Day 3 of my WWII Tour
We started the day in the radar museum, located at the location of the main German radar station in Normandy. They sent intelligence to Berlin and to Hitler in Berchtesgaden. And by the way, they did pick up on the invasion but because the square mileage of the invasion fleet was so gigantic, their warning was dismissed on the early morning on June 6th, thinking it was a false alarm. Thankfully.
We had the unbelievable luck that it was re-enactment weekend here, meaning a load of French volunteers were playing German soldiers, showing what daily life was like for them at the radar station. They were the nicest men (NOT Nazis, just to be clear but history buffs who also play Frenchmen or British, American, or Canadian soldiers, depending on what kind of re-enactment it is) They knew a lot about all kinds of details and even though most of them spoke little English and no German, we managed in French. Like I said yesterday, I understand far more than I speak, especially if they speak slowly, which they did. I learned a lot and it resulted in some amazing pics, as all of these bunkers are usually empty… They also had some amazing antique vehicles, like an old BMW motorcycle, a Horch radar-vehicle (Horch was the same guy who later developed Audi), and two beauties of old Peugeots.
Our second stop was Arromanche, a beach town, where we visited the Museum of Debarkation. Arromanche was the location of one of the two famous “Mulberry harbors”, which were harbors built on the spot from pre-fab materials brought from England. They were necessary so ships could unload men and materials, which they did in unprecedented numbers after June 6 1944. This innovative engineering brilliance had never been tried before, and even though the Germans caught some of the plans, they didn’t understand what the ultimate goal was and never managed to prevent them.
The museum explains how these harbors were built, how they functioned, and much more. It’s a brand new, professional museum and very informative, thought it lacked some of the charm of the older, more amateurish museums.
If you look out over the sea at the shoreline of Arromanche, you can still see the leftovers from one of those Mulberry harbors, the only remnants left. This was British ingenuity at its finest, and in hindsight, these harbors have been crucial for the war effort, especially for the British and Canadian sectors. The Americans were able to offload through the port of Cherbourg, once conquered.
We walked around the town for a bit, stopped a little further along the coast for a view of the anti-tankwall (a stone wall the Germans built to prevent tanks from landing on the beach and rolling straight onto the shore) and called it a day. The weather was humid and hot, and they’re expecting severe thunderstorms tomorrow. We’ll see. Plenty of museums still left on our list if the weather sucks…
Day 4 of my WWII Tour
The weather forecast was crappy and in hindsight, accurately so, and so we decided to hit a lot of museums today and spend most of the time indoors. A smart decision, as we got quite some rain throughout the day.
Our first museum was “Dead Man’s Corner” near Carentan, named such because the body of a fallen US tank commander sat in the turret of his tank for days before being removed after D-Day. That same spot was the headquarters for the German paratroopers and later on, became HQ for the 502ndParatroopers regiment of the 101st Airborne. The museum mainly shows the life of the German paratroopers there, and it’s small but well done.
Literally around the corner is the D-Day Experience museum, which is also small but offers a lot of personal stories, pictures, and effects from US soldiers and paratroopers who fought in that area. Fans of the series Band of Brothers (which includes me) spotted some familiar names…
Next up was the Utah Beach Landing Museum, which is located at the same spot where the first men to land on Utah beach encountered fierce resistance from a German defense post called Widerstandsnest 5. Due to strong currents, they had landed more than a mile away from their target and within range of the very defense post they’d tried to avoid. This museum is big, but I really liked it, as it gives you an excellent idea of what the situation was like on Utah Beach on D-day. It has a lot of personal effects, a B-26 Marauder, some tanks and flak (German anti-aircraft guns), and more. Around the museum are several monuments dedicated to various branches, regiments, and specialist groups within the armed forces.
After that, we headed to the Normandy Victory Museum, which was surprisingly interesting, mainly because of the vivid way they had rebuilt scenes from the war in Normandy. Focusing on more than just D-Day, they showed stories from the French resistance, the impact of the war on civilians, and more. They used “dolls” combined with accurate clothing, a lot of details in terms of equipment and stuff, and very specific backgrounds that really made the scenes come to life.
We still weren’t done and hit the Museum of the Battle of Normandy in Bayeux. This was the weakest one out of all of them, partially because it was older and contained information that is now known to be incorrect, but also because it offered mostly generic stuff and few personal stories.
And last up was something that had nothing to do with WWII but reached much farther back the Bayeux tapestry, which is over 1000 years old and tells the story of the Battle of Hastings (1066 – William the Conqueror). The thing is massive, and I was deeply impressed by the level of detail. I had to use a Google search picture here since you can’t take photos inside.
All in all it was a long and busy day with loads of information and impressions, but I loved it. Tomorrow, the weather should be better again, and we’ll be visiting some outside places again, including the American cemetery at Coleville.