Normandy

D-Day Landing Beaches

D-Day, the 6 June 1944 landing on the beaches of Normandy by the Allied forces, was the largest military operation in history: let's retrace the places of memory together.
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At dawn on 6 June 1944, the largest military offensive in history began, code-named Operation Overlord, renamed D-Day: 7,000 troops and tens of thousands of British, American and Canadian soldiers landed on the Normandy coast to begin the liberation of Europe from Nazi Germany.

This was the site of a dramatic page in the history of the 20th century, which ended with the gradual liberation of French territories, but also with a real massacre in the attempt to complete the operation: in the 76 days of fighting, the Allies lost 210,000 soldiers and the Germans 200,000 dead and 200,000 prisoners.

This whole stretch of beautiful coastline called the Côte de Nacre, or mother-of-pearl, is completely littered with battlefields, craters left by bombing raids, cemeteries and war museums, testifying to the horror that took place here.

Admiring the panorama, now a silent guardian of memories, it seems almost impossible that such a human tragedy could have taken place and we warn you that if you dedicate a day to visiting the memorial sites, you must prepare yourself for a considerable psychological impact.

The D-Day beaches

In an unprecedented military operation, American, Canadian and British allied forces joined in a joint and coordinated offensive to liberate Europe from the Nazi invasion. The theatre of this attack was the stretch of coast from Cherbourg to Ouistreham, where one of the bloodiest and fiercest battles in history was fought.

The attack was designed to cover the entire Normandy coastline, divided into sectors, along its five major beaches . On the night of 6 June 1944, the Allied troops each landed in a specific sector: the Americans at Utah Beach and Omaha Beach, the British arrived at Gold Beach and Sword Beach, while the Canadians landed at Juno Beach.

Fun fact: the code names of the beaches were chosen by the commanders-in-chief of the operation. Utah Beach and Omaha Beach were reminiscent of the home countries of the superiors who directed the military actions. Sword Beach and Gold Beach were chosen by British Montgomery, who opted for fish names. In contrast, Juno Beach was initially to be named after the jellyfish, Jelly, but at the last minute the name of Lieutenant Colonel Dawnay’s wife was chosen, Juno.

Utah Beach

The first American sector

Utah Beach is the first beach one encounters coming from the west and is located in the Manche department, on the east coast of the Cotentin Peninsula.

Although it is a strategic area, due to its proximity to the town of Cherbourg, it was not particularly manned by the Germans, who considered it unsuitable for a landing, due to its marshy conformation. Instead, on this very beach surrounded by ponds, dunes and streams, at 06.25 a.m. on 6 June 1944, the soldiers of the 8th American Infantry Regiment were the first to touch French soil, brought close to the shore by 20 landing barges.

Losses were very low, compared to other beaches, due to the poor German surveillance, but many soldiers drowned due to the excessive weight of their individual equipment and weapons.

Utah Beach Landing Museum

1La Madeleine, 50480 Sainte-Marie-du-Mont, Francia

In a former German bunker, just opposite the beach, is the Utah Beach Landing Museum: the museum tells visitors the sequence of events that occurred on that tragic day, using maps, period footage and numerous archive documents.

You can also see a real B26 bomber up close. From the bunker you will have a spectacular panoramic view across the vast, lonely, windswept Utah Beach.

D-Day Experience Museum

22 Vge de l'Amont, 50500 Carentan-les-Marais, Francia

Here the men of the 1O1 Airborne clashed for the first time with the Green Devils, the German paratroopers of the 6th Fallschirmjager Regiment: the D-Day Experience is one of the best-preserved sites of war-related history, where you can experience the terrible battle of Carentan up close.

Crisbecq Battery

3isle A1, 1 Rte de Crisbecq, 50310 Saint-Marcouf, Francia

History must always be read from both sides. In addition to the sites that bear witness to the Allied tragedy, we also recommend a visit to the sites of the German forces, which were very often manned by young boys, unaware of the sad fate they would meet.

The Crisbecq Battery Museum is housed in the largest German coastal artillery battery that garrisoned the region, an extensive area that stretched from Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue to Pointe du Hoc. If you have time, you can follow a path that takes you through the trenches to visit the 22 bunkers that made up this line of defence.

Most of them are now empty, but some have been furnished with everyday objects: you can visit the perfectly reconstructed dormitories, infirmary and kitchen, to tell the story of life in the battery during the war.

