" OK, We'll go " - and with these words General Eisenhower, supreme commander of Allied Forces in Europe set in train events which would resound around the world. June 6th 1944, the Longest Day. On this day in history the largest fleet the world had ever seen set sail from Britain for the coast of Normandy to embark on a truly epic venture, the liberation of Europe from Nazi tyranny.
The greater part of Europe had lain under the domination of Nazi Germany for four and a half years and now the time had come for the free world to reclaim its heritage.
General Eisenhower, seated next to Field Marshall Montgomery, C-in-C allied ground forces, surrounded by other members of SHAEF, including Air Marshall Sir Trafford Leigh Mallory, commander of Air Forces.
After many days of bad weather, finally a small window of barely passable weather opened up. General Eisenhower was only too well aware that many thousands of troops had been bottled up on troop ships waiting for the off. It was now or never. Secure telex lines the length and breadth of the country chattered into life as orders were transmitted, and the many soldiers, airmen and sailors began to make their own personal preparations. For them the adventure was about to begin.
" Les sanglots longs des violines de L'Automne " - the first lines of Verlaine's poem "Chanson D'Automne" were broadcast on the BBC World Services on 1st June 1944 as a pre-cursor to invasion. On receipt Resistance units up and down the coast of Normandy and others further inland made ready - they now knew the invasion was imminent. Their wait was a short but tense one - on 5th June the second set of lines was received - " Blessent mon coeur d'une longeur monotone". - This was it ! - the invasion would begin within 48 hours !
Our tour takes in a selection of places which were significant in those first hectic 24 hours and which convey the sense and feel of the times. Each location has been chosen to highlight a particular facet of that day's action and contrasts tactics and sacrifice - the common thread which runs through each and every one is the human endeavour and courage which shines through like a beacon light.
As with all my tours, duration is at the clien't choice, but I recommend a minimum of three days as an introduction to Normandy. A typical tour would run as follows:
DAY 1 - looks at two differing "Coup de Main" operations by the airborne forces and ends with a first look at the beaches.
DAY 2 -looks at the American sector and mainstream fighting on and around the beaches, and a visit to the German cemetery at La Cambe
DAY 3 - rounds off with a look at two different American Coup de Main operations and a last look at remembrance at the magnificent American cemetery at Colleville, overlooking Bloody Omaha and the sacrifices made. The following sample itinerary gives an idea of what there is to see and do - A journey of a lifetime.
D-DAY itinerary for a three-day tour:
Depart Shuttle 0750, arrive France 0930 local. Drive to Normandy with refreshment break en-route to arrive approx 1400hrs.
Merville Battery - overview of operation "OVERLORD" - role of the 6th Airborne/Lt. Col. Otway. A daring "Coup de Main" operation which went about as wrong as it could yet still suceeded - how ? visit the splendid interactive museum built into the No.1 casemate and walk the extensive gounds of this former German gun battery.
Pegasus Bridge - The story of Major John Howard and the taking of the bridge over the Caen Canal - possibly the most sucessful airborne operation ever mounted. Visit the recently-opened Pegasus memorial museum and walk on the actual bridge, preserved on site in the memorial museum grounds, along with a reconstructed Horsa glider. A walk around the entire site of where the three gliders landed is a must
And of course, no visit would be complete without partaking of a coffee and sticky bun at the Cafe Gondree, first building to be liberated in France. It was here that one of, if not the first British casualties on D-Day was taken in the course of storming the bridge. It was also where casualties were taken for medical treatment.
Sword Beach - Kieffer memorial and Riva Bella. Hear about the capture of the casino by Free french Commandos at Ouistreham, featured in the film " Longest day "
Return to accommodation - evening meal. Free time.
Continue with looking at the British beaches - Juno Beach. Visit where the Canadians came ashore at Bernieres-sur-Mer - see a restored AVRE ( armoured vehicle Royal Engineers ) driven by Bill Dunn and hear his horrific story.
AVREs like this were part of special conversions known generically as "Hobart's Funnies", specialist armour which could perform specific functions such as bunker busting, or laying artifical roadways.
AVRE One Charlie
Gold Beach - Stan Hollis VC. The only VC to be awarded on D-Day was won by CSM Stan Hollis of the 6/Green Howards. Hear his story and visit his site of action.
