Alberta Politics
Canadians from Le Régiment de la Chaudière head toward the beach on D-Day, June 6, 1944 (Photo: Donovan Thorndick, RCN, Department of National Defence).

A timely reminder on this historic day: The hammer of D-Day crushed Hitler on the anvil of Russia

Posted on June 06, 2019, 12:41 pm
4 mins

FREDERICTON, N.B. – It’s now been 75 years since our magnificent Canadian soldiers went ashore at Juno Beach in Normandy to play their part the grim and deadly task of sweeping Hitler and his odious empire from Europe.

Canadians need to remember, though, that the landings on June 6, 1944, by 156,000 Canadian, British, American and other Allied soldiers along the beaches of Normandy were the hammer that battered Germany.

Reginald H. Roy, author of 1944: The Canadians in Normandy (Photo: University of Victoria).

The anvil, the first front in the war against Hitler, was in the East, and it was against Russia that Adolf Hitler’s armies were eventually crushed in the vise created by the D-Day landings.

It must have been about 40 years ago when my military history professor – soldier, scholar and author of 1944: The Canadians in Normandy, Reginald H. Roy – reminded my classmates and me that if it hadn’t been for the anvil of the Red Army in the East, the hammer of D-Day in the West would have amounted to much less.

“We’d still be in Normandy,” was the way Professor Roy put it, and he didn’t mean as tourists like the political supernumeraries from Canada that show up now and then on a French beach on June 6.

Indeed, the chances are good that without six million soldiers of the Red Army pressing Hitler’s Eastern flank in 1944, we would not be in France at all, but for the dead and a few diplomats. About 80 per cent of the German Army’s casualties were inflicted by the Red Army, which after June 1944 cleared the Wehrmacht from Eastern Europe, wiped out an entire German Army Group and opened the road to Berlin.

Five years ago, Stephen Harper petulantly conceded that Russian President Vladimir Putin should be allowed to visit Normandy for the 70th anniversary ceremonies.

A Postmedia writer at the time wrote that “only one Soviet soldier is known to have been buried in a war grave on the Western Front.”

Fine, just don’t forget that there are something like 11 million of the poor bastards buried on the Eastern Front to make up for that.

Without them we’d likely all have had to learn German as our second language in school, regardless of whether it turned out we answered to Washington or Berlin.

You’d think from the re-heated Cold War rhetoric we heard from Mr. Harper’s Conservative government and still sometimes hear from Justin Trudeau’s Liberal one, that we’d been fighting Russia, not Germany, in 1944.

Francois Hollande, the president of France in 2014, hit the right note when he gracefully told French TV: “We may have differences with Vladimir Putin but I have not forgotten and will never forget that the Russian people gave millions of lives. I told Vladimir Putin that as the representative of the Russian people, he is welcome to the ceremonies.”

Mr. Trudeau struck a better tone this year in France. “Only those who threw themselves against the walls of the fortress of Europe in Normandy know the full extent of what unfolded here 75 years ago. But it is the responsibility of all Canadians to ensure that their story, and their sacrifice, will never be forgotten.”

This is profoundly true. We should remember too, though, that the walls of Fortress Europe weren’t just in Normandy.

11 Comments to: A timely reminder on this historic day: The hammer of D-Day crushed Hitler on the anvil of Russia

  1. Rocky

    June 6th, 2019

    Spooky. I see Justin Trudeau AND his brother Alexandre in that boat. Time travel? Trust fund babies get to have all the fun.

    Reply
  2. Scotty on Denman

    June 6th, 2019

    My father was in the war. As a Christian, he didn’t like it, always rationalized it as “we had to go to stop Hitler,” and no matter how much anyone might agree, I always felt he really meant: we had to commit the sin of killing to stop an even bigger sinner. Otherwise he didn’t say much about it—not like plenty of other vets I’ve hoisted a few with who, for whatever reason, liked to brag about their exploits, how many “Huns” they killed, and how they did it. I think his first low-level flight over Berlin, this time bringing humanitarian aid at the end of the War, really affected him: indescribable destruction—and the human suffering that must have gone on. They were the enemy, but I don’t think he ever forgave himself. He was in the airforce.

