I had always wanted to see the landing beaches in Normandy and during my time in Normandy I took the opportunity to spend a day immersing myself completely in the history of D-day.
The history books read that the day that decreed the beginning of the liberation from Nazism in Europe was called D-Day and that it took place on 6th June 1944. Curious to know physically those places that I had only seen thanks to the documentaries, they had generated a stimulus that I could finally satisfy, even if only for a day, in those beaches where one of the bloodiest battles of the Second World War had taken place.
Caen and to make a stop at the Museum of Peace, the Memorial de Caen. This museum will give you an overview of the focal moments of the Second World War, obviously with great respect to the landing. The multimedia route will allow you to take a step back in time and see many things from everyday life at that time, as well as watch some footage of D-Day and the battle that followed.
After visiting Caen, a city strongly hit by Allied bombardments and the site of a very hard battle, we took the D515, which runs along the main navigable canal that leads from the city to the town of Ouistreham and the sea. From there a long coastal road runs through all the places where Americans, English, Canadians landed to free France.
The first thing that strikes you about those beaches in Normandy is the beauty of the places and the impression you get is that it seems impossible that such suggestive panoramas have seen the atrocities of war.
I had carefully planned my itinerary of visits and I knew that the beaches of Omaha and Utah had seen the landing of US troops, while those of Sword, Juno and Gold had been assigned to the landing of British and Canadian troops. Seeing them nowadays, crowded with tourists in search of relaxation, totally contrasts with the idea of imagining them as the site of assaults and fights to the death, but that was their story.
Landing in Normandy Map
I had read in a tourist guidebook that these beaches were the landing place for over four million soldiers who passed through them from that June 6th for another six months and that about one hundred thousand soldiers were killed during those battles. Today all this is remembered by the museums that remember the landing and by what still testifies to that event as bunkers and fortifications.
Taking the coastal road it is possible to visit them all and the first one we meet is the Normandy landing beach called Sword, where the English and French soldiers landed.
Between the villages of Courseulles-sur-Mer and Saint-Aubin-sur-Mer there is the second beach landing in Normandy, the beach of Juno which, like the most famous beach in Omaha Beach, saw such a bloody battle that one soldier in two lost his life during the first hour of fighting.
Gold beach was attacked by British forces. After the first waves it was used to build the artificial harbour of Mulberry in Arromanches les Bain.
The port of Muberry
It will be surprising to learn that this berth was built in less than two weeks and that there were so many boats that it overtook the ports of Le Havre and Cherbourg as traffic.
Suffice it to say that over two and a half million soldiers, half a million vehicles and four million tons of material of all kinds landed on this beach. Here too, a small museum, the remains of this port originally prefabricated in the UK for the occasion and 17 ships sunk with the intention of creating a breakwater, recall that historical period.
The cannon batteries of Longues sur Mer
Omaha Beach, the symbol of Operation Overlord
Once you’re in the mood, I suggest you start your tour starting from the most famous beach: Omaha Beach which is located in Colleville-sur-Mer and was nicknamed Bloody Omaha after the massacre that saw it the scene of a bloody resistance by the Germans.
The American Cemetery of Omaha
Just behind the coast where thousands of soldiers lost their lives on both sides, you can visit the American war cemetery which will impress you with its almost ten thousand white crosses which, well aligned, sprout from a well-kept green meadow.
I must say that I felt a strong feeling of melancholy when I visited that place. Certainly the suggestion, but if I were to believe in reincarnation, I would say that I am dealing with those beaches.
Do not avoid continuing your visit inside the Omaha Museum which is only two hundred metres from the beach. In an exhibition space of 1200 square metres, designed with the concept of remembering all the victims of that day, you will see an exhaustive collection of uniforms, weapons, means of transport and personal objects, all original, which will arouse a strong emotion in me, as well as the reconstructions that have been made to offer visitors a material idea of that day.
The Museum of Omaha, with free entrance, also includes an important photographic documentation, a series of videos with testimonies of some soldiers who survived that battle.
Landing in Normandy for the Germans
If you think that D-Day and the battles that followed saw only allied victims, then I suggest you pay a visit to the cemetery of La Cambe. If 9000 American soldiers are buried in the cemetery of Omaha, over twenty thousand German soldiers rest in the German cemetery.
Landing in Normandy where to sleep
The day has passed very quickly and it is time to go to our accommodation to continue our visit to the D-Day Places the following day.
We head to the Chateau Saint Pierre in Saint Pierre du Mont, a 16th century manor house which has become a farm with adjoining rooms for rent. Vehemently very nice owned by two cow farmers Jean and Marie Back who have made their home available to us. 300 metres from the site of Point du Hoc and Marie explained to us that the manor was used by the German command during the war.
In the evening we were advised to go for dinner in Grandcamp at the Restaurant de la Maree where I ate some wonderful crudités and a plate of smoked seafood. One thing I loved about the chateau is that in the morning for breakfast Marie brought us all products made by her with freshly milked milk and we ate and talked at one big table with the other guests from half of Europe. We set off again to continue our journey to the Pointe du Hoc, Saint Marie Eglise, Burfleur and Cherbourg.
Pointe du Hoc
In a few minutes we arrive at Point du Hoc, really worth seeing! Dominated by a promontory of cliffs about thirty meters high and spread over more than six kilometres, was the German base of a powerful battery of cannons with which the Nazis could control the coastline from Omaha Bech to Utah Beach.
From Pointe du Hoc the Overlord operation started and the Normandy landing started on D-Day.
The Germans, thinking that Point du Hoc was inaccessible to any attack, were instead surprised by the assault of a commando of Rangers who had climbed the promontory with the help of ladders and ropes. With the elimination of the batteries at Pointe du Hoc, the Allied ships were able to approach the coast and thus begin the invasion. A battle only ended after three days and thanks to the contribution of the soldiers who had conquered the beach of Omaha. We were fascinated by the signs that are still visible today such as the remains of the Nazi defensive positions and the many craters formed by the bombs.
Uthah Beach, Saint Mere Eglise e Cherbourg
Continuing northwards we leave the Calvados department to enter the Manche department. Here is the second beach where the Americans landed, Utah beach attacked with the aim of cutting the German forces in two to conquer the port of Cherbourg.
Many were the parachuted soldiers in this area and arrived in Saint Mere Eglise the statue of the parachutist hanging from the church bell tower is famous.
Also in Saint Mere Eglise is the milestone, obtained from a bomb that determines the zero kilometre of “via della Libertà”, where the liberation of Europe from the Nazis began.
Continuing north we arrived in Barfleur, which today is one of the most beautiful villages in France. A small village that overlooks the Channel Strait all in stone. Here the influences of Breton architecture are very strong and it is characterized by a small bay dominated by the medieval church.
From there we reached Cherbourg and then continued on to Mont saint Michel, but that’s another story!
Landing beaches in Normandy when to go
My advice is to plan your visit during the month of June, not only to take advantage of the good weather and to enjoy the green Normandy but, above all, because during this period D-Day is remembered through many appointments.