As a child, Sunday afternoons were usually spent curled up on the sofa with my dad watching old war films, I was such a pain and would ask question after question and I think my fascination with military history just grew from there. Right up there on my ‘bucket list’, I had wanted to visit the D-Day landing beaches for […]
As a child, Sunday afternoons were usually spent curled up on the sofa with my dad watching old war films, I was such a pain and would ask question after question and I think my fascination with military history just grew from there. Right up there on my ‘bucket list’, I had wanted to visit the D-Day landing beaches for such a long time. I wanted to see first hand the places where a generation had made such a sacrifice so that we may enjoy the freedoms we do today.
Normandy is the most fascinating place, it’s like stepping inside the pages of a history book. There are numerous sights to visit and countless museums, it would be impossible to see it all, but I tried to pack as much into my four day trip as possible.
Situated between Omaha and Gold beach, the German gun battery at Longues-Sur-Mer was the perfect place to start exploring the important landmarks of the battle of Normandy.
The Longues-Sur-Mer battery was part of Hitler’s Atlantic wall defences and comprised of four rapid firing 152mm navy guns housed in large concrete casemates. A threat to the Allied landings, it was heavily bombarded the night before D-Day and was subjected to naval bombardment the following morning. Minimal damage was caused to the guns, but the phone line linking the fire control bunker to the guns was destroyed, which affected the battery’s ability to engage with the Allied ships. On 7th June 1944, the major in charge surrendered to the British.
The Longues-Sur-Mer battery is open all year round, it’s a fascinating place and includes access inside the concrete casemates which still house the original guns.
It’s hard to find the words to describe the American Cemetery at Omaha Beach. As you catch the first glimpse of the immaculate white headstones, row upon row, glistening in the sunlight, it takes your breath away.
It is the most serene place, the silence broken only by the waves gently lapping on to the beach below. There are 9,387 graves here, including 45 sets of brothers. I wandered amongst the crosses and Stars of David, my heart in my throat, reading name after name, wondering what each person’s story was. The sacrifice is just immense, it is a sight that I shall remember forever.
There is also a visitors’ centre where you can hear the stories of some of those buried in the cemetery. Of all the places I visited in Normandy, this was the most poignant.
‘Omaha Beach’ was a 7km stretch of coastline between Vierville-sur-Mer, St-Laurent-sur-Mer and Colleville-sur-Mer, the most brutal fighting on D-Day took place here. Of the 2500 casualties at Omaha on D-Day, over 1000 were killed, most within the first hour of the landings.
There are many museums around the ‘Omaha Beach’ area, Overlord museum is located right at the heart of this historic site, close to the American Cemetery. It is well worth a visit, adult entry cost 7.80 Euros.
Pointe du Hoc
By mid 1944, German forces manned formidable defences along the French coast; the German 155 mm artillery positions on Pointe du Hoc were of particular concern to the Allies. The 2nd Ranger Battalion were tasked with the mission to scale the 100 foot cliff and disable the German positions. Of the initial attacking force of 225 men, only 90 were still able to bear arms when relived on 8 June. Just a short drive from the American Cemetery, Pointe du Hoc has a visitors centre, from there, you can walk to the site and look around the bunkers, casemates, shell craters and the Ranger monument. Don’t miss the Sacrifice Gallery, which presents personal stories of the sacrifices that made the Allied victory possible. Access to Pointe du Hoc is free of charge.