AMERICAN SECTOR TOURS
The biggest german cemetery out of the six in Normandy and in fact the biggest of WW2 in France ! 21222 soldiers enlisted in the german army, with an average age of 18 1/2 years old, remain here and at least a quarter of them are unknown. It is interesting to note that this graveyard was the site of an american and a german military cemetery opened by the US army in June 1944. The G.I’s bodies were exhumed and transferred to the Colleville sur Mer cemetery or back to the United States. Somber and peaceful, this land invite every visitor to reflection.
My favorite ! A german gun battery, the Normandy’s most powerful, 6 long range 155 mm guns covering the approach and the beaches of Utah and Omaha, an abrupt 100 feet high cliff and 240 germans soldiers or so defending it… and 30 minutes for 225 US army Rangers to deal with it ! A mad dash to the cliffs’s bottom, a desperate climb with rope ladders and grappling hooks under the german fire, then over the top of what became a lunar landscape… The place remains almost exactly as it was at the end of the battle ; a battle that ended at midday on the 8th of June.
Finding yourself on Omaha has something surreal. It is one of the most beautiful beaches in the region. 4,5 miles of gold sand, flanked by cliffs where in between is a plateau giving a wonderful view towards the english Channel. The lowest tide goes back as far as 350 yards (out). Such a superb place contrasts so much with the horror that took place here on the 6th of June. Omaha is the story of a landing where « everything that could go wrong, went wrong » (Gal Omar Bradley, C in C 1st US Army). Many strongpoints can be visited, most of them being still in very good conditions,
172 acre of land given in perpetuity by the French state to the US of America. Here repose 9387 women and men killed while in service/duty in the military and as civilians. 9 years were needed to transform what was a farm field into a magnificient, solemn and quiet place where latin crosses and stars of David are perfectly lined up above immaculate Kentucky blue grass. The graveyard also overlooks Omaha beach and gives the visitor a superb view of the area as well as an incredible perspective of the battlefield.
This is the « museum » of the cemetery. Opened in 2007, the idea was to englobe the timetable of the conflict, the steps followed by the Allies to prepare the landings of Normandy and the struggle to defeat the best army in the world. The purpose was therefore to talk about famous and non famous personnalities buried in this cemetery so that people can put « a face on a cross ». Movies, photos and documents help us remember them. Of course the main theme remains the preparation, the landing and the battle of Normandy.
The first little town liberated in France in WW2 by American forces. The place where American paratroopers were dropped right in the middle of a square. While a short but intense firefight occured, a 32 years old man called John Steele found himself completely stuck on the church steeple and will not be able to free himself. A famous scene in the movie the Longest day, played by Red Button. A couple of hours latter, a large group of paratrooper will finish the job, and take control of the vital crossroad which is Sainte Mere Eglise, thus becoming the first liberated town from the ennemy.
This museum is part of the top 5 in Normandy. An incredible amount of equipement, weapons, vehicules, guns and personnal belongings given by veterans, civilians and found in the area since 1944. A C-47 that flew over Normandy on D Day plus a Waco glider complete the museum which gives a great appreciation and flavor of the 13200 American paratrooper’s and 2500 glidermen’s struggle.
Exit 2 – La grande Dune, the exact place where the 600 men of the 1st assault group, 4th US infantry division, stormed Utah beach at 6.35 AM. However, they were supposed to land 2000 yards further north, astride Exit 3. Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt Jr, the highest rank officer to land with a 1st wave of assault in Normandy, understood the mistake and decided shortly after to « start the war from here ». He bravely stood before his men, reorganising the units to their assigned objectives and acting as a « traffic cop » on the beach. This landing is a the story of a complete success with almost all the objectives fulfilled and less than 1% of the men killed or wounded for this entire day.
This little bridge and its causeway emerging from the flooded fields was one of the only two passages to cross the marshland that would then enable the US forces to make the cut of the Cotentin peninsula, prior objective before the seizure of the port of Cherbourg. The batttle for La fière will be the theater of a fierce clash that will last 3 days and involve hundreds of soldiers of the 82nd and the german 91st German airforce infantry division. Outstanding actions will result of what was going to become one of the major battle of the Normandy campaign.
On the opposite side of the causeway, the church and the surrounding buldings were the « base » of the bridghead needed to ensure the push and the cut to the west coast. Taken without a shot in the night, the hamlet will be lost in early afternoon after fierce american resistance, reoccupied by the german and used by them as a start line for their attacks and a perfect rampart such as to block US attempts to establish their foothold. Many visible impacts of the struggle in the area.
When finally US reinforcements started to reach the isolated paratroopers, this was to start immediatly into attacks in the german defensive perimeter in order to get Cauquigny from behind. A platoon of the C Cie, 325th GIR (Glider Infantry Regiment) was ambushed and a young private sacrified himself to save the life of his comrades by covering them with his BAR light machine gun. Hit 4 times, he finally fell mortally wounded, but not before he put out of action many ennemies, giving his company’s soldiers the opportunity to establish a solid line of defense backwards.
The entire US airborne plan has been modified in emergency within 2 weeks when the Allied strategists realized that right in the middle of the Cherbourg Peninsula, the 91st german infantry division settled there a few weeks before. Its 49 years old experienced officer is General Wilhelm Falley. On the 6th of June around 4am, he’s heading to his HQ, back from a meeting with other German high rank officers. Suddenly, just 200 yards from his HQ, the car is ambushed and 2 Americans paratrooper will kill the only German officer that certainly understood what was underway and could’ve organised a big counter attack against Utah bridgehead.
