Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Normandy 2011 - Day Four 29th March

We're obviously overdoing it! A much later start today, after our daily trip to Super U for rations, it was off to Ste. Mere Eglise

On the way we drove along the coast road, past the access to Omaha Beach, the US Cemetery and Pointe du Hoc.

The town square today contains flower beds and seats facing the Cathedral. On the night of 5th June it was alive with American paras landing, Germans trying to shoot them and locals fighting a fire that was on the site of the present Airborne museum. There is a dress makers dummy dressed in combats suspended from the Cathedral roof by his parachute to remind us of Pte Steele who found himself in this unfortunate position on that night.
Ste. Mere Eglise Cathedral. With a dummy hanging from his tatty white parachute canopy. In reality Pte Steele was caught on the opposite face of the tower (Out of view to the action taking place in the square) hence why he survived to become a POW.
As the museum decided to close for lunch (a constant theme as we travelled around - guess it is better during the main holiday season?) we headed off to Brecourt Manor and the field where Lt Dick Winters nearly won a Medal of Honor attacking 4 hidden artillery pieces threatening Utah beach. This action has become famous through the second episode of the TV mini-series Band of Brothers.
Recently place memorial to the achievements of Easy Company 501st Airborne. Naming all their casualties on D-Day (including the load of a  C47 that was shot down without survivors leading to Dick Winters taking over command of the Company) and has an etching of a hand drawn map of the action drawn by Dick Winters  & the present owner of the Manor.
 Afterwards we went down to Utah Beach ....... Taking tea at the Roosevelt Cafe.
The Internet Cafe in an old communications bunker alongside the Roosevelt Cafe.

The museum was closed for refurbishment (in fact it was totally gutted and we couldn't see it opening in time for the main holiday season!).
Utah Beach bits
This beach exit has a large number of memorials built into and on the remains of the defending bunkers at Wn5 detracting from what the site must have looked like in 1944. This part of the beach was of course, not the planned landing spot. Used in error it was found to be less well defended so the rest of the landings took place here instead of further North as planned.
Utah beach is large, windswept and the sand dunes are transient. Here a bunker has almost been reclaimed by nature.

Just a little way along the beach we found Strongpoint Wn8 abandoned amongst the sand dunes, which I have to say was absolutely fascinating to explore. This strongpoint should have met the planned assault landings, but by a quirk of fate it had been missed. This may explain the overall lack of damage as it was largely bypassed and could have been assaulted from inland at the attackers leisure.
Wn8's command bunker with its own Tobruk mg. mount for local defence (Where Greg is stood on top). This strongpoint covered an area about 200m wide x 100m deep and numbered at least 10 concrete bunkers. Connecting the bunkers you could still make out the zig-zag communication trenches. The main offensive capability was the standard 50mm Anti-tank gun in  open octagonal pits and open Tobruks armed with mgs. In evidence here are most of the team - (left to right) Roland, James, Phil, Chris and (on top), Greg.

A little further on was a well worn example of a M4 Sherman at Exit 4 where Free French General LeClerc landed later on 6th June.
An interesting vehicle. Close examination reveals that it has been assembled from a number of different vehicles. It has examples of every type of bogie wheel imaginable! There used to also be a M8 Armoured Car and a M3 Half Track here, but they are gone -  hopefully to be restored?
It was now time to head back to Ste Mere Eglise in time to look around the Airborne Museum.
The museum is housed in two buildings, both designed to look like parachute canopies. The one here houses the Waco Glider. The exhibits in the other are centred around yet another preserved C47 Skytrain (Dakota).
Once again Roland worked his Magic! Negotiating the 7€ entry fee down to 4.50€!!!!
Again the usual selection of US armoured vehicles were on show. This rather impressive 76mm armed M3A4E8 would not have been used in Normandy as the HVSS suspension equipped Shermans didn't enter service until December 1944.
What a museum! This has to be the very best collection of US and German small arms I've ever seen + they had a real life Waco glider! Amazing and thoroughly recommended.
The C47 was surrounded by dressed mannequins portraying the preparations back in the UK prior to setting off for Normandy on the night of the 5/6th June 1944.
Finally back to the Gite for Roland and Bruce's "Come Dine with me" experience!!

1 comment:

  1. Ceusters Paul Belgium26 March 2013 at 00:07

    nice info
    we are visiting normandy in the easter hollidays to comme
    thanks for the nice advice