We were quickly learning.
To be in Normandy in June is to be rained upon. We were greeted by the dreary thing as soon as our eyes had opened in the morning and we had drawn up the noisy, aluminum blinds that covered our window to the outside world.
Regardless, we were on a mission. What it was, we did not yet know. But a hearty breakfast of sugary French cereal, local milk (excellent) and fruit (average) would help fortify our constitution, as well as our itinerary.
It seemed like day two would be a beast.
We decided to tackle a bunch of, in a way, the most attractive, but also the most demanding, such because far removed from Cabourg, destinations. The impressive remains of the German battery at Longues-sur-Mer, the American Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer, then Omaha Beach and finally, time permitting, Pointe du Hoc – site of the famous Ranger stand, up the steep cliffs, against a determined enemy force marked the points of interest along our second day’s route. The weather was slightly improved now, and though overcast, the skies were no longer shedding water. It was time to make for the Peugeot.
Packed now, unlike the deserted state in which we found it in 2016, the complex of the battery at Longues-sur-Mer soon appeared before our eyes. We struggled for a bit to find a parking spot for the car – large international tourists from various places in the world, local history enthusiasts, and the ubiquitous reenactors had crowded the spot, no doubt attracted by the big anniversary.Crowds aside, the place still had its atmospheric presence and the remains spoke volumes as to what had occurred here 75 years ago Restored war vehicles added a further layer of realism (although most looked way too new and clean to be considered accurate representations of vehicles of war..)The real treat at battery Longues-sur-Mer is entering all the bunker compounds, specifically one of the German gun casemates, with their still remarkably intact 150mm TK C/36 marine guns. Far more crowded than we would have liked, the inside of the emplacement structures still offered a harrowing and very atmospheric presence. Every time I enter one of these, it always feels as if time has stood still – the energy of the events that took place can still be felt strongly here.
Most of the monoliths are still in remarkably good conditionAt least on the outside… We did not stay long at the battery. The crowds (even the media was here, with a TV crew in tow) did not make for a pleasant experience in this place where on would ideally spend some quiet time and reflect. We were soon back in the car, and on the way to our next destination – the American Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer.
The reality of being in Normandy on the 75th anniversary of D-Day
was slowly beginning to become apparent to us. At the first roundabout near the cemetery grounds, traffic ground to a sudden halt, as hordes of reenactor vehicles, complete with their unruly cargo, clogged the narrow Norman road. Safety-vested volunteers helped guide the column, and after a while we were able to secure a grassy parking spot in one of the lots. The congestion continued on foot, as we progressed toward the cemetery grounds, choking on fumes from 80+ year old period-piece vehicles still passing by.
Some of their kind that were parked nearby were quite impressively restored, however. General Eisenhower’s Packard was one of themA Willis Jeep (with Wisconsin plates, mind you) was no less strikingOnce we entered the compound, the somber walk along the ridge found us in the company of throngs of visitors, and also a row of covered guns, facing the beach. The rain had begun to fall againSoon the seemingly neverending, solemn rows of crosses appeared. 9,388 American soldiers are buried here As the rain swiftly increased its intensity, we sought shelter. Huddling around the outside perimeter of the rotund chapel, along with a multitude of other visitors, we noticed an impressively authentic-looking female reenactor walk by. It made for an atmospheric sceneBut the rain wasn’t letting up. We decided we would take a quick walk around, despite its assault and then return to the Peugeot to plan our next move. Until the end, we never could make up our mind on whether the reenactors added a sense of authenticity or a comically inadequate representation of history to the occasion On the walk back, Omaha beach appeared through the vegetation, ominously peaceful and shrouded in mistAlas, the weather was too persistent in its foul mood, and we headed back to the car. A quick glance at the prognosis revealed an eventual clearing in the clouds later on in the afternoon, so we decided on a lunch break backtrack to nearby Port-en-Bessin, before visiting Omaha Beach.
Back into traffic then
The interlude was less brief than we would have liked.
