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Holding Juno: Canada’s Heroic Defence of the D-Day Beaches: June 7-12, 1944

by Mark Zuehlke

With the release of his historical triptych on Canada’s Second World War battles in Italy, and last year’s Juno Beach about Canada’s D-Day battle, Mark Zuehlke has emerged as Canada’s pre-eminent writer of popular military history. Holding Juno, the follow-up to Juno Beach (and the next book in a promised series about the Normandy campaign), only confirms that accolade.

Holding Juno is a company-level history of the six days immediately following D-Day, and the efforts of the Canadians to secure and expand their hard-won six-mile inland advance. These days have been overlooked or compressed in other histories. Here the fight has been given its due as arguably a tipping point in the overall victory in Normandy 10 weeks later. It was at this early stage of build-up and consolidation that the Allies were most vulnerable, and it was the Canadians that faced, and prevailed against, the greatest threat.

Beginning in the early hours of June 7, the Canadians were in nearly continuous combat with the 12SS Hitler Youth Panzer Division. Though a little younger than the Canadians they fought, the Hitler Youth, led by experienced officers, were fanatics and proved ruthless in combat. Zuehlke points out that “many veterans described this fight as the toughest they ever lived through, worse than D-Day itself.”

Holding Juno brings to the battle narrative a breathtaking and unparalleled level of detail. Using his trademark methodology, Zuehlke has “sifted veteran accounts … through the filter of official records” and written a history with the minutiae appealing to the history buff, while remaining lively enough for the general reader. Included are a greater than usual number of maps, although, ever greedy for support of this quality, this avid reader would ask for even more.

At times there seems to be a creeping chauvinism in Zuehlke that nettles the standards of objectivity expected by the history reader. He is, for example, too lenient with some of the Canadian battalion commanders for mistakes made. On the other hand, there is no doubt that the Canadian soldiers, most with the barest of experience but with enormous determination and courage, soundly resisted the best efforts of the best troops the Germans had available during that precarious week. Offering long overdue recognition for their efforts, Zuehlke has done a great service in excellent form.