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Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Normandy 2011 - Day Five 30th March

Down to the Super U for the usual lunch supplies - Brie, French stick, spicy sausage and tramp wine! Mmmmm..........

Then off to Bloody Omaha!
Omaha Beach from the US Cemetery. This path leads down to the Wn64 & Wn65 Strongpoints. (a bit too steep for me!)

We started with the US Cemetery which didn't disappoint. Firstly we had to get through airport style security to get in (guess who's leg brace set the bloody thing off ?). A good display in the visitor's centre before we went outside to take a look around.
The immaculately laid out rows of crosses.
The Spirit of American Youth statue overlooks the neat lines of marble crosses - 9,000+ in all.
The Spirit of American Youth

We sought out 4 of significance -
- General Theodore Roosevelt Jr.  who won his Medal of honor for outstanding leadership on Utah Beach on the 6th June 1944 only to die aged 57 of a heart attack on 12 July 1944.
- the Niland brothers who's story formed the background for Saving Private Ryan. Their mother received telegrams on the same day to say two of her sons were dead and another one missing in action in the Pacific. On the back of this the remaining son was withdrawn from combat operations in Normandy and returned home. The missing brother survived to return home too.
- General Lesley McNair. Killed by friendly bombs near St. Lo whilst on a fact finding trip to the front. His death was kept totally secret as he was actually supposed to be on Kent having taken over command from Patton of the fictional army about to invade at the Pas de Calais! He was buried in the dead of night, his funeral attended by Bradley and Patton - the latter believed he was attending a dinner party with Bradley.
Preston & Robert Niland
We then went down onto Omaha Beach at the Colleville Draw exit and thoroughly explored strongpoint Wn62 (Mmmmmm........) which included remote flame throwers and a very deep anti tank ditch amongst it's substantial defences.
Wn62 defended the western side of the Colleville Draw beach exit facing Fox Green Beach. This was the beach that was portrayed being assaulted in the opening scenes of Saving Private Ryan. The site has numerous concrete defences ranging from simple Tobruks for mgs and 50mm mortars, through 50mm Anti-tank pits to covered casemates mounting 75mm field guns.
WN 62 held out all day until 14:00hrs when the remains of the 22 strong garrison finally withdrew.
One of the two 75mm casemates. Sited to fire along the beach, Westwards, the opening for the gun is protected from Seaward fire by the concrete projection seen in the picture. The Anti-tank ditch can still be seen running left to right immediately in front of the parked cars. At the extreme right of the picture the ditch turns to the right protecting the strongpoints Eastern flank. At the point where it bends there was sited a remote controlled flame thrower!
Then it started to rain so we got back in the car and drove on to the Omaha Beach Museum to have our picnic lunch.
This time a far more original M4 Sherman (an actual D-Day veteran) displayed outside the museum.
Still raining after lunch we decided to have a look around the museum and Roland worked his magic for the fourth time and negotiated a group discount once again!!
A Landing craft actually inside the museum building! Also a good selection (inside and out) of beach obstacles.

Not a bad museum. Small but well stocked and with a very watchable 20 min film. After which the rain had eased so we set off along Omaha to Pointe du Hoc.

The view from the recently re-opened observation bunker on the tip of Pointe du Hoc. This bunker had been closed for a number of years as there was fear that the cliff face was about to collapse. Now it has been underpinned and allows unparallelled views of the beach and the cliff up which the US Rangers assaulted.
Pointe du Hoc .......... WoW!! The area is a vast moonscape created by tons of allied heavy bombs. The many concrete bunkers are simply smashed completely to shit.
A taste of the devastation that is in evidence everywhere throughout the site. In the distance is an observation platform built on top of one of the covered casemates.

Fascinating and spooky at the same time. Sadly it rained all the time we were there so after an hour and a half we were soaked through.
One of the casemates found to be empty when the Rangers finally captured the position.
After we drove past where the guns from Pointe du Hoc were actually hidden on our way to La Cambe German Military Cemetery.
The central mound with sculpture representing mourning parents. La Cambe was originally one of three US cemeteries. It was handed over to the German government in the mid 1950's

Here we found out the graves of Panzer Ace Michael Wittmann and his 4 man tank crew. They were interred here as recently as 1983 when their remains were discovered during a road widening scheme.
Wittmann and his crew's graves
Afterwards we returned home along the beach front road, stopping briefly to examine the outside exhibits at the Omaha Museum (which was closed until the main holiday season) including two landing craft, Rapier Aero engine, various beach obstacles and an 88mm Anti-tank gun. This looked to be a museum in the "Shabby Chic" style so beloved by the French. However if the quality of the outside exhibits was anything to go by, it would be worth a visit another time.
75mm gun, road wheel and length of track from a Panther Tank.
Finally Greg and I created an awesome three course dinner for our fellow travellers consisting of - oxtail soup, lasagne and chips and Greg's "Famous Omaha" pancakes!!

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