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Dragon Reader Reports from Normandy – Eighty Years On

Published on: 7 Jun, 2024
Updated on: 9 Jun, 2024

The chic sea front at St Aubin-sur-Mer, Juno Beach, where the Canadians landed.

By John Pletts

It is difficult to believe that this seaside strip of chic cafes, attractive flats and houses, today under a clear blue sky, should have been so totally different in June 1944.

Fifty miles of mechanised warfare, of deafening noise, of death and destruction were unleashed that June morning. The price of liberation from tyranny.

Some of the World War 2 Jeeps that thronged the D-Day invasion area.

Today, though, is like a giant re-enactment event. The place is thronged with khaki Jeeps, other ancient military vehicles and even amphibious “Ducks” [DUKWs]. And gaily dressed, happy people. And ex-soldiers proudly wearing their medals.

One of the static Spitfires on display. Spitfires were used by the RAF throughout the war and helped provide complete air superiority on D-Day.

Memorial featuring William Millin, commonly known as Piper Bill. Lord Lovat, commander of the British 1 Special Service Brigade, ordered him to play his troops ashore.

There are even at least three Spitfires in static displays. It seems that the further Operation Overlord slips into the past the greater are the celebrations. Which is good. So the roads are full of old Jeeps, old motorbikes and modern motorbikes and lots of blue police motorbikes, cars of course and bicycles including mine.

My bicycle is a good way to get around except that many of the roads around Vers sur Mer are ‘barred’, awaiting the arrival of various heads of state for remembrance celebrations.

There are official events all along this coast. The mayor speaks and the people listen.

Explanatory plaques proliferate to explain what happened here eighty years ago. Yet go inland a few kilometres and one finds peaceful France, full of stone houses which would be worth millions if they were in south east England.

Setting out this morning from Ouistreham to the east I have passed Sword and Juno beaches, the latter celebrated as the Canadian beach. Gold Beach is currently inaccessible.

Hard to imagine now the intense battles that were fought on Normandy’s beaches such as this one.

Bloody Omaha is to the west. There the American troops had to contend with entrenched German strongpoints, cliffs and amphibious tanks which malfunctioned. It’s a miracle that they advanced at all. One wonders why Omaha Beach was selected as a landing site. Furthest west is Utah Beach.

It’s a pity that generally our young people do not take more interest in World War 2. It is seen as a just war. There was only one country that was continuously engaged from the start in September 1939 until the end in August 1945. That country was Great Britain. Shouldn’t we be justly proud of our part in it ?

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Responses to Dragon Reader Reports from Normandy – Eighty Years On

  1. Frank Phillipson Reply

    June 7, 2024 at 10:08 pm

    Just to correct the point stating that the “amphibious tanks” (Sherman Duplex Drive (DD) tanks) – “malfunctioned” on Omaha beach.

    On that beach they were launched from their landing craft too far out (approximately three miles out). Additionally, these landing craft were drifting away from the target beach which forced tanks launched from them to set a course which put them side-on to high waves.

    Finally, the very choppy conditions following a storm (6 ft high waves when these tanks were operationally designed for 1 ft waves) led to the majority of these tanks sinking. The loss of these tanks was a major contribution to the chaos that then followed on Omaha.

    Amphibious tanks on other beaches were launched closer to the shore and made it onto the beach where they contributed by suppresing or knocking out enemy positions.

  2. Nigel Keane Reply

    June 8, 2024 at 1:02 pm

    The Canadians on Juno Beach had the advantage of sappers in their Armoured Vehicle Royal Engineers (or AVREs) helping to get them off the beaches. Indeed where the Royal Engineers went the infantry and armoured regiments followed all the way into Germany, after all someone has to build the bridges first.

    I salute them all.

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