I was lucky enough to visit Normandy a little over 2 years ago and spent a great deal of the time visiting the WW2 related areas. I thought people might be a little interested in some of the photos which I took.
One of the most interesting places we visited was the Azzaville battery. It was one of countless reinforced bunker/artillery batteries which the Germans used to shell Allied troops and naval vessels. If we had been standing here 70 years ago we would have seen a shell from an American battleship get a lucky shot through the narrow “window” and ricochet off the wall and ceiling, killing everyone in the gun nest and the room behind it.
The Azzaville battery was commanded by an apparently reasonable Nazi officer who protected the locals from the German soldiers and tried to make the best of things for all involved. Once his command was seriously damaged and having suffered casualties, he surrendered. This is a big difference from the neighbouring post just a mile or so away where the commanding officer was an enthusiastic Nazi and when his gun battery was being overrun by American soldiers ordered a nearby German artillery post to shell his own position, sacrificing many of his own men to kill many more Americans.
We visited all of the D-Day beaches including this one which if my hazy memory is correct is Utah beach.
All roads in Normandy seem to pass through St. Mere Eglise. Anyone who has seen the old “The Longest Day” movie will remember the unfortunate soldier whose parachute got caught on the church steeple. The town is entirely unchanged and when we visited the museum we saw that precisely where we had parked our car next to a row of trees was the scene of the deaths of several soldiers.
In several of the American areas of Normandy there are references and statues of Iron Mike. Not having a similar concept in Britain, at the time I thought that Iron Mike must have been some outstanding soldier until I got home and found out that Iron Mike was an idealised heroic American soldier. We passed the statue below almost every day.
Next to the statue on the far side from the photo above is a plaque which says:
80th Airborne Commemoration
Further east from the American beaches are the British ones and at the town of Arromanches there are the remains of the Mulberry Harbour which you can still see quite a lot of. At low tide I managed to go along the beach to the nearest section though I don’t necessarily advise anyone else to do so.
Arromanches is a must-see location for many reasons, it houses an excellent little museum and now a state of the art 360 degree cinema which had us holding onto the rails as a Spitfire approached the beaches and climbed steeply over a cliff.
The town is full of memorials including this one.
There are also lots of gift shops and tea-shops throughout the little town which seems permanently decked in Union Flags.
You don’t have to drive far around Normandy to find WW2 related cemeteries. We visited British, American, Canadian cemeteries, each with a slightly different feel to match their country. The one below is a British one that opened on D-Day.
By chance, I went to the log book which contains the details of all those buried and the first name I found was of a man who lived just 2 streets from me which was quite a co-incidence. It contains soldiers who died on the beaches below as well as a number of sailors of ships that had been torpedoed by German submarines. There is a small section at the back with German dead too.
If you know how and where to look you can find all sorts of ammunition shells and various bunkers. This is another German one which is literally falling into the sea and not visited by tourists.
Another of the highlights along the coast is Point du Hoc which was the scene of a famous American storming of a German held 98 foot tall cliff all the while under fire.
There are still lots of German bunkers and artillery complexes to explore here and it can get very busy. Alternatively if you don’t like clambering around tunnels you can just look at the craters.
Of course Normandy is a beautiful quiet place now full of little villages and beautiful countryside. Bayeux is a nice day out with its cathedral, famous tapestry, narrow lanes and water wheel. There are also great beaches and country walks to enjoy but with the added bonus that you might find something really interesting.
A deserted Normandy beach, perfect for a swim, sunbathing or just a quiet read.
My favourite little find on an exploratory walk was this memorial to General Patton with its great caption.