Part of my trip north in August was to explore the history of World War II.  You may have guessed, my true interest does not lie with artillery or military tactics, but the war history is undeniable.  France is incredibly grateful for the actions of the Allied forces, so much so that conversations about the war (and liberation) are welcomed.  At more than one Normandy home, I saw the American flag flying; a sign of appreciation and deep respect.

Sorting through all the monuments, museums, military landing beaches and cemeteries can be a bit overwhelming.  I decided to follow a Rick Steve’s touring summary to make the most of my time.  Even with some insider tips, I spent 2 full days exploring and learning about what happened on the Normandy coast.  I was in awe.

I started in Arromanches, the eastern most point for the D-Day invasions.  Arromanches was the site of the artificial harbor built by the Royal Navy and the Merchant Navy.  It was an amazing feat and critical to the success of D-Day operations.  The artificial harbor, an idea developed by Winston Churchill, was made from floating barges assembled in the middle of the English channel and then towed and maneuvered into place. The temporary harbor with floating roadways to offload vehicles, weaponry, provisions etc. was a critical supply port for the invasion and miraculously exceeded its life expectancy.  The port at Arromanches is also referred to as Port Winston Artificial Harbor or its mission name, Mulberry B.

This is a picture of a picture I snapped in the tourism office at Arromanches. It shows the working artificial harbor in 1944.

From Arromanches, I moved west with a quick stop to view the Bayeux tapestry – a woven depiction of the Norman invasion of England circa 11C.  Beyond the tapestry being a UNESCO World Heritage artifact, Bayeux is well worth the stop to enjoy a flower-filled medieval village.

The waterwheel in the town of Bayeux

 

I made my way a short distance further to Ponte du Hoc.  This site, not to be missed on a D-Day tour, is dedicated to the Allied War efforts and work the US Army Rangers performed.  It gives me chills to think about the bravery of the soldiers.  A plaque at the site reads:

This site witnessed extraordinary acts of courage during the Allied invasion of Normandy.  
 
In WWII, German forces occupied Pointe du Hoc and transformed the quiet spot into a fortified stronghold protecting a battery of heavy guns.  On the morning of June 6, 1944, US Army Rangers scaled 90 foot cliffs to capture this heavily defended position and then held it against repeated counterattacks.  Their heroic actions helped establish an Allied foothold on France and begin the liberation of Europe.

A field of giant craters and fractured concrete bunkers with mangled ribar fill the landscape to the edge of unforgiving rock cliffs.  This area is considered Omaha beach territory, but make no mistake.  There is no beach here.  No spot for a safe landing.  Strategically, it is what the Germans planned.  There was no way to get to them or to their artillery stores.  Any planes overhead could easily be shot down from the heavily fortified German bunkers and the cliffs provided a seemingly unstoppable defense from a water approach…

Ponte du Hoc

Juxtaposed with the difficulty of war and deadly battles, the beauty of Normandy is overwhelming.  It was easy for me to see these cliffs and land as heaven on earth.  I like to believe it transformed with the Allies who gave their lives here.  More to come with my next blog…