Normandy Title Image

On the morning of 6 June 1944, 130,000 American, British and Canadian troops began the assault on occupied France that would eventually lead to the German's surrender eleven months later. One of the first US soldiers to land was General Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. The tidal currents at Utah Beach, the southern most of the landing sights (Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword being the other four), were so strong that the first twenty landing crafts strayed two kilometers to the south of the original objective. General Roosevelt was one of the first men to step off the first boat. He assessed the situation and declared "We'll start the war from right here!"

This was the second stop of our 2023 trip to France, London and Scotland. Being a lover of history, Becki had always wanted to visit Normandy and the beaches of the D-Day invasion. Visiting these historic locations was one of the main reasons we decided to go to France. It did not disappoint.

Day 5

Day 5 of our three week trip was a travel day. We were taking the train from Paris to Bayeux, a small town in the Normandy Province that would serve as our base of operations for the two days we would spend there. Our train left from Gare Saint-Lazare, one of the six large mainline railroad stations in the city. After a crowded Metro ride from the Chatelet station, we wandered through two stories of what looked like a shopping mall till we found the crowded lobby where the trains arrived and departed. The one thing we had learned from our trip to Versailles (also by train) was that you had to pay attention to the arrival/departure boards since there were no announcements. Did I mention that it was crowded? Like almost everywhere in Paris, Gare ce l'Est was jammed packed with people.

We successfully made our train, after a quick switch of seats since I apparently couldn't readd our tickets right and had sat us down in the first class section of the train. We got that straightened out and spent the next three hours traveling through the French countryside. As we reached the Normandie Province, it was like we took a step back in time. The towns we went through looked much like you see in World War 2 movies. The rural countryside was farmlands, with most of them being surrounded by hedge rows that were planted by the Vikings.

Arriving in Bayeux, we walked to our hotel, Hotel d'Lion. After we checked in and found a small bistro for lunch, we walked around the town. Other than the modern elements of cars, neon signs and ????, we could have been walking through the streets of a town in the 1940s.

Bayeux Bayeux - The town of Bayeux is bisected by the River Aure. The medieval center of twon contains cobbled streets and half-timbered houses that were built sometime in last centry, if not before.

Bayeux Waterwheel Bayeux Waterwheel - In the center of town, was an active waterwheel attached to a mill that was still in operation.

River Aure Walk River Aure - This small river bisects the town. A block or so from the "downtown" area, we found a riverside walk that meandered through residential areas. We saw our first wildlife here (other than birds). A muskrat was swimming in the river, looking like a rat on steriods.

Day 6

A week ago, we boarded a plane in Orlando. Now were walked through a town that seemed trapped in history. Bayeux was liberated by the British shortly after D-Day. The town still flies the Union Jack from their steet lights, celebrating that liberation. Today we were visiting the two beaches where American troops landed that day: Omaha Beach and Utah Beach. Our tour was with Bayeux Shuttle with Camille as our guide. Throughout the entire day, she regaled us with facts and stories about the invasion. Some of them we knew, some of them we didn't. She was an entertaininig and information guide and I would highly recommend their tours to anyone.

Omaha Beach - Looking like an ordinary beach, much like the ones we have in Florida, walking along the sand here was almost eerie. There was little left on the beach from that day, but letting your imagination run wild, it was quite easy to visualizze how that day might have looked.

Omaha Beach - Imagine landing on this beach, after a harrowing crossing of the English Channel in rough seas, crowded in with your mates knowing you were headed to battle. When you arrived, the beach was strewn with hedgehogs and barbed wire. Guns and cannons fired upon you as you stepped into the water. You had no where to take shelter. You had to fight your way to the base of the hills and then back into the country side.

From Omaha Beach, we drove up to the top of the hill in the photo above. 9387 American soldiers who perished during the invasion are buried in the Normandy American Cemetary. It was built on the site of the temporary American St. Laurent Cemetray which the US Army established two days after the start of the invasion.

