Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Beaches, Normandy - June 9, 2008

The "beaches" - Sword, Gold, Juno, Utah and Omaha - are, of course, where the WWII D-Day landings occurred, starting the liberation of northern Europe. The overall invasion, code named Operation Overlord, began on June 6, 1944 and, on that day alone, a total pf 160,000 men from Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States of America were landed in France. The battle for Normandy continued for more than two months. From the establishment of a foothold in France to the liberation of Paris on 25 August and finally the German retreat across the Seine on 30 August. 2.5 million men, 500,000 vehicles and 8 million tons of supplies poured into the region across these beaches due to the Allies inability to capture a deep water port until November of that year. These staggering achievements were made possible using a Mulberry harbor, a contraption that had been pre-built in sections in England, towed across the channel to Arromanches-Les-Bains, assembled and planted in the ocean floor within a mere three days of the initial assault. This fabricated port, nicknamed Port Winston, was as large as Dover port in England and contained 10 miles of roads, a breakwater system and 33 jetties. Parts of this construction are still visible today. The actual beach visits, like the Curate's Egg, were good in parts. Ranging from crassly aggravating to emotionally overwhelming and some shades in between, Arromanches-Les-Bains was the low point of our day. With ice cream, tee shirts and postcard sales obliterating all sense of decorum and respect - a complete disgrace for France and a sobering shock for overseas visitors. At the other end of the spectrum was the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial. This 170 acre, immaculately kept memory to the 9,387 Americans who lost their lives and the 1,557 Americans missing in action during the Normandy invasion, was a truly stunning, gut-wrenching experience. More pictures here.

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