Sainte-Mère-Église

The tiny village of Saint Mere Eglise became famous for its bell tower. In fact, during the landings, an allied soldier got his parachute caught in the church spire and to this day a dummy stands on the steeple in his memory.

Also in Saint Mere Eglise is a curious object: a bomb has become kilometre zero of the so-called Freedom Road, where the liberation of Europe from the Nazis began.

Mémorial de la Liberté Retrouvée

518 Av. de la Plage, 50310 Quinéville, Francia

Just opposite Utah Beach and close to Sainte Mère Eglise, you can visit the Mémorial de la Liberté Retrouvée: 1000 square metres of insights, testimonies and documents from the 1940 exodus to the Landing.

You can discover all the details of this page of history, walking along a street entirely reconstructed with shops and dwellings, just as it was during the occupation. A real plunge into history.

Batterie d’Azeville

6Lieu-dit, La Rue, 50310 Azeville, Francia

In the vicinity of Sainte Mère Eglise, you can visit another German battery, the Batterie d’Azeville, which remained in defence of the coast: this post was very active on 6 June 1944 and in the following days.

More than 350 metres of freely accessible underground, 4 casemates for 105 mm cannons and a dozen outbuildings bear witness to the violence of the battle and what was the Atlantic Wall. It is possible to watch a documentary film.

If you have time, go as far as Sainte Mère Eglise: the church is famous because an Allied paratrooper was caught in the church tower.

Batterie de Maisy

77 Les Perruques, 14450 Grandcamp-Maisy, Francia

The German Batterie de Maisy, located between the two beaches of Utah and Omaha, was immediately abandoned after the war and gradually swallowed up by nature until it disappeared completely and was forgotten. The remains of the structure were only rediscovered in 2004 and opened to the public in 2006.

It played a key role during the course of the battle: it fired on the Allies, covering part of the Landing sectors for three days. The final assault on 9 June, in which the 5th and 2nd battalions of American Rangers took part, lasted 5 very long hours.

Also in the village of Maisy, it is possible to visit the Musée des Rangers: the structure focuses on the American elite troops, specially trained for the special mission of G-Day, i.e. the storming and capture of Point du Hoc, in which hundreds of soldiers lost their lives in a desperate undertaking.

Omaha Beach

The second American sector

Along these 7 kilometres of coastline, the most dramatic and bloody battle of D-Day was fought: the moment of the landings, beautifully recounted by the film Saving Private Ryan . It was a true massacre of the Americans, who tried to reach the beach, while the Germans, from the top of the sand dunes, fired relentlessly. A massacre took place here: just think that out of almost 35,000 men who landed that night, 2,000 of them fell under German fire.

The reason for such a massacre was twofold: contrary to what had been planned, the naval and air attacks, designed to hit the German batteries on the Normandy coast, were not particularly effective and the accesses to the beach remained well defended by the enemy forces, who mowed down the landed soldiers from the top of the dunes. Furthermore, that night the rough sea and strong wind pushed the Allied boats unpredictably against the obstacles placed by the Germans.

Today, as you see inhabitants on horseback or people out walking, it will be hard to think about what happened and imagine a scenario of death and bloodshed.

Memorial Museum of Omaha Beach

8Av. de la Libération, 14710 Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer, Francia

This unmissable museum tells the story that unfolded on Omaha Beach through many period pieces, exceptional archive photographs, original footage and personal items. The sequence of events is narrated through reconstructed scenes using mannequins – an effective tool for understanding the drama on the battlefield.

Also on display are a Landing barge, a 155mm Long Tom cannon (the only one in Normandy) while in the car park you can see the impressive Sherman tank up close.

All instruments that will clearly explain the landings at Omaha and Pointe du Hoc.

War Memorial

9Av. de la Libération, 14710 Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer, Francia

Erected on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the landing on 6 June 2004, the Omaha Beach war memorial, by French sculptor Anilore Banon, is called Les Braves , or The Braves: it is a set of 3 sculptures, with the Wings of Hope and the Wings of Fraternity at its centre .

American cemetery and memorial in Normandy

10Rte du Cimetiere Americain, 14710 Colleville-sur-Mer, Francia

Immortalised in Steven Spielberg’s film Saving Private Ryan, this immense cemetery immersed in silence, only partially conveys the idea of the immense tragedy that took place on Omaha Beach.