Among those buried here are General Theodore Roosevelt Jr, who died of a heart attack roughly a month after he led the assault on Utah Beach. He was 56 years old. Interred next to him is his brother, Aviator Quentin Roosevelt who was killed in aerial combat during World War I. The most recent burial in this cemetary happened on July 9, 2022. Second Lt. William McGown, an Army pilot, was killed on D-Day. His remains were discovered during the excavation of his crash sight and were moved to the American Cemetary. The cemetary is closed to burials now, with the exception of next of kin of individuals who are already buried here and those whose missing remains are found.

D-Day Time Capsule - On June 6, 1969, a time capsule was buried at the cemetary embedded in the lawn near the entrance. The sealed capsule is covered by a pink granite slab and is dedicated to General D.D. Eisenhower. It contains news reports of the Normany landings. It will be opened on June 6, 2044, on the hundredth anniversay of the Allied landings.

D-Day Invasion Map D-Day Invasion Map - In the wings of the cemetary memorial are maps that show the route of the invasion forces as they landed and worked their way inland.

Wall of the Missing Wall of the Missing - The Wall of the Missing is a semi-circularf garden East of the memorial. Inscribed on this wall are the names of 1557 men who went missing during the invasion and have been accounted for. Rosettes mark the names of those since recovered and identified (one is shown in the right center top of the photo).

American Cemetary Memorial American Cemetary Memorial - The memorial consists of a semi-circular colonnade with a loggia at each end containing maps and narratives of the military operations of D-Day. At the center is a bronze statue, "Spririt of American Youth Rising from the Waves."

American Cemetary Memorial American Cemetary Memorial - A view of the memorial looking across the reflecting pool.

American Cemetary American Cemetary - A view of a portion of the graves in the Normandy American Cemetary. 9383 men and four women are buried here.

Omaha Beach from American Cemetary Omaha Beach from the American Cemetary - A view of "Bloody Omaha" from the edge of the American Cemetary.

By mid-1944, German forces had formidable defenses along the French Coast. Of major concern to the Allies were the 155mm artillery positions on Pointe Du Hoc. They could wreak havoc on both Utah and Omaha beaches. At 0550 on 6 June 1944, naval bombardment of Point du Hoc began. At 0710, three companies of the 2nd Ranger Battalion (70 men), started up the 110 foot cliffs of the peninsula. At 0740, all of the Rangers reached the top. They found and destroyed all guns on the peninsula those allowing the beach landings to proceed with minimal damage from shoreline artillery. This was also where the Rangers motto of "Rangers Lead the Way" was first uttered.

Today, Pointe du Hoc is the site of remnants of the artillery implacements and the Point du Hoc Ranger Memorial erected by the French to honor the Second Ranger Battalion for their success in the invasion. Even today, the peninsula is pock-marked with bomb craters from the efforts to knock out the artillery.

Pointe du Hoc Artilleriestand 5 Artilleriestand 5 - German artillery implacement ruins

Pointe du Hoc Artilleriestand 3 Artilleriestand 3 - German artillery implacement ruins

Second Ranger Battalion Memorial Second Ranger Battalion Memorial - The memorial is located on the cliffside the Rangers scaled to neutralize the German artillery implacements before the beginning of the main invasion force landing.

Pointe du Hoc Pointe du Hoc - Situated almost equi-distance from Omaha and Utah Beach, this peninsula provided the ideal spot to locate artillery to defend the French Coastline.

Pointe du Hoc Pointe du Hoc - A view along the coastline of Pointe du Hoc. This shows the scale of the cliffs the Rangers were asked to scale at the beginning of the D-Day invasion. When they were given the task, they were given 30 minutes to get from their landing craft to the top. A seemingly insurmountable task, but one they completed ahead of schedule.

From Point du Hoc, we traveled to another small town, Saint-Mere-Eglise, for lunch. This quiet rural community was of great importance as it straddled all communications to Cherbourg. Nearlfy 13,000 American paratroopers were dropped under a full moon before the D-Day invasion. With the winds being heavy that night, the paratroopers were strewn across the countryside.

