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Old 07-19-2010, 08:46 AM   #16
The Burgermeister
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On to Omaha

I’d wanted to see the American cemetery at Omaha beach for some time. I wasn’t really ready for quite how deeply it would affect me. I’m not given to being soppy or particularly emotional, but I’d defy anyone to visit and leave dry-eyed or unaware of the huge American sacrifice in Normandy.

Just the scale of the monument is moving.

9,387 headstones. 1,557 men missing in action. And a cemetery that’s nearly 173 acres in total.

I’m afraid I didn’t really feel like taking photos, but here are a few:

If you’re passing through Normandy, visit.
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Old 07-19-2010, 09:11 AM   #17
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Originally Posted by MMC
Just follow your nose - there's interesting stuff all over. Where to stay, as ever, depends on budget. Novotel in Bayeux does deals, or there's a highly recommended B&B at Maison Laudiere or at Normandy Beaches in Arromanches.

Good luck - and have a blast.
Hey, thanks! I will defenitely check out Bayeux. It looks like a nice place to be.

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Old 07-20-2010, 04:20 AM   #18
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Azeville Battery

I’d arrived at Azeville Battery the previous evening, but it was 7pm and the lass in charge was just closing for the night. So, the next day, after Omaha, I rode up the coast and inland to Azeville in time for opening. I’m glad I did. The site gives a superb insight into how the Atlantic Wall was used, but also how the occupying forces sometimes integrated a little into the French villages where they were posted.

Azeville is - guns aside - an almost complete battery complex. It still has its tunnels, casemates and blockhouses. It’s well worth visiting if you’re anywhere near Cherbourg.

Azeville had four H650 casemates that carried four 105mm Schnieder K331 guns, made in 1913, each with a range of 11kms.

Originally mustering 170 men (although most were housed in the village itself) Azeville Battery is interesting in both its state of preservation and in the way it was camouflaged against Allied air reconnaissance.

A photo showing how the German troops had painted the most conspicuous bunker to make it appear like a ruined Normandy farmhouse:

And the same bunker today. Most of the painting was re-done in 2006, but some of the original paint still remains.

You can see how the complex of tunnels is laid out:

By all accounts, Capt. Dr. Hugh Trieber - the complex’s Commander, seems to have been a decent man. There are stories in the village about him taking a pretty relaxed attitude to things like curfews but a distinctly hard line with his own troops if they were caught stealing from the locals or even failing in courtesy to them.

Trieber was constantly concerned about the danger he exposed the villagers of Azeville to just by the complex being there. It meant the entire village was a target for allied bombing strikes.

I had the place to myself. As you walk down the stairs into the tunnels linking each casemate, it’s remarkable to think that the site was the base for 170 men.

Although the first part of this tunnel has been restored and re-concreted, the other sections are all the original Todt Organisation work:

The Germans had built a large wooden mess-hall they called “The Casino”. They furnished it accordingly:

In fact, the locals living in Azeville were invited - on a standing basis - to make use of the Casino for village events. As you can imagine, there weren’t many takers, although one wedding breakfast was held there.

The foundations of The Casino are all that remain:

This is the view of The Casino from inside the bunker - from a door designed to allow the troops to leave the building as quickly as possible and get to safety underground:

You can see the two openings from the outside here:

The bunker was controlled through an internal telephone system. This allowed commanders to call up shells for the guns, range the guns and hear reports from forward artillery spotters on how closely they’d fallen to target.

This is all that remains of one of those telephone exchanges:

Some local vision was possible through a series of periscopes - here’s the hole for the ‘scope:

And speaking tubes like this one allowed communication internally:

Conditions were pretty cramped:

But I suspect there were worse places to sit out the war:

The site had its own anti-aircraft defences - this is the base for an anti-aircraft cannon:

The way the bunkers operated was incredibly sophisticated. Todt had designed and accounted for almost any eventuality.

