Prepare yourself for an emotional ride when visiting the infamous WWII historical Normandy Beaches and the surrounding area in part one of this post.
Splitting the Normandy post in this Part 1 and Part 2, while updating to the painful Gutenberg WordPress format and updating the content. Lucky enough to have visited Normandy in 2016, so sharing my memorable experience but also free travel tips with you…
Although moving, the plethora of books, documentaries, and movies do not compare to when you actually stand on one of these beaches.
Gazing across the horizon, you try to understand what happened on the 6th of June 1944, during D-Day and ensuing weeks.
“Over 425,000 Allied and German troops were killed, wounded or went missing during the Battle of Normandy”.
The first day of the allied invasion was critical in securing the beaches for the arrival of allied reinforcements in the following days.
This coastline was now an “interlinked series of strongpoints, each with guns, pillboxes, barbed wire, land mines, and beach obstacles”.
A formidable task for the allied forces, which landed on five separate beaches, code-named:
- Sword Beach (British)
- Juno Beach (Canadian)
- Gold Beach (British)
- Omaha Beach (American)
- Utah Beach (American)
A trading port since the Middle Ages, we park at the port and walk a very long way along the beautiful foreshore trying to reach the infamous Sword Beach.
Sadly, it is too far on foot so venture into the Tourist Office instead of Jardins du Casino Esplanade Lofi, collecting maps and information about Normandy’s Beaches.
Stop off at Delahaye Carole (72 Avenue de la Mer), which is a great Boulangerie Patisserie serving good coffee (€1.10+) and wonderful pastries (€1+).
Only manage to spend time on four of the five beaches during the 3-night stay in an Airbnb self-contained apartment in Caen – an excellent base to explore this region.
The short time spent here just does not do this region justice. There is just so much to experience, but so grateful we made the effort.
Supported by armour regiments, the British 3rd Infantry Division, French and British Commandos had the responsibility of taking this almost 8-kilometre beach at Lyon-sur-Mer and Ouistreham.
Against specific orders, Lord Lovat instructed his personal piper to pipe the British Commandos ashore.
Standing on this beach and looking back, you can see the beachhead’s vantage points, and can imagine the 28,000-plus allied troops that came ashore and clambered across this beach.
The impressive Kieffer, Monument of the Flame sits on a German bunker overlooking the beach, which is around 15 kilometres from Caen.
The contemporary flame monument is a tribute to the commandos who landed on June 6th 1944.
Located at Courseulles-Sur-Mer, Canada’s WWII Museum and Cultural Centre is close to Juno Beach and a permanent memorial to the fallen Canadian soldiers.
A major problem for the soldiers was landing at low tide.
Although, soldiers were not targets until wading into the killing zone along the almost 10-kilometre beach where Germans open-fired, gunning down and slaughtering soldiers.
Historians estimate the soldiers had a 50/50 chance of survival.
Lucky enough to have caught the last 20 minutes of The Highland and Lowland Bands of the Royal Regiment of Scotland concert: “paying homage to the men who on this beach 72 years ago showed great feats of courage and sacrifice to liberate Europe from Nazi tyranny – our thoughts are with them today” – speech from Colonel Piers Strudwick, commanding officer of 7th Scots.
Suffering the worse casualties of the five beaches during the D-Day landings, infamous scenes from war photographer Robert Capa’s grainy black and white photos awaken the mind, helping to visualise allied troops gunned down by German machine fire.
Standing on this beach peacefully in the glorious sunshine 72 years’ later, it is hard to envisage the carnage that occurred here without Capa’s proof.
From the American Cemetery and Memorial, take an easy walk towards the hills of Omaha Beach and the monument that overlooks the beach, which honour’s the US Corp II forces’ achievements.
Scarring this hill is remaining evidence of a deep zigzag trench almost all but filled in now, which still reminds us of what occurred here during the Allied landings. As does the still visible concrete bunkers, Tobruks, gun emplacements, machine gun nests, communication trenches, and communication observations posts.
Many are either now crumbling or completely barred up for the public’s safety.
About 12 kilometres east of Bayeux, Arromanches-les-Bains is one of the towns in which an artificial port was installed, the other built further West at Omaha Beach.
The port allowed the unloading of required supplies and troops, about 9,000 tons of material per day.
Huge concrete caissons were built in England, towed to Normandy, and then assembled, which formed walls and piers that became the artificial Mulberry Harbour.
Floating roadways linked by pontoons connect the harbour to land. Even today, you can still see sections of the port’s huge concrete blocks sitting on the sand and out to sea.
Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial
These expansive and painstakingly well-manicured 172-plus acres will leave you speechless, especially on a bright sunny day.
Snippets of the infamous Omaha Beach’s azure blue back-dropped against over 10,000 brilliant white marble crosses is extremely moving and moisten the eyes.
Receiving approximately one million visitors per year, today is also a busy day.
Sadly, we arrived only an hour before the museum closed, but did manage to walk the cemetery until being kicked out at around 6:30 pm.
Surprisingly, the museum shuts early in summer, which is strange as it doesn’t get dark in this part of the Northern Hemisphere until 10:00 pm.
If you visit Normandy from Poole in the United Kingdom, then a trip on a Brittany Ferries across the English Channel lands you straight in Cherbourg.
From Cherbourg, it’s a quick visit to one of the famous D-Day battle scenes close by – Sainte-Mère-Église.
You may be familiar with this incident regarding the paratrooper John Steele of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment?
Paratroopers were dropped directly on the town at about 01:40 am, making these brave men easy targets on their descent. Many hung from utility poles, trees, shot dead or sucked into the fire of lit buildings.
John Steele’s parachute caught on the spire of the church.
Pretending to be dead by hanging limply for a couple of hours, he was later captured and taken prisoner by the Germans, but later escaped.
Now a quaint village, a life-like mannequin of a paratrooper commemorating John Steele’s story now hangs from this gorgeous church’s spire. The church still bears evidence of deep bullet holes in its stonework.
The village has a few touristy activities such as US Marine jeep rides if you so wish to partake.
You can park about a 10-minute walk from the church for €2/day. Although dirt cheap, expect to pay top dollar for food and drinks in this village.
Bayeux War Cemetery
The Bayeux War Cemetery is an easy walk of around a kilometre from the Bayeux centre.
As the “largest Commonwealth cemetery of the Second World War in France”, the cemetery contains 4,144 Commonwealth burials from WWII of which 338 are unidentified. Burials were brought to this cemetery from nearby hospitals and surrounding districts.
Read part 2 of Normandy: Beaches and Surrounds to discover other historical sites and also exciting areas to explore around Normandy on your visit.