A special selection of Normandy museums and war cemeteries for you!
Normandy is known for its rich history so there is a lot to see and to do. We have made a special selection for you of the museums and war cemeteries in Normandy.
Airborne museum – Sainte Mère Eglise
The hallowed history of the D-Day landings on the beaches of Normandy draws thousands of visitors a year to this beautiful region of France. Along its now-calm coastline are tours, memorials, cemeteries, museums and stark reminders of the events of June 6, 1944. As you look out over the beaches and aided by the news reels from the time as well as modern-day recreations for the silver screen, it can be almost too easy to feel as though you can see exactly what happened, right in front of you.
But not everyone who fought that day arrived by boat. In the wee hours that morning – in fact, just after midnight – American paratroopers started descending into the region. Through a series of unfortunate events the paratroopers were not able to rally in order to provide organized support for the coming attack, but their scattered arrival sent the Germans running in all directions to defend their hold, a move which ultimately was one of the many factors in the Allies’ victory.
Most of the action from this event, code-named Operation Neptune, centered on the small village of Sainte-Mère-Église, which today is the site of one of the most fascinating WWII sites in Normandy: The Airborne Museum. Here visitors can relive the harrowing story of the 82nd and 101st Airborne divisions and see a Douglas C-47 as well as a Waco Glider. The exhibits, presentations, and items housed in this parachute-shaped museum fill in many of the missing pieces to just how the Allied forces battled their way to victory.
The Airborne Museum was established in 1964 in the heart of the village of Sainte-Mere-Eglise, Normandy (La Manche, France).Over the fifty years of its existence, the Airborne Museum became the largest museum in Europe dedicated to American paratroopers of 82nd and 101st Airborne Division engaged in Normandy in the context of Operation Overlord in June 1944.
Located in Normandy in the Manche department, the Airborne Museum is located in North Cotentin since 1964 in the town center of Sainte Mere Eglise, famous throughout the world through its paratrooper John Steele who hung with his parachute on the church. This museum takes you to the heart of the extraordinary story of American paratroopers of the 82nd and 101st airborne divisions who jumped into Normandy during Operation Neptune on the night of the 6th of June 1944.
Entrance to the Airborne Museum
A first building in the shape of a parachute shelters a Waco Glider in its original state, as well as many showcases furnished with documents of the time, testimonials, weapons, ammunition, etc.
The Douglas C-47 plane Argonia
In this building, you will find the Douglas C-47 plane Argonia which took part in dropping the parachutists and in towing gliders at the time of the landings.
Live D-day events and the following days. You will board a C-47 in England then land in the church square in Sainte-Mère-Eglise!
Thanks to the Waco glider and the Douglas C-47, visitors and enthusiasts are invited to get back in time while browsing through this historic site.
Many dummies in uniform as well as vehicles are displayed. We will discover moving testimonies and personal recollections; most of them were donated by Americans Veterans.
Between the exhibition of the aerial Landings, the showcases furnished with documents (objects of the time, weapons, photographs) and its original film “Battle for Liberty” a true transformation scene awaits you in the two, soon three buildings.
New in 2014: Operation Neptune
In the third and new building, you will live D-day events and the following days. You will board a C-47 in England then land in the church square in Sainte-Mère-Eglise and take part in the capture of bridges and the battle of the hedgerows. Finally you will discover an American reconnaissance plane: a Piper Cub.
Utah beach D-day museum – Saint Marie du Mont
Built on the very beach where the first American troops landed on June 6, 1944, the Utah Beach Museum recounts the story of D-Day in 10 sequences, from the preparation of the landing, to the final outcome and success. This comprehensive chronological journey immerses visitors in the history of the landing through a rich collection of objects, vehicles, materials, and oral histories.
Admire an original B26 bomber, one of only six remaining examples of this airplane still in existence worldwide, and relive the epic experience of American soldiers through the film “VICTORY IN THE SAND,” winner of a CINE GOLDEN EAGLE AWARD 2012 and the 2013 CINE SPECIAL JURY AWARD for best museum documentary.
By the end of your visit, you will understand the strategic choices for the Allied invasion of Normandy and the reasons for the success at Utah Beach. Thanks to your visit, you will also have contributed to the safeguard of the site and the preservation of the memory of the Allied soldiers’ extraordinary sacrifices.
The museum, on the right the hangar of the B26 Maruder.
The U.S. Navy Monument.
The Monument of the 90th US Infantry Division, who landed at Utah beach.
Dead man’s Corner Museum – Saint Côme du Mont/Carentan
The house at the corner, and the tank with the dead man in the turret’s opening. Normandy, France, 6 June 1944. It is only just 00:15 when the American paratroopers of the 101st Airborne Division of General Maxwell D. Taylor are dropped over Normandy, thus becoming the first soldiers to reach the French territory; their main mission is to capture Carentan. This town is defended by the elite of the German troops, the paratroopers of Major von der Heydte, the “Green Devils” of the 6th Fallschirmjäger Regiment.
