When a Saultite dodged bullets and death (photos and video)Monday, December 30, 2013 by: Rick McGee
As a young Canadian soldier nearly 70 years ago, Carl Mann participated in historic events on what some have called “the most significant day of the twentieth century.”
The proud World War ll veteran lives at the Collegiate Heights Retirement Residence and this photo of him was taken at the facility’s 2013 Remembrance Day service.
On June 6, 1944, Carl was among the 14,000 Canadian troops involved in the assault phase of the Allied Invasion of Normandy, or D-Day as it is more commonly known.
The overall effort - including British and American forces - resulted in 132,000 men landing along a 40-mile stretch of France’s Normandy coast.
Years later the editors of Time would describe D-day as “the 24 hours that saved the world.”
The reference applies because D-Day marked the beginning of the end for Adolf Hitler and World War ll.
D-Day set the stage for the eventual liberation of Europe and the defeat of Nazi Germany.
For the Allies, the key to defeating Germany necessitated first moving forces into Nazi-occupied France and ultimately pushing forward into Germany itself.
Canadian D-Day landing efforts concentrated on an area code-named Juno Beach.
Objectives included establishing a beachhead, taking control of three small seaside towns and then moving 10 miles inland.
After departing England and enduring an extremely rough crossing of the English Channel, Carl and his mates first encountered German fire as their landing craft approached the shoreline.
The Canadians became far more vulnerable when the steel doors on their landing craft opened and the men jumped into the water en route to the beach.
Carl suddenly found himself in water over his head.
Strongly entrenched German defences included heavy artillery, almost impenetrable concrete pillboxes housing enemy soldiers with machine guns, mines on the beach and in the water, and wire and other obstacles.
During the assault, Allied ships attempted to provide support with long-range attacks on the enemy.
Carl clearly recalls D-Day details.
“You didn’t know where you were,” the 92-year-old said in describing the the scene.
This grainy video shows Canadian troops landing at Juno Beach.
“The Germans had all of their machine guns set up and they were shooting at us," Carl recalled.
"There were planes overhead and ships firing over us.”
Despite the chaos and casualties all around him, Carl dodged the bullets and death.
“I crawled like a snake,” he said.
Reaching the Atlantic Wall
His immediate attention focused on getting to the Atlantic Wall, an elevated area the Germans had built as a key feature of their coastline defences.
Shown is a German machine gun nest that was part of the elaborate fortification system.
Reaching the wall took about 10 minutes and meant Carl had become less of a target than he had been out in the open.
“I was never afraid,” he said. “You have to have a mind that you’re there and you have to do a job. You could not stop. If you stopped, you were going to be dead.”
Carl was a member of Signal Corps and responsible for providing telephone communications support.
"I have walked all the beaches of Normandy and absolutely marvel that anyone got off them alive, " said The Rev. Phil Miller, a local military historian. "The force of fire that awaited an invading force surely was Hell on Earth! This volunteer army of Canadians did our nation proud that day under conditions we cannot even comprehend."
Long after the war, Carl learned that he had been at even greater risk than he knew at the time.
An undiagnosed health situation had developed during training exercises at the CNE agricultural grounds in Toronto.
“They were training us with tear gas for possible gas attacks by the Germans," Carl remembered. “The men became sick. I vomited so hard I ruptured the main artery in my heart though the medical people didn’t identify the condition. I went through the war with a heart condition. I didn’t know I had it until 1982 when I had a problem and an EKG determined I’d had a heart attack. I’ve had heart issues all my life.”
Lance Corporal Carl Mann returned to Canada in 1946.
He worked for three years as a guard at Kingston Penitentiary.
Then he came home to the Sault and worked in the paper mill for a while.
He went on to Algoma Steel where he was a maintenance foreman for 29 years.
Carl and his wife Jean lived for many years on People’s Road and raised two children.
At Juno Beach, 340 Canadians were killed, 574 were wounded and 47 were taken prisoner.
The photo below shows wounded Canadian troops awaiting evacuation.
Carl believes there should have been fewer losses.
“I never forgave them for not bombing. That would have saved a lot of lives.”
D-Day planning had anticipated heavy Allied bombers softening up the Germans’ shoreline defences before seaborne troops landed.
But the bombers dropped their loads too far inland, with little impact on the German fortifications.
Low-hanging clouds also impeded bombing.
John Keegan, an eminent British historian and author stated the following about the Canadian Army’s contribution on D-Day: “At the end of the day, its forward elements stood deeper into France than those of any other division. The opposition the Canadians faced was stronger than that of any other beach save Omaha. That was an accomplishment in which the whole nation could take considerable pride.”