Sunday, July 7, 2013

The Beaches Of Normandy

    We went to the beach this summer.  Actually, several of them....Omaha, Utah, Gold, Juno, and Sword.  We started at the Pegasus Bridge, a short ride from Honfleur where we had spent Sunday night 6/16.

    Pegasus Bridge spans the Caen Canal in the village of Benouville a little northeast of Caen.  It, along with the nearby Horsa Bridge over the Orne River, were the objectives of  a force of 181 men of the British Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry who landed near the bridges in large gliders around midnight the night of June 5, 1944 in the very first hours of the June 6 D-Day invasion.  Their mission was to capture and preserve the bridges to deny German armour the use of the bridges to attack the allied landing forces at nearby Sword Beach.  The building in the center of the above photo was the first house liberated in France during the invasion.  A plaque on the house reads:

    Here's a shot of one of the large gliders used in the stealth landing at the bridges.

    We next rode a short way along the coast to the Gold Beach area and the town of Arromanches, the site of one of the artificial harbors, so-called Mulberry harbours, constructed by allied forces off the Normandy beaches to facilitate unloading equipment during the D-Day invasion.  The other Mulberry harbour was built further west at Omaha Beach.  There is a museum dedicated to the invasion at Arromanches, as there is at most of the invasion beaches.

    Here is a photo of a photo from the museum of the Arromanches Mulberry harbour in full swing. The magnitude of the invasion operation is hard to comprehend.

    Laurent is a history buff and is very knowledgeable about all of the D-Day operations.  Here, he is pointing out the remnants of the Arromanches Mulberry harbour to my wife, Penny, and the other Dave. You can barely see some of the remains in the water in the distance,

    After lunch, we moved on westward to Omaha Beach, the site of the other Mulberry harbour and one of the two main landing areas for US troops, the other being Utah Beach a little further west.

    The view looking down the bluff to the beach where so many US troops lost their lives trying to get ashore and find cover from the storm of German gunfire coming from their defending positions atop the bluff.

    Omaha Beach is the site of a US military cemetery with control of the area granted by France to the US Government.  It is a sobering site to see.

    The cemetery contains the graves of over 9,000 US military personnel who died while liberating Europe from  Nazi Germany, with over 3,000 having died at Omaha Beach alone on the first day of the invasion.

    Laurent surprised us with an American flag that he had brought along specifically for the occasion of our visit to the cemetery.  As he was taking our picture with the flag, several French citizens stopped to watch and offer thanks for America's role in liberating their country.  It was a very moving experience.

    Before departing Omaha Beach, we visited the museum and the "Les Braves" monument.

    And then we continued riding westward to our destination for the night, the 11th century village of Saint Mere Eglise.  We rode through rain so hard it stung my fingers which were exposed in fingerless gloves.  St Mere Eglise was the first French village to be liberated by paratroopers of the 101st Airborne on D-Day.
    The town was on fire the night of June 5th when the men parachuted in, making them easy targets for the Germans on the ground.  Paratrooper John Steele survived the decent, but his chute snagged on the spire of the church tower and there he hung for several hours as the battle raged on the ground below him. The Germans eventually cut him down and he was taken prisoner.  Steele eventually escaped captivity and returned to his division to continue fighting. He was subsequently awarded the Bronze Star for valor and was portrayed by Red Buttons in the movie The Longest Day.  The Town made him an honorary citizen and keeps an effigy of him hanging from the church tower.

    We spent the night at the Hotel du 6 Juin.  Here we are in the parking lot getting ready for departure the next morning.  Tomorrow, Mont St Michel and St Malo.

1 comment:

  1. These accounts make me cry. My cousin Jack Brown was a paratrooper and taken prisoner by the Germans during this invasion...he survived and was freed, but I remember, being only 10, all the conversations about the war and the invasions. Jack came home, and could hardly talk about anything....he was at our home, and just sat there. We were all so thankful he came back. This had to have been an emotional trip! Thanks for the photos, etc.