D-day Beaches

NORMANDY barbed wire from 2nd. world war d day landings The word D-Day is often used to describe a significant event along with its long-term effects. The French call it “Jour-J”. However, the word D-Day was originally used to mark the day that the Allied forces entered French borders to execute a liberation operation against the Germans.

The D-day beaches on the northern coast of Normandy were the site of ‘operation overload’- the largest amphibious military operation in history, which was undertaken by the Allied troops. On 6th June 1944, General Dwight D Eisenhower ordered the Allies to land on the D-day beaches to execute a sneak attack on the Germans who were expecting the Allies to come in at Pas de Calais, instead. The Allies poured in 45,000 troops, 6,000 sea crafts and 13,000 aeroplanes into this liberation mission. The landings of these troops occurred across the entire 80km stretch of the D-day beaches.

This landing was followed by the 70 day long Battle of Normandy, which resulted in massive bloodshed on both sides, including hundreds of civilian fatalities. Nonetheless, it paid off with the eventual the liberation of France from the Germans.

Today, the innocuous, gentle-looking beaches hardly bear the scars of this bloody event. However, the surrounding cities, constantly recall this poignant incident by erecting a D-Day related museum in almost every village or town.




NORMANDY Batteries - Longues Sur MerThe D-day beaches [www.normandiememoire.com] on this stretch, are still referred to under their war-time code names- (from west-east) Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword beaches. Many visitor routes are built along these beaches and circuits have been created around the battle sites. Of these circuits, “D-Day-Le Choc” refers to the American sectors while “Overload-L’Assaut” refers to the British and Canadian sectors.

Utah Beach is the most westerly of the 5 beaches. It was where the US 4th and 8th Infantry divisions landed. The forces managed to clear the beach by noon, making way for more troops to enter French soil. Therefore, Utah beach houses many monuments to commemorate the American contribution to the war, such as the American Soldier monument, the 4th Infantry division monument and even a US Navy plague.

The neighbouring Omaha Beach is a 7km stretch that sheathes Vierville-sur-mer, St-Laurent-sur-mer and Colleville-sur-mer. It has been nicknamed “Bloody Omaha” by the American war veterans, as one of the bloodiest assaults occurred here. The US 1st and 29th Infantry landed here and despite careful planning and execution, the landing troops found that the Omaha beach was still heavily guarded by the Germans. They also didn’t have the weather on their side, as strong winds blew the sea crafts slightly off course, causing many to drown. The remaining troops that landed also faced heavy fire, as almost 1000 soldiers were killed in the first hour. However, with the help of naval bombardment, the troops managed to make a breakthrough.

Currently, there are hardly any remnants of this bloody affair that took place more than sixty years ago. Instead, the beach holds a sculpture in honour of those landings – Les Braves and a self-guided tour around the place- Circuit de la Plage d’Omaha. The beach also houses the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial [Colleville-sur-mer, +33 231516200, www.abmc.gov], which was used in the opening scene of the Spielberg film, Saving Private Ryan. This memorial sits on a bluff above the beach, holding the graves of 9387 American soldiers. 

Further down from the beach, is the Point du Hoc Ranger Memorial [Omaha Beach, +33 231519070 ], which sits on a 30m cliff. It houses a German Battery that is full of artillery. The place is currently owned by the Americans and it remains intact (much like how it was during the war). Scars of the gruesome battle are still visible in the memorial, as you can see pock-marked ground (due to bombings) and bullet- holes.

Nearby, is the Musée des éspaves-sous-marines [ Route Bayeux BP 9, +33 231211706, www.bessin-normandie.com ad/ch €6/3] (Underwater wreck museum) in Point en Bessin. It exhibits the recovered wrecks and artefacts from accidents in the surrounding waters. Most of the displays come from discoveries made in the past 25 years, hence; the majority are related to wartime wrecks.

East of Point en Bessin, is Longues-sur-mer. It was part of the Nazi’s Atlantic Wall and it was situated such that it could attack the targets present in Gold beach (on its east) and Omaha Beach (on its west). Here you can find much of the German artillery still intact, in the giant concrete emplacements.

NORMANDY barbed wire from 2nd. world war d day landings The Arromanches is right beside Longues-sur-mer. It is a beachside town that is home to the massive Mulberry Harbours. This was the code name given to this marina that was fabricated onshore to unload the large quantities of necessary cargo, without capturing the Channel ports, which were heavily guarded. The harbour allowed the transport of cement caissons that were used to create breakwater, tonnes of equipment and even 2.5million men! From here, you will be able to sight Port Winston (named after Winston Churchill of course) and the nearby Gold Beach. These are best viewed from the hill on the town’s east, near the statue of the Virgin Mary. 

As expected, Arromanches also houses a D-Day museum- Musée du Débarquement (Landings Museum) [Place du 6 Juin,   +33 231223431, www.musee-arromanches.fr ad/ch€6.50/4.50].  It gives you detailed information regarding D-Day and the surrounding beaches, using films and models. It also specifically focuses on the importance of Port Winston. It has been recently redesigned in 2004, in commemoration of the D-Day’s 60th anniversary. 

Gold Beach which was used as a base for the landings of the British forces lies just ahead of Arromanches. From here, the British forces managed to push pass their initial chaotic attack to make it Bayeux by noon.

The Canadian Battalions landed beside, on Juno Beach. They had to withstand heavy mining before making it through to Creuilly, by noon. The beach has a Lorraine Cross that marks the spot where General Charles de Gaulle landed, followed by Winston Churchill (a week later) and King George VI (days after). Juno beach is also home to the only Canadian museum in the vicinity- Juno Centre Museum [Voie des Français Libres, +33 231373217       www.junobeach.org ad/ch €6.50/5]. This museum documents Canada’s role in the liberation efforts of the Allied forces.

The most easterly of the D-Day beaches, is the Sword Beach, where British troops that were heading towards Caen, landed. While the troops found the attack manageable in the beginning, they had to slow down, further along, as the German counterattack grew in strength. Hence, they were unable to invade Caen in a day, as planned. The nearby towns of Merville and Ouistreham house a few noteworthy museums as well.