The Germans are entrenched in Saint-Côme-du-Mont, the last bastion before Carentan. They have the order to defend the town until their last man dies. It is crucial for the Americans to capture Carentan as quick as possible. They are waiting for the support of the light tanks of the 70th Tank Battalion that landed in Utah Beach. The road from the beach is the only way they can go.
It comes from the beach, passes through Sainte-Marie-du-Mont and ends half way on the road Carentan/Saint-Côme-du-Mont, at a crossroads named – since then – the “Dead Man’s Corner” by the Americans.
A sole house stands at this crossroads; it is used by the German paratroopers as headquarters, then as aid post. The Dead Man’s Corner Museum is located in this very building, in the highly historical place of Saint-Côme-du-Mont.
Indeed, the house of the Dead Man’s Corner has been acquired by the Carentan Historical Center and turned into a museum. During the first development phase of the D-Day Paratroopers Historical Center, it has gathered within this historical building an impressive and authentic collection of material used by the American and German paratroopers, related to this legendary site.
The road to Carentan
On 8 June, after going through the hedgerows and fields of the Normandy countryside, the Americans throw all their forces into battle and reach the surroundings of St-Côme-du-Mont. The first tank arrives at the crossroads and attempts to continue towards Carentan. It comes to a brutal halt when it gets a direct shot that kills the tank commander, Lt. Walter T. Anderson from Minnesota. From this day on, and for several days, the wreck of the tank and the corpse of Lt. Anderson hanging from the gun turret will stay on the spot. For the Americans, this location will always remain the “DEAD MAN’S CORNER”.
Overlord Museum – Omaha beach/Colleville-sur-Mer
On the grey, cold morning of 6 June 1944 Normandy was destined to become the opening scene of a confrontation that would mark the beginning of the end of World War 2 in Europe.
For many countries this was to be the start of the long road towards liberation.
The civilian population of Normandy would be at the forefront of a new Battle for France.
These rapidly developing events led to particularly destructive and bitter fighting, reminiscent of the First World War.
Located at a short distance of the famous “Omaha beach”, on the D514 facing the roundabout that provides access to the American Cemetery at Colleville-sur-mer. Overlord Museum chronicles the period of the Allied landing until the liberation of Paris. The collection was collected by Michel Leloup who was both a witness to the conflict and involved in the reconstruction of Normandy. Personal items from individual soldiers and armoured fighting vehicles from the six armies in Normandy will be presented as a series of reconstructions showing over 35 vehicles, tanks and guns.
Normandy American Cemetery – Colleville-sur-Mer
The Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in France is located on the site of the temporary American St. Laurent Cemetery, established by the U.S. First Army on June 8, 1944 and the first American cemetery on European soil in World War II. The cemetery site, at the north end of its half mile access road, covers 172.5 acres and contains the graves of 9,387 of our military dead, most of whom lost their lives in the D-Day landings and ensuing operations. On the Walls of the Missing, in a semicircular garden on the east side of the memorial, are inscribed 1,557 names. Rosettes mark the names of those since recovered and identified.
The Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial may very well be the most visited American military cemetery in the world after Arlington, and with good reason: It is an emotional experience that stays with visitors long after they’ve returned home from their travels, even if they’ve never given much thought to World War II battle history.
There are four distinct features to the memorial, located in Colleville-sur-Mer, about half an hour from Bayeux and three hours from Paris. First, there is the cemetery itself, the final resting place of more than 9,000 soldiers. The vast majority of them lost their lives fighting the D-Day battles of Normandy, but there are other World War II heroes buried here as well. The rigid lines of so many thousands of graves are an astonishing sight, and the sense of loss is overwhelming. You’ll see small stones placed upon the headstones in the shape of the Star of David for Jewish soldiers; this is a common Jewish custom and they should not be removed.
The next feature is the Memorial, which includes a reflecting pool, a chapel and inlaid maps detailing the events of D-Day.
The Memorial consists of a semicircular colonnade with a loggia at each end containing large maps and narratives of the military operations; at the center is the bronze statue, “Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves.” An orientation table overlooking the beach depicts the landings in Normandy. Facing west at the memorial, one sees in the foreground the reflecting pool; beyond is the burial area with a circular chapel and, at the far end, granite statues representing the United States and France. The American flag flies here, as France conceded the land to the Americans and it is considered U.S. soil.
The Memorial and Cemetery give way to the next feature, which is the view from from the site’s vantage point above the famous Omaha Beach. From news reports and cinematic depictions we’ve come to recognize the beach from the point of view of the soldiers coming in from the English Channel; to see it from above, though, is to see just how precarious their circumstances were and how incredible it was that victory belonged to the Allies that day.