The town had been the target of an aerial attack before the drop. During this attack, an stray incendiary bomb set fire to a house east of the town square. The church bell was rung to alert the town to the emergency. The townspeople turned out to form a bucket brigade supervised by members of the German garrison. At 0100, two planeloads of paratroopers were dropped by error over the town. The paratroopers were easy targets once the Germans realized they were being attacked. Private John Steele was one of the few not killed. His parachute caught in one of the pinnacles of the town's church tower, leaving him hanging on the side of the church. He hung there for two hours, pretending to be dead. When the Germans realized he was still alive, they took him captive. Four hours later, he escaped and rejoined his division when the Third Battalion entered the village. He continues to be honored by the town and was given honorary citizenship of Saint-Mere-Eglise.

The people of Saint-Mere-Eglise still celebrate their libration each year. The town is draped with American flags and photos of the Americans that liberated them from the Germans. The majority of the roads in the town were also renamed to commemorate the liberation: Rue Eisenhower, Voie de la Liberte, Rue 404E Airborne are just a few examples.

Saint-Mere-Eglise Paratrooper Saint-Mere-Eglise Church - Hanging off the pinnacle of the town's church is a replica off John Steele commemorating his predicament after his jump. John Steele continued to visit the town every year on the anniversay of his jump until he died in 1969.

From lunch at the Restaurant la Liberation, we left Saint-Mere-Elise and traveled to Utah Beach, 11 kilometers away. Much like Omaha, this beach is like any other beach in the world. With the exception of the numerous memorials spread across the area.

Pointe du Hoc Utah Beach - The objective at Utah was to secure a beachhead on the peninsula as a means of liberating the important port facilities at Cherbourg. The beach was littered with hedgehogs and barbed wire, making the landing trecherous. Utah was secured with minimal casualties. By the time the Americans reached Cherbourg, the Germans had destroyed the port facilities which were not brought back into service until late 1944.

Naval Combat Memorial
Naval Combat Memorial

Engineer Memorial
Engineer Special Brigade Memorial

90th Infantry Memorial
90th Infantry Memorial

Utah Beach Landing Memorial
Utah Beach Landing Memorial

Utah Beach Hedgehogs
Utah Beach Hedgehogs - Thousands of these hedgehogs were scattered across the beach and in the shallows so they remained unseen at high tide. Many landing craft were damanged or sunk due to run-ins with the hedgehogs.

On the drive back to Bayeux, we stopped in a tiny town called Angoville-au-Plain. The reason was to visit this small church. The US 101st Airborne Division parachuted inland from Utah Beach with the mission to destroy a German strategic route near this tiny town. It quickly became the center of an intense battle.

A pair of Army medics from the 501st Regiment, Bob Wright and Ken Moore, set up an aide station in this church. They treated both Allied and German injured. The pews were used as makeshift beds and the bloodstains from the wounded soldiers can still be seen today. The two medics made numerous trips to the battlefield to retrieve the wounded. The medics refused to allow weapons inside the church and\ both sides heeded their request. With the church full of injured, a morter shell hit the church and fell to the floor. A shattered floor tile was the only damage. Robert Wright asked to be buried here, but beaurocratic red tape made it impossible. Some of his ashes were smuggled into France and are now interred in the church's small cemetary with a simple headstone reading, R.E.W (his initials).

Angoville-au-Plain Church
Angoville-au-Plain Churchs - This church was used as a make-shift hospital during the

Angoville-au-Plain Paratrooper Stained Glass
Paratrooper Stained Glass - The parishoners of the church installed a commemorative stained glass window in the West wall of the churtch to honor the sacrifices made to liberate their town.

When we returned to Bayeux, we decided to return to a locale we discovered yesterday. We had to return because Mr. Photographer didn't have the right lens the first time. When we were in Paris, we only got to walk by the Notre-Dame Cathedral since it was still under repair from the fire several years ago. Well, we found another Notre-Dame, La Cathedrale Notre Dame du Bayeux. Bayeux is a small town of approximately 13,000 people. Finding a cathedral this immense in this tiny town was somewhat of a surprise. It might not be as fancy as the one in Paris, but it was still quite impressive.

