DAY 5: Disappointing Birds

The most disappointing day

of our Normandy 2019 visit was yet to come. The overcast skies had returned, accompanied by bouts of wind and sideways rain, and the weather spelled nothing but trouble for the day’s activities. We were scheduled, and were quite looking forward to, a vintage aircraft airshow at Caen-Carpiquet Airport, featuring one of the most emblematic aircraft of World War II – the C-47 Skytrain, or Dakota, as it was known to the British.

The event was to begin with a takeoff from Duxford, England, of  “several dozen Douglas DC-3/C-47 transports” and their cargo of 250 reencators that were to parachute out of them, in a grand display of vintage aircraft and a re-creation of the events of the Normandy invasion. It was put on by what seemed, at least on paper, a legitimate British-Dutch collaboration, dubbed 

Daks Over Normandy

As it was to turn out, Daks Over Normandy, was to be nothing but a scam, either planned in advance, or maliciously improvised at the last moment. The sister exhibition event in Duxford on June 5th, apparently seemed to have gone over well enough. Supposedly, because the weather had collaborated, or perhaps this was just a convenient excuse. So far, on June 7th, as we drove over to the Caen airport, we were aware of nothing but blustery winds and overcast skies that seemed to spell disaster for the outdoor event before it had even begun.

The poor organization became apparent very soon. As we neared the airport, we encountered no signs, no clues as to how we were to get to a dedicated parking area. It seemed that the regular lots at the small airport, quite inadequate for the mass of people that seemed to now descend upon its grounds, were being used for event parking, also. As a consequence, the roads leading to the airport were congested with traffic.

We soon turned back.

It was apparent that we were getting nowhere with this method and the time for the event’s start was fast approaching. We soon found a parking spot on a street that was quite far removed from the actual site of the airplane show. A long walk was ahead of us.

And it seemed like we were not the only ones in this predicament. The inadequate planning of the event organizers and airport staff had put many others in a similar uncomfortable situation. Hordes of us were now walking together along the long main road that led to the airport. Once there, we had to make a huge roundabout trek through parking lots, empty space (why wasn’t any of it used for parking?) and muddy ground. Once at the outskirts of the complex, we finally reached a fenced off, grassy area, where long lines of people waiting to get in wove around the perimeter.

Following a long wait, we finally entered the premises after being generously patted down by a French security guard. The weather was miserable. The wind was sweeping through the large field, which, to our concern, seemed quite bareThe few planes present were far and away, and removed by a flimsy-looking fence. No seeing the planes up close or “talking with the crews” hereNo one from Daks Over Normandy seemed to be around for an explanation or clarification. There was no schedule, or anything containing any information as to the day’s events in sight. Few food vendors and very few portable toilets, dispersed over the huge, open area, were the only things that looked even remotely like what was promised in the event description, and even they were highly inadequate.

Groups of people meandered about, braving the sorry weather and trying to figure out when, if at all, anything involving the airplanes would occur. We decided to get close to the barrier and at least try to see the planes from closer up. Although the birds were beautiful, an ominous vibe was already in the airSeeing them trapped behind the divider, only made the whole thing worse, as all of us wanted to get close to them and have the experience we had paid forWe could only imagine the disappointment of the pilots and owners of these machines, who had eagerly flown them over the channel, as well as the reenactors that were supposed to make the jump from the beautifully-restored DakotasIt seemed now, that we would be enjoying the presence of these historical aircraft through a telephoto lens, and nothing moreA few individuals that appeared to be from the crew of “D-Day Doll” were wandering around the plane, seemingly unsure of what to do with the whole fiasco, themselves. Their presence gave some imagined reassurance that something of interest might occur soon, but with their disappearance, those hopes were quickly dashedAt some point in what was turning into an agonizing wait, the birds started to rumble to life. A wave of excitement surged through the freezing, bored crowds, in anticipation that they might actually see a flight formation. Alas, the only thing about to occur was a series of test flights, apparently to ascertain if the weather could allow anything other than gawking at planes through fences to occur. From afar, these were the only Dakotas we saw flying that dayThe biggest commotion of the day was caused by a C-47 painted in olive-drab warpaint, and dubbed “That’s All, Brother”. It was the actual, restored airplane that led the main airborne invasion of Normandy in 1944. Everyone wanted to see it take off, and the miserable, cold masses were huddled around the ridiculous fences, far removed from its close presences, in somewhat eager anticipation. But not all… some were fed-up, some were leaving. As much as we also appreciated seeing “That’s All, Brother”, we definitely felt an affinity with the latterFor once on our trip, the reencators appeared to be more interesting than the main attraction Time dragged on, and periodic trips to the improvised entrance tent – the lone island that resembled anything like authority – yielded nothing but shoulder shrugs and apologetic looks from the all-Dutch staff, who kept repeating over and over that they were “only selling tickets”. That, along with “Peter Braun, the organizer, had a heart attack yesterday” were the two excuses that the two of us, along with many others who sought their refund or at least an explanation, got very tired of hearing after a while. The sole French security guard spoke no English, and therefore had his own reason to shrug his shoulders.

At some point, given the awful conditions and the ineptitude of everyone present that was associated with the event (who were very few and far between to begin with), the only option left to us was to head back to our apartment and begin planning and packing for tomorrow’s journey into Belgium.

Later attempts to contact the Daks Over Normandy organizers for a refund, failed as quickly as their event in Caen did. A few apologetic e-mails and Facebook posts from a number of different people on staff at the shady organization, was all that we and hundreds of others received. The promises, of course, amounted to nothing. For all the hype, in the end, Daks Over Normandy was all just a scam. And since neither PayPal nor the credit card companies were eager to refund money, we all had to write off the ticket cost as an involuntary donation to a mismanaged and dishonest organization.

The Daks Over Normandy website and Facebook page quickly disappeared soon after the botched event, pitifully announcing that the organization’s raison d’être had gone away, now that the event to celebrate the 75th anniversary of D-Day had been pulled off. It wasn’t. Hundreds of disappointed individuals from all over the world, along with dozens of equally mistreated recreators, who never got to make their jumps from the airplanes, can attest to that fact.

To this day, the Scammed Over Normandy Facebook group still stands, as a testament to the poor legacy this organization has left behind.

But we could not waste more time dwelling on it. We had a long journey ahead of us the next morning and we needed to make preparations.

Belgium, and hopefully, better times ahead, awaited.

On to Belgium on Day6!

| Text by Manol Z. Manolov
| Images by Manol Z. Manolov and Nikolay Bratovanov © 2019