MMC's D-Day beaches - a partwork

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Day Trippin'' started by MMC, Jul 15, 2010.

  1. MMC

    MMC The Burgermeister

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    I've posted this over at UKGSer, but as there's a lot of interest over here about WWII and Normandy, and as you guys were pretty involved, I thought you might like your own copy.

    The last time I was in France on the bike I was on my old R100RS. It handled like a pig on a stick, but it was gorgeously made, beautiful and I still miss it.

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    I was looking at a few photos of the trip a couple of Fridays ago and thought it was definitely time to go back - and take the 1100 this time. Problem was, I wanted to go with James (my business partner) again - but he didn’t have a bike.

    The conversation went a bit like this...

    “I fancy heading over to France again mate - reckon you could hire a bike?”

    “Yeah - why not? I’ll have a look on-line. Hang on a sec.”

    A few minutes passed before the concentrated silence was broken and he looked up, a big grin on his face.

    “Reckon we’ve got time to get to Swindon before 3 o’clock?” (we had a client meeting at 4).

    There was a mint CBR600 that James reckoned he could buy at not a lot more than the cost of a couple of weekend’s bike hire. By 3pm, James was its proud new owner (after all, the CBR suits him - he’s faster than me - lots faster), we had the ferry and hotels booked and were checking restaurant reviews for Bayeux. Perfect.

    So Thursday evening saw us at one of Portsmouth’s more classy establishments - the ETAP:

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    It’s a bed. And it’s cheap. And ten minutes from the ferry port. What’s not to like?

    Seems some of the Lomax Owners’ Club think the same thing:

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    So, we headed into Gunwharf for a couple of beers and some supper. A cracking pint of HSB at the Fuller’s place:

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    After a few miles of channel...

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    ...we’d swapped the grey skies of the UK for this:

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    Luc sur Mer. We left the Panzer and James’ CBR in a parking space (free, of course, with no parking nazis - this is France and not the pointyheaded, moneygrubbing UK) and went to find lunch.

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    It being France, lunch was, of course, well worth finding.

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    So, suitably stuffed, we headed on. No particular direction, just bimbling. French roads seem to encourage bimbling. Lots of things to stop and see. Café to drink. Churches to look at. And, near Bayeux, even a Roman milestone - a real ancient monument:

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    The ancient, Roman monument is the one in the background.

    The Roman road between the coast and Bayeux would have had a few of these.

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    They measured the distance between towns - or forts - in paces. Handy when you’re marching. Not so handy when you’re travelling by Peugeot. Plenty of cars went past. No-one else stopped to look.

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    #1
  2. MMC

    MMC The Burgermeister

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    After dozing off lunch, we headed further up to the coast. I’ve been reading up on the D-Day landings and wanted to see Hitler’s Atlantic Wall defences and some of the D Day beaches. So we stopped at Pointe du Hoc.

    Pointe du Hoc was absolutely vital to the German defences. It was the site of 6 bunkers, each with a 155mm gun and covered both Omaha and Utah beaches, so the Allied forces HAD to take it.

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    The casemates - like all the casemates along the Atlantic Wall that stretched from Norway to the border of Spain - were built to a standard design. They were intended to be incredibly robust. And, significantly, the captured French 155mm guns had a range of 21km - more than enough to destroy advancing forces on Utah and Omaha.

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    And they were. Even though the U.S. Eighth Air Force and Bomber Command had dropped more than 10,000 tons of high explosive (the USS Texas added a few more in the early hours of D-Day itself), they remained intact.

    In fact, the Germans had moved the 155mm guns back inland - but the Pointe do Hoc still needed to be taken. As a forward observation post for artillery it would have been lethal.

    The US 2nd Ranger Battalion had been assigned the emplacements as their objective - and, before D-Day they’d trained for their mission on the Isle of Wight.

    Looking down the cliff-face, I wouldn’t want to climb that today, let alone while being shot at:

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    On D-Day, things went wrong from the start.

