Many significant battles from both World Wars were fought on French soil, and France was home to many war memorials large and small. But, no battle has held the imagination and wonder of Americans, British, French, and Germans alike as the Battle of Normandy -- initiated on the 6th of June in 1944 with the D-Day invasion. This battle was important not just because it turned the tide in the western front of Europe, but also because its legacy has helped unite the former combatants who would become Cold War friends through the rest of the century. Further, it greatly helped to shape America's later role as a world superpower.
This legacy was rejuvenated in recent movies, most notably Steven Spielberg's 1998 classic, "Saving Private Ryan," and his immensely popular follow-up TV series "Band of Brothers." Yeah, I know some history buffs out there will nit at the details of these shows, but ultimately they were about the camaraderie among the soldiers. It was the fears they faced and how they overcame them in the chaotic street fighting that followed for days and weeks after D-Day. It reminded us of the tremendous sacrifice thousands before us made to preserve our freedom... something that we need to remind ourselves of on occasion.
But as realistically they tried to make the movies and TV shows, there was little to replace actually walking the ground. The screen cannot adequately represent the size and scope of the invasion, the utter confusion that reigned, nor all the different obstacles and challenges that caused the invaders so many difficulties. These included the inability to completely erase the enemy strongholds with naval gunfire, the German flooding of the marshes, the slow advance during fighting in the hedgerows. For my money, it took standing on the cliffs overlooking Pointe du Hoc to fully appreciate just how extraordinary it was for the Rangers to scale the heights carrying 100 pounds of equipment each and yet still having the energy to fight. It took surveying the German defensive positions to understand why the Allies figured over 10,000 friendly forces would likely be killed on the first day. It took looking over the bay at Arromanches to appreciate the tremendous feat of building a whole functioning artificial harbor in three days.
The intent of this three-part travelogue was not to recite history -- there were plenty of websites available that will do better justice to the actual events. (I have included a number of such sites in the Links at the bottom of the page, although I make no promises that these links are still active.) The intent was to show you that the battle sites of Normandy, along with the nearby cities of Bayeux, Caen, and Cherbourg. All of these locations were worth a visit, both for their grand scenery and their educational (and patriotic) value. The D-Day locations were very well marked and loaded with quality museums and historical sites that promised to keep visitors interested and fascinated for days on end.
Oh, of course I'll sprinkle in little bits of history, just so you history buffs out there can nit at my details. :-)
Regional Map: Click on the indicated areas below to access a travelogue. Red, green, or blue words link to the three chapters within this travelogue, while Black words will link to other travelogues in the France section.
Trip taken 31 May-4 June 2002 -- Page last updated 04 October 2006 -- (C) 2001 Tom Galvin