D-Day, Plus 76 Years

76 years ago today, Allied forces invaded Nazi occupied France. It was known as Operation Overlord, and it was the largest invasion force ever assembled up to that time. The US forces landed at Utah Beach, Omaha Beach and Point du Hoc, which lies between the two beaches.

Last year, I was privileged to visit these beaches for the 75th anniversary. I also visited Longues-sur-Mer, which is above Juno Beach where British forces landed.

Entrance of the D-Day Museum near Omaha Beach

These brave men gave everything including their lives to liberate the world from fascism and tyranny.

American Cemetery at Omaha Beach

Over 8,000 US soldiers were killed during the initial invasion, and several more thousand would join them during the coming months of fighting.

Several days before D-Day, the 101st and 82nd Airborne dropped behind enemy lines to secure bridges, roads and crossroads to keep German forces from getting to the beaches in Normandy for a counter offensive.

Monument at La Fière Bridge to the 82nd Airborne

Looking around at what is happening in the country right now with the protests, riots and civil unrest, it is more important than ever to remember what we were fighting for a generation ago. We were fighting for freedom from oppression, fascism and tyranny not just in Europe but in Asia.

Today we face many issues that are tearing our country apart at the seams. I hope and pray that we as country can get through these difficult times with our country intact. If we can create a national and local dialogue to solve the problems we now face with civility and respect, we will get through this civil unrest to rebuild our cities and country to be stronger, more unified and better than ever. This is my wish as we celebrate D-Day, to remember what we fought for so we can keep freedom alive and strong from oppression and tyranny, for everyone.

Grandcamp-Maisy, France (Maisy Battery)

Imagine, if you would, a small idyllic town on the coast of Normandy about halfway between Utah Beach and Omaha Beach.  It has a nice pier, harbor and access to the English Channel.  This town is known as Grandcamp-Maisy, France. IMG_3621IMG_3627IMG_3628Not too far from town there are several farms.  Looking across these fields, it looks lovely, peaceful and a place you’d likely want to hang out for a while looking at the ocean.

IMG_2232You might want to look a tad closer, because there is something here that shouldn’t be.  Do you see it?  If you look closer, you’ll see a bit of concrete sticking out of the ground.  But then you turn around and look the other direction, and you’ll see something very strange.IMG_2231

Is that really there?  Yes, it is.  You’ve stumbled upon one of the most heavily fortified bunkers of the German Army, known as Maisy Battery.  This site was extremely top secret during WWII.  It was built in secret by prisoners of war from the Eastern Front in 1941-1942 as part of the Atlantic Wall defense system, and they were likely executed afterwards, but there’s no information on that.  Maisy Battery is thought to have been used to shell Utah and Omaha Beaches during the invasion.  However, both beaches are almost impossible to see from the observation mounds at the site.  It’s more likely used for shelling the ships to keep them away from the shore to stop an invasion.

IMG_2205 The people in Grandcamp-Maisy had no idea what was here, and they weren’t allowed into the area at all.  This site has 2.5 kilometers of trenches (over 2 miles), 4 large 155mm guns, several 2.5cm flak guns, bunkers, mess hall, and a field hospital.  The mess hall was completely destroyed in the bombing raid, and the field hospital was partially destroyed in the bombing raid and is now inaccessable.

IMG_2345IMG_2216These are the trenches in Maisy Battery.IMG_2144Maisy Battery had four of these 155mm guns.IMG_2153Staff BunkerIMG_2157Inside the bunker

The site also has a radio communications bunker that is surprisingly intact.  Normally they’re bombed out from shelling either by ship or by bazooka rockets.

IMG_2191This site has something that was only found in one other spot in Brittany, a RADAR Flak Control Center.  This was used to analyze incoming airplanes all along the French coast and sent out communications to flak guns up and down the coast shooting down Allied aircraft.

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What’s interesting to note, or disturbing to note depending on who you talk to, is the Ranger task force that was sent to capture Point-du-Hoc was also ordered to capture Maisy Battery, but they never did. They stayed at Point-du-Hoc guarding the road.  The radar site and flak guns at Maisy Battery were likely shooting at the aircraft that were dropping the 81st Airborne and the 101st Airborne.IMG_2323

Finally on 9 June 1944, the Rangers captured this battery and took dozens of German soldiers as prisoners of war. IMG_2129
Soon after the war was over, Maisy Battery was classified top secret and buried by the US government, literally buried.  It was covered by earth and smoothed over and returned to the citizens of Grandcamp-Maisy as farmland.  For 60 years this site was erased from the history of D-Day and all memory of existing.  Why?  No one knows for sure.

It wasn’t until 2006 when an avid military collector was looking through a pair of pants from WWII, and he found a map of the area that was only designated “heavy resistance”.  He looked into it further, purchased the property that was on the map and started digging.  To date, his team has unearthed a large portion of the Battery, trenches and bunkers.  Today, the Maisy Battery is open to the public and self tours are available.  It is now in the condition that the Rangers left it 75 years ago.

There is more to this story that is still unfolding.  Maisy Battery was recently featured on the Science Channel, part of the “Secret Nazi Bunkers” series.  For more information, please visit www.maisybattery.com

Enjoy,

Kelly

101st Airborne Memorial

After a long day of visiting the American Cemetery, the D-Day Experience, and other places around Normandy, we visited the 101st Airborne Memorial.  It’s on a corner next to a field that used to be Brecort Manor, away from town where they dropped behind enemy lines to secure key intersections, bridges and towns.  IMG_2097

We also visited Dick Winter’s Leadership Memorial, which was not far away.  IMG_2106

Right after we got there, a group of soldiers from the 101st Airborne arrived.  We talked for a while and had a wonderful conversation.  I was honored to take a portrait of one of the soldiers.  I’ve been looking for a way to get this image to him, but I have no contact information.

