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.

Mont Saint Michel Revisited

I know it’s been several months since I’ve been to France, and a few weeks since I last posted.  First, my apologies.  I have so many posts that I have wanted publish, but I haven’t been able to sit down and write them.  Here is such a post.

IMG_2398I’ve done some research on Mont Saint Michel Abby, and it was first constructed in 800 AD by the Romans as a military outpost.  Later, it became a hallowed shrine by some monks from Ireland.  Within a few centuries, it was rebuilt as a Catholic Abby.

During the 100 Year War, it was fortified to withstand the sieges that happened here.  During this period the outer defenses were constructed around the village.  During high tide, it’s completely shut off from the mainland.

In the early 1700’s it fell in decline and was pretty much abandoned by the monks, so Napoleon took it over and converted it into a state prison facility for political dissidents.  By 1847, it was falling into neglect and disrepair, so Victor Hugo spearheadded a movement to save the Abby from desolation and destruction.  By 1900, it was again occupied by monks as a monestary.

I have been wondering why it wasn’t destroyed during World War II, and in my research, I found that it was occupied by the Nazis for almost the entire war.  There was a garrison in place to monitor radio communications, but that was pretty much it.  They revered this Abby so much that they were adamant that nothing happen to it.  It became a relaxation resort for German officers and their families during the war.  At the end of the war, an American journalist and another American soldier drove up to the gates of the Abby to visit it, and the German soldiers there immediately surrendured and the Abby was liberated.

I read somewhere that the treasures from this Abby were taken to Saint-Lo for safe keeping in the church there.  Sadly the city was devestated by the Americans to force the Germans out and all treasures were destroyed.  The treasures of Mont Saint Michel were ancient texts and writings.  However I haven’t been able to verify the accuracy of these events regarding the treasures of Mont Saint Michel.

During our visit, we were able to go into the village a bit, and wander about the outer wall.IMG_2537

The inner gate that looks like it could close off and defend the village and Abby at any time.  Inside, there is a weighted wall and portcullis that looks operational, along with a drawbridge.

Other views of the Abby from along the wall.

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Our visit the the Abby was at 10:00pm, just before sunset at 11:00pm.  Looks like we might not make it back to the mainland with the tide coming in…

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It was an enjoyable adventure, and if you ever get the chance to visit this amazing place, DO IT!!

 

Enjoy,

Kelly

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

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.

Bayeux Revisited

Bayeaux is a small city about 17km from the Normandy coast.  It is a beautiful place with narrow cobblestone streets.  The homes are reminiscent of old France.

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IMG_1965Bayeaux is a very old city, dating back to the 1st Century BC, known as Augustodurum when it was part of the Gallo-Roman Empire.  The city became part of the Roman Empire in the 5th Century.  It was later occupied by the Vikings from the 9th Century AD to about the 10th Century AD.  It was liberated by the Normans in the 12th Century, and was under the rule of William the Conqueror’s half brother Odo, Earl of Kent, who was instrumental in the construction of Notre Dame Cathedral de Bayeux and dedicated the Cathedral in 1077. IMG_1977

I can’t decide whether I like the black and white image of Notre Dame better, what do you think?

IMG_1977 bwBayeaux was then conquered by King Henry I of England after his father’s death in 1087 (Henry I was the son of William the Conqueror), and the city didn’t gain independence from England until 1450 by Charles VII of France.  It then prospered and grew to the present day.

During World War II, Bayeaux was the first city of the Battle of Normandy to be liberated.  On 16 June 1944, Charles de Gaulle made the first of two major speeches in which he made clear that France sided with the Allies.

IMG_1949The city was virtually untouched during the Battle of Normandy, since the German forces were fully involved defending Caen from the Allies.  The Bayeaux War Cemetery has the largest British cemetery dating to World War II in France.

On 5 June every year, at 1530 hrs (3:30pm for the rest of us), the Royal British Legion National attends a beating retreat ceremony at the cemetery.

On 6 June, at 1015 hrs (10:15am), there is a remembrance service in the Notre Dame Cathedral.  This year, French President Emmanuel Macron and British PM Theresa May were in attendance.  We happened to be there about an hour or two before their arrival, but we were unaware of this, so we left for Omaha Beach.

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I think that soldier in the far right corner is giving me a strange look, trying to decide what I’m up to, I guess.IMG_3553.JPGThis soldier was in the right place at the right time, since he looks to be joining his counterparts behind him in the window, smelling the wonderful food.

Enjoy,

Kelly

D-Day Plus 75 Addendum

Yesterday afternoon, we were finally able to make it to Point du Hoc after all the ceremonies were done for the day. It was very interesting to see this place. I’ll post photos later. Just before we left, we ran into a guy that was filming at the memorial, and before we knew it, we were interviewed by @BlackRifleCoffee for a documentary of D-Day they are producing. It was really cool!

We had to go back to Omaha Beach again for more photos. When we got there, we happened upon the wreath laying ceremony at the memorial. It was a sobering and moving experience. I’ll post photos later.

As we were leaving our hotel this morning, our neighbors bid us farewell and telling us to moove along.

We then made our way to the Longues-sur-Mer Batterie. It’s the only German battery with the original guns still in place. I’ll do a post about this later.

There was also an army camp nearby.

We then went to Pegasus Bridge, which I’ll post some photos later.

After staying in Normandy for four days, it was time to leave. It’s absolutely gorgeous in Normandy. Small villages everywhere, winding country roads with hedge rows on both sides and trees lining the roads.

It was sad to see Normandy in the rear view mirror, however it was time to move on to Paris and the next leg of our journey. The traffic was absolutely crazy. Also, there’s a toll booth every 20-30 kilometers on the main freeway, which sucks. Anyway, we made it to our Paris hotel after fighting miles of rush hour traffic.

A Long Night: Traveling to Paris

What’s more fun than taking a 9 hour flight from New York to Paris? Taking a flight that’s delayed two hours (sitting on the plane) for a major storm that stopped all flights until it passed. Once the storm passed, we taxied out to the runway, and after sitting there for a half hour, the captain announced we’re waiting to clearance to take off and that we were number 20 in queue. Then the plane drove around JFK for about a half hour before takeoff to get to the right runway. Finally we took off two hours after we were scheduled to leave New York.

The plane had this cool feature of a tail camera that was shared with passengers during the flight.

My watch showed 2:00am, but the local time was 10:00, so I opened the window shade (couldn’t sleep anyway) and saw this:

About two hours later we landed in Paris.

It’s really hard to fathom how green everything is, coming from a desert that has multiple shades of brown and red. Here it’s multiple shades of green.

We drove straight to Normandy to our B&B on a farm. It’s absolutely gorgeous here! Woke up to hearing church bells and birds singing, and this view from the window.

Last night for dinner we drove to the next village for pizza, and found this nearby:

It’s now a church, but it was a castle at one time. It deserves further exploring.

Enjoy!

Kelly