of CDN non-com and jr officers were sent to North Africa to gain combat experience and were to then be re-asserted back to their home units. Anyone have a sense of how many men actually went to North Africa to gain this experience and how many actually were able to go back to their home units? Did any of them make it back to units that landed at D-Day prior to 6 June?
 

Rifleman62

Army.ca Veteran
Subscriber
Donor
Reaction score
29
Points
530
One officer I know of from the RWpgRif was sent to Italy to get combat experience. When he turned up at the PPCLI in RWpgRif accoutrements the Adjt told him to take them off, he was PPCLI now, and so he remained for the rest of the war. Old Sweat knows who he is as he wrote our regimental history.I believe there were others.
 

Old Sweat

Army.ca Fixture
Donor
Reaction score
56
Points
480
Czech_pivo said:
I was told by an old vet from the Essex Scottish who fought in North Africa and then through Italy, (never heard the story which unit he ended up with that allowed him to be in Sicily and then Italy), that a number of CDN non-com and jr officers were sent to North Africa to gain combat experience and were to then be re-asserted back to their home units. Anyone have a sense of how many men actually went to North Africa to gain this experience and how many actually were able to go back to their home units? Did any of them make it back to units that landed at D-Day prior to 6 June?

Several did, but they made up a very small percentage of the overall strength. An infantry battalion, for example, would be fortunate to have more than one or two individuals, and a number such as Strome Galloway of the RCR were serving in Italy at the time of D-Day.
 

Old Sweat

Army.ca Fixture
Donor
Reaction score
56
Points
480
Rifleman62 said:
One officer I know of from the RWpgRif was sent to Italy to get combat experience. When he turned up at the PPCLI in RWpgRif accoutrements the Adjt told him to take them off, he was PPCLI now, and so he remained for the rest of the war. Old Sweat knows who he is as he wrote our regimental history.I believe there were others.

Yes, indeed I knew the gentleman in question. Decades after the war he still was bitter about what he perceived as a failure on the part of the CO of the Little Black Devils in not making an effort to get him back. He used to refer to himself as a D-Day Dodger after the derogatory term used by Lady Astor to describe the troops in Italy.
 

Colin Parkinson

Army.ca Legend
Reaction score
1,392
Points
940
Tank-infantry coordination was not very good and several times our tanks blundered into well laid ambushes, the BCR took significant casualties in one day. That being said, German counterattacks also suffered badly. The terrain certainly favoured the defender, whoever that might be.
 

Humphrey Bogart

Moderator
Staff member
Directing Staff
Subscriber
Reaction score
450
Points
1,010
Czech_pivo said:
I was told by an old vet from the Essex Scottish who fought in North Africa and then through Italy, (never heard the story which unit he ended up with that allowed him to be in Sicily and then Italy), that a number of CDN non-com and jr officers were sent to North Africa to gain combat experience and were to then be re-asserted back to their home units. Anyone have a sense of how many men actually went to North Africa to gain this experience and how many actually were able to go back to their home units? Did any of them make it back to units that landed at D-Day prior to 6 June?

This is 100% correct

My neighbour growing up, Mr. Fenton Daley, was a Company Sergeant Major with the North Shore Regiment and was sent to North Africa early in the war to gain combat experience.  He served with the British 8th Army and rejoined the Canadian Army and his Regiment in time for the D-Day Landings. 

http://www.inmemoriam.ca/view-announcement-217733-fenton-daley.html
 

Old Sweat

Army.ca Fixture
Donor
Reaction score
56
Points
480
Do not forget that, contrary to popular belief, the Germans made their share of mistakes and tactical blunders. The majority of their experience had been gained on the Eastern Front, and the western allies did not operate like the Red Army. All in all, the Germans in Normandy, especially their Panzer Divisions, failed in their most important mission immediately after the invasion, namely to drive the Allies back into the sea.
 

daftandbarmy

Army.ca Relic
Reaction score
3,495
Points
1,060
Terry Copp has some well researched and written material on the Canadians in Normandy, like this:

To the Last Canadian?: Casualties in the 21st Army Group

Abstract

In Normandy, Canadian infantry divisions suffered a higher rate of casualties than British divisions engaged in similar operations. These figures have been used by some historians to prove Canadian failure on the battlefield. However, by using statistics gathered by operational research scientists during the war, this article shows that the “considerably heavier casualties” suffered by the Canadians in Normandy and beyond were the product of a greater number of days in close combat with the enemy, not evidence of operational inexperience or tactical failure.


https://terrycopp.files.wordpress.com/2017/05/to-the-last-canadian.pdf




 

HB_Pencil

Full Member
Reaction score
0
Points
0
Old Sweat said:
Do not forget that, contrary to popular belief, the Germans made their share of mistakes and tactical blunders. The majority of their experience had been gained on the Eastern Front, and the western allies did not operate like the Red Army. All in all, the Germans in Normandy, especially their Panzer Divisions, failed in their most important mission immediately after the invasion, namely to drive the Allies back into the sea.

