One the biggest problems with planning a trip to Normandy is the vast number of museums, memorials, and military cemeteries available to visit and deciding which ones to actually go to. If you tried to visit them all you could be there for weeks and to be brutally honest I’m sure that several of them are very similar. A bit of prior research is definitely required and Jo specialises in exactly that sort of thing so we were really well prepared.
It may sound a little boring sometimes but we always like to plan where we are going to head for and what we are going to see as we’re always on a limited budget and don’t like to waste time. I know it sounds cool to just ‘go and see what you find’ but somewhere like Normandy with so many interesting sites just had to be planned. So we had a list of places we had both decided we wanted to visit and equally a list of things we weren’t too bothered by.
Now I’m sure that most of you know about the D-Day story so forgive me for this brief, very brief, summary.
The Second World War and D-Day
World War Two was in it’s sixth year, Europe was occupied by Nazi Germany, and the Allies were ready to strike back. An invasion into occupied France from England was planned and the area of Normandy in North West France chosen for Operation Overlord. The plan was to invade on five beaches on the morning of June 6th 1944.
Approximately 156,000 Allied troops landed in Normandy that morning with 83,000 British and Canadians on Sword, Juno and Gold beaches and 73,000 Americans on Omaha and Utah. The operation was ultimately successful as it began the Invasion of Europe and was the precursor to the end of the war 11 months later.
Although notoriously difficult to confirm it is generally accepted that the Allies lost 4,500 men and the Germans between 4 and 9 thousand on that one day. Tragic and a complete waste of life.
Our plan was to get out to the furthest beach from our Airbnb at Courseulles-sur-Mer so we headed west via Bayeux and over the Canal de Carentan a le Mer towards Utah Beach. A miserable drizzly morning welcomed us as we parked up and wandered over onto the sand dunes towards the memorials and the museum. We had no idea what to expect but were pleasantly surprised at the respectful low-key nature of the whole area. Utah Beach was obviously the site of US action on D-Day so there were American tourists everywhere and more Stars and Stripes being flown than you could imagine.
We did pop into Le Roosevelt Cafe as it looked like a mini-museum in itself but it was packed because of the dodgy weather so a coffee and a bun were not forthcoming.
We didn’t really consider it a place for selfies or typical tourism, more somewhere to read about history and reflect on the sacrifices made 75 years ago for our freedom. So many interesting stories of bravery and human courage and one of the most incredible places we have ever been.
From Utah we headed south towards the town of Carentan, which if you have seen Band of Brothers (perhaps the greatest TV series of all time) was the scene of some heavy fighting post D-Day. Troops from Utah and Omaha beaches moved inland and planned to link up at Carentan so it became strategically important. The museum just outside was on our must-see list, in fact it may have been top of the list.
The D-Day Experience
Located at Dead Man’s Corner (I’ll tell you about that in a moment) the museum was fascinating. Full of history and individual stories we could have stayed for hours but there was a timed experience that we just couldn’t miss. A full size simulator of a Dakota aircraft.
We lined up with 20 or so other visitors and were led into a WWII briefing room where we were briefed as paratroopers on the 5th June 1944. Then led out to the aircraft where we boarded and strapped ourselves in. Simulating taxiing and take-off, before the flight over the channel, it was amazingly realistic but the action really started over Normandy as we could see other aircraft and gliders on all sides of us with explosions and action everywhere.
It was a brilliant experience which we would thoroughly recommend to anyone visiting the area. So good.
Dead Man’s Corner
Right next door and obviously the original reason for the location of the Experience was the Dead Man’s Corner Museum. Included in the price of the ticket so well worth a look it’s a house preserved and re-designed to look as it did in June 44. Full of great displays and dramatisations.
It’s called Dead Man’s Corner because a US tank was blown up right in front of it with the driver still in turret. Due to the heavy fighting the tank couldn’t be reached for days and the place became known as the ‘Corner with the Dead Guy‘ which is very strange as there must have been scenes like this everywhere unfortunately. The name stuck though.
Now it may seem a little macabre and blood-thirsty to some but all of the D-Day history in Normandy isn’t commemorating war, it’s remembering the people who were involved and reporting what happened and the huge sacrifices that they made. Pure history.
It’s very easy to get overwhelmed with all of this though so we made a concerted effort to drive back through the pretty little fishing villages of Normandy and spend time walking around Courseulles-sur-Mer on our return to our apartment.
27/09 – 02/10/2019