From the landings in Normandy on 6th June 1944, to the eventual victory in Europe on May 8th 1945, Allied forces fought their way through France, Belgium and Holland and on into Germany. Vast offensives opened up the route to eventual victory, and names of battles, key locations and even operations from this period remain with us today. These costly battles mixed great heroism with great tragedy and terrible loss, and today many people visit the remaining sites, landmarks, memorials and museums to mark such sacrifice.
For those seeking to follow in the footsteps of their loved ones, or simply to explore the history of this appalling conflict, a number of fascinating places remain to explore.
Pegasus Bridge and the Pegasus Bridge Museum
Pegasus Bridge in Normandy is among the most famous Second World War locations anywhere in the world, as it was captured by British forces in the early hours of June 6th1944, the first operation of D-Day. Today visitors can explore the bridge itself and a museum dedicated to the attack.
Pointe Du Hoc Memorial
The memorial at Pointe Du Hoc is dedicated to the US Second Ranger Battalion, who fought there in an audacious operation on D-Day. The battalion was tasked with capturing German artillery at the top of these virtually unscalable cliffs to ensure the safety of the troops landing on the beaches below.
The Merville Gun Battery
The 9th Battalion of the British Parachute Regiment was tasked with capturing and disabling this vital German fortification on D-Day, before the beach landings. The remains of the battery can still be seen, and it is a well-trodden spot for those exploring the Normandy landing battlefields.
Omaha Beach Museum
The Omaha Beach Museum explores the events of the largest of the Normandy Landings. Through a series of exhibits, dioramas, uniforms, testimonials and photographs, the museum traces the events of the assault on Omaha Beach and the nearby operation on Pont Du Hoc.
Battle of Normandy Memorial Museum
This fascinating museum traces the events of the wider battle of Normandy. Taking a chronological approach, the museum begins in the period prior to D-Day, through the landings and on through the fight for Normandy itself up to 29 August 1944.
Big Red One Assault Museum
The Big Red One Assault Museum commemorates the American First Infantry Division, particularly their part in the D-Day invasion. The division was part of the infamous landing at Omaha Beach where, despite the difficulties encountered, the US forces successfully captured the beach.
Gold Beach Museum
The Gold Beach Museum tells the story of the landings of the British 50th Infantry Division in Normandy. The museum explores the history of the operation as well as the intelligence and planning behind it.
The Caen Memorial
The memorial at Caen is a history museum dedicated to WWII and other conflicts. It explores the events which led up to the Normandy invasion, the landings themselves and the aftermath.
Longues-sur-Mer Gun Battery
The Longues-sur-Mer Gun Battery was a German defensive battery and part of Hitler’s Atlantic Wall. Made up of four 150mm guns, the battery is located between the vital Allied landing beaches of Gold and Omaha. It was captured by the British 231st Division.
The Airborne Museum
The Airborne Museum in Sainte-Mère-Église is dedicated to the role played by the American 82nd and 101st airborne divisions during the Normandy Landings. Comprised of three main buildings, one of which is shaped like a parachute, the museum houses original aircraft including a Waco Glider; weaponry; photographs; and a film about the landings.
Normandy American Cemetery
Among the most poignant Second World War sites, the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial is a World War Two cemetery and visitor centre. It is the burial site of 9,387 US military personnel who fought and died in WW2.
The Juno Beach Centre
The Juno Beach Centre focuses upon the story of Canadian forces in World War II. From photographs and documents to multimedia presentations and even a tour of the landing sites and bunkers, the Centre looks not only at the Canadian efforts in the war, but also paints a portrait of modern Canada.
Utah Beach Memorial
The Utah Beach Memorial examines the landings by the American 4th Infantry Division at Utah Beach on D-Day. This granite obelisk is a monument to the achievements of this division and their successful attack.
Mémorial Du Général Leclerc
The Mémorial Du Général Leclerc explores the history of the French Resistance and of the Liberation of Paris through the destinies of two key figures from the time – Marshal Leclerc and Jean Moulin. A multimedia presentation as well as other exhibits take visitors through this important period in French history.
Dutch National Monument
The Dutch National Monument is an obelisk in Dam Square in Amsterdam which commemorates those who died in World War II as well as the Dutch resistance during the occupation.
The National Liberation Museum
The National Liberation Museum in Groesbeek examines the occupation of the Netherlands by the Nazis during the war. The museum mixes exhibitions with interactive displays to bring the challenges of the period to the forefront of the visit.
A timeless symbol of the bravery of airborne soldiers, Arnhem Bridge in the Netherlands was the location of a legendary battle during WWII. The resulting failure to capture the bridge has led it to be known as ‘a bridge too far.’
Bastogne War Museum
Bastogne is one of the key locations for the campaign known as the Battle of the Bulge. The museum examines the history of the war with particular emphasis on the campaign and the men who fought in the area.
The Mardasson Memorial
Taking the form of a five-pointed American star, this poignant monument was designed by the architect Georges Dedoyard to honour the memory of the 76,890 American soldiers killed, wounded or left missing after the Battle of the Bulge.
Peace Museum Remagen Bridge
The museum is housed in the towers of the famous bridge and tells the story of the bridge and the US prisoner of war camp known as the Golden Mile, on the eponymous plain.
Musée De La Reddition
Musée de la Reddition – also known as the Museum of the Surrender – in Reims is the location of the official surrender of the German Third Reich to Allied forces. The surrender took place in the war room of General Dwight D Eisenhower’s headquarters. Visitors can see the actual table where terms of surrender were agreed, with its contents seemingly frozen in time.
The Berlin Flak Tower
The Berlin Flak Tower is a seven storey bunker, built under Hitler’s orders to protect Berlin from aerial attacks during the war. Only two floors are open to the public, and 90 minute guided tours are provided by the Berlin Underground Association.
The Reichstag served as the seat of the German Parliament before and during the war and was famously captured during the fall of Berlin. Heavily bombed during the war, reconstruction took place in the 1990s and it houses the current German parliament, the Bundestag, and is now one of Germany’s most popular tourist attractions.
Soviet Memorial Treptow
The beautiful Treptow Park just south of Berlin’s city centre is home to Germany’s largest Soviet memorial, which serves to both commemorate those lost in the Battle of Berlin, and house a cemetery for 5,000 of the fallen soldiers.