|Two books maketh a holiday|
Now I have to say that I am quite lucky in that Mrs Yarkshire and Baby Yarkshire both don't mind a bit of history and Baby Y (aged 15) likes anything involving either Tanks or Bunkers so a good time was had by all.
Both books should be quite well known in the circles who read this blog and both now quite old. The Panzers in Normandy book was something I longed for as a teenager in the mid 1980s and I remember saving up especially to buy it for the then massive sum of £20. It was a originally written in 1979 but the After the Battle Magazine added some photos in 1983. It gives a good history of the vehicles and units that operated in Normandy but its USP was its use of modern (1979) photographs taken at the same locations as ones taken in WW2, for some reason I found that fascinating and using the book and finding some of the locations in 2015 was very satisfying.
|The Danish D Day memorial|
Utah Beach and the US Para Drops
The day starts in St Mere Eglise, lots to see and the US Airborne Museum opposite the church is well worth a visit.
The "Iron Mike" statue at La Fiere, the Holts book has some great stories at this location which really brings the scene to life.
We spent two days to cover the first tour, taking things easy, Utah Beach being away from the other 4 beaches was less of a tourist trap and was the only beach we spent any time at, the museum at the beach is worth a visit even with the M4E8 outside.
Further down the beach near the French memorial is a group of bunkers (cue Baby YG smile) free to access and roam, found thanks to the Holts.
Last stop for us on the day was the Battery at Azeville an interesting tour leading you underground through the tunnels to the various bunkers (Baby YG heaven). The Battery entered a gunnery duel with USS Nevada and her 14" guns, the aftermath of which is shown above.
The day started really well with a visit to a tiny church in a village called Brevands, there is a D Day stained glass here but the moving thing for me was the grave of a RAF Spitfire pilot who was killed over the area in 1941, it was really well maintained and contained detailed accounts of the young mans final action.
The famous Pointe du Hoc site is well maintained by the US Government and was very busy but informative and well worth a visit as is the main American Cemetery.
|Is this the scariest manikin in the world.|
I gave up with Omaha Beach itself, it was absolutely packed with holiday makers on the beach, probably just me but I wouldn't want out of respect to swim there. We drove along the beach and back out. One day I will go back out of season.
Anyone with an interest in WW2 and its battles will know of "The Black Baron" I recall reading the section in the Panzers in Normandy (PIN) book and our day out on the Tiger trail for me was the highlight of the holiday.
|My view from the commanders seat.|
|2015 view of the photo on page 171 of PIN|
|Roadside memorial to the losses of 7th Armoured on the day.|
A short drive then to Gaumesnil the scene of The Black Barons final action, again described in detail in PIN, we were able to locate the location of his tank and the action that day. There are no markers or monuments. A note if you do visit the area Gaumesnil village is now cut in half by the N158 which is a dual carriageway and not crossable by foot and I wouldn't recommend parking on it either.
If you travel into the village from the south (it is a tiny place) turn right in what looks like a farm yard down a dead end track which will bring you to the now closed junction with the N158, on your left is the location of a now destroyed chateau which was destroyed in a fire caused by drunken British soldiers (no change there then !) the wall to your front right bordering the road (behind the post war house) was there on the day and was used by the British tanks which are likely to have killed Wittmann as cover, look closely you might see some repaired Sherman sized holes.
You will then need to cross the N158 and join the minor road which runs along the eastern side of the main road. Witmanns tank 007 was destroyed in the field to the north of the Farm Machinery Garage as shown above
Final visit of the day was to La Cambe the German War Cemetery and Witmanns final resting place, he was buried with his crew at the side of the road next to his tank for many years until his remains were located in 1983 and moved with his crew to La Cambe.
Unbelievably someone had stolen Wittmans headstone, there are some sick people in this world. The cemetery is well worth a visit very respectful.
The British and Canadian Beaches
|Churchill Tank at Bayeux|
|Hetzer same location|
|128mm barrel at Bayeux|
|Port En Bessin|
Arromanche was packed as well on the day we visited, with a live band playing rock music in the harbour and a fairground it was hard to picture the action on the 6th June 1944. The 360 Cinema is worth a visit only 20 minutes long but very well done. The main focus of the Canadian beach is at Courseulles sur Mer with an excellent museum (I forgot my camera that day !). I had visited all the British Airborne sites a few years ago and these are covered by the Holts in great detail.
So a great holiday guided by two great books, if you are interested in WW2 Normandy is a must once in a lifetime. The Holts Arnhem Guide is on the way from Amazon, anyone know any good holiday cottages in Holland ?