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HomeCanadaHalifax Assisted Americans in Landing on Omaha Beach on D-Day, Reports Breaking:

Halifax Assisted Americans in Landing on Omaha Beach on D-Day, Reports Breaking:


Before the Americans were able to storm ashore on Omaha Beach on D-Day as part of the Allied invasion of Western Europe, their path to success was partly due to a few ships from Halifax.

Minesweepers performed dangerous and intricate work that helped clear parts of the English Channel of German mines, enabling approximately 150,000 Allied troops to invade Normandy, France on June 6, 1944.

“When people are looking at the landings, they’re looking at the land,” said Michael Whitby, a retired senior naval historian for the Department of National Defense. “Sometimes you have to go to the beaches of Normandy and look at the sea and see what happened there.”

It was in those waters that Operation Neptune, the naval component of D-Day, was carried out.

Minesweeping flotillas totaling about 250 ships were responsible for clearing 10 channels, corresponding to the five beaches the Allies would take: Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword.

HMCS Caraquet was one of 16 Canadian minesweepers that helped clear safe paths through enemy underwater mines guarding the beaches of Normandy. Caraquet and nine other ships of the Canadian 31st Minesweeping Flotilla cleared mines off Omaha Beach on D-Day. (CWM 19990064-003, HMCS Caraquet)

The channels were numbered from one to ten, from west to east. For Omaha, that meant it had channels three and four.

Ten ships of the 31st Canadian Minesweeping Flotilla, from Halifax, were responsible for clearing the third channel. The fourth channel was cleared by the Royal Navy’s 4th Minesweeping Flotilla.

“Even though you could think of Omaha as an American beach, of course because it’s American troops that land there, there’s a multinational naval force off the coast, for example,” said Jeff Noakes, the World War II historian at the Canadian War Museum. in Ottawa.

“Same on Juno Beach. We think of Canadians landing there, but… not all the ships off the coast were Canadian, for example.”

In early 1944, Canada sent the 16 ships and personnel abroad for minesweeping training.

In addition to the 10 used on Omaha Beach on D-Day, the rest on Utah Beach were used as part of British flotillas, Whitby said.

To understand what minesweepers looked like at sea, Whitby said she had to think of a snowy Canadian airport runway in winter and how the crews are arranged in echelon to clear it.

This black and white photo shows you landing on Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944.
American troops land on Omaha Beach on D-Day. (Keystone/Getty images)

Using this formation, the minesweepers used equipment that extended up to a kilometer from the ship to cut the cables that attached the mines to the seabed.

Whitby said the English Channel is notorious for its strong tidal waves and currents, forcing the minesweepers to regularly adjust their positions.

Bad weather added to the complications. Although the invasion was originally scheduled for June 5, 1944, it was postponed by a day due to weather.

“We’re definitely not in calm waters,” Whitby said.

After minesweepers cleared the mines, a ship called a danlayer laid buoys with flags on them and flashing lights. This informed the Allies which areas had been swept and that they should be safe staying within them.

Large numbers of casualties were expected, but not many for minesweepers on D-Day, Whitby said.

While five minesweepers were expected to clear each channel, reserve ships were ready to take over.

This photo shows an aerial view of numerous Allied ships participating in Operation Overlord preparing to storm the beaches of Normandy, France on D-Day.
D-Day aerial view of Allied forces engaged in Operation Overlord and preparing to storm the beaches of Normandy. (STF/AFP/Getty images)

Even after D-Day, minesweepers continued to operate off the coast of Normandy as the German Luftwaffe dropped mines from the air into the water in an attempt to prevent the Allies from getting supplies and troops to France.

Noakes said minesweepers were key to the Allies’ success during the war.

“Minesweeping and things like that are generally not exactly glamorous aspects of naval warfare either, so they don’t necessarily attract as much attention as fighting submarines or surface combat against enemy warships and things like that,” he said.

Saving Private Ryan

The 1998 war movie Saving Private Ryan begins with the landing of the Americans on Omaha Beach. The film lacks a nod to the minesweepers who cleared their path.

Noakes said that while this is partly a cinematic decision, it is also a reflection of how successful the minesweeping efforts were on D-Day.

A device known as an Oropesa float is shown that was essential to minesweeping operations.
Oropesa floats, also known as paravanes, were essential minesweeping equipment. Minesweepers used Oropesa floats to support one end of a cable equipped with specialized devices, including cutters that cut the lines that attached underwater mines to the seabed. (CWM19660074-016)

“If there had been heavy losses from German mines, there would be more recognition and acknowledgment of these events,” he said. “But because the minesweeping was so successful, other parts of the invasion could take place.”

Less than a year after D-Day, the Germans surrendered to the Allies on May 7, 1945, ending World War II in Europe.

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