Thursday, May 8, 2014

Exploring Normandy and Ypres: Battle Plan Day 2 {Part 3}

Actual Event Date: March 11, 2014

After visiting Utah Beach, the Utah Beach Museum and the German Military Cemetery our next stop on the Battle Plan was Pointe du Hoc.

Pointe du Hoc

Photo by L

We had only allotted about 15 minutes for this site on the Battle Plan but after arriving we quickly realized we would be spending quite a bit more time here. There was quite a large area to roam around with gun placements, bunkers, and bomb craters to explore and then a beautiful view of the coast.

Pointe du Hoc is a 30 m (100 ft) cliff on a small rocky beach that offered no protection to the soldiers tasked with scaling it on their rope ladders. It is between Utah Beach and Omaha Beach and was a well fortified part of the Atlantic Wall that the Germans had created.

On D-Day the US Army Rangers Assault Group were assigned to land there, scale the cliffs, and overtake the German defenses. While they were shelled upon by the nearby Maisy Battery and German soldiers firing at them from the cliff's edge with machine guns and grenades, they reached the top and soon discovered that the guns in the emplacements had been replaced with telephone poles. The German troops had moved the guns inland to an apple orchard to save them from bombing and then left them unguarded. Once found by the Rangers they were quickly destroyed.

Although the Rangers mission on D-Day was considered a success as they seized this land from the German soldiers the casualties were many. Two hundred and twenty-five men landed on the beaches but at the end of the two days of fighting only ninety remained.

Omaha Beach

Omaha Beach is a six mile stretch of beach overlooked by cliffs that made it very difficult to attack for the Americans on D-Day. In addition to the cliffs the Germans had built intimidating defenses around the the beach with things like 'dragon's teeth' which were designed to take out the bottoms of landing craft and in case they didn't work they were mined as well. Gun emplacements covered the beach and there was a system of trenches in places to allow the German troops to move about.

Tasked with attacking this beach were troops from the US 1st Army and their plan was to land infantry troops along with Sherman tanks to give them a lot of fire power against the Germans. However, these tanks never made it as they were released from their landing craft too far away from the beach and all but two of the 29 were swamped and sank. In addition to this, due to strong tides and winds, many of the American troops landed in the wrong place which caused confusion about which unit was where and what they were to do.

The only way off the beach and out of the line of fire from the German machine guns was to sprint across the beach and then scale the cliffs. Some small naval crafts got as close in to shore as they could and attacked the German gun emplacements in order to provide some protection to the soldiers on the beach. Despite the odds, by nightfall the Americans had gained a hold on the beach with 34,000 troops successfully landed. Sadly though it was at a high price as 2,400 soldiers died on Omaha Beach that day.

On the center of Omaha beach is the 'Les Braves' monument for the American soldiers who helped to liberate France. The sculptor Anilore Banon said this:

I created this scuplture to honour the courage of these men:
Sons, husbands and fathers, who endangered and often sacrificed their lives in the hope of freeing the French people.

Les Braves consists of three elements:
The wings of Hope
So that the spirit which carried these men on June 6th, 1944 continues to inspire us, reminding us that together it is always possible to changing the future.
Rise, Freedom!
So that the example of those who rose against barbarity, helps us remain standing strong against all forms of inhumanity.
The Wings of Fraternity
So that this surge of brotherhood always reminds us of our responsibility towards others as well as ourselves.
On June 6th, 1944 these man were more than soldiers, they were our brothers.

Normandy American Military Cemetery and Memorial

Built on a bluff overlooking Omaha Beach this cemetery is the resting place for 9,387 soldiers, 307 of whom are unknown.

On June 8, 1944 the US First Army established the first American cemetery on European soil in WWII. After the war the current cemetery was established just a short distance from the original one. Like all other military cemeteries France has granted the United States a special, perpetual concession to the land which means it's free of any charge or tax.

Only some of the US soldiers who died in France are buried here because when it came time for a permanent burial the soldier's next of kin were given the choice to have their loved ones repatriated for burial in the US, or to let them rest in France.

In addition to the cemetery there is a memorial at this site that commemorates the lives of 1,557 Americans who lost their lives in Normandy but could not be located or identified. At the center of a semicircle of columns is a 22 foot bronze statue called 'The Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves'. In front of the memorial is a reflecting pool where visitors can watch the ceremony of the Lowering of the Colors that happens at the end of each afternoon to the sound of a military hymn.

After our very full day filled with history we decided that dinner that evening would be something we both enjoy- a picnic in our room. We stopped at a grocery store on the way back to the hotel, picked up some cheese, a baguette (mais oui...we were after all in France!), and some other treats and enjoyed our very casual and relaxing dinner.

Bon app├ętit!

In my next post about this trip we'll start in Bayeux where we visit the Bayeux British Cemetery but also took a little detour from WWII history and stepped further back in time to visit the Bayeux Cathedral and Tapestry.

No comments:

Post a Comment