This was our first D-Day tour. Our original itinerary for this day, June 7, had us landing at Caen, then driving to Arromanches-les-Bains to see the 360° theater, and then the German gun battery at Longues sur Mer, before going on to Omaha Beach. However, landing at Caen required the boat to go up a very narrow waterway with several locks on it, and the night before, our captain had informed us that the predicted high winds would make it difficult to navigate the locks; so we were going to land at Honfleur, which is farther north but much easier to get into. This meant that the drive to Arromanches took more time than expected, which is probably why we didn’t visit the gun battery. We would see plenty of German gun batteries later in the tour.
The gallery for this post is called Omaha Beach. Feel free to look at all the photos.
We started out on main roads, but eventually had to transfer to what a British friend of mine once called the “gray squiggly roads;” in that stretch of the French coast there are no main roads within about 3 miles of the coastline. Arriving at Arromanches, we all trooped in to the theater. I have only one photo; it really wasn’t possible to shoot still pictures of it.
Watching the screening, however, was really overwhelming. These looked like real video of the war, with sound, and it was deafening and scary. After the show, there was quite a bit to see. Here’s the coastline, south from Arromanches, which is about half way between Juno Beach and Omaha Beach.
Nobody landed at Arromanches-Les-Bains; the Allies wanted to leave the harbor clear for a portable Mulberry harbor which was towed over from England, and served for 5 months. The Mulberry portable harbors are very interesting and it’s worth checking out the Wikipedia article on them, which has aerial photos of some in action.
There are several D-Day memorials there, of which I found this (and several similar statues) the most moving:
In addition, there were several pieces of equipment used during the invasion, and a number of people, in and out of uniform, some of whom looked like re-enactors. I don’t know if these vehicles were brought by them or were on display:
After Arromanches, we traveled on to Omaha Beach, to visit the American cemetery there. It’s in Colleville-sur-Mer, a commune. A commune in France is similar to a township or an incorporated municipality in the U.S.; it has nothing to do with communism! I don’t recall anything resembling a town near the cemetery.
For a stupid reason, I missed the lecture by David Eisenhower at the cemetery. I had to use the bathroom as we set out, and told the guide that, and went, but she didn’t wait for me, and I never caught up with them. The place is huge. Only my husband noticed that I was gone. So I wandered around by myself and took a couple of photos, which you can see in the gallery. I also got my first actual photo of Omaha Beach, from a vantage point:
Looks really peaceful now, doesn’t it. The Omaha Beach monument, plus the statues called Les Braves, is located at Saint-Laurent-Sur-Mer, a few miles further down the coast. Here’s the Omaha Beach monument:
The almost unreadable raised plaques on it basically say, in French and English, “The Allied forces landing on this shore which they call Omaha Beach liberate Europe June 6th, 1944.” I have a close-up photo of it in the gallery if you want to read it yourself. There’s also an inscription on the side memorializing the 1st U.S. Infantry Division. The odd looking silver things in the lower right of the photo are part of Les Braves. Here’s the whole thing:
And here are some buildings associated with Saint-Laurent-Sur-Mer, another commune. The buildings here are just part of it; if you look it up on Google maps it takes up a lot of space, which I recall as mostly empty.
And this one took me some time to identify; it’s down the road a little farther in Vierville-Sur-Mer, and it’s the remains of a pier which was to support the Mulberry A temporary harbor at Omaha Beach, which was destroyed in “the worst storm to hit Normandy in 40 years”, 3 days after it went operational. Mr. David Johnson, along with his photo of the pier, wrote a very interesting account of this on his Flickr account, which I recommend you read.
If you get the idea that Omaha Beach took up a considerable swath of the French countryside, you’d be right.
The rest of June 7 was a nice drive through the French countryside to Cherbourg, where we rejoined the ship. While we were driving around France, it had put back to sea and docked at Cherbourg, where we spent the night before driving back down to Utah beach the next day.