Normandy trip: Pegasus Bridge and Museum.

Thursday was the last day Dad and I spent in France. After packing our backs we left the cottage and drove up to the coast; the plan was to go to Pegasus Bridge and then the Merville Battery before driving to Le Havre for the overnight ferry to Portsmouth.

 

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Cafe Gondree: the first building to be liberated on D Day. We popped in for a bite to eat and sat outside in the late summer sun.

 

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A 50mm PAK38 anti tank gun on the fortress mounting on the eastern side of the bridge.

 

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The current bridge: not the original but a one of a very similar design but a little larger now crosses the canal.

 

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Memorial to Maj. Howard who led the Parachute assault to take the bridge.

 

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Three stone pillars mark where the three gliders touched down, their closeness is testament to some incredible flying from the pilots.

 

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The Pegasus Memorial museum- this was the most modern and well appointed museum that we visited in France.

 

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It had the usual display cases of artifacts: here a case of German weapons and equipment.

 

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Another case had items pertaining to the French Resistance and SOE. The pistol on the left made from stamped metal is the Liberator Pistol clicky.

 

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A contemporary photos show just how close the gliders got to the bridge.

 

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Larger items were set in tableaux, here a jeep and a brace of machine guns. The museum had a very good audio/ visual display based around a large scale diorama of the area.

 

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The original bridge has been preserved in the grounds of the museum with assorted vehicles and guns.

 

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Bullet holes show the ferocity of the fighting.

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A Bofors 40mm anti aircraft gun.

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An US halftrack.

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A Maxon quad .50cal anti aircraft turret- taken from an M16 halftrack.

 

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One of the best British inventions: the Bailey Bridge.

 

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A mock up of a Horsa glider, only a single original airframe exists now.

 

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The remains of a Horsa glider are on display showing just how fragile they were.

 

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A British 17pdr anti tank gun.

 

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A British 25pdr field gun.

 

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Another British gun: this time a 5.5inch Howitzer.

 

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Finally a Centaur IV with the 95mm howitzer. This is of the same type as the one just behind Sword beach that I featured earlier but is in much better condition.

Cheers,

 

Pete.

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Normandy Trip: Omaha Beach.

After Dad and I had been round Pointe Du Hoc we drove the couple of miles down the coast to the most westerly part of Omaha beach, one of the two American landing beaches and the beach that saw the greatest casualties on D Day. The road down to the beach was down one of the draws that the US infantry fought so hard to clear to open the exits off the beach.

Our first task was to get a bite to eat, unfortunately the restaurant was closed so we made do with the burger van. It also gave me a chance to try out my abysmal French, despite studying it for 5 years at high school I never mastered the language but I always try my best to make the effort when in France.

Sitting down on a plastic chair enjoying my food looking at a mostly deserted beach with a distinctly ‘Blackpool- at- the- end- of- season’ feel to it I was struck by the incongruous situation trying to imagine in my mind’s eye what had occurred on the beach some 73 years earlier, it certainly gave me pause for thought.

After we ate we walked back up the draw to the fantastic little museum ‘Omaha D Day museum’ that was the late work of a local who had grown up in the area immediately after WW2.

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The painted sign for the museum with a 150mm German infantry gun in front of it.

 

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The outside grounds of the museum had a variety of bits of equipment, mostly guns,  in various stats of repair and conservation including this American 105mm howitzer.

 

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This naval gun of unknown provenance had seen better days.

 

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The well known German 88mm FLAK 36 mounted on its wheels.

 

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The inside of the museum was crammed with every space taken up with exhibits including this selection of German weaponry.

 

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A large diorama of  6 June 1944.

 

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A selection of Allied radios

 

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A German LMG on an anti aircraft mount.

 

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An American M29 Weasel and other American weapons.

 

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A Flakvieriling 38 without its gun shield.

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A pair of mannequins in German Luftwaffe uniforms and the engine of a Focke Wolf 190. The MG barrel that can be seen, the one stacked vertically, is from a Messerschmidt Me410 remote control rear facing mount. 

 

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Down the left hand side of the draw back down to Omaha beach is a long section of Mulberry roadway.

 

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Omaha beach had its own Mulberry harbour that was wrecked and not rebuilt after the storm of 19 June, the surviving caisson is used for a pedestrian pier.

