Friday, April 25, 2014

Exploring Normany and Ypres: Battle Plan Day 2 {Part 1}

Actual date of event: March 11, 2014

The second morning of our trip we awoke bright and early, had a delicious breakfast at our hotel and we were on the road by 9:00 am just as we had planned. We had a very full day ahead of us with lots of history to see and learn about!

Our first stop was the Crisbecq Battery which is also known as the Marcouf Battery. From research before the trip L knew this site wasn't open this time of year but when he looked at it on Google street view he could see that it was close to the road and parking lot so since we'd be able to get a good look at it we kept it in the plan.

This was a WWII artillery battery that was made by the German Todt Organization and formed part of the Atlantic Wall. The site was originally planned to be more armed than it was but due to supply problems it only held three 210-mm navy guns (instead of a total of 11 guns). Two of these three guns were protected by large concrete casements as shown in the picture above. The site also had a command post, shelters for personnel (300 naval personnel to be precise) and ammo, and several defensive machine-gun placements. Except for the batteries at Cherbour and Le Havre, this was the most powerful battery in the Bay of the Seine with a range of more than 30 km (19 miles).

photos by L
Despite many bombings during the spring of 1944 and a large bombing the night before the D-Day landings, two of the guns remained operational and opened fire on Utah Beach on D-Day which aided in sinking the USS Corry. A few other battleships, including the USS Texas (which we recently toured just this past January!), fired against the battery and knocked out both guns. One of the guns was repaired and fired again on June 8th.  The battery was taken the morning of June 12th, without a fight, by the 39th Regiment after the 9th US Infantry Division landed at Utah Beach.

The only thing I wish was different for our visit to this site was that I had learned all of what I just shared before we visited. I did quite a bit of reading before our trip but mainly I focused on the war in general and didn't get too much into the specifics of each place we intended to see. While I'm really enjoying learning more about these places now, next time I think I'll dig a little deeper beforehand.

After a pretty short visit, due in part to not being able to get into the actual site and it being a wee bit chilly and windy (though it was going to get even more so as the day went on), we put the next address into the SatNav and drove off down some of the narrowest roads imaginable. We decided (at many points during this day) that the SatNav must have decided to forgo anything that resembled a real, two-lane, marked road of any kind. We drove down roads that winded through tiny villages where we were mere feet from the houses and then down roads that just criss-crossed us through farmer's fields. We saw very few cars along the way, which was just as well since there wasn't really room on the road to meet oncoming traffic. It was actually very nice and peaceful in this area  and even though we kept saying to each other "Really? Surely this can't be the way"... every time it was the right way and we made our way on to the Azeville Battery.

This battery wasn't fully open either but we were able to wander and climb around in bits of it so we wandered through corridors inside, poked our heads out look-out holes, and for just a moment were tempted to climb down this trap door that wasn't locked. We decided it was likely best to just close the cover and leave well enough alone. Besides would you climb down in there? Kind of surprised actually, that klutz that I am, I didn't drop my camera down there and then one of us (i.e. L) would have had to climb down there to get it.

Also built by the Todt Organization between 1941 and 1944, this battery was another of the key fortifications of the Atlantic Wall. It was built to protect the beaches along the Cotentin Peninsual and had an underground complex in addition to its defense system (4 x 105 mm guns). There were about 170 soldiers that manned this battery but because there weren't any accommodations for them they were billeted in local houses.

Photos by L- Different views inside and around the grounds. Bottom corner picture is a camouflaged pillbox that was made to look like a house but on top was an anti-aircraft emplacement. This was right across the road from the main bunker.

This battery was one of the Allies' prime objectives on June 6th, 1944 but despite an early attack it continued to fire upon Utah Beach for three days. At one point in these three days it even fired upon its neighboring Crisbecq Battery in order to clear the US troops that were on top of those bunkers! Finally after fierce fighting on June 9th it was silenced when it was captured by the 22nd Regimental Combat Team of the US 4th Infantry Division.

Our next stop on the Battleplan was to visit Utah Beach that had been fired upon so much by these two batteries, and the museum that is there. In my next post for this series I'll take you on a little tour of each of those places.

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