11 March 2010

Normandy Trip - August 2009 - Day 2

Day 2 – The D-Day Beaches

Saturday dawned bright and sunny and after breakfast we made sure the SatNav had the route in and we were off out of Caen.
Me, the GS in Caen

I have to admit that as the basis of the route I used a waypoints file that was posted on the BMW Club forum enhanced from the Major and Mrs Holt’s Pocket Handbook to the D-Day Landing Beaches. If anyone is interested I’ll post the file on the forum once I can get it off the unit, this is the one that I downloaded plus some places they didn’t get to!

From Caen centre we headed out past the Castle and towards Ouistreham, better known to the British as a cross channel ferry port. Brittany Ferries run a service from Portsmouth.

The first stop was just to the south of Colleville-Montgomery and a bunker, dedicated a national monument to the Suffolk Regiment that took this one codenamed “Hillman” and another just down the road codenamed “Morris”.

Hillman Bunker

Hillman was attacked on 6th June 1944 by the 1st Suffolk Regiment, supported by C Squadron 13/18 Hussars, A Squadron Staffs Yeomanry, two batteries from 33rd and 76th Field Regiments Royal Artillery, 246th Field Company RE and a machine-gun platoon from 2nd Middlesex Regiment.
Hillman Bunker

Hillman was outflanked to the north, where high grass allowed an approach to the minefield area surrounding the bunkers and barbed wire. This was cleared by the RE, and a path made through the wire by Bangalore Torpedoes. A Company of 1st Suffolk’s then charged through the gap, and entered the bunker area, but came under such heavy fire that they lost the company commander and had to pull out. Sherman’s from 13/18 Hussars then came up, and a second assault carried the position. However, in the process two tanks from 13/18 Hussars were knocked out and the Suffolk’s lost two officers killed, along with five men and 24 men wounded.
GS @ Hillman Bunker

From here we had intended to go to Pegasus Bridge but I changed the route and we could do the bridge area on Sunday. Instead we went straight into Ouistreham and the Grand Bunker Museum.
La Grande Bunker Musee Ouisterham

The bunker is on four floors and was the command post for the batteries on both sides of the Orne and in the event of invasion was supposed to protect the river and the docks that extended as far as Caen. In the grounds are some vehicles as exhibits plus a landing craft.
La Grande Bunker Musee Ouisterham
La Grande Bunker Musee Ouisterham
La Grande Bunker Musee Ouisterham

We had a look round and a few photos and then set off along the coast further along Sword beach towards Lion sur Mer.
The plan was to cut inland to take in the radar site near Douvres la Déliverande. At Lion there is a monument to the Royal Marines known as the "Sun Dial", and alongside it there is a Churchill Tank.
Churchill Tank - Lion sur Mer
GS @ Lion sur Mer

Sadly the radar site was closed and there was no one there to let us in. We also didn't get a chance to photograph it, but it looks pretty complete.
From the radar site we returned to the coast with a first stop at Intermarche for petrol. A mistake as it turned out but one I wasn’t to know until later in the day.

The petrol/gas station was on automatic and I filled up the tank with €17.26 worth of 95 unleaded. Later when I checked my pre-paid credit card, I had been scalped for €70. I have a receipt for €17.26. Attempts to get the money back are being chased internationally with the company. As an aside, MasterCard were completely useless and offered no support or advice.

After the fuel stop we had to virtually ride across the road to the first stop of the afternoon session.

This part of Juno beach was assaulted by the Canadian forces and the bunker on the seafront is now a memorial to their exploits. Plaques on the side commemorate the regiments that took part.

Canadian Bunker - Bernieres sur Mer
Canadian Bunker - Bernieres sur Mer
Canadian Bunker - Bernieres sur Mer

The bunker is on a dog-leg in the seafront and the gun slot is angled to provide a field of fire in one direction only and is protected on the beach side. It does provide fire across the entire beach from the sea to the small dunes on the land side.

From Bernieres we moved a short distance up the coast to Courselles-sur-Mer. This was a strategic point as the town straddles the River Seulles. Both sides of the river mouth were heavily defended with pillboxes and bunkers.

