Invasion Ohio: Attending the Biggest Annual D-Day Reenactment

For the past 12 years the largest recreation of D-Day in North America has taken place in August with Lake Erie filling in for the English Channel.

us army beach lake erie
While these men are a little older than the average GI of World War II it was impressive to see them on the beaches of Lake Erie as they prepared for the reenacted "invasion."Peter Suciu

FOR THE PAST DOZEN YEARS, the largest D-Day reenactment in North America has regularly taken place in mid-August with Lake Erie filling in for the English Channel and the beach at Conneaut, Ohio serving as Normandy. In many ways this small Ohio town, an hour east of Cleveland is "invaded" with more than 2,500 reenactors coming to take part in the three day event, as thousands of spectators come to see the spectacle that is D-Day Conneaut.

The event actually began as a private, low-key event featuring a couple of dozen reenactors back in 1999 before becoming an official and well-organized event in 2007.

Visitors can take part in Higgins Boat rides on Lake Erie, attend a Church service conducted by military chaplains, and even see a 1940s-style USO show.

german guard reenactment
Visitors weren't asked for their papers, but this sentry still took his job seriously!Peter Suciu
a red haired woman singing into an old microphone
It wasn't just guns and shooting at D-Day Conneaut. Period music included a "USO Show" to entertain the troops and other visitors.Peter Suciu
german propaganda reenactments
While Leni Riefenstahl may have been the most famous of the directors of Nazi propaganda films there were others who donned the "directors pants" – these reenactors took it to a less serious level however.Peter Suciu

Weapons, Equipment and Gear

Of course this event is about the guns, equipment, and vehicles. While not 100 percent historically accurate—D-Day Conneaut features reenactors who are clearly older and much better fed, not to mention there were Waffen SS and other units that weren't actually in Normandy on June 6, 1944—this is the next best thing to a trip back in time.

Over three days there were multiple "engagements" including two beach landings and even raids by French resistance and British Commandos; as well as weapons demonstrations, a tank parade, and artillery firing!

actors of the british royal air force reenactment
Here some British Royal Air Force reenactors get into the spirit of 1944 with a good cup of English tea!Peter Suciu

What sets D-Day Conneaut apart from other reenactments is that this one is truly meant to be a public display, and it offers a hands-on approach to attendees and offered a history lesson on the weapons and equipment. This included short lectures, demonstrations and other talks.

actors at a german weapon demonstration reenactment
In addition to actual "fighting," the various reenactors gave weapons demonstrations to educate attendees of the event.Peter Suciu
a lineup of german paratrooper actors at a reenactment
While not at the beaches on June 6, 1944 there were several units of German Fallschirmjäger (paratrooper infantry) in Normandy. These reenactors are dressed and outfitted with the equipment in use by those elite German soldiers at that point in the war.Peter Suciu

Attendees could walk in the camps, talk with the reenactors and feel as if they were traveling back in time or making their way through a living museum. Even if the reenactors were a little too old (as noted) the uniforms and equipment were truly timeless

actors at a french resistance camp during a reenactment
The reenactors take this event seriously and camp out for the weekend. Here is a scene from the French Resistance camp.Peter Suciu
german field equipment at a reenactment
There were numerous displays that highlighted the equipment and gear used by the various soldiers at the time of the D-Day invasion in 1944.Peter Suciu
two men in a kitchen at a german army reenactment
Don't expect to see most of the reenactors grabbing a Coke and a slice of pizza. At one of the German encampments an actual field kitchen was set up to keep the "troops" fed!Peter Suciu
german landing post at a reenactment
Great efforts went into the various encampments, including this U.S. Naval landing post – these would have been set up within hours of the invasion beachhead on June 6, 1944.Peter Suciu
german gun crew on a hillside
This German gun crew is armed with an MG-42 – blank firing of course – and defending a bluff over the beach.Peter Suciu
french resistance battle reenactment
British Commandos and French Resistance engage the enemy prior to the main beach landing.Peter Suciu

Big Guns and Tanks

D-Day Conneaut has also become akin to a military vehicle show, but instead of one where the tanks and jeeps are merely parked in a lot or field, these vehicles can be seen on the move. Numerous vehicle collectors rolled into town mid-week and continued to arrive on Friday morning. This included an assortment of original World War II motorcycles and sidecars, Volkswagen Kübelwagens, and even armor!

Impressively there were nearly a half a dozen German tanks, including Panzer III, Panzer IV and Sturmgeschütz IV assault guns; which were replicas, each built on a British armoured personnel carrier chassis and mocked up to resemble the wartime armored vehicles. Eagle eyed viewers (or model builders) might note that these tanks had fewer "road wheels" than the real German Panzers, but these were far more accurate than the tanks seen in various Hollywood movies, notably Patton and The Battle of the Bulge , which merely dressed up Cold War tanks.

There were also original American pieces of armor, including several M4 Sherman tanks, landing craft, and even some large caliber artillery pieces. In other words the reenactors brought out the truly big guns!

a german anti-aircraft-cannon
An original German 88mm anti-aircraft cannon was set up to guard the beach from invasion. During World War II the 88mm was also employed in an anti-tank role.Peter Suciu
a lst landing craft with usn soldiers
Here some USN sailors test a mocked up LST for the beach invasion.Peter Suciu
german vehicles great lakes wall
A variety of German vehicles were deployed on the beach as the reenactors prepared the defenses. Instead of the Atlantic Wall each year these men prepare the Great Lakes Wall – even if it is only about a half of a mile long a great deal of effort goes into it!Peter Suciu
allied reenactment tanks
Allied reenactors rolled into Conneaut with a few M4 Sherman tanks.Peter Suciu
a german sturmgeschutz assault gun on a tank
A mocked German Sturmgeschütz IV assault gun –built on the chassis of a British armoured personnel carrier – rolls across the beach at Conneaut. An Allied landing craft can be seen just off the beach.Peter Suciu
guns on a lawn
On the 75th anniversary of D-Day, we take a look at the small arms used on both sides during the invasion, guns in D-Day movies and video games, plus 2 stateside D-Day museums, and U.S. vs. German artillery and tanks. See our complete D-Day covrerage here.Peter Suciu