Friday, December 16, 2016

Normandy, Day Six. Sainte-Mère-Église, Utah Beach, Le Mont Saint Michel

Joseph and I checked out of our Air B&B Saturday morning and left Bayeux, our home for the past three days.  I really love this town and would love to come back some day soon. We headed out to continue our Normandy Battle site tour with our first stop, Sainte-Mère-Église.  Located on the western "shoulder" of the Normandy invasion beaches and just west of Utah beach, Sainte-Mere-Eglise was a critical crossroads to hold to prevent the Germans from re-enforcing the defenders at Utah Beach.  Notably, it was one of the first towns liberated.  The American 82nd Airborne literally landed in the middle of the town (some of them anyway) and many of them were killed and/or captured.  The paratroopers who landed outside of the town were able to capture the town and liberate as early as 6 am.  There is a very good museum in Sainte-Mere-Eglise dedicated to the Airborne aspect of the Normandy Battle.  A dummy paratrooper is still suspended from the church next to the town square recreating the unlucky (or lucky since he survived) paratrooper who landed on the church and had his parachute snag on a spire.  He remained there until captured, and was later liberated by his comrades after the took the town.  It is a fantastic museum and the town is very welcoming to tourists.
Mannequin depicting the paratrooper who got stranded on the church
After touring the museum, we set out for Utah Beach.  The Americans landing here, had it a bit easier than the ones landing at Omaha.  Fewer, less skilled defenders resulted in fewer casualties for the GIs.  Utah Beach actually stretches north-south as opposed to east-west like the other beaches and is the southeastern part of the Cotentin Peninsula, which the Allies wanted to cut off and eventually capture Cherbourg, a deep water port to further advance the war effort.  There is also a museum there which we opted not to tour (we were pretty "museum'ed out" by then).  There are some great monuments there and a fairly new memorial dedicated to the U S Navy.  The Navy had nothing recognizing its part in the invasion, so this memorial was erected and dedicated in September 2008. 
From there we took a much longer trip to see Le Mont Saint Michel.  We were warned by the locals in Bayeux to avoid it, since it is such a tourist trap, but I have always wanted to see it so we "bit the bullet" and went.  It is a magnificent thing to behold, an island town dating to the 8th century.  Its population is listed as 44, but there were literally thousands of people there that day, a Saturday and was very crowded as we made our way through the narrow walkways.  You can learn more here:
View from Mont Saint Michel
It was a very long walk, but we and several thousand people were
enjoying Le Mont Saint Michel
Le Mont Saint Michel

Exhausted and hungry, we then drove to Caen, our last stop on the tour to enjoy a dinner a get some well-earned sleep.  
More about Caen in my next post.

The View as you prepare to "step out of the
transport plane to "jump" into battle.
These were miniatures under plexiglass to convey what the
paratroopers saw as they were about to jump
Inside a mock-up of a C-41, with paratroopers, As you step out the back,
there is a miniature of the area beneath plexiglass coupled with the sounds
of the aircraft and the battle to give you a sense of what it might
have been like.  Very good exhibit

The paratroopers caught the Germans by surprise that night, aome landing
in the middle off the town square.

Landing craft used for the invasion and statues depicting the soldiers

The Navy Memorial at Utah beach dedicated in 2008

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