    From Wikipedia
    Today, you can still see the impact of the Allied bombing on the site:

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    But much of the site is still intact - and being looked after by the American Battle Monuments Commission.

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    As we were looking around, Pointe du Hoc received a second invasion force - of schoolkids. We left, sharpish.

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    If you go - well worth a look around the new visitors’ centre too:

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    So, we headed on to the site of another battery at Longues sur Mer.
    #2
  3. MMC

    MMC The Burgermeister

    Joined:
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    Ah - French roads.

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    Longues sur Mer


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    Longues sur Mer was - as with all the emplacements on the coast - part of the Atlantic Wall. I hadn’t realised what a bodge the German defences were - particularly in terms of armaments.

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    Where Point du Hoc used captured French 155mm guns, Longues sur Mer had four, 155mm Krups KC 36s. So, along the Atlantic wall in just this part of Normandy alone there were:

    100mm Czech-made Skodas (La Martiniere, Bréville, Hermanville)
    105mm French-made Le Creusots (Vaux sur Aure, Surrain)
    122mm Russian K390/2s (Ver sur Mer)
    152mm German Krupp Tbts K.C/36 (Longues)
    155mm French GPF 418s (Houlgate)

    Plus a whole other mix of calibres, models, manufacturers and parts. Logistics must have been a complete nightmare. Certainly at Azeville (more later), the gunners often received completely the wrong calibre of shell - to the extent that, at one point, they had fewer than ten shells of the right calibre stored ready for action.

    Longues still has its type M272 casemates (each style of casemate on the Atlantic wall has its own designation) intact - mostly. Active, they had a range of 12.5 miles and spotting was done via a type M262 observation post on the cliff edge below the Battery.

    Hell, I’m turning into a Battery Spotter. It’ll be bloody trains next.

    Like the guns at Pointe du Hoc, Longues-sur-Mer’s threatened the Allied invasion - but this time across Omaha and Gold beaches. And again, like P du H, Allied bombers dropped HE shells in waves to take out the battery. In fact, all they achieved was to cut the underground telephone cables between the forward observation post and the guns themselves.

    On the morning of D-Day, from 0537hrs, the USS Arkansas and the French Georges Leygues and Montcalm began shelling Longues. Just after 0600, Longues replied with a series of salvos that forced HMS Bulolo (the British HQ ship) to pull out of range. Finally, HMS Argonaut and HMS Ajax took out three of the guns, with one still firing until the evening when the British and French ships finally stopped it. On the morning of June 7, British troops took the battery without any resistance. Can’t say I’m surprised, having seen the devastation.

    The westernmost gun of the four was the first to be destroyed - and you can see the incredible damage Ajax and Argonaut wreaked:

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    What really fascinates me though, is the stories of the men who lived, fought and died here. All the more so when you can almost feel their presence:


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    Now, Longues is peaceful. I sprawled on top of one of the emplacements and listened to the skylarks.

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    From Longues, we headed up the coast road (somewhat arbitrary 70kph summer limit) to Utah Beach - one of the two US landing beaches.
    #3
  4. Photog

    Photog Charismatic Megafauna Administrator

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    WOW. :lurk Fantastic stuff.
    #4
  5. Ramage

    Ramage needs improvement

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    Nicely done, MMC!
    My Dad was on Omaha and I am always interested in reading about it.
    I even have a small paper envelope of sand he carried through the rest of the war and brought back home. I miss him alot.
    Thanks.:thumb
    #5
  6. MMC

    MMC The Burgermeister

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    Thanks Rammage. I've written about Omaha in the next couple of sections. It has to be one of the most moving places I've been. That's a very precious envelope of sand you have there. And your Pa must have been a remarkable man indeed. Respect.
    #6
  7. GB

    GB . Administrator

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    Nice! Thanks for taking us along!! Hard to believe humanity descended to such levels of devastation not that long ago.. all those lives lost, cut down in their youth never to grow old and enjoy life to the fullest. :(:
    #7
  8. Roadie1951

    Roadie1951 Adventurer

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    This report is a poignant reminder of the tragedy of war and the effects of what transpires during war.

