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Old 07-15-2010, 09:10 AM   #1
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MMC's D-Day beaches - a partwork

I've posted this over at UKGSer, but as there's a lot of interest over here about WWII and Normandy, and as you guys were pretty involved, I thought you might like your own copy.

The last time I was in France on the bike I was on my old R100RS. It handled like a pig on a stick, but it was gorgeously made, beautiful and I still miss it.

I was looking at a few photos of the trip a couple of Fridays ago and thought it was definitely time to go back - and take the 1100 this time. Problem was, I wanted to go with James (my business partner) again - but he didn’t have a bike.

The conversation went a bit like this...

“I fancy heading over to France again mate - reckon you could hire a bike?”

“Yeah - why not? I’ll have a look on-line. Hang on a sec.”

A few minutes passed before the concentrated silence was broken and he looked up, a big grin on his face.

“Reckon we’ve got time to get to Swindon before 3 o’clock?” (we had a client meeting at 4).

There was a mint CBR600 that James reckoned he could buy at not a lot more than the cost of a couple of weekend’s bike hire. By 3pm, James was its proud new owner (after all, the CBR suits him - he’s faster than me - lots faster), we had the ferry and hotels booked and were checking restaurant reviews for Bayeux. Perfect.

So Thursday evening saw us at one of Portsmouth’s more classy establishments - the ETAP:

It’s a bed. And it’s cheap. And ten minutes from the ferry port. What’s not to like?

Seems some of the Lomax Owners’ Club think the same thing:

So, we headed into Gunwharf for a couple of beers and some supper. A cracking pint of HSB at the Fuller’s place:

After a few miles of channel...

...we’d swapped the grey skies of the UK for this:

Luc sur Mer. We left the Panzer and James’ CBR in a parking space (free, of course, with no parking nazis - this is France and not the pointyheaded, moneygrubbing UK) and went to find lunch.

It being France, lunch was, of course, well worth finding.

So, suitably stuffed, we headed on. No particular direction, just bimbling. French roads seem to encourage bimbling. Lots of things to stop and see. Café to drink. Churches to look at. And, near Bayeux, even a Roman milestone - a real ancient monument:

The ancient, Roman monument is the one in the background.

The Roman road between the coast and Bayeux would have had a few of these.

They measured the distance between towns - or forts - in paces. Handy when you’re marching. Not so handy when you’re travelling by Peugeot. Plenty of cars went past. No-one else stopped to look.

MMC screwed with this post 07-15-2010 at 09:28 AM
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Old 07-15-2010, 09:29 AM   #2
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After dozing off lunch, we headed further up to the coast. I’ve been reading up on the D-Day landings and wanted to see Hitler’s Atlantic Wall defences and some of the D Day beaches. So we stopped at Pointe du Hoc.

Pointe du Hoc was absolutely vital to the German defences. It was the site of 6 bunkers, each with a 155mm gun and covered both Omaha and Utah beaches, so the Allied forces HAD to take it.

The casemates - like all the casemates along the Atlantic Wall that stretched from Norway to the border of Spain - were built to a standard design. They were intended to be incredibly robust. And, significantly, the captured French 155mm guns had a range of 21km - more than enough to destroy advancing forces on Utah and Omaha.

And they were. Even though the U.S. Eighth Air Force and Bomber Command had dropped more than 10,000 tons of high explosive (the USS Texas added a few more in the early hours of D-Day itself), they remained intact.

In fact, the Germans had moved the 155mm guns back inland - but the Pointe do Hoc still needed to be taken. As a forward observation post for artillery it would have been lethal.

The US 2nd Ranger Battalion had been assigned the emplacements as their objective - and, before D-Day they’d trained for their mission on the Isle of Wight.

Looking down the cliff-face, I wouldn’t want to climb that today, let alone while being shot at:

On D-Day, things went wrong from the start.

Despite initial setbacks because of weather and navigational problems, resulting in a 40-minute delay and loss of surprise, the boats carrying the rangers finally reached the base of the cliffs. As the Rangers scaled the cliffs the Allied destroyers USS Satterlee and HMS Talybont provided them with fire support and ensured that the German defenders above could not fire down on the assaulting troops.[7] Upon reaching the fortifications, most of the Rangers learned for the first time that the main objective of the assault, the artillery battery, had been moved out of position, possibly as a result of air attacks during the buildup to the invasion.

