D-Day Landings in Normandy, France
June 6, 1944 Operation Overlord began with the landings of British, Canadians and American Troops on the beach of Normandy.
It soon became known as the D-Day Landings, with the idea of these beaches being the way that the Allied Troops where able to come into France to begin pushing the Nazi Army back from the Western Front.
The plan was hatched in 1943 with many plans to mislead the German Army, such as the deception that the Allied Forces would enter France via Calais. The day of the operation was delayed for 24 hours due to poor weather but if they didn’t go then and there it would have been another 2 weeks before they where able to go into France.
Just after dawn on the 6th June over 5,000 Ships, 11,000 Aircraft and 1000s of Men where behind enemy lines. By the 11th June the 5 beaches had become secure and the Battle for Normandy began, which would last till the end of August 1944 making these landings be known as the beginning of the end of the war.
The beaches that they landed on where known as Sword, Juno, Gold, Omaha and Utah Beach. The beaches follow the coastline from Ouistreham to Qunivelle, not only are these some of the most important landmarks of World War 2 but they some of the most stunning views you will see in Normandy. The huge bays and long beaches make it clear why this was the chosen spot for the Allied Forces to land. It is gobsmacking to see, I can only imagine what it was like for a Norman to witness atop these hills looking down to the beaches below as they watch the troops jump from the boats to take on the Nazi Army.
Sword Beach is where most of the British Troops landed with many famous images of the British Troops landing carrying their bicycles on their shoulders to take on the Nazi Army. Today nothing much is left there from what is it was during the war but it is worth going to Pegasus Bridge. Pegasus Bridge was an important landmark to take from the Nazi Army as it would give control to advance towards the centre of France. Today there is a new bridge at the site, but the bridge that was seized is located at the Pegasus Bridge Memorial along with a museum with many artifacts left over from the D-Day Landings.
Near by Sword Beach is the city of Caen; Caen is important in the Battle of Normandy as there was a Canal build there that was able to control the access to land and sea by the armed forces, capturing the city was important to process further into France. When the Canadians finally reached Caen; the Battle of Caen last for 2 months as the Nazi Army has a strong foothold on the other side of the River Bank but once it was finally liberated after nearly destroying the city, the Allied Forces began to move deeper into France. There is a great Museum known as the Caen Memorial where goes in depth into what happened during the D-Day Landings as well as what life was like during these troubles times.
Juno Beach is the starting point where you begin to see what is left from the D-Day Landings. Starting from Luc-sur-Mer all the way to Arromanches. It is best to travel the coastal road, where you are able to get peeks of the beaches and important memorials dedicated to the towns folk and the troops such as the First House liberated by the Canadian Troops in Bernieres-sur-Mer, where you can get your first real understanding of the troops landing on the beaches and walking down the village road into France.
An important stop along the way is in Courseulles at the Centre Juno Beach. The Centre Juno Beach is about the Canadians involvement during the D-Day Landings. The beach itself is the highlight to see; you are able to see parts of the Atlantic Wall with a German Bunker left along a pathway with leads you down to the beach giving you an idea of what it would have been like for the troops of on either side climbing over the sand.
But this is where Le Croix de Lorriane sits, it is the Cross the Resistance used to show their loyally to France and where Winston Churchill, King George and Charles de Gaulle arrived to see the troops during the D-Day Landings. Make sure you pause to take in this place and what it meant for all these men.
Further along the coast is Arromanches which is the main sight to see at Gold Beach. As you drive down the coast you begin to see objects in the water that have been left over from the D-Day Landings (worth pulling over to get a peek of what these could be). A top of the hill just before Arromanches village is the cinema Arromanches 360 which shows footage of the landings, as well as there being a leftover iron bridges that was used to disembark the vehicles off the ships from Britain.
But to me what was the most impressive sight overlooking the ocean down onto the beach was the left overs from Mulberry Harbour. Mulberry Harbour was the artificial harbour that was brought over from Britain via boats which allowed the war ships, vehicles and men to disembark. Over 2.5 Million men and 0.5 Million vehicles arrived at Mulberry Harbour. This harbour was made with 146 concrete blocks that where shipped over the channel and sunk to form a breakwater, it is an incredible feat of ingenuity that allowed the war to begin to come to a close. It is seen clearly today during low tide, so either witness the view from above or from the beach itself.
Omaha Beach is where many of the American Troops arrived and sadly where most of the brutal fighting took place during the D-Day Landings which is easy to see why as they were faced with high cliffs making the climb again the enemy nearly impossible. You are able to see the difficulties along the coast with the large amount of German Bunkers that are left over.
There are 2 left over places to visit along the coast to understand what was faced by the troops. These places are located at Longues-sur Mer which has several preserved German Gun Bunkers that are free to wander; these guns where able to reach over 20kms away. It is incredible to see where they where located and why this was an important place to be positioned as we could barely see the coast but it also shows how dangerous these Landings where.
Further along the coast is Pointe du Hoc, it has changed very little since World War 2 with the shell craters and Gun Bunker leftover with the views over the Atlantic Ocean.
The best Cemetery to visit at the D-Day Landings is the Normandy American Cemetery & Memorial, it over looks the ocean with over 9000 men layering rest there. It is a sobering place but it is a beautiful place to rest for eternity.
Utah Beach marks the ending of the D-Day Landing Beaches, not much is left along the Coast apart from the Ships that were sunk to create breakwaters for the troops which are only seen at low tide but there are markers that commemorate the men that fell upon these shores.
Some locals told me it is worth visiting the Memorial de la Liberate Retrouvee which focuses on local life during the Nazi Occupation. I look forward to going to visit it next time as I feel it would help me learn more about life in France during these hard times.
Sadly 4,000 Allied Troops lost their lives in the invasion, including the loss of 1000s of Civilians lives and over 600 towns becoming rubble but it spread hope towards Europe that they would soon be liberated and this brutal war would soon come to an end.
When visiting the D-Day Landings it is best to do so in a car, as you will be able to go at your own pace and be able to discover more as you drive along. It is easily done in 2 days at a leisurely pace to ensure you see what you really want to see along the coast. It is easy to follow the landmarks by using the Brown Street Signs (débarquement) that point the direction of each sight to see along the coastline.
If you are unable to use a car along the D-Day Landings there are many different tours that offer 2 day trips, 1 day trip or a half a day trip. Why not have a look at Normandy Sightseeing Tours or Victory Tours for an experience.
It is worth driving along the whole coastline where the D-Day Landings took place to experience what happened in this moment that would change the route of World War 2 into liberty. It is not only a sobering experience to have but it is a beautiful coastline to visit to witness the beauty of mother nature in Normandy and to pause to imagine what history has passed underneath your feet.