Arromanches - Site of the famous Mulberry harbour and Port Winston. The invasion could not have been made possible without the remarkable Mulberry harbours. Also a visit to the impressive 360 cinema is an unforgettable experience not to be missed.
Lunch in Arromanches.
Omaha Beach - The highlight of day 2 has to be a visit to the beach which earned the soubriquet "Bloody Omaha". Dog Green 1 and the Vierville Draw, site of the filming of the opening scenes of "Saving Private Ryan" form the backdrop for the magnificent story of the American 29th Division. Known as the "Blue & the Grey" and largely recruited from the Virginia area, these National Guard soldiers were the equivalent of our Territorials, or perhaps more closely to the "Pals" battalions of the Great War, many men being recruited from small towns and villages, many sets of brothers and cousins fighting, and dying alongside each other. They were met by murderous machine-gun and mortar fire from the German defenders in blockhouses and from bunkers and trenches high on the Bluffs above the landing beach.
US cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer - Final resting place of over 11,000 US servicemen, including Brigadier General Theodore Rooselvelt, CMH, and the Neiland brothers, inspiration for Spielberg's "Saving private Ryan".
When Theodore Rooselvelt died of a heart attack on the 12th July 1944 he was buried in the cemetery at Colleville. He had been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honour, the highest award for bravery awarded to a US serviceman, for his part in the fighting off Utah Beach on the 6th June. His younger brother, Quentin, an aviator killed in the Great War, was re-interred to lie beside him.
The American War Cemetery at Colleville-Sur-Mer, St. Laurent.
Utah Beach - Roosevelt memorial and museum. Visit the cafe built on the site of an old German bunker, and see the museum. Walk the beach and see what remains of the German defences.
La Cambe German Cemetery - This cemetery, once an American burial ground, is a haunting and melancholy place. Final resting place of the famous German panzer ace Michael Wittman.
Pointe Du Hoc - US Rangers assault. The US Rangers were given the task of knocking out large German guns atop the cliff at Pointe Du Hoc. They came in from the sea and launched an assault, scaling the almost sheer cliffs using rope ladders, scaling ladders and grappling hooks.
The attackers discovered that the guns had in fact not been installed, and that aerial photos had been fooled by telegraph poles simulating gun barrels !
A typical Gun Casemate on Pointe Du Hoc
Just one of the many fortifications to see and explore on the Pointe Du Hoc.
Saint Mere Eglise - Private John Steele. The story of Private John Steele is one of the most enduring of D-Day, immortalized in the film "The Longest Day". Who can forget the sight of Steele, played in the film by the actor Red Buttons, hanging from the steeple of the church in the town square being slowly deafened by the bells of the Church ? In tribute to Pte.Steele, the people of Ste. Mere Eglise display a full-size dummy paratrooper from the steeple of the church at most times of the year.
There are many delightful coffee shops and other places in and around the town square where you can find a welcome break and soak up the atmosphere of this historic town.
Whilst in the town a visit to the US Airborne museum is a must where there are hundreds of original artifacts, a veteran Dakota airplane and a very good film show explaining the significance of the town and what took place there on D-Day. There is also an opportunity to purchase souvenirs.
Ranville CWGC - tribute to the Paras and the Airborne Division. Visit the resting of Lt. Den Brotheridge, believed to be the first British fatality of D-Day, killed whilst capturing Pegasus Bridge (qv.). There are many interesting graves in this cemetery, not the least that of a young paratrooper who was killed with his para Dog, Glen, who is buried with him.
Opposite the cemetery is a memorial to the Divisional Commander, Maj.Gen R.N "Windy" Gale who rode a white charger into battle which ironically saved him from the blast of a German mortar shell
Gale is known for a statement he made to troops waiting to embark when he famously told them "The German today is like the July bride - he knows it's coming, he just doesn't know how big it's going to be !"
Accomodation will be in any one of a number of rural 3* hotels in the area, or can be in one of the larger hotels in Caen or Bayeux.
Prices are per person and start from, assuming two persons sharing:
Three days £899
Four Days £1,089
Five days £1,249
A single room supplement of £30 will apply - this is a charge made by the hotel and beyond my control.
Please contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org, call 01842 862014 or write to me at: Past Endeavours, 18, Pashford Close, Lakenheath, Suffolk IP27 9ED