Arromanches-les-Bains: 272km (169 miles) NW of Paris, 11km (6 3/4 miles) NW of Bayeux; Grandcamp-Maisy (near Omaha Beach): 299km (186 miles) NW of Paris, 56km (35 miles) NW of Caen

A visit to the beaches, where the greatest invasion force of all time landed, is a must for anyone visiting Normandy’s north coast.

It was a rainy week in early June 1944 when the greatest armada ever was assembled along the southern coast of England. A full moon and cooperative tides were needed for the cross-Channel invasion. Britain’s top meteorologist for the USAAF and RAF—Sir James Stagg—forecast a small window in the inclement weather. Over in France, Normandy’s German occupiers lacked such a detailed weather forecast, so many Nazi officers drifted home for the weekend in the belief that no landing could take place soon.

Supreme Allied Commander Dwight D. Eisenhower believed Stagg’s reports—and knew that further delays would hinder his element of surprise. With the British invasion commander, Field Marshal Montgomery, at his side, Eisenhower made the ultimate call. 

At 9:15pm on June 5, the BBC announced to Normandy’s French Resistance that the invasion was imminent by way of coded messages. The underground movement started dynamiting the region’s railways to hinder German troop movement.

Before midnight, Allied planes began bombing the Norman coast. By 1:30am on June 6 (“the Longest Day”, and what the French call Jour-J), members of the 101st Airborne were parachuting to the ground on German-occupied French soil. At 6:30am, the Americans began landing on the beaches, code-named Utah and Omaha. An hour later, British and Canadian forces made beachheads at Juno, Gold, and Sword, swelling the number of Allied troops in Normandy to a massive 135,000. That evening a joint beachhead had been formed and yet more troops, tanks, trucks, and other matériel poured into Normandy. The push to Paris—and Berlin—had begun.