The final feature of the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial is its brilliant Visitor Center, which puts everything into context. Far from jingoistic chest-thumping, the center instead stands in humble awe of the men who gave their lives on D-Day and pays every ounce of due respect to the enormity of the operation. Inside are items the soldiers carried with them, from ammunition to good luck charms, as well as first-hand accounts recorded by veterans. Learn about the French involvement in the region and the small details that could have made or broken the operation.
Pointe du Hoc – Grandcamp-Maisy
Being the highest point between Omaha and Utah Beaches, the cliffs of Pointe du Hoc was an important location in the Atlantic Wall strategy of defense against the Allies. So on D-Day, it was an equally important target to overtake so that the liberation of France could proceed.
In what can only be described as old-school warfare, the American Second Ranger Battalion climbed the 100-foot-high cliff to seize the weapons that could take out approaching Allied boats. It was an epic battle, but the Americans ultimately emerged victorious – albeit with significant loss of life.
Today, the cliffside of Pointe du Hoc is the location of a monument to this battle, which was built by the French directly on top of the German bunker that was seized by the Americans. Unlike many of the WWII battle sites that have memorials or museums, this location has remained largely untouched since the battle that occurred here; visitors can still see the scars on the ground and it’s easy to see why this was such an important stronghold.
The World War II Pointe du Hoc Ranger Monument is about a half-hour from Bayeux on the way to the American Cemetery and Memorial, and should be a stop during any WWII battle sites tour in Normandy. Although the monument does have an inscription, it’s best to visit with a tour guide to put the location as well as the battle fought here into context.
D-day museum Arromanches – Arromanches
The story of the Mulberry harbours
Even before the disastrous Dieppe raid, Churchill had started casting around for alternative solutions to capturing a port to supply the ground forces. As early as May 30th 1942, some 3 months prior to Dieppe, he sent a now famous memo to Lord Louis Mountbatten about the construction offloating pierheads: “They must float up and down with tide. The anchor problem must be mastered. Let me have the best solution.”
The Dieppe raid subsequently confirmed his remarkable intuition: if the ports needed for an invasion could not be captured, then they would have to be built.
The various components would be constructed in Britain, towed across the Channel and assembled off the Normandy coast. The Mulberries comprised floating roadways and pierheads which went up and down with the tide. In order to avoid rough seas, huge hollow concrete blocks and old hulks were sunk in order to form a breakwater.
The task of manufacturing all these components was undertaken by the British, whose war industry was already in overstretched. And yet in less than 9 months, the British had completed the work. Huge quantities of raw materials were used and tens of thousands of men were involved in this massive scheme. Arromanches was liberated in the evening of June 6th and the very next day the first ships were scuttled. June 8th saw the submersion of the first Phoenix caissons and June 14th the unloading of the first cargoes. Totally operational by the beginning of July, the Mulberry Harbour in Arromanches was to prove its worth during Montgomery’s large-scale offensive against Caen later that month. During its busiest week, more than 18,000 tonnes of goods were unloaded each day.
The remains of the artificial port can still be seen off Arromanches and several dozen PHOENIX caissons continue to provide a calm and sheltered stretch of water. A true feat of engineering, the port at Arromanches provided the key to victory in Europe.
British Cemetery and Memorial – Bayeux
The peaceful Bayeux War Cemetery is the largest of the 18 Commonwealth military cemeteries in Normandy. It contains 4,868 graves of soldiers from the UK and 10 other countries (including Germany, in contrast to the American cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer). Many of the soldiers buried here were never identified, and the headstones are simply marked ‘A Soldier Known Unto God’. The bodies of 1,807 other Commonwealth soldiers were never found, and are commemorated on the memorial across the main road.
Bayeux was liberated by the Allies in June 1944 and became the seat of government for France until Paris was liberated. In this time the British built the ring road to enable military vehicles to move around the city and established many military hospitals. Many of those buried in the cemetery are from those hospitals.
Pegasus Memorial – Ranville
6th Airborne Division
The Memorial Pegasus is dedicated to the men of 6th British Airborne Division, “the Red Berets”. The missions for the division on June 6th 1944 are presented in the museum. The division, commanded by Major General Richard Gale, was composed of parachutists and glider borne troops, these men being transported in Horsa or Hamilcar gliders. The division had to hold the eastern flank of the invasion forces and to stop German counter attacks coming from the east. This mission was carried out in three ways: The bridges across the River Orne and the Caen canal had to be captured and held intact to enable the seaborne reinforcements to cross. - The Merville gun battery had to be put out of action. The 100mm calibre guns could fire down on to Sword Beach and the Allied fleet off the coast. - The bridges across the River Dives had to be destroyed to prevent German reinforcements, arriving from the east, from crossing. The high ground had to be taken and held by the division. These missions were accomplished with great success before dawn on D-Day but with heavy losses. More than 2000 soldiers lie in peace at the Commonwealth War Graves cemetery at Ranville several kilometres from the museum.