Henry Poon's Blog

Normandy Part I

After one day in London, we rented a car to drive to Normandy.  We departed from Central London, just outside the congestion zone.  That was probably the busiest part of London we had to drive on.  Neither of us had ever driven on the left side before.  The lanes are at least a foot narrower than in Vancouver.  Bikers and motorcyclists constantly ride between other cars and cut in front of us on both sides.  Street sides are always on the side of buildings and not clearly laid out.  Traffic signs are different too.  Drivers are a lot more aggressive when asserting themselves on the road.  That’s what we had to deal with as people who drive without this stress in North America.  Still, we made it to our destination (unlike the last time I tried to go to Normandy).

We took the Euro Tunnel crossing into France.  It is an underground train that cars can board that takes commuters across the English Channel.  It only took about 20 minutes and it departed from Folkestone to Calais.

The drive into Normany is quite nice too. We were a bit sad that the car’s (Volkswagen Golf TDI) top speed was only 180 km/h though (we tested that).

Our hotel was in Caen, and in the next morning we drove to Bayeux to meet the tour group. Our tour guide was a native from Normandy who used to serve in the French military. He knew quite a lot of the history behind the Battle of Normandy, so he was a really great guide.

When I got out of the car, I could immediately feel my allergies acting up.  Within a few minutes, my nose was extremely plugged and my eyes were itchy.  Worst of all, I left my medicine at the hotel.  My allergies stayed with me for the entire day.  It was the worst allergic reaction I’ve had in recent memory.

Longues-sur-Mer Battery

The first stop were the gun batteries at Longues-sur-Mer. It was part of Germany’s Atlantic Wall coastal fortifications.

The line of batteries were just situated on a large grass field.  There wasn’t really anything else in the area other than other bunkers that were part of the fortification.

Omaha Beach

I was surprised to see that the bunkers at Omaha Beach had all been taken away. Apparently the locals disposed of them since they didn’t want to keep such structures from their foes to stay.

The guide explained that the attack on D-Day began while the beach was at high tide, which meant the soldiers had to wade through more water than they would have during low tide. This meant the soldiers were slower and had a greater danger of drowning. Because of this, the American forces that invaded took heavy casualties. The guide also mentioned that a huge factor that caused the Germans to lose the battle was that they were running out of ammunition after killing so many attackers.  The water ran red for days.

Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial

Many soldiers who died during the Battle of Normandy are buried here. The fallen soldiers’ next of kin were given a choice as to whether the burial would take place in the US, or overseas.

The site was quite large. It probably took about 10-15 minutes to walk from one side to the other.

Pointe du Hoc

During the battle, the soldiers had to scale these cliffs just to get to the enemy and they did this while getting shot at.

I remember playing Call of Duty 2 a long time ago and there was a mission about this very battle. The bunker here was modeled pretty much the same too.

Before the battle began, the air force and navy heavily bombarded this area and so there are many craters here. After so many years, grass has grown over them.

The Hedgerows

The guide explained that while the Allies were gathering intelligence for their invasion planning, local French people had told the Allies that there’d be lots of hedgerows to watch out for. It never occurred to the Allies that the hedgerows in France were significantly taller than the hedgerows that they were used to and so they thought the soldiers could see over them. Nope, they’re way taller than a standing person.

When the paratroopers landed in the night, a lot of them couldn’t find each other. The Germans used this to their advantage and set many traps in and around the hedgerows.

To Be Continued…

Since this post is already getting quite long, I’ll be continuing the rest of the Normandy trip in a second post.

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