Obviously not your typical Tita trip, our boys’ fascination with World War II history took us to a region of France usually reserved for calvados, cider, and camembert.
POSTED BY PINKY
This was an interest fuelled by such films as “Saving Private Ryan” and “The Longest Day”, and the HBO mini-series “Band of Brothers”, which re-created the tactical events that led to the Battle of Normandy, the brutal realities of war, and the stories of the brave, young men who risked their lives for the freedom of others.
Codenamed Operation “Overlord”, the Battle on 6 June 1944 was the start of an international effort led by the Allied forces (American, British and Canadian) to liberate northwestern Europe from Nazi occupation. It was the largest air, land, and naval operation in history.
And because it was so large, we decided to zero in on highlights of the Battle that focused mainly on American efforts, which many of the films featured in greater detail.
Here’s a quick rundown of our itinerary.
Picking up our car in Paris, we drove 3 hours to our chosen base in Normandy, a town called Bayeux.
After checking into our charming hotel in the center of town, we drove a short distance to the Museum of the Battle of Normandy, which set the tone for the following day’s D-Day tour proper.
More of Bayeux in another post.
We began the next day in a town that was the site of a daring but ill-fated landing by the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division along with a few scattered units of the 101st (Easy Company featured in “Band of Brothers” was part of the 101st Airborne Division).
As depicted in “The Longest Day”, one of the paratroopers, John Steele, got his parachute stuck on the side of the church and helplessly watched as the Germans shot down many of his fellow soldiers.
For a better appreciation of these heroic efforts, we paid a visit to the nearby Airborne Museum.
Next on our visit were the actual D-Day Landing Beaches of the U.S. Soldiers.
Sainte Marie du Mont
A short drive from Ste-Mere-Eglise, we headed to the Utah Beach War Museum to learn more about all the elements that came together to bring on the success of the operation in Utah Beach.
Just a few minutes away from the museum was the actual site, the westernmost beach of the five landing sites (2 American, 1 Canadian, and 2 British) taken by the U.S. 4th Infantry Division with relatively few casualties.
Pointe du Hoc
The highest point between Utah Beach (to the left) and Omaha Beach (to the right), German cannons strategically placed here in six bunkers had to be neutralised. This operation was famously depicted in “The Longest Day”, when brave Allied soldiers scaled the 100-metre cliff to seize control from the Germans.
Omaha Beach, Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer
In contrast to Utah Beach, Omaha Beach suffered many casualties. Less than an hour’s drive away from Utah Beach, the landing and the intense fighting that took place here was famously re-enacted in the highly-realistic (bloody) opening scene in “Saving Private Ryan”.
American Cemetery & Memorial, Colleville-sur-Mer
Overlooking Omaha Beach, this solemn site is an ideal location for remembering the brave men who perished here and is the site of annual D-Day anniversary ceremonies attended by U.S. and French presidents.
German Gun Batteries, Longues-sur-Mer
These are the last remaining German concrete bunkers with guns still intact – and still pointed towards the beaches where the Allied forces landed.
This site is known for the last remaining artificial port set up by the Allies, the Mulberry Harbour.
And high up on the cliff overlooking the harbour is Arromanches 360, a circular cinema that shows, with the use of archive images, a touching film about the Battle of Normandy. A fitting end to our day before the 20-minute drive back to our hotel in Bayeux.
There are several excellent organised tours that you can join or guides you can hire. These private guides can provide a vehicle (which, I think, they prefer since they would be more familiar with the roads) but they can also just ride with you in your own car.
We simply chose to do it on our own because we felt that the boys had enough information appropriate for their ages and knew what they wanted to see. Plus, we preferred to have some flexibility. In case we needed to change course, we could just chuck it and do something else.
But as usual, the boys were real troupers, and this allowed us to stick to the itinerary as planned, leaving ample time in each location to just take it all in. Befitting such a poignant day.
Watch out for a future post as we continued this journey across the English Channel to Churchill’s War Rooms.