Top 5 excursions in Normandy for the study of WWII battlefields
Published: December 4th 2013
Looking towards the 70th anniversary of the D-Day Landings and the Battle of Normandy, our Product Specialist Madeleine has thought about her top excursions for a history and battlefields educational tour to Normandy. Today, school groups can visit the many cemeteries, monuments and museums found in the Normandy region. However, it is the following WWII and D-Day related visits that prove to be the most popular stops for Travelbound groups and offer enormous educational value. Find out why Normandy is a popular destination for school groups and how best to provide your students with an interesting and informative learning experience outside the classroom.
2014 marks the 70th anniversary of the D-Day Landings and Battle of Normandy when the combined Allied Forces invaded via Normandy’s sandy beaches to liberate mainland Europe from the Nazis in World War II. The invasion involved huge strategic planning to bring in the troops, their vehicles, tanks, equipment and supplies. During a visit to Normandy our groups can really start to understand the significance of these events and the context in which they happened.
Our Château du Molay proves to be extremely popular with our school groups. Located just 14kms from Bayeux and within easy reach of the Landing Beaches, it is a great base for your group to explore the area. The Château has its own WWII history as it was commandeered by the German Army for V-weapons installation and for the Head Quarters of German General Dietrich Kraiss.
Arromanches makes a great starting point for understanding the D-Day Landings and visiting the Landing beaches. This small seaside town was the spot chosen by the allies to create an artificial port or mulberry harbour after the initial Landings to facilitate the invasion. Start above the town at the Panorama point where remnants of the artificial harbour can still be seen out to sea. The 360 degree cinema located on the cliff top is the only circular cinema in France where a film is projected in high definition onto 9 screens. The 20 minute film, ‘Normandy 100 days‘, tells the story of the terrible Battle of Normandy with archive images gathered from around the world. Down on the town’s sea-front is the D-Day Landing Museum, a small and accessible museum which gives an overview of how the artificial harbour was constructed with models.
2. Longues-sur-Mer Battery and The Maisy Battery
Moving along the coast, it is good to make a stop at the Longues-sur-Mer Battery. This German gun emplacement still retains its guns and demonstrates the heavy defence positions the Germans had along the Normandy Coast as part of the Atlantic Wall. Here, students will be able to explore the 4 block houses and take up a position at the observation post for a view out to sea. The Longues-sur-Mer Battery was a key area of the assault for the Allied Forces and well worth a visit as part of your history and battlefields educational tour. Just a 40 minute journey up the coast, you will find the Maisy Battery. This is one of the largest and best preserved German defensive positions in the area. Students can walk inside German trenches and see and feel what it was like to live in a concrete bomb-proof bunker. Both are popular stops for our groups and both are set out to provide the students with an insight to the scale, position and conditions of a Battery on Normandy’s coast.
3. American Military Cemetery, Omaha Beach
A visit to the peaceful American Military Cemetery is a poignant reminder of the huge loss of life suffered by the Americans during their assault of Omaha Beach. Located on the clifftop above this 5 mile stretch of coastline, students will be taken aback by the sight of 9,387 white crosses perfectly aligned to remember those lost during the invasion. Facing the Americans was the 352nd Infantry Division led by the German General Dietrich Kraiss who manned the ridge, famously depicted in the image ‘Into the Jaws of Death’.
Within the cemetery there is a commemorative wall to the 1,557 Americans who could not be named and a visitor centre showing a moving film tracing the backgrounds of some of the individual soldiers. The vulnerability of the troops can be best understood by walking on the beach below where they landed. Free guided tours of the cemetery can be pre-booked and prove to be an informative and worthy addition to your tour.
4. The Memorial de Caen
Though some groups decide to arrive in Normandy via the Portsmouth to Caen crossing, Caen, the capital city of Basse-Normandie, is a must-see for all groups. Devastated by bombing during World War II, Caen is a fitting location for this excellent museum dedicated to peace. The museum takes students on a journey from the end of WWI to the end of the cold war and sets the D-Day Landings in a historical context. This is a large museum but groups can also opt for a new guided visit of just the D-Day Landings and Battle of Normandy areas which lasts 1 hour 15 minutes. To aid your visit to the Memorial de Caen, workbooks and workshops are also available.
5. The Pegasus Memorial
A visit to the Pegasus Memorial and museum tells the story of the men of the 6th British Airborne Division, composed of parachutists and glider-borne troops who had to hold the eastern flank of the invasion forces and stop German counter attacks coming from the east. Their mission was to capture the bridges of the Orne and the Caen canal, destroy the Merville gun battery and destroy the bridges across the River Dives. They achieved this before dawn on D-Day but with the loss of 2000 men. The bridge across the Caen Canal was re-named Pegasus Bridge in 1944 after the emblem worn on the sleeves of the men of the airborne division. The bridge was replaced in 1994 and the original Pegasus Bridge is now on display in the grounds of the museum together with a full size replica of a Horsa glider. The Pegasus Memorial is a site groups will certainly remember from their visit to Normandy and some students may recognise the bridge from scenes captured in the film ‘The Longest Day’.
The above excursions stand as the 5 most popular stops for our groups on their history and battlefields tour to Normandy. A top tip for Party Leaders would be to dive into the history of Bayeux, which is far from just being significant for the Bayeux tapestry. The medieval town of Bayeux was the first significant town to be liberated by the allies and the Memorial opposite the British and Commonwealth Cemetery bears the names of 1,800 men with no known grave who died during the conflict in Normandy. There is certainly a great deal to see and the Travelbound Team are always on hand to help and develop your tour with you. From planning your trip to liaising with our team at our Château du Molay, Travelbound aim to assist you and your group every step of the way.
If you are interested in running a history and battlefields educational tour to Normandy or would like to find out more about our Château du Molay, you can reach us on 01273 244572 or Request a Quote and we'll get back to you.