Allied Forces on D-Day Used a Popular Tourist Guide to Help Liberate France

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Because the liberation of Europe was riding on their tires.

When Allied troops landed in France on June 6, 1944, they weren't looking for France's best restaurants. Still, they were carrying copies of the world's foremost tourism and travel book.

Fearful the Nazis would destroy road signs in their retreat, Allied commanders needed the most up-to-date maps available before the invasion and did anything they could to get the best information. They didn't want their advances to get bogged down just because they were on unfamiliar ground.

To ensure they knew exactly where to go, the Allies turned to the same place that any short-term visitor to France has turned to for decades: the Michelin Guide.

They weren't looking for foie gras, but if they survived the beaches, they could find the best in France. (National Archives/Chief Photographer's Mate Robert F. Sargent)

The Michelin Guide is a series of guidebooks that has been published regularly by Michelin, the French conglomerate best known today for selling tires. The founding Michelin brothers, Edouard and Andre, began publishing the guide as a way to get more people on the road in cars, and thus sell more tires.

Any Frenchman who was looking to get out in the world to eat the finest food and stay in the finest hotels would first stop and pick up a Michelin Guide. By 1926, it was rating restaurants with Michelin Stars, a gold standard for restaurants ever since.

It wasn't produced during World War I or World War II, but the comprehensive nature of the guide's maps and layouts of roads, towns and cities across France made it a perfect choice for any traveler -- or tank company. The guide wasn't published during the war, but there was still a 1939 edition, and the Allies had to have it.

Michelin's last guide book to be printed before World War II was a "painstaking" effort. Before the war, the company's offices housed its self-made "Boulevard of Itineraries," a mapmaking office the company today calls the "internet before its time.” In the 1939 Michelin Guide, there were hundreds of heavily detailed and up-to-date maps of France itself and French cities, like Cherbourg, Caen and St. Lo, all of which would become critical crossroads for the D-Day invasion. The U.S. government approached the Michelin corporation for permission to reprint its guide, which was quickly granted.

When June 6, 1944, rolled around, Allied forces carried these handy tourism guides with them across the beaches of Normandy. After the Liberation of Paris was completed on Aug. 25, 1944, Michelin's Boulevard of Itineraries went back to work. This time, they were cranking out maps of Northern France, Belgium and Germany for the Allies to use.

Very detailed maps. (Michelin Guide)

Just one week after V-E Day in 1945, the producers of the Michelin Guide began work on their first postwar edition.

Today, there are only a few distinctions that separate an original 1939 Michelin Guide to those reprinted by the U.S. War Department for the Allied Invasion of Europe. The American reprint is tinted slightly red, there is no tire insert and the cover is stamped "For Official Use Only."

-- Blake Stilwell can be reached at blake.stilwell@military.com. He can also be found on Twitter @blakestilwell or on Facebook.

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Military History World War II