Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword. Behind their code names, Normandy’s D-Day Landing Beaches conceal as many stories as men that walked their sands on the morning of 6 June 1944. From emotional acts of bravery to homecomings, France.fr unveils some of the secrets of these poignant places of memorial of the Second World War.
A legendary paratrooper at Utah Beach
Madeleine Beach – now known as Utah Beach – was originally not included in the Allied Landing Plan. It was later added for its proximity to the port of Cherbourg and the air landing zone, and particularly Sainte-Mère-Église, one of France’s first liberated villages. Its name is now linked to that of John Steele, the American parachutist who hung from the church steeple on D-Day and whose story was immortalised by the film The Longest Day. You can still see his silhouette hanging from the steeple, where a model pays homage to him.
Emotion and a time capsule at Omaha Beach
Here, the emotion is palpable. ‘Omaha the Bloody’ bears the memory of the heavy tribute paid by the US Army on 6 June 1944. And the emotion goes up a notch at the American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer, where some 9,387 white crosses stand out against the green turf and the blue of the sky and the sea. In this American enclave on French soil, several monuments and gardens pay tribute to the fighters of the Second World War. On a slab of pink granite, a metal plaque upholds the memory of General Eisenhower and marks the burial site of a sealed time capsule. Its contents will not be read until 6 June 2044 –a century after the landing.
Normandy American Cemetery
Back to the roots at Juno Beach
Allotted to the Canadians, Juno Beach landed 9,000 British soldiers and 14,000 Canadians. Among them was the North Shore Regiment, an infantry battalion based in New Brunswick and made up partly of Acadians, descendants of French settlers who settled in this North American territory in the 17th century. Notably they liberated the village of Saint-Aubin-sur-Mer, which pays tribute to them each summer at a festival called ‘La Semaine Acadienne’. The Juno Beach Centre in Courseulles-sur-Mer provides a better understanding of the commitment of the Canadians who participated in the war effort.
Juno Beach Centre
‘Operation Mulberry’ at Gold Beach
The landing on Gold Beach led by British troops on the morning of 6 June 1944 was only the first step in a larger operation at Arromanches. Under the code name ‘Mulberry’, it involved the construction of an artificial port starting on 7 June in front of the city. In 100 days, some 400,000 soldiers, four million tons of equipment and 500,000 vehicles landed to carry out this mission. Arromanches’ Landing Museum, situated on the seafront, houses the remains of this titanic achievement.
D-Day museum in Arromanches
On enemy lines at Sword Beach
Had the other side got wind of preparations for an attack by sea? In any case, the security of the area – and more broadly that of all the coasts between northern Norway and southern France – had been reinforced by the construction of the Atlantic Wall, a system of fortifications erected by the Germans. In Ouistreham, opposite Sword Beach, a former management post of this fortification has been fully restored. Here you can dive into life on enemy lines in the radio transmission room, infirmary and armoury – all set over five levels. From the observation post, you can scan the horizon. Is it a ship you can see in the distance?
The Grand Bunker - Atlantic Wall museum