Skip to comments.A Day at Juno Beach
Posted on 06/06/2004 3:12:30 PM PDT by wagglebee
Arnaud de Borchgrave wrote this for the 50th anniversary of D-Day.
Already a veteran of North Atlantic duty with the Royal Navy at the age of 17, de Borchgrave was wounded at Juno Beach on D-Day.
He noted: "Average age for the first wave to hit all five beaches was 20. I was 17. There were thousands of 17-year-olds, both in the Navy and Army. One Canadian soldier who died at Juno beach was 16. About 9,000 were killed the first day out of the 100,000 who were put ashore by sundown."
Here is his personal recollection of the invasion.
After two years of tedious - four-hours-on-four-hours-off - convoy duty in the North Atlantic and on the Murmansk run delivering supplies to the Soviet Union, my request for a transfer to "combined operations" was finally approved.
Little did I realize that I would soon miss the occasional U-boat attacks when our corvette - a 950-ton anti-submarine escort vessel with a crew of 87 - dropped depth charges as fast as we could reload and I could yank the lanyard. I was 16 and had the exalted rank of OD (ordinary seaman) in Britain's Royal Navy.
I slept in the fo'c'sle in the upper hammock with two others slung under me. The only way into it was with a pole vault maneuver. Hammocks had to be folded, knotted and stowed after each four-hour rest period - no matter how rough the ocean.
Corvettes - immortalized in the 1953 movie "The Cruel Sea" - had a shallow draught and bobbed like corks on the high seas. In a gale we had to put ourselves in a harness hooked to a steel cable to get from one end of the deck to the other. Spam, powdered eggs and hard-tack sea "biscuits" were a British sailor's daily fare when fresh produce ran out after four days at sea.
We never knew when we had sunk a German submarine as their crews were adept at misleading us to think we had scored by disgorging diesel oil and assorted detritus. With one notable exception.
One time our "asdic" - Royal Navy jargon for sonar - was so accurate that we depth charged one U-boat to the surface and then rammed it. We picked up half a dozen survivors and then made for Liverpool - and dry dock (six weeks furlough).
"Commando school" in Devon, beginning in January 1944, made the subfreezing Murmansk run seem like a vacation cruise. Up at 4:30 a.m., we were put through 12 hours of nonstop physical torture and verbal abuse. Swimming across half-frozen rivers, hiking, running, climbing, crawling under barbed wire with live rounds splattering mud in our faces. Seven days a week for six weeks.
Hand-to-hand combat was not my forte. After losing each encounter and winding up with a knife on my throat, I reluctantly concluded that I wouldn't long survive if I had to fight Germans on the beaches of France.
My tormentor, a Royal Marine sergeant, was about to flunk me out of the course when I persuaded a friend to let me throw him a couple of times and put a knife to his throat for a change. The simulation evidently worked because I passed - barely.
There was no doubt in anyone's mind that we were training for the first wave of the invasion. Commando training was followed by three months of maneuvers with landing craft, hitting beaches in Wales and Scotland, unloading Canadian troops and then going back to a mother ship for more.
Beginning June 1, l944, we were not allowed shore leave even though at pier in Portsmouth. Nor were we allowed pierside phone calls to family or friends.
We sailed before dawn June 4 and soon found ourselves part of a convoy formation. Lashed by high winds and rain squalls, we thought the high command had deliberately chosen lousy weather to catch the Germans off guard. Canadian soldiers were throwing up all over our troop ship.
Our commanding officer called us together for a pep talk and to lead us in prayer. We were told we were about to embark on the greatest crusade in the history of the world. I was 17. It was pretty heady stuff.
We all knew that some of us wouldn't make it back. I was excited, apprehensive, but not scared. Commando school was scary and all that training had finally paid off. It was always the other fellows, not you, who would die.
Then came word that our operation had been postponed. We weren't told for how long. Next evening we had another pep talk from the CO - and another prayer, on one knee this time. We didn't sleep all night. At 5:30 a.m., we were ordered into our LCVP (landing craft vehicle, personnel) still slung from davits.
The coxswain and I, both leading seamen, were the whole crew. We made sure everything was shipshape and were lowered into the water. The Canadian soldiers scampered down the rope curtain that draped the side of the ship and hopped aboard, assisted by this seaman. Our cargo: one platoon.
I didn't have a clue where I was. All I had to do was take the helm if the coxswain got hit and lower the ramp when we reached the shoreline and had no more forward motion. I was also the lookout for mines and underwater obstacles designed to puncture the hull.
We were just one of about 4,000 landing craft - from LCAs (for Landing Craft Assault that were LCVPs in U.S. Navy) to the large and ungainly LSTs (landing ship, tanks) - in Operation Overlord. Our assignment was to follow our squadron leader in a slightly V-shaped formation until we were 500 yards offshore and then form a straight line of 85 LCAs about one mile across.
At our lowly level, we did not know we were headed for Juno Beach, with Sword Beach to our left and Gold to our right. Nor did we know the beach was in Normandy. Our mission was quite simply to unload the soldiers, pull back and return to the troop ship for more.
The coxswain maneuvered the LCA like a duckling following its mother to starboard. As dawn broke, the sky was black with bombers and the sound of naval gunfire was so deafening I couldn't make out what the coxswain was shouting. The thick smoke screen blurred vision beyond the LCAs on either side of us.
When we finally saw the beach it was no more than 100 yards away - a vast expanse of sand at low tide. Then came the pings of bullets raking our metal ramp, followed by a hard tap on my shoulder that was the coxswain ordering me to lower the ramp.
Shells were exploding in the water all around us. Our Canadian platoon was out in 20 seconds. We had rehearsed the maneuver scores of times.
No sooner was the last of 36 men on the beach landed than the coxswain reversed engines and I began winching the ramp back to its closed position. Nothing had ever gone wrong in preinvasion training. But this time the winch jammed.
The coxswain stopped, came out of his tiny metal cockpit to give me a hand. It still wouldn't budge. So I ran 30 feet to the bow, jumped into the shallow water and tried to lift the ramp up an inch or two, hoping to create a little slack in the line. At least that's the last thing I remember doing.
My right leg suddenly buckled and I fell onto the still lowered ramp. The coxswain dragged me back aboard and, as luck would have it, managed to close the ramp. I still do not know how. My knee had been shattered by a machine-gun bullet.
I went from the troop ship to a hospital ship to an operation in Southampton next day. The surgeon told me I would be able to walk again with an artificial kneecap, which would mean a limp and a cane. I was playing rugby again three months later and went back to sea in a minesweeper based in Antwerp.
Far worse than D-Day for me was the V-1 and V-2 bombardment of that key Allied resupply base during the German counteroffensive, known as the Battle of the Bulge.
One direct V-2 missile hit collapsed the Rex movie theater, killing 450. Drafted for body removal detail, I spent three days vomiting.
At 19, four years of wartime duty behind me, my dream came true. I arrived in the United States as an immigrant - and became a citizen five years later.
Maybe we should trade America's leftist degenerates for Canada's patriots.
It may be that some of us who have served alongside the Canadian armed forces will need to keep dear the memory of their valor, because right now they're going through some tough times up north. Highest honor, my friends - you were there and we won't forget.