Wednesday, June 18, 2014

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

Actual Date of Event: March 12, 2014

Phew! It's been a quite awhile since we were last in Normandy visiting the Bayeux Cathedral and Tapestry but I'm back today to share more of our memories and photos from this great trip.

In today's post we're far from the Mayan ruins, that we were actually in just a couple of weeks ago, and off to visit my favourite battery of our Normandy trip- the Longues Battery. It was here I did my best impression of a celebrity trying not to be recognized {this wasn't the reason this was my favourite one- I just thought it was neat}. I had a scarf around my neck and up over my head, then the hood from my sweater pulled up, and sunglasses was SO windy and chilly! Thankfully L does not sneak pics of me in ridiculous get-ups like this so there is no photographic evidence of what a goof I am. But hey, I was warm!

Three of the guns as viewed from the top of the fourth gun {Photo by L}
Built in 1944 by the Kriegsmarine, the battery was later transferred over the German army. It consisted of four 152-mm navy guns that had a range of over 12 miles- able to fire upon the Omaha and Gold beaches and the landing fleet coming ashore there. The concrete casemates protecting the guns were themselves protected by piles of earth built up along their sides. This helped to cushion the blow, prevent them from tipping over if bombs fell nearby, and also to help conceal them.

One of the four 152-mm guns- they just look so ominous to me.
Three hundred yards ahead, on the edge of the cliff, was the range-finding post. It was fitted with a telemetric aiming device and defended by machine-gun nests, barbed wire, and mines. It was so foggy over the water the day we were there that even though we could look down the cliff's edge and very clearly hear the water beating against the rocks below we couldn't really see anything. I wondered how scared I would have been if I had been a soldier in that post not knowing what could be so close, hiding in all that fog, and getting ready to fire upon me.

During the night of June 5th to 6th the Allies dropped over a thousand pounds of bombs onto the battery but it didn't have a great effect. At dawn on the 6th the battery engaged in an artillery battle with several ships and by evening three of the four guns had been disabled by British cruisers.  The crew of the battery (184 men) surrendered to British soldiers the following day.

View from behind the range-finding post as it looks out to sea

After our visit to Longues Battery it was time to make our way to the town I remembered so well from my trip over in 2011- Arromanches-les-Bains.

Remnants of the Mulberry Harbour {Photo by L}
It was on the beaches of Arromanches that the Allies established an artificial temporary harbour that allowed them to unload heavy equipment before the deep ports of Le Havre and Cherbourg could be captured.  Arromanches is in the center of the Gold Beach {British} landing zone but it was spared as much fighting as possible on D-Day so the harbour could be installed as quickly as possible.

We purposely planned our visit for low tide otherwise I knew from my previous visit that most of the remnants would be under water. It was just good fortune on my visit in 2011 that I was there at low tide because it is so interesting to walk among the pontoons that once held up the floating roadway.

During 100 days of operation this "temporary" port allowed 2.5 million men, 500,000 vehicles, and 4 million tons of material to come ashore. To say this was an amazing engineering feat is an understatement.

It was still foggy when we arrived but to me that just made it seem all the more sombre. Standing along the boardwalk at the edge of the beach we couldn't see some of the pontoons and then walking out toward the sea they would start to appear before us out of the white blanket, which then cut us off from the town behind us. Not sure if L felt the same but it was a little eerie to me, especially when we couldn't see anyone else around us.

After wandering around for a bit we made our way into the Musée du Débarquement which had a great model of the artificial port with explanations of how it all worked. I highly recommend this for anyone, like me, that just can not visualize how the remnants on the beach fit together and the whole thing worked.

Depiction of the trucks coming ashore on the floating roadways {Photo by L}

Further out in the harbour big ships were able to unload their cargo

The museum had many other exhibits and we wandered through to see them but for me the model of the harbour was worth the price of admission. This museum was something I hadn't had time for when I visited previously so I was happy we had it on the Battle Plan for this trip.

After our visit to Arromanches it was time to make our way to the last two landing beaches- Sword Beach {British} and Juno Beach {Canadian}- and to pay our respects at the Canadian cemetery. In my next post about our Normandy trip I'll finish off our third day in Normandy and show you some photos from these places.

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