    Today we watch wars unfold on television with "up to the minute" reports by embedded reporters. In WWII, those on the homefront waited days or weeks for updates on their loved-ones.

    We should all be gratefull to our fathers and grandfathers, brothers, uncles and all who defended democracy against the Nazis and Japanese.

    The beauty of the country-side even with the scars and reminder of the struggle still overwhelms you.

    Thank you for documenting this trip and sharing.
    #8
  9. MMC

    MMC The Burgermeister

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    Roadie, Gadget Boy, Photog - thank you. Really appreciate the comments.

    More to come...
    #9
  10. MMC

    MMC The Burgermeister

    Joined:
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    Utah beach

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    The US 4th Infantry took Utah and, in contrast to the casualty toll from Omaha Beach, the landing was a lot simpler with only around 200 direct casulaties. The US forces brought more than 20,000 men and 1,700 vehicles ashore.

    Roosevelt himself, the assistant commander of the 4th Division, landed at Utah, where he managed to bring order to the chaos of the landing (several of the landing craft had drifted off course and landed further south than planned) and announce, “Gentlemen, we’ll start the war from here."

    In fact, the Utah landing was less costly to the troops landing simply because the 101st and 83nd Airborne were already inland, fighting their way through to the beach. The 101st lost 40% of its strength simply getting through to Utah.

    The start of the US advance from the beach is marked with this memorial - the first on the Voie De Liberty:

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    With this monument to the fallen:

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    And this monument listing each of the craft and Division that came ashore:

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    The museum on site is excellent. You can even get inside a DUKW and have a driver’s eye view of the action:

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    There’s a Jeep too:

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    And I’d never realised that the fuel tank for a Jeep is, er, under the driver’s seat:

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    There are several model tableaux too, with tiny, scale-model troops and their equipment:

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    Being interested in watches, the story of this one absolutely fascinated me:

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    It belonged to Staff Sgt. Glenn E Gibson, who landed with the 70th Tank Battalion. Gibson was the sole survivor of his group of 4 tanks when their landing craft struck a mine. The watch stopped at 0545, 6.6.44 - the exact time of the explosion.

    It’s a little easier to get onto Utah today:

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    And it’s a gorgeous place to sit for a while, listen to the sea and enjoy watching families run in and out of the waves:

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    James decided to go to find some twisty bits of road, leaving me to bimble up the coastroad for a while. After a few miles, I found this - yet another series of bunkers and emplacements:

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    This is all that remains of one of the Tobruks - a sort of concrete observation/defence mini-bunker:

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    Looks like it’s just the rabbits digging in now:

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    Again, I was amazed by the engineering and the labour involved in building these Atlantic Wall defences:

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    And just how well-designed they were. Want to attack one from the rear? Good luck. That’s the only way in - guarded with a machine gun emplacement with a 20mm steel armour plate:

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    And yet another chance to sit and just be:

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    A little further up the coast you can find this - an American tank (a Sherman), but used by the French 12th Tank Regiment, rather more romantically, in French, called Le 12eme Regiment de Cuirassiers:

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    Another gratuitous chance to make a joke about a heavily armoured tank and a Sherman:

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    Appropriately, this one was called the Normandie:

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    And, because it’s on a plith, you get a chance to do something most people don’t - see underneath a tank and live to tell the tale:

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    More bimbling along the backroads for me:

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    And a very quick - too quick - detour to St Mere Eglise:

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    I’ll definitely make time to go back. Soon.
    #10
  11. mcc66

    mcc66 Been here awhile

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    Fantastic pictures and report. Enjoy reading about WW2 history. Thanks for sharing.:thumb
    mcc66
    Michael
    #11
  12. MMC

    MMC The Burgermeister

    Joined:
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    A pleasure, MCC - here's more...

