The Normandy landings took place on D-Day, 6 June 1944, it was the largest seaborne invasion in history. Today millions of people visit Normandy every year to see for themselves where the battle was fought. We have compiled a list of 10 things we think you should see when you visit the battlefields of Normandy.
1. Pegasus Bridge & Museum
On the night of 5 June 1944, a force of 181 men, led by Major John Howard took off from southern England in six Horsa gliders to capture what was to become known as Pegasus Bridge. The force was composed of D Company (reinforced with two platoons of B Company), 2nd Battalion, Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry; 20 sappers of the Royal Engineers of 249 Field Company (Airborne); and men of the Glider Pilot Regiment.
The object of this action was to prevent German armour from crossing the bridges and thus stop them from attacking the eastern flank of the landings at Sword Beach.
Five of the gliders landed as close as 47 yards from their objectives from 16 minutes past midnight. The attackers poured out of their battered gliders, completely surprising the German defenders, and took the bridges within 10 minutes.
The original Pegasus Bridge now resides in the grounds of the Pegasus Museum. The museum was inaugurated by HRH The Prince of Wales on 4 June 2000, Brigadier James Hill, Françoise Gondrée foundress with General Sir Richard Nelson Gale as Président and lies at the Eastern end of the current bridge.
Click for more info on the Pegasus bridge museum
2. Sword Beach – German Command bunker Ouistreham
Just a stone’s throw from the beach and only a few minutes away from Pegasus Bridge, the Atlantic Wall Museum is housed in the former German Army HQ that controlled the batteries guarding the Orne Estuary.
Built from 5,000 tonnes of steel and concrete, this massive 17m tower which overlooks the seaside villas of Riva-Bella is unique of its kind. The tower has been restored so that it looks exactly as it did on the morning of June 6, 1944.
Inside the rooms on each of its six storeys have been entirely refurbished and returned to their original functions, including an engine room, barrack room, pharmacy, armory, ammunition store, map room, radio room, switchboard, model room and observation post with a powerful telemeter.
Spaces are also dedicated to the crack troops who breached the Atlantic Wall and the special equipment they used. The battle damage is still clearly visible.
3. Juno Beach Center
The Juno Beach Centre is Canada’s Second World War museum and cultural centre located in Normandy, France. The Centre pays homage to the 45,000 Canadians who lost their lives during the War, of which 5,500 were killed during the Battle of Normandy and 359 on D-Day.
Opened in 2003 by veterans and volunteers with a vision to create a permanent memorial to all Canadians who served during the Second World War, the Centre’s mandate is to preserve this legacy for future generations through education and remembrance.
Since 2004, the Juno Beach Centre’s Canadian guides have conducted guided tours of Juno Park, leading visitors through the remains of the Atlantic Wall, recounting the history of the D-Day Landings. The guided tour gives local context specific to Courseulles and the Battle of Normandy and complements the visit of the museum which conveys the role of Canada throughout the entire Second World War.
The bunker located in front of the Juno Beach Centre was uncovered and its access was cleared with the creation of Juno Park in 2004. This bunker was a German observation post that was part of the Atlantic Wall defence system. In 1944, it contained radio equipment that allowed its occupants to communicate with other bunkers and coordinate the defence of the beach. A machine gun post was positioned on the top of the bunker. A steel dome (removed in the late 1970s) protected the “look-out”. It is a great example of the German strategy to fortify the port of Courseulles.
Guided tours now include visiting the tunnels that lead to the underground Command Post of the 6th Company, 736th Infantry Regiment of Hauptmann Grote which controlled the site in 1944.
More information on the Juno Beach website
4. D-Day Museum Arromanches
It was on the beach of Arromanches that, during the Invasion of Normandy immediately after D-Day, the Allies established an artificial temporary harbour to allow the unloading of heavy equipment without waiting for the conquest of deep water ports such as Le Havre or Cherbourg.
Although at the centre of the Gold Beach landing zone, Arromanches was spared the brunt of the fighting on D-Day so the installation and operation of the port could proceed as quickly as possible without damaging the beach and destroying surrounding lines of communication. The port was commissioned on 14 June 1944.
This location was one of two sites chosen to establish the port facilities to unload the massive quantities of supplies and troops needed for the invasion during June 1944, the other was built further West at Omaha Beach. The British built huge floating concrete caissons which, after being towed from England, then were formed the walls and piers forming and defining the artificial port called the Mulberry harbour.
Even today sections of the Mulberry Harbour still remain with huge concrete blocks sitting on the sand and more can be seen further out at sea.
Learn more about the harbor in the D-Day Museum
5. Batterie de Longues
The battery at Longues was situated between the landing beaches Omaha and Gold. On the night before the D-Day landings of 6 June 1944, the battery was subjected to a barrage comprising approximately 1,500 tons of bombs, although much of this landed on a nearby village.
The bombing was followed from 0537hrs on the morning of the landings by bombardment from the French cruiser Georges Leygues as well as the U.S. battleship Arkansas. The battery itself opened fire at 0605hrs and fired a total of 170 shots throughout the day, forcing the headquarters ship HMS Bulolo to retreat to safer water.
Three of the four guns were eventually disabled by British cruisers Ajax and Argonaut, though a single gun continued to operate intermittently until 1900hrs that evening. The crew of the battery (184 men, half of them over 40 years old) surrendered to the 231st Infantry Brigade the following day.
The heaviest damage was caused by the explosion of the ammunition for an AA gun, mounted by the British on the roof of casemate No.4, which killed several British soldiers.
