On the Invasion Beaches
So, it was off to the 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. It was either a machine gun or observation post with a view along the beach. In contrast to this symbol of war, we then saw some Frenchmen engaged in that most peaceful of games – Boules
Next we went to the memorial to the Commandos of the 1st Special Service Brigade .This is near to the junction of QUEEN and ROGER sections of SWORD beach. Directly opposite, with typical French ingenuity, the 75mm casemate of German Strongpoint WN-18 has been incorporated into a house!
We stopped for a well-deserved ice cream. Then we drove a little further along the coast to Courseulles-sur-Mer. This is more or less is at the centre of JUNO beach on which the Canadian 3rd Infantry Division landed.
Here is a more unusual version of the Sherman tank – a DD or Duplex Drive tank.
The Army modified these tanks for water borne assaults by welding a frame to the hull just above the tracks, to which was fitted a canvas screen. This screen extended to above the turret. As a result, the tanks could be floated off landing craft out at sea. They would “swim” into shore using propellers fitted to the rear of the tank. The idea being that they would land either just in front of, or with, the infantry to offer immediate tank support. Unfortunately, this particular one didn’t make it on the day and was recovered 26 years later. Now numerous plaques to commemorate the various Canadian units involved in the Normandy Campaign adorn it. However, it was originally from the 1st Hussars of the 6th Canadian Armoured Regiment.
Dustbins can fly
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 with the Churchill tank will notice something rather unusual about the gun on this particular tank. Comparatively speaking, it’s huge! This is because it’s a 290mm Petard Mortar, firing a shell known affectionately as a “Flying Dustbin”, 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 of the 79th Armoured Division. Under who’s command all of these unusual vehicles were.
Moving on to the last of our beaches, we come back into “proper” Men in the Shed territory, although I hope that you’ve enjoyed the diversions! A number of the men held in the shed were members of the British 50th Division. That Division came ashore on GOLD beach, which was where we now were.
Walking along the beach, we came to the base of the “Cercle Nautique de Ver sur Mer” – a sailing club. It is based in what was WN-33 at la Rivière, which was a 88mm gun emplacement. There is a photograph on the side of the current building which shows the area after it had been taken. Online I found an “artists impression” of what the fighting might have looked like on the day. Returning to the car we noticed the effects of heat expansion on the footpath.
As we drove 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.
We drove through Ver-sur-Mer, and noticed that someone had repainted the wartime signpost to the Crépon Assembly Area. It is just visible on Google Street View. I’m not sure of the significance of the TT40 or TT55. However TT was the symbol for the 50th Northumbrian Division. The Tyne & the Tees were the two rivers that bordered the area which is sometimes known as “Tyne Tees”.
The Green Howard Memorial
Leaving the beaches we skirted Crépon, were we came across the impressive memorial to the Green Howards. It is of a soldier in full kit just taking a 5 minute “time out” break. It’s a wonderfully evocative memorial . A weary soldier thinking back to the past few hours, thankful for being alive. A number of “The Men in the Shed” belonged to the Green Howards.
Continuing our journey, we arrived at Creully. Here are 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 which became Montgomery’s HQ in Normandy. From 7 June 1944, the day after D-Day, until 21 July, it housed the BBC war correspondents and their radio studio. The BBC transmitted the first news of the Battle of Normandy from there.
Fully sated with history, we returned to our hotel for beer and food!