On the east bank is a memorial to General De Gaulle who arrived here with the French soldiers under the British control. There is also a Sherman Tank.

In 1969, fishermen in the harbour of Courselles-sur-Mer in France discovered one of the Regiment's D-Day tanks. With the assistance of a local marine salvage company and the Royal Canadian Dragoons from Lahr, Germany, the tank was recovered from the sea where it had rested for more than twenty-five years. Thanks to an ambitious financial campaign by the Association and the Regiment, this "A" Squadron DD tank "ANEMIC was restored and dedicated, under the erroneous name of "Bold", at Juno Beach on June 6, 1971 as a Canadian memorial initially to the 1st Hussars and later to all those units that landed on D-Day. Photographs to follow as sadly the Samsung’s battery ran out!! Luckily Claire’s Sony Alpha DSLR us more reliable.

Also at Courselles-sur-Mer, across the river, is the main Juno Beach Museum. For more reading please go here.

We parked up and we had a walk to one of the almost buried bunkers on the edge of the dunes. From the beach these would have been invisible. Once again, they featured the Tobruk Pit style of machine gun nest. I managed a picture of the museum on my BlackBerry.

Juno Beach Memorial
Juno Beach Memorial

From here we continued to head westwards along Juno Beach towards Omaha Beach.

In the dunes as you leave the Juno Beach Museum is a massive Cross of Lorraine dedicated to the French troops that took part in Overlord. Just around the corner is another tank.

On the way out from Juno Beach Museum

Once back on the D514 we headed towards Arromanches-les-Bains. At Asnelles we turned off the main road and down to find the beach to see if we could see the remnants of the Mulberry Harbour.

We were disappointed as the ring of concrete caissons is easy to see about half a mile off the land. Claire took some pix with her functioning camera and then he headed off up to Arromanches.

The next stop was at the viewpoint around the headland from the town itself. You’ll find a huge car-park and a viewpoint and the 360 Cinema. The queue was massive as we had arrived just after a couple of coaches and so we decided to take in the view and some pix of Mulberry.

Madonna & 360 Cinema @ Arromanches

I did manage to get one with my BlackBerry, but the quality despite supposedly 3.2 megapixels is poor. Remember when digital cameras aspired to be that good?
As well as the cinema there are memorials and a large statue of the Madonna.

From there we head back along the D514 into the town itself. As you enter the D-Day Museum is in front of you and there are limited parking opportunities to park a motorcycle. Some riders had mounted the high kerb to park by the museum. We had a tour around and eventually parked next to a large flower bed at the far end of the car-park. Once again we had timed our arrival with that of coaches; this time a mere six! I have been in the Museum before and we decided once again that the crowds weren’t for us.

After a coffee and then a crepe we had a walk to the top of the headland to where there is another preserved Sherman Tank – you know the drill – pix to follow!!

The spot actually marks the position of a battery that took part in an action during the Napoleonic War when they fired in defence of a convoy of gun boats being menaced by British warships. According to local history they won the battle, however, more than likely the British ships knew of the battery’s position and wouldn’t engage the smaller gun boats in its range. History is for the winners’ to write!!

By now it was well after 4pm and we wanted to get away to get to Omaha before it closed. But the next stop was at Longues sur Mer.

A most impressive set of bunkers housing the Longues Battery. In all there are four big concrete bunkers housing the large guns intended to fire to see at any invader.

The first bunker form the car-park is badly battered and the gun has been destroyed, although suspicious looking pipes still out of the ground in front of the firing area. The other three are in much better condition.

Time was getting on and by the time we arrived in the area of the Omaha Monument it was 5.55pm. A huge arrow points to the Monument from a roundabout and next to it... a sign... 4 kms and closes at 6pm!

In the end we head a little further to St Laurent sur Mer and the already closed for the night Omaha Beach Museum.

All in all I had planned a day that really needed two days. The weather was warm, 25°C, and despite the numbers of coaches with their large numbers of fellow tourists traffic on the roads was very light.

I will attempt to post the missing pictures form Claire’s camera and if anyone is interested I have two waypoint files suitable for Garmin GPS systems that I can attach somewhere.

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