D-Day Beaches in Normandy, France
D-Day Beaches in Normandy, France
When I was planning my trip to the London Olympics, I noted that I had a few days without any Olympic events. I had been to London twice previously (go check out my Top 10 London Sights Here: Part 1 and Part 2) so thought I’d hit up the Chunnel and go to Paris. I got thinking even more, well if I’m in Paris, why not pop into Normandy to do the beaches? So my trip went from London to include Paris and Normandy. I decided to visit the cities of Rouen, Caen and Bayeux and of course visit the D-Day Beaches in Normandy, France.
I was only able to visit three of the beaches due to car trouble on the day I planned for the other two. Sadly I missed out on the British beaches but I was happy to visit the Canadian D-Day beach of Juno and the American Utah and Omaha.
D-Day was a very important day during WWII: it finally opened up a second front. The Russians desperately had needed that second front since they had been holding off the Germans in the East since 1942. British Prime Minster declared, “it is the Russian armies who have done the main work in tearing the guts out of the German army.”
By the end of the first day, around 156,000 troops landed in Normandy. Paris would be liberated by August 25, 1944, less than three months after the Allied Forces landed in France.
[Tiny note about stats in this article: depending on the source, they may differ slightly and I have focused on the beach landings, not including the air units or paratroopers at this time]
Operation Overlord, the invasion of Europe by the Allied Forces, was planned for June 6, 1944 after a delay due to weather. Forces from Canada, Great Britain and the United States planned to land on five beaches (D-Day Beaches), crossing the English Channel. The Canadian forces landed on Juno Beach while Great Britain landed on Gold and Sword, with the United States on Utah and Omaha.
Juno Beach has a lovely centre that was built ten years ago. The Juno Beach Centre displays Canada’s participation during WWII and D-Day invasion. Right in front of the centre, there is a German observation bunker. I was able to go inside since I signed up for the tour (I was the only one signed up – awesome to have a one-on-one guide for an hour). The bunker would have informed and coordinated with the German army during D-Day.
By the end of D-Day, around 20,000 Canadians landed on Juno Beach and the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division had moved inland further than any other forces that day. Canada’s casualties totaled 1074, including injured and missing.
Next up is the American beach of Omaha. This had the strongest German defenses of the five beaches and the casualties were high; it was nicknamed Bloody Omaha. This area is composed of steep cliffs which rise one hundred feet above the sea stretching six miles, the largest of the five beach landings. Roughly 34,000 soldiers landed on Omaha Beach resulting in over 3000 casualties.
The American cemetery at the top of the Omaha beach cliff contains over 9000 graves. In fact, this piece of land was given to the United States by France so you are standing on American soil. The grounds are meticulously groomed and it is emotional place to visit.
The last beach I visited was Utah, which is three miles long. The American forces landed with little resistance (due to accidentally landing two miles from their intended target) and roughly 23,000 soldiers landed on Utah. Due to the light resistance, American forces on Utah saw only a fraction of the casualties as they did on Omaha. Roughly 197 perished on Utah in total, including 60 missing.
25,000 Brits landed on Gold Beach with 28,000 on Sword while casualties, including injured and missing, totaled around 1000 for Gold and 1000 for Sword. In total, over 156,000 troops landed in Normandy on D-Day – June 6, 1944.
By the end of June 11th, there would be over 300,000 troops, 50,000 vehicles, and 100,000 tons of supplies.
I took a tour for the American beaches which worked out nicely: nice to have transportation and everything already arranged. Plus the tour guide was very knowledgeable and entertaining! So if you want to tour the US beaches, go check out Overlord Tours.
So have you been to the Normandy beaches? What did you think?
Update June 6, 2014: Today is the 70th anniversary of the Normandy invasion, D-Day. I was lucky enough to visit three of the beaches and a couple cemeteries. It was an overwhelming experience. Many memorials and commemorations are occurring today in Normandy. Take a moment to think what those men went through that day or even the days leading up to the big invasion. It was the beginning of the end of the War and many lost their lives that day.