    It was just beautiful - sunny, warm, deserted roads and the chance of supper and a bottle or two in the offing in Bayeux.

    Supper was here:

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    Superb. Bike-friendly too.

    Bayeux is a gorgeous town:

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    The cathedral was open because of the Medieval Fair:

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    Here’s one of the organ for Mr Masters:

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    It’s a smashing 1878 Cavaillé-Coll and has reeds to die for.

    James took photos:

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    So did I:

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    The Medieval Fair stallholders enjoyed their cidre:

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    Can you imagine this in the UK?

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    I thought I’d spotted Proff:

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    So did these lasses:

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    Tarka would have been impressed with the medieval hi-vis:

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    And I was impressed with supper:

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    Bayeux has plenty of cracking bars and restaurants, and the locals clearly make the most of them. I suspect I know what this guy rides:

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    There was plenty going on, so we decided to find a drink or two:

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    And hit a bar or two:

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    Then, after a couple of much-appreciated Leffes, we headed back to the hotel:

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    The next morning started a little later than planned with a walk into town and coffee. Lots of coffee.

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    The Panzer was ready to roll - but I certainly wasn’t.

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    #12
  13. DutchWee

    DutchWee Adventurer

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    <meta http-equiv="Content-Type" content="text/html; charset=utf-8"><meta name="ProgId" content="Word.Document"><meta name="Generator" content="Microsoft Word 11"><meta name="Originator" content="Microsoft Word 11"><link rel="File-List" href="file:///C:%5CUsers%5CRuben%5CAppData%5CLocal%5CTemp%5Cmsohtml1%5C01%5Cclip_filelist.xml"><!--[if gte mso 9]><xml> <w:WordDocument> <w:View>Normal</w:View> <w:Zoom>0</w:Zoom> <w:HyphenationZone>21</w:HyphenationZone> <w:punctuationKerning/> <w:ValidateAgainstSchemas/> <w:SaveIfXMLInvalid>false</w:SaveIfXMLInvalid> <w:IgnoreMixedContent>false</w:IgnoreMixedContent> <w:AlwaysShowPlaceholderText>false</w:AlwaysShowPlaceholderText> <w:Compatibility> <w:BreakWrappedTables/> <w:SnapToGridInCell/> <w:WrapTextWithPunct/> <w:UseAsianBreakRules/> <w:DontGrowAutofit/> </w:Compatibility> <w:BrowserLevel>MicrosoftInternetExplorer4</w:BrowserLevel> </w:WordDocument> </xml><![endif]--><!--[if gte mso 9]><xml> <w:LatentStyles DefLockedState="false" LatentStyleCount="156"> </w:LatentStyles> </xml><![endif]--><style> <!-- /* Style Definitions */ p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal {mso-style-parent:""; margin:0cm; margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:12.0pt; font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-ansi-language:EN-GB;} @page Section1 {size:612.0pt 792.0pt; margin:70.85pt 70.85pt 70.85pt 70.85pt; mso-header-margin:35.4pt; mso-footer-margin:35.4pt; mso-paper-source:0;} div.Section1 {page:Section1;} --> </style><!--[if gte mso 10]> <style> /* Style Definitions */ table.MsoNormalTable {mso-style-name:Standaardtabel; mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0; mso-tstyle-colband-size:0; mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-parent:""; mso-padding-alt:0cm 5.4pt 0cm 5.4pt; mso-para-margin:0cm; mso-para-margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:10.0pt; font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-ansi-language:#0400; mso-fareast-language:#0400; mso-bidi-language:#0400;} </style> <![endif]--> Great RR. I’m heading over there in a couple of days. I’ve been wanting to see those beaches for a long time, so this was a nice preview, thanx :thumb. Any good advice on more things to go see or a places stay the night?<o:p></o:p>
    #13
  14. MMC

    MMC The Burgermeister

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    Just follow your nose - there's interesting stuff all over. Where to stay, as ever, depends on budget. Novotel in Bayeux does deals, or there's a highly recommended B&B at Maison Laudiere or at Normandy Beaches in Arromanches.

