Sword Beach is the easternmost of the five D-Day landing beaches. Along with Gold Beach, Sword Beach was also one of the two British landing zones. (American troops stormed Utah Beach and Omaha Beach while Canada stormed Juno Beach.)
Like the other four Normandy landing beaches, Sword Beach offers a great selection of museums and other sites to visit today.
What happened at Sword Beach on D-Day?
British forces landed on Sword Beach at 7:25 am on D-Day and faced only moderate opposition. Just half an hour later the fighting was already inland. Here are some quick Sword Beach facts:
Sword Beach objective
The main British objective on D-Day was to seize the city of Caen. Caen is the largest city in the area and the one through which all major roads in the Normandy countryside run through.
Sword Beach casualties
Of the almost 29,000 troops that landed on Sword Beach, there were 683 casualties, a relatively low number as far as Normandy beach landings went.
Sword Beach outcome
The storming of Sword Beach on D-Day resulted in a super swift Allied victory with relatively few casualties.
What to see at Sword Beach
Today, you can visit many of the key sites of the Sword Beach invasion and some of the best Normandy D-Day museums in the area. On your next visit, be sure to check out these 11 sites:
1. Mémorial de Caen (Caen Memorial Museum)
Located in Caen, the main Sword Beach objective on D-Day, is the Caen Memorial Museum, believed to be the best World War II in Europe. This museum opened on D-Day in 1988 and covers what happened on Sword Beach, what happened on D-Day, and all of World War II in general.
This museum displays tons of historical artifacts, replicas, airplanes, vehicles, and much more. It also has two cafés, three gardens dedicated to British, Canadian, and American soldiers who died in Normandy, and a movie theater.
The Caen Memorial Museum is extensive and will take up the most time of any of these sites. Definitely dedicate a good chunk of time to exploring it in depth.
2. Memorial Pegasus and the Pegasus Bridge
The Pegasus Bridge spans the Caen Canal and capturing it was one of the major objectives of British troops on D-Day. Originally called the Bénouville Bridge, it was renamed to Pegasus to honor the men of the 6th Airborne Division who wore the emblem of a winged horse on their uniforms.
The Memorial Pegasus located nearby is a museum and memorial dedicated these British troops—the 6th Airborne Division, also known as the “Red Berets.” The taking of the Pegasus Bridge is one of the featured stories in the movie The Longest Day.
This museum covers both the military operation in taking the bridge as well as the personal stories associated with it. This operation is one of the lesser-known D-Day tales but one that played an essential role in Allied victory.
If you’re short on time to dedicate to this area, check out my post on the 7 best D-Day sites to visit in Normandy if you have just one day.
3. Pegasus Bridge Café
Originally known as Café Gondrée, the Pegasus Bridge Café is a small coffee house in the town of Bénouville at the northwest end of the Pegasus Bridge. Many refer to this building as the first site of combat during the D-Day invasion and as the first French house to be liberated. (Whether or not that’s true is up for debate since there are a handful of other sites who claim the same, so whatever.)
During the war, the café was run by Georges and Thérèse Gondrée who had been involved in the French resistance and passed on information about the bridge’s defenses. After the war, it was here that British paratroopers would henceforth celebrate the anniversary of D-Day.
The building is now listed as a historical monument and still serves customers today. The interior is decorated floor to ceiling in historical photographs and memorabilia, making it a little museum in its own right. When you’re in the area exploring these Sword Beach sites, stop by the Pegasus Bridge Café for a little break.
4. Le Grand Bunker (Museum of the Atlantic Wall)
Also known as the Museum of the Atlantic Wall, Le Grand Bunker focuses entirely to the history of the Atlantic Wall. It is located across the five levels of a former German bunker at Ouistreham.
This bunker was once part the most powerful coastal battery in the region and served as the nerve center for German command. From here, they controlled all other batteries in the area. On June 9th, 1944, British lieutenant Bob Orrell and his men took it over.
Today, it has been completely renovated to appear as it did back in 1944. It encompasses all five levels and shows how the Germans organized operations inside the bunker. You can also head up to the rooftop to see 360° views of the entire surrounding area including the beaches.
As a bonus, you can also check out one of the D-Day landing crafts used by Tom Hanks’s character in Saving Private Ryan. This amphibious landing craft was used on D-Day, then fully restored and modified for the film. It is not on display outside Le Grand Bunker.
5. Memorial des Civils dans la Geurre (Falaise Memorial)
Translated into English, this museum is known as the Civilians in Wartime Memorial. This is one of Normandy’s lesser-known World War II museums but has a unique focus that makes it a worthwhile stop. The Civilians in Wartime Memorial focuses on what life was like for Normandy’s civilian population during the war.
This memorial was designed by the Caen Memorial and opened in 2016 making it one of Normandy’s newest war museums. At this museum you’ll learn about:
- the civilians’ complex relationships with soldiers during the war (the combination of liberation and the Allied bombings that preceded it)
- the daily life of French citizens during German occupation
- Norman resistance
- Jewish persecution
- and the exodus of 1940
6. Museum and the Merville Battery Site
This site is composed of both a memorial to the 9th Parachute Battalion of the British Army and a museum dedicated to the Merville Battery. It was the 9th’s D-Day objective to destroy the German battery at Merville beforehand so British troops could land on Sword Beach.
