To get to the Normandy D-day battlefields, we booked a bus trip through a well-known internet site. The trip was 14 hours in duration, with about three and a half each way journey from Paris. When lunch and other times are taken out, we had about four hours in Normandy. The tour touched on most of the major D-Day sites, but only that. We would have appreciated more time to explore for ourselves. As a result, we would have enjoyed ourselves more had we stayed in the area and combined this with other attractions, or tours we did, such as Mont Saint Michel.
Why Did We Go?
The D-Day landings and battlefields are historically very important and seeing them first hand would give us a good understanding of what happened. It would also allow us to see the American Memorial near Caen, where many of the soldiers are buried.
Our holiday was on a tight timeframe, so we did not have the time to see all of Normandy and experience what it had to offer. Instead, we decided to do the bus trip. It would take us to the specific areas of interest for D-Day and we could see the other aspects of Normandy on a return visit.
Unfortunately, we re-discovered that bus trips can be hit and miss, missing some sites, or limiting time at them.
The Caen Memorial has film and photographic exhibits covering World War Two, with an emphasis on D-Day. This was all very interesting and comprehensive. We specifically liked the underground bunker that exists on the same site. You are able to walk through it at your own pace and see the displays of how it was set up to control the German troops in the area.
For anyone wanting to know the story of D-Day and the preceding years of World War 2, this is an excellent place to visit. You should probably go here before visiting the D-Day sites in the area.
Pointe du Hoc
This is the area where high cliffs with fortified gun emplacements overlooked the invasion beaches. American Rangers scaled these cliffs on D-Day morning and disabled them, enabling the invasion to be a success. Several of the gun emplacements are still intact, to you get to see a genuine fortification and what the soldiers had to contend with. More impressive is looking over the cliffs to see what they had to scale before assaulting the guns.
The bunkers can be entered as well, so the viewpoint of the defending Germans can be seen. The surrounding area has generally been left untouched. The effect of the allied bombardment can be seen with many bomb craters still visible.
We walked down to a spent some time on Omaha Beach. From here we could look up to some of the cliffs overlooking the invasion beach, which would have been defended by Germans in 1944. This perspective really drives home what the Rangers had to climb to reach the German fortifications. The beach is very peaceful now with no signs of what happened over 70 years ago. Some Americans in the group took samples of sand home with them.
American Cemetery and Memorial near Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer
This is the final resting place of nearly 10,000 members of the US military. The cemetery overlooks Omaha Beach, where many of them fell. There are also the graves of many men who were killed in the surrounding area. There is a stunning sculpture of a soldier ascending to heaven as you enter the cemetery. This sets an excellent atmosphere for the rest of the memorial. It is a very peaceful place, with the numerous rows of headstones set in beautiful gardens. Many of the graves hold the body of an unknown soldier, with the inscription stating that they are known only unto God.
Juno Beach is where a combined British and Canadian army landed. The Canadian Memorial consists of a howitzer, and stylised sculpture of two soldiers and flags of the participating Canadian Provinces. We walked on the sand, which was very peaceful unlike June 1944.
We had hope to stop here and inspect the remains of the artificial harbour, as it was on of the great planning and engineering feats of the invasion. Unfortunately, being on a bus trip and constrained by time tables, we were running late and had to miss this part, so only saw it as we drove by.
This is one of the great drawbacks of participating in a bus trip. An area of specific interest to you can be missed, and cut from the tour to circumstances. Had we been travelling by ourselves, this would have been something we would not have missed.
What Did We Think?
What we saw was excellent. From the Memorials to the fortifications and the beaches, we gained a great understanding of the events of June 1944. If we had more time, spending more time in the area and not travelling back to Paris in the same day would have been better. We would have combined this with our trip to Mont Saint Michel and the Loire Valley Chateaux.
Bus trips will always be problematic, as you can’t control who you go with, or the time-table if things go wrong.