The sector where Lt Col Timmes and his men held their positions from the 6th to the 9th of June in the early morning. His night jump almost ended tragically when his parachute pulled him for 300 yards through the marshland, most of the time under the water. Facing incessant counter attacks, Timmes was in a very precarious situation : outnumbered, surounded and isolated by the flooded fields, running short of supplies and ammos, he and his men fought tenaciously until relieved 3 days later.
A stop to see the panorama and the very north of the Drop Zone « T », on which had to jump the 507th PIR. This drop was simply the worst, with just one stick of paratrooper jumping correctly. Many others jumped everywhere else, up to 16 miles from the DZ, and especially in the deadly marshland. Nowadays, the fields are completely dry (except in case of hard rains) and give a stricking view of this land of danger.
A cemetery which contains 10 152 soldiers of the german army, most of them being parts of units that saw actions in this sector and during the first three weeks of the battle. Contrary to the La Cambe cemetery, crosses instead of headstones mark the emplacement of the tombs. Another sad and solemn graveyard.
The incredible story of a group of lost paratroopers from the 507th PIR more known in the US than in France. They jumped very far away from their DZ and found themselves cut from the main US sector with no possibilities to be joined and reinforced. Helped by French civilians who crossed the swamps with barges and brought back all the rations and ammos containers dropped for the paratroopers in the area. And for almost a week, everything was quiet in this village of the south of Normandy… when on sunday 11th of June, a big column of German soldiers from the 17th SS Division « Götz von Berlichigen » came over. [One can still see today the ruins of the church burnt by the SS troops and scars of the brutality of the repraisals.]
1st Lt Thomas Meehan was the commanding officer of the Easy company, 2nd battalion of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment (2/506). A unit’s story very well depicted in both Stephen Ambrose’s book: « Band of brothers » and the HBO series of the same name. Unfortunately, at 1.12 AM the plane transporting 16 of his men as well as the whole crew perished in the crash of the aircraft ; 2nd Lt Richard Winters, the 2nd in command, will personnaly take the lead of the company for the entire Normandy campaign.
One of the most incredible feat realised by American paratroopers on D-Day. The attack full of audacity, which was their baptism of fire, led by 2nd Lt Richard Winters and 12 of his men against a strong german battery opening fire on Utah beach. Quite surprinsingly, the Allies did not know about this german defensive positions equiped by four 105mm artillery guns, situated just 4 miles west of the beach. The Easy company, or the very few men composing it back then, was tasked to neutralise it. For the price of one killed and 2 wounded, Winters and his men put out of action many ennemies and knocked out 3 of the 4 canons before being helped to disable the last one, thus saving many lives of American soldiers on Utah.
The Normandy’s 2nd town liberated one hour after Sainte Mere Eglise by the 101st Airborne division. Situated just 2.5 miles west of Utah, this place was a key objective crossed by the exit n°2. One can see the old church which steeple provides a wonderful view of the whole coastline and the Vire estuary. This place remained just exactly as it was 70 years ago !
A very nice big farm which became the place where Maxwell Taylor, Commander in chief of the 101st airborne division, established his command post. Situated pretty close to the glider’s landing zone and in the middle of thick hedgerows, we can say without hesitation that all the important decisions and strategies regarding the « screaming eagles » were taken from this place during the invasion’s first week.
The very first airborne field hospital in military history. Around 4.00 AM, gliders landed very close on the landing zone E bringing the first equipement needed for the military hospital. And it was established within walking distance, in a chateau. Very quickly the wounded started to clog up the area where a flag with a huge red cross painted was put on the ground.
The 2nd in command of the 101st airborne division landed in Normandy with a glider piloted by a veteran Lt Col Murphy, around 4.am… Unfortunately after making a perfect landing with the engineless aircraft, the latter slipped on the wet grass and finished its course in trees badly wounding the pilot and killing the general, thus becoming the first high rank officer to be killed in the battle.
Certainly regarded as one of the most fascinating, moving and incredible story ever in the whole Normandy campaign! 2 medics from the 101st airborne established an aid station in an 11-12th century church in a middle of a small hamlet. They started to treat the wounds of the US soldiers but not long after, took care of the germans too. And more and more came, as for the struggle outside kept on increasing. At the climax of the battle, about 80 wounded from both camp as well as a child were taken care by these 2 men. Nowadays the church remained like it was, and still marks and scares of the battle can be seen.
A museum dedicated to the 101st airborne division. It is located in a house, on a crossroad, that was held by german paratroopers (considered to be part of the elite of the German army). When a small reconnaissance tank « Stuart » approached the house, it was nocked out by a bazooka, and the tank’s leader tried to bail out but perished before doing so, half of his body lying outside the turret. The crossroad became nicknamed: the corner with the dead man.
The main road that leads to the key objective of Carentan. Going right through the marshland, 4 bridges had to be crossed before reaching the outskirts of the town. Completely exposed to the fire of the German paratroopers, this was a deadly path which received the nicknamed of the « purple heart lane », from the medal given to any soldier wounded or killed in action in the US Army. After this road will be taken, Lieutenant Colonel Robert Cole will lead an epic bayonet charge in order to storm the German defences. An attack which will turned into a great, but costly, success and will result in the only 101st Airborne Medal of Honor given in the Normandy campaign. With Carentan taken, it is the entire bridghead which is now finally consolidated on the 12th of june.