Warships, bombers, rubble, refugees. That was the Normandy landscape of 1944, as Allied forces fought to wrest France from Nazi control.
Today, the region’s towns and beaches are startlingly calm, as still-grateful residents prepare to welcome veterans commemorating 75 years since D-Day.
The Associated Press’ Thibault Camus revisited the beaches and damaged villages that symbolize the Allied struggle.
An American soldier and a French civilian speaking on the causeway leading from the mainland of Brittany to the famous tourist resort of Mont-St-Michel in Normandy on Aug. 8, 1944, and a view of the same location on May 8, 2019.
On Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944, layer upon layer of US, British and Canadian warships lined up along the Normandy shore. German anti-tank obstacles packed the broad beaches. Lethal aircraft dotted the sky.
The scene along a section of Omaha Beach in June 1944, during Operation Overlord, the code name for the Allied invasion at the Normandy coast in France during World War II, and the same location on May 9, 2019.
Today, a grassy knoll blends gently into the wide beach, small waves lapping at the shore. Two tourists stand alone on the vast expanse.
But D-Day was just Day One. The battle for Normandy took two and half more months, leveling near-entire towns, and gutting medieval monuments.
The flag-covered body of an officer identified only as “Major Aowie” resting amid the ruins of St. Croix Church as two of his men man a machine gun in a bomb crater in the foreground, in St. Lo, France, July 23, 1944, and a view of the same location on May 8, 2019.
Putrefied corpses were once scattered on the streets of the town of Saint-Lo. Helmeted US soldiers watched out from a makeshift trench, a mountain of crumbled stone behind them. Today, that rubble is the rebuilt Saint-Lo Church.
The Allies liberated one of France’s most striking monuments, the Mont-Saint-Michel peninsula monastery, from Nazi rule in the weeks after D-Day. It now sees 2 million tourists a year.
The twin steeples of St. Hilaire Du Harcouet’s church in Normandy, France, on Aug. 13, 1944, top, and below, a view of the same location on May 8, 2019.
Much of the architectural damage to Normandy came not from Nazi occupation but from Allied bombings.
Soldiers placed a steel beam across a ditch in Pont-L’Eveque to walk past the 15th-century St. Michel Church, its lonely arches leading to nowhere after their surrounding walls collapsed. Now neatly trimmed hedges line the polished stone walls of the restored monument.
British soldiers marching past the ruins of a church in the war-damaged town of Pont-L’Eveque, in the Normandy region of France, in August 1944, and a view of the same location on May 10, 2019.
In Saint-Hilaire-du-Harcouet, the twin-towered St. Hilaire Church was among the only buildings left standing. The surrounding neighborhood has since revived, with tidy brick homes and an insurance office boasting a sign saying “English spoken.”
The bombings sent thousands of residents into hiding. After the Nazis were pushed out of La Haye-du-Puits in July 1944, residents cautiously walked home, pushing their belongings in wheelbarrows past the blown-out rose windows of the St. Jean Church. The church shows little hint of the damage today, and well-tended orange and yellow flowers grow along its facade.
Ruins in the town of Valognes on Oct. 7, 1944, and a view of the same location on May 9, 2019.
Normandy has been buffeted by battles since Roman times, and soldiers marching through Sainte-Marie-du-Mont in 1944 saw a reminder of that troubled past: a monument to townsmen killed in World War I.
Today, the monument has been updated to honor those killed in the Second World War, which the town hopes will be its last.
US troops passing through the town of Sainte-Marie-du-Mont as they push forward in France, June 1944, and a view of the same location on May 9, 2019.