Bayeux Travel Blog› entry 8 of 11 › view all entries
February 18th, 2007 – by: morgewan
I had a light lunch in town, and then at 1pm a Normandy beach tour company picked me up at the hotel. I was initially planning on driving around myself, but after talking to some other guests last night that had taken the tour; I decided to do that myself. It was only 45 euros for a 1/2 day trip, and boy was it worth it!
We had a very diverse tour group consisting of myself, a lawyer from Kansas City, a retired couple from Dallas, a law student from Paris and her boyfriend from Madrid, and a crazy Irish tour guide.
I’ll try to briefly sum up what I saw today, but words cannot do it justice. I really wish I had more than a day to spend on the beaches, and I definitely plan on coming back here to spend at least a week in the area.
The first part of the tour started at Pointe du Hoc which was where the 2nd ranger battalion scaled the cliffs to capture the German guns on top of the point. It has been left pretty much intact since the war, and you can still see all of the massive craters caused by allied bombing/shelling, plus the machine gun nests and bunkers. Our guide went into great detail about the bunker construction, and the damage caused by various shells/bombs.
From there we headed towards Omaha beach, but made a little pit stop at an apple orchard and cider farm. We met the owner, and he gave us free samples of the different ciders he makes, some of which were over 90 proof and pretty darn potent.
When we arrived at Omaha beach it was still rather cloudy out, which help set the mood for the sights that were to follow. Our guide went into great detail about the different gun emplacements, and why the way they were situated made them so deadly to the allied forces attempting to take the beach. Unlike in certain Hollywood films you may have seen, the machine guns were not pointing straight at the beach. The majority of the bunkers were designed to have a field of fire across the beach from the side instead of down towards the water. This crossing type fire was apparently devastating to the landing forces, and was quite hard to overcome.
If you look in the photos section you’ll see a picture of the bluff looking straight inland from the beach, and then another shot of the same area, but looking from the side.
From the beach we moved inland a bit to a war museum where they had a vast array of artifacts, and a well made film over viewing the Normandy invasion as a whole. At the front of the museum was a Sherman tank, and the tour guide asked me if I was feeling adventurous. I said sure, and he pointed out to me that while the main hatch was welded shut, there was another way to get inside it. I’m not going to publish that way here, but it involves a lot of crawling and twisting in a very dark and rusty environment. :-)
Once inside I was amazed at how cramped it was, but also that the gun turret traversal wheel still worked, as well as the elevation control wheel for the barrel. The gear reduction on these wheels must be huge because you can easily move the barrel around with just a few fingers.
The last stop was the American cemetery at Omaha beach, which was the main thing I had wanted to see in Normandy, and really the whole reason for my trip up here.
I can’t even begin to describe how moving an experience it was to be there. As we pulled up to it, the sun broke out of the clouds for the first time all day, and a wonderful soft light illuminated the entire hilltop. We had a very short amount of time to be there before it closed, so I spent the first fifteen minutes or so just running around like crazy taking pictures.
I found myself in the middle of one section of the hilltop surrounded on all sides by thousands of headstones that went out of sight in every direction.
I wasn’t expecting to be moved so much by it, and even writing about it now is rather difficult. There are 9,387 graves on that hill, and 3,000 of them are from the Omaha beach landing alone.
The entire area is an amazing and very humbling place, and I look forward to coming back and spending more time here.
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