Removal of the guns had actually been completed on June 4, 1944, but poor weather conditions prior to the invasion limited a final reconnaissance effort which would have revealed the guns' removal. The Rangers regrouped at the top of the cliffs, and a small patrol went off in search of the guns. This patrol found the guns nearby and destroyed them with thermite grenades. The new battery location inland was sited solely for Utah beach.

The costliest part of the battle for the Rangers came after the cliff assault. Determined to hold the vital ground, yet isolated from other Allied forces and outnumbered by the German garrison on the point, the Rangers fended off several counterattacks from the German 916th Grenadier-Regiment. Rudder's men were finally relieved after units of the American 116th Infantry Division broke through to the Rangers from Omaha Beach on June 7
The original plans had also called for an additional, larger Ranger force of eight companies to follow the first attack, if successful. Flares from the clifftops were to signal this second wave to join the attack, but because of the delayed landing, the signal came too late, and the other Rangers, mostly of the U.S. 5th Ranger Battalion, landed on Omaha instead of Pointe du Hoc.
The added impetus these 500+ Rangers provided on the stalled Omaha Beach landing has been conjectured to have averted a disastrous failure there, since they carried the assault beyond the beach, into the overlooking bluffs and outflanked the German defenses. At the end of the 2-day action, the initial Ranger landing force of 225+ was reduced to about 90 men who could still fight.
From Wikipedia
Today, you can still see the impact of the Allied bombing on the site:

But much of the site is still intact - and being looked after by the American Battle Monuments Commission.

As we were looking around, Pointe du Hoc received a second invasion force - of schoolkids. We left, sharpish.

If you go - well worth a look around the new visitors’ centre too:

So, we headed on to the site of another battery at Longues sur Mer.
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Old 07-16-2010, 06:04 AM   #3
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Ah - French roads.

Longues sur Mer

Longues sur Mer was - as with all the emplacements on the coast - part of the Atlantic Wall. I hadn’t realised what a bodge the German defences were - particularly in terms of armaments.

Where Point du Hoc used captured French 155mm guns, Longues sur Mer had four, 155mm Krups KC 36s. So, along the Atlantic wall in just this part of Normandy alone there were:

100mm Czech-made Skodas (La Martiniere, Bréville, Hermanville)
105mm French-made Le Creusots (Vaux sur Aure, Surrain)
122mm Russian K390/2s (Ver sur Mer)
152mm German Krupp Tbts K.C/36 (Longues)
155mm French GPF 418s (Houlgate)

Plus a whole other mix of calibres, models, manufacturers and parts. Logistics must have been a complete nightmare. Certainly at Azeville (more later), the gunners often received completely the wrong calibre of shell - to the extent that, at one point, they had fewer than ten shells of the right calibre stored ready for action.

Longues still has its type M272 casemates (each style of casemate on the Atlantic wall has its own designation) intact - mostly. Active, they had a range of 12.5 miles and spotting was done via a type M262 observation post on the cliff edge below the Battery.

Hell, I’m turning into a Battery Spotter. It’ll be bloody trains next.

Like the guns at Pointe du Hoc, Longues-sur-Mer’s threatened the Allied invasion - but this time across Omaha and Gold beaches. And again, like P du H, Allied bombers dropped HE shells in waves to take out the battery. In fact, all they achieved was to cut the underground telephone cables between the forward observation post and the guns themselves.

On the morning of D-Day, from 0537hrs, the USS Arkansas and the French Georges Leygues and Montcalm began shelling Longues. Just after 0600, Longues replied with a series of salvos that forced HMS Bulolo (the British HQ ship) to pull out of range. Finally, HMS Argonaut and HMS Ajax took out three of the guns, with one still firing until the evening when the British and French ships finally stopped it. On the morning of June 7, British troops took the battery without any resistance. Can’t say I’m surprised, having seen the devastation.

The westernmost gun of the four was the first to be destroyed - and you can see the incredible damage Ajax and Argonaut wreaked:

What really fascinates me though, is the stories of the men who lived, fought and died here. All the more so when you can almost feel their presence:

Now, Longues is peaceful. I sprawled on top of one of the emplacements and listened to the skylarks.