IMG_2101I hope he is able to see this post and if he does, please contact me for a high-res image that I will email.

Normandy American Cemetery and Museum Colleville-sur-Mer, France

I’ve been wanting to post this for a while now, but life seems to be getting in the way (that and my internet connection is extremely slow). I also know I’ve had a couple of posts already about the American Cemetery in Normandy, located on the bluff overlooking Omaha Beach. At the visitor center, there is an amazing museum that has artifacts and comprehensive displays of the history surrounding D-Day and what the costs were.

However, it was quite crowded there a couple of days before the 75th anniversary of D-Day, so we had quite a walk to get to the museum and cemetery. Along the way were vintage WWII vehicles, and a person well known for helping defeat Germany in the war, none other than Winston Churchill, of course this is a re-enactor, but hey, he looks the part.IMG_1986IMG_1991

The displays in the museum start with the occupying of France by Germany, how the French people were treated, and the Allies’ goal of liberating France.

It also has a replica of the Czech hedgehogs designed by Rommel as part of the “Atlantic Wall”. There were several layers of defense put in place all along the coast of the English Channel, here specifically are the coastal defenses.

The French Resistence played a major role in helping the Allies get intelligence about the occupying forces, their movements, etc., and they had to risk their lives to do so.  Even owning a radio was forbidden.

Did you know there was a training exercise for D-Day?  It was called Exercise Tiger, which had heavy casualties causing the US military to take actions for training so the actual invasion would be successful.

Operation Titanic was designed to take the focus off of the paratroopers landing in France, it consisted of dropping exploding dummies among troops to confuse the Germans.

There were displays of several US troops and their stories.  Here are three.

Hundreds if not thousands of civilians were also killed on D-Day and following the Allies’ arrival into France.  Saint-Lo was totally destroyed by air bombings in a matter of hours.  It was such an important crossroad that it was necessary to create a gap in German defenses.  I’ve read somewhere that the treasures from Mont Saint-Michel were taken to Saint-Lo for safe keeping but were destroyed in the bombings; however, I haven’t been able to verify that yet.

The human cost of the invasion was extreme: approximately 8,500 US and Allied troops were killed, wounded or went missing in action on D-Day alone.  Approximately 225,000 Allied troops were killed during the Normandy campaign, and about 18,000 French citizens were killed during this time as well.  The Germans suffered approximately 400,000 casualties during the liberation of Normandy.

Which brings us back to the American Cemetery.  In our history of engaging in war on foreign soil, we were never there for conquest or gain, only for freedom and liberation; all we ever asked for were plots of land to bury our gallant dead.

D-Day, Plus 75

Today is D-Day, the day the Allied Forces invaded occupied France. This morning i was able to walk on Utah Beach and explore German bunkers

As we were leaving, a guy walked up to us looking to see if we were leaving, and he told me he was German, and that his freedom was fought for on these beaches and he said “God Bless America.” I still get tears thinking about what he said.

That’s what this day is really about: Freedom. I saw a sign painted on a shop window that read “Celebrating 75 years of peace”. How can we thank those brave men who died coming on these shores to secure the freedoms we enjoy? We thank them by teaching the next generation the truth of what happened here and what they were fighting and why so they can avoid the mistakes of the past.

This afternoon we tried to get to Point du Hoc, but the roads were closed for security reasons for all the dignitaries going to these places for events. We ended up in Sainte Mere l’Eglise. While there, we saw several parachutists land in the church square. This is where the paratrooper’s parachute caught on the church steeple. (he actually landed on the street side of the tower).

Tonight we walked on Omaha Beach to finish out our tribute to all those who. Gave their all for freedom.

Thank you veterans for serving our country and God Bless!

Omaha Beach

It’s hard to believe that I’m in Normandy, on Omaha Beach a couple of days before anniversary of D-Day. The weather was similar to the conditions of 5 June, 1944, raining, foggy and rough seas-not a good day for an invasion from the sea.

Yes, that is the ocean barely visible in the fog and rain. This is Omaha Beach off in the distance, taken from the American Cemetery

Rows upon rows of honored dead that fought and died for freedom for everyone. The cost was 8,500 lives given at these beaches so their brothers in arms could advance to save France, Germany and the rest of the world from a dictator trying to conquer the world. They deserve our remembrance and honor for their sacrifice.

There will be a huge gathering today (D-Day) at this cemetery of world leaders and other dignitaries to mark the 75th anniversary of Operation Overlord and mark the invasion of occupied France to liberate it from the enemy. This is also why we went there yesterday, so we wouldn’t have to deal with the crowds and security.

This is looking at the stage from the back row of the seats setup for this event. (Be glad you didn’t set these chairs up, just saying…)

In Bayeux while having breakfast, there were military personnel and police everywhere and a bagpipe band rehearsing nearby getting ready for the arrival of some dignitary. They were surrounding the entrance of Notre Dame cathedral (yes, there’s one here that dates back to William the Conquerer). I’ll do a post on this later.

Notre Dame Cathedral

Everywhere on the roads were WWII era jeeps, troop transports, officers transports, motorbikes, etc. it was almost like the liberation operation was still on going.

Later we went to Dead Man’s Corner and the D-Day Experience Museum.

I’ll do posts later on each of these separately. Needless to say they were fascinating and what went on here heart wrenching.

Enjoy,

Kelly