Normandy cemeteries bear witness to war’s cost in lives on both sides
By MICHAEL ABRAMS | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 7, 2014
Both the Allies and the Germans suffered heavy casualties on D-Day and during the following battle of Normandy.
Exact numbers are still unknown even after 70 years, but it is estimated that between 2,500 and 4,500 Allied forces were killed during D-Day (more exact research by the U.S. National D-Day Memorial Foundation had raised the number of casualties to 4,500). Estimates of those killed on the German side are between 4,000 and 9,000.
By the time the battle of Normandy was over, more than 53,000 Allied troops and well over 100,000 German troops had been killed.
Today, dozens of war cemeteries in Europe hold the remains of over 100,000 dead from both sides — American, German, British, Canadian, Poles, French, Australians and more.
Americans might be most familiar with the American Battle Monuments Commission’s Normandy American Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer, but the British Commonwealth Graves Commission and the German Volksbund Deutscher Kriegsgräberfürsorge also have cemeteries throughout Normandy.
The Commonwealth Bayeux War Cemetery is the largest among the British cemeteries from the D-Day campaign, with 4,648 burials. Although the largest number of those buried there, 3,935, are British, the cemetery also holds war dead from Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, France, Poland, Italy, the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia and even 466 from Germany.
A special feature of the Commonwealth cemeteries that sets them apart from those of the ABMC is that families of the fallen were allowed to have short messages engraved on the headstones. Messages such as “One of the dearest, one of the best, now in God’s keeping, safe at rest” or, simply, “Beloved son and brother” give the cemetery a very personal touch.
The cemetery at La Cambe is the final resting place for more than 21,000 German war dead. Of note is the mound at the center of the cemetery topped by a large cross flanked by two figures representing mourning parents. There are 296 Germans interred in the mound.
At the La Cambe cemetery also note the Peace Garden with more than 1,000 trees planted along the road leading to and in front of the cemetery.
Although the Commonwealth cemeteries hold some Canadian soldiers, there are two Canadian War cemeteries near D-Day beaches at Bény-sur-Mer and Bretteville-sur-Laize. The Polish cemetery, with 650 burials, is near Grainville-Langannerie.
About an hour-and-a-half drive southwest of the American cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer is Brittany American Cemetery, where 4,408 Americans are buried. Most of those interred there were killed during Operation Cobra, the breakout from Normandy and the battle for St. Lo.
A single rose decorates the grave of an unknown soldier at Normandy American Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer, France. On a bluff overlooking Omaha Beach, the cemetery is the final resting place for 9,387 American war casualties.
MICHAEL ABRAMS/STARS AND STRIPES