Tag Archives: Storming the Beaches

Honoring the D-Day Battles in Normandy, France

June 6, 2024, marks the 80th anniversary of the D-Day battles fought in Normandy, France. In the early morning of June 6, 1944, the largest seaborne invasion in history left the British coast for Nazi-occupied northern France. The fleet of ships made landings spread over a 30-mile stretch of the Normandy coast. This massive military operation combined the American, British, and Canadian Forces and became the turning point in ending World War II. 

Graves of the fallen heroes.

What Happened on D-Day

Known as Operation Overlord, the D-Day battles led to the liberation of Western Europe from Nazi control.

D-Day Planning and Preparation

The success of D-Day was the result of meticulous planning and extensive preparation. The Allies, primarily composed of American, British, and Canadian forces, understood that the invasion would be a formidable challenge. Under the command of General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Allies orchestrated one of the largest and most complex military operations in history.

The success of the operation hinged on several key factors:

•          Deception and Surprise: The Allies mislead the Germans about the invasion’s location. This deception included fake equipment, dummy tanks, and false radio transmissions, convincing the Germans that the invasion would occur at  Calais rather than Normandy.   

Dummy parachuter
A dummy parachuter used for deception.

•          Logistics and Planning: The invasion’s complexity required unparalleled logistical coordination. This involved amassing troops, vehicles, weapons, and supplies and developing innovative solutions like artificial harbors (Mulberries) to facilitate the landing.

•          Training and Rehearsals: Rigorous training and rehearsals were crucial for preparing troops for the challenges of amphibious warfare. This preparation paid off when it came time to execute the invasion.

The Invasion: Storming the Beaches

The Flags along Omaha Beach.

In the early hours of June 6, 1944, the invasion began. Paratroopers from the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions were dropped behind enemy lines to disrupt German communications and fortifications. At dawn, the seaborne assault commenced, with troops landing on five designated beaches: Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword.

•          Utah Beach: The westernmost beach, Utah, was primarily assaulted by American forces. Despite being off course from their intended landing zone, the troops encountered lighter resistance and quickly secured the beach.

•          Omaha Beach: Omaha saw the heaviest fighting of the day. American forces faced intense German fortifications and suffered significant casualties. However, through sheer determination and bravery, they established a foothold.

Omaha Beach lies empty in the winter.

•          Gold Beach: British forces landed at Gold Beach and faced a mix of solid German defenses and rugged terrain. Nevertheless, they successfully pushed inland, capturing the town of Arromanches.

•          Juno Beach: Canadian forces at Juno Beach encountered fierce resistance and obstacles, including mines and heavy machine-gun fire. Despite these challenges, they achieved their objectives and moved inland.

•          Sword Beach: The easternmost landing site, Sword Beach, was assaulted by British forces. They quickly secured the beach and advanced towards Caen, linking up with airborne troops who had landed earlier.

Pointe du Hoc: A Story of Extraordinary Bravery

The 110-foot cliffs at Pointe du Hoc.

One of the most dramatic and heroic episodes of D-Day occurred at Pointe du Hoc, a prominent cliff overlooking the English Channel. This site was fortified with German artillery capable of firing on both Utah and Omaha beaches, posing a significant threat to the invasion.

The mission was to neutralize the guns at Pointe du Hoc by scaling the 100-foot cliffs under enemy fire, destroy the artillery, and hold the position until reinforcements arrived.

Visitors at Pointe Du Hoc

As the Rangers approached the cliffs, they faced fierce resistance from German forces. Using ropes, ladders, and grappling hooks, the Rangers began their perilous ascent. Despite intense enemy fire and the challenges of scaling the sheer cliffs, they reached the top.

Upon reaching the summit, the Rangers discovered that the primary guns had been moved inland. Undeterred, they located and destroyed the relocated artillery. The Rangers held their position against repeated German counterattacks for two days until reinforcements arrived.

The Aftermath: Liberation and Legacy

The success of the D-Day invasion marked the beginning of the Allied advance into Nazi-occupied Europe, leading to the liberation of Paris in August 1944 and ultimately contributing to the defeat of Nazi Germany in May 1945. The victory came at a high cost, with thousands of soldiers losing their lives.

