After a relatively short bus ride from Bayeux, the Insight Tour took us to the Normandy beaches, namely Utah, Omaha and Juno. We also visited the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial. An aggressive schedule indeed and certainly one that was too crammed to allow me to fully appreciate and understand the sacrifices made by so many brave men. Since I am Canadian, the stopover in Juno beach was historically significant. Pity that we did not stay longer and explore the Juno Beach Centre.
Our first Normandy Beach stop was at Courseulles-sur-Mer, site of the Juno Beach landings, where 2000 brave Canadian soldiers lost their lives. The assault on Juno is generally considered—alongside Utah—the most strategically successful of the D-Day landings. I was proud to see the Canadian flag flying alongside flags the other countries involved in the D-Day invasion.
Atour next Normandy Beach stop, the tour group visited the Musée du débarquement, near the site of the Mulberry Harbour, a miracle of World War II engineering. I shortened my visit to the museum and bailed on the group so I could walk the beaches and see the real history. I’d rather see those beaches firsthand, look at the ruins and try to imagine just what happened on June 6th, 1944. It’s a feeling you cannot get by looking at static displays behind glass booths in a museum.
Our next stopover was at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in Colleville-sur-Mer, near the site of the Omaha beach landings. This was perhaps one of the most bizarre stops on our tour. The security at the American Memorial was as stringent as any airport – namely body scanners, metal detectors, x-ray machines and security guards. It was actually easier to clear customs coming into France or even enter the Louvre Museum than to gain access to this little bit of American territory in France. Fear seems to always grip this once stoic and courageous nation. They Americans in WWII fought so valiantly for freedom and today, bit by bit, they are sacrificing their liberty on the alter of security.
The site serves as a grave for 9000 American soldiers who lost their lives at Omaha and Utah beaches. Many of the crosses in the graveyard are marked with the names of the fallen, however, others serve as monuments to unknown soldiers.
We left the Normandy American Cemetery Memorial to visit the actual landing site of Omaha Beach. It was astonishing to see just how well the Germans engineered their fortifications. Around the ruins, there are dozens of deep craters made by bunker busting bombs dropped by Allied planes. This was some serious ordinance used to destroy the German gun installations.
You can see all the photos taken on September 5th at the Normandy Beaches in the gallery below.