Huge extractor fans made sure the emplacements stayed oxygenated:

Shells were stored directly underneath the guns:

And used casings were pushed down these holes into a reservoir so they could be reused:

Here’s a view from the back of the casemate, looking out through the 315 degree gunport.

On June 5 and 6, 1944, the US 22nd Regimental Combat Team tried to take Azeville. Unsurprisingly, given the incredible levels of defence the complex had, they couldn’t make an impression:

In a separate attack, 20km out to sea, the USS Nevada opened fire on Azeville. Remarkably, one of the ship’s 14” shells entered the most westerly bunker through the gun mouth, careened through the bunker and out the other side - all without exploding. However, it did incredible damage. All 15 men in the bunker were killed by flying concrete and steel shards as well as heat and pressure from the passing of the shell.

You can still see its route:

The shell entered through the hole in the back wall at the bottom left:

Then blasted through the command room, exiting here:

And richocheted off the bunker exit wall:

Only to sink itself - without exploding - into the earth outside. It was finally discovered in 1994.

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Old 07-20-2010, 04:02 PM   #19
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Fascinating story. great pictures also.
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Old 07-20-2010, 09:58 PM   #20
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Thanks so much for this ride report, photo post. I read World War II books like crazy, but haven't had the chance to be in Europe, and see all the history. Thanks again!
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Old 07-21-2010, 12:27 AM   #21
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Chophawk, Powderhound - thank you!

Some more...

The battery was finally taken by land troops - and a story of quite exceptional bravery:


On 9 June 1944 Colonel Tribolet, commanding 22nd Infantry, decided to blank off Crisbecq with naval gun fire and to concentrate his efforts on Azeville. He discovered that the approach to the position from the west had apparently been overlooked by the defenders who had not cleared. the undergrowth for fields of fire and sent two companies in that way.

They were able to pick their way through the wire and around the mines without being seen and opened fire on the nearest blockhouse with bazookas. Demolition teams laid three charges to blow up the blockhouse and a tank joined in, but none of the assaults caused serious damage to the concrete.

The attackers were about to run out of explosives and be forced to withdraw when Private Ralph Riley, on the orders of his company commander, took the remaining flamethrower and set off to give the blockhouse 'one more squirt'. Having run through enemy fire, he reached the blockhouse only to find that the flamethrower would not ignite.

Taking his life into his own hands, he turned on the oil jet and lit it with a match, aiming the burning stream at the door. By chance the flames reached some ammunition inside and explosions followed. Within minutes a white flag was displayed and the German commander surrendered with the entire garrison of 169 men.

Riley was awarded the Silver Star. The capture of Azeville allowed the Americans to ignore Crisbecq and to push on to Quinéville.
Again, like so many of the Normandy sites, Azeville is incredibly peaceful now.

And without doing a bit of background reading, it’s hard to get a sense of all that happened here.

But if you know where to look - and what you’re looking at - the landscape history becomes very plain indeed:

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Old 07-21-2010, 12:28 AM   #22
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Courseulles sur Mer

By the time I’d finished at Azeville, I was on a bit of a mission to meet up with James again at Courseulles. He’d been blatting round the twisties in the Suisse Normande, and we’d agreed to rendezvous for a late lunch in Courseulles.
James was, of course, there first. I pulled up, de-kitted and enjoyed a well-deserved Perrier Menthe.

It seemed there were other ways to get around in Courseulles:

And seeing this made me realise that you don’t need a sodding great 1100 to go touring. Go on what you have - it’s the journey that matters.

Courseulles was just gorgeous in the sunshine:

James took more photos:

And so did I:

Spotted a splendid old Guzzi - another one:

Always liked these.

And, this time, a memorial to the Canadian troops who came ashore between Graye-sur-Mer and St. Aubin-sur-Mer on 6 June. Another 150,000 Canadian troops over the next few months followed them, along with more than 1,000 tons of kit per day for the next six weeks.

As ever, we stopped for a little bite - in a gorgeous café just behind the seafront:

Just a smackerel:

And the obligatory menthe.

