The D-Day Beaches in Normandy, France, with its gentle sand dunes and coves, lay witness to one of history's greatest moments during wartime. This is where 100,000 soldiers lost their lives in a bid to secure and liberate this section of Europe from the rule of the Germans. The coastline was a strategic line of defense, one that the Allied troops tried to breach and one the German forces tried to defend at all costs. This coastline was transformed into an unbroken fortress armed with land mines, guns, wire, beach obstacles and pillboxes.
Dubbed Operation Overlord, D-Day marks what is considered to be the largest military operation in history and involved the U.S., Canadian and British troops. Their assault successfully smashed the Nazi defense.
D-Day refers to June 6, 1944, when a great assembly of Allied troops along with a multitude of warships, tugboats, jeeps and landing craft, arrived and occupied the area along the Norman Cost – on the Cotentin Peninsula and between Les Dunes de Varneville and Orne. Within a week, the Allied troops were able to successfully liberate Paris.
The D-Day beaches are still known by the code names given to them during wartime, namely, Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword. These beaches still bear traces of the fighting that occurred between the Allied and German forces. You can see the 'Rommel Asparagus', 'Belgian Grills', 'Czech hedgehogs' and pillboxes, all military installations, as you take a stroll along the beaches. Also, Omaha Beach's Pointe du Hoc still has shell holes and German bunkers.
Next stop is Omaha Beach, where the Allied forces experienced the highest casualty during D-Day. It also houses a monument that is dedicated to the courageous soldiers who risked life and limb in their bid to liberate Europe. Omaha Beach is also where you can find the Normandy American Cemetery. Here, line upon line of white crosses mark the remains of some 9,000 U.S. military who died on that fateful day.
Further on, is Utah Beach, where you can find a U.S. monument dedicated to the 4th U.S. Infantry Division. You will also find Ste-Mère-Eglise nearby. This hamlet was where the U.S. paratroopers dropped off before going on to Bastogne and Metz.
On the easternmost side is Sword Beach, which spans Ouistreham to Luc-sur-Mer. This is where the British Troops (3rd Infantry Division, N°4 British Commando and 41st Royal Marine Commando) landed. Do drop by Battery Museum, the Pegasus Memorial, N°4 Commando Museum as well as the Atlantic Wall Museum and the Radar Museum.
Juno Beach encompasses the towns of Courseulles-sur-Mer, Bernieres-sur-Mer and St. Aubin-sur-Mer. The Canadian troops stormed this area of the target. There are memorials dotting the area. The Beach Center at Juno is where you can find a wealth of information via photographic displays, audio and films that cover pre-war and wartime Canada.
Gold Beach is where two British Divisions landed. This is also where you can find the American Gold Beach museum and the Landing Museum, which recounts the different stages of the invasion via an audio-visual presentation.
Now, over 50 years after that famed D-Day, the Normandy coast is a serene and filled with sandy, gentle and beautiful beaches as well as seaside towns. And yet the traces of war still remain – it is found in the bunkers, emplacements and war memorials. If you are a history buff or just want to know more about history, the D-Day beaches is the perfect place to get to know about war, determination and human nature at its most desolate yet finest time.