Trip to Normandy

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On June 6th, 1944, “D-Day”, the largest amphibious invasion in history took place, when Allied forces invaded the coast of Normandy. Over 156,000 Allied soldiers landed by sea or air.

In 2014, we were fortunate enough to travel Normandy, France. Here are some of the photos we took of the memorials, cemeteries, military installations, and surrounding areas.

Our first stop was at Pegasus Bridge.

Pegasus Bridge was a major objective of the British airborne troops who floated into France prior to the amphibious assault on Normandy. The Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, British 6th Airborne Division, commanded by Major John Howard, used Horsa gliders to stealthily land near the bridge and take control. The successful taking of the Pegasus and other bridges in the area limited the ability of the German forces to mount counter-attacks in the days and weeks following the invasion.

The bridge in the background is a modern bridge built in 1994. The original bridge can be seen later in this post.

This is the original Pegasus Bridge. A force of 181 soldiers surprised the German defenders and took control of the bridge in 10 minutes. Two men, Lieutenant Den Brotheridge and Lance Corporal Fred Greenhalgh gave the ultimate sacrifice for the bridge.

A Horsa glider. It is estimated that over 250 took part in the invasion of Normandy, and 6 were assigned to taking Pegasus Bridge.

Left: The interior of an original Horsa glider.

Right: The interior of a replica Horsa glider.

We obviously did not take this photo, but it shows Pegasus Bridge on June 9th. A Horsa glider can be seen in the background.

Photograph taken by Sgt. Christie, No. 5 Army Film & Photographic Unit. This is photograph B 5288 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums.

Our second stop was the Grand Bunker and Atlantic Wall Museum in Ouistreham.

The Grand Bunker and Atlantic Wall Museum located in what was once the Ouisterham German Fire Control Bunker. The 52 foot concrete overlooks Sword Beach, and controlled the gun batteries covering the entrance of the River Orne and the Orne Canal.

On June 6th, the British 3rd Division landed on Sword Beach. French-British commando’s attempted to take the tower to no avail. On the 9th of June Lt. Bob Orrell of the Royal Engineers, 91 Field Company R.E., 3rd Beach Group, 3rd Canadian Div., 2nd British Army and three men were charged with the task of taking the bunker. After 4 hours, Orrell and his men took two officers and 50 men prisoner. Orrell was awarded the Military Cross.

Below is a depiction of Orrell and a fellow soldier getting ready to blow an armour plated door. Once the door was blown, the German defenders surrendered.

Armoured doors were not the only defence used in the Atlantic Wall bunkers. These images highlight their deadly design. To enter this bunker, a soldier would have to make his way down the stairs (Left Image); where he would be immediately faced with a machine gun port (Middle Image); behind which stood an extremely well-armed soldier (Right Image).
The bunker was originally built as an anti-aircraft installation, but became the command centre for coastal gun batteries in the area. Using this rangefinder, Allied ships up to 30 kilometres away could be targeted.

Below is what the Grand Bunker looked like in 1944. It had an unobstructed view of the coast and it must have been an intimidating sight to Allied soldiers.

The building is now home to the Atlantic Wall Museum. The four-story museum houses mannequins dressed in original uniforms and equipped with original weapons. The generator room, gas filter rooms, machine gun installations, first aid post, weapons room, communications room, and an observation post have all been restored.

Photograph courtesy of the The Grand Bunker Atlantic Wall Museum:

Our next stops were dedicated to the Canadian participation in D-Day.

Canada House, is one of the most iconic buildings in Canadian military history. It was one of the first houses liberated by Canadian soldiers on D-Day.

Bernières-sur-Mer train station.

In this famous photo of Canadians going ashore after the initial assault, Canada House (1) and the Bernières-sur-Mer train station (2) are both visible. 

View looking east along ‘Nan White’ Beach, showing personnel of the 9th Canadian Infantry Brigade landing from LCI(L) 299 of the 2nd Canadian (262nd RN) Flotilla on D-Day.(photo by G. Milne, courtesy Library and Archives Canada, PA-137013).

