Le Havre as a Port Stop
Normandy - The Landing Beaches
When your cruise ship docks at Le Havre, you will not be short of things to do or places to go and see. Therefore, I will have to cover this port stop in a number of blog postings as there are simply too many options. I have broken the primary choices into the following six categories:
Normandy - The Landing Beaches
Normandy - Other WWII Related Sites
Normandy – The Cities/Villages to Visit (Carentan, Rouen and Bayeux )
Paris – The City of Lights in a Lightening Fast Day Tour
Le Havre and Honfleur
This posting will address the landing beaches. The posting immediately following, will address other WWII related sites.
I will start by saying that ship or guided tours from the port of Le Havre tend to be expensive. Consequently, on any trip to Le Havre, I organize a small private tour with a bus offering seating for around 16. I then ensure that there are no more than 12 people on the bus with a goal that all passengers are comfortable and have sufficient space. I have therefore been able to offer the day trips at half the price of ship tours.
The time in port is usually limited so I will outline two itineraries I have planned and used on previous stops at Le Havre to give you an idea of what is possible and then I will speak to the WWII landing beaches which is the focus of this particular blog.
Example of an Itinerary with a Canadian focus
On our last trip to Le Havre in May 2019, we started our tour by driving directly to Juno Beach for a stop at the Canadian run museum and a beach tour that included an overview of the D-Day landings. As we stood on the beach it was easy to follow our guide as she pointed out where the fortified bunkers were located and brought a greater understanding of the horror of the day to all of us. Following our stop there, we moved on to Arromanches for a wonderful lunch before travelling to Omaha Beach. I will speak more on these two places later in this article. We then moved onto Bayeux to see the tapestry and that most picturesque town before heading back towards the landing beaches and stopping at Bény-sur-Mer à Reviers where we visited graves of Canadians who lost their lives on, or shortly after, D-Day. We then headed back to the ship passing by Gold, Juno and Sword beaches.
Example of an Itinerary with an American focus
This shore excursion was packed, and we had to start early in order to get to Utah beach as it is the furthest point from the port of Le Havre. We took the highway for speed and arrived at our first point of interest which was Ste-Mère-Église. Following a short photo stop there, we proceeded to visit Utah Beach, then on to the Peak of Hoc before moving to tour Omaha Beach. Our very late lunch was a very quick stop at a café. We then toured the Overlord Muséum. Next up was the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial at Colleville-sur-Mer. We had wanted to see a great deal more but time wise, it was not possible, and it is important to be cognizant of potential traffic issues and the time needed to return to the ship.
My suggestion for those wanting to focus on American sites, is to limit yourself to the many things to see and do in the area of Omaha Beach as the trip to Utah Beach will eat up a great deal of your shore time.
For those wanting to focus on British Landing sites, I have not put together a tour specifically focusing on the British participation but I have visited and spent time at Sword and Gold Beaches and also visited the British military cemetery of Bayeux so I will cover those in more detail below.
The Landing Beaches
Home of the Canadian Juno Beach Center (https://www.junobeach.org). We wanted to arrive in time for a tour on the beach that included the German bunkers. I had purchased group tickets but then found out our numbers were not enough for the group discount so instead of paying 5.50€ per person it cost 6.00€. There is a small gift shop on site that can be accessed without paying an entrance fee. The group had to be 20+. Regardless of the extra .50 cents, the museum was very much worth the entrance price and there was an exceptionally moving film that had most of us in tears. Looking at the faces of those who marched off to war, I see youth, optimism and hope. Soldiers dying in a foreign land, far from loved ones is tragic.
Juno Beach is located between Gold and Sword Beaches and was the second most fortified beach in the area. Consequently, the Canadian 3rd infantry division lost a large number of soldiers and incurred the second heaviest loss of life of any landing beach. At the end of D-Day, the Canadians were successful in creating a bridgehead that allowed them to join with the British soldiers who had landed at Gold Beach.
Gold Beach, which is a little west of Juno, is located in a charming town called Arromanches. I have to say that this is my favourite lunch spot when doing Normandy tours. Loads to see and people can walk around, visit the beach, do a little shopping or stop in one of two museums. Gold Beach is actually situated between Ver-sur-Mer and Asnelles and is an easy drive to and from Bayeux. Until I actually visited Gold Beach, I had no idea that Arromanches was the place the allies decided to create an artificial port. There is a museum that outlines the rational for creating the port and the steps taken. Quite fascinating actually. We learned that Gold Beach was taken with relative ease as opposed to other beaches, and British soldiers landing at this location were easily able to join up with their Canadian counterparts who had landed at Juno. When we were in Arromanches in 2017, we met up with a WWII veteran Harry Billinge, a royal engineer who landed on D-Day with the South Wales Borderers at Gold Beach. When we met him, he was in his 90s and posed for photos outside the museum and told us stories of the landing. I wondered if he was still alive when I did not see him on our visit in 2019 but I subsequently heard that he was still alive and posing for photos.
I like Arromanches as a place to visit and I will be writing a piece specific to this town on a future blog posting.
How utterly horrible the landing was for those American soldiers who landed here on D-Day. The pre landing naval and aerial bombardments proved to be ineffective which meant the soldiers of the 1st American division landed on a beach that was heavily defended with the well armed German bunkers still intact. The heaviest losses incurred at any beach on D-Day, took place here. Over 3,800 men were killed or wounded which earned the beach the nickname “Bloody Omaha”. A third of all deaths recorded on D-Day took place at this location and it is indeed a sombre memorial to those who lost their lives. There is a memorial on the beach and a museum (http://www.musee-memorial-omaha.com/en). The cost is 7.00€ with a group rate of 4.60€. The group rate applies to 10+ persons. There is a gift shop on site as well.
As mentioned, this is the furthest beach from the port and is the second of the two landing beaches assigned to US soldiers. Unlike Omaha, the beaches were lightly defended as the area is swampy and the German assumed that this location was an unlikely landing spot given the marshy conditions and the terrain. Consequently, the landing went fairly smoothly and troops were soon moving off the beach. The rapid US troop movement in-land was facilitated by two divisions of US airborne soldiers who had landed in the early hours and secured control of the roads leading to and from the area. Their task was made difficult as many were on aircraft that missed the drop zone and soldiers were scattered with many landing in the swamps. The town of Saint-Marie-du-Mont is about 3 ½ miles from the beach and is considered to be one of the earliest towns to be liberated. You can still see American flags flown in the area as a thank you to their liberators.
Similar to the Americans, the British had two landing beaches as part of their June 6th mission. Adding to their numbers at Sword Beach, were 177 French marine riflemen and a small assortment of other nationalities (Australia, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Greece, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway and Poland). Sword Beach is the landing beach site closest to the port of Le Havre. The beach itself is situated between Ouistreham and Lion-Sur-Mer and although the fighting and importance of this beach is often overlooked when compared to the vicious fighting that took place at the Omaha or Juno Beaches landings, this beach is just as strategically important and memorable. Over 600 soldiers were killed or injured during the landing and 28,800 soldiers entered Normandy at this entry point. Nearby is the Musée #4 Commando (www.musee-4commando.org). The entrance fee is 5.00€ with a group rate of 4.00€. The museum is small and only open from March 31 to November 3rd so it is best to contact them ahead of time to verify hours of operation.
For further information on things to do and see in Normandy, look for my future postings. I will be posting the second in the Le Havre series entitled: Normandy - Other WWII Related Sites
within minutes of this posting going live on my website.
As always, if you have any questions, comments or observations, please feel free to contact me at email@example.com.