1⁄1Postcard from Normandy
DedicationThis feature is respectfully dedicated to the memory of the countless thousands of Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen who participated in the preparation and execution of the greatest amphibious assault in history, the landings in Normandy which began on the 5th/6th of June 1944. It's also dedicated to the many thousands of exiles from France, Belgium, Norway, Czechoslovakia, Poland and Holland who, after more than four years in waiting, were able to play an important part in the liberation of Europe. It's also dedicated to those extraordinary men and women in the various resistance movements who did NOT capitulate - the price they paid is often to be seen on war memorials in village squares or churchyards across France or the rest of the occupied territories. My thoughts also go to the various veterans of the conflict and to the governments who have ensured that there are lasting monuments to those terrible and magnificent days which began in June 1944.
About this featureMy wife and I spent 10 days on vacation in Normandy this summer. This feature is not designed as a definitive guide to the sites of interest in the region, but rather as a personal view of a journey which anyone interested in Military History should attempt to make. There's a lot to see and a lot of stunning landscapes to enjoy - it's also a great place for eating and drinking! I'll be breaking down the feature (broadly) into the beaches and taking side-trips into areas which particularly interested me. We based ourselves in Caen which, due to its size and proximity to the landing beaches seemed to be the best option - the other (Bayeux) is considerably smaller although nearer to the beaches of UTAH, OMAHA and GOLD. We visited four of the beaches - leaving out UTAH due to time limitations.
From Caen to Ouistreham - Sword BeachOuistreham is a small seaside resort with a good harbor and is built on the mouth of the Orne estuary. Here begins the first of the D-Day landing beaches - Sword, where many of the most spectacular commando actions took place. In Ouistreham there are two very interesting museums - Musée Nº 4 Commando and the massive German artillery Command bunker which has been converted into Musée du Mur de l'Atalantique (Museum of the Atlantic Wall). The first, which is housed on the ground floor of a modern apartment block, covers the story of the French Nº 4 Commando and is a small but very interesting museum whose centrepiece is an excellent documentary dealing with the formation and action of this small (177 personnel) but extraordinarily brave unit of French exiles. The 'Gran Bunker' is an extraordinarily interesting museum which serves to recreate what life was like inside a bunker of this type - areas such as the medical center and the generator room have been convincingly recreated. It also contains an huge collection of German weaponry and equipment. The only negative note are the vehicles parked outside which are painted in some of the most bizarre color-schemes imaginable. The town of Ouistreham itself is pleasant enough but has been redeveloped and is dominated by the modern Ferryport (behind which there are a couple of interesting bunkers). The site of the original Casino (one of the objectives for Nº4 Commando) has a modern Casino on the same spot, which looks as if it was rejected on aesthetic grounds, by the town planners of Las Vegas...
Ouistreham to Courselles-Sur-Mer - Juno BeachJUNO beach was the Canadian sector of Operation Overlord. The beach area can be accessed through the town itself. Of the four beaches we visited, this is perhaps the most evocative of all. The centerpiece is the visitor center (the only one covering the Canadian landings) which is designed in the form of a Maple leaf. Outside the center, there are a number of metal momoliths which carry the names of the Canadian casualties according to regiments. Poignantly, one of the first group of names I found listed a number of Canadian troops murdered by 12th SS PD. Even 60+ years on, JUNO is a very atmospheric area - not exactly gloomy but certainly a little overcast.. Courselles-Sur-Mer is a small seaside resort which, in part at least, has seen better days. The seaward end of the harbor is dominated by a large (and pretty tasteless) monument commemorating the landing of General DeGaulle in august 1944. What is interesting in the center is the DD Sherman which has the regimental badges of the participating Canadian Regiments welded onto its hull.
Bayeux to Arromanches - Gold BeachBayeux is the logical place to travel from to reach Arromanches - the neuralgic point for GOLD beach. Here, was one of the most spectacular additions to the post D-Day topography, the artificial harbors which were code-named Mulberry. As one enters the town, the bay opens up in front of you and you see a huge dotted semi-circle around the bay. These are the concrete caissons which the roadways and harbor areas were laid onto and apart from a preserved section of roadway, that is all that's left of one of the most spectacular engineering achievements in history. The other (iron) caissons are still in a line towards the beach and are embedded in the sand, quietly rusting away... Overlooking the beach and the bay, is the visitor center/museum. This contains many similar items/relics which can be found in the other visitor centers apart from one significant item. As a center point to the visit, a HUGE diorama has been built of a section of a Mulberry (1/35th scale) which includes the cargo ships offloading onto the Quay sections and the vehicles making their way across the road sections. The sea section has a type of 'diaphragm' which simulates the movement of the sea - with the road sections remaining horizontal, exactly as the original did. Another item in the museum is one of the items most responsible for our misconceptions of the Normandy landings - a 'Rupert'. On the night of the 5th of June, the Allied Airforces dropped hundreds of dummy paratroopers on areas they weren't dropping actual troops. This is one of the models used in the movie, 'The Longest Day' - the actual 'Ruperts' were simply basic figures made from sacking, almost like small scarecrows... The town center, unlike the other towns on the 'Trail' is pretty 'tacky' with the central square being surrounded by souvenir shops selling a variety of tasteless items.. Leaving the town and following the road up to the cliffs overlooking the bay, a great vista opens up - once again showing the enormous scale of the Mulberry project. Up on the cliffs is Arromanches 360 - a movie theater which shows a 360º film of the landings. Due to the huge queues, we decided to give it a miss. From the cliffs looking down (and up the coast, this is the point where one really gets an idea of what an incredible undertaking Overlord acually was - to the left the beaches of Omaha, to the right, the beaches of Juno and Sword - best free show in town!
Copyright ©2020 by Jim Rae. _OPINIONS Historicus Forma, KitMaker Network, or Silver Star Enterrpises. Images also by copyright holder unless otherwise noted. Opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of Historicus Forma or Silver Star Enterprises. All rights reserved. Originally published on: 2008-09-22 00:00:00. Unique Reads: 17772