Friday, June 22, 2012

Normandy, Day 7 :: The D-Day Beaches

The town of Bayeux is great, but the reason we traveled to Normandy in the first place was to check out the D-Day beaches.  I was looking very forward to this and it did not disappoint.  I had no idea what to expect, but it blew me away.  What I saw and experienced gave me an entirely new appreciation for D-Day and WWII in general.  It is far too easy for us to forget what these men went through.  

We woke up super early to meet up with our tour guide, which is highly recommended.  These guides do this tour everyday and they really know their history and exactly where to go.  They are very entertaining  and very enthusiastic about sharing what they know.  Without them we wouldn't have known where to go or what to look at.  You should not experience the beaches without one.  Anyway...

It was freezing.  Freezing.  I was wearing two jackets most of the day.  It was mid May!  The water temperature was in the mid 50's.  It would have been in the mid 50's when our troops stormed the beach.  Have you ever felt water in the mid 50's?  It might as well be ice water.  I found this fascinating.  I've never thought about how cold the water was...

It was absolutely amazing to see most of the German bunkers still intact.  The French government didn't have enough money during the rebuilding years to destroy and remove all the bunkers, and by the time they did, someone smart realized that they probably had some historical significance.  So they kept them.  They are a haunting reminder of the horrors that once took place.  I can't imagine a much scarier sight than seeing these concrete bunkers and 155mm guns pointed at you as you tried to swim to shore.

The invasion of Normandy was, is, and will always be (hopefully) the largest amphibious invasion in the history of the world.  It was our boys taking back Europe.  It all started there.  And without the effort, the years of planning, and the brave souls willing to die, who knows what the world would be like today.  If you  are ever in France, the beaches should be at the top of your list.    

I should also say that my grandpa was a part of the Normandy invasion on D-Day +1.  Like most of his fellow servicemen, he never opened up or talked about anything that he saw.  I can't blame him.  Those men saw absolute evil...the absolute worst of human nature.  I'd like to think that the world has changed, but I'm just not so sure...  

An early morning view of the cathedral.





This is what 155mm looks like.


The Germans were in such a hurry to built and occupy these bunkers that they started using them before they completely dried.  Also, the French citizens in charge of mixing the concrete would throw sugar cubes into the mix, drastically weakening the concrete without really being able to tell.  Don't ask me how this works.



Less visible German bunkers are still scattered throughout the countryside.  You can see the beauty of the Normandy landscape.  Hard to believe such hell took place here.


If you look closely you can see the spires of the Cathedral in Bayeux, roughly six miles away.




Shuttered up chateau.  Don't know if it was abandoned or not, but I would've loved to check it out.











HERE RESTS IN HONORED GLORY 
A COMRADE IN ARMS
KNOWN BUT TO GOD


There were way too many of these.  The harsh reality was that many of the men that were killed on the beach were swept out to sea with the next tide.  Their bodies would continue to wash up on shore for weeks, often without dog tags or any form of identification.  Imagine dying for a cause in a foreign world and not ever getting recognition for it.  Very sad.





German bunker still visible in the hillside.



Omaha Beach.  Think Saving Private Ryan.


Pointe du Hoc.

A German strong point leading up to the D-Day invasions, Pointe du Hoc housed six concrete bunkers all loaded with 155mm guns.  Situated right in the middle of the both Utah and Omaha beaches, these guns threatened the allied landings on both beaches.  The Allies bombed the hell out of the point from above, but just to be sure, a team of U.S. Rangers was sent in on D-Day to finish the job.

It was a suicide mission.  The cliffs would have been impossible for even the best rock climbers.  But the Rangers, armed with nothing more than grapples (which didn't work properly), ropes, and ladders, made it work.  When they finally got to the top though, they found that the huge 155mm guns had been moved.  In their place were huge wooden poles, which is what the Allies had been photographing.  The site was nothing more than a decoy.

The "ladders".

The Rangers eventually found the real guns about a mile away and destroyed 5 out of 6 of them.  Vastly outnumbered by the Germans surrounding them, they held Pointe du Hoc from repeated attacks until the Americans were able to get there a couple days later.  This is only one of the many amazing stories from D-Day.  One thing is for sure, the Rangers were a bunch of bad asses.  





Craters from the Allied bombs.



The cliffs still have the barb wire.




A little intimidating if you're looking up from the bottom of the cliff.


These fields are where many paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne Division lost their lives.  Much of the year these fields are completely flooded, even if only with a few feet of water.  When the paratroopers landed in the water a lot of them couldn't get their parachutes and gear off fast enough...and drowned.


The La Fiere Bridge.  

The takeover and protection of the La Fiere Bridge was absolutely vital to the campaign in Normandy.  The fields were completely flooded at the time, which only added to the importance of the bridge.  Some of the most intense battles in all of the Normandy invasion took place right here.  It has been described as "the bloodiest small struggle in the experience of American arms".  That's saying something.  

Iron Mike, still watching over the bridge.

TO PASS ON THE MEMORY TO REMIND THAT TODAY WE LIVE IN PEACE, FREEDOM, AND DIGNITY BECAUSE OTHERS GAVE THEIR LIFE FOR US.





Utah Beach.


Notice the paratrooper?


The Angoville-au-Plain chapel.

This church in the small town of Angoville-au-Plain played a huge significance in the invasion.  It's famous for the two American medics who landed in the field near by and set up a make shift hospital in the only shelter they could find- this church.  Fighting was going on all around them in the fields, and there were no healthy men to guard the church from the Germans.  The two medics, Bob Wright and Ken Moore, treated more than eighty plus U.S. soldiers and even a local child from the village.  Only two men died.

Imagine this for two seconds-- you are holed up in this church with no communication and no knowledge of what the hell is going on.  You hear bombs and gunfire going on all around you.  Any second your shelter could be stormed by German soldiers...or a bomb could crash through the roof.  Nerve racking to say the least...

But here's the crazy part...these two medics treated several German soldiers as well.  The medics didn't care who you were or what uniform you were wearing, as long as you left your guns at the door.  That, is incredible.  It's absolutely crazy that that much respect was given to this church by both sides.  A small miracle in the midst of all the chaos.  


The church is now abandoned and only opened up to be used as a tourist attraction.



That is an actual blood stain from a wounded soldier.




Back in Bayeux after a looooong day on the beaches.  We were tired, wet, and cold- which added to the ability to empathize with those soldiers (but not really).  We went back to the hotel and then got a quick bite to eat in the town.  We would be off to Mont St. Michel in the morning.



The best duck I've ever had in my life...so tender and so juicy.  Perfection.




(Sorry about all these shots of the church...just couldn't help myself.)


Our last night in Bayeux.  I will be back at some point!

2 comments:

  1. thank you for sharing these photos and your thoughts...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. No problem...thanks for reading John.

      Delete