Calgary’s squadron and D-Day – Remembering sacrifice 75 years later
Canada’s contribution to the allied victory during the Second World War is well chronicled in a long list of victories and a longer list of casualties.
Freedom from tyranny came at a devastating cost – paid in tens of thousands of Canadian lives.
This week, Canada and countries around the world will commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-Day – the beginning of the end for the Nazi regime.
The Normandy campaign, from June 6 until late August 1944, saw 14,000 Canadian troops take part with almost 5,000 making the ultimate sacrifice. Canadians took Juno Beach in a coordinated attack that saw British and American forces invade four other beaches along the 80-kilometre stretch of the Normandy shoreline. It remains the largest amphibious invasion in history with more than 130,000 Allied forces storming the beaches in a single day. It tipped the scales of the Second World War in favour of the Allies and accelerated the march across Europe that ultimately toppled Adolf Hitler’s war machine.
The 403 – City of Calgary – Wolf Squadron took part in the monumental day with four sorties providing cover as the Allied invasion unfolded.
The squadron’s diarist wrote: “I feel wholly incapable to describe that which went on over the beachhead.”
For six days following D-Day, the Wolves continued round after round of patrols over the Omaha beach areas of France.
Four of their Spitfires were hit by German naval vessels that were lurking offshore. Three were able to return to base. One, piloted by Flight Lieut. E.C. Williams disappeared. Williams was captured, hospitalized in Cherbourg and ultimately liberated when the port was captured by Americans on June 27.
By the end of the month, the Wolves had experienced intense activity and had destroyed or damaged 16 enemy fighters, one train and fifty assorted tanks and vehicles. Their victories in Normandy came at a cost with one pilot wounded, a handful taken as prisoners of war and two who did not return home and are buried in France.
During the Wolves time in Europe – which began in 1941 – Calgarians back home showed their gratitude. City Council of the time would occasionally arrange for cigarettes, pipe tobacco and chocolate to be sent overseas. Calgarians also bought Victory Bonds to help fund the war effort.
It would be 11 months from D-Day before victory in Europe would be declared. The totality of the Wolves overseas mission would result in 76 pilots reported missing, of those, four were confirmed to have died and 39 others are presumed dead.
The bravery of those Canadians who took part in one of the most important battles in history, can’t be understated.
Take a moment June 6 to remember their sacrifice.
Second World War facts:
- For Canada, the Second World War officially began on September 10, 1939, with a declaration of war against Germany. This followed the declaration of war made by England and France on September 3.
- D-Day took place on June 6, 1944, when the Allies went ashore on the heavily fortified beaches of Normandy, France. More than 14,000 Canadians participated in what was known as Operation Overlord.
- Approximately half of the Canadian war cost was covered by War Savings Certificates and war bonds known as "Victory Bonds." War Savings Certificates were sold door-to-door by volunteers as well as at banks, post offices and other authorized dealers. They matured after seven years and paid $5 for every $4 invested but individuals could not own more than $600 each in certificates. They raised $318 million.
- More than 50,000 women served in the military with the Canadian Women’s Army Corps (CWACs), the Royal Canadian Air Force – Women’s Division (WDs), the Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service (Wrens) and as Nursing Sisters.
- At least 3,000 Indigenous soldiers volunteered to serve in the Second World War.
- Sixteen Canadians were awarded the Victoria Cross for most conspicuous bravery in the presence of the enemy during the war.
- The Royal Canadian Navy began the war with 13 vessels and 3,500 sailors, and ended it as one of the largest navies in the world with 373 ships and more than 110,000 sailors.
- More than one million Canadians and Newfoundlanders served in the Second World War. More than 42,000 gave their lives and another 55,000 were wounded.
- The Second World War officially ended on May 8, 1945, in Europe (V-E Day) and on August 15, 1945, in the Pacific (V-J Day).
*source: Veterans Affairs Canada, City of Calgary Archives, 403- Wolf Squadron by Fletcher Wade.