D-Day and The Normandy Invasions

Arromanches-Les-Bains Homes D-Day Normandy
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I highly recommend a visit to Normandy to explore the history of the D-Day and Normandy Invasions during World War II. Not only will it be moving, it will also be educational and fascinating. June 6, 2016 will be the 72nd anniversary of the D-Day Normandy Invasions by the allies.

Normandy Invasion 1944

On June 6, 1944, the combined forces from the United Kingdom, Canada, the United States and 9 other countries began the liberation of northwestern Europe which was occupied by the Nazis. They covered an 80 kilometre stretch of coastline and named the 5 sectors Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword Beach.  It wasn’t until June 12 that all 5 beachheads were connected. This is after approximately 160,000 troops crossed the English Channel (with 875,000 men finally landing by the end of June). On D-Day alone, approximately 10,000 allied troops were killed.

According to ddaymuseum.co.uk: “Over 425,000 Allied and German troops were killed, wounded or went missing during the Battle of Normandy. This figure includes over 209,000 Allied casualties, with nearly 37,000 dead amongst the ground forces and a further 16,714 deaths amongst the Allied air forces.”

On June 6, 2004, France hosted the 60th anniversary celebrations and a commemorative ceremony,  attended by Queen Elizabeth II and 18 heads of state  and it took place in Arromanches-Les-Bains.   Soon after this celebration, I had the opportunity to visit the area and celebrations continued throughout the summer.

An exerpt from the 60th anniversary Arromonches ceremony:

Visiting the D-Day sites, museums, and beaches was extremely educational for someone who was born well after World War II. The visit was more than I ever expected. Much time and effort has been put into the artifacts and multi-media displays and they help explain what led up to the war, the Normandy invasion, and the end of the war.

Memorials and Museums

Bayeux: Memorial Museum of The Battle Of Normandy

Bayeux Museum of Battle Of Normandy D-Day
Bayeux Museum of Battle Of Normandy

While many associate Bayeux with the Bayeux tapestry (which is 230 feet long and depicts William The Conqueror’s invasion of England in 1066 and is definitely worth seeing), the Memorial Museum presents the issues and events, in chronological order, of the Battle of Normandy. Bayeux Museum

Caen: Caen Memorial

The Memorial in Caen is considered one of the best World War II museums in France with an emphasis on war and peace in general. The D-day Normandy invasion is also covered.  

Arronmonches: D-Day Museum

Arromanches-Les-Bains Muilberry D-Day Normandy
Arromanches-Les-Bains Mulberry

At Arronmonches, the D-Day Museum was the first one constructed after the war, in 1954. On the beach there are still the remains of a temporary pier or artificial port, called a Mulberry.

Courseulles-sur-Mer: Juno Beach Centre

Juno Beach Centre D-Day Normandy
Juno Beach Centre

As a Canadian I wanted to see the Canadian museum, the Juno Beach Centre which opened in 2003. The webpage, www.junobeach.org, notes: “The Centre pays homage to the 45,000 Canadians who lost their lives during the War, of which 5,500 were killed during the Battle of Normandy and 359 on D-Day.”

Juno Beach Centre D-Day Normandy
Juno Beach Centre
Holy Trinity School Plaque D-Day Normandy
Holy Trinity School Plaque

One of the things I wanted to see at the centre were the “commemorative bricks” sponsored by financial supporters. These are engraved plaques with the person’s rank, name, decorations, unit, and dates of service or the name of the donor. I was able to find the school that my nieces attended as their school, Holy Trinity had made a donation. My friend Laurie found the plaques of the relatives of friends so seeing these made the visit even more meaningful.

Cemeteries

Beny-sur-mer Cemetery D-Day Normandy
Beny-sur-mer –Canadian Cemetery

What was most moving, however, was a visit to the cemeteries which were beautifully landscaped. I was struck by how young so many of the soldiers were: as young as 17 years of age.

Bény-sur-Mer

This is a cemetery primarily with Canadian soldiers who were killed in the early stages of the Normandy invasion

  • 2044 Canadian graves
  • 1 French graves
  • 3 British graves

    Beny-sur-mer, France cemetery D-Day Normandy
    Beny-sur-mer, France cemetery

Colleville-sur-Mer

This is an American cemetery and Memorial which is on a bluff overlooking Omaha Beach.

  • 9387 American graves

Bayeux

Bayeux has the Bayeux War Cemetery and it is the largest Second WWII cemetery of soldiers in France

  • 4648 graves of soldiers from 11 countries (including those from Nazi Germany, and Russia)

Ranville

The Ranville War Cemetery contains predominantly British soldiers

  • 2151 British graves
  • 399 graves of other nations (Canada, France, German and 5 others)

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14 Comments

  1. My great-grandfather was killed in action at Vimy Ridge so I know much more about WWI than WWII but it sounds very interesting to learn about D-Day and Normandy. Such sacrifice deserves recognition. Hopefully I can visit this year!

    1. That is very well said. I’d like to learn more about WW1 and Vimy would be great to visit, particularly for me, a Canadian.

  2. Jan, thank you for taking the time to gather all this information and post it! It brings back all the memorable moments from that vacation. I am looking forward to going back to visit more of the beaches, museums, cemeteries and sites. That trip was definitely a highlight from our long list of French experiences!

  3. Thanks for sharing the beautiful and moving video of the 60th Anniversary celebration, Jan. The singing was haunting and the huge screens and archival film give a “You are there” feeling to the visit. Normandy Beach is one of our “Must sees” and I’d love to visit the museums too.

  4. Love this post Jan. We stopped at several of the locations on your list on our road trip through Normandy. The American Cemetary at Omaha Beach took my breath away. So many young lives lost. The history lessons we learned while visiting kept us there much longer than we anticipated. I think every American whose able should visit.

    1. Totally agree. Underestimated how much it would move me when I visited. The museums are so informative and worth the visit.

  5. I found my uncle’s grave on a trip through the cemetery in Ravenna Italy a few years ago. It’s always such an emotional situation when we visit war memorials, the sacrifice these young men made is astounding and needs to be remembered.

  6. We visited Normandy about 8 years ago. We did a 2 day van tour of the beaches and battlefields with an outfit named Battle Bus. It was fascinating and emotional. I still carry around a pebble I found on Omaha Beach. There was also a toll suffered by the French. Caen was pretty much reduced to rubble in order to liberate it. War is like that.

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