Beaches hold a strong attraction for many people, including the French Impressionist painter, Claude Monet. In 1868 he wrote to his friend Frédéric Bazille from Étretat, a coastal town in northern France: “I pass my time in the open air on the beach when it is really heavy weather or when the boats go out fishing…” Beaches in times of war are something else, however. The following World War II photographs (with my annotations in bold italics) show the gallantry of the men who fought on the beaches of Normandy, Iwo Jima and Leyte. But they also serve as stark reminders of the horrors of war and man’s capacity to cause far greater destruction than Mother Nature.

Amphibious assault on Iwo Jima, mid-February 1945
Photo courtesy of the San Diego Air and Space Museum

The tide of war is more awesome and fearsome than any tsunami that mankind has experienced. 

Out of the gaping mouths of Coast Guard and Navy Landing Craft, rose the great flow of invasion supplies to the blackened sands of Iwo Jima, a few hours after the Marines had wrested their foothold on the vital island. 1945.
Photo and caption courtesy of the US Coast Guard

War costs more money than is required to clean up all the world’s dirty beaches.

Invasion of Leyte, Philippines, October 20, 1944
Photo and caption courtesy of the National Museum of the U.S. Navy

Nature uses only its naked power to wreak havoc. Man has an infinite array of weapons for doing the same. 

Normandy Invasion, Cherbourg, France, July 1944. Mine disposal by burning.
Photo and caption courtesy of the National Museum of the U.S. Navy

It is the worst of times when the beauty of seashells is replaced by the vileness of bombs, bullets and mines.

Invasion of Leyte, Philippines, 20 October 1944. Coast Guardsmen from an invasion transport remove an Army casualty from the flaming beach on Leyte Island as the weight of liberation strikes into the heart of the Philippines.
Photo and caption courtesy of the National Museum of the U.S. Navy

War can soak beaches with blood, sweat and the salt of tears.

German prisoners of war in a barbed-wire enclosure on “Utah” Beach, 6 June 1944
Photo and caption courtesy of the National Museum of the U.S. Navy

All wars dehumanise those who take part in them. Even the soldiers who survive a hellish beach somehow lose part of their humanity.

~ Barista Uno

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