D-Day Dispatches: news reports that told Canadians of D-Day and its aftermath

The Canadian Press
June 5, 2014 11:50 AM

Dispatches from Ross Munro, William (Bill) Stewart and other war correspondents were how many Canadians in 1944 learned details of the June 6 D-Day landings and the fighting that followed.

The following selections from the work of the two Canadian Press war correspondents — drawn from copies of published versions of their stories, from copies of Canadian Press originals and from past reprints — include reports on:

— the personal message of the Canadian army commander to forces on the eve of battle;

— the embarkation and crossing of the forces to Normandy;

— the fighting in the first hours of the landings;

— the determined actions of Canadians against pillboxes and a concrete gun emplacement;

— the taking of a walled German coastal defence headquarters established in a chateau;

— the encounters of a reconnaissance tank one night;

— the befriending of a dog named Ffoomph by a Canadian war correspondent (a story partly about Stewart that carries a CP-Reuters credit);

— the hazards facing tanks both in towns and in fields;

— a memorial service held less than two weeks after the landings to honour those who lost their lives in the initial storming of the beaches.

The headlines on the stories by Stewart, who died in 2004, and Munro, who died in 1990, were written for this item and are not original.

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CANADIAN ARMY COMMANDER'S PERSONAL MESSAGE TO FORCES ON EVE OF INVASION

By Ross Munro

Canadian Press War Correspondent

(Copyright 1944 by The Canadian Press)

WITH THE CANADIAN INVASION FORCES, June 6 — (CP Cable) — Lt.-Gen. H. D. G. Crerar, C.B., D.S.O., the Canadian army commander, sent this personal message to Canadian assault forces on the eve of embarkation for the invasion of continental Europe:

"It is impossible for me to speak to each one of you, but by means of this personal message. I want all ranks of the Canadian Army to know what is in my mind, as the hour approaches when we go forward into battle.

"I have complete confidence in our ability to meet the tests which lie ahead. We are excellently trained and equipped. The quality of both the senior and junior leadership is of the highest. As Canadians, we inherit military characteristics which were feared by the enemy in the last Great War. They will be still more feared before this war terminates.

"Canadian formations in the assault landing will have a vital part to play. Plans, preparations, methods and technique which will be employed are based on knowledge and experience, bought and paid for by the 2nd Canadian Division at Dieppe. The contribution of that hazardous operation cannot be overestimated. It will prove to have been an essential prelude to our forthcoming and final success.

"We enter into this decisive phase of the war with calm confidence in our abilities and with grim determination to finish quickly and unmistakably this job we came overseas to do.

"As in 1918, in Italy and in Northwest Europe we will hit the enemy again and again, until, at some not distant time, converging Allied armies link together and we will be rejoined, in victory, with our comrades of the first Canadian corps."

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'HERE'S THE DOPE. WE'RE SAILING FOR FRANCE TO OPEN THE SECOND FRONT'

By William Stewart

WITH THE ALLIED INVASION FORCES, June 6, (CP Cable) — We sailed for France with the invasion forces for the greatest military operation of all time on a cool, grey evening with hundreds of invasion ships dotted along the Channel like stepping-stones leading to the continent.

First ships to set out on the water-borne crusade raised anchor on the morning of June 5. They were the slower ships carrying tanks and heavier equipment.

Departure of the invasion craft in their blue and grey war paint continued all through the day of June 5 although the weather looked like anything but invasion weather. Invasion troops and invasion weapons had all been aboard and ready to sail since late the preceding Saturday.

I was with the Canadians who spent the two days waiting to sail checking and rechecking their equipment.

On the little ship on which I was travelling with the headquarters of an assault formation, there was an exercise in transferring to the much smaller craft that were to take us ashore. The army and navy men on our ships were old friends. They had been on several invasion exercises together.

As we got under way a major summoned army personnel and told them: "Here's the dope. We're sailing for France to open the Second Front."

There was no cheering. The news was a relief to most because it had been so long coming. The great event didn't dim anyone's spirits. There were countless jokes about the invasion and about possible mishaps and predicaments.

As we got under way officers and men went to their bunks to catch precious sleep. And, as the night progressed, the sea seemed calmer. The ship's roll was reduced to a slight sway.

