2022 – France – Day 10

Saturday September 3rd

We did an all day tour of several key D-Day sites, including primarily Utah and Omaha beaches. Those were the 2 beaches taken by the US forces. We saw the church where the parachute of one unfortunate US paratrooper– John Steele– got tangled up on the steeple. (He was played by Red Buttons in the movie “The Longest Day.”) We saw the place where General Teddy Roosevelt Jr. landed at Utah Beach. He and his troops were blown off course by 35+ mph winds. But he decided to punch through the German defenses from the point where he landed, rather than try to make his way to the “correct” point of the assault. His decision saved many lives, since the site where he was supposed to land was much better defended. And we saw the long range gun emplacements at Omaha Beach that the Rangers were charged with destroying. The Rangers were also blown off course, so their commanding officer (played by Robert Mitchum in The Longest Day) tried to make the best of a bad situation. In the end the Rangers succeeded in their mission, but at the cost of 135 casualties out of 225 who began the mission. The guns had actually been moved about a mile away from their emplacements because the Germans were building new casements for the guns and they were unfinished. The Germans even positioned logs where the cannons were supposed to be to trick Allied bombers into thinking that the guns were still there. The Rangers found the guns and destroyed them with thermite grenades.

We saw several other terrific sites– too many to recount– and we finished at the American cemetery in Normandy (there is only 1). We arrived in time to watch the lowering of the flag ceremony, for which they play Taps.

It was a very moving and awesome tour. Our guide, Sabrina, was very knowledgeable and I learned a lot. She has lived there in Normandy her entire life and she has made D-Day her life’s pursuit. D-Day is a very big deal in Normandy. Sabrina said that there are over 90 D-Day museums in Normandy, and there is at least 1 new D-Day monument created every year somewhere in Normandy.

Our first stop was at Angoville-au-Plain, where the village church was turned into an emergency hospital by two American paratrooper medics– Robert Wright and Kenneth Moore– who are honored in the plaque shown in the photo below:

This is the church at Angoville-au-Plain that was converted to an emergency hospital:

A stained glass window in the church at Angoville-au-Plain that commemorates the paratroopers who landed in that region:

Another stained glass window in that church that names both Robert Wright and Kenneth Moore:

The church in Sainte Mere Eglise where paratrooper John Steele’s parachute got caught on the church’s masonry. The photo below shows a dummy, not a real paratrooper, to illustrate the predicament that confronted Mr. Steele. He was actually hung up on the opposite corner of the church; the dummy has been positioned at the corner as you see it because that corner is readily visible from the town plaza. Mr. Steele was captured by the Germans and was imprisoned until the end of the war– but he was eventually released. He was played by Red Buttons in the movie “The Longest Day.”

A stained glass window in the church of Sainte Mere Eglise which commemorates the D-Day landing of paratroopers:

This is the actual corner on which John Steele’s parachute was ensnared:

One of dozens of D-Day monuments in Normandy:

One of only a couple of B-26 bombers left in the world. I love the name: “Dinah Might.”

One example of the LCVPs– Landing Craft, Vehicles and Personnel. They were all made of wood:

A Sherman tank. The tanks were floated into shore on inflatable rafts. Unfortunately the rafts weren’t tested in rough weather conditions, and there were 35+ mph winds on D-Day. Most of the tanks sank. This unit not only survived, but it was fitted with a more powerful cannon.

One of the German defensive bunkers that lined the Normandy cliffs above the beaches:

One of the casements that was being built for the long range guns at Omaha beach. The guns had all been removed to a location about 1 mile inland, as the casement construction wasn’t complete on D-Day.

One of the German machine gun nests on Normandy. The spire in the background represents a bayonet. A contingent of Rangers was supposed to take the long range gun emplacements by scaling the cliffs beneath this point. But the winds blew them off course and they landed farther north. As a result the Germans could easily see them as they climbed the cliffs and they were able to pick off many of the Rangers. Once those remaining reached their target, most of the Rangers had run out of ammunition and were forced to fight hand-to-hand with bayonets.

Eventually the Rangers did take the gun emplacements– but then they discovered that the “guns” were wooden decoys! The real guns had been removed while the construction of the casements was completed. A couple of Rangers were sent on reconnaissance and they eventually found all six of the missing long range guns. The guns weren’t manned because German command had sent everyone home on leave. The Rangers destroyed the guns with thermite bombs.

That was all supposed to happen within a 30 minute window– but it took several hours. The rest of the fleet was waiting for the Rangers to complete their mission because it was known that the long range guns could take out almost any ship in the Channel. Eventually the ship commanders got tired of waiting and they went ahead anyway. But since the long range guns weren’t even manned, there never was any real risk.

The hillside that the Rangers had to ascend to get to the emplacements of the German long range guns. The guns were actually of French manufacture.

A view of the bunker immediately behind the German machine gun nest:

A map of the D-Day landings on Normandy from the American cemetery at Normandy:

A map, also at the American cemetery in Normandy, of the European theater from D-Day to the end of the war in Europe:

Memorial at the American cemetery in Normandy where the two maps shown above are displayed:

A few of the many graves at the American cemetery. Note that some of the graves have stars of David, for Jewish personnel:

The grave of General Theodore Roosevelt Jr., eldest son of President Roosevelt, who died of heart failure a few days after D-Day. The grave to the left is that of his younger brother Quentin, who was killed in WWI. The Roosevelt family requested that his grave be moved to Normandy so that it could be next to that of his older brother.