NORMANDY DAY 2: CLOSING OMAHA – THE MUSEUM

As we left the beach, we decided on one final stop, the Omaha Beach Memorial Museum (Le musée Mémorial d’Omaha Beach). It is what you would expect, although everything is a bit better protected as it did not have the scattered, family run business feel like the D-Day museum (which I enjoyed more). A few photos below.

The Sherman tank at the entrance.

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A German camouflage helmet.

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Another view of the landing craft. Imagine 36 men crowded into the craft:

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The craft was one of many D-Day innovations. Called the Higgins Boat or Landing Craft Vehicle or Personnel (LCVP), it has quite an interesting story:

Andrew Higgins started out in the lumber business, but gradually moved into boatbuilding, which became his sole operation after the lumber transport company he was running went bankrupt in 1930.

Fortuitously, the United States Marine Corps, always interested in finding better ways to get men across a beach in an amphibious landing and frustrated that the Navy’s Bureau of Construction and Repair could not meet its requirements, began to express interest in Higgins’ boat. When tested in 1938 by the Navy and Marine Corps, Higgins’ Eureka boat surpassed the performance of the Navy-designed boat and was tested by the services during fleet landing exercises in February 1939. Satisfactory in most respects, the boat’s major drawback appeared to be that equipment had to be unloaded, and men disembarked, over the sides—thus exposing them to enemy fire in a combat situation. But it was put into production and service as the Landing Craft, Personnel (Large), (LCP(L)). The LCP(L) had two machine gun positions at the bow. The LCP(L) or commonly called the "U-boat" or the "Higgins" boat, was supplied to the British where it was initially known as the "R-boat" and used for Commando raids.

The Japanese had been using ramp-bowed landing boats in the Second Sino-Japanese War since the summer of 1937—boats that had come under intense scrutiny by the Navy and Marine Corps observers at Shanghai in particular, including from future General Victor H. Krulak.[1] When shown a picture of one of those craft in 1941, Higgins soon thereafter got in touch with his chief engineer, and, after describing the Japanese design over the telephone, told the engineer to have a mock-up built for his inspection upon his return to New Orleans.

Within one month, tests of the ramp-bow Eureka boat in Lake Pontchartrain showed conclusively that successful operation of such a boat was feasible. This became the Landing Craft, Personnel (Ramped) (LCP(R)). The machine gun positions were still at the front of the boat but closer to the side to give access between them to the ramp. The design was still not ideal as the ramp was a bottleneck for the troops as was the case with the British Landing Craft Assault of the year before.

No less an authority than the Supreme Allied Commander declared the Higgins boat to be crucial to the Allied victory on the European Western Front and the previous fighting in North Africa and Italy:

"Andrew Higgins … is the man who won the war for us. … If Higgins had not designed and built those LCVPs, we never could have landed over an open beach. The whole strategy of the war would have been different."—General Dwight Eisenhower

It is interesting to see that one of the most important inventions of WWII was based on a Japanese design (or reverse engineered). A tactic the Japanese are famous for.

And so ends a very full day.

NORMANDY DAY 2:BLOODY OMAHA BEACH

Omaha beach was by far the bloodiest of beaches during D-Day. The Americans paid a horrendous price to take that length of sand: (via):

Wars leave names indelibly impressed into the psyche of our lexicon. Half a century later successive generations hear of these places without thought to their significance.

To the British they are Dunkirk, El Alamein and Arnhem. To Canadians Dieppe and Vimy Ridge (WW I) recognize catastrophe and success. To Americans, Iwo Jima, Tarawa and Omaha Beach symbolize costly, bloody triumphs against diehard enemies. “Bloody Omaha” is the image of killers, untouchable in concrete bunkers, slaughtering America’s youth helpless on an open beach. OMAHA Beach is sacred, hallowed ground bloodied by men who came three thousand miles to free Europe and subdue Hitler’s nazis.

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To get a feel for what they faced, we hiked down the pebble beach. You stand at the bottom looking up, imagining German machine gun, mortar and artillery fire raining down on you, land mines and obstacles everywhere, absolutely no cover available. One has to wonder how anyone made it off the beach.

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What they faced (via):

OMAHA Beach is a seven-kilometer (4 miles) long concave arc. The 35-meter (100-foot) bluffs gave the Germans, in long established positions, the high ground from which they dominated every square foot of the beach. Two thirds of the eastern end of beach was shingle making vehicle traffic impossible. At the western end a 2-3 meter sea wall ran the length of the promenade. A significant obstacle for mobile equipment. Five valleys (called draws) led from the beach up to the higher ground. The westerly
one at Vierville was paved but the other four were undeveloped tracks. The draws were wooded and defended by paired “resistance nests” (Wiederstandsnest). Six more resistance nests on the bluffs between the draws and three inland at the towns created a formidable defense. Along the beach were eight large caliber guns in concrete casements, thirty-five antitank guns in pillboxes and eighty machine gun nests. Communication trenches interconnected the defenses.

On the sandy beach were three lines of log obstacles, 7 meters apart, tipped with contact mines and shells. Closer to shore were metal hedgehogs tipped with explosives (similar to 4 meter tidily winks) to tear open the hulls of landing craft. At high tide the obstacles were beneath the water and difficult to see. From the beach to the foot of the bluff were antitank ditches, minefields and barbed wire, thickest around the draw entrances. Scattered liberally over the slopes were thousands of antipersonnel mines designed to explode under foot or pop up and explode at waist level.

We then hiked around the hill and headed to the top to get the German view. From the top, the whole beach rolls out in front of you. On the end of a sniper rifle or machine gun, it must have been a) scary to see the magnitude of the invading force and b) been like shooting turkeys in a barrel. Just keep firing.

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What you do notice is how your view is limited, there is a certain field of fire and if someone makes it outside that field of fire, you are blind. To get that feeling, we climbed inside a bunker (this time I had my camera loaded). The entrance was overgrown and I went in first – carefully (you never know what someone left behind, beer bottles or worse).

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Inside is very eerie. Absolutely dark (I kept using my flash to light it up … should have brought a flashlight). Silent and not very spacious. Imagine being crammed inside this thing with bombs and bullets whistling around. Better than on the beach, but still quite scary.

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You can still see out the machine gunner’s opening. Limited field of view, but you can see a long way.

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Hidden among the grasses and brush are remnants of the war, huge slabs of torn up concrete, careful where you step.

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The vantage point from the top. The US troops stormed up this gap, it was a death trap – mines and barbed wire. Casualties on the beach averaged one per every 2 meters (6 feet).

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I read that it took 20 years for the French to clean up the beaches, so littered with mines and anti-invasion devices. If you look out on the horizon, you can still see some remnants in the water.

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A new perspective on why we wear the poppy and should be very thankful for what they did ..