Monday, May 25, 2015

Memorial Day Interlude-- The D-Day beaches

In yesterday's post (really very early this morning, I guess) I skipped our museum stop in Caen--the  World War II museum.

This museum is meant to be international and tells the story of how the war unfolded from the end of WWI through the end of WWII.  Many of the videos, for example, just played footage from the War (maybe with instrumental background) but with no commentary.

The part I was most interested in was specific to Normandy (since that was where we were), and there was a separate exhibit focused on D-day and the liberation of France from the Nazis.  We started our time in the museum with a video about D-day, that had a split screen--one side showed footage from the German soldiers, and the other side focused on footage of the allied forces.  This was very interesting, and the way it was presented really let you see the evolution of the day.

There was even an old German bunker underneath the museum that had been opened to the public with exhibits.  

The next day we started very early so we could start our time at the D-Day beaches.  There are 5 beaches in total where the allied forces landed on June 6, 1944.  We saw three of them, Juno, Gold, and Omaha.

(this map was at the American cemetery, which we will get to later, but this might help orient you on this day's travels)

We started at Juno beach, where the Canadians landed. 

From there we went to Gold Beach, where we stopped to see the remains of the Mulberry Harbor-the temporary harbor built at Arromaches so that allied forces could land.  British forces landed at this beach.

We next went to the American cemetary at Omaha beach.  The French do not not call the beaches by their code names from the war--so to them, the cemetary woudl be at Colleville sur Mer. 

The cemetery was very beautiful and solemn.  Crosses and Stars of David are in rows completely at random with no separation for rank.  they are not even in alphabetical order.

(marker of an unknown soldier)

There was even a small chapel:


From there, we continued on to Saint Laurent sur-Mer where we went onto Omaha beach and a monument to the American soldiers that landed there.

(old memorial)

(more recent memorial)

(Thatched roof cottage located right off from the beach, I couldn't resist taking a picture)

After loading back onto the bus, we traveled to Pointe du Hoc--which had not originally been part of the tour, but the tour guide decided to take us there anyway (which was actually why we started the day so early).  Pointe du Hoc was a part of the German defensive line looking out towards the English Channel. 
This was by far my favorite stop of the beaches, so I was very grateful that the guide fit this in; here we could actually see the craters caused by allied bombing.
 We also saw some of the remains of the concrete structures the Germans had built to protect the guns on the beach.  Because of Allied bombings, the Germans had moved the guns away from the shore to protect them until the structures were completed.  Luckily, even though the structures were very far along, the guns had not yet been brought back.
This part of the beach had very high stone cliffs, that required the U.S. Amy Rangers to climb up ladders they brought with them.   The initial Ranger landing force of 225+ soldiers was reduced to about 90.
 Meanwhile the Germans were waiting in their bunkers, one of which we toured. 

(view the German soldiers would have had from inside the bunker)
We also could see another of the D-day believes from the cliff--Utah beach.

From here, we traveled to Saint Mere-Eglise, a little town, that was suprised one night by American soliders parachuting in.  This is the town where John Steele paracuted in and was caught on a spire of the local church (Saint Mere-Eglise, which gives the town its name). 
He tried to play dead, but eventually the Germans got him down and took him into custody.  The church now has a stained glass window of the Virgin Mary surrounded by paratroopers.

In this town we also had lunch from a delicious little bakery recommended by the guide. 
We ate our food in a plaza near the church.  I got a sandwich (on a giant baguette),
 and a large pistachio macaroon.
This was only the half-way point in our day--as I said, it was only lunchtime!  Tomorrow I'll share the rest of day 10 as we will travel back to the Middle Ages.

1 comment:

  1. It's funny, there are actually several photos in this post showing things that I have absolutely no recollection of whatsoever (e.g., #15, 37, 41). I guess I headed straight for the beaches, completely oblivious to everything else, haha.

    Also, I'm glad you had a photo that captured the name of the little bakery in Sainte-Mère-Église! That was one of my favorite lunch stops and where I got the yummy "tigre" pastry! :) Not that I wouldn't have been able to find the shop again anyway since it was two steps from the church square, but still...


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