6th June marks the anniversary of the D Day Landings in Normandy, a crucial date in the development of World War II. On this day we remember the Allied invasion of Normandy and Western Europe, which was code-named “Operation Overlord.”
Today we would like to share a bit of history and culture about D Day Landings, to help you learn more about this significant episode of WWII and understand the importance of the different places you will visit in Normandy, if you are travelling with your school soon.
What is D Day?
“D Day” is the name given to the day when Allied forces landed on the Normandy shores in Northern France during World War II. The invasion took place on several beaches in Normandy on 6th June 1944. As a matter of fact, the term “D-Day” refers to the first day of any large military operation.
By 1940, Germany had invaded northwestern France and many territories in Europe. In December 1941 the Americans decided to enter World War II and by 1942 the Americans and the British had considered the possibility to ally.
In January 1944, the American military officer Dwight Eisenhower was assigned commander of “Operation Overlord”, intended to make the German army think the invasion would take place in Pas-de-Calais instead of Normandy and where many war tactics took place, including fraudulent radio transmissions and fake equipment.
The “Normandy Invasion” was going to take place on 5th June, but was delayed 24 hours due to bad weather, and on 6th June 1944, the Allied invasion began. The British and Canadians invaded the beaches code-named as Gold, Juno, and Sword, and the Americans did the same at Utah Beach and Omaha Beach. The operation caused the deaths of over 2.000 American soldiers.
The Battle of Normandy culminated by the end of August 1944, with the Germans being expelled from northwestern France. The Allies reached the Seine River and liberated Paris, ready to enter Germany to meet with the Soviet forces and bring an end to the Nazi Reich. In 1945 Nazi Germany surrendered to the Allies.
Why is it important?
D Day Landings is a significant date as the Allied forces, including soldiers from the United States, Great Britain, and Canada helped to secure a foothold in Normandy and pave the way for the eventual liberation of Europe from Nazi Germany, marking the beginning of the end of World War II.
D Day Landings was also the largest air, naval, and land operation in history, involving 18.000 Allied paratroopers and nearly 7.000 naval vessels. Naval forces were in charge of escorting and landing at least over 132.000 ground soldiers on the Normandy beaches, also carrying many bombardments and providing artillery support.
Where did the landings take place?
D Day Landings took place on the Normandy shores in Northern France at the beaches known by code names as Gold, Juno, Sword, Omaha, and Utah Beach.
- Gold Beach was the centre beach, assaulted by units of the British 50th Infantry Division and includes the towns of Le Hamel and La Rivière.
- Juno Beach was the second beach and it was invaded by units of the Canadian 3rd Infantry Division. The area was located on the fishing port of Courseulles-sur-Mer.
- Sword Beach was invaded by the British 3rd Division, including French and British commandos. The area is located from the west of Ouistreham to Lion-sur-Mer.
- Omaha Beach and Utah Beach were invaded by units of the US Troops. Omaha area was located between Port-en-Bessin on the east and the Vire River on the west and Utah Beach was located in the northwest of the Carentan estuary.
Which D Day landings sites can be visited today?
Some of the places were the landings of Normandy take place can be visited today, as well as many memorials and cemeteries dedicated to the many soldiers who lost their lives during the operation. Many of these can be visited as part of our school tour WWII Battlefields of Normandy School Trip,
Caen’s Memorial Museum
A must-see for any trip to the area is Caen’s Memorial Museum, opened in the Sword Beach area in 1988 and one of the best World War II Museums in France. The Museum explains in detail the invasion of Normandy, the events that took place during the D Day Landings and Battle, as well as World War II and it contains many visual materials such as artefacts, videos, tanks, airplanes, etc.
Another important site to visit during this fascinating history school trip is “Pegasus Bridge”, originally named Bénouville, and renamed in honour of the British parachutists who fought in the D Day Landings.
During this battle the 6th British Airborne Division had the mission to take control of the bridges in Bénouville and Ranville. The bridges were a key point and part of the code-named “Operation Deadstick”.
The bridge is located at the Pegasus Memorial Museum where many D Day commemorations are celebrated.
Ranville War Cemetery
Ranville was one of the first towns liberated in France. Here, students and other visitors can see the Ranville War Cemetery, where many casualties from the different war divisions were buried.
There are 2,236 Commonwealth graves of World War II at the cemetery as well as 323 German burials.
Juno Beach Centre Museum
This is a very special museum to visit on a school trip. It was opened in 2003 to honour the 45.000 Canadians who lost their lives during World War II, where 381 were killed during D Day.
Normandy American Cemetery
Located in Colleville-sur-Mer, Normandy American Cemetery was established as the first American cemetery in Europe during World War II. The cemetery is the burial place of 9,386 American soldiers who lost their lives in the Day Day Landings Battle. There are also 1557 names inscribed at the Walls of the Missing, a very touching memorial.
The cemetery consists of a colonnade with a loggia that contains the history of the military operation and a bronze statue which states “Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves.”
Some other important sites to visit on a school trip to learn about World War II and the D Day Landings are Longues-sur-Mer, including Sword Beach, Gold Beach and Juno Beach, as well as the Utah Beach Landing Museum and Omaha Beach, La Cambe German war cemetery, Sainte-Mère-Église and of course the Airborne Museum.
If you would like to learn more about the D Day Landings and the history of World War II, why not take your school to France on a WWII Battlefields of Normandy School Trip.
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