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YMCC Tour of Normandy 2014

Words and photos by: Bob Arnett

                                                OPERATION OVERLORD

Prologue

In January 1942 Winston Churchill and President Roosevelt met in Casablanca to determine the route they were to follow to try to end WW2. The decisions at this meeting marked a decisive step in planning the opening of the second front in Europe. Among these measures, the two leaders decided to bring about in 1943, all the preliminary conditions required for the execution of a landing in Europe in 1944. The final date decided was 05 June 1944 (D-Day). General Dwight D. Eisenhower was the Supreme Commander of the allied expeditionary forces in Europe and therefore was in overall command of Operation Overlord.

Unfortunately a severe storm over the English Channel caused Eisenhower to postpone the invasion 24hrs.

The leading assault was named Operation Deadstick and was to liberate two bridges over the Caen canal, one at Benouville and the second at Ranville. The assault was led by Major John Howard and troops from the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry (Ox & Bucks) were chosen to execute the plan.

Six Plywood Horsa Gliders were towed by Halifax bombers to the French coast. The Horsa Gliders were flown by two pilots and could carry 25 men or up to 4 tons of equipment. The only navigational aids they had were an airspeed indicator, compass and stopwatch.

They were released in thick cloud near Cabourg and split into two groups to head for the bridges. Using their basic navigation of time and distance, the Benouville raiding party, made two 90deg right hand turns and cleared the cloud on course for the bridge. The first glider landed at 00:16hrs 06 June 1944, in the field next to Benouville Bridge. The first objective was to take out the Pill box on the East side of the bridge. This contained the trigger for the Germans to blow the bridge if it looked like it could get over run.  A No Shooting order was given to maintain the element of surprise, until the Pill Box was blown up. A Grenade into the Pill Box marked the start of the fire fight.

The second and third gliders landed as the fire fight started on the bridge.

The first Allied soldier to give his life on D-Day was 29 year old Lieutenant Danny Brotheridge. He died whilst attacking a gun position in front of Café Ghondree on the west side of Benouville Bridge. He is buried in the nearby Ranville War Cemetery.

At 00:22hrs approximately 500yrds away, the gliders had successfully landed and the assault started on Ranville Bridge under similar circumstances.

At 00:26hrs, Major John Howard blew his whistle to indicate to his men that the assault on the two bridges was complete. The element of surprise had taken just 10 minutes to overrun 50 German soldiers and re-take the two bridges. A decisive success.

Benouville Bridge was later renamed PEGASUS BRIDGE, in honour of the airborne troops which repatriated it. The flying horse Pegasus being their shoulder emblem.

At 0430hrs British Paratroopers and Gliders also over ran the Merville Gun Battery which is close by.

The numbers involved are hard to comprehend, and show what a logistical feat was undertaken. The following figures relate to those deployed for D-Day.

The Naval assault was given the code Operation Neptune. This consisted of 5,000 naval ships and 2,000 additional vessels employed to ferry men and supplies to shore. There were 195,000 Naval personnel.

There were 11,500 aircraft and 3,500 gliders which included 31,000 aircrew.

There were 132, 715 troops landed on the beaches and 24,900 parachuted in.

The American Airborne Troops theatre was the Cherbourg peninsula. Their operation began at 0015hrs and there were two divisions comprising 7,000 each division. St Mere Eglise was one of the towns they were tasked to repatriate.  The Americans were also tasked with liberating La Pointe Du Hoc heavy  gun battery which is situated between Utah and Omaha.  This raid was led from the sea and was crucial to the success of the sea invasion to eliminate the formidable fire power of the German position.

Operation Neptune – the sea landings, commenced at 0630hrs which was dictated by the optimum tidal condition.  From West to East the Codes for the beaches were UTAH, OMAHA (both American), GOLD (British), JUNO (Canadian) and SWORD (British and French Kieffer Commandos).

Success of this campaign would largely depend on the speed which supplies and ammunition could be replenished for the growing numbers of personnel. This required a facility to off load ships. Following the raid on Dieppe in 1942, it was decided that all ports were too well defended therefore a temporary structure would need to be fabricated and built. During 1943 and early 1944, components for two Mulberry Harbours were fabricated, one to be built at Omaha, the other off Gold Beach at Arromanche. These were to be towed across the Channel and assembled immediately after the successful landings.

