Then & Now (Normandy)

Past & Present: D-Day, Battle of Normandy and Beyond

Past & Present: D-Day, Battle of Normandy and Beyond

Although not exactly an original idea, we thought it would be an interesting exercise to lay some wartime archive photos side-by-side with modern day shots. Simply drag the slider to the left or right to compare the images. We've tried to capture the current photos from as close to the original location as possible, although this isn't always achievable without standing in someone's garden or hanging off an eroded cliff. These images are from around Normandy, but you can also see our Then & Now: D-Day At Home gallery with scenes of the build-up to D-Day from around the UK.


Argentan

The city of Argentan, around 40 miles south of Caen, was almost totally destroyed during the lead-up to D-Day and the subsequent Battle of Normandy. On 5th June, the train station was destroyed and on 6th and 7th June bombers it was attacked again by B-17 and B-24 bombers of the U.S. Eighth Air Force. Worse was to come in August, when after eight days of bitter fighting against the 9th Panzer Division and the 2nd SS Panzer Division Das Reich the city was liberated by American troops on 20th August.

Argentan is a good staging point for visiting the battlefields of the Falaise Pocket, and the closing of the gap which would see the Germans defeated in Normandy. The museum at Mémorial de Montormel is several miles to the northeast of Argentan, offering a stunning view over the area below.

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Arromanches-les-Bains

The small town of Arromanches at the western end of Gold Beach sits between two cliffs. It was spared of serious fighting on D-Day as the Allies wanted to minimise damage caused so as not to interfere with the artificial harbour - Mulberry B - they were planning to construct there. The town was finally liberated by men of the 1st Battalion Hampshire Regiment late on the evening of D-Day, with the last pockets of German resistance collapsing. The initial phase of construction of the Mulberry Harbour began the following day.

Today, Arromanches is once a again a beautiful seaside town, and the focus of the annual British D-Day anniversary commemorations, and is extremely popular with visitors, re-enactors and the military vehicle community. The Musée du Débarquement is a very good with some unique artefacts, and there is a circular cinema on the eastern cliff which is worth visiting called Arromanmches 360 .

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C-47 Skytrain "S.N.A.F.U. Special"

Apart from her name and the distinctive black and white "8 Ball" painted on her nose, "43-15073" is much like the hundreds of other C-47 Skytrain aircraft that took part in the Allied air armada on D-day. On 6th June 1944 this aircraft dropped paratroopers of the 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division near Sainte-Mere-Eglise. Thereafter she flew supplies into Normandy and evacuated casualties back to England.

After the war she became a Czechoslovakian civilian airliner, before being bought by the French Air Force in 1960. Thirteen years later she was sold to the Yugoslavian army. She lay in Sarajevo for many years before being rescued by a team from the Merville Battery. The rescued and restored the aircraft, and it has been on public display at the museum since 2008. Learn more at the S.N.A.F.U Special website.

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Colleville-sur-Mer

Liberated on 7th June 1944, Colleville-sur-Mer sits behind Omaha Beach. The German defenders were using the tower at the 12th century church of Notre-Dame as an observation post and sniper nest, so if befell to Allied warships to neutralize the threat. Three American servicemen can be seen in the original photograph walking across a field in front of the church at some point after D-Day.

War photographers took a number of pictures in Colleville after the beachhead had been secured, and today some of these can be seen on large displays on the walls of several building, including just out of frame to the right on the church wall in our photograph. The Normandy American Cemetery is located in Colleville, as well the excellent Overlord Museum and Big Red One Museum.

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Pointe-du-Hoc

The raid on the German battery at Pointe-du-Hoc has become legendary, with troops of the 2nd US Army Ranger Battalion scaling the sheer cliff using ropes attached to rocket-propelled grappling hooks and even London Fire Brigade ladders mounted on DUKW amphibious trucks. The Rangers suffered heavy casualties in the assault to capturing the battery and subsequent German assaults. Of course, the well-known twist is that upon reaching the top, all the casemates were found to be empty - with the guns having been moved a short distance inland and hidden in a field.

Today, the heavily cratered landscape is a powerful reminder of the heavy bombardment and fierce battle that took place here. Recently de-classified documents and subsequent books by Gary Sterne - owner of the nearby Maisy Battery have opened some interesting questions about the raid.

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Port-en-Bessin

The small fishing port of Port-en-Bessin sat between the British and American sectors, with Omaha Beach to its west and Gold Beach to the east. It was captured on 8th June men of 47 (Royal Marine) Commando of the 4th Special Service Brigade during Operation Aubery. General Montgomery can be seen with Army and Royal Navy officers visiting the town on 10th June, which would play an important role in supplying the Allied forces with fuel under TOMBOLA, until the main PLUTO system was brought online.

In the 1962 movie The Longest Day, Port-en-Bessin was used as the filming location for Ouistreham, which had been extensively rebuilt after the war and was unsuitable for the movie. For the film, the wall behind General Montgomery was repainted "Bazaar de Ouistreham" and the clash of names can still be seen today in our photograph.

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Sainte-Marie-du-Monte

Paratroopers of the 101st Airborne Division passing through the small village of Sainte-Marie-du-Mont, a few miles inland from Utah Beach. Occupied by 60 enemy soldiers of the 191 Artillery-Regiment, the village was under American control by the afternoon of D-Day. However, at around 18:00hrs that evening, the local priest thought he heard a sneeze from inside the confessional box. He rushed to find an American soldier, and shortly thereafter two terrified German soldiers were discovered hiding inside and swiftly taken prisoner.

Today, it's a popular destination for re-enactors during May/June. There are several bars and restaurants along with a couple of good shops selling both genuine antique and reproduction militaria. At one time there were two small museums in the village, but these have both since closed.

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Sainte-Mère-Église

A paratrooper from the 82nd Airborne Division rushes towards the entrance to the church as the last pockets of German resistance are dealt with. During the night a number of paratroopers landed in the church square, some killed by German fire before they hit the ground. After some fierce fighting, at around 04:00 on D-Day, men of 505th PIR raised the American flag at the town hall - although skirmishes would continue for a number of hours.

One of the most famous features in the town today is the dummy parachutist which hangs from the church tower. It depicts Private John Steele of F Company, 505th PIR - immortalized by actor Red Buttons in the film The Longest Day. During D-Day Anniversary commemorations Sainte-Mère-Église becomes an extremely busy hive of activity.

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Ver-sur-Mer

On the morning of 6th June 1944 British troops of the 50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Division landed against the defending Germans of the 716th Infantry Division. The defences had bee weakened by the pre-landing bombardment and casualty numbers were relatively low, and by midnight on D-Day some 25,000 men of the 50th had been landed. It was at this part of Gold Beach, known as "King sector", that CSM Stan Hollis of the 6th Green Howards came ashore, and just inland from this point where he took part in the assault on the German Mont Fleury Battery. His actions that day saw him awarded D-Day's on Victoria Cross.

Just a few hundred metres from the this spot is the site of the Normandy Memorial Trust project. On higher ground it overlooks Gold Beach and offers a view of the remains of the Mulberry Harbour along the coast at Arromanches.

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