To understand what WW2 was truly like, you must take a trip to Normandy, France to see where some of the most monumental events took place. The turning point of the war occurred in this region and the battle sites are meticulously preserved with many relics. It makes Normandy a must-visit to learn about and understand these historical events.
Nothing compares to standing at wartime sites like the beaches of Normandy with a guide bringing the historic events to life by retelling the intricate details of what happened in the places they occurred. TripUSAFrance offers incredible multi-day tours of the region. There are so many sites to visit and most people don’t have the time to see all of them in one trip. But some are simply unmissable. These are TripUSAFrance’s top 5 must-see WW2 sites in Normandy:
Omaha Beach is one of the beaches where American forces landed during the Allied invasion of France. It’s also where the bloodiest battle was fought. This was the turning point in the war when the Allies broke through Hitler’s “Atlantic Wall” and entered France. While you may have seen the powerful images of Robert Capa and read the words of Ernie Pyle describing the events that occurred on June 6, 1944, nothing matches the impact of walking where the soldiers landed to free France from German Occupation.
As you gaze at the hills, it is easy to imagine the difficulty the men faced in capturing the beach. The main area covers just about 1.5 miles. But, it’s estimated that Germany had enough power in the hills to unload 100,000 shots per minute. As you look across the water today, a peaceful scene unfolds with little hint of the sacrifices made by those brave soldiers.
This is one of the most authentic sites that you can visit in Normandy. Wonderfully restored and conserved, the area looks just like it did when the Allied troops arrived along this stretch of the coast. Out of four original German bunkers, three remain in well-preserved condition. They are the only bunkers which remain in France that still house the original 150mm cannons, placed there to ward off incoming ships. At the site there are smaller air and land defense bunkers as well as a command post where firing orders were given.
The sight of the massive cannons surrounded by 5-to-6-foot thick concrete walls is astonishing. It enables you to develop an in-depth understanding of the efforts that went into holding France. Hitler’s army had spent more than two years building up these defenses, and many others like it, along 1,670 miles of the Atlantic coast in Europe. However, Allied troops were able to penetrate the “Atlantic Wall” containing more than 1.2 million pounds of steel and 17 million cubic meters of concrete. It was the largest seaborne invasion in military history.
This site was captured by soldiers of the Devonshire Regiment on June 7. A guided visit reveals intricate details about the history and role played in the battle of D-Day. After the war, most of the defenses and fortifications of the Atlantic Wall were quickly dismantled. Understandably as they served as a painful memory of the past. Here however, conservationists worked tirelessly to preserve this site so that we remember the lessons learned during World War II.
Pointe du Hoc
This site makes our list as it was where the famed US Ranger operation, depicted in the movie “The Longest Day”, took place. A strategic point, the Germans built a large battery complex of artillery cannons. They had a range of 12.5 miles and could fire at incoming ships. They could also reach the beaches of Omaha and Utah.
34-year-old Lieutenant Colonel James E. Rudder was given the daunting task of landing on the beaches below the artillery battery. During low tide with 225 Army Rangers. Using ropes and ladders, they scaled a 100-plus foot granite hill cliff to silence the guns amidst heavy resistance at the top. At the time, an intelligence officer on staff was heard stating “Three old women with brooms could keep the Rangers from climbing that cliff”. Lieutenant General Omar N. Bradley later wrote, “No soldier in my command has ever been wished a more difficult task than that which befell the thirty-four-year-old Commander of this Provisional Ranger Force”.
One of the keys to the allied victory here is that they knew that they must capture the artillery located at the top of the hill. Failure would result in many of their brothers in arms being killed on Omaha Beach. At the end of the assault, only 90 men were left. Many lives were saved thanks to their bravery. As you explore this site while listening to the details of the battle, you can’t help but be amazed at their courage.
Normandy American Cemetery
Many visitors to Normandy describe the Normandy American Cemetery as the most powerful of all World War II sites that they visit. Here is where 9,386 American patriots are buried. An additional 1,557 still missing are also honored. As you stroll the pristine paths of the graveyard located high on a hill overlooking Omaha Beach, it’s impossible not to feel moved by the tragedy of such loss. For a truly emotional experience, make your way to the two flag posts in front of the reflecting pool around 4:45pm (during the summer months) to watch the flag ceremony and listen as the bugle call “Taps” is played.
If you could step back in time to before the D-Day invasion, then you would discover Arromanches-les-Bains as a luxury spa town filled with tourists. All that changed when the attack took place. This site was the key to supporting the British and American armies after they landed in France. Engineers constructed an artificial harbor to supply the troops and bring in machinery. Remnants of the harbor remain visible, and pieces are displayed around the area and in museums.
Known as Mulberry Harbor, it was also called Port Winston after Winston Churchill. If you don’t go with a guide, you should visit the Musée du Débarquement in the town. It has an extraordinary exhibition where you can learn more about the staggering work required to create the harbor. 2.5 million men, 500,000 vehicles and 4 million tons of supplies were moved through this port.
For the full experience of visiting sites with a knowledgeable local tour guide who will bring the history to life, TripUSAFrance’s Normandy discovery tour will take you to all 5 of these WW2 sites as well as immersing you into the history, culture and gastronomy of the area. The tour also includes Mont Saint-Michel, Monet’s house and garden, Honfleur, Rouen, Bayeux Tapestry, markets, fabulous restaurants and much more…