Unloading on the D-Day beaches (main)

Unloading on the D-Day beaches (main)

Unloading on the D-Day beaches (main)

A busy beach scene on the D-Day beaches, probably taken a few days after the landings, by which time the larger ships were unloading directly onto the beach

Left details - Full Picture - Right details

The D-Day Companion, ed. Jane Penrose. A selection of thirteen separate essays on different aspects of the D-Day lands, from the initial planning to post-war memorials; this is an excellent piece of work that sets the D-Day landings firmly in context. An excellent starting point for anyone who wants to learn more about Operation Overlord, but its wide range of topics means it is likely to be of value to anyone with an interest in the subject. [see more]

D-Day Beaches in Normandy: A WWII Historical Tour (Travel Guide)

I LOVE trips that involve the exploration of big historical events. For instance, I am a sucker for anything and everything that’s related to the two 20th century World Wars!

Now, this is NOT because I am a fan of guns, war, nor violence. Definitely not! I simply like to revisit this part of the past because of the various emotions, stories, and perspectives involved. And of course, because of the numerous lessons that can be learned from it — one of which is to never let a World War or any war for that matter to ever happen again.

Given this fact, you can imagine my extreme excitement when my friend and I decided to visit Normandy, France back in 2013 to revisit WWII D-Day landmarks and museums!

To give you a brief ‘refresher course’ on this, let me outline some facts that surround D-Day — the turning point in World War II!

  • In an aim of liberating France and driving away Nazi Germany, Normandy landings (codenamed as ‘Operation Neptune’) was the amphibious and naval plan of routing assault troops across the Channel to secure a strong foothold on the 50-mile coast of Normandy.
  • June 6, 1944: D-Day or ‘Operation Overlord’ (codename) was commenced and it was deemed as the largest military and seaborne invasion in history. This codename basically describes the overall battle plan in Normandy from the landing, to the build up on the beaches, and up to the fighting stages.
  • It was a formidable task. Not only was it a day with bad weather conditions, but the Germans have also put up an interlinked series of obstacles on the shore composing of mines, metal tripods, barbed wires, pillboxes, and more. (The ‘Atlantic Wall’). Nevertheless, the Allied Forces pushed through with heavy aerial, naval, and airborne bombardment first, and then followed by amphibious landings composed primarily of American, British, and Canadian forces on 5 separate D-Day beaches with code names:
    • Utah Beach (Mainly American)
    • Omaha Beach (Mainly American)
    • Gold Beach (Mainly British)
    • Juno Beach (Mainly British & Canadian)
    • Sword Beach (Mainly British)

    D-Day was truly a colossal feat. In order to honor those who have taken up the courage to protect the future that we have today, we chose to revisit the past by visiting these D-Day beaches and it was a really interesting experience that I will forever remember!

    [box_title subtitle=”” subtitle_font_size=󈭣″ font_size=󈭫″ border_color=”#ed2665″ animation_delay=𔄢″ font_alignment=”center” border=”around” animate=”” ]UTAH BEACH[/box_title]


    • Batterie d’Azeville – (Azeville Battery) has a dozen of casemates, four blockhouses with heavy guns, underground tunnels, underground rooms, and ammunition storages. This was one of the places where German held their defensive positions.
    • Dead Man’s Corner Museum – gives insight into the battle of the 101st Airborne Division versus the Green Devils (German paratroopers).
    • Musée Airborne – (Airborne Museum) displays a wide collection of artifacts from the Airborne Divisions during D-Day.
    • Musée de la Batteries de Crisberg– (Crisbeq Gun Battery Museum) one of the largest German coastal artillery batteries with 21 blockhouses.
    • Memorial de la Liberte Retrouvee– (Freedom museum) retells the daily lives of Grench people during Nazi Germany’s occupation until the liberation.
    • Musée du Débarquement – (Utah Beach Landing Museum) the museum uses films, documents, and models to recall D-Day in a unique way.
    • Sainte-Mère-Église – the most famous D-Day village with notable landmarks: panels on the streets explaining the operation of the US paratroopers, a parachute effigy in the church, and more.