    Good luck - and have a blast.
    #14
  15. MMC

    MMC The Burgermeister

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    Bikes and breakfast in Bayeux

    James and I just about managed to surface and shamble into Bayeux. Good job we did. Just at the end of the Rue des Bouchers is a little square. There’s a café. And the chap who owns the café is a classic bike fan - big style. So much so that he happily holds the weekly meetings of the Luc-sur-Mer Classic Bike Club at his café.

    I love serendipity.

    So, we sorted ourselves out with croissants from the boulangerie, several cups of café from the café and watched the local classic bike fraternité stand around, look at each other’s bikes and talk bollocks. Just like being at home. But with better coffee. And sunshine. And, it seemed, rather less pretence.

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    There was some serious kit there:

    That’s the back of a 1939 Guzzi:

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    This is a Terrot:

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    What on earth is a Terrot? I’ve no idea, but I loved it:

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    A gorgeous R69S:

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    And again:

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    Suggestions on a postcard, please:

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    A Motobecane with a cool sidestand:

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    A rather newer Terrot:

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    I was getting the idea by now, and very happily wandering around chatting, listening and learning about French classic bikes. It seems there’s not a lot of bolt-counting going on in France. The drill seems to be:

    meet up for a coffee and a smoke
    talk bollocks
    ride a few miles to another café
    have lunch
    ride a few more miles
    talk more bollocks
    go home

    I’ve always liked France. They know how to do things properly there.

    But the best bit of all was this. You probably spotted it behind the Guzzi above (yes, Tarks, I’m talking to you!):

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    I got chatting with the owner who turned out to be the owner of the café too. The conversation went a bit like this:

    “That combo looks interesting - what is it?”

    “That, my friend, is a 1968 Jupiter - Russian, and the only one left in all France!”

    “Bloody hell, it’s a small world - I’ve got a 2000 Ural.”

    “Nah, you haven’t have you?”

    “I’ll show you the pics....”

    So I got my phone out and we happily spent the next twenty minutes comparing notes on Urals and Jupiters. It then turned out he had a GS as well, although only a 1200.

    We parted on excellent terms, with the promise I’d come back on the Ural with Pip.

    Then, as one, the bikes were kicked into action. Music. The banging, poffling and clattering of valves was just heavenly as they rolled out of the square and off to lunch. All that was left to mark the passing was this:

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    #15
  16. MMC

    MMC The Burgermeister

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    On to Omaha

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    I’d wanted to see the American cemetery at Omaha beach for some time. I wasn’t really ready for quite how deeply it would affect me. I’m not given to being soppy or particularly emotional, but I’d defy anyone to visit and leave dry-eyed or unaware of the huge American sacrifice in Normandy.

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    Just the scale of the monument is moving.

    9,387 headstones. 1,557 men missing in action. And a cemetery that’s nearly 173 acres in total.

    I’m afraid I didn’t really feel like taking photos, but here are a few:

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    If you’re passing through Normandy, visit.
    #16
  17. DutchWee

    DutchWee Adventurer

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    Hey, thanks! I will defenitely check out Bayeux. It looks like a nice place to be.


    Cheers.
    #17
  18. MMC

    MMC The Burgermeister

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    Azeville Battery

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    I&#8217;d arrived at Azeville Battery the previous evening, but it was 7pm and the lass in charge was just closing for the night. So, the next day, after Omaha, I rode up the coast and inland to Azeville in time for opening. I&#8217;m glad I did. The site gives a superb insight into how the Atlantic Wall was used, but also how the occupying forces sometimes integrated a little into the French villages where they were posted.

    Azeville is - guns aside - an almost complete battery complex. It still has its tunnels, casemates and blockhouses. It&#8217;s well worth visiting if you&#8217;re anywhere near Cherbourg.

    Azeville had four H650 casemates that carried four 105mm Schnieder K331 guns, made in 1913, each with a range of 11kms.

