It’s such a moving experience to visit the D-Day beaches anywhere along the World War II invasion area on the channel coast of France. Here’s a map that clearly shows the layout of the five Allied sectors.
Visiting Sword, Juno, and Gold Beaches
For the first time, I recently visited Gold, Juno, and Sword Beaches on the coast of Normandy. One of my goals on this trip to Normandy was to learn more about these British and Canadian beaches. As Americans, we tend to focus on Omaha Beach and Utah Beach. I wanted to get a more complete picture of what happened along all 60 miles of coastline on D-Day. So I booked an all-day tour with Overlord Tours to find out more about Gold, Juno, and Sword beaches. Our guide Rethro proved to be not only knowledgeable but also personable. The others in our group were British, and we took some good-natured teasing for our American lack of familiarity with British history, which was delightful. Let me take you along to some of the highlights of these historic beaches.
Pegasus Bridge and Sword Beach
Sword Beach and Utah Beach lay at the east and west ends of Operation Overlord. Paratroopers dropped behind the beaches in the middle of the night to prepare for the invasion from the English Channel. The idea was to hem in the Germans from either side. So it’s important to go behind the shore when visiting these two beaches. Our tour began at Pegasus Bridge, a few miles inland from Sword Beach. This bridge over the Caen Canal was a crucial Allied objective. Gliders of British troops landed just after midnight on the canal banks. Here the first casualty of D-Day was Lt. Brotheridge, who was shot while leading the charge over the bridge. The British eventually pushed the Germans off the bridge and held on until the troops landing on the shore broke through to relieve them.
Today you can walk across the replacement bridge, which is built in the same design as the 1944 bridge. Schoolchildren painted a colorful mural thanking the British troops who fought to liberate their country. The design includes puzzle pieces showing that all the Allies worked together to complete the picture of freedom.
The 1944 bridge can be seen at the museum around the corner. With its displays of World War II memorabilia and photographs as well as the full-size bridge and vehicles, this museum is well worth a visit.
While the landing of the British paratroopers in the night of June 5 – 6 yields so many fascinating stories from behind the beaches, of course there is also Sword Beach. This is where the Army and Navy troops landed at dawn on D-Day.
This section of coastline was one of the most heavily defended on D-Day. In the first wave of men ashore, half were injured or killed. The Canadians fought on bravely and eventually captured more towns and land than any other battalions involved in the invasion. The little towns on the beach here remember what the troops did for them, 75 years later.
This photo, displayed on a stone wall, notes: “How handsome he is my liberator, everything is beautiful, I feel like dancing.”
Gold Beach and the Mulberry Harbors
Gold Beach, in the middle of the five beaches, included the fishing town of Arromanches. This was the site of an amazing feat of engineering that resulted in a working port just days after D-Day. Cement pontoons brought on ships formed the based of the operations. In the summer of 1944, 500,000 vehicles and four million tons of materiel came ashore in Arromanches. Of the original 115 pontoons, 20 survive despite the pounding of the rough waters.
Here you can tour the wonderful Arromanches Landing Museum and learn about what the British accomplished here on D-Day.
After 10 hours crammed with learning, emotions, and experiencing these beaches firsthand, it was time to say good-bye to Rethro. Our tour ended, but I will certainly by thinking about all we took in this day for years to come.
Read more about visiting Omaha Beach.
Read more about visiting Utah Beach.
Read more about what it’s like to visit the D-Day beaches in an article I wrote for Travel Awaits.
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