Juno Beach Centre is a museum located in Courseulles-sur-Mer. The museum’s scope includes Canada’s contribution to the D-Day landings, as well as the story of life in Canada before the war, Canada’s civilian and military contribution to the war effort, and contemporary Canadian society in the decades since World War II.

In this picture you can see the museum in the background and the ruins of a German machine gun installation.

This photograph is of the same installation being manned by a German soldier.Photo courtesy of France 3:
A short walk from Juno Beach Centre, one can find the ruins of a German bunker.

On 6 June 1944, W.F. “Cosy” Aitken and soldiers of “B” Company, Royal Winnipeg Rifles assaulted this bunker. There was a 78% casualty rate during the fierce battle. An explosion toppled the bunker and the Germans surrendered, but Canadian Sergeant “Cosy” was shot during the battle. The bunker is now known as “Cosy’s Bunker”. 

Bény-sur-Mer is a Canadian War Cemetery and the final resting place of 2,044 Canadian soldiers, 3 British soldiers, and 1 French resistance fighter. The grave of the French resistance soldier, R. Guenard, who fought and died alongside the Canadians and had no known relatives can be seen in the photos below.

We then made our way the some of the beaches and regions of Normandy liberated by British forces.

The Longues-sur-Mer battery consists of what were, four 152-mm navy guns installations, each protected by a large concrete casemate, a command post, shelters for personnel and ammunition, and several defensive machine-gun emplacements.

The battery is situated between the British objective, Gold Beach, and the American objective, Omaha Beach. Three of the four guns were disabled by the British Navy on the first day of the invasion, and the German soldiers operating the fourth gun (184 men, half of them over 40 years old) surrendered to the 231st Infantry Brigade the following day.

In the photo below you can see 3 of the 4 gun installations (I am standing on the 4th).

One of the 152-mm naval guns still in its casemate. 

The observation bunker from the rear (left) and the front (right). Advancing on such a position from the front seems unimaginable. The observation post provided an excellent view of the Omaha Beach, Gold Beach, and the English channel.

The views from the observation bunker of the English channel (left); and Arromanches-les-Bains (right). Arromanches-les-Bains


Below is a view of the beach at Arromanches-les-Bains. Immediately after the D-Day landings, the Allies established an artificial temporary harbour to allow the unloading of heavy equipment and reinforcements. Huge floating concrete caissons were towed from England accross the English channel and assembled to form walls and piers forming the artificial port known as the Mulberry harbour.

In the centre of the photograph below, one of the caissons remains on the beach, and others can be seen in the distance.

Our second last stop was at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial. 

The Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial is in Colleville-sur-Mer.

The cemetery is located on a bluff overlooking Omaha Beach and is the final resting place for 9,387 American soldiers.

In the photograph below is a memorial that contains the names of 1,557 Americans who lost their lives in the Normandy campaign but could not be located and/or identified.

In the photographs below, many of the white grave markers can be seen, however, the shear size of this cemetery can not be captured from the ground.

Only from the air can one begin to grasp the size of the cemetery and ultimately, the size of the sacrifice.

Our last stop was the German cemetery at La Cambe.

Like the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, the shear size of this cemetery is unimaginable.

Unlike the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial and other Allied cemeteries, the German Cemetery at La Cambe is extremely melancholic and somber.

More unimaginable than the size of the cemetery, is that each grave marker represents two soldiers. This cemetery is the final resting place for over 21,000 German soldiers.

Scattered across the Normandy coast are small and beautiful towns, with names like Vierville-sur-Mer and Bernières-sur-Mer. In the summer months, their beaches and shops are flocked by tourists.

We hope that you spend your next vacation taking in these beautiful villages and the surrounding areas.

We also hope that you make your way to some of the museums and memorials, and reflect on the sacrifices made by so many young men to ensure that future generations can enjoy such freedom.

If you would like to learn more about the people and machinery of D-Day and World War II, check out our section of World War II books.

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