Amanda Williams a RoamRight Blog Author

A WWII Tour of France

Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial is a World War II cemetery and memorial in Colleville-sur-Mer, Normandy, France, that honors American troops who died in Europe during World War II.

Image source: Flickr - mauricedb

The year 2014 marks 70 years since the Western Allies began their effort to liberate Europe from the Nazis during World War II. On June 6, 1944 – usually known collectively as D-Day – the Allies (mostly British, American, and Canadian troops) began the liberation of France on the beaches of Normandy.

If you or someone in your family has ever wanted to pay respects to the soldiers who fought on D-Day, or just to experience some history at the source, this year is as good as any – better, perhaps. And there's no better place to start your WWII tour of France than in Normandy.

Normandy beaches

Operation Overlord, as it was officially codenamed, was a mixture of airborne and naval assaults on the beaches of France's Normandy region, culminating in thousands of Allied troops making landfall in what was the largest amphibious invasion in world history. Visitors today can visit these beaches, which are still listed on maps by their D-Day invasion codenames:

  • Sword Beach – The easternmost landing site during the invasion.
  • Juno Beach – Landing location of mostly Canadian troops, which suffered heavy casualties. The Canadian Government maintains a small museum here called the Juno Beach Centre.
  • Gold Beach – The landing site of British troops of the 50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Division.
  • Omaha Beach – Site of an American landing that went wrong due to poor navigation and difficult terrain. This, coupled with the site being heavily fortified, led to mass casualties. This portion of the invasion was famously portrayed in the beginning of the film “Saving Private Ryan.”
  • Utah Beach – The westernmost landing beach, which saw the least amount of casualties during the landings.

Normandy cemeteries

Considering the sheer scope of this invasion and the thousands of casualties suffered, there are quite a few military cemeteries located in Normandy:

  • Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial – Located in Colleville-sur-Mer on a bluff overlooking Omaha Beach, this cemetery is filled with rows of white crosses and is the final resting place of more than 9,000 American soldiers, most of whom lost their lives in the Normandy invasion.
  • Bayeux War Cemetery – The second-largest Commonwealth cemetery for WWII casualties, mostly dedicated to casualties from the Normandy landings.
  • Bény-sur-Mer and Bretteville-sur-Laize Canadian War cemeteries – Dedicated to the Canadian troops who lost their lives during the Normandy invasion.
  • La Cambe German War Cemetery – Located near Bayeux, France, this cemetery is the final resting place of more than 20,000 German troops from WWII.

Merville Gun Battery

Part of the Nazi's defensive Atlantic Wall in Normandy, the Merville Gun Battery was heavily fortified and one of the first places to be attacked by the Allies during the Normandy landings. Today, the former battery has been turned into a museum. Visitors can explore preserved bunkers, view a sound and light show, and see a Douglas C-47 aircraft that took part in Allied airborne missions during WWII.

Sainte-Mere-Eglise

Located in Normandy, Sainte-Mere-Eglise is today known as the first village to be liberated by the Allied forces (namely paratroopers) on D-Day in 1944. Tourism in the town focuses on this historical day, with many museums and related shops dedicated to it. A dummy paratrooper even hangs from the church spire.

One of the museums in Sainte-Mere-Eglise is the Musee Airborne, a museum dedicated mostly to the American paratroopers that took part in Operation Overlord in Normandy in 1944.

Have you visited Normandy or other WWII sites?

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About the Author

Amanda Williams

Amanda Williams, a RoamRight Blog Author Graduate student by day and avid traveler and blogger by night (and on weekends and during holidays), Amanda is just a small-town Ohio girl trying to balance a "normal" life with a desire to discover the world beyond her Midwest bubble. Amanda's adventurous nature and inability to say "no" have led her to some pretty amazing adventures all around the world. But she has no desire to stop exploring anytime soon. Read Amanda's blog, A Dangerous Business, or follow her on Facebook, Twitter or Google Plus.

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