Updated: Oct 3, 2021
One 4th June’1944 the American forces marched victoriously into Rome marking the beginning of the end of Axis forces. German troops fled to safety to the North to fight another day. Sensing defeat on the European front, Axis partner Japan launched a series of desperate attacks on Indian cities of Imphal and Kohima. They however failed to take them and decided to withdraw by late June. This combination of stunning reverses of Axis powers encouraged the Allies to finally launch an overwhelming invasion of France from the English Channel and liberate it. They would then meet the Soviet red army marching from the east and crush the Germans once and for all. The masterminds of this plan known as Operation Overlord, were American General Dwight D Eisenhower and British General Bernard Montgomery. At that time two options had lain before them:
1) To attack where English Channel was at its narrowest, at Calais, where it would be easier to provide infantry with air support from Dover. But it would be too obvious a move.
2) Or to attack at Normandy. To fool the Germans they would launch phony attacks at Calais and feed them fake intelligence to make them believe that an attack was imminent at Calais.
The second option was chosen with 5 infantry divisions (2 from US, 2 British and 1 Canadian) to make an amphibious landing at Normandy Beach heads code-named (from west to east) Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword. An amphibious floating platform known as Mulberry harbor would be placed over the sea for storing materials and supporting the infantry.
Hitler had already sensed that an attack from across the English Channel was inevitable and had enlisted legendary General Erwin Rommel (famously known as Desert Fox consistently defying the allies in Northern Africa) for defending the coastline. Rommel built a nearly impregnable chain of defenses along the along the coast of German occupied lands consisting of mines, bunkers , coastal guns and booby traps . This was known as the Atlantic wall.
5th, 6th or 7th June'1944 were chosen by Allies to mount a massive invasion of Normandy. Because it rained heavily on 5th and visibility was poor, Allies finally landed on 6th June’1944. This Day became famously known as D-Day and has been the subject of many movies, literature and folklore.
So when we decided to visit France, we included Arromanches les Bains in the itinerary as there lies the famous Gold Beach.
Arromanches Les Bain is the site of Gold Beach
Arromanches Les Bain
The first 15 minutes of movie Saving Private Ryan show how gruesome, bloody and brutal the landings were for all the forces involved. Depiction was so realistic, that many war veterans who made the landings, walked out of the theatre in the first 10 minutes. Post-traumatic stress disorder was re-triggered in many veterans. Omaha beach was especially known as “Hell on earth” as over 2000 troops were mowed down by German artillery fire. But this was over 75 years ago. Arromanches les bains is now a far cry from the gory depictions of torn and scattered limbs in mini series Band of brothers and Saving Private Ryan. It is now a tranquil and idyllic town where sea breeze flows gently over wild flowers, gulls quack over remains of mulberry harbor, hay stacks are neatly packed and cyclists whistle their way up to the cliffs through narrow footpaths. However, remnants of harbor, coastal guns and a war museum still serve as a grim reminder of 4.5 lakh people that died in Battle for Normandy including Indian soldiers at both sides. Flags of Allied countries are still flown at high mast at the museum.
How a place so peaceful picturesque could have been a site of so much bloodshed defies imagination. There are a number of trails along the sea shore and across cliffs that can take one to all the landing beaches. The place is often visited by relations of those who died here during D-Day or those like us who come out of plain curiosity. After spending an hour or two walking along the many footpaths overlooking the sea, we headed back to our hotel.
Sun rises over Gold Beach
Chunk of mulberry harbour lying stranded on Gold beach
Tranquil waters of English Channel
Remnants of Mulberry harbor in the background
Cliffs overlooking the channel
Haystacks in fields of Arromanches Les Bains
Wildflowers fed by sea breeze
Still from movie Saving Private Ryan depicting Omaha Beach
Famous photograph: Taxis to Hell – and Back – Into the Jaws of Death by Robert F Sargent
Coastal Gun at Arromaches Les Bains
Cliffs of Arromanches les Bains
See our other posts on France
and other famous beaches