James looked pretty pleased with life:

And, I have to say, I was pretty pleased about it too. How could you not be? 32 degrees, brilliant sunshine, superb roads, excellent company, cracking good food - and bikes to ride. How do I get paid to do this?

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Old 07-21-2010, 08:18 AM   #23
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Thanks for sharing this one.

Have an Aunt that lost a brother in WWII. Left behind wife and 2 kids. He was 20 yrs old at Normandy. After 65 years my Aunt has been the only family member to finally make it to the cemetery a few yrs ago to find his grave marker and show her respects.

I will be showing this 86 yr old aunt your report. Some pics that the average tourist would probably never see. Great report.

Thanks again for sharing.
The Trip:
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Old 07-21-2010, 08:24 AM   #24
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Originally Posted by LewisNClark
Have an Aunt that lost a brother in WWII. Left behind wife and 2 kids. He was 20 yrs old at Normandy. After 65 years my Aunt has been the only family member to finally make it to the cemetery a few yrs ago to show her respects.

I will be showing this 86 yr old aunt your report. Some pics that the average tourist would probably never see. Great report.

Thanks again for sharing.
Thank you, Lewis. I really hope she likes what I've written. It's impossible, even having seen where it all happened, to get any idea of what really went on. He must have been one hell of a brave man, along with a great many other brave men.

Seems appropriate to post the last part now...
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Old 07-21-2010, 08:25 AM   #25
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Heading back

Looking back at the weekend, it would be all too easy to slip into cliche - to do a cheap contrast of the peace with the war. “Wasn’t it all so wonderful and peaceful - and wasn’t it like that because of the men who went through hell to make it that way?” A bit of schmalz to add some depth to the story. But I was profoundly affected by what I read and saw.

It’s incredibly easy to be cynical. It’s the corrosive epidemic of the twenty-first century. Everything has another motive, nothing is what it seems. We’re all out for ourselves and devil take the hindmost. There’s little sense of honour - only self-interest and self-serving. And, despite a fascination with military history that’s been with me as long as I can remember, I can still see very little that’s honourable in killing another man.

And, at the risk of veering into metahistory, the sun would still have shone on Courseulles and Bayeux whether Hitler had lost or won. And, if he’d won, the chances of his retaining power and absolute dictatorship were slim - tyrants seldom last. There had already been three attempts on his life. Soon, one would succeed.

But one needs to separate the political from the military - and the military strategy from the actions of the individuals who made up the platoons, regiments and corps. The politicians get their name in the history books - but the men who do their bidding, who fight and die, seldom do. There is not the smallest crumb of doubt that, on D-Day, there were thousands of heroes who deserved to have their place recorded in history.

Some of them did. Although only their names - not their stories in all their depth and complexity.

These men were heroes just for daring to run from a landing craft, wade through the sea and crawl their way, inch by terrifying inch, up a beach under a blizzard of machine gun fire.

As I walked around bunkers, up beaches and through bullet-marked town squares, I found myself mentally testing my own courage against the men I read about. And failing. I could not have done what they did. Their heroism was in fighting for what they believed was right - and, perhaps more so - for the comrades who fought alongside them.

I read story after story of men who did the impossible because they cared about the men they’d trained, traveled and marched with. And that, to me, makes them heroes. Not because of the cause they fought for, not the countries they died for - but simply for each man counting his life less than that of the man he stood beside.

Back on the ferry we met up with the same couple from Winchester who’d been touring on their Ducati. What a beautiful bike.

And it’s always good to be on the bike and so on the boat first - you can get a coffee and lean on the rail as you pull away:

Finally, after Portsmouth, the nice people at Border Control (and they were too), and a schlep up the A34, back to Bampton - and a little reminder of the weekend:

Calvados. Superb. Looking forward to the next trip over - there’s a LOT more to see yet, and a certain café in Bayeux to visit with the Ural
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Old 07-21-2010, 05:13 PM   #26
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Thumb very cool

Very cool indeed!
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Old 07-22-2010, 03:15 AM   #27
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Glad you enjoyed it Michael.
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