Also known as the Cathedral of Our Lady of Bayeux was built on the site once occupied by Roman sanctuaries. The cathedral was consecrated on 14 July 1077 in the presence of William, Duke of Normandy (aka William the Conqueror). Following serious damange in the 12th century, the cathedral was rebuilt in the Gothic style. British standards are flying from the poles around the cathedral because the British liberated Bayeux on 7 June 1944. Sixty-nine years later, the town still celebrates that liberation. On 14 June 1944, General Charles DeGaulle landed in Normandy and went straight to Bayeux where he gave his first speech on free French soil.

La Cathedrale Notre Dame du Bayeux
La Cathedrale Notre Dame du Bayeux - This is a view of from the rear of the cathedral showing just how immense it is.

La Cathedral Notre Dame du Bayeux
La Cathedral Notre Dame du Bayeux - The entrance to the cathedral. In front of the cathedral is a small square that is surrounded by shops. The square looks as if it came straight out of WW2.

British Liberation Army Plaque
British Liberation Army Memorial - Immediately inside the cathedral is a plaque on the wall comemmorating the British 56th Infantry Brigade that liberated the city on 7 June 1944. The poppy wreaths were placed the week before we visited.

La Cathedral Notre Dame du Bayeux Nave
La Cathedral Notre Dame du Bayeux Nave - A view down the cathedral's nave taken from the entrance.

La Cathedral Notre Dame du Bayeux Crypt
La Cathedral Notre Dame du Bayeux Crypt - Below the choir of the cathedral is a Romanesque crypt dating back to the 9th century. It was walled up for centuries until it was rediscovered while digging a tomb for Bishop Jean de Boissey in 1412.

La Cathedral Notre Dame du Bayeux Chapel
La Cathedral Notre Dame du Bayeux Chapel - One of the many chapels situated around the cathedral's perimeter. There are nine in total. I believe this is the Chapel of Saint Peter.

After the cathedral, we wandered the streets of the town again. This was on a Sunday and the streets were surprisingly empty (though of course, I waited until people weren't in the photos before I took them :-) ).

Rue Maitrise
Rue Maitrise - Looking back down the road that leads to La Cathedrale Notre Dame de Bayeux (around the far corner).

Bayeux Main Street
Rue Saint-Jean - One of the main streets of Bayeux, the Rue Saint-Jean. Our hotel, Hotel le Lion d'Or, was directly behind where I was standing for this photo.

Day 7

Today, we were going to visit a location I had wanted to see in person ever since I saw the first photo of it: Mont Saint-Michel. This island, set in a tidal bay shared by Normany and Brittany, is the location of a 10th century abbey. The story of how the mount came to be a great Christian pilgrimage site dates back to the early 8th century. Aubert, bishop of the nearby hilltop town of Avranches, claimed that the Archangel Michael himself had pressured him into having a church built atop the island a quarter of mile out in the bay.

From 966 onwards, the dukes of Normandy, followed by French kings, supported the development of a major Benedictine abbey on Mont Saint-Michel. The Abbey of Mont Saint-Michel became a renowned center of learning, attracting some of the greatest minds and manuscript illuminators in Europe. Vast numbers of pilgrims visited, despite endless cross-channel conflicts. By the time of the French Revolution, 1789, the monk population had waned and the Mont was turned into a prison for high profile political prisoners. In 1874, Mont Saint-Michel was designated a French Historical Monument.

In August 1944, many Germans took refuge in the Mont. A single American solider, Private Freeman Brougher of Pennsylvania and the 72nd Publicity Service Battalion and two British reporters "liberated" the Mont from German control. Today, the buildings that lead up to the Abbey have been converted into hotels, restaurants, shops and museums. Two and a half million tourists visit Mont Saint-Michel each year. And by the end of the day, I believed half of them where on the island with us!

Like any true tourist destination, a shuttle bus whisks you from the car park, through the small group of hotels, camping sites and restaurants to the Mont. The Mont is about a half mile offshore, so it is an easy walk (we took the shuttle out and then walked backed). Fortunately, our bus driver, Camille (same one as yesterday), got us there right as it was opening for the day so the crowds were very light. That would change as the day progressed.

