The Beaches of D-Day
The landing of Allied forces in Normandy on D-Day, June 6, 1944, took place on five beaches extending across 50 miles of coastline: Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword (from west to east).
Utah Beach lies along the lower end of the Cotentin Peninsula. Troops from the United States led the invasion of this beach with the goal of securing a foothold on the peninsula, including the port at Cherbourg, and gaining control of crossroads at Sainte-Mère-Église. This was the first town the Allied Forces captured in the operation. Visitors can tour the Utah Beach Museum, which offers a chronological presentation of the events of D-Day.
United States military forces also led the invasion of Omaha Beach. This beach was the site of the greatest number of casualties, as portrayed in the movie Saving Private Ryan. Pointe du Hoc, a promontory used as a German stronghold and captured by the United States Army Ranger Assault Group, rises to the west of the beach. Visitors to this beach can see the Normandy American Cemetery and the German cemetery at La Cambe to remember the thousands of American and German soldiers who died here.
British forces were tasked with leading the invasion of Gold Beach and then capturing Arromanches and Bayeux. Successfully securing Arromanches allowed constructing a harbor for bringing more equipment to land. Bayeux became the first city that the Allied Forces liberated, leading to Charles de Gaulle delivering his first Bayeux speech a mere ten days after D-Day. Nearby is the Bayeux War Cemetery for British troops.
Canadian forces led the invasion of Juno Beach. These forces sought to capture the airport in Carpiquet and intercept the road between Caen and Bayeux. Although they encountered fierce combat and did not meet these objectives, they quickly secured the beach, leading to significant further advancements of Allied troops. Visitors to Juno can remember Canada’s participation in D-Day by visiting the Juno Beach Center and Canadian cemetery.
Sword Beach is the easternmost of the five beaches. The invasion of Sword, led by the British Army and Royal Navy, led to the capture of Caen. Although they quickly secured key bridges and the invasion successfully met its objectives, they encountered firm resistance, including an armored counterattack from the German 21st Panzer Division. Visitors to this beach can explore the extensive exhibits at the nearby Caen Memorial Museum.