    [box_title subtitle=”” subtitle_font_size=󈭣″ font_size=󈭫″ border_color=”#ed2665″ animation_delay=𔄢″ font_alignment=”center” border=”around” animate=”” ]OMAHA BEACH[/box_title]

    This was an important capture in order to secure the port of Cherbourg which was deemed as essential in building up the Allied forces against the Germans. (Surely the Germans knew the importance of this area that’s why it was strongly fortified).

    When we visited Omaha Beach, we personally saw how the cliffs proved to be a deadly strength of the Germans against the Allies — it was very high and steep!

    A FUNNY STOR Y: We wanted to try an uncommon path from the top of the hills in order to reach the bottom of the beach however… we always ended up encountering dead ends and steep drops. After almost an hour of walking, we gave up and decided to follow the official paved paths. (So imagine Allies trying to climb these bluffs!)

      ★ Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial – I recommend visiting this tranquil 172.5 acre memorial place. It overlooks Omaha Beach with graves of 9,387 American soldiers. As one of the 14 permanent American World War II military cemeteries on foreign soil, the government of France have granted this land as a perpetual and permanent burial ground (without charge nor taxation) to honor the American soldiers who died during the war.


    • 1st Infantry Division Monument – dedicated to the US 1st Infantry Division (“Big Red One”) who invaded the eastern half of Omaha.
    • Musée D-Day Omaha – (Omaha D-Day Museum) focuses on the landing in Omaha beach, from vehicles, to weapons and equipment.
    • Musée Memorial d’Omaha Beach – (Omaha Beach Memorial Museum) showcases a fine collection of war clothing and equipment as well as veteran testimonials.
    • Musée des Rangers – Batterie de Maisy – (Rangers Museum) displays the history, equipment and story of the 2nd Rangers Battalion who attacked La Pointe du Hoc. There is also an outdoor display showing the group of artillery batteries that the Germans had.

    [box_title subtitle=”” subtitle_font_size=󈭣″ font_size=󈭫″ border_color=”#ed2665″ animation_delay=𔄢″ font_alignment=”center” border=”around” animate=”” ]GOLD BEACH[/box_title]

      ★ Batterie de Longues at Longues-sur-Mer – situated between the landing beaches of Omaha and Gold. It housed 4 152-mm navy guns with a 20km range today, it is the only battery in Normandy that has most of its original heavy guns still in place. We visited this place late in the afternoon so it had a very mystifying feeling with it. As we walked around the area, there were times that small planes would pass by above us and it gave me chills as I thought of what the soldiers must have felt like, knowing that in any second, they could be dead…


    • ★ Arromanches – witness the site that the Allies needed to bring in their big supplies. They have built concrete pontoons here and 20 of the original 115 pontoons still stand today to defy the sea.
    • Arromanches 360 – plays the film “The Price of Freedom” on 9 screens in a circular theater as it shows archived film from June 1944.
    • Bayeux War Cemetery – the largest British cemetery containing graves of 3,843 British soldiers.
    • Musee America Gold Beach – (American Gold Beach Museum) recalls the 1st airmail flight between USA and France, the D-Day landing, and the British beachhead on Gold Beach.
    • Musée des épaves sous-marines – (Underwater Wrecks Museum) showcases recovered wrecks and artifacts after 25 years of underwater exploration in the D-Day beaches
    • Musée du Débarquement – (The Landing Museum) covers the technological feat that the British army had achieved in building up the artificial harbour in Arromanches.
    • ★ Musée Memorial de la Bataille de Normandie – (Battle of Normandy Memorial Museum) shows a chronoligical presentation of the events during D-Day complete with exhibitions of equipment, weapons, arms, large artillery, and more. It is said to be one of the best D-Day museums.
    • Site de Port-en-Bessin – has a monument erected in memory of the 47th Royal Marine Commandoes who were killed during the liberation of Port-en-Bessin — one of the key battles that secured Allied victory and one of the bravest assaults against overwhelming odds.