Mont Saint Michel Mont Saint-Michel - This was the view of the Mont, from where the shuttle bus dropped us off. We seem to have a tendency to visit places that are surrounded by water at low tide. At high tide, there is nothing but water all around the causeway and the Mont.

Mont Saint-Michel Inner Gate - Like most fortified castles of the era, Mont Saint Michel has an outer gate and an inner one. The outer gate was surrounded my delivery and construction vehicles so it wasn't worth photographing.

Saint Michel Grande Rue Mont Saint-Michel Grande Rue - This is the main street, actually the only street, in the city that is at the base of the Abbey. Since we arrived early, the street is almost empty. When we left, it was filled with people much like the streets of the French Quarter in New Orleans during Mardi Gras. Along this steet are the five hotels that are on the Mont. I can't even image how small the rooms must be.

Saint Michel Stairs Mont Saint-Michel Stairway - There are somewhere in the neighborhood of 500 stairs you ascend from where the Grande Rue ends until you reach as high as you can go in the Abbey. This is just a sample of the stairways. I would have taken one of the stairway at the entrance to the abbey, which was somewhere around a hundred steps all by itself, but I was too concentrated on getting up the steps over taking a photo.

Tour Gabriel Tour Gabriel - There are three "towers" on the walls that surround the Abbey and town: Tour de la Liberte, Tour de Nord and this one, Tour Gabriel. Not sure why they're called towers since other parts of the wall are higher.

Saint Michel Altar Mont Saint-Michel Abbey Altar

Les Quatres Evangelistes Les Quatres Evangelistes - Bas relieves like this one and many sculptures are displayed throughout the Abbey. This particular one shoes the four evangelists (from the left): Saint Mark with the winged lion, Saint John Evangelist with the eagle, Saint Luke with winged bull and Saint Matthew with an angel.

Mont Saint Michel Cloisters Mont Saint Michel Cloisters - The cloisters were built at the beginning of the 17th century. The monks used this area to grow herbs and vegetables. There are no windows looking out from the cloisters so the monks could look up at God and only God. This was the center of the Abbey and provided access to all rooms of the Abbey: the kitchen, the dormitory, the church, the library, the workshop, the sciptorium and the refectory.

Saint Michel Rectory Mont Saint-Michel Abbey Rectory - This is the dining hall used by the monks for their three meals a day. The monks always ate in silence except for one who read from the bible. The ceiling is made from oak and is modeled after a Viking ship.

Saint Michel Treadmill Crane Mont Saint-Michel Treadmill Crane - This device was put in place sometime in 1819. It was not used in the construction of the Cathedral but in the supply of the prison. The treadmill crane hoisted a car on a steep slope beginning 80 metres below. The crane was powered by two convicts, walking inside the wheel to raise the supply car. The estimated load capacity was three tons.

Saint Michel Treadmill Crane Ramp Mont Saint-Michel Treadmill Crane Ramp - This is the ramp that the treadmill crane used for raising supply carts.

Saint Michel Treadmill Vertigo Mont Saint-Michel Vertigo - A view of the Abbey's Cathedral spire as seen from the a walkway behind and above the buildings lining the Grande Rue.

Mont Saint Michel Causeway Mont Saint Michel Causeway - A view of the causeway leading to Mont Saint Michel. In 1879, a primitive road was built to connect the Mont with the mainland. This road was covered by water at high tide. It also prevented the tide from removing silt from around the Mont causing a huge build-up, threatening to connect the Mont to the mainland permanently. The old road was torn down and this new causeway was built in 2014. The design allows for the natural removal of the silt by the rising and falling tides (as much as 15 meters difference between high and low tide).

Mont Saint Michel Mont Saint Michel - A view of the Mont from the mainland.

Mont Saint Michel Mont Saint Michel - A view of the Mont from the mainland with the River Couesnon in the foreground

We could have spent many more days in Normandy because there are so many places to visit. To do so would require a vehicle though. Maybe next time we'll rent a car for touring the French countryside. And, hopefully, the weather would be better. While it didn't stop us from doing anything, overcast and rainy isn't exactly the most conducive for sight-seeing.

Here are the links to the other parts of our 2023 trip, listed in the order we visited: