Normandy and the D-Day beaches – inspiring stuff

It’s a humbling experience being separated from inconceivable bravery by nothing more than mortality.

It’s hard to imagine the colossal nature of what went on at the D-Day beaches in Normandy only 60 odd years ago during World War II. A bunch of blokes, well a big bunch, arguably put an end to the greatest war in history on the sheer cliffs of this place in an operation that can only be described as a bold and bloody gutsy act that no doubt took more gumption that most of us could hope to accumulate over a lifetime.

That’s not to say that there was only one fight here, this area of France was under Nazi occupation for a long time and was a hot spot for the war a lot longer. Heaps of stuff went down here but one story really stuck in my head after we visited Pointe du Hoc. It’s probably the most renowned story of this area during the war, and for good reason – it was bloody momentous. It’s the story of the US Rangers during Operation Overlord.

You can google it if you want a better explanation but essentially Pointe du Hoc sits between Utah Beach and Omaha Beach and sits atop sheer 30-40m cliffs that, once you read about the Rangers, you really struggle to fathom how that did what they did. Seriously, those cliffs are treacherous and it’s a brutal section of ocean. The place is littered with bomb craters the size of a house and still contains a lot of the original armament.

The story goes that the Germans had pinched a bunch of French cannons and lined them up at Pointe du Hoc to protect the coastline from Allied landings. So as part of the D-Day operation a group of Rangers were tasked to climb the cliffs using rocket propelled ropes, ladders and grapples, storm the strongpoint and take the guns out, allowing the main landings to occur.

They got there, albeit a bit late due to some navigational errors and hence losing the element of surprise, carried out their assault and found the guns they were to destroy… well sort of. The sneaky Germans had moved the guns about a mile away and replaced the ones on Pointe du Hoc with fakies.

Knowing that the guns were still operational somewhere a small group set off to find them and did so successfully, destroying 5 of the 6 guns. Meanwhile, the rest of the rangers held off numerous attacks from the Germans until the remainder of the Allied Forces decided to join the fight.

Pretty impressive stuff by anybody’s standard. Obviously I’m no expert on the matter but that’s the general gist of the day as I remember it, it’d certainly be worth a read if you can find some good literature on that day.

All inaccuracies aside the whole area is totally inspiring. We drove from Tournieres West to Le Mont St Michel and then all they way up to the North Coast again while checking out the historical sites along the way. It’s littered with little war museums, tanks, guns, boats and monuments but for us the US War Cemetery took the cake.

It’d be fair to say that the USA doesn’t generally do things by halves, particularly when blowing smoke up their own proverbial but the cemetery was one of the most respectful, humble and moving places I’ve ever been. The whole place focused on the brave men and women who fought and perished throughout Normandy rather than how important the United States’ impact on the war was.

I walked away from there very solemn but with a real sense of how lucky we are that those people shaped the world in which we now live. We certainly wouldn’t be driving a camper van through France if good old Hitler had succeeded in turning the world on its head.

So that’s Normandy, it was bloody cold but a perfect way to kick off our road trip and gave us plenty to think about along the way. We started the couple of days at Le Mont Saint Michel and worked our way back to the North coast and all the way along the beaches. It was a fair drive but a lot of fun.

BT

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