After a quick breakfast and packing up we all piled into the vans. Today’s focus was visiting the D-Day beaches and the American Military Cemetery. Early in the morning on June 6, 1944, about 156,000 Allied soldiers stormed five beaches along the coast of Normandy from north to south: Sword, Juno, Gold, Omaha, and Utah. These beaches cover about 50 miles of the coastline.
Our first stop was Arromanches near Gold beach. This town is a resort town with sandy beaches but no natural harbor. It was here that Winston Churchill’s idea of using prefabricated floating ports was implemented in order to deliver supplies and ammunition for the Battle of Normandy, until the existing deep-water ports of Cherbourg and Le Havre could be liberated from the Germans. The British built huge floating concrete caissons which, after being towed from England, then had to be assembled to form walls and piers forming and defining the artificial port called the Mulberry harbor. These comprised pontoons linked to the land by floating roadways. We climbed the cliffs overlooking the beach and could see the remains of the huge concrete blocks sitting on the sand and further out at sea.
Then we visited the site of the German bunkers and original guns situated on the 200-foot-high cliffs used to defend the coast against the Allied Navy. These guns were designed to hit targets over 15 miles away, Omaha Beach among them. During these stops and short hikes, one of our guides, Lucie, was telling us the history of the battles here. Fascinating.
After a wonderful lunch at a little local restaurant, we then drove to Omaha Beach. Here Lucie provided the context about the battle, explaining why the casualties along Omaha Beach were far worse than at other locations along the D-Day beaches. As we walked along the sandy beach, the wind came up and rain started to pour down. Somehow it felt very fitting for the location.The beach was so beautiful it was hard to imagine all those men dying here. From the beach we walked up the back entrance to the American Military Cemetery.
Here 9,387 American soldiers are buried, each marked with a white cross or Star of David. In a central location at the head of the cemetery is a large bronze statue of the “Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves” and not far away, a visitor center and museum. Very moving.
After this visit we drove to the remote Cotentin Peninsula, named after the 4th century Roman Emperor Constantius Chlorus. In the charming seaside town of Barneville-Carteret, we stayed at the Hotel des Isles, a beach-side resort hotel with views of the English Channel with the island of Jersey just visible off the coast. My room was light, airy, and spacious directly overlooking the beach.
Alas, I did not write down the name of the restaurant we went to that night. It was a one-star Michelin restaurant (maybe La Marine?). Very nice, lovely views and mouthwatering food. Unfortunately the food may have been too rich as I did not sleep well that night or felt very well in the morning.