    [box_title subtitle=”” subtitle_font_size=󈭣″ font_size=󈭫″ border_color=”#ed2665″ animation_delay=𔄢″ font_alignment=”center” border=”around” animate=”” ]JUNO BEACH[/box_title]


    • Beny-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery – contains graves of 2,044 Canadian soliders.
    • Centre Juno Beach – (Juno Beach Centre) retells Canada’s role in the military operations through audio, film, and displays pre-war and wartime.
    • Places to see…
      • Site de Bernieres-sur-Mer – has the famous La Maison Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada that commemorates the men of this regiment.
      • Site de Courseulles-sur-Mer – has a Sherman Duplex Drive (DD) tank on display and various monuments.
      • Site de Graye-sur-Mer – various monuments like the Liberation Monument, Inns of Court Monument, and more..
      • Site de Langrune-sur-Mer – has a plaque in memory of the friendship between the 48th Royal Marines Commado veterans and the citizens of the town.
      • Site de Saint-Aubin-sur-Mer – has a preserved 50-mm gun casement and stone memorials.

      [box_title subtitle=”” subtitle_font_size=󈭣″ font_size=󈭫″ border_color=”#ed2665″ animation_delay=𔄢″ font_alignment=”center” border=”around” animate=”” ]SWORD BEACH[/box_title]


      • Mémorial Pégasus – covers the remarkable capture of Pegasus Bridge of Gilder Pilot regiment and the 6th British Airborne.
      • Musée de la Batterie de Merville – retraces the 6th British Airborne operations.
      • Musée Du Mur De L’Atlantique – highlights a 17-meter high concrete tower of the Atlantic Wall which is the only one of its kind that was restored and re-equipped to its original state
      • Musée Du Radar – (Radar Museum) the site of a German fortified radar base, it explains the evolution and operation of radar.
      • Musée No4 Commando – (N° 4 Commando Museum) encompasses the epic story of the Franco-British Commandos who laned on Sowrd Beach.
      • Ranville War Cemetery – most of the 2,235 graves belonged to Ranville, the parachute and glider landings of the 6th Airborne Division.
      • Places to see…
        • Site D’Hermanville – has monuments such as the Royal Artillery, Allied Navy Sailors, and more.
        • Site D’Ouistreham – has several monuments, memorials, museums and military cemeteries.
        • Site de Colleville-Montgomery – has a plaque in memory of the 1st Battalion f the Suffolk Regiment soliders, a General Montgomery statue and more.
        • Site de Lion-sur-Mer – has monuments such as the Liberation Monument, 41st Royal Marine Commando, and Royal Engineers Corps.

        [box_title subtitle=”” subtitle_font_size=󈭣″ font_size=󈭫″ border_color=”#ed2665″ animation_delay=𔄢″ font_alignment=”center” border=”around” animate=”” ]HOW TO GET HERE[/box_title]

        By car. This is what we did since stopping by at Normandy was a part of our ‘Eurotrip’ last 2013. I highly suggest that you do a trip around Normandy by car since you can then control your time and route. Plus, it’s very convenient especially if you want to stop by smaller towns that are not in the way of of trains, buses, etc. We were traveling from Belgium so it took us around 5 hours to get to the D-Day beaches. However, if you’re from Paris, it should take just 2 to 3 hours of driving (take the A13, which passes through Evreux, Rouen and Caen to Normandy).

        By train. From Paris, you can choose between Caen or Bayeux as your final destination stop (Caen takes 1 hour + 47 minutes, while Bayeux takes 2 hours + 4 minutes).

        » To get around within Normandy … take buses that cover most of the main D-Day beaches. All routes are mainly operated by Bus Verts du Calvados.

        By Air. You can fly directly to Normandy from a foreign location, but it’s best to land in Paris first and then just take a train to Normandy. If you’re already in Paris, it’s not worth it to take a flight to Normandy since it’s so close.

        In D-Day's Wake

        The successful 6 June 1944 D-Day landings were only the opening scenes in a naval drama that continued to unfold on the beaches of Normandy. As Operation Neptune's planners had recognized, once U.S., British, and Canadian troops began getting ashore, the Allies were in a frantic race with the Wehrmacht to build up strength at the point of contact.