    One thing he did say, not infrequently, was that “we never would have won without the Russians,” as he always called the Soviet Union. After all, it was Imperial Russia when he was a small boy, and old school books probably hadn’t been updated out in the Ontario sticks—at least not a quickly as the Soviets did theirs after their Revolution (in 1917, 99% of Russians were illiterate; within ten years, 99% were literate; the central government seized what school books there could have been in such an illiterate country, and reissued properly censored ones, eliminating fully half the lexicon of a once great language —“bourgeois” words out— and almost a quarter of the alphabet; school books were completely renewed every five years).

    It’s true: most of us have only heard the Western Front version of the War, D-Day naturally being centre stage. The narrative we made of the East was biased by different streams of animosity toward the Soviet Union. First was the foreshadowing of Dostoyevsky’s novels describing the inhuman treatment of serfs in Tsarist Russia; probably next is the little-known “intervention” by Western Allies in 1918-20 when Canada joined with the USA and Britain, and a number of European and Asian nations (yes, Japanese regulars fought in Siberia) to invade Russia from East and North whilst it convulsed in civil war. The Reds won and the losers (us) preferred not to mention it, ever again—perhaps with a touch of irony, this harrowing struggle—a completely undeclared war— didn’t make it into school books about the Great War (WW I). But I’m sure Soviet schoolboys knew about it.

    Next came the Soviet-style Holocaust, the Holodomor or mass starvation of millions of kulaks who refused to cooperate with farm collectivization during the 30s in Ukraine; Stalin’s murderous reputation was fully developed by the time WW II came along.

    In retrospect, there’s an aspect of the Cold War “red scare” that Western schoolboys might have found disturbing—had they been given the opportunity to read about it: the Soviets, spurred by Stalin’s deep paranoia and, naturally, the Nazi’s attack actually achieved the most rapid economic and industrial development of all time. That little factoid certainly didn’t jibe with anti-communism propaganda. But of course things like the “Intervention” and Soviet-style, crash-industrialization, like a lot of stuff, didn’t make it into our school books in the West.

    I was lucky enough to study Russian language (which I love) so’s to read the classics in original tongue (I’ve since lost this ability through non-use—I could probably get it back: Russian is easy, the Soviets made it so there are no exceptions to grammatical rules). I’m also fascinated by the equivalent “pioneering” between Canada and Russia: how many here know that Russians had their own “cowboys (Cossacks) and Indians (the native peoples of Sibir)?” As fascinating is Russia’s problems with northern development—many similarities with Canada’s. Russia, I’ve bothered to learn, is a great nation with a history that was as important for Europe as it was for them, the Christian bulwark against Asiatic Hordes, and of course its importance in WW II which, like my Dad always said, was critical to our eventual victory.

    But ignorance in the West seems mostly to be in not really getting how devastating the War was for ordinary Russians and other nations of the Soviet Union. It was almost incredible.

    Russia will always be influential on the world scene. It is a great nation which has experienced tragedies we in the West barely recognize, let alone empathize with. Russians even survived the collapse of communism and partition of their territory—and, most of all, the attempted neoliberal invasion from the West which chucked ethics in favour of greedy chest-thumping, the “end of history” and all (we’re only now experiencing the end-stages of neoliberal globalization—history didn’t really end). We’ll do well to remember what Russians have been through and how they look at us.

    I’m lucky: my Dad always told me: without Russia, we would have never won the War and beaten one of the greatest sinners in modern history. I’ve always known this since I was a boy. Forget, for a moment, that Stalin was as guilty as Hitler in human terms, and think about the ordinary Soviet citizen, workers and soldiers to whom we owe so much.