About five o'clock the morning of June 6, two columns of black smoke ashore were visible. Bombers could be seen flying in to targets in front of us. The heavy thuds of bombs exploding could be felt right through the ship.

The naval bombardment then opened up in earnest and the ship shuddered gently every few seconds from the concussion of other ships' guns. Spitfires patrolled the skies ceaselessly.

It was seven o'clock when the infantry ships dropped their assault boats for the bobbing trip to the beaches. The water was rough and some were seasick.

The bombardment was still proceeding fiercely and within a half hour of leaving the ships the assault forces were wading up the enemy beaches.

The Invasion of Europe had begun.

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CANADIAN INVASION FORCES WIN BEACHHEAD AND MOVE INLAND

By Ross Munro

WITH CANADIAN FORCES LANDING IN FRANCE, June 6, 1944 (CP Cable) — In two hours and 45 minutes of fighting on the beaches here, the Canadian invasion force won its beach-head and shoved on inland.

At 10:45 this morning the Canadian commander (Gen. Keller) sent this message to Gen. Crerar, G.O.C. 1st Canadian Army: "Beach head taken. Well on way to intermediate objective."

The strip of coast won by the Canadians in this initial assault was quite narrow, but it gave them the beaches and provided a base for further penetration.

There was some stiff street fighting in the little coast towns and the Canadians also met considerable enemy fire on the beaches and as they worked their way into the defences. They had to overcome numerous steel and wooden obstacles which were placed out on the tidal part of the beach and which were covered at high tide to trap landing craft. However, the assault went in at 7:15 a.m. just as the tide began to rise and many of these obstacles were cleared away by engineers before the water covered them, thus enabling followup craft to beach and unload.

Some casualties were suffered in the assault by the Canadians from enemy machine-guns, mortars and artillery fire.

By 10:00 a.m. the Canadians were about 1,000 yards inland and going strong, meeting only small pockets of Germans. The first prisoners were taken and identified as belonging to a coastal unit. On other parts of the front near us the operation is moving along. Canadian and British airborne troops did a good job when they dropped and came in by gliders at 3:30 this morning. They captured several bridges and held them.

Cruisers provided very effective support to the Canadians and one cruiser knocked out a troublesome battery about a mile and a half from the coast with six direct hits.

Enemy tanks are reported about 10 to 15 miles south of the beach-head and some enemy transport is also moving.

Up to noon the German air force has not shown up. It is estimated to have 2,350 aircraft in western Europe but it looks as if the air attack will come tonight.

The French coast is still wreathed in smoke driving far down the Channel. In some of the bombarded towns, fires are burning ...

So far the operation seems to have gone as well as could be expected. Destroyers and gunboats are cruising up and down the coastline banging away at last coastal points of resistance on our beach.

Now the rest of the assault troops are going in. I am going ashore with them.

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INFANTRY FIGHTS THROUGH SHOWER OF GRENADES TO TAKE EMPLACEMENT

By Ross Munro

Canadian Press War Correspondent

WITH THE CANADIANS IN FRANCE, June 6, 1944 (Delayed) — (CP Cable) — One of the toughest actions of the invasion assault on this Canadian sector was fought by an eastern Canada regiment which dashed from their landing craft straight across the wide-open beach and drove the Germans from their strongest defence position for miles along the coast.

(Other than announcing that the Canadian 3rd division is in France, headquarters has named no specific Canadian units).

This big concrete gun emplacement was on the dunes at the back of an anti-tank gun and several heavy machine gun posts. A tunnel and trench system led to other posts along a 10-foot concrete wall stretching 100 yards.

It looks like a popular conception of a section of the Atlantic Wall, which it is, but it is the only one of its kind we have seen. This section is on the eastern edge of the coastal town of Bernieres-Sur-Mer.

Lieut. Bill Herbert of Toronto fought his way into a gabled house near the emplacement and gave covering fire with Bren guns while other infantrymen went in under a shower of German stick grenades and machine gun bullets to drive the Germans from the emplacement.

Losses were not light but the job was accomplished and it stands out among the many actions fought this D-Day.

