D Day 75th anniversary
It was a big day then. And it will be a big day again, 75 years on.
Over 2 million people are expected to visit the Normandy coast over the 6th of June this year to take part in the commemorations of D-Day, re-trace steps of those known or unknown, or just to be able to say ‘I was there’.
As the epic importance of D-Day teeters on the verge of gliding from living memory into the pages of the history books, this is likely to be the last large-scale event of its kind.
6 June 1944
Though Churchill had his fingerprints all over the strategy behind Operation Overlord, it was General Eisenhower who oversaw the assault on Normandy’s beaches where Hitler’s troops had established an ‘Atlantic Wall’. After five years of war this was the big make or break moment, and the numbers of men, vehicles, planes, boats and weapons involved were unthinkable.
D-Day, and the Battle of Normandy, began when the gliders touched down and paratroopers were dropped in the early hours. By the end of the day an armada of ships had deposited 150,000 men across five beaches on a 50 mile stretch of Normandy coastline.
This was just the start. The assault and landing phase was known as Operation Neptune, after which Operation Overlord’s objective was to establish and secure a beachhead which would allow further actions designed to defeat the Germans. Its remarkable success was, in part, due to the elaborate efforts made by the British to feint an attack elsewhere, thus diverting German forces.
This plan evolved and culminated in late August when around 150,000 Germans were captured at Falaise and the Allies were able to march on Paris. The war was not over but, for the first time 5 years, the end was potentially in sight.
75 years on
Each year since the war ended thousands have descended on Normandy and its iconic coastline to mark their respect for the men and women who played a part in D-Day, Operation Overlord and the whole sweeping Battle of Normandy. They celebrate the achievements of those who helped liberate Europe from the Nazi threat and they honour those who were never able to return home.
Over the days around the 6th June, many will stand on the blustery cliff tops and walk along the vast beaches. They will gaze over the still visible remains of Mulberry Harbour in Arromanches, they will look out to sea and imagine a flotilla the scale of which the world had never seen before, and they will sense the noise, the chaos, the fear and the desperation.
One of the most visited sites is always the American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer. On nearby Omaha Beach the Americans suffered almost 3,000 casualties on D-Day. Near Ouistreham, Pegasus Bridge is a popular stop off for British, especially if there’s a chance of a cup of tea in the Café Gondrée next it. Famously this was the first house to be liberated on D-Day. Saint Mère Église church, inland from Utah Beach, is another place of pilgrimage, made famous by the paratrooper John Steele whose parachute caught on the tower leaving him suspended.
There are so many places of interest to visit. Some, like the Pointe du Hoc, have been left untouched to gracefully erode over the decades while others now form museums and memorials where the story of D-Day can be told over and over to fresh generations.
There are countless events, big and small, taking places during June 2019. There are too many to list exhaustively but below are just a few notable highlights. Of course some are subject to change so it’s always best to check online for the latest information.
All day Re-enactment of a military camp on Omaha Beach (near Pointe du Hoc), with lots of military vehicles.
Utah Beach, Manche
From 0930 Utah Memory Tour over 70 km with historic vehicles taking part.
1500hrs British paratroopers will be dropped by RAF Hercules.
1600hrs Parachutists will be dropped by 30 veteran aircraft over Drop Zone K.
Saint Germain-de-Varreville, Manche
1000hrs Military vehicle parade.
1215hrs Reception in honour of veterans.
1900hrs Historic parachute jump.
0630hrs Proceedings begin with 250 historic vehicles and landing craft on the beach.
0726hrs A lone piper will play to mark the moment the first British troops landed on Gold Beach 75 years previously.
During the day, there will be numerous events including the inauguration of a Memorial Garden on the cliffs above Gold Beach, a parade through the town and a fly past by the Red Arrows and the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight.
1000hrs A memorial service will be held in the cathedral with veterans and dignitaries.
Various activities including Royal Navy boat moored beside Pegasus Bridge, wreath layings and a memorial unveiling on Pegasus Bridge.
1630hrs The official French ceremony attended by President Macron.
The official ceremony held by the Americans and attended by Presidents Trump and Macron.
If you’re driving through Normandy on 6 June, there may be road closures and restrictions in certain places along the coast over the course of the day. This is to allow for local events to take place.
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