Battlefield History Tours

Battlefield History Tours
Incorporating History and Heritage tours


 
Western Front to Normandy Tour 24 September 2018

  

The tempest of the past two days appeared to have blown itself out much to the relief of all. We were going to retrace some rain-soaked footsteps to catch up on sites that had to be passed over earlier.

After breakfast and the usual morning routine we collected our packed lunches, an unexpected bonus. Today is our last day with Lee our drive because he is doing a baton change with Philippe later today ahead of our journey to Paris tomorrow.

First stop the bomb-scarred gun emplacement and bunker complex of Pointe du Hoc. A fabulous view and the threat it posed to Utah Beach in particular was self-evident. So was the difficulty faced by the 2nd Ranger Battalion in trying to neutralise it. The devastation wrought by Allied bombing is still very apparent 74 years on. Although the defenders put up stiff resistance and exacted a heavy toll on the attackers, the position, like so many others fell by the end of the 8th June. Its 155mm guns never realised a real threat because they had been removed in order to avert the Allied air threat, the effect of which was very evident in craters and smashed block-houses.

We then drove along the Esplanade along Omaha Beach. It was the first opportunity we had to walk on to a landing beach, so everyone took the opportunity to do so despite the fullness of the tide.

Omaha is a beautiful stretch of sand, but a dune frontage looms above it which would have provided defenders numerous and very effective sites for machine guns and heavier weapons to enfilade the beach. The obstacles posed by the sea wall were also obvious but these days much of it to the west is paved with a slope that would allow a tracked vehicle to scale it, unlike on the 6 June 1944.

From there we visited Coleville and the impressive US War Cemetery. We allowed 60 minutes for this visit but that blew out. We passed up the Omaha Beach museum on the basis of time but it boasted an impressive collection of Allied armoured vehicles.

As our group had developed the usual unhealthy obsession with bunkers we were tempted to see perhaps the most emblematic location of them all; the Longues sur Mer battery of heavy 155 naval guns of which four are still in their casemates, the only site where this is the case. However, time was against us and the Arromanches museum and Bayeux in sunshine beckoned.

Arromanches was our next stop where we consumed another excellent packed lunch courtesy of the Gold Beach Hotel before hitting the museum. Sadly, about four coachloads of people arrived at the same time, so it was a tad busy for a while. This museum contains an absolutely superb scale model of the Mulberry B floating dock elements - the impression is of the amazing vision of Churchill and th extraordinary ingenuity of the designers and builders. Churchill commissioned work on the concept in 1942 when Britain had only barely survived the Blitz and before the Americans had appeared on the scene. For his many faults Churchill cannot be accused of a lack of strategic vision albeit not all of his ideas were as good as this one.

The impression is all the more powerful because raising one’s gaze from the models has one looking at the ring of concrete that still defines this amazing feat of engineering stretching from Arromanches to just near our hotel at Asnelles.

We performed an admin stop at the where the lure of a quick nap whittled our team of adventurers for an investigation of Bayeux down to just ten. This beautiful provincial town never disappoints. Bathed in sunshine it was a stark contrast to the previous day when its rain swept streets were deserted.

This was our last visit for the day, and our odyssey from the Western Front through to Normandy. Tour members contrasted the how nature of war had changed due to a raft of influences that had taken place in just 26 years since the end of WW1. An overriding impression of both the Western Front and Normandy was of the German ‘legacy’; concrete – lots of it. They certainly poured a lot of concrete in other countries during WW2 - all of the bunkers we had seen were clearly meant to last and exhibited surprisingly little damage considering what had been directed at them. However neither had they succeeded. The world is fortunate that Bayeux has survived the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune and has so many attractions as a base for touring this amazing region.

Our host Vito at Gold Beach had recommended a restaurant to us in the nearby town of Courseilles sur Mur, which is a bustling resort town. We therefore sallied forth to La Creameriere for an excellent “Last Supper” to cap of a wonderful 12 day journey together.

Tomorrow it is back to Paris as out group will disperse to their next destinations.

 





Steve Larkins
Battlefield History Tours.

  

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