It's been several months since mine trip to Normandy, yet I had not yet managed to write the article on the landing sites, the main reason that prompted me to visit this splendid piece of French territory. There would be a thousand other reasons, see the visit Mount Saint Michel or chalk cliffs of Etretatbut the signs of what it was a pivotal moment of World War II they were the main purpose of this journey.
However, this passage of history was so difficult and bloody, so complicated is it to write a post that has a certain weight, its own why.
I spent a whole day traveling in the footsteps of the Normandy landings and it is an experience that, as some rightly claim, is almost more a moral duty.
I am not a great historian. I don't like to delve too deeply into the Middle Ages or the Renaissance, I prefer the history of the last century. It will be because it is the closest to the present day, or it will be because my grandmother, since I was little, told me about "pippo", the plane that flew over Brescia every evening and created an aura of terror ... you know how many times she told me of this "foo" ?! A flood, and each time the version changed. The juice remains that: a challenging historical period.
Like me, I guess many of you have had grandmothers, grandparents or maybe even fathers or mothers who went through those difficult years. The landing in Normandy determined thebeginning of the end of German hegemony in Europe which, little by little, crumbled in the face of the advanced allies.
With this article I want to give you an overview of the places to visit and that you could insert in a sort of itinerary from east to west to do in 1 or 2 days if you want to arrive up to Cherbourg.
The landing in Normandy: the places not to be missed
Il 6 June of the 1944 the beaches of the north coast of the Bassa Normandia they were invaded by thousands of Allied soldiers. A mammoth operation, studied in detail, which aimed to free Europe from Nazi occupation.
The battle initially took place on the beaches and then continued in the following days and months in the interior of the French territory.
The places linked to the landing are not only the beaches. There are many museums that allow you to retrace the stages of the d-day.
Here is a hypothetical itinerary from east to west (at the end of the article you will find the map with the various stages).
1 - The Pegasus bridge just before Caen
This bridge is mentioned a few times in reference to the Normandy landings, yet it was one of the main objectives post-landing. It was located at Bénouville on the River Orne. Replaced by a new bridge, the original Pégasus bridge is located in Mémorial Pégasus. It takes its name from the symbol of Pegasus imprinted on the uniform sleeve of the British soldiers of the British 6th Airborne Division who freed it on June 1944, XNUMX. This bridge, together with that of Rainville, was strategically important as it would have allowed reinforcements to arrive. by sea.
If you want to learn more, I recommend you visit the Memorial which is a few tens of meters from the bridge.
2 - Visit the Memorial of Caen
There are many museums related only to the Normandy landings. Among the many I chose the Memorial of Caén. It is a few kilometers from the Pégasus bridge and is housed in a very large building. It does not only retrace the phases of the landing but it reconstructs the whole political situation starting from 1918 up to the present day with an important focus also on the cold war.
Inside the Caén Memorial you can follow a chronological path which allows you to get an idea of how the situation evolved through a constant increase in political tension, which then led, in an almost physiological way, to the world clash.
I consider the memorial to be very important for understanding the stages of the Normandy landings. In fact, in addition to providing a broad overview of almost the entire twentieth century, it focuses on the Second World War and presents a section entirely dedicated to the phases of the landing.
The tour ends with a couple of very touching and engaging films that are shown in a small cinema.
The memorial is so well done that the time inside it flows very quickly, so assume at least 3 hours to visit it.
Il admission price for an adult it is 19,80 € (2017), however, I advise you to check on the spot because in my case I have joined an agreement that with 22 € about it also allowed me to visit the museum at 360 degrees of Arromanches (on the site it is not present).
- orari di apertura vary, they can be from 9.00 to 19.00 or from 9.30 to 18.00, I recommend you check them directly here: official site of the Memorial of Caen.
As for logistical issues, the memorial has huge free parking so you won't have any parking difficulties.
3 - The beaches of the Normandy landings
We arrive at the crucial point, the beaches that on 6 June saw the allies disembark.
There are 5 locations but a clarification must be made. Most of the time they are named with the code name used by allied forces during military operations. Those aren't the real names. Just to give you an example, the famous one Omaha beach it is not located in “Omaha” but between Colleville-sur-Mer and Vierville-sur-Mer.
The code names of the landing points were (from east to west): Sword, Juno, Color: Gold, Omaha and finally Utah, in the stretch of the Norman coast that goes from Honfleur to the Cherbourg peninsula.