 

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The view from just behind an Anti Tank gun bunker looking eastwards along the beach. The bunker has now been rebuilt as a memorial but it is clear that it was sited in a commanding position.

 

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Walking along the beach it was clear how much of an obstacle the bluff would have been. The houses had been cleared  as part of the beach defenses but these post war buildings give a sense of scale.

 

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The 4km beach is very flat and it is easy to see why it was chosen as a landing beach, however with the exits from the beach being limited to the draws it is easy to see how easy it would be to defend it.

 

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In the rough centre of the beach is this recent sculpture…

 

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… and this slightly older memorial.

 

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On the way back we paid our respects at the site of the first US cemetery. It was not intended that one be placed on the beach in front of the bluff but such were the casualties at Omaha beach one was established as a temporary measure. The bodies interred were subsequently moved to the large US cemetery further inland.

 

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As the tide receded further on the now quiet beach more remains of the Mulberry harbour became visible.

Cheers,

 

Pete.

 

 

Normandy trip: Pointe Du Hoc.

Wednesday saw Dad and I drive up to the coast to see some of the American contribution to DDay. Our plan was to first visit Pointe Du Hoc then head to Omaha beach.

Our trip to France was after the main holiday season was over, UK schools had returned for the start of a new year and I didn’t see and French children of school age wandering around; the sites with an American connection were noticeably busier than those that were purely British affairs.

Pointe Du Hoc was a DDay objective for the US 2nd and 5th Ranger Battalions. It was believed that the site held six 155mm guns of French origin that could bombard either of the two American invasion beaches. The plan was for the Rangers to scale the cliffs and take out the guns. On 6th June, after the difficult cliffs had been scaled, the gun pits/ casemates were found to be empty. The Rangers had to hold the site against vigorous counterattacks until relieved.

The site today is very well kept, paths link the various shattered bits on concrete and a memorial right on the edge of the cliff.

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The view from the car park/ visitors centre, the devastation caused by bombing and shelling is very extensive, there is hardly 10m square that is undulated or cratered in some way.

 

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The light FLAK bunker that was used Lt Col Rudder as a command post during the battle.

 

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A tobruk (probably MG) next to a crater- the crater was 2m deep and one of the smaller ones.

 

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The rear of a bunker- it was open to go in and explore: consisting of ammunition stores and sleeping quarters.

 

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One of the shattered open gun pits- now home to some scraggy sheep.

 

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The Ranger memorial- modeled after the blade of their combat knife.

 

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The cliffs up which the Rangers had to assault. I’ve done a little climbing in my time and these loose overgrown cliffs do not look appealing. To do some wet, tired and under fire was no mean undertaking.

 

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Although it was not marked up in any way I’m assuming that this is a barrel of one of the guns of the battery that were found hidden a little way inland.

 

After a couple of hours wandering round the site we went back to the car and headed east along the coast a little way to visit Omaha beach.

 

Cheers,

 

Pete.

Normandy trip- Longues – Sur – Mer Gun Battery.

Tuesday morning saw Dad and I drive back up to the coast and go to Arromanches first which I have blogged about here:

https://spprojectblog.wordpress.com/2017/12/10/normandy-trip-the-mulberry-harbour/

After we had been to the museums and had a bit of lunch (dinning was much better at Sword beach for what it is worth) we drove a couple of miles up the coast to the gun battery at Longues Sur Mer.

Built by the Todt Organization in 1943 the  four gun battery is noteworthy in that it is the only one left in Normandy that has kept its guns in situ. The guns from other batteries were taken by scrap dealers post war. The gun bunkers are set back from the edge of the cliffs but there is an observation post there that would have once housed a rangefinder to provide firing solutions to the battery.

The guns and bunkers are set in a free to enter country park that you can just wander through as you wish, this is combined with a refreshing lack of commercialization and very little modern health and safety. The only bunker fenced off was the one that had suffered extensive damage.

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The damaged bunker.

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A 155mm gun of French manufacture with damage visible on its side.

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A view of the gun’s breach from inside the bunker.

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Another view of a gun- the notches in the concrete on either side were to give the guns as much traverse as possible.

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There were lots of smaller tobruk pits and fighting positions around the site to provide local defence such as this medium mortar pit.

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The two floor observation bunker.

