This quote greets you as you approach the visitor center at the Normandy American Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer. The visitor center complex was completed in May 2007. The cemetery was opened on July, 18 1956. The 172.5 acres that comprise this cemetery are the final resting place of 9,387 American Soldiers. When you enter the cemetery, you are on American soil. In gratitude for what the United States did for France, in World War II, France gave the cemetery lands and beach below the well kept cemetery grounds to the United States.
For the last few weeks Emerging Civil War has extensively covered the 150th Anniversaries of the Atlanta Campaign and Grant’s Overland Campaign of 1864. Although we are a blog devoted to the American Civil War, we would be remiss if we allowed the 70th Anniversary of D-Day to pass without mention. Although I am known as a Civil War Historian, my true love in history is the Second World War, specifically the European Theater of Operations (ETO).
Over the years I have amassed quite a collection of books on World War II; I have befriended numerous veterans of the war, and have had the privilege of touring many of Europe’s World War sites (WWI and WWII). By far one of the most moving experiences of my life was the first time I visited the beaches, battlefields, and cemeteries on the Normandy Coast, and the Cotentin Peninsula of France.
On this 70th anniversary there are hundreds of tweets, Facebook posts, and articles devoted to Operation OVERLORD, the Allied invasion of Adolph Hitler’s “Fortress Europe.” Initially I wrote an extended series on the OVERLORD operations, from the buildup, to the amphibious assault, and ending in the fight for the Bocage. Rather than bore readers with yet another retelling of the events of D-Day, I thought that I would share a few pictures from the battlefields.
From all of us at Emerging Civil War, thank you to the more than 175,000 soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines, who pried open the Atlantic Wall on June 6, 1944.
Thank you to the tens of thousands that followed to fight at St. Lo, the Falaise Pocket, the Ardennes, and countless other battles and engagements from D-Day + 1 (June 7, 1944)to D-Day + 335 (May 8, 1945).
La Pointe du Hoc. Lt. Col. James Rudder and three companies of the 2nd Ranger Battalion were tasked with climbing from the sea to the top of Pointe du Hoc. Their mission was to destroy six 155mm cannon atop the cliff. The guns could fire more than 25,000 yards and hit landing craft in the ocean, while also targeting the American landing beaches at OMAHA and UTAH.
The cliffs at La Pointe du Hoc. The defense of the area fell to the 352nd Division, of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel’s Army Group B. The German’s rolled grenades down on the Rangers, but 18 Allied bombers pummeled the area, as did well directed fire from the H.M.S. Talybont and USS Satterlee; it was combined operations at its finest. Rudder’s men gained the top only to find the battery had been withdrawn.
The Rangers’ Memorial at Pointe du Hoc. Dedicated in 1960, this simple dagger memorial commemorates the efforts of the 2nd and 5th Ranger Battalions actions on D-Day. Other Ranger units struck the beaches at UTAH and OMAHA. Rudder’s men who attacked Pointe du Hoc lost 135 out of 225 men engaged.
A view toward the extreme right flank of JUNO Beach, where the 3rd Canadian Division came ashore on D-Day.
In the surf at GOLD Beach, Item Green Beach Sector, where at 0725 the British 50th Division came ashore on D-Day. The town of Arromanches is in the background.
Looking to sea at GOLD Beach. In the background are the remains of the Caissons of Mulberry B artificial harbour, known as “Port Winston.”
Remains of a “Spud Pier” pontoon from Mulberry Harbour B “Port Winston”, at GOLD Beach.
The backside of a “Spud Pier” pontoon on GOLD Beach.
Inside a Mulberry “Beetle” pontoon at GOLD Beach.
Comite du Debarquement Signal Monument. This monument to the men of the 1st and 29th Infantry Divisions marks the junction of Dog Red and Easy Green Sectors of OMAHA Beach. The monument is situated at the mouth of the Les Moulins (D-3) Draw.
In the surf at “Bloody OMAHA.” Here in the Dog Green Sector, (picture taken near the Vierville (D-1) Draw), came ashore the men of Company A, 116th Infantry Regiment, 29th Division; better known today as “The Bedford Boys.” Almost 60% of Company A’s men came from Bedford, Virginia. The 29th Division was a National Guard unit that traveled to England in September 1942 aboard the steamship Queen Mary. Nearly 500 miles off the British coast a flotilla of British ships came out to escort the ship into harbor. The H.M.S. Curacao cut across the front of the 83,000 ton Queen Mary and was torn in two. 332 British sailors lost their lives. According to historian Stephen Ambrose, “It was not an auspicious beginning to the great Allied invasion.” On June 6, 1944, Company A hit the beach in the first wave, at 0629. Their support on the left, Companies G and F had drifted east on the initial approach to the beach and ended up over 1 kilometer closer to the Les Moulins (D-3) Draw, rather than the Vierville (D-1) Draw. This also left the left flank of company a wide open. Germans drilled the men as the disembarked. Within one hour, Company A had lost nearly 90% of its men, including 19 men killed outright from the town of Bedford, Virginia. (Later four more Bedford men were killed in action, who were not attached to Company A.)
Dog Red Sector of OMAHA Beach. Here is where Company F. 116th Infantry Regiment, 29th Division came ashore at 0630.
Easy Green Sector of OMAHA Beach, where Company E. 116th Infantry Regiment, 29th Division came ashore. Notice how much the sand churns up. This is a very soft sand as compared to the concrete like sand at GOLD Beach.
Easy Red Sector of OMAHA Beach. Here is where two companies of “The Big Red One” came ashore. The company that would come from the English Channel, in this picture, would have been Company F. 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st Division. Four German strong points held this position. The E-1 Exit Draw is up the beach to my left.
The memorial inside the American Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer “The Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves.” Behind the sculpture is a wall with the names of 1,557 servicemen, whose remains were never found.
Those who made the ultimate sacrifice in the Normandy Campaign.
For those of you who think that the French do not remember the sacrifice of the Allied Expeditionary Force, you are wrong.
The sleepy French village of Giverny lays some 209 kilometers from the invasion beaches. Today, Giverny is known for being the home of impressionist artist Claude Monet, and his lavish gardens; but at the edge of this small town sits a quaint church, which for whatever reason drew me in. I have seen many churches throughout Europe and after a while they all start to blend in with one another, yet this one seemed different.
As I walked around the outside of the church, I found the villages World War I monument (most French towns have one). To my surprise I found another monument, this one to a British bomber crew, whose plane was shot down on the evening of June 7 and 8, 1944.
Before and during the Normandy Campaign, General Dwight D. Eisenhower implemented his “Transportation Plan.” The idea was to bomb bridges, rail centers, etc…to not only cut off the line of reinforcement and retreat for the German’s, but also to help seal off the Allied beachhead from German counterattacks.
A Lancaster bomber and her crew, part of the Transportation Plan, crashed south of the town, killing seven of her crew. The townspeople took a piece of the propeller of the plane and created a memorial to the men of the Royal Air Force. They also recovered the remains of the airmen and interred them in their town cemetery. The people of western France have not forgotten the sacrifice of those that helped to liberate them from the yolk of Nazi tyranny.
The church at Giverny.
The simple memorial to the Lancaster crew that perished on the evening of June 7-morning of June 8, 1944.
The “Plaine de Ajoux.” Where the British aircraft went down.
The grave to the British airmen in Giverny’s cemetery.