Endless rows of white crosses, as many as 9386, commemorate the many American victims who lost their lives on these shores, in addition to the 1557 missing soldiers. It will be no coincidence to see not only tourists wandering the rows, but also veterans and family members of the victims looking for their loved ones to mourn and remember.

Guarding this place of subdued sadness is an imposing memorial in the shape of a semicircle, dedicated to the missing soldiers.

La Cambe German Cemetery

11Les Noires Terres, 14230 La Cambe, Francia

To understand how the horror was also inflicted on the opposing side, visit the cemetery of La Cambe, where 21,222 German soldiers are buried, many very young, who were thrown into battle without hesitation. A truly ghostly mass grave is impressive.

To commemorate this immense loss of life, 1,200 maple trees, a symbol of peace, were planted.

Overlord Museum

12Lotissement Omaha Center, 14710 Colleville-sur-Mer, Francia

Just opposite the American cemetery in Normandy is the Overlord Museum, opened in 2013 and created thanks to the contribution of the Leloup family.

On display here are more than 10,000 objects related to the D-Day battle: not only personal belongings of soldiers but also tanks and aircraft, from both armies.

Pointe du Hoc

13Pointe du Hoc, Francia

To fully understand the hell of that night, one must go to another ghostly place, literally littered with immense craters, where the bombs dropped by the Allies fell.

On the night of 6 June, there was a very strong wind that slowed down and hampered the launching operations. The 225 Canadian Rangers , who were to be parachuted onto Juno Beach due to poor visibility, were dropped there by mistake and were forced to climb the 30-metre high cliffs under enemy fire: by the time they succeeded in seizing the casemates and the German command post, only 90 remained alive.

You can walk along the fortifications but do not approach the cliffs, as erosion has made them particularly dangerous.

D-Day Omaha Museum

14Rte de Grandcamp, 14710 Vierville-sur-Mer, Francia

To understand the dynamics and techniques of warfare used at Omaha Beach, you must go to the Musée D-Day Omaha in Colleville-sur-mer, a stone’s throw from the beach. Here you will find original artefacts and reconstructions of real wartime situations preserved in the US military building.

Gold Beach

Batteries of Longues-sur-Mer

The first British sector

Continuing eastwards, along the Normandy coast of the landing, you will come across Gold Beach, the beach on which a number of regiments of the British army landed: the aim was to cut the Bayeux-Caen axis, liberate the town of Bayeux and join the forces that had arrived at Sword Beach.

Of the 25,000 British who landed on this beach, there were as many as 1,000 casualties. The peculiarity of Gold Beach were the Mulberry Harbours, or artificial temporary harbours, created in secret to allow and facilitate the landing operations: created with ships sunk in place and metal caissons, their purpose was to break the waves and thus allow the landing of military equipment. Just think that more than 15 km of pontoons were built to unload 400,000 vehicles and 3 million tonnes of material. The idea came from the great British statesman Whiston Churchill.

Batterie of Longues-sur-Mer

1539 Rue de la Mer, 14400 Longues-sur-Mer, Francia

The German battery at Longues sur Mer is the only one that has kept intact its large German guns designed to strike even 20 kilometres away, all the way to the beaches of Omaha and Gold.

Today, they are mute reminders of the war and from their huge concrete bases, you can see Bayeux Cathedral on a fine day.

The Arromanches Landing Museum

16Place du 6 Juin, 14117 Arromanches-les-Bains, Francia

The Arromanches Landing Museum tells its visitors the story of the artificial port, the famous Mulberry B: from its conception to its astonishing construction, retracing every step of an ingenious strategy that has passed into history.

It is an interesting museum not only from a historical point of view, but also from a design point of view.

Arromanches 360

17Rue du Calvaire, 14117 Arromanches-les-Bains, Francia

To immerse yourself even further in history, we recommend a rather unique film projection. In the Arromanches 360° circular cinema, a 20-minute film is shown, recounting the 100 days of the landings: you will experience great emotions, thanks to a film that uses period footage mixed with footage from the field, put together with skilful editing.

America Gold Beach Museum

182 Pl. de l'Amiral Byrd, 14114 Ver-sur-Mer, Francia

The America Gold Beach Museum, in the centre of Ver sur Mer, between Courseulles-sur-Mer and Arromanches, commemorates two important 20th century events that took place in this small village.

