A stretch of Normandy coastline from La Madelaine in the west to Ouistreham in the east was identified as the area for the greatest military amphibious invasion in history.
The Allied commanders decided on five landing zones, each with its own codename to break through Hitler’s Atlantic Wall defences and begin the Liberation of France and Western Europe.
– South-East corner of the Cotentin Peninsula
Under heavy fire from the German coastal batteries, the troops of the American 4th Division (7th Corps) landed on the beaches of La Madelaine and Les Dunes de Varreville and managed to make contact with the paratroopers of the 82nd and 101st divisions, who had landed further inland around the town of St. Mère Eglise. Within 3 weeks, the whole of the Cotentin peninsula was free from German occupation.
Today, at La Madelaine, you can see a milestone marked ‘The first on the Road to Liberty’, erected in honour of the American soldiers killed in the landings. An area of sand dunes with fine panoramic views over the sea near Saint-Marie-du-Mont is officially United States territory. In 1982, a monument was unveiled to show this beach was freely given to the American people by the villagers to pay tribute to the bravery of their soldiers.
The beaches of St. Laurent, Colleville-sur-Mer and Vierville-sur-Mer are still collectively known as Omaha beach, in honour of so many American soldiers who lost their lives in the bloodiest battle of the D-Day Landings.
Unfortunately for the American troops, a strong coastal current swept their landing craft off course towards shingle beaches, which proved more difficult for military vehicles to cross. This, combined with well organised German defences, led to heavy losses. The fighting raged for 18 hours and, by evening, the 116th US Regiment had made ashore and captured the Port-en-Bessin, Grandcamp road. In another daring assault, Rangers of the 2nd Batallion used ropes and extendable ladders to scale the 90-metre cliff of Pointe du Hoc to knock out a German observation post. 135 of the 225 Rangers were killed and it took the full force of the 116th US. Infantry, assisted by tanks, to come from the road behind to finally capture the surrounding German defences. The remains of the gaping bomb craters and battered gun emplacements along the cliff top still bear testimony to the ferocity of the fighting.
The British 50th Division landed at Ver-sur-Mer and Asnelles. By the afternoon of 6th June, they had captured Arromanches, enabling them to begin construction of the Mulberry harbour B to supply the invading forces. This engineering miracle, known as Port Winston (named in honour of Winston Churchill, who supported this project) was to prove decisive in supplying the troop until the coastal ports were captured. The barnacle-encrusted concrete blocks of this temporary harbour can still be seen on the beach of Arromanches to this day.
The Canadian 3rd division landed at Bernière and Courseulles and reached Creully by 5pm. Almost a month later, they were the first Allied soldiers to enter the heavily bombed city of Caen and liberate it on 9th July 1944.
The Franco-British commandos landed at Colleville-Plage, Lion-Sur-Mer and St. Aubin. They captured Riva Bella and then linked up with the British 5th Parachute Brigade, who were holding strategic Rainville (renamed Pegasus) bridge at Benouville over the river Orne.
By 12th June, the American forces from the Utah beach and Omaha beaches had joined with the British Canadian and French forces to form a single 'bridgehead', from which the liberation of Western Europe could begin.
FrenchEntrée Normandy Editor