The morning of 19th June brought with it another storm which damaged the Mulberry at Omaha with such severity that it was scrapped shortly afterwards and the components used to repair and enhance the Harbour at Arromanche.

Coinciding with the 70 years commemorations of WW2, seven members of Yarm Motorcycle Club headed to Normandy in Northern France to spend a week visiting the theatre of the D-Day Landings.

Members: Bob Arnett, Brian Brown, Allan Wren, Bill Robinson, Ken Vidgen, Nigel Smith and John Hutton

Day 1 – Saturday 14th June 2014

PEGASUS BRIDGE

 Brittany Ferries from Portsmouth to Ouistreham (Caen) – approximately 90 miles (6hrs).  Had a few Guinness and a few hours kip.  The ferry arrived in Ouistreham at 0630hrs local time.  Allan, Bill and Ken were Satnav(ateers). The first destination was Pegasus Bridge which was approx. 5 miles from the The Crew - Smallferry. All was quiet at this early time of morning. We had a look around the bridge and were the first visitors of the day to the local Café owned by Madame Ghondree which is situated next to the bridge. A couple of coffee`s and croissants, perked us up after a long night. Next we called into the Pegasus Bridge museum on the East side of the Caen canal. The original bridge is in the grounds of the museum and still bears the scars of battle. The bridge was replaced with a near duplicate in the early 1990`s. There were various military vehicles and a complete Horsa glider as exhibits.After this we visited the Ranville War Cemetery where British, Commonwealth, German soldiers and one war dog with his handler Emile Corteil, lay at rest.Following this we headed for our Caravans at Arromanche. These proved to be a great asset on this trip as we were able to travel light and commute around the province from this base. We headed into town for our first evening for a meal and a few beers.

Day 2 – Sunday 15th June

ARROMANCHE – GOLD BEACH

Today we explored our host town.  We headed to the beach and had a look at the remnants of the Caissons (concrete breakwater sections) and Mulberry harbour.  These have been left on the beach and in the sea as a reminder of the events following D-Day.  From here we walked up the hill to Arromanche GOLD Beach 2 - Smallthe 360o  Arromanche GOLD Beach - SmallCinema Circulaire.  The top of the hill offers panoramic views of Arromanche and Gold Beach.  You can also see very clearly the 8km stretch of coast which the Mulberry Harbour was built in. The Cinema was showing a new film entitled Normandy’s 100 Days.  The 20 minute showing gave a very good insight into the events before, during and after the D-Day landings in 360o surround sound and picture. After the Cinema we made our way back down the hill to the Musee Debarquement which was situated in the town square, next to the beach.  This museum opened in 1954 and was the first museum to be built in commemoration of 06 June 1944 and the Normandy campaign.  Inside there was a scale model of the Mulberry Harbour which, only seeing with your own eyes, gives an appreciation of the scale involved of this feat of engineering and the logistical scale involved.  The Mulberry Harbours of which there were two (one at Omaha and the other at Gold Beach) were assembled in two weeks immediately following D-Day. A storm severely damaged the harbour at Omaha, so the remnants of this were used to repair and enhance the harbour at Gold – Arromanche.

Day 3 – Sunday 15th June

PONT DU HOC & OMAHA Beach-1 SmallOMAHA BEACH

Day 3 saw us heading west along the coast to Pont du Hoc. This was a gun battery on the top of a cliff that the Americans were tasked to take.  The area had been heavily bombed by air over the week prior to 06 June.  The Americans approached from the sea and had to scale the cliffs whilst under heavy fire from above. They launched rocket propelled graplins, with ladders attached, from boats to allow them to scale the cliffs. Amid heavy losses the Americans made the ascent only to find the guns had been removed from the concrete shelters. The Germans eventually surrendered to the Americans and the yanks slowly made ground in from the coast over the next few days.  Approximately 2 km in from the coast some rangers found the guns from Pont Du Hoc hidden in bushes, but set up ready to fire out to sea, with a pile of ammunition, ready to use.  The rangers made the guns inoperable and continued their advance inland.