        For the Western powers this came down to moving huge numbers of men and amounts of materiel across the English Channel while protecting the convoys from German air and naval attacks. At the same time, they needed to interdict the enemy's movement of vehicles, equipment, and personnel to the invasion area from elsewhere in Europe. The winner of this contest would be in the best position to decimate its opponent's forces, and either (in the German case) push the invaders back into the Channel or (in the Allies' case) punch a hole through the enemy's defenses and break into the open French countryside.

        D-Day and the Holocaust

        D-Day was key to the overall Allied victory in World War II. However, this victory came too late in the war to make a significant difference in the fate of Europe’s Jews. More than five million had already been killed by D-Day.

        As Allied troops stormed ashore in Northern France, the Nazis were deporting and murdering Hungarian Jews on a massive scale. The Jews of Hungary were the largest remaining Jewish community in occupied Europe at this time.

        Despite the Allied victory during Operation “Overlord,” Jews would continue to be murdered right up until the end of the war.

        Unloading on the D-Day beaches (main) - History

        By Kerry Skidmore

        Historian Christian Wolmar concludes that the two world wars could not have been fought to such devastation without military railways, in his book Engines of War. In wars, from the Crimean to the arrival of the jet engine, railways were a dominant technology. Consequently, the military that best employed its railways to transfer fresh troops and supplies to the point of greatest need usually prevailed.

        The assault on Hitler’s Fortress Europe saw the strategic use of military railways reach its peak. By 1944, all major armies had reached new levels of mobility and sophistication. A military command could launch devastating attacks by highly mobile armored units, supported by tactical artillery and air support and all supplied by rail. In this type of warfare, rapid transport of fuel, largely carried in millions of five-gallon Jerry cans, and ammunition were tantamount for success. Correspondent Ernie Pyle noted that American artillery fired $10 million worth of ammunition a day. These quantities could only be successfully moved by rail.

        The Crucial Port of Cherbourg

        For Operation Overlord, the Normandy invasion, infantry-related supplies had been stockpiled in England to be landed at the artificial harbors—the miraculous Mulberries— and moved by truck to the troops. The immediate plan to integrate railways into the supply chain was to use the port of Cherbourg, sitting at the top of the Cotentin Peninsula, and discontinue the use of the beaches as supply depots as soon as possible. While Cherbourg was historically a tourist debarkation port and its cargo capabilities were limited, there were excellent deep-water piers there and an inner harbor protected from the North Sea’s storms.

        Cherbourg was to be opened within a week. But the Germans still had strong infantry and armored units stationed along the entire peninsula, and Hitler had a different war plan. He ordered Fortress Cherbourg to resist to the last and that the port facilities be destroyed. After a desperate defense the port finally fell on June 28, 1944. When American engineers arrived in the city, they found that the methodical German garrison had done a masterful job of wrecking the port and facilities

        The main deep-water piers—Quai-du-Normandie, Quai-du-France, and Quai-du-Homet—and the entire arsenal area were expertly blocked with sunken hulks, demolished cranes and equipment, and tons of concrete blasted on top of the wreckage. In the inner harbor, only the seaplane ramp west of the great quays and the reclamation area to the east were undamaged. Thousands of magnetic, acoustic, and contact mines were sown in the waters, shoreline, and facilities. The engineers were also confronted with scores of the new “Katy” mines, which were specifically designed to prevent minesweeping.

        Adding to the invaders’ problems, the American Mulberry at Omaha Beach had been destroyed by a hurricane-force storm on June 21. For the American forces, the only good alternative was to ferry cargo to the beaches using the amphibious 2.5-ton DUKW (military abbreviation for 1942, utility, front and rear wheel drive). Soon cargo ships were offloading onto the ubiquitous DUKWs and all varieties of landing craft and ferried to shore.

        At Cherbourg, the Navy succeeded in clearing lanes to the seaplane ramp and the sandy beach (Terre Plein) in the reclamation area, losing several minesweepers in the effort. More DUKWs and landing craft were brought in, and offloading began onto these beaches. The supplies quickly piled up awaiting transport. While these smaller craft had no problem landing, the 24-foot tides at Cherbourg made landing of heavy equipment, trucks, and trains difficult. Their transfer from the offshore ships was a slow and dangerous process.

