Those who have studied D-Day in any detail will know how significant a role the Normandy weather can play in plans. The morning of 7th June 2014 may be 70 years after the event, in the era of smartphones but the weather is unpredictable as ever.
Weather apps warn of a 60% chance of rain and it’s drizzling on arrival at the Mémorial de Caen. I’ve packed both sunglasses and raincoat for the day ahead. On the 70th anniversary of D-Day, I have chosen to tour the area as part of the museum’s package.
The Mémorial de Caen Tour
Tour guide Patricia, minibus driver Denis and a few other group members from across the USA join the adventure. Colleville-Sur-Mer is the first stop.
The museum offers half-day and full day tours of the areas most known for D-Day activity. My trip will take in Colleville-Sur-Mer, Pointe-du-Hoc, and Omaha Beach before returning to the Mémorial de Caen. This is a more American-focused trip. The full-day option takes in Arromanches and Longueval in the British sector too. The trip is great value, the guides are knowledgeable and the Normandy countryside is stunning. On top of all that, your ticket also grants admission to the Mémorial de Caen Museum.
Patricia and Denis keep the facts and figures coming as temperatures soar in the high 20s. There’s little need for that raincoat. As we carry around our minimal baggage we hear of the tons of kit required by the GIs. They had everything from food rations, weaponry, personal effects and even high factor suncream. No mean feat in this heat. The bus windows are wound down and we’re accompanied through Normandy by the roar of military vehicles.
The Round Canopy Parachute Team are scheduled to drop in every day between 3rd and 8th June. Despite keeping an eye on the skies, there doesn’t seem to be a squadron out. A group of Douglas Dakota DC-3 and C-47 planes roars through the sky. Many of these planes are still in operation. There’s also a rare sighting of a lone Lancaster bomber in the blue Norman skies.
The day ends at Omaha Beach. A ceremony is taking place next to the monument by the beach close to where the US Infantry first broke through. 1940s Dakota planes hum in the skies overhead preparing to drop a team of paratroopers over to the west of Utah. Around the roads, men and women in vintage military dress prepare their vehicles for their onward journeys.
D-Day 70 – a great time to tour
This trip was all the more special in its timing as northern France came alive. A region celebrating liberty and commemorating the fallen on the summer of 1944. Military jeeps, lorries, and half-tracks occupy every road along the route. At the American Cemetery, a band plays The Star Spangled Banner and hundreds gather at Bloody Omaha.
Some American travellers have gone to great lengths. Re-enactors have recreated a typical campsite along l’Avenue de Bedford. Tents, control posts, landing craft, light marine tanks, and half-track vehicles sit stop the dunes. All would have seen active service on Omaha Beach and around on D-Day.
Further along l’Avenue de Bedford, stands a small part (507 A-B1) of the floating road. This formed part of a bridge belonging to the artificial Mulberry port near Vierville-Sur-Mer at Omaha Beach. It’s a great chance to see the construction and engineering up close. Only by driving around the area are such historic sights uncovered.
Whether you get the chance to take a tour around the 6th June or at any other time of year, grab that opportunity. The storytelling and knowledge from the guides and the amount of history on offer make it a memorable day out.