NORMANDY DAY 2: POINTE DU HOC

The problem with driving down a road and going to a place where you have never been before is that you are constantly filled with doubt .. did I miss it? How much farther? Did I miss the sign?

In the end, we never did make it to Batterie de Maisy, because I thought we were there when we came to Point du Hoc, a coastal gun emplacement. I am glad we made the mistake. The sun had cleared the morning’s ominous clouds, so we headed down the path from the parking lot. As you walk, you start to see craters. Huge 15-20 foot deep holes where the shells from the Allied ships and bombers had attacked the emplacement. As you end the path, you round a corner and look out on this huge field that had once been flat … the Allies shelled the place into oblivion. Amazing  ….

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A number of the bunkers remain, but huge slabs of cement, with jagged iron stick out at odd angles everywhere. A two foot thick slab of concrete sticking oddly out of the ground gives you a distinct impression of the size of the artillery shells.

The six 155mm gun battery with a 17 kilometer range housed inside concrete bunkers threatened the invasion fleet, OMAHA Beach, 6 kilometers east, and UTAH Beach, 14 kilometers to the northwest. This was the most lethal battery in the invasion area. The battery had to be neutralized as quickly as possible in the early hours of the invasion.

The battery was bombed April 15, May 22 and June 4 resulting in the six 155mm howitzers being moved temporarily to an orchard one kilometer south. Substitute telephone poles, under camouflage netting disguised the precautionary move. Andre Farine, the café owner in
Letanville (3 kilometers southwest), in seeking wood for baking would visit M. Fouche’s farm overlooking the Pointe du Hoc battery site and secure intelligence he transmitted to England. He discovered the German ruse but the ships had sailed under radio silence. His own observations and what he gleaned from the labor building the Atlantic Wall eating in his café saved many lives. He was awarded the
Croix de Guerre.

The 8th Air Force bombers cautiously held their bomb loads a few seconds longer to avoid hitting the assault wave. The bombs landed harmlessly inland. At 6 a.m. the battleships Arkansas and Texas commenced their bombardment. Before lifting their shelling a half-hour later they had fired 600 12 to 14 inch shells. The 10,000 tons of explosives equaled the destructive power of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. One battleship shell exploded inside an empty bunker collapsing the rear wall.

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The whole area was once a myriad of tunnels, connecting the different bunkers and gun emplacements. Many remain open and survived so that you can explore and come up through the turrets. We spent hours exploring …

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Loved climbing into the ruins.

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As you walk to the edge of the site, you look down and try to imagine …US Rangers in boats, with climbing ropes and ladders scrambling get to the top of the cliffs while under enemy fire. The German’s must have thought they were nuts …. via:

The plan called for the 2nd Ranger Battalion (Companies D, E and F) to land east and west of the Pointe at 6:30 a.m. The rangers, using British LCPs (Landing Craft Personnel) manned by British coxswain had one of their 10 boats swamped shortly after leaving the mother ship. The company commander and platoon were rescued but returned to England. A 20mm cannon shell fired from the cliff top sank one of the four DUKWS (amphibious truck).

In error the coxswains headed for Pointe de la Percee, 5 kilometers east. Colonel James Earl Rudder seeing the error ordered a course change that brought the 9 landing craft, 3 DUKWs and one supply boat (a second had swamped) back to Pointe-du-Hoc along a route paralleling the coastline. A German machine gun nest on the cliff edge 300 meters east of the Pointe raked the passing attack force. All the craft landed east of the point forty minutes late and long after the USS Texas bombardment had lifted. (The delay caused the reinforcement 5th Ranger Battalion to believe the rangers on the Pointe had not been successful and diverted to OMAHA Beach.) The Germans rushed to the cliff edge firing and throwing hand grenades down on the invaders. Two navy destroyers, the HMS Talybout and the USS Satterlee moved in close firing their machine guns and antiaircraft pompom guns into the German ranks. From the landing craft grappling hooks with rope ladders attached were fired to the top of the 35-meter high cliffs. Many of the ladders heavy with seawater fell short.

