On June 6, 1944, Allied forces began storming the beaches of Normandy, France, in an effort to liberate that country, and all of Europe, from Nazi control.
On the 76th anniversary of this pivotal operation, let’s take a look back and learn a little more about how this event helped the Allies win World War II.
Portsmouth Harbor, GB
Much of the invasion of northwest France originated in Portsmouth, Great Britain. Thousands of troops boarded boats on June 5, for the overnight ride across the English Channel to the beaches of Normandy, France.
Evidence of the war still remains, including submerged portions of Mulberry harbors, which were temporary harbors constructed to help bring material into France from Allied ships after they secured the beachhead.
British, American, and Canadian troops each attacked different areas of the Normandy coast, and each section was given a code name. American troops landed at Omaha and Utah Beaches. Landing was tough in the cold, choppy water.
Fighting to take over the beach was intense here, as the area was the most heavily defended by German soldiers.
Omaha Beach Memorial
On the beach, there is a memorial called “Les Braves” to honor the 2,400 brave soldiers who gave their lives to take Omaha Beach, and the more than 34,000 men who fought so hard to liberate France by coming up the beach on June 6.
Pointe du Hoc
Dividing Omaha and Utah beaches is Pointe du Hoc, which is a tall cliff jutting into the ocean. Because of its height and position, it was an excellent defensive position held by Germans, and had to be taken in order for the D-Day invasion to be a success.
American Army Rangers scaled the hundred foot cliffs under grave danger, and reached their objective of securing the batteries and guns. Over two days, more than 135 men were killed or wounded.
The bunkers have been turned into a museum, where visitors can see what it would have been like as a German soldier, and how terrifying climbing the cliffs would have been for the Rangers.
Utah Beach and Museum
The other American landing site was at Utah Beach, where the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions parachuted in to help the men who came up the beach from the water.
A museum has been built on the beach to commemorate the attack, all that went into it, and the impact it had on helping to end the war.
Three kilometres. or just under two miles from Utah Beach, was the Azevile Battery, where the German troops blasted away at soldiers attempting to land on the beach.
It took three days to take out the battery, which is now a local museum.
Battle of Normandy Museum
Just a few miles inland from the coast is Bayeux, France, one of the first towns liberated as the Allies marched towards Berlin and the end of the war. The city has created a museum that displays a comprehensive telling of the invasion, from planning to execution to final outcomes.
It is an amazing place to learn about the battle, the war, who fought it, and who it was for.
Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial
Thousands of allied soldiers died in Normandy, and their bodies could not be returned to their home countries. There is an American Cemetery in France where nearly ten thousand soldiers are buried and another 1,500 unidentified soldiers are honored.
It is an important stop on any visit to Normandy, to get a feel for the human cost of the invasion, and to honor the dead servicemen, and to leave with a complete understanding of the cost of war.
Statue of Major Richard Winters
There are many other memorials throughout Normandy, including a statue of Major Richard Winters, made famous in the HBO series Band of Brothers. He was a paratrooper in the 101st Airborne Division of the American Army.
Memorial to John Steele
In Ste. Mere Eglise, there is a unique memorial to Private John Steele. Steele was a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne who got caught up in a local cathedral, and hung on a pinnacle on the side of the church all night long. Amazingly, he survived the ordeal.
The town used his effigy to remember all those involved in the battle.
These are just a few of the many places people can visit, online or in real life, to witness, learn about, and honor the people who fought to liberate Normandy, France and Europe from the grip of the Nazis.