Honoring the Heroes

Today, memorials and cemeteries dot Normandy’s beaches and Pointe du Hoc, honoring the bravery and sacrifice of those who fought and died. These places serve as solemn reminders of the cost of freedom.

White Crosses Mark the Graves at the American Cemetery.

As we remember D-Day, we honor the extraordinary bravery of the Allied forces. The story of D-Day is not just a tale of military strategy and battlefield tactics but a powerful reminder of the courage and resilience that define the human spirit.

Visiting the D-Day Sites in Normandy

The  D-Day landing sites have become a significant draw to the region; it’s one of the main reasons people choose to visit Normandy. I had the rare opportunity to visit twice in 2022. 

Caen Memorial Museum

The Caen Memorial Museum

Consider the Caen Memorial Museum a first stop, a place to learn about the invasion and the lengthy and costly campaign that led to liberation. Watch the film D-Day and the Battle of Normandy, which features archived footage. 

Exhibit in the Caen Memorial Museum.
Posters help explain the story of the war effort.

Contemplating these numbers can help you comprehend the depth of this campaign. During the Allied invasion of Normandy, the estimated total battle casualties for the United States were 135,000, including 29,000 killed and 106,000 wounded and missing. The estimated total battle casualties for the United Kingdom were 65,000, including 11,000 dead and 54,000 injured or missing.

Pointe du Hoc

While a drive to  Pointe du Hoc may cause you to backtrack, it gave me an ideal starting point for my visit to the D-day landing beaches. Here, the U.S. soldiers climbed 100-foot cliffs while encountering enemy fire.

Looking down, I could feel their courage. Visitors stroll along the bombed-out landscape and German artillery guns; some descend into a few German bunkers.  

Omaha Beach

I moved on to Omaha Beach, perhaps the most famous U.S. landing site, Bloody Omaha. On a summer’s day, the sandy, wide-open expanse surprised me; it was full of sunbathers and swimmers. On my second visit,  I saw it empty in the winter.

But in 1944, the beach assault experienced the worst ordeal of the D-day invasion. At Omaha, the Americans suffered 2,400 casualties that day, but 34,000 Allied troops landed by nightfall.

The stunning Les Braves Memorial stands on the beach, honoring the 1944 events. Another monument stands in the open town square. Memorial plaques hang from street lights, demonstrating that the town has remembered the U.S. soldiers who fought and gave them freedom.

The American Cemetery

Grave of a Jewish soldier.

Drive to the American Cemetery, with 9,387 American graves on 172 acres. The peaceful grounds lie high on a cliff over Omaha Beach, filled with seemingly endless white crosses and Stars of David marking the graves. It honors the Americans lost in the Normandy battles, including 307 unnamed. Many visitors look for the burial site of Theodore Roosevelt, 56, the eldest son of President Theodore Roosevelt. He died on July 12 12, 1944, after leading the assault on Utah Beach.

Bronze statue known as “The Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves.”

While on a Seine Viking Cruise, I attended a special ceremony at “The Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves,” a 72-foot-high bronze statue. The playing of the Star-Spangled Banner, followed by Taps, brought tears to almost everyone’s eyes. It was a very moving tribute and made me a proud American. We learned that the average age of the soldiers buried in the cemetery ranged from 19 to 22 years.

Behind it stands the Wall of the Missing, listing 1557 whose mortal remains, as of 1953, were lost. A bronze rosette beside a name shows that the remains were later recovered, identified, and buried.

British Normandy Memorial

The British Normandy Memorial (website), opened in 2022,  honors the 22,442 soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen who died fighting under British command during D-Day and the Battle of Normandy. This number includes people from more than 30 different countries. 

The site also contains a French Memorial dedicated to the French civilians who died during this time. It stands on a commanding site overlooking Gold Beach, just outside the seaside village of Ver-sur-Mer.

Understand that visiting the landing sites, the cemeteries, and the memorials may bring some emotional discomfort. Still, they keep alive the memory of those who fought bravely to defend global freedom. We owe them much.

All Photos Copyright Debi Lander, 2022.