Mémorial de Caen: Operation Overlord

‘The D-Day Landings and the Battle of Normandy’ section is a new exhibition space in Mémorial de Caen.


As it is a new section of the Mémorial de Caen, it’s smaller than some of other exhibitions such as ‘World War, Total War’ and ‘France in the Dark Years’. Nonetheless, it is jam-packed with information on Operation Overlord and details about the Landing Beaches.

Despite focusing exclusively on the D-Day Landings and the fighting that followed, the exhibition also delves into the impact the Battle of Normandy had on its civilians.

An incredible 20,000 residents in Normandy were killed – a third of all French civilians killed during the whole of the Second World War!

What should have lasted only a few weeks lasted until the 12th September 1944, when Allied soldiers took Le Havre, 100 days after D-Day.

Although the Germans were taken by surprise on the morning of June 6th, 1944, they persevered and put up a persistent resistance. As the weeks went by, more and more German men were lost in the fighting and they had next to no air and sea support to reinforce troops on the ground.

They did, however make use of their very powerful anti-aircraft artillery (FLAK) and experienced infantry troops including their airborne units and eleven menacing armoured divisions. These divisions were well equipped – some by the SS – with superior tanks and artillery.

In spite of this, the Allies had total control of the English Channel, which constantly provided them with weapons, supplies and ammunition. They also had deadly superiority in the air which was reinforced by constructions of some fifty ‘Advanced Landing Grounds’ on Norman soil.

For months before Operation Overlord, the Rangers train for planned attack on Pointe du Hoc. On the English coast, the Rangers train for the attack on Pointe du Hoc. The lack of landing craft was one of the reasons for postponing the launch of Operation Overlord for a month.

After the disastrous raid on Dieppe – also known as Operation Jubilee – in August 1942, Hitler ordered all the atlantic ports to be fortified in case the Allied forces tried to capture one during a frontal attack.

However the Allies tricked the Germans again, and chose to land in between Le Havre and Cherbourg, on the beaches of Seine Bay, rather than attack the German fortresses head on.

The remains of a Mulberry artificial port in Arromanches
The remains of a Mulberry artificial port in Arromanches

Two artificial ports (Mulberries) were designed before the D-Day Landings to accommodate the large quantities of men and materials. These infrastructures were to be constructed in England and transported across the English Channel to be assembled on the American sector and the other in the British.

Hitler and his peers were convinced that the Allies would attack the Strait of Dover and the Allies’ played on this mistaken belief. The ‘Fortitude’ misinformation plan was created, the purpose of which was to make the Germans think that Allied soldiers were being summoned in the southeast of England in preparation to sweep down the continent.

Eventually a full-scale ‘phantom army’ was created and positioned around Dover to convince Hitler even further. In addition to this, fictional radio traffic was broadcast, fields were crammed with inflatable rubber tanks and lorries and fake cardboard landing crafts were positioned in the ports!

During the spring of 1944, Allied aircraft increased their bombing missions over France in preparation for the D-Day Landings. As much damage as possible had to be inflicted to reduce the German army’s ability to prevent the attack.

Railway bridges, coastal artillery batteries and radar stations were repeatedly bombed night after night. These air raids killed thousands of French civilians and, as expected, the Germans and Vichy Government used propaganda to make the most of the situation and attempted to win over the population against the Allies.

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