British, American, Canadian and other troops landed on Normandy’s beaches on 6 June 1944 to begin the liberation of Europe from years of Nazi occupation – and the planners of this crucial event codenamed it ‘D-Day’. If you follow the Normandy coast from above Caen in the east to close to Sainte-Mère-Eglise in the west, you can learn all about this most daring and world-changing of naval operations. Discover the individual beaches…
Sword Beach: The most easterly of the D-Day beaches, stretching west of the Orne River Estuary from Ouistreham. There were major obstacles to troops in this area: reefs at Lion-sur-Mer and Luc-sur-Mer, and strong German defences around the port. The bulk of the forces that landed on Sword Beach were British, although some French naval forces also took part.
Juno Beach: Under Canadian leadership, Canadian and British forces took on this stretch of coast west of Courseulles-sur-Mer – and although there were no major defensive batteries along this stretch, the mines, guns and vicious obstacles set up by the Germans along the beaches caused many fatalities. Of 14,000 Canadian troops that landed here, 340 were killed and 600 wounded.
Gold Beach: This area stretched east from the port of Arromanches. Before the troops landed, bombardments successfully knocked out some of the strongest German defences and advances were generally rapid. West at Asnelles, German resistance was stronger. By the end of the day, the Allied forces here had practically met the objectives set for them, closing in on the town of Bayeux.
Omaha Beach: The American troops who landed at Omaha Beach suffered the worst on D-Day, due to ineffective bombardments and amphibious tank failure. The infantry coming ashore were decimated by German fire, but despite heavy losses, small groups of Americans made it up the slopes and took German positions from behind, so some gains were made, if at heavy human cost. At the end of the day, the forces that landed here suffered 3,000 casualties, of whom around a third died.
Utah Beach: The most westerly landing sector on D-Day, Utah Beach lies on the Cotentin Peninsula stretching from beyond the village of Sainte-Marie-du-Mont north to the beach by Quinéville. Extensive marshes separate Utah Beach from the other D-Day beaches, which caused havoc as American airborne troops parachuted down into the area behind the coast during the night. Most memorably, John Steele’s parachute got stuck on the tower at Sainte-Mère-Église while fighting took place around the church. Troops setting foot on French soil here met with relatively little resistance.