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The very thick concrete roof was held up by four very thin iron rods; although it does not look like it from this pictures there was stand up head room inside.

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The view back from the observation bunker to the gun battery.

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The view from the observation bunker back towards the Mulberry harbour remains at Arromanches.

After this we took the scenic route back to our holiday home taking in the the Goodwood battle area.

 

Cheers,

 

Pete.

 

 

 

Normandy Trip- Sword Beach.

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.

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Looking west down the invasion beach.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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I made you think looking down the ramp of the landing craft to the time when they approached the French coast in 1944.

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The trackless M7 Priest.

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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.

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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.

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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).

Cheers,

 

Pete.

Normandy Trip- Bletchley Park.

As I posted earlier to break up the drive down from Yorkshire to the New Forest we called in at Bletchley Park.

It is a nicely presented modern museum, telling the story of the site as you move round the complex. To make the most of the visit we used the free audio guide and followed the suggested route.

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The modest scale of the code-breaking work at Bletchley was such that at the start of the war the country house and its various outbuildings were all that was required. Very quickly this was insufficient and the sprawl of huts was built up.

As I’m pretty sure that you are all aware of the stories of Bletchley Park I won’t go into too much detail of what happened there. The thing that really surprised me however was the absolutely massive scale of the operation that was there. Round the clock large scale breaking of German and other Axis codes. It required thousands of mostly women working very hard with no recognition for decades afterwards to produce a quality of signal intelligence that shortened the war by several years.

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The audio-guide led me to this memorial to the work that the Poles did before the war that enabled so much to be done during the conflict years. In general I feel that the Polish contribution and sacrifices to WW2 has been undervalued for many years and it was nice to see this tribute to that nation.

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The majority of the museum is made up of the huts with little displays set up in them  to given an idea of the spartan conditions people worked in there.

The audio-guide leads you through the huts and you can listen to the development of the site and the functions of each hut. It is a good use of the buildings and in someways reminiscent of Eden Camp. However they do get a little same-y with the 1940s style set dressing, but that is a small price to pay for the preservation of the site. The majority of the artifacts are held in a separate building. The centrepiece of this is a magnificent rebuilt bombe that was used to decode the engima intercepts.

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This wonderful machine (not a computer) is demonstrated by the staff there- the gent who did our presentation did a great job and was very knowledgeable, especially passing this on to the younger people there.

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These two example in different conditions were what it was all about: The Enigma Machine. Used by The Germans in their thousands, the encrypted messages were transmitted in Morse and picked up by listening stations, transcribed and then sent to Bletchley. So fast was the process , that by the end of the war, Allied commanders were getting decrypt translations at about the same time as the intended Nazi recipient had got it.

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The bombe didn’t produce a definitive answer: machines such as this were needed, as well as plenty of brain power to test possibilities that the machine threw up.

Sadly our visit was cut short by the closing of the museum. Fortunately the entry tickets are valid for a year so I plan to go back down there to have a decent  look at what I missed sooner, rather than later. I also might visit the National Musuem of Computing that shares a site with Bletchley Park.

Next- on to France….

Cheers,

 

Pete.

 

 

Normandy trip- The Mulberry harbour.

As request by Chris here are the photos of the remains of the Mulberry Harbour at Arromanches; Dad and I visited on the Tuesday of our holiday.

When we arrived the tide was fairly high up the beach but the remains of both the breakwater and the pontoons were still visible.

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We took a quick look on the beach to get a bit closer.

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We then took a wander around the other outside exhibits before going into the museum whilst the tide receded.

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A 5.5 inch gun- there are quite a lot of these preserved around Normandy.

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A section of the roadway that linked the pontoons with a little bulldozer on top.

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There is a gun emplacement up the hill from the port with a Sherman on top of it which gives a nice view of the bay so we took a walk up there.

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We then went into the nice little museum at Arromanches.

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Inside was the usual combination of models and artifacts; the former were difficult to photograph as they were under glass.

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By the time we had gone round the museum and watched the short video presentation in there the tide had gone out further revealing more of the Mulberry harbour.

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The heart wasn’t my work btw.

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Next Dad and I popped a couple of miles up the coast to see the gun battery at Longues Sur Mer but I’ll save that for another post.

 

Cheers,

 

Pete.