by Erwin Bovyn Mail: Mail: Erwin
This column relates to my visits to Normandy and its landing beaches.
My first visit
occurred about 28 years ago and believe
me, "A lot of things have
changed since then",
especially before the 50th and 60th anniversary of
the D-days landings, this being
in 1994 and 2004 respectively.
28 years ago, with all the energy of youth I was able to descend the cliffs at “Pointe du Hoc” and to stand on the very beach that the Rangers had landed all those years ago. I was able to view the cliffs from sea level and, although it is not that high compared to other mountains and cliffs, it gave me the impression that I would never have been able to make it up again. This is no longer allowed due to the risk of the cliffs collapsing. Pointe du Hoc is also no longer French but US territory as the French have seeded this part of their coast line to the Americans in honour of the sacrifices made by the US soldiers on that pivotal day in 1944.
Unfortunately, digital photography was non existent and the pictures that I took way back then have all faded.
I revisited Normandy in May 2003 for the first time since that day, this time accompanied by my wife and dog.
It pleased them so much that Normandy, and Colleville-sur-Mer in particular, would become the centre of our visits over the next years.
I consider myself very fortunate to be able to rent part of an old mill building while on vacation this is situated only 800 metres from Omaha Beach right between the former German Wiederstandsnesten WN 61 and 62; i.e. the part of the beach where most of the US soldiers found their death on that famous day, "6th of June 1944".
My house is also located at only 50 metres from WN63, a small command post consisting of only four rooms.
Many of us have seen the movie “The Longest Day” starring a lot of famous actors. This movie impressed me so much that I wanted to visit all of the places that appeared in it. My very first visit encouraged this wish and it certainly maintained the flame of a modeller interested in all aspects of the Second World War, historic places and the machinery and equipment used by the opponents in particular. I’m less interested in the politics that influenced this war but very interested in the story’s lived and told by individual people and soldiers.
The outcome of “Saving Private Ryan” brought along a completely new look at the landings on Omaha Beach and many veterans will state that it is the best reproduced landing ever filmed regarding sound, blood, general aspect, death, suffering and so on. Just too bad that some beach obstacles are placed in the wrong direction and that it hasn’t been filmed on Omaha Beach itself.
I would like all of you to know that I am not a historian, I am simply a modeller reading a lot about it, having an enormous interest in it but I do not take part in any forum discussing this or that aspect of the war. I am convinced that a lot of other people with the same interest will take me on the words that I will describe here, will say that I know nothing about it, that I would better shut up etc….
I do not write this for those people, I write this for the men and\or woman wanting to know something about those places, while not being able to afford the luxury of a trip over there.
Everybody interested in the landings knows that the landing zones received code names for the American, British and Canadian confined beaches.
interest will be the American beaches as
they are the closest to where I’m staying over there but we will visit many
well known place on the British and Canadian side
as well. Those beaches entered history as Utah, Omaha,
Gold, Juno and Sword. Pointe du Hoc is situated between Utah and Omaha and does
not form part of any of these
As I will continue to visit Normandy, more and more of those beaches or interesting places will be described in other articles.
I will sometimes refer to modelling or to the movies.
The landings took place on a part of the coast where it was not intended. Sea currents made the landing fleet drift from their course, so the landing took place on a less defended piece of the coast. The general-in-command decided that the rest of the army simply had to follow him and so was done.
After the first German strongpoint was overrun, the troops simply flooded into the low lying country to join up with the US Airborne troops that had been dropped over the Cotentin area.
The Utah Beach museum has been erected on that German strongpoint WN 5. Parts of this strongpoint like the Tobruk gun emplacement can be visited in the museum. Other part of the bunkers have been rebuilt and converted to a public toilet and another section has been turned into a Cafe for visitors to enjoy.
Main attractions are two DUKW’s inside the museum, there is also a cinema where actual war footage is shown.
Outdoors you can find two wrecks of Buffalo landing vehicles, an LCVP and a Sherman tank as well as steel porcupines.
Radial Aircraft Engine as used in the Buffalo
Click on the images to enlarge.