        Colonel Bingham’s Breathing Bridge

        Trains, especially 70-ton steam locomotives, presented additional challenges because their long fixed frames required a flat landing area. The standard method was to offload from a berthed Liberty or Seatrain ship with heavy cranes and I-beams directly onto tracks on a dock. Alternatively, locomotives could be loaded onto a shallow draft craft and pulled onto the dock, provided the ship deck and dock were nearly level. This method limited landings to two times a day if the seas permitted.

        Colonel Sidney H. Bingham, manager of the New York subway system in peacetime, devised a “breathing bridge” to land railway rolling stock even to the low tide line. A flange-wheeled ramp, which would connect to rails laid in an LST (Landing Ship, Tank), was run down to the lowest tide line and mated to an LST’s bow ramp. By July 8, Bingham had four of the breathing bridges operating in the Terre Plein, each offloading 22 rail cars in 21 minutes.

        Thousands of railroad locomotives were supplied from the United States to Western Europe
        during the final months of World War II, allowing much-needed troops and supplies to move by rail. In this photo, a locomotive is unloaded from a freighter at the major port city of Cherbourg, France.

        With their heavy equipment ashore, the Corps of Engineers quickly cleared the roads and the railways in town. Soon a steady stream of trucks moved the backlogged supplies to the front, then as far south as Carentan. Except for a collapsed railway tunnel, the railway was surprisingly intact several locomotives and a quantity of rolling stock were found undamaged (among them were six “General Pershing” 2-8-0 locomotives given to the French at the end of World War I). The engineers repaired the 15 miles of existing track and laid new track to the reclamation area, doubling port’s rail capacity.

        A Front Thirsty for Supplies

        At the front the Allies still were making little progress against the Germans, slogging their way through the Bocage, or hedgerow country. However, reconnaissance and intelligence intercepts revealed that the German defenses west of Caen were unraveling. To break the six-week-old stalemate, the American 12th Army Group, commanded by General Omar Bradley, launched Operation Cobra.

        On July 25, VII Corps, commanded by General J. Lawton Collins, attacked west of St. Lo and quickly broke through the German defenses. Carentan was taken on the 28th, and the coastal city of Avranches fell on the 30th. With the German defenses south of Caen rapidly collapsing, General Bradley activated the Third Army to exploit the breakthrough.

        General George Patton had been selected to command the Third Army on January 22, 1944. From March to July, he had played the role of commander, First U.S. Army Group (FUSAG), the hugely successful ruse that kept the Germans tied to defending the Pas-de-Calais. Patton accompanied VIII Corps commander General Troy Middleton south to Avranches during the breakthrough. When the Third Army was activated on August 1, Patton was ordered to send the VIII Corps west to take the Brittany Peninsula while he took the remainder of the Third Army eastward. Its objective was the transport center at Le Mans. Patton’s mission was to trap and destroy the German Seventh Army, commanded by General Gunther von Kluge, west of the Seine River.

        This American Jeep has been fitted with train wheels to match the gauge of the French railway system. This allowed Allied railroad repair personnel to travel up and down the tracks while evaluating the soundness of the lines leading toward supply depots and the front.

        On August 7, Kluge counterattacked westward in a desperate attempt to cut Third Army’s supply line at Avranches. Bradley, well briefed on the coming attack by Army intelligence, saw this threat as an opportunity to trap the Germans. On August 8, Patton was ordered to turn Third Army north to Argentan while Montgomery’s Canadian forces moved south to Falaise. The U.S. XV Corps, under General Wade Haislip, having taken Le Mans on August 8, raced north and captured the German supply depot at Alençon on the 12th and approached Argentan on the 13th. From Mayenne, VII Corps moved northeast to cover XV Corps’ left flank Patton was ready to close the trap.