On each hook a burning fuse terrorized the Germans attempting to cut the attached rope. From one of the DUKWs a ladder borrowed from the London Fire Department rose to overview the cliff top. Sergeant Bill Stivinson with his machine gun climbed the ladder. The DUKWs unsteadiness on the rocky beach combined with Stivinson’s weight caused the ladder to sway back and forth 45 degrees. Each time the sway brought Stivinson past the cliff top he fired on the Germans along the edge.

Within five minutes a number of rangers had climbed to the top. In another ten minutes the remaining 120 of Rudder’s 225 men were slithering over the edge and into the welcome protective shell craters. The platoons moved off to seize their pre-assigned bunkers ignoring the machine gun and 20mm fire from the large strongpoint on the cliff edge. Determining they had captured empty bunkers containing only telephone poles the rangers moved south to D514. Although the bunkers had been taken the battery area was still not cleared. The enemy would unpredictably appear from their elaborate tunnel structures, fire a burst from an automatic weapon or throw a grenade then disappear. The machine gun east of the Pointe that had harassed the landing craft now poured fire over the heads of the rangers in the shell holes. The navy and army fire control team had been knocked out with a short shell and the radios damaged. A visual Morse code blink light signalled the USS Satterlee to knock out the machine gun nest. A few rounds tumbled the nest and occupants down the cliff face onto the beach. No one survived.

These are the cliffs they climbed …

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I cannot image the climb. The fighting. It is truly a site to behold. The size of the craters makes one wonder, what was it like living through the artillery barrage? The view from inside a bunker …

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A great perspective on the slabs of concrete. Those were mighty big shells.

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The irony is that the guns were found hidden in an orchard later, unprotected.

The intact battery bunker nearest the point became the medic’s aid station. The Germans had pulled back south of D514. The rangers set up defences. Sergeant Leonard Lomell and Jack Kuhn followed a dirt road, suspicious it might be the track created by the Germans hauling out the six-gun battery. Two hundred and fifty meters south of D514 in an orchard they found the guns and ammunition unmanned.

The German gun crews had cautiously pulled away from their ammo dump. The Americans blew up the ammo, destroyed several guns and incapacitated the remaining gunsites.

The empty site …

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One of the guns … they are big.

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A couple amazing hours later, we jumped in the car to hit our final stop, Omaha beach (or so we thought).

NORMANDY DAY 2: ON THE WAY TO BATTERIE DE MAISY, CHATEAU DE ST. PIERRE DU MONT

On the wall of a building at the D-Day museum was an advertisement for Batterie de Maisy and on a whim we decided to head away from Omaha beach in search of the battery that was promised to be no more than ‘5 minutes drive’.

A windy road takes you along the coast, where we passed a host of breathtaking buildings. One being Le Chateau de St. Pierre du Mont, a castle converted into a bed and breakfast on the Normandy coast. It simply rises out of the road as you head along the coast. I would have loved to have spent a night there, had we known it existed …. via:

St. Pierre-du-Mont Castle, locally known as Château de St. Pierre-du-Mont or more simply as Château St. Pierre, stands near the village of Saint Pierre-du-Mont, north west of the city of Bayeux in the Calvados department in the Normandy region in France.

St. Pierre-du-Mont Castle dates back to the 16th century. Its entrance gate, flanked on the right by a machicolated defensive tower, is typical of the fortified gates which guarded Norman manors at the end of the 16th century. The upper part of that tower once housed a dovecote, which was a symbol of nobility until the Revolution.

At the beginning of the 17th century, the estate belonged to Francois du Mesnil. His family, like many noble families of that time, followed the reformed religion. Shortly after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes (1685) they returned to Catholicism.

At the end of the 18th century St. Pierre-du-Mont Castle passed through marriage to the De Frotté family. One member of this family, who was a Marquis, was a prefect during the first half of the 19th century.

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I always wonder what life was like when places like this were built. Peasants working for a rich family, building away, living off of the whims of the Lord and their family. We live in much better times, no matter how beautiful the building is.

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The nice thing about having your car, you can stop where you want. We continued down the road.