14710 Colleville-sur-Mer, France
Are you a traveler looking for destinations, attractions, or new vacation ideas? Have you ever been to France where D-Day happened? Before I travel to a country I’ve never visited, I try to do some research. D-Day, also known as the Normandy landings, was a military operation that took place on June 6, 1944, during World War II. It was a crucial turning point in the war as it marked the beginning of the Allies' invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe. This post is about what you should look for in a D-Day tour.
Both Madeline and I wanted to visit the sites of D-Day in Normandy. Both of our fathers served in WWII but neither saw action on D-Day in France. The D-Day operation of June 6, 1944 was a massive combination of land, air and sea forces of the allied armies. It was the largest invasion force in human history.
The D-Day invasion was top secret and only known as Operation Overlord. The invasion comprised five naval assault divisions to the beaches of Normandy, France. The beaches were given the code names Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword. You can see in the picture that the US led 3 assaults along with the British with Canada leading another.
In the spring of 1944, over 2 million troops from over 12 countries were in Britain in preparation for the invasion. On D-Day, Allied forces consisted primarily of American, British and Canadian troops but also included Australian, Belgian, Czech, Dutch, French, Greek, New Zealand, Norwegian, Rhodesian and Polish naval, air or ground support. The invasion force included 7,000 ships and landing craft manned by over 195,000 naval personnel.
Almost 133,000 troops landed on D-Day. Casualties incurred during the landing numbered 10,300. By June 30th, over 850,000 men, 148,000 vehicles, and 570,000 tons of supplies had landed on the Normandy shores. It was the turning point of WWII and the liberation of France by allied forces had begun.
The visit to Normandy is a sobering one. The Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in France is the first American cemetery on European soil during World War II.
The cemetery site is 172.5 acres and contains the graves of 9,386 of US military dead, most of whom lost their lives in the D-Day landings and ensuing operations. On the Walls of the Missing, in a semicircular garden on the east side of the memorial, are inscribed 1,557 names. Rosettes mark the names of those since recovered and identified.
A small chapel sits at the center of the cemetery. Inside, a ceiling mosaic depicts America blessing her sons as they depart to fight for freedom. In the open arc of the memorial, a bronze statue symbolizes the indomitable spirit of American youth. Over 1,500 names are carved on the walls in the Garden of the Missing behind the memorial.
It was a cold day and we had to wear gloves and warm rain repellant clothes. Just walking all over the American cemetery was a sobering reminder of the cost of freedom and the senselessness of war.
At the west end of the cemetery, granite statues represent the United States and France.
The Visitor Center is very impressive, and you could spend several hours there. We were allotted over an hour.
You can only imagine what the GIs were thinking when they were boarding the landing crafts and heading toward the beach.
The Germans had the tactical advantage of placing guns on the top of cliffs that were over 100 feet tall. The allied invasion force needed to neutralize those guns and they turned to the Army Rangers led by Colonel James Earl Rudder, a Texan.
Their landing was planned for 6.30am on D-Day. However, the terrible weather and the heavy German firing resulted in a disastrous landing with a high rate of casualty and the loss of most of their equipment. The heroic Rangers scaled the cliff while the Germans threw grenades at them or tried to cut the ropes through the tiny openings of the fort.
The Rangers prevailed and reached the top of the cliffs only five minutes after landing. The Rangers destroyed the guns and were required to defend against Germans attempting to retake strategic position. It was two days before reinforcements could help them and they lost 70 percent of their men. Lieutenant- Colonel James Rudder was later awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.
There are craters all around the site and our guide told us that they are the remnants of Allied bombs that were trying to take out the gun positions. These craters were never smoothed over, and they stand as a reminder of the battle.
Some of the landing craft had been modified to bring tanks and Jeeps to the beach. However, few arrived in advance of the infantry, and many sank before reaching the shore, especially at Omaha.
Going to the visitor’s center and seeing the cemetery was impressive but we also wanted to see the actual D-Day sites. One of the first was Omaha beach. Les Braves is a sculpture in the water where many soldiers landed and lost their lives.
The sculpture was created by Anilore Banon and consists of three elements.
The Wings of Hope
So that the spirit which carried these men on June 6th 1944 continues to inspire us, reminding us that together it is always possible to change the future.
So that the example of those who rose against barbarity helps us remain standing strong against all forms of inhumanity.
The Wings of Fraternity
So that this surge of brotherhood always reminds us of our responsibility towards others as well as ourselves. On June 6th 1944 these men were more than soldiers, they were our brothers.
Just standing on Omaha beach with the sculpture in the background was a reminder of the sacrifices made.
Another large concrete memorial stands on the beach. On each side of this concrete block memorial are inscribed panels that depict and honor the landing of the 1st Infantry Division and the 116th Infantry Regimental Combat Team of the 29th Infantry Division.
As we made our way back toward the car park and the Visitor’s center, we saw the World Peace Stature. A Chinese artist, Yao Yuan, created a statue to commemorate the US Rangers’ heroic capture of La Pointe du Hoc.
He depicted Peace as a young woman, who releases a dove. Yao Yuan dedicated his Grandcamp-Maisy World Peace Statue to all those who fought in Normandy during WWII and donated the sculpture to the Normandie Region. Twenty Chinese workers from Yao Yuan’s workshops were flown to Normandy to install the 8-ton statue.
The trip to Normandy from Paris was an all-day affair. Our tour guide had a lunch spot picked out and we had a late lunch before returning to Paris. La Cremaillere was a very friendly place.
We felt very welcome as US Citizens all over this area. We saw US flags flying from just about every French home in the area. They were small flags generally, but it reminded me of the huge respect and thanks the French people in this region have for the Allied forces who took back this area and eventually repelled the Germans out of France. The Normandy trip was something on our list for quite a long time and even though it was cold and a long day, we will never forget it. We hope you get a chance to take a D-Day tour. If you are interested in history, particularly World War II, then taking a D-Day tour can be a very informative and meaningful experience. Visiting the sites where the Normandy landings took place can give you a better understanding of the scale and scope of the invasion, as well as the challenges and sacrifices that the Allied troops faced. Hopefully you can get a chance to take a D-Day tour.