Slow service at the average pizza joint in the small town, combined with the overpopulation of costumed tourists, made for a later departure to Omaha Beach than we had anticipated. Full of unhealthy French approximation of American food, we returned to the road, to feed the inexhaustible appetite of the Peage and soon descend upon Omaha Beach.
We approached via a roundabout way, encountering gorgeous French nature and a smattering of monuments along the way It was not long before the impressive stretch of Omaha Beach at low tide was in front of us. No matter how many times I have seen it (well, only once previous, but still), setting eyes upon this historic place is always unforgettableThe infamous beach, once awash with blood, was now the peaceful host to randomly scattered locals and foreign guests. It is now just another nice stretch of sand, with picturesque views and plentiful opportunities for recreation. On our way to see the main memorial at the site, we ran into two interesting subjects, the first of which, was humanStylishly (in his own mind alone, surely) outfitted in what looked like a homemade woolen cap, shirt, sleeveless puffy jacket and a dress, he eagerly presented us with a seashell of impressive size and nodded in approval that it be photographed. The approval was immediately and abruptly withdrawn when the lens was pointed toward him for a portrait, however.
Moving on, we then ran into this fellow – the most sizable and impressive specimen of his species that either of us had seen beforeSadly, he seemed to have given up the ghost. There was no movement, whatsoever, even when we gently picked him up and brought him into the surf in an attempt to revive him. Perhaps it was just old age, doing what it does, claiming another life.
The monument was nearby, impressive as everAnd a nice touch by the locals lined the nearby Rue Bernard Anquetil with portraits of some of the veteransWhat I had missed to do on my previous visit to Omaha was to have a look at the Widerstandsnests (German strongpoints) that were positioned on the bluffs above the beach. It was from these fortified nests that the Germans fired upon the invading troops advancing through the sands. Taking a nearby road, we soon found ourselves at one of those unidentified positions, right above the Dog Red sector of Omaha. Leaving the Peugeot by the side of the road, we took a stroll about, to investigate the premises.
Obviously, the spot offered a great view of the beach and the surrounding countryside……as well as an excellent offensive positionSoon, the Widerstandsnest appeared, its ghostly remains peeking out from under vegetation, right next to edge of the roadSave for outer blemish and some firearms damage from its heyday, time had not diminished the sturdiness of this structure. It seemed to me that, unless removed by man, these concrete nests will be around, as a grim reminder of the failure of the Atlantikwall, for a long while yetOn the way back to the car, we could not help but notice, once again, the incredible beauty of the French countryside
But the day wasn’t over yet
As it was, we still had one, quite significant site, left to visit. But darkness was approaching and, once again, time was outrunning our efforts. Nevertheless, because it was open twenty-four hours, we decided to give Pointe du Hoc a try and see if we could capture some images.
It was quite late when we finally did get to the infamous place where the 2nd and 5th US Ranger Battalions performed the almost impossible task of scaling the vertical cliffs and capturing the German fortifications on June 6th, 1944. We quickly realized, despite of the diminishing light, that there was a twofold advantage to being at the point this late – an almost complete lack of other visitors to what is otherwise a very popular spot, and the approaching sunset, which is absolutely magnificent in this setting.
The enormous craters left by the naval guns firing from Utah beach so many years ago were impressive in the dusk, their colors more vibrant than everGun emplacements, stripped of their guns, still bear the scars of a not-too-distant generation’s violent strugglesPointe du Hoc spot was an enormous German complex of bunkers, gun positions, underground tunnels and supply enclosures. There are plenty of remains to explore here, and even though we were losing our battle with daylight, we persisted for a while amidst the ruins of history, always supremely fascinating Total darkness reigns inside most of these sarcophagi, and when the weather is rainy (which is just about always), one can enjoy the added benefit of sinking, sometimes anke-deep in the mud that serves as their floorsWe shortly made our way to the main monument and its enormous pillbox, still very-well preservedThe magnificent waters of the sea below were yet another sight to behold, their teals subtly saturated in the departing lightThe sun was going away now, and painting the sky in hues unimaginable, as it was bidding this part of the world farewell. If you have never experienced a Normandy sunset, it is best viewed through barbed wireAnd it is a feeling and a sight you are likely to never forget