Lieut. Hank Elliott of Toronto was another officer who did exceptionally well in the action just west of Bernieres where he led his decimated platoon against a line of 10 pillboxes and wiped them out.

As the unit pushed inland it encountered some German 88-MM guns and it was there that Lieut. Ben Dunkelman of Toronto stood out. He was the mortar officer and fired against the gun positions until the mortars were red hot.

In Bernieres, one of the first towns to fall to Canadian assault troops, the "Canadian flag" — a large red ensign with a Union Jack in one corner and the Dominion's coat of arms in another, was draped over the post office.

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AFTER CAPTURING A CHATEAU, ONE OR TWO CANADIANS HEAD INLAND ON HORSES

By William Stewart

Canadian Press War Correspondent

WITH CANADIAN INVASION FORCES IN FRANCE, June 8 (Delayed) — The surprise with which the second front landings were carried out enabled Canadian assault troops to overcome a walled German coastal defence headquarters established in a small chateau about a mile from the shore.

The Canadians raced to a concrete courtyard shortly after the barrage was laid down by invasion ships and hardly gave the Germans time to flee. From the appearance of offices and rooms inside the chateau built only a few years after the Great War, the Germans were totally unprepared for an attack on headquarters so quickly.

By the windows there were cases of potato-masher grenades, some half opened and others apparently dropped at second and third-floor vantage points by men surprised at the sight of the invaders. Elaborate dugouts and ammunition pits in the orchard were not put to use by the Germans, so sudden was the Canadians' arrival.

There was some hand-to-hand fighting inside the chateau and after the Canadians had gone one German was found dead and three wounded in the stables. The Canadians removed the horses from the stables and sallied farther inland, one or two of the soldiers astride fine mounts.

In the chateau's long lecture hall, the end walls emblazoned with a swastika, a mounted German flag and German eagle, there were sand-table miniatures of part of the coast. These reproduced defence positions and models of invasion craft.

Charts on the walls showed pictures of various types of British troops.

The dugouts were really elaborate, furnished with leather-seated office chairs, wardrobes, washrooms and such conveniences as electric lights and running water.

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WILD FORAY IN GERMAN LINES BY RECONNAISANCE TANK

By Ross Munro

WITH THE CANADIANS IN FRANCE, June 9 — (Delayed) — (CP Cable) — They had practically written off the "Honey" tank and its crew when "Shorty" drove it back into camp with only one gun working, the hull scorched by grenade and shell blasts.

TR. J. C. (Shorty) Mackenzie of Cape Norands, Que., driver of this speedy reconnaissance tank, climbed from the bow turret, his smoke begrimed face black as a minstrel's, and told me the story of a wild foray in the German lines on the perimeter of the beachhead.

"We are away out in front, our Shermans making reconnaissance and we come to a town so we button down our turrets and belt right through the main street wide open, with Jerries bouncing grenades off us," he said.

With this onetime miner in the tank were Trs. Harry (Happy) Webb, Welland, Ont., and Wilfred (Bing) Miller, Walkerton, Ont., and a sergeant who doesn't want to be named but who fought in tanks for three months in Italy and knows his way around.

"An 88 (Millimetre Gun) opens up on us so I zig-zagged our Honey around a field. The fourth shot was so close it rocked us and the fifth nearly got us but we breezes off, " Mackenzie continued.

"We go down the road and we're breezing right along, see, when we run right into a Jerry camp. There is a barrier over the road, so I swings honey around and beats it back, with Jerries leaping outa bushes and heaving grenades at us and smacking us with machine guns. They're all around the tank a couple of times and we beat them off with our guns. We're getting bashed around and our guns are going out of action.

"It wasn't long before we had only one revolver and one machine gun left. It got dark, though, and we got outa that tight spot and went off in the fields flat-out, see. I guess we were half a mile or so from the Jerry camp so we decided to bed down alongside the tank for the night. A fellow has gotta sleep occasionally.

"A German patrol found us, though, and sarge challenged the Jerries but there was no answer so we didn't shoot and they didn't either. A Jerry patrol commander just stood there with his men behind him and then went away. We thought we were going to get it for sure. Anyway, we got some sleep and when it got light we comes back to our outfit and were our guys surprised to see us show up. That sure was a night."