After Pont Du Hoc we headed back east along the coast to Omaha Beach.  This seemed a desolate area and there wasn’t much to see, although this area suffered the heaviest losses of the D-Day landings.  From here we headed back towards Arromanche and stopped at the American War Cemetery, which was at Collevill-sur-Mer, on a cliff overlooking Omaha Beach and is the resting place for 9,000 Americans.  The theme among the various cemeteries is how well kept they are – in fact immaculate.  A lot of effort and care is obviously taken to look after these areas and they are maintained by the War Graves Commission.

The American cemetery has a visitors centre with documentaries to watch on screen and an abundance of information on walls and in showcases.  There`s also a statue called “The Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves” which is located in a colonnade looking out towards an ornamental lake.

Day 4 – Tuesday 17th June

OMAHA, GOLD BEACHES & BAYEAUX

Je voudrais une baguette et trois croissants s’il vous plait.  Breakfast freshly baked from the boulangerie, a short walk into town.  This set us up for the day ahead very nicely.

It was just a short ride Battery Longues-1 Smallon the bikes to Battery de Longues sur Mer heading west along the coast.  This is situated between Omaha and Gold Beaches and consists of four 152 mm Navy guns with a range of 20km, each protected by a large concrete casement, a command pBattery Longues-2 Smallost, shelters for personnel and ammunition and several machine gun emplacements.  The crew of this gun battery consisted of 184 men (over half of them were over 40 years old).  The gun batteries were positioned approximately 200 m inland from the cliffs, however, the command post was situated directly on top of the cliff to attain a better field of view.  This command post was used in the film “The Longest Day”. From here we headed to Bayeaux War Cemetery.  This is the largest Second World War cemetery of commonwealth soldiers in France containing 4,648 burials.  This cemetery has the “Cross of Sacrifice” which is found in commonwealth cemeteries containing more than 40 graves.  Underneath this cross there were numerous wreaths which were still fresh from the previous week’s commemorations.  Of these, one wreath was the Prince of Wales feathers signed by “Harry” and another was signed by President Putin.

 

Day 5 – Wednesday 18th June

SAINTE MERE EGLISE & UTAH BEACH

This ride out St Mer Eglise 1 Smalltook us approximately 45 miles to our destination on the Cherbourg peninsula.   Saint Mary’s church in the centre of Sainte-Mere-Eglist became famous for the parachute drop of the American 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment where trooper John Steele’s parachute became caught on the church steeple where he hung for 2 hours pretending to be dead (he was shot in the foot), before the Germans, realising he was still alive, took him prisoner and took care of his injury.  He later escaped and re-joined the troops of the 3rd Battalion.We had a nice lunch in a café overlooking the square before visiting the Musee Airborne which is dedicated to the American 82nd and 101st Airborne Division during Operation Overlord in June 1944.  The exhibits in this museum included a WACO glider, a Douglas C-47, a Bangalore Torpedo and an interactive experience of Operation Neptune.

Day 6 – Thursday 19th June

Spent the day in the sun in Arromanche and this was followed by a swim in the English Channel. Cooked up Bolognaise and Pasta with French baguette and a few more beers…

Day 7 – Friday 20th June

JUNO BEACH

Headed East along the coast towards Ouistreham, Caen.  Courselles-sur-Mer (Juno Beach) was our first destination. Juno beach was the CanadiaCourseulles 1 Smalln’s theatre for landing on D-Day. We parked the bikes next to the marina and headed seawards.  There was a lovely fisherman’s market selling fresh fish alongside the harbour mouth. Here we stopped to look at a Canadian duplex drive Sherman tank.  These were converted to float using floatation bags and a collapsible canvas screen, which was attached all around the edge of the tank body above the tracks.  There were also 2 propellers exiting the rear of the tank. Most of the tanks sank. The tank we were observing was raised from the sea bed 27 years after D-Day.  This one obviously never made it to land.  Those that made land proved a valuable asset for the land army. Next along the coast was Ouistreham where the ferry port is situated.  A wander around the canal lock, watching the boats followed by Moules Marinier with mushrooms sorted the hunger pangs.

