Men would have to come to France by sea, and many would have to die.
It was simply a question of where to land and when. Tens of thousands of lives depended on finding the best answer. At the Musée Memorial 1944 Bataille de Normandie, which we visited in Bayeux, it was sobering to learn that an entire department of the military was fully prepared to handle all the fallen soldiers before the first had even landed.
Two alternative plans were considered for Operation Overlord, the initial sea-borne invasion that would liberate France. The first, crossing the Pas-de-Calais, where Great Britain and France lie closest, seemed intuitive. There, in northeast France near Belgium, the Allies would be far closer to friendly air support and supplies, and within striking distance of the heart of Germany. The strait, though, was heavily defended.
The beaches of Lower Normandy, forever memorialized now with the simple code names Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword, were also well protected,. There were mines, physical obstacles (Dad stands by one above), and artillery batteries hidden in bunkers. But there was also a weakness. If the bridges across the Seine and the Loire were destroyed, the German troops would be cut off from reinforcements. So, on June 6, 1944, the Allies cast the die there.
This museum’s focus was the entire battle for Normandy, up until the liberation of Paris in late August 1944. I wish we had more carefully researched which museum to visit. The town of Bayeux was a good choice for us, though, as we also saw the Bayeux tapestry, part of a future post. We opted for a quick lunch in town, ham and cheese crepes with some of the fabulous Normandy cider, then returned to the museum for the English showing of their film, which did not even include any footage of the beach landings.
At the museum, the woman at the information desk grew very emotional as she told me that veterans still often return to visit the area. I was moved, too by the photos of town after town where homes and churches were reduced to rubble.
My greatest wish had been to visit one or more military cemeteries. In fact, I’d seen a documentary about German cemeteries still carefully tended by the French. So it was a huge disappointment to arrive at the American cemetery near Omaha Beach literally as the entrance gates swung shut, 15 minutes before the posted closing time. Almost crying, I was tempted to try to wiggle through the ornate gate that barred the way, but didn’t.
Today, Omaha Beach looks much like any other beach, even down to the running children and lipstick-pink umbrellas. This sculpture, called Les Braves, was commissioned for the 60th anniversary of the D-Day landings. What happened there may seem invisible, but after a visit to France, I know that it is not forgotten.
Someday I will come back, to walk among the headstones of the fallen soldiers and pay my respects. After finding our hotel in Saint-Malo, one of an excellent chain called Ibis Style, we enjoyed our best dinner yet at a harborside restaurant called Le Spinnaker.