A (mercifully) short blog tonight. No cycling today and I don’t really have the words to describe our feelings about our guided tour of the American sector of the landing beaches.
We were on a coach full of Americans, some of whom had parents who had landed on these very beaches and some of whom were complete f*ckwits. Now is not the time for these stories; I will elaborate in a later blog.
I have read much about D-day and the following action in Normandy; I have even been to some of these sites when I was younger, but maybe was too young to appreciate their significance.
Interestingly, we started at a German cemetery at Le Cambe. 22,000 are buried here. It is known as the ‘boys’ cemetery as many who lie here are between 17 and 19 and some more like 14. The cemetery is maintained by a charity to which many contribute, including the Royal British Legion.
St Mere Eglise is next, taken by the 101st early on D-day, but not before the paratroopers had been scattered over the countryside and some had landed in the village into the waiting German garrison and suffered many casualties.
Utah beach followed, a straightforward although fortunate landing (if you can call taking hundreds of casualties ‘fortunate’) which relied on the 101st opening up the roads across the flooded landscape to get the troops off the beach.
I had always wanted to go to Pointe du Hoc. This headland with its heavy guns and bunkers was spectacularly taken by the Rangers by scaling the cliffs below. In reality, the destruction wrought by allied bombing and, later, bombardment from the sea is astonishing. Huge craters all over and smashed bunkers are a testimony to this. The Rangers had to hold the headland for over 2 days unsupported and outnumbered, largely as the Omaha landing had stalled badly.
To stand on the beach at Omaha, the scene of near disaster, was chilling. Here is the place that the Americans met the most appalling resistance from the well positioned and well armed bunkers at each end of the beach. How groups of men got off and had formed a bridgehead by evening is beyond comprehension, having stood on the beach and seen what they had to scale. The Americans suffered over 4,000 casualties of which it is estimated that c. 1,000 of which came from one German machine gunner alone.
Finally, we visited the American cemetery in Coleville with its c. 9,000 graves, plus countless others on the list of those missing. Rows and rows of well tended graves from all areas of the Normandy conflict and beyond, perched high above the beach that was taken at enormous cost.
I cannot find the words to adequately describe the sacrifice, courage and selfless actions by those taking part. Many of us alive today owe a huge debt to these soldiers for the freedom and relative peace which we have been able to live our lives.
Today was a day of reflection; perhaps something we will reflect on for the rest of our lives.
We will be visiting the British and Canadian sectors later in the week, but we have enough to contemplate for now..