They completed their mission but you can still see the battery in its entirety today. The site also displays tanks, airplanes, weaponry, dormitories, and more. You can sit inside a Douglas C-47 Dakota plane, explore the concrete casemates, and experience their light and sound show every 20 minutes that recreates the events of D-Day.
7. The Hillman Site
The Hillman Site is a small museum located at the former Hillman Fortress, a German bunker complex attacked on D-Day by Allied forces.
The exterior parts of the site are open year-round and the memorial is open only during the summer. Volunteers even lead free guided tours during the summer as well. You can explore the complex, check out historical artifacts, and get interesting information on how the Germans used the complex during WWII.
8. The Bagpiper of Normandy
At [location] you’ll find a memorial to Bill Millin, a British man known as the Bagpiper of Normandy. Millin was the personal piper of Simon Fraser, the 15th Lord Lovat (a Scottish title) and prominent British Commando during World War II. Fraser’s troops landed at Sword Beach on D-Day.
While bagpipes had been traditionally used in battle by Scottish soldiers, by the time of World War II bagpipes were restricted to the rear areas. (Go figure.) Regardless of these mandates, piper Bill Millin nevertheless played his bagpipe up and down Sword Beach (in a kilt) during the height of battle.
Somehow, Millin survived unharmed. (German snipers later admitted that, though Millin had been in their sights, they took pity on the man they thought was mad and refused to shoot him.) He and Fraser made it all the way to the Pegasus Bridge where Millin played his bagpipes as the British crossed it. A set of his bagpipes is now on display at the Pegasus Bridge Museum (above).
Today, up on the shores of Sword Beach is a memorial statue to Millin, the Bagpiper of Normandy. You’ll find this statue at the intersection of Boulevard Maritime and Avenue de Bruxelles. It features a bronze bagpiper atop a concrete base with three memorial plaques.
You can also see bagpiping Bill Millin in the movie The Longest Day.
9. French-British Museum of Commando N°4
The French-British Museum of Commando N°4 presents the landing at Sword Beach from the angle of the Franco-British commandos. These mission of the men of Commando N°4 was to liberate the town of Ouistreham and then to join the British paratroopers at the Pegasus Bridge. This museum tells their stories.
Located in the town of Ouistreham, this museum will take you about an hour to go through, 20 minutes of that is an introductory film detailing this commando’s actions on D-Day. The museum then tells their stories through photographs, uniforms and weapons, and more.
10. Kieffer Monument – Free French Soldiers Memorial
Overlooking Sword Beach is the Kieffer Monument, also known as the memorial to Free French Soldiers. It is designed to resemble a giant flame and pays tribute to all the forces of Free France who participated in the D-Day landings.
11. Hermanville War Cemetery
Located at Hermanville-sur-Mer a little bit north of Caen is the Hermanville War Cemetery, the final resting place Commonwealth soldiers who died on Sword Beach on June 6th and in the first few days after the Normandy landings. (It was originally called Sword Beach Cemetery for this reason.)
Hermanville War Cemetery contains the graves of 1,003 World War II burials, 103 of them remain unidentified.
Visiting Sword Beach, Normandy today
Visiting Sword Beach Normandy today is a great way to learn about British contributions to the D-Day landings (and beyond). There are a number of notable museums and sites here, and you could dedicate an entire day to just this sector. Don’t miss a stop near Sword Beach on your next trip to World War II Normandy.
Hotels near Sword Beach, Normandy
If you’re looking to stay near Sword Beach during your visit to Normandy, check out these great options:
Hotel Le Cosy Riva Bella – Ouistreham
Hotel le Cosy Riva Bella is a lovely hotel in a great location for exploring the nearby museums and memorials. It’s well-reviewed by those who loved the comfort of the rooms, the convenient location, and the friendly, helpful staff.
It has a bar and breakfast room, an outdoor terrace, and free WiFi throughout. Also, it’s one of the oldest buildings in Ouistreham and the owners have set up a photographic exhibition of the hotel’s role in the city’s history.
Book your stay here: Hotel le Cosy Riva Bella
Located in Bénouville, Manoir’Hastings is a beautiful property just a half mile from the Pegasus Bridge. It offers free private parking, a restaurant, garden views, a terrace, and free WiFi.
Reviewers absolutely love how spacious this hotel and its rooms are, as well as the superb food offerings, friendly staff, and quiet location. Many found this to be a fantastic base for exploring the nearby D-Day sites.
Book your stay here: Manoir’Hastings
More info for your visit to Sword Beach, Normandy
› Want more hotel options? Check out Sword Beach hotels on Booking.com.
› Pick up this Normandy guidebook for more great area information.
› Be sure to watch Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers before your visit!
› What else have I covered in France? Check out my France archives.
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