By 1944 the Allies were gaining the upper hand in World War II in Europe. Germany was losing to the Soviet Union in the east, Sicily and southern Italy had been retaken, and the obvious next step was to open a western front and liberate France. There were many beaches in Normandy on which troops might land, but both sides realised one thing: the Allies also had to capture a port - and a functioning port at that. Without one, they could storm ashore at a heavy price in casualties, but they could not reinforce and resupply their forces, especially once bad weather set in. They would be encircled and driven back to the coast as inevitably as the troops at Dunkirk had been. There was a choice of some five ports, none of them ideal for Allied use, and Arromanches itself was quite unsuitable. Hitler thought Calais was the likeliest, and increased its defences. The Allies spent a year drip-feeding misinformation to confirm him in that belief.
A flurry of decoys and diversions preceded the attacks, which began at dawn on 6 June 1944, in a critical confluence of weather, tide and deployment that could not be repeated for many weeks. The beaches were code-named Utah, Omaha, Gold (at Arromanches), Juno and Sword - but which port? Calais was still the prime target and seemed secure, and Hitler refused to divert forces to counter the landings until late in the day. Meanwhile across the Channel, great caisson structures were emerging from their hiding places beneath the sea and were under tow towards the beaches. At Omaha and at Gold these gradually coalesced, being sunk into position and forged together to form wharves, breakwaters and piers, each a "Mulberry Harbour". The Allies had brought their own ports! It was a most brilliantly conceived and executed stroke of strategic deception. The Mulberry at Omaha became damaged by storms and had to be abandoned after two weeks, and the battle for existing ports such as Cherbourg got bogged down, so for the next ten months the Mulberry at Arromanches was the Allies' route to victory in Europe.
Everything is within a short walk.
- 1 Musée du Débarquement (D-Day Museum), Place du 6 Juin. Daily 09:30-12:30, 13:30-17:30. Fascinating museum about the Gold Beach landings, the Mulberry harbours and the war in Normandy. Gold Beach was the central of the five beaches, assaulted by mostly British forces. Adult €8.20.
- The Mulberry: one chunk is close to shore and you can walk to it at low tide. Out in the bay are two long sections and one short section, likened by Julian Barnes (in Flaubert's Parrot) to a Morse signal. These are interesting snorkelling and scuba-diving spots for their encrusting marine life, but watch out for sharp projections from the steel reinforcement rods.
- Liberators Museum at 9 Rue Colonel René Michel is really a military curiosity shop. Still, anyone who would sell off those bayonets, helmets and motorbike parts has learned a trick or two from the liberating Allied soldiers. It's open daily 09:00-18:00.
- 2 Arromanches 360, Rue du Calvaire. Daily 10:00-18:00. 360 degree footage of the landings on HD screens. Adult €6.50.
- 3 D-Day Garden is by the landing beach on the east side of town. Above it on the main highway is the Memorial to the Royal Engineer - part of a pontoon bridge - and visitor lookout points.
- 4 Eglise St Pierre at 10 Place Général de Gaulle is 19th century.
- 5 Musée America Gold Beach, 2 Place de L'Amiral Byrd, Ver-sur-Mer, ☏ . Daily 10:30-13:00, 14:00-18:00. Museum covers the landings and also the first US transatlantic mail plane of 1927, which ditched near here. Adult €4.50.
- 6 Juno Beach was at Courseulles-sur-Mer, 10 km east of Gold, and the landings here were by mainly Canadian forces. The Juno Beach Visitor Centre by the marina is open Feb-Dec daily 10:00-17:00, adult €7.50. Forces at Gold and Juno were able to link up on D-Day as planned, but linking all the other beachheads took several days more.
- See Ouistreham for Sword Beach, the most easterly of the five. Here British forces got established fairly quickly and next day linked with the Canadians at Juno. They advanced on nearby Caen but it took a month to fall, and this was a serious check to the whole campaign.
- 7 Longues-sur-Mer battery was one of several shore guns that were heavily fortified and had a wide arc of fire, so on D-Day they did great damage with enfilade fire along Gold Beach until taken out.
- 8 Omaha Beach, assaulted by US forces, centred on the village of Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer 20 km west of Arromanches. It was fiercely defended from clifftop positions and here the landings came closest to being beaten off. But they prevailed and next day began constructing the second Mulberry harbour. A few days later an exceptional storm damaged it, and the decision was taken to abandon it and route supplies through the Arromanches Mulberry. All the German defences at Omaha were concentrated on the beach itself, so having got ashore the US troops could have rolled inland, but their prime objective was to create a link between Gold to the east and Utah to the west. Saint-Laurent has a museum, a US cemetery and accommodation.
- See Sainte-Mère-Église for Utah Beach, the most westerly of the five. Here US forces gained a beachhead on the Cotentin peninsula, in order to cut off Cherbourg before it could be reinforced.
- Walk the clifftop paths. At low tide you can also walk along the beach, but the tide comes right in to the cliffs. East the route leads to Asnelles then to Juno Beach at Courseulles. West after 5 km is Longues-sur-Mer - beware, the path is crumbling over the cliff edge. Another 7 km brings you to Port en Bessin, used as the location for "Sword Beach" (actually near Ouistreham) in the film The Longest Day.
- Leisure boats sail from other villages along the coast, but Arromanches is too exposed and doesn't have a marina. But if you had some kind of amphibious or shallow landing craft . . .
- Proxi Supermarket is at the south edge of town. They enjoy a long siesta, opening Tu-Su 10:00-12:30, 17:00-19:00.
- The main street is lined with small restaurants and bars.
- Mary Celeste, 5 Rue Colonel René Michel. Daily 15:00-02:00. Small friendly bar and, mysteriously, it isn't deserted. Does bar food.
- 1 Municipal camp site is on Av de Verdun, west side of town.
- 2 Camping les Bas Carreaux, D514, Tracy-sur-Mer, ☏ . Basic but clean edge-of-town site.
- 3 Hôtel de Normandie, 5 Place du Six Juin 1944, ☏ . Long-established mid-range place usually gets it right. B&B double from €100.
- Hôtel d'Arromanches, 2 Rue Colonel René Michel (opposite TIC), ☏ . Simple hotel with good restaurant. B&B double from €80.
- 4 Hôtel Les Villas d'Arromanches, 1 Rue du Lt Colonel Job, ☏ . Charming clean hotel in 19th C stone building at the west edge of town. But, and it's a big but, this hotel was infamous in June 2019, the 75th anniversary of the landings. Accommodation in town was obviously at a premium and one veteran of the landings had booked months in advance, paying €2000 deposit. He was old and frail, and both he and his wife died a few days before the trip. The hotel instantly re-sold the room to other customers but would they refund the deposit? Non non non. B&B double from €120.
- Lots of little pensions / B&Bs a block or two back from the centre.
- More accommodation in Asnelles, the next village 5 km east along the coast.
Good mobile signal in town.