Open to the public are four casemates with artillery plus the observation bunker (which was used in the movie “The Longest Day”)
More information can be found on Tripadvisor
6. Overlord Museum
Located at a short distance of the famous “Omaha beach”, on the D514 facing the roundabout that provides access to the American Cemetery at Colleville-sur-mer. Overlord Museum chronicles the period of the Allied landing until the liberation of Paris.
The collection was collected by someone who was both a witness to the conflict and involved in the reconstruction of Normandy.
The museum contains the Leloup collection which has been built up over half a century of research, salvage and purchases of historic pieces from the Normandy battlefields. Everything from a reconnaissance plane, V1 flying bomb, more than 10 armoured fighting vehicles, 30 soft skin vehicles, artillery pieces, poster, signs, documents and personal objects all bearing witness to the terrible fighting in 1944.
Restoration of many of the vehicles to full running order , accurately equipped and painted have taken many thousands of hours by a dedicated team of skilled specialists. Some of the vehicles developed for war are unique as the factories and companies that produced them no longer exist, illustrating the preservation of the past technologies realized by the Overlord Museum Omaha beach
More information can be found on their website.
7. American Cemetery
The Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in France is located in Colleville-sur-Mer, on the site of the temporary American St. Laurent Cemetery, established by the U.S. First Army on June 8, 1944 as the first American cemetery on European soil in World War II.
The cemetery site, at the north end of its half mile access road, covers 172.5 acres and contains the graves of 9,387 of our military dead, most of whom lost their lives in the D-Day landings and ensuing operations. On the Walls of the Missing, in a semicircular garden on the east side of the memorial, are inscribed 1,557 names. Rosettes mark the names of those since recovered and identified.
Normandy is ABMC’s most visited cemetery, receiving approximately one million visitors each year.
The visitors center depicts the significance and meaning of Operation OVERLORD and honors the values and sacrifices of the World War II generation.
More information can be found on the ABMC Website
8. Pointe Du Hoc & Range memorial
The World War II Pointe du Hoc Ranger Monument is located on a cliff eight miles west of Normandy American Cemetery, which overlooks Omaha Beach, France. It was erected by the French to honor elements of the American Second Ranger Battalion under the command of Lt. Col. James E. Rudder. During the American assault of Omaha and Utah beaches on June 6, 1944, these U.S. Army Rangers scaled the 100-foot cliffs and seized the German artillery pieces that could have fired on the American landing troops at Omaha and Utah beaches. At a high cost of life, they successfully defended against determined German counterattacks.
The monument consists of a simple granite pylon positioned atop a German concrete bunker with tablets at its base inscribed in French and English. The monument was formally transferred to ABMC for perpetual care and maintenance on January 11, 1979. This battle-scarred area on the left flank of Omaha Beach remains much as the Rangers left it.
More information can be found on the ABMC Website
9. Utah Beach Museum
In 1962, the mayor of Saint Marie du Mont, Michel de Vallavieille, decides to create the Utah Beach D-Day Museum as a living expression of the town’s appreciation and gratitude for the Allies’ sacrifices. The Museum will initially be housed in one of the German command bunkers of strongpoint WN5.
The Museum’s unique collection of artifacts is largely the result of his tireless efforts, and the friendships he developed over the years with officers and American veterans.
Almost 45 years later the Utah Beach Museum now recounts the story of D-Day in 10 sequences, from the preparation of the landing, to the final outcome and success. This comprehensive chronological journey immerses visitors in the history of the landing through a rich collection of objects, vehicles, materials, and oral histories.
Admire an original B26 bomber, one of only six remaining examples of this airplane still in existence worldwide, and relive the epic experience of American soldiers through the film “VICTORY IN THE SAND,”.
By the end of your visit, you will understand the strategic choices for the Allied invasion of Normandy and the reasons for the success at Utah Beach. Thanks to your visit, you will also have contributed to the safeguard of the site and the preservation of the memory of the Allied soldiers’ extraordinary sacrifices.
More information can be found on the Utah Beach Museum Website
10. Dead Mans Corner Museum
Normandy, France, 6 June 1944. It is only just 00:15 when the American paratroopers of the 101st Airborne Division of General Maxwell D. Taylor parachute over the Normandy, thus becoming the first soldiers to reach the French territory; their main mission is to capture Carentan. This town is defended by the elite of the German troops, the paratroopers of Major von der Heydte, the “Green Devils” of the 6th Fallschirmjäger Regiment.
The Germans are entrenched in Saint-Côme-du-Mont, the last bastion before Carentan. They have the order to defend the town until their last man dies. It is crucial for the Americans to capture Carentan as quick as possible. They are waiting for the support of the light tanks of the 70th Battalion that landed in Utah Beach. The road from the beach is the only way they can go.
It comes from the beach, passes through Sainte-Marie-du-Mont and ends half way on the road Carentan/Saint-Côme-du-Mont, at a crossroads named – since then – the « Dead Man’s Corner” by the Americans.
A sole house stands at this crossroads; it is used by the German paratroopers as headquarters, then as aid post. The Dead Man’s Corner Museum is located in this very building, in the highly historical place of Saint-Côme-du-Mont.
Indeed, the house of the Dead Man’s Corner has been acquired by the Carentan Historical Center and turned into a museum.
During the first development phase of the D-Day Paratroopers Historical Center, it has gathered within this historical building an impressive and authentic collection of material used by the American and German paratroopers, related to this legendary site.
In 2015 the museum opened the D-Day Experience in which you have the chance of boarding a C-47 Dakota that participated in the invasion in a simulated parachute drop!
Learn more about the museum on the Dead Mans Corner website
More, Much More
We have selected but 10 of the museums and attractions that Normandy has to offer, there are dozens more museums, locations, towns and memorials that are well worth a visit.