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Discover D-Day Anzac stories on Seine river cruises

Mat McLachlan Battlefield Tours 4 mins read
Looking out to Omaha Beach from a German pillbox

This year marks the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Normandy (June to August 1944) – the campaign that liberated France from Nazi occupation. Commencing with the D-Day landings on 6 June 1944, Operation Overlord was the largest amphibious assault in history, beginning the march eastward to defeat Germany. While the D-Day landings are well known, less known is the stories of the Australians involved. 


Historian and founder of Mat McLachlan Battlefield Tours said: “Around 3,300 Australians served in the D-Day landings, mostly in the Airforce, but also at sea and on land.”


“The D-Day landings in Normandy during WW2 were part of the largest seaborne attack in history. They involved 7000 Allied warships, vessels and landing craft manned by over 195,000 naval personnel from eight allied countries, as well as an airborne attack, designed to land around 150,000 Allied troops on five different beachheads,” Mat McLachlan added.


This year, a group of Australian travellers will set out on Mat McLachlan Battlefield Tours' inaugural D-Day River Cruise, which was launched in September 2023 and sold out in weeks to walk the Normandy D-Day landings beaches and uncover this history. Now, due to demand, Mat McLachlan will again offer its D-Day River Cruise in 2025 – increasing to three sailings, each aboard the luxurious Amadeus Diamond cruising round trip from Paris, departing 11 June, 23 July and 24 September 2025. 


The tour comprises eight days of river cruising along the Seine aboard the Amadeus Diamond from Paris to Normandy and return, wit visits to picturesque regional French towns, three on-board WW2 seminars during the cruise, two days of comprehensive touring exploring Normandy and the D-Day landing sites in the company of an expert WW2 Historian, and more.


All meals are included, with gourmet dining aboard Amadeus Diamond including daily continental breakfast buffet, multi-course lunch, and 4-5 course dinner, as well as afternoon tea and late-night snack.  Free-flowing hand-selected wines are included at every lunch and dinner aboard Amadeus Diamond, as well as beer and soft drinks – and complimentary coffee and tea are available on-board 24/7. A Welcome and Farewell Cocktail Reception are included, as well as free on-board WiFi, and guests have complimentary use of on-board bicycles to explore ashore. 


Mat McLachlan Battlefield Tours D-Day River Cruise groups will spend two full days exploring the American and British Sectors of the D-Day landing beaches led by an expert Historian, including: Omaha Beach – the bloodiest landing site on D-Day, Gold Beach / Arromanches - – the centre beach of the five landings areas where an artificial harbour was established to unload heavy equipment, Longues Gun Battery, Benouville Memorial Pegasus Museum and the Pagasus Bridge - scene of the successful coup de main, Sainte-Mere-Eglise Airborne Museum, Ranville War Cemetery, Colleville-Sur-Mer American Cemetery and Le Cambe German Cemetery.


Within a few days of the D-Day landings on 6 June 1944, over 320,000 troops, more than 50,000 vehicles and some 100,000 tonnes of equipment had been landed, and in the weeks that followed the Allied forces fought hard and gained significant ground. By August 1944, all of northern France had been liberated.


Historian Mat McLachlan shares some of the D-Day Anzacs stories:


Flight Lieutenant Henry Lacy Smith, born in the Sydney suburb of Sans Souci, flew a Spitfire in the first Australian squadron (453) to go into action on D-day on 6 June 1944. His Spitfire was hit by anti-aircraft fire on 11 June 1944 when patrolling the beachheads, and his aircraft struck water in a canal. Initially posted as "missing", Smith remained so for 66 years. His Spitfire was finally discovered in November 2010, and five months later his remains were buried with full military honours in Ranville Cemetery, France. Mat McLachlan Battlefield Tours’ Battle of Normandy River Cruise groups will visit this cemetery.


Lieutenant Kenneth Hudspeth, Royal Australian Naval Volunteer Reserve (RANVR), a teacher from Hobart, Tasmania, commanded one of the first two ‘X’ class submarines (the X20) to cross the Channel for the landings, his mission to mark the access route for the Allied Armada and act as a navigation beacon.


Lieutenant-Commander Leon Goldsworthy, Royal Australian Navy Volunteer Reserve, from Broken Hill NSW, was one of the bravest Australians at Normandy. He was part of a team of Royal Navy clearance divers who, just weeks after the D-Day landings, worked desperately to clear mines from the booby-trapped harbour near the port of Cherbourg.


Sub-Lieutenant Richard Pirrie, RANVR, from Hawthorn, Melbourne was a talented sportsman who had played AFL for Hawthorn Football Club. On June 6 – his 24th birthday – Pirrie was in command of Landing Craft Support (M)47 in the first wave at Juno Beach, Normandy. He was tasked with the dangerous job of piloting his craft close in, so a naval artillery observer could direct gunfire onto German defences. Pirrie’s craft simultaneously struck a mine and was hit by a shell, killing him and two others.


Lieutenant-Commander George Dixon, Royal Australian Navy Volunteer Reserve, from Tasmania, was in command of Landing Ship Tank 409 at Juno Beach on D-Day. Dixon was one of the original Anzacs among the first to land at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915 as part of the 12th Battalion Australian Infantry Forces – when he was just 15 years old.


21-year-old Flight Sergeant Stanley Black, from Melbourne, one of seven members of a Lancaster bomber crew of No. 106 Squadron, Royal Air Force, who was sent on a mission to help secure the Allied beachhead. His Lancaster was shot down by enemy fire and he bailed out, parachuting to safety and joined a group of American paratroopers holding the village of Graignes. A German SS division was approaching the village, and the Americans welcomed a friendly addition to their ranks. Outnumbered, the Americans and Black held Graignes for 24 hours, preventing the German advance toward the Allied beachheads. When the Germans finally entered Graignes on 11 June they rounded up and executed the remaining paratroopers, Flight Sergeant Black, two local priests and 40 villagers.



To view the full itinerary and book, visit


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