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FFOOMPH THE DOG: TRAINED BY GERMANS BUT FRIEND TO CANADIAN REPORTER

WITH CANADIAN FORCES IN FRANCE, June 10 (CP-Reuters) — The Germans have abandoned Ffoomph.

(Note to editors: There's no use trying to confirm that spelling. In the first place the two f's should be back to back. And anyway Ffoomph is not a town, but a big friendly German police dog.)

Ffoomph is one of those big dogs the Germans had trained to warn of the enemy approach. But apparently Ffoomph was not happy in the service or else he was not a rabid Nazi.

For when the Germans abandoned a headquarters in this sector Ffoomph was left behind in a paddock, deserted and forlorn; forlorn until the arrival of a contingent of Canadian war correspondents.

Ffoomph, like most traitors, made a great fuss over the new occupants and insinuated himself into adoption by Bill Stewart, Canadian Press war correspondent, who speaks basic dog in three languages.

After howling allegiance to the newsprint Commandos, the dog was formally adopted and christened Ffoomph, one of Cartoonist Stewart's characters who is really a human gremlin; a well meaning one but awfully awkward.

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FIELDS AND TOWNS FULL OF HAZARD FOR TANKS

By William Stewart

WITH THE CANADIANS IN FRANCE, June 13 — (CP Cable) — Canadian tank forces have supported the ground troops in Normandy from the moment of the landing. They have fought in some of the roughest battles, slugging it out with big and heavily-armoured panzers.

The Canadians have suffered casualties but in one area alone they knocked out many enemy tanks. Their ace is Lieut. G. K. Henry, of Montreal, with a record of four enemy tanks knocked out and four probable since D-Day.

This bridgehead area, with rolling fields, mostly unfenced and narrow roads cutting across ground where tall grain crops grow, is just about ideal for tank fighting — which is a battle of manoeuvre and co-ordinated fire rather sweeping, calvary-like charges.

There is plenty of cover in the fields, high hedges and numerous little groves. However, the verdant nature of the bridgehead battlefield also is full of hazards for the unwary tank man because of a high velocity anti-tank gun may be concealed in the bushes, behind a haystack or even the next rise of ground.

Tanks must lie in wait for a false move on the part of the opponent and often there is no second chance after a tactical error.

Tanks avoid towns as battlegrounds unless infantry has been there first because the narrow streets make them ideal tank traps where the lumbering land battleships may be fired upon by anti-tank guns concealed in buildings.

The Canadian tank commander said Shermans under his command quickly helped stabilize the assault forces when the landings were made and still prove a vital operational factor, aiding assault troops to move quickly to their objectives.

On D-Day, for instance, the tanks fought up the beaches and helped infantrymen put concrete coastal emplacements out of action.

Meanwhile ships unloading on beaches behind the British-Canadian sector of the bridgehead have brought in hundreds of Shermans since D-Day along with guns and other needed heavy equipment.

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MEMORIAL HELD FOR ASSAULT FORCES DAYS AFTER SUCCESSFUL LANDINGS

By William Stewart

WITH THE CANADIAN FORCES in France, June 18 — (CP) — On a wind-swept square of sandy soil overlooking the sea a memorial service was held today for men of the Canadian assault force who died in the D-Day attack on the beaches of Normandy.

The service was in a temporary graveyard where a few British and German dead also are buried. It was sponsored by officers and men of a British beach group as a tribute to the Canadians.

Prayers were said by an honorary British captain who stood in battle dress, bareheaded, in a roped off enclosure of the little burial ground. A British padre in cassock and white surplice conducted the Protestant service and in the absence of a Jewish chaplain, read a prayer for the two Jewish soldiers buried there.

A little group of French civilians from a nearby town, through which the assault troops fought their way, stood outside the enclosure to one side of the troops, and at the end of the service placed flowers at the foot of the white crosses on the graves.

Honorary Major J. M. Malone, Edmonton, thanked the British troops for their gesture. He told them the Canadian troops fighting in France were from all parts of Canada and though those who died did not know of their success "it is owing to their sacrifice that we now are able to make further effort."

— Selected and compiled by Malcolm McNeil in Toronto


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