From Longues, we headed up the coast road (somewhat arbitrary 70kph summer limit) to Utah Beach - one of the two US landing beaches.
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Old 07-16-2010, 06:56 AM   #4
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WOW. Fantastic stuff.
Only an XR1200 owner knows why Cthulhu hangs its head out a car window.

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Old 07-16-2010, 07:01 AM   #5
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Nicely done, MMC!
My Dad was on Omaha and I am always interested in reading about it.
I even have a small paper envelope of sand he carried through the rest of the war and brought back home. I miss him alot.
I went somewhere once and came back.
It was kind of fun. I just might do it again.
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Old 07-16-2010, 09:47 AM   #6
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Originally Posted by Ramage
Nicely done, MMC!
My Dad was on Omaha and I am always interested in reading about it.
I even have a small paper envelope of sand he carried through the rest of the war and brought back home. I miss him alot.
Thanks Rammage. I've written about Omaha in the next couple of sections. It has to be one of the most moving places I've been. That's a very precious envelope of sand you have there. And your Pa must have been a remarkable man indeed. Respect.
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Old 07-16-2010, 10:05 AM   #7
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Nice! Thanks for taking us along!! Hard to believe humanity descended to such levels of devastation not that long ago.. all those lives lost, cut down in their youth never to grow old and enjoy life to the fullest.
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Old 07-16-2010, 10:25 AM   #8
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Thumb Thank you!!

This report is a poignant reminder of the tragedy of war and the effects of what transpires during war.

Today we watch wars unfold on television with "up to the minute" reports by embedded reporters. In WWII, those on the homefront waited days or weeks for updates on their loved-ones.

We should all be gratefull to our fathers and grandfathers, brothers, uncles and all who defended democracy against the Nazis and Japanese.

The beauty of the country-side even with the scars and reminder of the struggle still overwhelms you.

Thank you for documenting this trip and sharing.
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Old 07-17-2010, 01:20 AM   #9
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Roadie, Gadget Boy, Photog - thank you. Really appreciate the comments.

More to come...
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Old 07-17-2010, 01:20 AM   #10
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Utah beach

The US 4th Infantry took Utah and, in contrast to the casualty toll from Omaha Beach, the landing was a lot simpler with only around 200 direct casulaties. The US forces brought more than 20,000 men and 1,700 vehicles ashore.

Roosevelt himself, the assistant commander of the 4th Division, landed at Utah, where he managed to bring order to the chaos of the landing (several of the landing craft had drifted off course and landed further south than planned) and announce, “Gentlemen, we’ll start the war from here."

In fact, the Utah landing was less costly to the troops landing simply because the 101st and 83nd Airborne were already inland, fighting their way through to the beach. The 101st lost 40% of its strength simply getting through to Utah.

The start of the US advance from the beach is marked with this memorial - the first on the Voie De Liberty:

With this monument to the fallen:

And this monument listing each of the craft and Division that came ashore:

The museum on site is excellent. You can even get inside a DUKW and have a driver’s eye view of the action:

There’s a Jeep too:

And I’d never realised that the fuel tank for a Jeep is, er, under the driver’s seat:

There are several model tableaux too, with tiny, scale-model troops and their equipment:

Being interested in watches, the story of this one absolutely fascinated me:

It belonged to Staff Sgt. Glenn E Gibson, who landed with the 70th Tank Battalion. Gibson was the sole survivor of his group of 4 tanks when their landing craft struck a mine. The watch stopped at 0545, 6.6.44 - the exact time of the explosion.

It’s a little easier to get onto Utah today:

And it’s a gorgeous place to sit for a while, listen to the sea and enjoy watching families run in and out of the waves:

James decided to go to find some twisty bits of road, leaving me to bimble up the coastroad for a while. After a few miles, I found this - yet another series of bunkers and emplacements:

This is all that remains of one of the Tobruks - a sort of concrete observation/defence mini-bunker:

Looks like it’s just the rabbits digging in now:

Again, I was amazed by the engineering and the labour involved in building these Atlantic Wall defences:

And just how well-designed they were. Want to attack one from the rear? Good luck. That’s the only way in - guarded with a machine gun emplacement with a 20mm steel armour plate:

And yet another chance to sit and just be:

A little further up the coast you can find this - an American tank (a Sherman), but used by the French 12th Tank Regiment, rather more romantically, in French, called Le 12eme Regiment de Cuirassiers:

Another gratuitous chance to make a joke about a heavily armoured tank and a Sherman:

Appropriately, this one was called the Normandie:

And, because it’s on a plith, you get a chance to do something most people don’t - see underneath a tank and live to tell the tale:

More bimbling along the backroads for me:

And a very quick - too quick - detour to St Mere Eglise:

I’ll definitely make time to go back. Soon.
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Old 07-18-2010, 06:00 AM   #11
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Fantastic pictures and report. Enjoy reading about WW2 history. Thanks for sharing.
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Old 07-18-2010, 08:15 AM   #12
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A pleasure, MCC - here's more...

