Saturday, September 13, 2014

Ruby Princess, Le Havre, France, Sunday, September 7, 2014

The one and only cruise excursion we booked was a full day trip to the beaches of Normandy.

After a 2.5 hour bus ride, our first stop was the tiny town of Arromanches where we learned about a very integral part of the D Day operation.

The Musee du Debarquement (loosely translated: landing) tells not only about the D-Day of which we are familiar, but also about the vital operation of the building of a secret harbor to accept the troops and the supplies.

According to Winston Churchill, the building of this harbor was "the key of the liberation of Europe."  In fact, the whole idea was Churchill's and he was personally involved in the planning.

All the manufactured components of the port were prefabricated in England.  This included floating metal docks and roads and concrete moorings that could be floated into place and sunk where they were needed.  Some of the original dock remains in place. 

It was a hazy day and much of the dock far off shore is hard to see.  Assembly of the dock was started on D-Day + 2 and it was ready to go in 4 days time.  A few days after completion, a strong storm hit.  The port made it through with minimal damage.  A similar port farther west near Omaha Beach built by the Americans was rendered unusable by the same storm.

This is section of the floating road/dock with a bulldozer on it.

Critical supplies for the Allied liberators were unloaded here to keep the invasion on track.

One of the vessels used for landing on the Normandy beaches.

Kathy's Dad was a paratrooper, but gratefully he did not enter the war scene until after D-Day.

It is amazing that any of the soldiers made it ashore with all the gear they were carrying.

This sea wall was right outside the Arromanches museum.

This mural was attached to the sea wall.

Following our time at Le Musee de Debarquement, we had a delicious luncheon at the country hotel pictured below.   It is a beautiful property located 3 miles outside Arromanches.

We started with an aperitif of white wine with black currant juice.  Pictured below is the salad....normal type greens with champagne oil and vinegar....but the piece de resistance was the frommage d'isigny with cinnamon apple in the middle.  Isigny is the region.  Our guide suggested that the name Disney is an abbreviated, anglicized version of Isigny.  The cheese was divine.  Camembert is a well known product of Normandy!  But this was much better!  The rest of the meal was rather ordinary, but the wine was good!

Time for relaxing on the lovely grounds of this country inn.

Leaving by bus for the rest of our tour....

We remembered this vine as a signal to the autumn season in France.....

As we pass through several small beachside towns in Normandy, photos of WWII and the beach landings are everywhere....

We Americans know Omaha and Utah Beaches the best because that is where the U. S. forces were concentrated and where we suffered  massive losses of men, but the operation included three other locations manned by Brits and Canadians....

The Memorial features a young, muscular athlete to personify the youth of our soldiers.....the vast majority were ages 18-22

The scene of endless white crosses is heart wrenching.  All the crosses face west to the soldiers' home, America.  The U. S. received this land as a gift from France for the burial of the heroes.  The U. S. buries all their soldiers in one location, rather than where they fall, as is the British way.  There are nearly 9,000 buried in the location.

There were also a sprinkling of the Star of David among the crosses.

When one looks down to Omaha Beach, it is a breathless moment.  How did anyone survive?  The air attacks had missed their targets, so the Germans were armed and was a slaughter.  

There is a small chapel in the center of the cemetery.

After leaving the cemetery, we bussed to Pointe de Hoc where the Nazis had their big guns to defend the areas of Omaha and Utah Beaches.  The guns in this bunker could hit ships 12 miles off shore.

The bunker below was out at the edge of the cliff above the beach.  The Germans looked out of this slit to determine the distance to our boats.

The bunkers are built of layers of concrete and steel to stand a direct bomb hit.  From the bomb craters around the bunkers, it looks like it may have worked.

The  Pointe du Hoc is protected by these cliffs.

A group of Rangers was assigned the mission of destroying the German guns/defense.

The Rangers scaled the cliff in a few minutes and managed to take out the defending troops.  They found telephone poles in the place of guns in the bunkers.  The Germans were faking the guns to fool the aerial surveillance.  They did continue on and found the guns about a mile behind the lines and destroyed them.  

As we return to the ship, we cross the Seine River which flows from Paris through Normandy and out to sea.  It has been a very emotional day....Kathy ran out of Kleenex.