It was a heavily overcast morning of drizzly rain when we were ushered out of the hotel far too early, after a few hours sleep and a rushed breakfast. We had a very full itinerary ahead of us, to get round the American beaches and museums and make it back in time so that the coach driver would get enough sleep to be able to drive legally on french roads tomorrow. Missing the ferry would not be an option!
The Omaha Beach cemetery was our first port of call and we arrived there so early that they hadn't had time to raise both flags. The Omaha cemetery is an extremely impressive site.
|Omaha Beach cemetery: the reflecting pool viewed from the main war memorial at 0600 hours|
|Crosses in the cemetery|
|View towards the beach|
The museum (the Normandy American Visitor Centre) in the cemetery is small but very informative, and is as much a memorial to the fallen as a museum. It tells some interesting stories, including that of the Niland brothers, who were a major part of the inspiration for Saving Private Ryan.
|The Niland brothers|
Near the cemetery is the Omaha D-Day Museum. This is a very impressive place with a lot of interesting things to see and some pretty good static exhibits.
|US infantry making use of a captured Kettenkrad|
|M3 halftrack on the beach|
|A Higgins boat|
|Hanomag SdKfz 251C halftrack|
|Go round the corner and you come face to face with a Panzer IV|
|German pioneers with a BMW, kubelwagen, and SdKfz 251/7|
|Sexton self-propelled gun|
|M10 tank destroyer|
|M1A3 Sherman 76mm|
|Easy Red Sector, Omaha Beach|
|View inland along the E-1 draw today. WN65 was on the raised area directly ahead|
|The 50mm gun casemate at the top of the E-1 draw (WN65)|
Further to the west the beach would also have been covered by guns at the top of the cliff at the Point du Hoc, had these not been moved back shortly before D-Day. This cliff was successfully assaulted on 6 June 1944 by US Rangers of the 2nd and 5th Ranger Battalions. Unfortunately our itinerary did not allow time to visit the Point du Hoc - so much else to see!
|View to the west, showing the casemate of the 88mm gun position WN72 (left) and cliffs at the Point du Hoc (right)|
|Memorial to US 29th Infantry Division at Vierville-sur-Mer, D-1 draw, Dog Green Sector|
|The church at Ste-Mere Eglise|
|The stained glass window, Ste-Mere Eglise church|
|The tribute to Pte John Steele|
|The bridge at La Fiere Causeway, viewed from the memorial|
|The memorial "The Airborne Trooper" at La Fiere Causeway|
The museum at Utah Beach is well worth the visit and is in my view one of the best and most interesting of all the D-Day museums. A few photos of the exhibits below.
|LVT-2 Amtrac: I was under the impression that these were not used in Normandy but it seems that a few were used as transports at a later stage. I am not aware of any evidence that they were used during the actual landings.|
|Another Higgins Boat|
|Nice diorama with PaK40 and DUKW|
|Old Renault tank turret Panzerstellung|
|The view of the PaK40 that you don't want to see|
The museum is very near the sea so there was ample opportunity to visit the beach itself.
Around the museum there were other interesting things to see.
|50mm gun emplacement (not sure why it is aiming at the sky)|
|Another 76mm Sherman|
|US heavy anti-aircraft gun|
Band of Brothers
It really was inevitable that at some point the exploits of E Company, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne, would be mentioned. So we visited the site of Brecourt Manor (Episode 2 Day of Days for those who want to know). This was the assault on a defended gun position for which then Lt Richard Winters won his DSC and which is often cited (and still used in US military training) as a classic example of small unit tactics and leadership in overcoming a larger enemy force. Winters' force of 12 men faced around 60 Germans in a dug in 105mm gun position defended by emplaced machine guns. E Company are commemorated here by their own memorial.
|The E Company memorial at Brecourt Manor|
|The terrain at the site (yes, it's a field) showing the hedge line where the Germans were dug in|
La Cambe Cemetery
Though I've general been reluctant to put pictures of the cemeteries we visited (Omaha excepted) on these blog pages I have made an exception for La Cambe. This place is both unusual and interesting as it is a cemetery for the Germans who died in Normandy. It has a distinct style, with trees growing amongst the graves, and simple plaques rather than crosses representing the dead (the crosses are decorative and do not represent the fallen or their graves).
|View of the cemetery|
Overall, an excellent (though very tiring!) weekend and highly recommended to anyone with an interest in World War II and particularly the Normandy theatre.