Juno: Canadians at D-Day, June 6, 1944

by Ted Barris
ISBN: 0887621333

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A Review of: Juno: Canadians At D-Day June 6, 1944
by Nathan Greenfield

Juno: Canadians at D-Day, June 6, 1944, is obviously occasioned by this year's sixtieth anniversary of that famous day. Ted Barris's popular history avoids the genre's most common fault: the rounding off of numbers so that general readers will not be bored by minutia.' Canadian paratrooper Jan de Vries landed at 12:08 A.M., hours before the bombardment began at 6:50; 30 of his unit landed on target, 110 didn't. Why is it important to know these facts and, additionally, that the Allies put ashore 9,989 vehicles (not ten thousand)? Part of the answer concerns Barris's own credibility; details equal trust. Part of the answer is a matter of synechdoche, the rhetorical term that means part for whole as in "all hands on deck." No history can encompass a mammoth undertaking in its entirety; thus the specifics of individual men's stories stand for many others and the details stand for the enormity of organizational effort. And enormous it was: simply recalibrating Canadian guns from inches to millimetres and retraining Canadian gunners took seven weeks of 18 hour days; the landing tables stretched to 100 pages.
Barris begins the story of Canada's assault on Nazi-occupied Europe with the disaster at Dieppe 2 years earlier, of which it is de rigeur to write: "Any high school student would have known that attacking a fortified port without heavy gun and bombing cover was foolhardy at best, murder at worst." Though he records mistakes, chief among them the raid continued after the flotilla had been engaged by German ships, Barris avoids 20-20 hindsight assessments, choosing instead to underline what was learned: Hurricane fighters with fuel enough for only a few minutes of flight over France simply would not do. Nor would the first generation of infantry landing craft, which were both difficult to navigate and offered little protection from machine gun fire.
Parts of Barris's picture of occupied Normandy are familiar. Rommel's complaint that he had far fewer than the required 200 million mines and that his troops-comprised of many fanatical Hitler Youth-were less than first rate, are well documented. Less well known is what life was like for the four years leading up to June 6, 1944. Under German occupation, fishermen were forbidden from using their boats; they were allowed to collect fish at low tide only. As the invasion drew near, dykes were blown and fields flooded. Some so deeply immersed that paratroopers drowned.
The heart of Juno Beach consists of the stories of those who stormed the shore. On each beach men died quickly and painfully. On each, incredible feats took place. There's the story of W.J. Klos, who, though wounded before leaving his landing craft, made his way to a pill box and then, unarmed, overpowered three Germans. His body was found "with his hands still gripped around the throat of [the third] dead German, whom he had strangled." Space limitations prevent me from summarizing Barris's presentation of the roles of both the RCAF and the RCN, the unsung heroes, many of whom were the minesweepers of the 31st Canadian flotilla. Working in total darkness, they cut the paths through which the Canadians, the British and the Americans assaulted Nazi Germany.

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