60th Anniversary Of D-Day
Beaches Of Normandy

In June 2004, I was fortunate enough to be able to go on an anniversary trip to the beaches of Normandy. Below are some of the photos which I took during the trip which, for me, was one of the most humbling experiences of my life and one which will stay with me forever.

Mulberry Harbours at Arromanches:

From the distastrous consequences of Dieppe it was very apparent that a French harbour could not be captured intact by an invading force. Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten (head of Combined Operations said "If ports are not available, we may have to construct them in pieces and tow them in".

At a planning conference in June 1943 requirements were set out for the design of such a harbour. It had to be capable of surviving a storm of force six and last for a minimum of 90 days.

Two harbours were built and were given the code name of Mulberry. These were towed across the English Channel with one intended for the British at Arromanches (unofficially known as Port Winston) and the other for the Americans at St Laurent-sur-Mer near Omaha beach.

Each harbour consisted of four main parts:

  1. Furthest out to sea were two rows of Bombardons (floating breakwaters at 400 yard intervals).
  2. A main inner breakwater called Pheonix (concrete caissons or boxes). These were watertight for the crossing over the Channel from England, but on arrival they were flooded and sunk in position.
  3. Inshore from this was a line of block ships. These were old naval vessels known as Gooseberry and these were sunk in the shallow water.
  4. Finally a row of Whales or floating piers connected by a floating metal roadway lead to the shore.

Approximately, 144,000 tons of concrete, 850,000 tons of ballast and 105,000 tons of steel were used.

The first Mulberry components were in position on D+1 (one day after D-Day), the Gooseberry blockships were in position by D+5, and the harbours were nearing completion on D+13 when a great storm began. The American Mulberry never recovered from the storm and was abandoned in favour of the British Mulberry, which achieved a discharge rate of 12,000 tons of cargo daily. The Mulberry could not be removed after the war and so the great Phoenix caissons can still be seen at Arromanches today.

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"Made In England" Appropriately etched in the sea weed

Note:
1. The openings in the side, where you can see some people looking, are infact window/door openings to living quarters which existed below the road level !

2. In the distance, behind the main foreground caisson, you can see more caissons. These are in fact 2km away and it is an optical illusion which makes them look closer than they are.

Bayeux War Cemetery:

British - 3,935
Canadian - 181
Australian - 17
New Zealand - 8
South African - 1
Polish - 25
France - 3
Czech - 2
Italian - 2
Russian - 7
German - 466
Unidentified - 1

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Stone Of Remembrance:
Their Name Liveth
For Evermore
Cenotaph with wreath of
HRH Elizabeth II and President Chirac
(June 6th 2004)
Many of the headstones in the Cemetery
Turning back the clock. - American tourists in Bayeux

Information:

Merville Battery:

Casemate Number 1
(Photo acknowledgement to: Ian Bailey)

Towards the eastern end of the Normandy coastline stands the small port town of Ouistreham. Back in 1944 it marked the eastern limit of the D-Day Invasion beaches. To the west, for over 18 miles, the British and Canadian 3rd Divisions were due to begin landing at around 7.30am on the 6th June 1944.

On the coast was a lookout post which had a direct telephone line to a major 4 gun emplacement battery 3 miles inland at Merville. It was believed that the battery contained guns of 155mm calibre and via the telephone line shell fire could be directed from the battery on to the invasion beaches. It was therefore considered imperative that this gun battery was knocked out before the landings commenced. The task of clearing the Merville Battery fell to the The Parachute Regiment, part of the 3rd Parachute Brigade (9th Battalion / 6th Airborne Division).under Lieutenant-Colonel Terrence Otway.

The Merville Battery defences were formidable. A 400-yard anti-tank ditch, 15ft wide by 10ft deep, wound its way around the west and north-western sides. Two belts of barbed wire surrounded the whole Battery, the outer not being too fearsome, but the inner was around 6ft high by 10ft deep. Between these belts was a minefield, while other mines had been sown in various possible approach routes around the Battery. The garrison was estimated to contain 160 men, manning 15 to 20 weapons pits, each containing 4 to 5 machine guns and possibly three 20mm anti-aircraft guns.

In Berkshire, a complete replica of the battery was built and The Parachute Regiment trained relentlessly for 6 weeks. However, the scattering and uncertainties of the night parachute drop reduced Otway's elaborate plan, involving special equipment, extra gliders and supporting heavy bombers and naval gun fire, to chaos. Instead, shortly before dawn, having collected 150 men together, Otway led them in a direct assault on the battery capturing it in 15 minutes for the loss of half of his men.

The guns turned out to be 100mm Czech pieces, fully capable of shelling Sword beach but not the heavier calibres which the British had expected.

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From right to left:
Casemates 1-4
Casemate 1, restored and now a museum
Myself, Brett Exton, with Mr W.J. Matthews who took part in the D-Day attack of the Battery. The first time he had seen the battery since 6th June 1944 !

Recommended web site: Merville Battery

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