A June 6, seven o'clock in the morning

05/06/2014 16:46

On the screen, private Braeburn, dizzy, vomits on the barge wet floor. McCloskey mocks while Sergeant Randall puts them in place. Me, the private Bill Taylor, observe them indifferent, thirty seconds left to open the front door of the boat and land. We'll have to run to catch unscathed the Cliffs of Pointe du Hoc, climb them, and if we are still alive neutralize six 155mm batteries in German hands. We are on a bad day at Omaha Beach.

Call of Duty video game perfectly reproduces the situation that faced Company D of the 2nd Battalion of the U.S. Army Rangers to take and consolidate the positions occupied by the German troops defending the Atlantic Wall. The location and design of the fortifications in the game is pretty accurate. Pointe du Hoc, in the real world, got almost the same look as the day of the landing. Although there are huge potholes caused by Allied air bombings on the eve of the attack and the bunkers, destroyed, are still in place. In Grandcamp-Maisy a museum recalls the epic of the Rangers.

Museums and memorials specialize in specific aspects of the Normandy landings have proliferated in recent times along the coast that was the scene of the largest amphibious operation in history. Generalist museums have been created such as Caen, Bayeux and Cherbourg, in which globally describes tactical movements that developed in the course of the Operations Overlord and Neptune. Small thematic museums display pieces and photos of specific aspects that happened in each location: the Pegasus Memorial, the Centre Historique des Parachutistes du Jour J, the Musée Radar de Douvres, the Mémorial de la Liberté Retrouvée...

In addition, each year, also in June, former combatants, family or just curious and tourists, as in a ritual, come to visit the places associated with the landing and mark the occasion. There are those who like to drive old Willies jeeps in perfect condition. Fortunately Sherman or Churchill tanks and artillery pieces are solidly fixed in the holders.

It is still overpowering to contemplate, under the sky covered with dark clouds threatening storm, the wide sandy beaches that bear the code names of Utah, Omaha, Juno, Gold and Sword. Between Vileville and Coleville-sur-Mer, Omaha, was where American infantry divisions had major problems, the German firepower, less hampered by bombing than in other beaches, caused heavy casualties and considerable chaos in landing operations. Recently has been installed a modern steel monument dedicated to the courage of the men who landed here. They called it Les Braves.

Fortified galleries complexes have also been preserved in Azeville, Mont Canisy, Site Hillman or batteries in Masy or Longues-sur-Mer. The latter consists of a command and observation post and four bunkers still with disabled artillery pieces inside. These 152mm guns had a twenty kilometres range; it means they’ve got no problems to hit any target in Omaha and Gold beaches. The night of 5 to 6 June fell on the battery a thousand tons of bombs dropped by the air forces. Bunkers resisted and their weapons would not be silenced until the late afternoon by the artillery fire from the cruises Arkansas, Georges-Leygues and Montcalm.

Arromanches-les-Bains, where never got a harbour, fishermen towed their boats upon the sand, hosted suddenly one of the two artificial harbours called Mulberries, its elements were transported by sea from England and assembled on site. Download of diverse material reached up to six thousand tons per day. Still some large concrete blocks named Phoenix docks emerge from sea level, also remains the pontoons Whale that eased transport from the docks to the coast. When the war ended nearly two hundred of these pontoons were reused as bridges. Arromanches

Finally is the visit to the protagonists, those who did not return to their homelands. Probably the most impressive for its size is the American Cemetery in Coleville-sur-Mer, near the beach of Omaha, there are 9,387 graves marked with their marble crosses. They form white endless rows sometimes interspersed with the colour notes of some flowers. Each cross indicates the name, rank, age and origin of the deceased. Only in some cases the inscription reads: Here rests in honored glory a Comrade in arms known but to God. Another American cemetery in Montjoie-Saint-Martin is the Saint James, between Avranches and Fouguéres. British and Commonwealth graveyards are numerous but in smaller scale, that of Bayeux, near the Memorial Museum of the Battle of Normandy, has 4,648 graves. Unknown soldiers are marked as A Soldier of the Second World War known unto God. Even most numerous is the one of the vanquished, located in La Cambe, where in seven acres are buried 21,222 bodies of German fighters, many of them were barely adults.

© J.L.Nicolas


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