Just back from Normandy and a tour of the D-DAY beaches. Seeing the landscape, rather than looking at photos, gives perspective: the killing ground at low tide Allied soldiers had to cross before reaching the (comparative) safety of the sea wall is terrifying – 300 yards of open sand with only a mined iron obstacle for ‘protection’. The bocage, the deep thick Norman hedgerows wherein were hidden Germans with lethal machine guns or panzerfaust (anti-tank weapons), is still visible surrounding the small fields. And there is the sheer scale of the battle which can only be grasped from a visit, the miles of beaches from Utah to Sword, where there were 10,000 casualties on June 6 (equal, let us not forget, to the French civilian casualties on the day, victims of sometimes careless and cavalier Allied bombing). The cliffs of Omaha must be seen to appreciate the heroism of those men from the Big Red One (US Ist Div) who scaled the heights to outflank and overpower the formidable German defences.
And then there are the remains of Mulberry, still visible at Arromanches, 74 years later. Historians squabble over whether Mulberry was worth the effort and expense but what is undeniable is the triumph of British ingenuity and effort. To tow, through the squalls of the Channel, a complete harbour was an achievement as impressive as that of Admiral Ramsay’s and Monty’s in landing on the mainland of Europe 150,000 men without being intercepted by German U-boats or E-boats. The deception plan, Fortitude, which convinced Hitler there would be another landing elsewhere – tying down all his armour east of the Seine – was the spooks’ finest hour.
The pictures on this page show a 1944 photo and a rather pathetic re-enactment – the orginal photo was taken on June 6 in the afternoon. It is by the Chateau de Turqueville, a mile or so from Sainte-Mère-Église. The American para is guarding a Georgian who is, I would think, very happy to go in the bag. But his chances of long term survival are poor – Stalin forced the Allies to return captured Soviet citizens who had been pressed into fighting for the Nazis. He had most of them shot. The bald bloke in the comparison photo is, as you can see, disabled (we are an inclusive outfit) and is using his crutch as a gun (just before he fell over). The other bloke wears an inappropriately gay shirt. They appear not to be in the first flush of youth but when I tell you these two were the most photogenic couple we could muster for the photo op you can imagine the condition of the other punters.