In 1927 , the first mail transport flight from the United States to Europe crashed into the sea off Ver sur Mer, with Commander Tobert Byrd on board.

On 6 June 1944, the British 50th Infantry Division landed here, as part of Operation Overlord (D-Day), on the famous Gold Beach.

The Musée America Gold Beach also effectively explains the meticulous preparation of the Landing by the Intelligence Service and the victorious assault on Gold King Beach conducted by the 69th Brigade of the British 50th Infantry Division with the support of the Royal Navy and the RAF.

Juno Beach

The Juno Beach Centre

The Canadian sector

At Berniéres-sur-mer beach , bordered by the town of Saint-Aubin-sur-Mer to the east and Courseulles-sur-Mer to the west, the Canadian forces involved in the operation landed. Their mission of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division was to cut the Caen-Bayeux road axis and seize the Carpiquet airfield.

Unfortunately, out of 23,000 men (Canadian and British) who landed at Juno, almost 1,200 of them lost their lives Beach.

Juno Beach Centre

19Voie des Français Libres, 14470 Courseulles-sur-Mer, Francia

The Juno Beach Centre is the only Canadian museum located on the Landing Beaches: for many, it is a minor page, but the role of the Canadian forces during the Second World War was crucial.

Run by the Canadian government, the museum traces the highlights of the Juno Beach landings through period documents and objects collected on the beach. It mainly tells the story as seen from the perspective of the Canadian military.

If you take the time to follow the guided tour, you will be able to enter the two forts located on the beach, to get an up-close and personal understanding of the organisation of the landing and the role of the Canadian soldiers.

The Canadian soldiers' cemetery

20D35, 14470 Reviers, Francia

There is also another memorial site of great emotional impact, the Canadian soldiers’ cemetery.

Buried here are 2,049 men who gave their lives for freedom and never saw their homeland again.

Sword Beach

The second British sector

We conclude our tour of the Normandy landing beaches with Sword Beach: in this stretch of sea between the towns of Ouistreham and Saint-Aubin-sur-Mer, 30,000 men landed, including British soldiers and Free French troops arriving from England.

Compared to other landing sites, only 700 soldiers died here, an achievement when one considers the numbers on the other beaches. The aim of the attack was to link up with the troops that had landed at Juno Beach.

Le Grand Bunker

216 Av. du 6 Juin, 14150 Ouistreham, Francia

This museum is a faithful reconstruction of one of the key sites of the operation: the command post of the Atlantic Wall. The visit will give you an understanding of the tactics, the big picture of the attack and the coordination of the various war forces in the field.

Commando Museum N. 4

22Pl. Alfred Thomas, 14150 Ouistreham, Francia

Small and intimate, this museum tells a little-known page of D-Day, that of the liberated French troops. The French commandos landed together with the British to liberate Ouistreham. They were mixed forces, created to conduct small-scale raids and attack garrisons along the coast of German-occupied France.

Pegasus Bridge

2314860 Ranville, Francia

Another creepy place is the Pegasus Bridge, the code name for an elevated bridge over the Orne River: one of the fiercest battles of the Normandy landings took place here.

The 6th Airborne Division, led by Major John Howard, was catapulted just a few metres from the bridge, a few minutes after midnight on 6 June 1944: to the sound of the Scottish bagpipes of Private Bill Millin, the bridge was conquered at great expense of men and the first house across the river became famous as the first liberated building in France.

The Pegasus Memorial

241 Avenue du Major Howard, 14860 Ranville, Francia

A place laden with symbolism and heroism is the infamous Pegasus Bridge over which the first Allies were parachuted on the night of 6 June: here they had to endure a fierce battle to conquer the bridge and liberate the first French village, Ranville.

The Pegasus Memorial allows you to relive all the moments of the battle with historical artefacts, photographs and authentic objects that belonged to the soldiers, such as the famous bagpipes, and to climb up to the original bridge now replaced by a replica.

We recommend entering the first liberated house, across the bridge: the descendants have opened a bistro, Café Gondrée, full of historical relics and objects left by the soldiers.

Map

In the following map you can see the location of the main places of interest mentioned in this article.

Visiting the beaches and landing sites

Many tourists visit the beaches of the Normandy landings every year: a trip to the places of memory to commemorate, observe and meditate on the tragedy that took place at the end of the Second World War.

