...D-Day Landing Beaches visited
On the eastern coast of the Cherbourg peninsula in Normandy is the location of the Westernmost of the D-Day landing beaches of 6 June 1944. It was the second of the two beaches allocated to US forces for the landings, and in direct contrast to Omaha, Utah had the least number of casualties of any of the landing beaches whereas Omaha had by far the most.
As with the others, there are some interesting museums to be found in the area, and a short distance behind the beach itself is the inland area that saw the landing grounds of the US airborne forces of both the 82nd and 101st Airborne divisions.
First though is to talk about the beach area itself as it features a lovely sandy beach so that even for families with no interest in the history of the region, this is a beautiful sandy beach which children will enjoy in its' own right.
Personally I suggest starting by following the signs to drive to the Utah Beach Museum. This is built on the site of one of the German strongpoints, and one of the Tobruk pits is still in place enclosed by the museum building. There are a number of adjacent bunkers, a couple of which have been used for post war memorials. Within the museum there are models, display cases, a film theatre, uniforms and equipment, as well as some complete vehicles and in a recent addition, even an aircraft as well. When we visited we got a great welcome, some of the best customer service I have ever had. I must have spoken English to my wife and children as we walked through the door but went up to pay and asked for 'quatre billets s'il vous plait' to be answered with 'certainly sir, and would it help if I spoke in English'! She asked if we would stay and watch the film about the landings on Utah, which is shown in different languages at various times. When I said we didn't have time to wait for the next showing in English, she asked if it would help if they moved it to half an hour earlier. I said yes and she told me they would change it, and in the meantime to enjoy looking around the museum and that they would announce it over the PA system, which they did! I couldn't fault that level of service, though obviously it would have been impossible had it been busier that day.
Once you have seen the museum, walk out to look at the memorials just a few yards away, and the café/souvenir shop in the middle of the car park which has been built integrated into another old bunker. Once done here, drive along the coast road and you will pass even more abandoned bunkers until you get to a large memorial to the French 2nd Armoured division that landed there. There are a few wartime vehicles on display here so easy to see. While here, take a walk into the dunes and the beach. If you walk along the dune path, you will find even more bunkers of various types still there to be seen/explored (but be very careful if you try to go in any).
If you want to move on, look for signs to go inland and visit two coastal batteries which are also now museums well worth seeing, at Crebeques and a little further on, Azeville. I'll cover those in separate features but suffice to say they are both places well worth seeing.
Behind the beach, in addition to the 2 gun batteries, you must visit St Mere Eglise where a stone statue of a US paratrooper hangs from the church steeple in the main square, representing the actual events of D-Day, and they add a bit of parachute silk as well. Opposite the church, on the site where a burning house on the night of 6 June 1944 illuminated the square, there is the US Airborne Museum, which has more excellent displays. The bridges to the west of the town were the scene of defensive actions by US paratroopers stopping German troops getting to the beaches and there are additional museums, such as in St Marie du Mont and another not far away, the 'Dead Man's Corner' museum.
The area around Utah Beach is really well worth the visit and the countryside has changed very little from how it was back in 1944. One of those fields, and which you will find clearly identified at the Utah Beach Museum, is the filed which had a battery of German 105mm guns. Today it is just a field, surrounded with hedges, but it was the real site which was made familiar to many of us with the sequence of the US paratroopers attack by Easy Company, in the second episode of the TV series 'Band of Brothers'.