Where the Liberation of Europe Began
On June 6, 1944, the Allied Expeditionary Forces launched Operation Overlord, the largest military operation in history, and more than 5,000 ships and landing craft, 50,000 vehicles, and 11,000 planes set off across the English Channel’s rough waters to begin an invasion that took the Nazis completely by surprise, and eventually led to their defeat. On beaches code-named Omaha, Utah, Gold, Juno, and Sword, the devastation cost the lives of some 4,900 Allied soldiers the first day alone, with the totals for the two-week invasion almost beyond imagination.
Time has erased most of the scars from this quiet 50-mile stretch of windswept coast, but many of the men remain, with 9,386 American soldiers buried under simple marble crosses and Stars of David at Colleville-sur-Mer’s American Cemetery (on a cliff above Omaha Beach), and nearly 5,000 British, Canadian, Australian, and South African troops resting in the British Cemetery at Bayeux.
At Arromanches, concrete vestiges of the great prefabricated harbor known as Mulberry B (or “Port Winston”), designed to assist in landing Allied supplies, lie offshore. Several museums detail the D-Day invasion, the most important of them being the Musee du Debarquement (Normandy Landings Museum, close to Mulberry’ B), with its landing diorama, models, films, and photographs. About 30 miles to the south, the Caen Memorial is also moving and informative, with displays dedicated to the causes and consequences of WW II, and new exhibitions about the Cold War.