Whether your image of the American forces in Normandy comes from 'Band of Brothers', 'Saving Private Ryan' or (for some of us) Robert Mitchum, Red Buttons and John Wayne in 'The Longest Day', there is a kernel of truth in all of those cinematic stories that brings us to an understanding if the tremendous conflict that took place here in the summer of 1944.
Rarely can we honestly call an event in history 'a turning point for world history' but the D-DAY landings and break out by the forces in Normandy can fairly be given that label. While this is a huge story, we can identify small tales and actions that build up grand view that helps us understand how a potential disaster became such a success for the Allies.
Join us on a journey through the landings and battles of the American & and Allied forces that changed the course of history. We will underpin some stereotypical views as almost accurate, while debunking other myths. This is a voyage of discovery and understanding for every member of our group.
* Please contact us so we can build your own "tailor made tour" to your exact requirements - or take one of our set departure tours.
PLACES THAT WE USUALLY INCLUDE AND WOULD RECOMMEND IN OUR D-DAY TOURS:
The Battle of Cherbourg was an important part of the Battle of Normandy, and fought immediately after the D-Day landings on June 6, 1944. Early on the morning of June 6, the US 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions landed at the base of the Cotentin Peninsula and isolated and captured Cherboug after an intense nearly month long battle. The port of Cherbourg was to prove vital for the push into Western Europe..
St Mere Eglise
Prior to the D-Day landings the allies knew that they had to take possession of the two flanks of the beachhead before the landings could take place if they were to control the landings and push inwards. Ste Mere Eglise was a small village on the eastern flank and was taken by the paratroopers of the 82nd and 101st Parachute Infantry Regiments but with heavy casualties, as the men were illuminated landing by the fires in the town and were killed as they landed. The town was taken by members of the 505th led by Lieutenant-Colonel Edward C. Krause. At around 5am the Stars and Stripes flew over the town with St Mere Eglise the first town to be liberated in France by the Allies.
The town was made famous by the paratrooper John Steel who managed to land on the church steeple and played 'dead' while the fighting raged below. He was eventually cut down and captured by the Germans but escaped. The famous film "The Longest Day" had this as an important segment of the film, played by actor 'Red Buttons'. Inside the church there are two stained glass windows, with one depicting the Virgin Mary surrounded by paratroopers and the other showing St. Michael (the patron saint of the paratroopers) and was dedicated in 1972.
Utah Beach 5 km long, was the westernmost of the D-Day beaches and tasked to US 4th Infantry Division (part of VII corps) who landed with light resistance mainly due to being landed some distance away (a mile off course) from the designated landing area, plus light German resistance.
Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt Jr. the assistant commander of the 4th Division went in on the first wave and personally led the initial attack. He was the most highly ranked and oldest soldier at 56 to land on D-day. Realising they were off course he contacted the commanders of the two battalions and his famous quote "We'll start the war from here!" became a legend. His cool leadership earnt him Americas highest battle decoration - the Medal of Honour. By the end of the day over 23,000 troops had landed on the beach as well as 1,700 vehicles.
Besides the light German defences, the incredibly effective pre landing allied naval bombardment and incredibly effective US air support and the correct use of the 'swimming tanks' a darker explanation to the light casualties (only 200 men) on Utah quickly emerged in that 13,000 men from the 101st Airborne Division and the 82nd Airborne Division had landed by parachute and gliders six hours before the first Utah landings and had fought their way toward the beach, clearing the enemy along the way. The 101st alone lost about 40% of its forces in the process.
Utah Beach Museum
The Museum opened in the 1960s and was then totally renovated in 1994 for the 50th Anniversary of D Day. An excellent museum devoted to the story of D-Day on Utah it showcases the American landings at Utah and also the Airborne operations inland and at around St Mere Eglise. The museum has an impressive array of rare vehicles, weapons, photographs and veterans artifacts along with an excellent scale model of the landings and a theatre.
Le Clerc Memorial
Memorial to General Le Clerc's Free French 2nd Armoured Division landed in France on 01 August 1944 and took part in the drive to Alenšon and Argentan with U.S. General George S. Patton's Third Army.