    Originally mustering 170 men (although most were housed in the village itself) Azeville Battery is interesting in both its state of preservation and in the way it was camouflaged against Allied air reconnaissance.

    A photo showing how the German troops had painted the most conspicuous bunker to make it appear like a ruined Normandy farmhouse:

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    And the same bunker today. Most of the painting was re-done in 2006, but some of the original paint still remains.

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    You can see how the complex of tunnels is laid out:

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    By all accounts, Capt. Dr. Hugh Trieber - the complex&#8217;s Commander, seems to have been a decent man. There are stories in the village about him taking a pretty relaxed attitude to things like curfews but a distinctly hard line with his own troops if they were caught stealing from the locals or even failing in courtesy to them.

    Trieber was constantly concerned about the danger he exposed the villagers of Azeville to just by the complex being there. It meant the entire village was a target for allied bombing strikes.

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    I had the place to myself. As you walk down the stairs into the tunnels linking each casemate, it&#8217;s remarkable to think that the site was the base for 170 men.

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    Although the first part of this tunnel has been restored and re-concreted, the other sections are all the original Todt Organisation work:

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    The Germans had built a large wooden mess-hall they called &#8220;The Casino&#8221;. They furnished it accordingly:

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    In fact, the locals living in Azeville were invited - on a standing basis - to make use of the Casino for village events. As you can imagine, there weren&#8217;t many takers, although one wedding breakfast was held there.

    The foundations of The Casino are all that remain:

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    This is the view of The Casino from inside the bunker - from a door designed to allow the troops to leave the building as quickly as possible and get to safety underground:

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    You can see the two openings from the outside here:

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    The bunker was controlled through an internal telephone system. This allowed commanders to call up shells for the guns, range the guns and hear reports from forward artillery spotters on how closely they&#8217;d fallen to target.

    This is all that remains of one of those telephone exchanges:

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    Some local vision was possible through a series of periscopes - here&#8217;s the hole for the &#8216;scope:

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    And speaking tubes like this one allowed communication internally:

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    Conditions were pretty cramped:

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    But I suspect there were worse places to sit out the war:

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    The site had its own anti-aircraft defences - this is the base for an anti-aircraft cannon:

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    -----
    The way the bunkers operated was incredibly sophisticated. Todt had designed and accounted for almost any eventuality.

    Huge extractor fans made sure the emplacements stayed oxygenated:

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    Shells were stored directly underneath the guns:

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    And used casings were pushed down these holes into a reservoir so they could be reused:

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    Here&#8217;s a view from the back of the casemate, looking out through the 315 degree gunport.

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    On June 5 and 6, 1944, the US 22nd Regimental Combat Team tried to take Azeville. Unsurprisingly, given the incredible levels of defence the complex had, they couldn&#8217;t make an impression:

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    In a separate attack, 20km out to sea, the USS Nevada opened fire on Azeville. Remarkably, one of the ship&#8217;s 14&#8221; shells entered the most westerly bunker through the gun mouth, careened through the bunker and out the other side - all without exploding. However, it did incredible damage. All 15 men in the bunker were killed by flying concrete and steel shards as well as heat and pressure from the passing of the shell.

    You can still see its route:

    The shell entered through the hole in the back wall at the bottom left:

    [​IMG]

    Then blasted through the command room, exiting here:

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    And richocheted off the bunker exit wall:

    [​IMG]

    Only to sink itself - without exploding - into the earth outside. It was finally discovered in 1994.

    [​IMG]
    #18
  19. ChopHawk

    ChopHawk Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Oct 2, 2009
    Oddometer:
    129
    Location:
    Ct
    Fascinating story. great pictures also.
    #19
  20. powderhound2

    powderhound2 Adventurer

    Joined:
    Feb 7, 2005
    Oddometer:
    21
    Thanks so much for this ride report, photo post. I read World War II books like crazy, but haven't had the chance to be in Europe, and see all the history. Thanks again!
    #20