- Sword -> near Courseulles-sur-Mer
- Juno -> Arromanches-les-Bains
- Color: Gold -> Longues-sur-Mer
- Omaha -> Vierville-sur-Mer
- Utah -> on the coast near Sainte-Mère-Eglise
If you have little time available, the ideal is to make a selection of the beaches to visit, I recommend you focus on Arromanches and Omaha Beach.
If you have taken the ticket integrated with the Caen Memorial, you can visit the museum in 360 degrees (it is simply a cinema in 360 degrees) of Arromanches. It is located on a hill and opposite the museum there are some beautiful viewpoints.
In the sea in front of the beach, the remains of the movable bridges built by the allies to create structures that would make military landing operations easier during the months following June 6, 1944.
A wonderful panorama that allows only two things: one photography and a moment of reflection. There, right there, in 1944 (and not light years ago) people like us landed but with more ideals than us, who fought and died to free oppressed peoples.
The second beach I want to recommend is the best known one, that is Omaha beach. It is the most famous because it was also the bloodiest. Many allies died here and for this reason a monument to the American dead was built near the beach.
In itself Omaha beach is a simple beach, but treading the sand with the awareness of what happened in the past is thrilling.
4 - Visit the "Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial"
This is also a fundamental place to better understand what the landing was.
A few hundred meters from Omaha beach, there is the cemetery in memory of the American fallen, una endless expanse of crosses or stars of David in white Lasa marble.
Each fallen, a cross with name and US state of origin. In reality, however, not all of them have a name, some have not been recognized.
The cemetery turns its side to the beach where many of these soldiers died, the sound of the waves breaks the silence of a touching and important place.
The expanse of tombstones is ordered and divided into 10 distinct sectors adorned with trees, bushes and roses. Each tombstone is cleaned manually by the employees.
Within the complex there are other very interesting points:
- Il visitor center (attention you have to go under the metal detector): it collects the details of the operations of the Normandy landings. Images, videos and objects of the time. Leaving the building you pass into a short tunnel where a recorded voice recites all the names of the fallen, one by one.
- The war memorial: a semi-circular structure at the center of which is the statue "The spirit of American youth rising from the waves". On the walls, both to the right and to the left, are the details of military operations. Marble maps illustrating both the movements of the various battalions and the change in military forces in the area.
5 - The German cemetery in "La Cambe"
I state that I have not visited it since I only discovered in retrospect that I was passing by during my itinerary. The German cemetery is in "La Cambe" not far from the American cemetery. According to many, it is as interesting as the American one. If you are in the area it is a must, it is important to remember that it was not just Americans who died ...
6 - Pointe du Hoc
Located on the west coast of Omaha Beach, this was one of the most difficult places for the allied forces to conquer. Over 200 Canadian rangers climbed 30 meters of the cliffs to reach and conquer the German pillboxes and neutralize the German guns that aimed at the beaches of Utah and Omaha. A third of them died in the enterprise.
The area still shows signs of the Normandy landings. You will see the Pointe du Hoc Monument, a granite pillar above a bunker built on the cliff 30 meters above the sea level.
7 - The statue of the paratrooper in Sainte-Mère-Eglise
The military operations for the landing in Normandy involved many paratroopers (about 13.000) who had the task of hitting the German batteries behind the lines and blocking the roads between Caen and Cherbourg. This military strategy, for many reasons, was not the best. During the operation, a paratrooper was entangled on the church spiers. It became a leaning statue in remembrance of that night.
Other places to discover the Normandy landings.
On the night of June 6, the allied troops began liberation from Nazi domination. The military operations first involved the coasts of Normandy and then continued inland. There are many testimonies relating to that period that can be discovered in the various museums.
As I mentioned earlier, the Caen Memorial is certainly not to be missed, the others are:
- The 360-degree circular cinema of Arromanches.
- Memorial Museum of the Battle of Normandy in Bayeux.
- The Overlord Museum near Omaha Beach.
- The Juno Beach Center in Courseulles-sur-Mer.
- The AirBorne Museum in Sainte-Mère-Eglise.
- The D-Day Experience just before arriving in Sainte-Mère-Eglise.
- The Musèe du Dèbarquement in Arromanches
In short, many museums. Some interactive and engaging, others more historical and structured.
Here is the map of the entire itinerary to discover the Normandy landings... what to say if not: have a good trip, this time also within the story.
Here are some books to learn more about the Normandy landings.
If you are interested click on the link and buy them on amazon.
D-Day: history of the Normandy landings by Antony Beevor -> kindle format 7,99 €
D-day. History of the Normandy landings by Stephen E. Ambrose -> book a 10,20 €
The landing in Normandy by Olivier Wieviorka -> book a 27,20 €