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
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.
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
- Sword Beach – The easternmost landing site during the
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.
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
Bény-sur-Mer and Bretteville-sur-Laize Canadian War cemeteries –
Dedicated to the Canadian troops who lost their lives during the Normandy
- 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.
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?