On June 6, 1944, the Allied Forces launched Operation Overlord, the largest seaborne invasion in history. More than 6,900 ships and landing craft, 54,000 vehicles, and nearly 11,600 planes set off from the British
coast through thick fog to cross the rough waters of the English Channel. Destination: the shores of Normandy, in Nazi-occupied northern France, chosen because they were less defended by the Germans than sites farther east. Although the Allies successfully caught the Nazis off-guard, the battle was bloody and the cost of human life high on the beaches code-named Omaha, Utah, Gold, Juno, and Sword—it’s estimated that nearly 4,500 Allied soldiers died on the first day alone. Casualties
on both sides exceeded 400,000 for the campaign, which ran through the end of August and
launched the successful Allied march across Europe that helped to end Adolf Hitler’s dream
of world domination. Time has erased most of World War II’s scars from this quiet coast, except for the dramatic reminder of rows and rows of stark white crosses and Stars of David marking the resting places of 9,387 American soldiers at Collevillesur- Mer’s American Cemetery. Nearly 5,000 British, Canadian, Australian, and South African troops rest at the British Cemetery at Bayeux. Near the town of Néville-sur-Mer, pieces of wrecked German bunkers and barbed wire overlook the beach, and at Arromanches, just off Gold Beach, sit the remains of the floating Mulberry Harbor, an artificial port built to receive supplies during the landing.
Several museums detail the D-day invasion, the most important and comprehensive
being the Musée du Débarquement (D-day Museum) at the site of the Mulberry Harbor
and the moving and informative Caen Memorial—A Center for History and Peace,
about 30 miles to the south. The latter gives an overview of the invasion, set in a city
that was 80 percent destroyed by Nazi bombing.