France: D-Day Beaches

Three weeks ago I flew from Edinburgh to Charles de Gaulle (CDG) in Paris to kick off my one week tour of France. I rented a car and drove a counterclockwise loop around northern France, picking up the car at CDG, and then hitting Caen, Saint-Malo, Chambord, Tours, and Paris in that order. This tour covered many historical sites in French history, from the late Ancien Régime to Post-World War II.

I started my trip at Caen, one of the first towns to be liberated during the Invasion of Normandy in 1944, located only 15 kilometers inland from the English Channel. About 40 minutes drive to the northwest of Caen lay Arromanches, which housed an artificial port that transported 2.5 million men, 500,000 vehicles, and 4 million tonnes of supplies for the Allied invasion of the western front. The habour is known as Mulberry Harbour, or Port Winston, named after Churchill. Today, we can still see the concrete blocks left from the harbour, which were actually towed over from Britain.

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The Arromanches Mulberry Harbour

A little to the west of Arromanches is the Longues-sur-Mer battery, an artillery battery that was a part of the Wehrmacht Atlantic Wall. They are located only 300 meters inland from the edge of the cliff, and the positioning was suited for protecting the Gold and Omaha beaches. The site has four 152-mm guns, protected by the concrete casing on all sides but the front. Visitors can go behind the guns to see the command post and defensive bunkers. During the week leading up to D-Day and on the night before D-Day, hundreds of tonnes of bombs were dropped here but many missed the target and those that hit were protected by the concrete casing, although some communication links were damaged.

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One of the four imposing-looking guns at the Longues-sur-Mer battery

Due to limited time, my last stop was Pointe du Hoc, the highest point between Omaha beach to the east and Utah beach to the west. On D-Day, this cliff was scaled by American rangers, a task considered impossible by Germans, and later captured. The main objective was to destroy the guns on the cliff which may result in heavy casualties on the landing beaches if not disabled. After capturing the cliff, they withstood several German counterattacks.

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Pointe du Hoc

The sky was about to get dark, so I continued my journey westward towards Saint-Malo, where I was scheduled to stay for the evening.

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