On the Invasion Beaches
Our first stop was SWORD beach – near the port of Ouistreham – which was almost empty… on our way back to the car, we passed a relic of the Atlantic Wall – the German shore defences – either a machine gun or observation post with a view along the beach – and some Frenchmen engaged in that most peaceful of games – Boules
Next stop was near to the memorial to the Commandos of the 1st Special Service Brigade near to the junction of QUEEN and ROGER sections of SWORD beach, opposite which, with typical French ingenuity, the 75mm casemate of German Strongpoint WN-18 has been incorporated into a house!
A little further along the coast, having stopped for a well-deserved ice cream, we arrived at Courseulles-sur-Mer which is more or less in the centre of JUNO beach on which landed the Canadian 3rd Infantry Division.
Here is a more unusual version of the Sherman tank – a DD or Duplex Drive tank.
These had a frame welded to the hull just above the tracks to which was fitted a canvas screen which could be extended to above the turret. This then enabled these tanks to be floated off landing craft out at sea and “swim” in using propellers fitted to the rear of the tank. The idea being that these would land either just in front of, or at the same time, as the infantry to offer immediate tank support. Unfortunately, this one didn’t make it on the day, being recovered 26 years later. It was originally from the 1st Hussars of the 6th Canadian Armoured Regiment and is now adorned with numerous plaques to commemorate the various Canadian units involved in the Normandy Campaign.
Near Graye-sur-Mer by the first exit from the landings to be opened on JUNO beach is a Churchill tank. Those of you familiar (from this blog, or by visit) to the Churchill tank on Hill 112 or the ones used by Muir Findlay in the Scots Guards will notice something rather unusual about the gun on this tank as, comparatively speaking, it’s huge! This is because it’s a 290mm Petard Mortar firing a shell known affectionately as a “Flying Dustbin” & was designed to blast through concrete bunkers and buildings. Along with the Sherman DD tank (mentioned earlier) it was one of “Hobart’s Funnies” named after General Percy Hobart who was in charge of the 79th Armoured Division under who’s command all of these unusual vehicles were.
Moving on, we come back into “proper” Men in the Shed territory (‘though I hope that you’ve enjoyed the diversions!) as a number of the men held in the shed were members of the British 50th Division who came ashore on GOLD beach where we now were.
Walking along the beach, we came to the base of the “Cercle Nautique de Ver sur Mer” a sailing club based in what was WN-33 at la Rivière which held an 88mm gun. On the side of the current building is a photograph of the area after it had been taken and online is an “artists impression” of what the fighting might have looked like on the day.
Walking back to the car, we saw the effects of heat expansion on the footpath.
Heading back towards the hotel in Caen, we passed a “Sexton” self propelled 25pdr gun – designed to be able to keep up with tanks and provide artillery support.
As we drove through Ver-sur-Mer, someone had repainted the wartime signpost to the Crépon Assembly Area (which is just visible on Google Street View); Im not sure of the significance of the TT40 or TT55 other than TT was the symbol for the 50th Northumbrian Division and Tyne & Tees were the two rivers that bordered the area which is sometimes known as “Tyne Tees”
Skirting Crépon, we came across the impressive memorial to the Green Howards (you’ll recall that a number of “The Men in the Shed” belonged to its battalions) which is of a soldier in full kit just taking a 5 minute “time out” break. It’s a wonderfully evocative memorial with a weary soldier thinking back to the past few hours and being thankful for being alive.
Continuing our journey, we arrived at Creully with both the memorial to the 4th/7th Royal Dragoon Guards (a Sherman tank unit, part of 8th Armoured Brigade, supporting 50th Division) and the Chateau itself which became Montgomery’s HQ in Normandy as well as from 7 June 1944, the day after D-Day, until 21 July, housing the BBC war correspondents and their radio studio, whence the first news of the Battle of Normandy was transmitted.
Fully sated with history, we returned to our hotel for beer and food!