Musée Mémoires 39-45Musée Mémoires 39-45
©Musée Mémoires 39-45|Simon Cohen

Sites of Remembrance in Brittany

beyond the beaches of Normandy

As France commemorates the 80th anniversary of D-Day, all eyes are turned towards Normandy. After the Allies broke out of Normandy in June 1944, Brittany became targeted for because of its naval bases at Lorient, St. Nazaire, and Brest. Here are 6 sites in Brittany to learn about forgotten battles, life in Nazi-occupied Brittany, the Breton resistance networks, and the bravery and tragic end of local people.

In the blink of an eye

1. Ile de Sein

Ile de Sein

The people of Sein were not afraid to brave the elements; they were skilled sailors attached to their freedom and they used these qualities in rescues and in the Resistance. After the call of 18 June 1940, the 128 valiant men, aged between fourteen to fifty-four years, of the island joined General de Gaulle. That’s nearly a quarter of the first volunteers!  A collective commitment which earned Sein the status of “Companion of the Liberation” in 1946. It is the most decorated French commune for WWII, notably with the ‘Croix de Guerre 39-45’ and the ‘medal of the Resistance with rosette’.

Ile de Sein

2. The Keroman submarine base


Since 1943, Lorient has been almost completely razed by Allied bombings and the dumping of 4,000 tons of bombs intended to destroy a German submarine base built in the port. From 1941 to 1943, three gigantic reinforced concrete blocks were built by the German occupying forces to house the submarines engaged in the Battle of the Atlantic. Dive into the heart of the most important bases built in France, a major witness to 20th century military architecture. Your guide opens the doors of one of the blockhouses for an impressive discovery of this mecca of the Second World War.

La Base

3. Musée de la Résistance in Brittany


The Breton Resistance is honoured in a completely renovated museum, located in the heart of the famous Saint-Marcel maquis. Want to know more about the history of the Resistance in Brittany? Head for the Landes de Lanvaux. In Saint-Marcel, on the very site of memorable battles, a fascinating museum awaits you in a 6-hectare wooded park. In a completely renewed scenography, more than 1,000 objects introduce you to the daily life of the Bretons under the occupation. They also bear witness to the commitment of men and women who risked everything to defend freedom in the shadow army. A street under occupation, the interior of a blockhouse or a passive defence shelter, a convoy of American vehicles… so many immersive environments that take you right back to the Second World War. Interactive devices and multimedia content complete the experience. An instructive and moving visit to the heart of history.

Museum of the Resistance

D-Day 80 anniversary events :
  • Two temporary exhibitions running from 6th June to the end of 2024: “1944 – 1945 – Libérez la Bretagne (Free Brittany) “, and “Les Paras français du Spécial Air Service (the parachute regiment of Special Air Service)
  • And a festive remembrance weekend from 21 to 23 June, with the participation of reconstruction associations (bivouac, demonstrations, old vehicles, concert, etc.).

4. Shelburn network


The Shelburn network is a branch of MI9, the British secret service, aimed at exfiltrating to England, from Bonaparte beach in Plouha, allied airmen who fell on the ground during the Second World War.

Today, this whole story is told, explained and detailed during a nearly 5 km fully signposted hike, called the Shelburn circuit, and now known as The Freedom Trail. The Story begins at the Saint-Samson Chapel in Plouha, with the Shelburn mobile application. Geolocated, it allows you to follow the exact path taken by the resistance fighters and the English aviators to reach Bonaparte beach where a corvette was waiting for them to repatriate them to England. At each point of the circuit, the walker can view a video in which he sees and hears the direct witnesses who participated in the escape network. In these short films, the testimonies, collected in 1994, take you step by step through the stages of the exfiltration missions and discover some of the Plouhatin resistance fighters.

Shelburn network

5. Musée Mémoires 39-45


Very near the Pointe Saint Mathieu headland, the former German command blockhouse relates the history of the Second World War in Brittany, told by those who lived through it. Standing in front of the bay, the gigantic five-storey blockhouse used to defend the command centre of the Graf Spee marine artillery battery, the most significant in Finistère in terms of size and fire-power. Two brothers, Aurélien and Clement, both collectors and keen historians, have turned this German labyrinth into a museum. Illustrated by thousands of objects, documents and photographs from those times, the tour, covering 500 sq.m. of exhibition space, is brought to life by witness accounts and anecdotes. It leads you down into the fortress, and it plunges you deep into the lives of the soldiers of the Atlantic Wall and into the memories of civilians caught up in the suffering. Through to the bloody days of the liberation. From the terrace, the beautiful panoramic views over the Iroise Sea are a reminder of the strategic position occupied by the military engineering works.

Musée Mémoires 39-45

6. Saint-Malo under the bombs


Lee Miller Photography exhibition

A war correspondent for Vogue, the photographer was the only one to cover the siege of the city during the Second World War. She went to meet caregivers, soldiers and residents to collect images and testimonies, at the heart of the raging conflict. On the occasion of the 80th anniversary of the liberation of Saint-Malo, to commemorate the memory of this committed woman, Saint-Malo is hosting a major exhibition with rare photos at the Chapel of the National School of the Merchant Navy from 18th June to 29th September 2024.

Memorial 39/45

The 39/45 Memorial is installed in a group of German bunkers built in the courtyard of the old fort of the Cité d’Alet (access via the campsite or by the walkway of the Cité d’Alet). You can only access it though a guided tour. The “History” visit in the anti-aircraft defense bunker allows you to understand the events that took place in the Malouine region from 1940 to 1944.. It is, at certain times, accompanied by the projection of an archive film (45 mins). The visit “Discovering the fortifications” is an indoor/outdoor tour oriented towards military architecture and daily life in the bunkers. It provides access to two completely re-equipped structures, a rare machine-gun casemate and the recently restored artillery fire director post.

‘In the footsteps of Marie-Laure’

A tour adapted from Anthony Doerr’s novel “All the Light We Cannot See”, published in 2014. A true publishing phenomenon in the United States (Pulitzer Prize 2015), hailed by the press as the best novel of the year! The story takes place at the heart of World War II, with moments of intense emotion in the town of Saint-Malo under the bombs.

Memorial 39-45

In the footsteps of Mary-Laure

7. Saint-Nazaire submarine base


The Saint-Nazaire submarine base is one of five bases built on the Atlantic coast by Nazi Germany during the Second World War. Built in just 16 months by the German army from the beginning of 1941, the Saint-Nazaire submarine base is today a powerful witness to the Second World War and a symbol of the reconquest of the city of Saint-Nazaire. Through two guided and sensory tours, discover the submarine base and its history in a different light.

‘On the scene of Operation Chariot’ is a self-guided tour to learn about a daring military raid organised by the British army against the German army in the heart of the port of Saint-Nazaire in March 1942. This self-guided circuit in the footsteps of the soldiers and commandos of Operation Chariot is organised in seven stages, passing the key sites of the military operation: from the lift bridge to the Normandie Dock. This permanent discovery trail features explanations on panel boards,  illustrated by Benoit Blary, a comic book artist.

Saint-Nazaire submarine base

Saint-Nazaire Museum

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Official website of tourism in Brittany