Battlefield History Tours

Battlefield History Tours
Incorporating History and Heritage tours

Western Front to Normandy Tour on 21 September 2019


A beautiful day beckoned with a forecast top of 28°C - a warm one. The plan was originally to have visited Strong Point Hillman at Coleville Montgomerie, but sadly they could not accommodate us on our desired schedule.

So it was Merville Batterie instead. To be followed by Pegasus Bridge. A good choice as it turned out. On approach it was evident that something big was brewing in Merville. Maybe not as big as D Day, but cars and motorcycles were streaming in from everywhere. It was good that we were early.

Merville was the site of a gun battery protected by the classic Atlantic Wall concrete casemates. In the event they were only captured Skoda 100mm field guns and quite why the Germans were not able to mount heavier guns in such formidable protection was not apparent. Merville was another objective of the 6th Airborne Division, specifically the 9th Battalion Paras, but this one was only partially successful.

Strong winds meant the paratroops were scattered all over the place, two of three gliders crashed on approach and only a third of the force, no heavy weapons and insufficient explosives to destroy the guns, made it to the target. But they did neutralise it for long enough so that it did not affect the landings at Sword beach.

It is now the most complete Atlantic Wall complex I have seen and is very well curated by a local Trust. With its most prominent exhibit (the bunkers are lower to the ground!) a C47 Dakota that has impressive provenance, Merville Battery is an excellent part of the array of D-Day exhibits in Normandy. They have new works verging on completion to provide what looks to be a cafeteria. The site gobbled up two hours effortlessly.

We were getting out as the visitors streamed in - lots of them.

Next stop the legendary Pegasus Bridge, site of a critical preliminary operation called 'Deadstick'. It was intended to secure the bridges over the Caen Canal at Benouville and the River Orne at Ranville (which are adjacent to one another).

Concept of Operations? 180 men in six cylinders made of plywood, resembling tubular furniture vans (made by furniture companies as it happened) with wings, no engines and rudimentary landing gear. Release them over the target, at night, with the enemy below.

Orders were simple: "Capture the bridge intact and hold until relieved"

Motto; "What could possibly go wrong" or perhaps "Any questions?"

The silent airborne Trojan Horses worked a treat. How the Brits managed to put three gliders within 150m (the closes 50m short) 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 27 metre (88 foot) 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".

Together with a number of other outdoor exhibits including the original battle scarred bridge (now replaced by a bigger newer one) 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 and illuminated terrain model were peerless.

Both of these sites consumed more time than our schedule provided for but everyone agreed it was time well spent.

We modified the program due to the advancing time, the excellent weather and the adverse forecast. We were staying in Bayeux. It was decided to take advantage of the weather and do some cultural tourisjme in this marvellous city.

We returned to the Hotel to reconfigure for the change of plan and Steve Larkins led our intrepid team on the short walk to the town centre.

Where the world's biggest invasion landed in 1944, another had departed from in 1066 so it was off to see the Bayeux tapestry for some medieval military history. This marvellous piece of visual communication was intended for a largely illiterate audience, to justify the invasion after Harold of England had reneged on an earlier agreement struck as a direction of the deceased King Edward of England. Beautifully presented and the audio guide complements the presentation admirably.

So the rest of the afternoon was spent exploring the alleys and byways of this wonderful town. A team of stonemasons were giving a demonstration of their awesome skills carving and shaping stone decorations for the magnificent Bayeux Cathedral

Tomorrow it's the western flank.


Steve Larkins


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