    Everybody should know this, especially on D-Day celebrations. You are absolutely right, DJC.

    Reply
    • Murphy

      June 7th, 2019

      The “hammer and anvil” metaphor doesn’t seem particular suited to the real scenario in which the Red Army actively tore apart the German armed forces from the first day of Barbarossa. The Soviets lost almost 200 000 men killed at the First Battle of Smolensk, a fight that seems to have so badly damaged the Germans that they ended up stuck outside Moscow in December of ’41 when yet another massive clash ensued in which both sides suffered a million or so casualties in a month. This is long before Stalingrad, Kursk and the annhillation of Army Group Centre during Operation Bagration. In general, people’s perception of the war’s causes, it’s course, and outcomes are entirely fictious, the product of propagandists. Poland, the jumping off point, was a military dictatorship run by colonels who dreamed of a reborn Polish Empire. Nazi Germany, typical of fascist states, existed in a fantasy world generated by propagandists and headed by an inept demagogue and was not prepared at all to take on the forces allegedly arrayed against it. Hitler’s government was on the verge of collapse, and had the British and French actually intended to defend the nutso Polish policies, the French could have been in Berlin by Halloween in 1940. Stalin may have been paranoid, but given that everybody was out to get him, it’s pretty hard to judge one way or the other. My great uncle was drafted out of the hillbilly country of the Ottawa Valley and sent to Canada’s fledgling colony in Sibera, along with the Royal Bank, in 1919, as Russia was just one more region to be ripped off by the colonial “pillars of democracy” who fought the Great War, episodes 1 and 2. To accept the Second World War as some morally upright exception to the 9000-year history of state violence takes exceptional evidence, and there is a real dearth of that stuff.

      Reply
  3. Dave

    June 6th, 2019

    It is true the Soviet Union contributed greatly to the allied effort in World War II. Of course, not directly on D-Day in Normandy and it hasn’t actually existed as a country since the 1990’s, so Mr. Putin is not the leader of the Soviet Union and never has been. Yes, there is a connection to D-Day, but it is a roundabout one.

    Of course, the Soviet Union wasn’t fighting its heroic battle out of altruism for the west, it was just fighting to save its own country, same as the western allies were not fighting for the Soviets. It was an alliance of convenience that ended quickly after the war, the west didn’t like Stalin or trust him and the feeling was probably mutual. It probably fairly describes the relationship since then between the west and the Soviet Union and now Russia, although sometimes better, sometimes worse.

    I understand the Soviet Union had ceremonies to commemorate significant moments in World War II for them . I think Russia and possibly other former Soviet countries continue this without much, if any, involvement from the west. It could also be argued that the military and financial support the west gave to the Soviet Union in the early 1940’s helped save their country. It was a mutually beneficial alliance, perhaps a temporary and convenient one, but none the less a real one. One could argue neither the west or the Soviet Union could have defeated Germany on its own, so a case could be made for including someone from the eastern front in the D Day remembrances. However, given the indirect involvement I could also understand not including Russia in this.

    Reply
  4. Bill Malcolm

    June 6th, 2019

    An excellent piece and reminder all around who really took down Hitler. The Soviet Union had pressured the rest of the Allies to invade Northern Europe to relieve them a little, but the West took their own sweet time doing it. Then claimed all the credit to the folks back home when victory was finally gained.

    I lost family in WW2 and can only applaud the superb response of our Canadian soldiers from D Day till war’s end, fighting someone else’s war if truth be told. In fact, I’ve enjoyed incredible hospitality in both North Eastern France and Holland back in the early ’70s when people learned I was Canadian. Over the top thanks that made me weep. People there remembered our troops with complete fondness. Can anyone say better than that for the sacrifice they made and the liberation they brought? It was appreciated beyond measure. Worth commemorating without doubt, all the more because it brought no ideology at the foot soldier level, just regular people, and I believe the gratitude I received reflected what those French and Dutch appreciated most about the Canadians – selflessness and right against wrong with no expectation of praise, but serious and to the point in chasing the enemy out. Yup, a pretty damn good show.