The complete itinerary along the marvellous stretch of coastline from Cherbourg to Deauville is about 200 km and to be enjoyed in its entirety would merit 5-6 days including visits to the towns of Caen and Bayeux.

If this is not possible, we recommend that you set aside at least two to three days to explore and visit the most significant places along the Normandy landing route. Many tourists limit themselves to visiting only the main sites, but we recommend that you dedicate the right amount of time to these places of high historical importance.

Films on the Normandy Landings

To learn more about the history and places of D-Day, we offer you our personal ranking of the best films and TV series about the Normandy landings.

Band of Brothers (2001)

Produced by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, it tells the odyssey of Easy Company of the 506th regiment of the American 101st Airborne Division. In just 10 episodes, it shows the French front like no one before, transporting us to those June days when simple workers, peasants and students overcame Nazism.

Band of Brothers - Box Set
29,41 €
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Saving Private Ryan (1998)

A watershed in its genre, war as never seen before: Saving Private Ryan is the film that came closest visually to the carnage that was the Normandy landings. Tom Hanks and his team put their own lives at risk to save that of a certain James Ryan, about whom they know nothing. Despite its flaws, some shortcomings and a certain pro-American rhetoric, it has the merit of showing like no other the horrendous, chaotic and muddy face of the clash of men.

UNIVERSAL VIDEO
Salvate il Soldato Ryan (4K Ultra-HD + Blu-Ray)
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The Longest Day (1962)

A war epic by definition, almost a documentary rather than a war film, characterised by a certain neutrality of judgement, it shows the feelings, motivations and actions of both sides. Nothing is left out: the attack on the Pegasus Bridge, the ascent of Point du Hoc, the landings on the five beaches, the paratroopers’ drop and the arrival of the Allied fleet.
The Longest Day conveys all the importance of that landing, thanks to the involvement of no less than five directors and a cast of stars that few other films can boast. Certainly, one of the greatest war films ever.

Eagle Pictures
Il giorno più lungo
9,99 €
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The Dirty Dozen (1967)

One of the most famous war films of all time, ‘The Dirty Dozen’ tells of a group of convicts who are sent to storm a French chateau used by German officers as a rest centre. If the ‘impossible mission’ succeeds, the group will benefit from having their sentences cancelled. A film that serves as a reminder of how the Normandy landings also featured many small units destined for certain death. More than a war film, it is a film about soldiers, with an incipit that has become legendary.

Warner Home Video
Quella Sporca Dozzina (Special Edition) (2 Dvd)
13,80 €
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The Eye of the Needle (1981)

Based on the novel of the same name by Ken Follett, it is a spy story about the days before D-Day, between espionage and counter-espionage. The Eye of the Needle tells the story of a German spy (Donald Sutherland)) who, from England, tries to return home to show his superiors proof that the Allied landing will take place in Normandy and not, as assumed, in Calais.

MGM
La Cruna Dell'Ago
27,09 €
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Overlord (1975)

The Normandy landings are witnessed through the eyes of a young soldier played by Brian Stirner. Period cameras were used to make the film and original press footage from the time was inserted. It is a surprising and courageous film that was awarded the Silver Bear at the 1975 Berlin Film Festival, and certainly the most experimental film on the list.

Overlord [1975] by Brian Stirner(2008-03-03)
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Documentaries and books on the Normandy landings

On the major streaming platforms you can find numerous documentaries about the landing. We suggest a few:

Books

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Rizzoli
D-Day. Storia dello sbarco in Normandia
14,00 €13,30 €
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Operazione Overlord: Il D-Day e la battaglia di Normandia
9,99 €
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Il giorno più lungo. 6 giugno 1944: il D-day
14,00 €13,30 €
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Insights

Arromanches-les-Bains

Arromanches-les-Bains

At the centre of the landing beaches of June 1944, Arromanches owes its fame to the remains of the artificial harbour, Port Mulberry, built in great secrecy.
Sainte-Mère-Église

Sainte-Mère-Église

In this village, an American paratrooper got caught in the church tower during the night of 6 June 1944, marking the beginning of D-Day.
Bayeux

Bayeux

Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the town of Bayeux is famous for its stunning medieval tapestry, which tells a piece of Normandy's history.
Caen

Caen

This lively university town with its relaxed atmosphere preserves impressive abbeys that miraculously remained intact after the bombings of World War II.