It was just beautiful - sunny, warm, deserted roads and the chance of supper and a bottle or two in the offing in Bayeux.

Supper was here:

Superb. Bike-friendly too.

Bayeux is a gorgeous town:

The cathedral was open because of the Medieval Fair:

Here’s one of the organ for Mr Masters:

It’s a smashing 1878 Cavaillé-Coll and has reeds to die for.

James took photos:

So did I:

The Medieval Fair stallholders enjoyed their cidre:

Can you imagine this in the UK?

I thought I’d spotted Proff:

So did these lasses:

Tarka would have been impressed with the medieval hi-vis:

And I was impressed with supper:

Bayeux has plenty of cracking bars and restaurants, and the locals clearly make the most of them. I suspect I know what this guy rides:

There was plenty going on, so we decided to find a drink or two:

And hit a bar or two:

Then, after a couple of much-appreciated Leffes, we headed back to the hotel:

The next morning started a little later than planned with a walk into town and coffee. Lots of coffee.

The Panzer was ready to roll - but I certainly wasn’t.

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Old 07-19-2010, 08:27 AM   #13
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Great RR. I’m heading over there in a couple of days. I’ve been wanting to see those beaches for a long time, so this was a nice preview, thanx . Any good advice on more things to go see or a places stay the night?
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Old 07-19-2010, 08:41 AM   #14
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Originally Posted by DutchWee
Great RR. I’m heading over there in a couple of days. I’ve been wanting to see those beaches for a long time, so this was a nice preview, thanx . Any good advice on more things to go see or a places stay the night?
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.
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Old 07-19-2010, 08:42 AM   #15
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Bikes and breakfast in Bayeux

James and I just about managed to surface and shamble into Bayeux. Good job we did. Just at the end of the Rue des Bouchers is a little square. There’s a café. And the chap who owns the café is a classic bike fan - big style. So much so that he happily holds the weekly meetings of the Luc-sur-Mer Classic Bike Club at his café.

I love serendipity.

So, we sorted ourselves out with croissants from the boulangerie, several cups of café from the café and watched the local classic bike fraternité stand around, look at each other’s bikes and talk bollocks. Just like being at home. But with better coffee. And sunshine. And, it seemed, rather less pretence.

There was some serious kit there:

That’s the back of a 1939 Guzzi:

This is a Terrot:

What on earth is a Terrot? I’ve no idea, but I loved it:

A gorgeous R69S:

And again:

Suggestions on a postcard, please:

A Motobecane with a cool sidestand:

A rather newer Terrot:

I was getting the idea by now, and very happily wandering around chatting, listening and learning about French classic bikes. It seems there’s not a lot of bolt-counting going on in France. The drill seems to be:

meet up for a coffee and a smoke
talk bollocks
ride a few miles to another café
have lunch
ride a few more miles
talk more bollocks
go home

I’ve always liked France. They know how to do things properly there.

But the best bit of all was this. You probably spotted it behind the Guzzi above (yes, Tarks, I’m talking to you!):

I got chatting with the owner who turned out to be the owner of the café too. The conversation went a bit like this:

“That combo looks interesting - what is it?”

“That, my friend, is a 1968 Jupiter - Russian, and the only one left in all France!”

“Bloody hell, it’s a small world - I’ve got a 2000 Ural.”

“Nah, you haven’t have you?”

“I’ll show you the pics....”

So I got my phone out and we happily spent the next twenty minutes comparing notes on Urals and Jupiters. It then turned out he had a GS as well, although only a 1200.

We parted on excellent terms, with the promise I’d come back on the Ural with Pip.

Then, as one, the bikes were kicked into action. Music. The banging, poffling and clattering of valves was just heavenly as they rolled out of the square and off to lunch. All that was left to mark the passing was this:

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