After a late night drive from Oiustreham ferry port through Normandy to our holiday home on the Sunday evening, Dad and I had a relatively lazy morning before heading back to the coast to see Sword Beach and Ouistreham in daylight. Staying as we were a good drive south of the coast I had a long drive to look at the scenery as we headed north on Monday morning passing so many familiar place names.
Looking west down the invasion beach.
A memorial built upon an Atlantic Wall cloche.
After a short walk on the beach we headed into the No. 4 Commando museum: it celebrates the French Commando unit that landed on D Day and the part its Frenchmen played in liberating their own country.
The museum entrance.
I didn’t take any pictures of the inside- it was rather dark and I’m pretty sure it wasn’t allowed. It is a nice little museum featuring plenty of information on the French Commandos and their role in the invasion. It was full of the usual artifacts and mannequins dressed in uniforms as well as a pleasing array of models and dioramas.
After spending a pleasant hour in the museum we then headed across the town to the Atlantic Wall Museum: The bunker which is located in the distinctive German HQ bunker that housed a large rangefinder in its upper levels.
The entrance: flanked by a British 25pdr and German Flak 18.
Outside were a few larger items: a pair of guns, a landing craft, a M5 tank, an M7 Priest and an M3 halftrack.
I made you think looking down the ramp of the landing craft to the time when they approached the French coast in 1944.
The trackless M7 Priest.
The M3 halftrack, actually it is the M16 Antiaircraft version with out a gun. The giveaway is the presence of the fold down sides, check your old Matchbox model kit and you’ll see what I mean.
The M5 is a pretty small tank- I certainly wouldn’t want to cram my 6 foot 19 stone frame into it.
The inside of the museum is fantastic, I really enjoy exploring old bits of concrete and bunkers in general so this was right up my street. The displays inside give a great impression of what it would be like to did your time in a bunker such as this. The close confines and tiers of bunks brought to mind submarines in the way that the manaquins were jammed in. Information displays gave a potted history of the bunker and the Atlantic Wall in general as well as the capture of the bunker itself on D+3. Right at the top a rangefinder (not the original) has been installed which you can look out to sea through.
To finish off our visit to Sword beach we drove westwards looking for what the majority of the guide books said was a Churchill AVRE, however when we got there it was clearly a Centaur (Cromwell with 95mm gun) even the plaque said it was a Churchill, when and why it was swapped of mislabeled I’m not sure.
The Cromwell is set back from the coast facing the road that runs parallel to the beach.
Whilst I’m mentioning guide books I took along as many as I could, both my own and some which were borrowed. I found the Battleground Europe range the best for describing the history and narrative of each place but the Battle Zone Normandy range far better as tourist guides. I also picked up the free visitor guide in the first museum that we went to- invaluable for up to date information on the museums (opening times, costs, etc).