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June 25, 2005

Normandy AAR

Sorry for the delay, guys. Hope none of you were holding your breath…

The Museum

The D-Day Museum is located outside Caen, right across the street from the University. It’s built on a German command bunker and the architect retained the multilevel subterranean rooms and passageways of the original.

Walk through the main entryway and you’re greeted by the A-10’s granddaddy (a bit of warbird pr0n for Dusty). And, for the modelers, a three-quarter shot.

My initial impression was that the place was ‘way too noisy for a museum, then I saw the cause. About 500 French schoolkids being shepherded by their teachers.

From the main floor, you travel a downward-spiraling ramp, passing exhibits from the First World War, the Armistice, the Roaring Twenties (which really rocked in France, evidently), the Depression, the rise of National Socialism and of Hitler, the Sitzkrieg, the Blitzkrieg.

The lighting becomes dimmer the deeper you descend. By the time you reach the invasion and occupation of France, the only light is provided by the exhibits. Uniforms. Books and posters. Letters. Photographs. Flags and banners and military impedimenta.

And now the ramp bottoms out and the level floor begins. More exhibits. The passageway winds dimly past the Resistance, British commando raids, OSS operations, airdrops of weapons and explosives and the preparation for D-Day. I am suddenly aware that the only voices I’ve heard are those of the tour guides, speaking English, French and German. I turn a corner and emerge into light. The D-Day exhibit – photographs, equipment, uniforms, ship models, a diorama of the invasion beaches, letters from participants (not all of whom survived the day).

The tour guides leave us to wander. The voices return, hushed and somber. I converse with a British couple about the break in the weather which enabled the landings and notice a couple of the schoolkids watching us.

After a time, I climb a short flight of stairs, enter the main lobby and realize the thing hanging around my neck is my camera. I’d been so absorbed, I hadn’t taken a single pic. One of the French kids walks up to me and says, “M’sieur? Merçi…” and walks off to rejoin his classmates.

Geez -- do I look that old?

The museum’s website at is worth a peek, for the online bookstore, if nothing else.

Longues-sur-Mer

Battery Longues consists of four 150mm guns housed in Regelbau M272 bunkers, a command bunker, a radar mount and troop quarters. Longues is the only battery which survived the pre-invasion bombardment intact.

Well, almost intact.

Ajax got in a lucky shot that evidently went right into the bunker opening and detonated the magazine, shattering the gun and blowing it off its mount.

Took me a while to recognize the gun barrel, located ten feet from the bunker and rammed into the dirt…

Longues was manned by Polish conscripts. When #4 blew, they decided they no longer had a dog in the fight and went to ground and waited for the Brits to arrive. They did have a few close calls before they had the opportunity to surrender, though.

Ooops -- almost forgot John’s gun pr0n.

Mulberry B

If you're unfamiliar with the history of the artificial harbors, drop in here for some background and an overview.

After the war, Mulberry A, the “American” artificial harbor at Omaha destroyed in the storm which followed close on the heels of the invasion, pretty much disappeared. The sunken blockships were salvaged for scrap by a metal-starved continent and the surviving Phoenix caissons now rest off the Dutch coast; Charles deGaulle decided that helping live people in trouble took precedence over letting a potential monument disintegrate in place. I can’t fault his logic in using them to save lives ten years after they’d been abandoned in place.

Mulberry B, the “British” Mulberry, was better protected by terrain and survived the storm relatively intact. The caissons still extend from Arromanches in the west eastward to the juncture of Juno and Gold. Their only visitors these days are local scallop fishermen.

The American Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer

You’ve all seen the annual Memorial Day and D-Day anniversary shots that the MSM feels obligated to publish – crowds of tourists, dignitaries, vets and families slowly walking amidst the graves, searching, finding, remembering…

This is what it looks like the other 363 days of the year – smaller numbers of tourists, vets and families slowly walking amidst the graves, searching, finding, remembering…

Oh -- I almost forgot the French schoolkids and their teachers, walking quietly around the site. Several were reading the names on the five large MIA panels on the Wall behind the Atrium. The Atrium’s central statue represents the Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Sea to save Europe. It’s a bit too sinuous for my taste and I’d already gone back into military mode somewhere along the way. I kept seeing fields of fire and likely ambush sites…

Omaha

There were only three exits off the beach through the dune wall fronting Omaha, which is one reason casualties there were so horrendous. This is what German gunners saw looking down the easternmost exit. The scrub wasn’t there sixty-one years ago, just the beach grasses. Now, even though a blade of grass can feel like it’s a foot wide (just trust me on this one, okay?) when you’re seeking some concealment from the unwanted attention of a machinegunner, it won’t stop a bullet worth squat…

There’s a new road between the beach proper and the dune, protected by a seawall. And a half-an-hour’s worth of lowering tide altered Omaha’s expanse; this is what the second and third waves faced – over a hundred yards of terrain perfectly suited for grazing fire from a dug-in enemy.

One of the few surviving bunkers on the dune’s forward slope is here, overgrown, but still discernible as the rectilinear area to the left of the white house. And, just beyond a break in the guardian wall, almost invisible from the road, is the site where D-Day’s dead were originally buried.

It was a warm day, and the sand at the base of the seawall had been in the bright sunlight all day, yet when I knelt to touch it, it was cold…

Pointe du Hoc

You’re all familiar with the ordeal of the Rangers who scaled the cliffs here, so I’ll restrain the scope of this portion. Between 1941 and 1943, the architects of the Atlantic Wall designed gun emplacements which were open concrete platforms. They soon discovered that this configuration, when viewed from above, spelled “BOMB ME” to Allied air mission planners (moonscape courtesy of the 8th Air Force). So, beginning in early 1943, the architects decreed that the guns should be placed in protective bunkers, such as the ones at Battery Longues. For several reasons, including the occasional air delivery of high explosives to the site, the replacement guns were never installed in the bunkers at Pointe du Hoc.

Instead of their stated targets, the Rangers who survived the climb found these -- infantry fighting positions manned by aroused defenders.

The rest, so the saying goes, is history, but here’s a bit that hasn't made it into the books yet. To honor the Rangers’ gallantry, this monument was commissioned and erected on the promontory by – ahem – the French...

The Dagger's guard is concrete, the blade is limestone. The cliff face has been falling recently, which is the reason for the barrier.

Somehow, that whole “The French don’t like us” deal I keep hearing about rings kind of hollow, both in light of what I saw and my chat with Were-Kitty's Norman alter-ego...

More on all that later, though. Ummmmm -- maybe not *all* of it, though.

Heh.

CW4BillT | Permalink | Comments (19) | Historical Stuff
» bryanstrawser.com links with: Normandy
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» Grubbykid.com :: Links links with: Excellent photo series of the D-Day museum and beaches in Caen, France