The Bloody Beaches of Normandy

Normandy 291 The Normandy coast of France is so beautiful that, even if it hadn’t played a unique role in the world’s history, it would be worth visiting.  The countryside is so idyllic, spotted with gorgeous historic chateaus, beautiful pastures, lovely meadows, and stunning beaches.  We spent three days exploring this area, and had a great time at our last stay in continental Europe.

Normandy 098 The beaches of Normandy lie about 150 kilometers from the southwest coast of England, in a sparsely populated area of France marked by a few small villages and the important town of Cherbourg.  This area is about 200 km. of Calais, which is where the Germans assumed the Allied invasion would land.  The beaches are generally flat and wide, often abutting steep cliffs of moderate height (10-50 meters). 

Normandy 103 We walked the beaches that the Allied forces code-named Utah, Omaha, and Gold — names that will live forever.   Each has lots of resources explaining its role in the Normandy Invasion, including some informative museums, statutes, and plaques.  But the highlight is just walking along the beach and imagining what it must have been like to land there on the morning of June 6th, 1944, and making your way through landmines, enemy fire, barbed wire, and every conceivable obstacle slowing your advance.

Normandy 039 The U.S. troops landed on Utah and Omaha, the British on Gold and Sword, and the Canadians on Juno.  Losses were quite asymmetric.   For instance, the U.S. lost just 197 troops at Utah, while losses at Omaha totaled some 3,000. Canadian forces lost some 500 troops, and the British lost over 2,500 soldiers on that fateful day. 

Normandy 025 At Utah, losses were contained by two factors.  The pre-landing bombing at Utah was very effective, largely immobilizing the German line of defense.  And high winds and a strong northerly tide resulted in the landing at Utah ending up a mile or so to the north of the target location, which — fortunately — proved to be a safer spot.  At Omaha, in contrast, the pre-landing bombing inflicted more damage in inland villages than on the German forces positioned on the coast, and casualties were high.

Normandy 187 We also visited the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, which is a place every American should visit.  It underscores the debt of gratitude we owe to our military, who willingly sacrifice lives to protect the free world.  There are almost 10,000 graves at this location, and it’s hard to walk the grounds without being moved.  

Normandy 043 What also struck me about our time in Normandy was the nature of the military effort behind D-Day.  The level of planning was exceptional.  The Allies had to keep their plans secret, and actively worked to reinforce the German’s view that the landing target would be Calais.  The future of the free world hinged on holding this secret, held to some degree, by more than a million people.  And the military commanders understood the importance of invading with an overwhelming show of force.  In a relatively short period of time, more than 1,000,000 Allied troops landed or parachuted into the Normandy coast area, enabling them to drive out the Germans and establish a strategic position that proved pivotal to re-taking Europe and defeating Hitler.

Normandy 189 As a citizen of the U.S. in 2008, it was impossible to walk the beaches of Normandy without contrasting D-Day to the Iraq invasion.  D-Day was planned by military experts, many of whom were on the line and lost their lives as Normandy was taken, including Teddy Roosevelt, Jr. (gravestone at right).  The Iraq invasion was planned by arrogant bureaucrats like Donald Rumsfeld, who had no  personal exposure to the dangers, but rammed an ill-conceived strategy down the throats of the military leadership.  Normandy was about protecting the interests of the free world, while Iraq is about a set of lies propagated by the Bush Administration to justify a war that should never have been waged.  Normandy preserved the life and freedom we love.  Iraq jeopardizes the future of our country and the world.  The differences couldn’t be more stark.

Click here to see our photos of Normandy.

One Response to “The Bloody Beaches of Normandy”

  1. allece hawkins Says:

    ..I still cry everytime I see scenes about the beaches of Normandy.
    We had brave soldiers and brave leaders. I am 75 years old but still
    remember listening to the radio of the war.

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