Point du Hoc & Memorial
Pointe du Hoc was the location of a series of major German defence bunkers at the western end of the Omaha beach sector on top of 100 ft tall cliffs overlooking the sea. It was the scene of an amazing attack by the U.S. 2nd Ranger Battalion who was given the job of destroying the strongpoint early on D-Day. Finding the bunkers empty the rangers occupied them and over two days fought of wave after wave of ferocious German counter attacks until they were relieved. At the end of the 2-day action, of the initial landing force of around 225 men only about 90 men could still fight.
Omaha Beach on D-Day occupies a sacred place in remembrance, and known forever in history as "Bloody Omaha". It was the scene of some of the most vicious and murderous action in WW2 – or any war. Over 2000 brave young Americans died in a hail of gunfire and explosions on this beach on D-Day due to bad planning, bad luck, and a tragedy of errors. The non-battle tested 29th Infantry Division and nine companies of U.S. Army Rangers were to assault the western half of the beach with the battle-hardened 1st Infantry Division allocated the eastern half.
Very little went as planned during the landing at Omaha Beach. Difficulties in navigation caused the majority of landing craft to miss their targets throughout the day and the German defences were very strong with the naval bombardment having little effect so that they inflicted horrific casualties on the American troops. Under heavy fire, the engineers struggled to clear the beach obstacles.
As infantry disembarked from the landing craft they often found themselves on sandbars 50 to 100 yards out from the beach. To get to the beach they then had to wade through water neck deep with still over 200 yards to go when they did reach the shore to make the shelter of the bluffs at the top of the beach. Survival was at best - pure luck. If they made it ashore they then had to survive the ferocious wall of fire from small arms, mortars, artillery, and heavy machine gun fire. Many also drowned, pulled down by the weight of their equipment.
Casualties were heaviest among the troops landing at either end of the beach. At the eastern end of the beach scattered elements of three companies were reduced to less than half strength by the time they gained the relative safety of the shingle, many of them having crawled the 300 yards of beach just ahead of the incoming tide. Within 15 minutes of landing at on the western end of the beach many sections and platoons had been decimated with most officers and senior NCOs taken out first to make the men leaderless.
With the initial targets not accomplished, the second and larger wave of assault landings brought in reinforcements, support weapons and headquarter elements only to face nearly the same difficulties as the first. The only advantage enjoyed by second wave was that it was larger, and so the defenders' fire was less concentrated.
When commander Colonel George Taylor landed on the beach at 8am he regrouped the men on the beach with his famous quote: "Two kinds of people are staying on this beach, the dead and those who are going to die - now let's get the hell out of here!" He then organized groups of men regardless of their unit, putting them under the command of the nearest non-commissioned officer and sending them up off the beach By 09:30, the regimental command post was set up just below the bluff crest, and the 1st and 2nd battalions of the 16th RCT were being sent inland as they reached the crest. Bloody Omaha had yet to be still conquered - but the worst of the worst was over.
Omaha Beach Cemetery (Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial)
The Normandy Cemetery was first established in June 1944 as a temporary cemetery and moved after the war the present-day cemetery was established a short distance to the east of the original site.
It is a truly moving and INCREDIBLY emotional experience to visit this beautiful last resting place of over 9000 heroes, with the cemetery located on a bluff overlooking Omaha Beach itself and covering over 170 acres. In it is interred the remains of over 9,300 American servicemen, most of whom were killed during the invasion of Normandy and also within France in the push to Berlin. Included in the cemetery are also graves of Army Air Corps crews who were shot down over France as early as 1942. Only some of the soldiers who died are buried here as when it came time for a permanent burial the remains could be repatriated back to the U.S. for permanent burial or interred at the closest overseas cemetery.
The names of 1,557 Americans who lost their lives in the Normandy campaign but whose remains were never found are inscribed on the walls of a semicircular garden at the east side of the memorial.
Notable burials at the cemetery include:
Lesley J. McNair, U.S. Army general, one of the two highest-ranking Americans to be killed in action in World War II
Jimmie W. Monteith, Medal of Honor recipient
Two of the Niland brothers, Preston and Robert
Frank D. Peregory, Medal of Honor recipient
Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., son of President Theodore Roosevelt, Medal of Honor recipient
Quentin Roosevelt, son of President Theodore Roosevelt, aviator killed in action in World War I