    Reply
    • David Climenhaga

      June 6th, 2019

      I have had the same experience in Holland, Bill. People going way out of their way to help me because, well, I was a Canadian and Canadians (like my Uncle Dave Garratt, after whom I was named, not that they knew that bit) helped liberate their country. It was particularly moving when a nice man who had given me directions shyly asked me if I was Irish. (Red beard, in those days.) Actually, I’m Canadian, I responded, at which point half a dozen people who had overheard materialized at my side, anxious to help. Someone even apologized for not recognizing I was a Canadian! And, yes, it made me weep too. DJC

      Reply
    • Bob Raynard

      June 7th, 2019

      In 2005 my wife and I visited Groesbeek Canadian War Cemetery in southern Holland. When we arrived we encountered an older Dutch woman, all by herself, putting flowers on the soldiers’ graves. She did it entirely on her own initiative; she wasn’t part of a group, nor did she receive any recognition for doing it; she was just expressing her own gratitude.

      Reply
  5. Stephen Clarke

    June 6th, 2019

    Thank You! This is so true and it’s the first I’ve heard on any of the extensive coverage

    Reply
  6. Pogo

    June 7th, 2019

    I’ve arrived late! But for a poster like David? I’ll make the effort! Here goes! We are a susceptible species. Prone to all kinds of intellectual diddling and fondling! The sad fact remains that we have a relentless future to construct. How can we rise to that challenge? Well well! Here’s a little tune to remind you all, that we’re not getting off easy! https://youtu.be/B7EgQXMV8nM

    Reply
  7. Jerrymacgp

    June 8th, 2019

    It’s is indeed true that the Soviet people made enormous sacrifices in the Second World War, not only at the front against Nazi Germany but on the home front, as their country mobilized and industrialized to meet the equipment and materiel demands of mid-20th-century mechanized warfare. But, here is one unpleasant truth about their sacrifices: it’s not as if they had any choice in the matter. The Germany-USSR theatre of the war was not democracy combating dictatorship, as in Western Europe, but two brutal dictatorships fighting each other. Joseph Stalin was a brutal and oppressive dictator long before Adolph Hitler became Chancellor of Germany: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Stalin

    Just before the outbreak of the war, Stalin’s government concluded the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact, which freed up Hitler to invade Poland—which the Pact actually split up between Germany & the Soviet Union. This was the final act that led the Western European Allies to finally give up on diplomacy and shift to a military solution: Clausewitz’s “pursuit of policy by other means”. Stalin remained nominally an ally of Hitler right up to the moment the first panzers crossed into Russia in Operation Barbarossa. Stalin didn’t become an ally of the West because he genuinely believed in their cause; he did so because “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” and so was essentially forced into the alliance. In fact, in the Pacific theatre, he stayed out of the war with Japan until the day after the Bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, just so he could say he was in on the Allied victory there.

    So, yes, let’s acknowledge the sacrifices and heroism of the peoples of the countries that once made up the Soviet Union—Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Belarus, and the rest—but let’s not glorify the brutal dictator who forced those sacrifices on them.

    Reply
    • Murphy

      June 9th, 2019

      Funny stuff. The “democracies” consisted of the British and French empires. The French were content to rearm the Imperial Japanese in Indochina to regain their colonies. The Dutch got busy killing Indonesians by ‘46 in their colony. The US openly joined the war when the naval base on islands they stole at gunpoint from the Hawaiians was bombed. The US generals having to switch gears from crushing their former subordinates in the Bonus Army. The US wiped out a half million or so Filipinos when they stole the remnants of the clapped-out Spanish Empire, not to mention the last state murders of the Plains Indians occurred less than fifty years before the start of Great War 2. Don’t get me started on plucky little Belgium.

      Reply

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