So thanks for this post, because I feel like it was an aspect that was sorely lacking.

Reading Granatstein article seems like a throwback to the general level of scholarship on Canada (writ commonwealth) experience in Normandy that existed over 20 years ago. First, I feel like the title and premise is misleading. While the Canadians suffered casualties, the actual number of casualties was relatively low in comparison to what they accomplished: 24,000 commonwealth dead and missing is roughly equivalent to what the British and Canadians suffered on the First day of the Somme. We now have some really good works that cast Canada's contribution in a much different light: Marc Milner's Stopping the Panzers, Stout Hearts by Ben Kite, Copp's and Zuhlke's works as well. Germans weren't mythical supersoldiers, and every tank was a tiger or panther. Rather it was a military that had been progressively ground down by five years of constant war, and was a mix of hardened combat veterans and poorly trained/inexperienced recruits, mostly armed with assault guns or Panzer IVs (though the Canadians faced a disproportionate number of the cream of their forces)

The 3rd Canadian Infantry Division was selected midway through the D-Day Planning process, and large numbers of units withdrawn from Italy because it was viewed by Monty as one of the best available to the allies. It was given arguably one of the most difficult tasks: cut off the Caen Bayeux road (which Daft alluded to), which was seen as the primary axis by which a German counterattack would be launched. They were heavily reinforced with anti tank platoons, superior armour (the firefly) and artillery (sexton) over the "normal" ToE. In the first three days they would face three Panzer Divisions: the 12th SS, 21st Panzer and Panzer Lehr.  While all three were considered upper tier units, they suffered from quality issues and made serious mistakes as well (like old Sweat points out.) For example the 12th SS's young soldiers basically just ran towards Canadian positions, without taking advantage of cover, and were cut down in sickening numbers (a family member of mine served with the C Bn Royal Regina Rifles.) You'll find stories like this are fairly common. In sum, the allies were highly trained, well equipped with a lot of combat experience, both within their units and above them.

As Colin probably best suggests, terrain favours the defender, and that was the case. the allies did have some serious failures, like with Perch. if there was a "reason" for the casualties, it was likely the most salient. It allowed the Germans to be more selective where they sent reinforcements, and allowed fewer troops to be more effective at defending against allied attacks. That also provided them time to  bring up reinforcements from across france and germany through the limited infrastructure available after the Allied "Transport Plan" that was effective at isolating Normandy from the rest of german occupied territory.

I could go on, but I think that covers much of the substantive aspects of the article. maybe I'll more comments later. I think Granatstein is trying to emphasize the sacrafice of Canadians at D-Day, but I think he does so in a way that minimizes the true story of what occurred (and an aspect that we should be proud of). 
 

Retired AF Guy

Army.ca Veteran
Reaction score
41
Points
530
Czech_pivo said:
I was told by an old vet from the Essex Scottish who fought in North Africa and then through Italy, (never heard the story which unit he ended up with that allowed him to be in Sicily and then Italy), that a number of CDN non-com and jr officers were sent to North Africa to gain combat experience and were to then be re-asserted back to their home units. Anyone have a sense of how many men actually went to North Africa to gain this experience and how many actually were able to go back to their home units? Did any of them make it back to units that landed at D-Day prior to 6 June?

There were two programs that allowed Canadian military personnel to serve imn the British military. The first program was initiated in early 1943 for 350 Canadian officers and NCOs to serve for three months in North Africa to gain combat experience. This is probably the program you are talking about.

The second program, called CANLOAN allowed for Canadian officers to volunteer to serve with the British forces. The CANLOAN program was not to give Canadians combat experience, but to replace losses the British had suffered in their officer corps. Here is information on the memorial in Ottawa dedicated to the CANLOAN officers.
 

mariomike

Moderator
Staff member
Directing Staff
Subscriber
Mentor
Reaction score
330
Points
1,130
HB_Pencil said:
That also provided them time to  bring up reinforcements from across france and germany through the limited infrastructure available after the Allied "Transport Plan" that was effective at isolating Normandy from the rest of german occupied territory.

A German Air Ministry (RLM) report of 13 June 1944 stated:"...large scale strategic movement of German troops by rail is practically impossible at the present time and must remain so while attacks are maintained at their present intensity".

In response to Bomber Command shifting operations from Germany to the ‘transportation targets’ in France, the Luftwaffe relocated their night-fighter units accordingly. This included an experienced Bf110 unit based at St Dizier, a mere 15 miles from the Revigny target.

 
Top