During the night of 18 July 1944, the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division made an assault crossing of the River Orne on the south side of Caen. The small bridgehead which was established and held by infantry on the east side of the river was subjected to heavy artillery and mortar fire and was counter-attacked by enemy tanks. The successful consolidation of the ground taken and the deepening of the bridgehead was dependant on the early crossing of armour and artillery in support of the assaulting troops.
Lieutenant-Colonel Smith, appreciating the vital urgency of the engineering task, went forward with the reconnaissance parties of the assaulting troops to the west bank of the Orne and under continued artillery, mortar and small arms fire made a personal reconnaissance of bridge and ferry sites. Throughout the night under most trying, difficult and dangerous conditions, he directed the construction of a floating bridge and tank raft.
By his personal directions, courage, skill and undaunted determination, Lieutenant-Colonel Smith succeeded in ferrying all of the required tanks and artillery across the river before bridges were available, materially assisting the attack of the 5th Canadian Infantry Brigade, which succeeded in extending the bridgehead to a depth of five miles during the first morning of the assault.
Norman Smith was born in Toronto. He graduated from the Royal Military College and was commissioned into the Royal Canadian Engineers, serving in the Canadian Army Permanent Force before the war began. At the beginning of the war, he relinquished his rank of Acting Lt-Col to serve overseas but was later promoted to Acting Colonel in September 1944.