We woke to a leaden sky and a thick ground mist with absolutely no breeze.
After breakfast and the usual morning routine we headed for the eastern sector of the Normandy 'Operation Neptune / Overlord' Beaches. We collected packed lunches, an unexpected bonus.
Our first stop was the Pegasus Bridge, site of a critical preliminary operation called 'Deadstick', intended to secure the bridges over the Caen Canal at Benouville and the River Orne at Ranville (which are adjacent to one another) as part of the 6th Airborne Division’s task to secure the eastern flank of the beach-head before dawn on the 6th June.. How the Brits managed to put three gliders within 150m of the objective just beggars belief. The LZ has a swamp on one side and the Caen Canal on another, the distance barely wider than the 88’ wingspan of the three Horsa gliders that landed there. No wonder that Air Chief Marshall Sir Arthur Tedder described it as 'the greatest feat of flying of the war'.
The original bridge is on display adjacent to the excellent museum, having been replaced by a broader one of greater width and span; it is a ‘bascule’ bridge which can best be described as a giant meccano rocking horse. Together with a number of other outdoor exhibits including a full scale Horsa glider replica, armoured vehicles and artillery, the museum is excellent, the displays well curated and the audio-visual explanation of the operation was peerless.
Quite what persuaded presumably sane men to climb into those flying bricks and hang on for a high risk ride still escapes most of us, but the audacity of the concept and the brilliance of its execution is breath-taking. All the more reason to keep an eye out for the movie of the same name due for release soon.
We then moved just a few kms towards 'Sword Beach', on the extreme left of the landing zone, to the location of 'Strongpoint Hillman', a German command bunker complex, near the town of Colleville-Montgomerie. We were shown around by George, of the Suffolk Regiment Association. This is an amazing complex particularly when tour group member John Larkins managed to find a way in to the inner sanctum through a massive steel bulkhead door of the complex despite George having been told by a colleague that it was locked. This is an absolute ‘Must See’ for anyone coming to Normandy.
Both of these sites consumed more time than our schedule provided for but everyone agreed it was time well spent.
We then endeavoured to travel the coast along the beaches but this is a task easier said than done, as there are no roads along the sea front.
We stopped off at Luc su Mer for an impromptu coffee before exploring the vicinity of the new Juno Experience museum. We decided that the beach and museum at Arromanches was where the priority effort needed to be applied. The Arromanches beach front did not disappoint except that it was high tide, meaning a beach shuffle was off the agenda. The excellent museum there had us spellbound with the stories and explanations of the ‘Mulberry’ floating harbour, with the visible evidence of their arrival off shore 73 years ago vivid in the afternoon sunlight, despite the onset of dull skies. Another hour and a half bit the dust, but a combination of an excellent museum and a great ice cream shop carried the day.
Group consensus dictated a return to our hotel a quick refresh before putting on our 'Party Pants' and heading for town (Bayeux). First stop was the museum to take in the Bayeux Tapestry, which all agreed was astounding. The world’s first comic strip history lesson was a fantastic culminating point for today’s visits. Another must see in the region. Our intrepid group then set off for a quick libation before a more measured cross-sectoring of the old town before settling on a restaurant for an excellent dinner, well lubricated with some excellent 2014 Bordeaux.
A big day but everyone was well-pleased. Tomorrow it's the western flank.