This Week in History


"Liberating" Caen

For the week of Monday July 10, 2000

On July 9, 1944, Canadian and British soldiers fought their way into the medieval city of Caen. "Liberated" after a month-long battle, it was a major achievement in the bloody Normandy Campaign!

Canadian Troops Clearing Caen

Canadian Troops Clearing Caen
© LAC / PA-132727

"Operation Overlord," the long-awaited allied invasion of France, struck Normandy beaches on June 6, 1944. Canadian soldiers, sailors and airmen played a significant part in D-Day, the greatest combined military operation in history. Storming ashore amid deadly obstacles and heavy enemy fire, Allied troops breached Hitler's Atlantic Wall and began the campaign that helped defeat Nazi Germany.

Once ashore, the Canadian task was to secure their beach and occupy positions overlooking Carpiquet airfield on the western outskirts of Caen, which the British were to capture. Before the Canadians could reach their objectives, the Germans counterattacked and forced a stalemate. The Normandy terrain, covered by hedges, hills and ditches, favored the defending Germans. Fighting was brutal and victories were often measured in metres. As the Allies tried to drive the Germans from France, the Germans tried to drive them back into the English Channel!

For both sides, the open territory of the Caen-Falaise plain just southeast of Caen was vital ground. To drive the Germans from France, the Canadians and British needed to get their tanks into this open country. The Germans needed to hold Caen because it was a key communications and transportation center linking their Normandy defenses. Since the Germans concentrated the bulk of their tank units around Caen, American troops were able to move towards the port of Cherbourg without much trouble. This, however, made taking Caen almost impossible. A controversial plan was developed to finally end the stalemate so the Allies could reach the open plateau beyond Caen.

Canadians Land on Juno Beach <br>Bernières-sur-Mer, Normandy, 1944

Canadians Land on Juno Beach
Bernières-sur-Mer, Normandy, 1944

© LAC / PA-135963 / G. Milne

On July 7th, a massive aerial bombardment destroyed the ancient city. Tragically, the bombing missed the main German positions and killed many civilians. Two more days of fighting secured most of the city, but its "liberation" came at a heavy cost. Moreover, the city wasn't entirely free until the middle of July.

The Normandy Campaign continued until the end of August, resulting in 18 000 Canadians killed or wounded. Paris was liberated on August 25th, but the war continued for almost another year.

Canadians and the Normandy Landing are commemorated by a plaque at Bernières-sur-Mer, France.

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