Today was a long, tiring day with a lot of bus riding. It was one of those days which you could not say was enjoyable but was fulfilling. We left at 8:00 AM for our D-Day tour. Our stops included: Longues sur Mer, Arromanches, The American Cemetery, Omaha Beach and Pointe du Hoc. You can read about and view movies about D-Day and the assault on Normandy by the Allies, but until you see the obstacles which they had to overcome and the number of lives sacrificed, you can never really appreciate what measures it took to ensure not just the freedom of France and Europe but indeed the entire World.
A pastoral scene on the way to Longues sur Mer.
The Longues-sur-Mer battery was a World War II artillery battery constructed by the Wehrmacht near the French village of Longues-sur-Mer in Normandy. It formed a part of Germany’s Atlantic Wall coastal fortifications. The battery was completed by April 1944. Although constructed and manned initially by the Kriegsmarine, the battery was later transferred to the German army. The site consisted of four 152-mm navy guns, each protected by a large concrete casemate, a command post, shelters for personnel and ammunition, and several defensive machine-gun emplacements.
The battery at Longues was situated between the landing beaches Omaha and Gold. On the night before the D-Day landings of 6 June 1944, the battery was subjected to a barrage comprising approximately 1,500 tons of bombs, although much of this landed on a nearby village. The bombing was followed from 0537hrs on the morning of the landings by bombardment from the French cruiser Georges Leygues as well as the U.S. battleship Arkansas. The battery itself opened fire at 0605hrs and fired a total of 170 shots throughout the day, forcing the headquarters ship HMS Bulolo to retreat to safer water. Three of the four guns were eventually disabled by British cruisers Ajax and Argonaut, though a single gun continued to operate intermittently until 1900hrs that evening. The crew of the battery (184 men, half of them over 40 years old) surrendered to the 231st Infantry Brigade the following day. The heaviest damage was caused by the explosion of the ammunition for an AA gun, mounted by the British on the roof of casemate No.4, which killed several British soldiers.
A church along our travels. (taken from the bus)
From the hilltop near Arromanches you can see Gold Beach (a part of the British sector for the Normandy invasion) and some of the remnants of the manmade Mulberry Harbor.
Additional view of the Mulberry Harbor, a portable temporary harbor developed by the British in World War II to facilitate rapid offloading of cargo onto the beaches during the Allied invasion of Normandy. Two prefabricated or artificial military harbors were taken in sections across the English Channel from Britain with the invading army and assembled off the coast of Normandy as part of the D-Day invasion of France in 1944.
The D-Day souvenir shop.
This is a single section of the harbor, many sections were much larger. By 9 June, just 3 days after D-Day, two harbors codenamed Mulberry "A" and "B" were constructed at Omaha Beach and Arromanches, respectively. However, a large storm on June 19 destroyed the American harbor at Omaha, leaving only the British harbor still intact but damaged, which included damage to the ‘Swiss Roll’ which had been deployed as the most western floating roadway had to be taken out of service. The surviving Mulberry "B" came to be known as Port Winston at Arromanches. While the harbor at Omaha was destroyed sooner than expected, Port Winston saw heavy use for 8 months—despite being designed to last only 3 months. In the 10 months after D-Day, it was used to land over 2.5 million men, 500,000 vehicles, and 4 million tons of supplies providing much needed reinforcements in France. In response to this longer than planned use the Phoenix breakwater was reinforced with the addition of extra specially strengthened caisson.
An up close section of one of the pontoons.
A few of the strengthened caisson used for the floating roadway.
The main street in Arromanches
We made our way to the American Cemetery. Where a brief private ceremony was planned for our group. I was a simple playing of the Anthem and a moment of silence. Despite its simplicity it was quite moving due to the setting.
View of the chapel past the reflecting pool. On June 8, 1944, the U.S. First Army established the temporary cemetery, the first American cemetery on European soil in World War II. After the war, the present-day cemetery was established a short distance to the east of the original site. Like all other overseas American cemeteries in France for World War I and II, France has granted the United States a special, perpetual concession to the land occupied by the cemetery, free of any charge or any tax. This cemetery is managed by the American government, under Congressional acts that provide yearly financial support for maintaining them, with most military and civil personnel employed abroad. The U.S. flag flies over these granted soils.
It’s difficult to imagine the personal sacrifice made by these men and their families. The cemetery is located on a bluff overlooking Omaha Beach (one of the landing beaches of the Normandy Invasion) and the English Channel. It covers 172 acres , and contains the remains of 9,387 American military dead, most of whom were killed during the invasion of Normandy and ensuing military operations in World War II. Included are graves of Army Air Corps crews shot down over France as early as 1942. Only some of the soldiers who died overseas are buried in the overseas American military cemeteries. When it came time for a permanent burial, the next of kin eligible to make decisions were asked if they wanted their loved ones repatriated for permanent burial in the U.S., or interred at the closest overseas cemetery.
Each cabin was given a flower to place at a grave of their choice. We selected this Quarter Master from Georgia who perished late in the war on May 24, 1945. There are no birth dates on the markers but the average age was 22-23 years old.
Another view of the many makers.
A view of Omaha Beach from the cemetery.
Omaha Beach monument.
Omaha Beach today.
Pointe du Hoc is a promontory with a 100 ft. cliff overlooking the English Channel on the coast of Normandy in northern France. During World War II it was the highest point between Utah Beach to the west and Omaha Beach to the east. The German army fortified the area with concrete casements and gun pits. On D-Day (6 June 1944) the United States Army Ranger Assault Group assaulted and captured Pointe du Hoc after scaling the cliffs
The assault force was carried in ten landing craft with another two carrying supplies and four DUKW amphibious trucks carrying the 100 f.t (30 m) ladders – requisitioned from the London Fire Brigade. One landing craft carrying troops sank and all but one of its occupants drowned, another was swamped. One supply craft sank and the other put the stores overboard to stay afloat. German fire sank one of the DUKWs. Once within a mile of the shore, German mortars and machine guns fired on the craft. These initial setbacks resulted in a 40-minute delay in landing at the base of the cliffs, but British landing craft carrying the Rangers finally reached the base of the cliffs at 7:10am with approximately half the force it started out with. The landing craft were fitted with rocket launchers to fire grapnels and ropes up the cliffs. As the Rangers scaled the cliffs the Allied destroyers USS Satterlee and HMS Talybont provided them with fire support and ensured that the German defenders above could not fire down on the assaulting troops. The cliffs proved to be higher than the ladders could reach.
The original plans had also called for an additional, larger Ranger force of eight companies (Companies A and B of the 2nd Ranger Battalion and the entire 5th Ranger Battalion) to follow the first attack, if successful. Flares from the cliff tops were to signal this second wave to join the attack, but because of the delayed landing, the signal came too late, and the other Rangers landed on Omaha instead of Pointe du Hoc. The force at the top of the cliffs also found that their radios were ineffective. Upon reaching the fortifications, most of the Rangers learned for the first time that the main objective of the assault, the artillery battery, had been removed. The Rangers regrouped at the top of the cliffs, and a small patrol went off in search of the guns. Two different patrols found five of the six guns nearby (the sixth was being fixed elsewhere) and destroyed their firing mechanisms with thermite grenades.
At the end of the two-day action, the initial Ranger landing force of 225+ was reduced to about 90 fighting men.
Inside one of the German Bunkers.
Au revoir …