The term D-Day is the first day of any military operation, and is used by military planners for coordination purposes. However, our guide told us that the term is now used in France for any important day. The Normandy beaches are located 110 miles from England, compared to 19 at the closest crossing point near Calais. The Germans had all of the ports along the English Channel very closely guarded, so the Allies chose to have the major part of the invasion down the Normandy coast. We drove along the coast on the way to Arromanches. All of the beaches looked so peaceful, it was hard to imagine what it must have been like for the soldiers and residents of the area during the invasion.
Eisenhower wanted a low tide, a full moon, and good weather for the landing. Therefore, those requirements limited the invasion to only three days per month. The Allies left England on June 5, but had to turn back because of bad weather. June 6 was not much better, but Eisenhower gave the go-ahead. Interestingly enough, General Rommel of Germany took June 6 off and went to Germany to see his wife because it was her birthday. He didn't think the Allies would try to invade France in such bad weather! I am sure that the German forces missed his leadership.
After driving past the three beaches (Sword, Gold, and Juno) invaded by the two British divisions totaling 30,000 soldiers and the Canadian division, we sped through some of the charming Normandy villages full of narrow streets and flowers before arriving at Arromanches, site of an engineering marvel--the artificial harbor.
After a scenic drive along the Normandy coast, we arrived at Arromanches at about 11:30 am, and went to the museum first. It was relatively small, but had interesting facts about the artificial harbor built at Arromanches in the first days after the invasion. We spent about an hour at the museum. Many of us in our shore excursion group had never heard of this engineering feat, but we all found it fascinating.
Winston Churchill had the foresight to recognize the need for the creation of an artificial harbor in Normandy. He knew that the thousands of troops landing on the beaches of France could only carry enough supplies (food, bullets, fuel, etc.) for a few days. Since the Allies were not planning to invade any of the major existing ports on the northern coast of France, the troops would suffer without reinforcement of supplies. Therefore, engineers took Churchill's concept and built huge concrete blocks that would be used to create the docks needed for the port. Because of the secrecy required, workers in England built the giant blocks without even knowing what they were!
The museum sits right on the beach at Arromanches, and by looking out the windows that go all the way across the museum's beachside, you can still see the remains of part of the artificial harbor. Many of the huge concrete pieces were used elsewhere after the War, but enough are left to get a sense of how the harbor looked. The museum also has a short movie and several models and diagrams of the construction of the harbor.
More than just the floating blocks were needed to create the artificial port and harbor. In the first days after the invasion, the Allies sunk several old ships to make a breakwater. Then the blocks built in England were towed across the English Channel to Arromanches where they were assembled into the artificial harbor. The port was operational soon after the invasion.
Arromanches was not the only artificial harbor built by the Allies. Two harbors were originally constructed and were named Mulberry A and Mulberry B. The harbor at Arromanches was Mulberry B, while Mulberry A was near Omaha Beach where the American forces landed. Unfortunately, just a few days after the harbors were built, a major storm struck. The harbor at Mulberry A was completely destroyed, and Mulberry B was severely damaged. After the storm, all of the Allies had to use the harbor at Arromanches. I found it interesting that the harbors were named "Mulberry" because the mulberry plant grows so fast!
After touring the museum, we had lunch "on our own" in the charming beach community of Arromanches. The village was much like beach towns back home--full of shops and restaurants and tourists. After getting a few French francs from an ATM, Ronnie and I found a sidewalk cafe on the busy main street and had a good lunch.
There was a free toilet at the museum, but it was closed for cleaning when we walked the short distance back to the bus parked there. Luckily for all of us, there was a public restroom right across the street. It was manned by an attendant, and was a welcome place to spend a couple of francs!
Next we all boarded the bus at 2:00 for the trip to the American beaches and cemetery.