Winnipeg Rifles

The Royal Winnipeg Rifles landed at 7:49 at 'Mike Red' and 'Mike Green' beaches on the western edge of Courseulles. The Winnipeg Rifle's history titled The Little Black Devils describes the objective: "In the dunes were coastal fortifications, lines of concrete and steel pillboxes, big-gun emplacements, elaborate trench systems, underground chambers, hidden machine gun posts and gun batteries in the earth. Houses near the beach were fortified; guns on slopes beyond the beaches were sighted in on every approach to the beach and dunes, and stretching inland were numerous other positions and defence lines, hinged on fortified towns, villages and cities. Elaborate minefields had been laid and exits from the beaches covered by artillery, mortar and machine-gun fire."

Landing craft containing Winnipeg Rifles head for the Normandy beaches.'B' Company landed at the western edge of Courseulles where the bombardment had missed its targets. The Winnipegs' landing craft arrived well ahead of their Duplex Drive Floating Tanks and AVRE's (Armoured Vehicles, Royal Engineers) and came under heavy fire from one of the strong points even while they were still far offshore. The Royal Winnipeg Rifle War Diary grimly remarked: "The bombardment having failed to kill a single German or silence one weapon these companies had to storm their positions 'cold' and did so without hesitation".

But the Winnipegs did not hesitate. Holding their weapons aloft, the men waded into the sea. Many soldiers died the instant they waded into the chest-high water. The survivors raced across the sand and attacked the machine gun and mortar positions. When the DD tanks arrived, the main gun emplacements were knocked out with close range tank fire. 'B' Company took the beach defences, cleared the small harbour and drove a gap through the minefield. They advanced over a bridge onto the island in the River Seulles where they cleared the enemy. The machine gun and mortar positions gave up only when surrounded by infantry. Captain Phil Gower who was awarded the Military Cross set a powerful example of leadership and courage as he directed the clearing of the successive positions.

The Winnipegs 'B' Company, and the Royal Canadian Engineers 6th Field Company assault team working with them, had one of the highest beach casualties of the day. The company had lost almost three-quarters of its men. Their courageous company commander, Captain Gower, was left with only twenty-six men.

A pillbox on the west side of the Seulles River contained a 75 mm field gun and a very large anti-tank gun. A story of unimaginable courage took place near this pillbox. It concerned Corporal 'Bull' Klos. Royal Winnipeg Rifles history: "Rushing the enemy, 'B' Company encountered heavy enemy fire. Corporal Klos, badly shot in the stomach and legs while leaving the assault boat, made his way forward to an enemy machine-gun nest. He managed to kill two Nazis before he was mortally felled. His hands still gripped about the throat of his victim produced a chilling sight!"

'D' Company under the command of Major Lockie Fulton landed on the west of the enemy strong point. The company moved off the beach quickly and cleared a path through the minefield at La Vallette. Then they headed for Graye-sur-Mer and cleared the town of the Germans. They advanced further making good progress and some sections even approached Banville.

Winnipeg Rifles advance inland.The reserve companies 'A' and 'C' landed, along with half of the Battalion Headquarters. The beaches were still under fire when they landed. For nearly two hours the Battalion Headquarters No. 22 wireless set was the target of much of this fire. While 'D' Company cleared Graye-sur-Mer, the reserve companies passed through their positions. 'A' Company (Major Fred Hodge) moved inland towards Ste.Croix-sur-Mer where it came under fire by a battery of eight machine guns. Ste.Croix-sur-Mer was strongly defended by a company of the 716th Division. The Winnipegs were in danger of being pushed back and called for reinforcements from the Canadian Scottish regiment.

'C' Company (Major Jimmy Jones) made its way towards Banville. They were pinned down by 3 machine guns on commanding ground. Assistance was asked from the 6th Armoured Regiment, which with "cool disregard" of mines and anti-tank guns beat down the opposition and permitted the advance to continue. Hard fighting developed but 'C' and 'D' Companies managed to take the village of Banville. The first phase of the operation had been completed.

The Battalion advanced and by 1700 hours was consolidated in and around the village of Creully. Snipers and small groups were the sole resistance during the advance on the village. Lt. Jack Mitchell of 'D' Company with a section of rifleman silenced an enemy machine-gun nest along the bridge near Creully.

The Winnipegs were supported by the tanks of the 1st Hussar's and the Winnipegs' commanding officer later paid tribute to their "gallantry, skill and cool daring" in coming to the assistance of his battalion "time and again throughout D-Day, without thought of their own safety or state of fatigue."

Cliff Chadderton, Royal Winnipeg Rifles from his documentary Juno Beach to Caen: "Many of the Winnipeg's were what we called 'originals' who had joined the battalion back in 1940. They had been highly trained in the use of rifles and automatic weapons, but also they were experts with mortars, anti-tank guns, and even in directing artillery fire from the rear. Still, this was their first battle experience. They saw friends with whom they had lived in the barracks for years cut to pieces by vicious enemy gun fire. Still they found the strength to carry on and most of all - there was the thought in the back of their minds that battle-hardened Germans could counter-attack at any time. By six o'clock on the evening of D-Day, the Winnipegs had gone further inland than most of the planners thought possible. With evening fast approaching, the weary battalion set about digging in just south of Creully. Fortunately, five officers and seventy-eight other ranks arrived from the reinforcement unit that very evening."