Day 8 – Saturday 21st June

The grand depart at 0700hrs was a fresh brisk ride under a blue sky to catch the Brittany Ferry at Ouistreham.

Conclusion

Over 350,000 people took part in in the D Day Invasion. More than 133,000 landed on the beaches. These comprised of; Utah – 23,250, Omaha – 34,250, Gold – 24,970, Juno – 21,400, Sword – 28,845. Also 25,000 either parachuted or landed by glider.

Many, many died or were badly injured. Thank you. We salute you.

Bob Arnett

Sept 01 2014

MV Normandie 1 Small

Brittany Ferries MV Normandy

Pegasus Bridge Museum 3 Small

Pegasus Bridge Museum

Ranville Cemetery 1 Small

Ranville Cemetery

Arromanche 5 Small

Arromanche

Sherman Tank

Pointe Du Hoc 2 Small

Pointe du Hoc

OMAHA Beach-1 Small

Omaha Beach

Normandy American Cemetery 5 Small

American Military Cemetery

Batterie De Longues 5 Small

Batterie de Longues

Bayeux War Cemetery 1 Small

Bayeux Commonwealth War Cemetery

Arromanche Municipal Campsite 1 Small

Arromanche Municipal Campsite

YMCC Tour of Normandy - Photos

(click on thumbnail to see enlargement - use your browsers back-button to return)

MV Normandie 2 Small

Brittany Ferries MV Normandy

Pegasus Bridge Museum 4 Small

Pegasus Bridge Museum

Arromanche 1 Small

Arromanche Militaria Museum

Arromanche 6 Small

Arromanche

Mulberry Harbour Model

Pointe Du Hoc 1 Small

Pointe du Hoc

OMAHA Beach 2 Small

Omaha Beach

Normandy American Cemetery 3 Small

American Military Cemetery

Batterie De Longues 2 Small

Batterie de Longues

Bayeux War Cemetery 2 Small

Bayeux Commonwealth War Cemetery

Arromanche Municipal Campsite 2 Small

Arromanche Municipal Campsite

Pegasus Bridge 1 Small

Pegasus Bridge

Pegasus Bridge Museum 5 Small

Pegasus Bridge Museum

Arromanche 2 Small

Arromanche

Section of Mulberry Harbour Loading Ramp

Arromanche 7 Small

Arromanche

Mulberry Harbour Model

Pointe Du Hoc 3 Small

Pointe du Hoc

OMAHA Beach 3 Small

Omaha Beach

Normandy American Cemetery 2 Small

American Military Cemetery

Batterie De Longues 1 Small

Batterie de Longues

St Mere Eglise 1 Small

Sainte Mere Eglise

Arromanche Municipal Campsite 3 Small

Arromanche Municipal Campsite

Pegasus Bridge Museum 2 Small

Pegasus Bridge Museum

Pegasus Bridge Museum 6 Small

Pegasus Bridge Museum

Arromanche 3 Small

Arromanche

Mulberry Harbour Anchor

Arromanche 8 Small

Arromanche

Mulberry Harbour Model

Pointe Du Hoc 4 Small

Pointe du Hoc

OMAHA Beach 4 Small

Omaha Beach

Normandy American Cemetery 4 Small

American Military Cemetery

Batterie De Longues 3 Small

Batterie de Longues

St Mere Eglise Airbourne Museum 1 Small

Sainte Mere Eglise Airborne Museum

Arromanche Municipal Campsite 4 Small

Arromanche Municipal Campsite

Pegasus Bridge Museum1 Small

Pegasus Bridge Museum

Pegasus Bridge Museum 7 Small

Pegasus Bridge Museum

Arromanche 4 Small

Arromanche

Sherman Tank

Arromanche 9 Small

Arromanche

Mulberry Harbour Model

Pointe Du Hoc 5 Small
Normandy American Cemetery 1 Small

American Military Cemetery

Normandy American Cemetery 6 Small

American Military Cemetery

Batterie De Longues 4 Small

Batterie de Longues

Bayeux Cathederal Small

Bayeux Cathederal