        What followed was one of the most controversial episodes of the war. The Canadians could not get to Falaise, but Third Army was held at Argentan. Much of the German Seventh Army escaped after suffering tremendous casualties. As early as the 14th, Bradley was certain the Germans had gotten away, so he sent Patton east in pursuit. Fuel was now in short supply. Patton’s armor consumed an average of 336,500 gallons of gasoline a day, and he needed trains to deliver it all.

        The Military Railway Service

        The Military Railway Service (MRS) was developed in response to the lessons of World War I. Organized into grand divisions, each with four or five railway operating battalions (ROB) and a railway shop battalion (RSB), each battalion was sponsored by a Class I American railroad and placed in reserve status under the sponsoring railroad’s name. Upon their activation, the railroads’ supervisors became the battalion officers, and the inducted employees reported to platoons relating to their railway specialty. Each battalion had 18 officers and 803 enlisted men.

        Each battalion had a headquarters company, including dispatchers and signal management Company A, track and signal maintenance Company B, equipment maintenance, including car and locomotive repairs Company C, train crews and train masters. The RSB’s 23 officers and 658 enlisted men were strictly back shop repair and erection companies.

        The Allies had begun ferrying railway equipment to England in 1942. By June 1944, some 900 steam locomotives, 651 Whitcomb diesels, and 20,000 prefab cars were ready to ship to Normandy. As the 2nd MRS, ultimately responsible for operations in northern France, arrived in England, they were put to assembling rolling stock and learning the operating procedures for the European railways. Unfortunately, many units arrived just as the invasion was imminent and left for France with no tools and only the clothes on their backs.

        France’s Railway Infrastructure in Ruins

        Before the war France had 26,000 miles of standard-gauge track. Many of the lines were double tracked for simultaneous bidirectional operations. While French rolling stock was lighter and far older than that on American railroads, the French railways were considered excellent. The 1940 blitzkrieg of France was successful in part because the Germans used the interconnected railways to provide logistical support for their armies. As the Overlord invasion approached, the French railways, now an integral part of the German defenses, were heavily bombed and sabotaged by partisans. Despite these interdiction campaigns, German engineers proved quite adept at keeping some critical lines open to the end. As the Allies pushed them out of western France, these engineers proved equally adept at destroying what little remained.

        Allied bombers and fighters severely damaged the infrastructure of the French railway system prior to D-Day and during the Normandy campaign. In this August 1, 1944, photo damage to a railyard in the city of Coutances, France, is clearly visible.

        As the breakout had advanced, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers service regiments followed closely. These service units, often under fire, worked to open roads, blocked tunnels, wrecked track, and destroyed bridges. Behind them the railway operating battalions struggled to restore rail service. Allied practice at this time was to repair indigenous operating equipment and use the system’s experienced railway workers to operate their railways.

        However, it was discovered that the entire French railway infrastructure had been destroyed or rendered ineffectual. A high percentage of the bridges, rails, and ties were wrecked. Few water facilities and pumps were intact. There was no coal, no electricity, and the signal systems, phone lines, and other equipment were systematically wrecked.

        In the yards, the switches and the rail frogs were dynamited, effectively preventing their use destroyed rolling stock blocked everything. Many of the French railway workers had been hauled off by the retreating Nazis those remaining had taken their tools and were hiding.

        Restoring the Railway Lines

        The railway battalions were forced to start from scratch. They had to build their own tools and then develop facilities. Many were primitive but ingenious. In several areas local fire departments were called out to furnish water for the locomotives. By July 31, the rail line from Cherbourg to Avranches was opened but far from totally functional. Early operations were often compared to a second-rate Toonerville Trolley.

        The five-man train crews set out with a case of K-rations in quarter-mile-long trains carrying 1,000 tons of fuel or ammunition over barely repaired track, often not knowing whether there was track ahead. At night, they moved blacked out, and conducted switching by using flashlights, cigarette lighters, or even lit cigarettes. The crews often went 90 hours on a single trip. Wrecks, from minor derailments to volcanic conflagrations, were frequent and completely halted railway operations.

        As the Third Army moved east, the VIII Corps in Brittany and the First Army in the north were also moving rapidly. Each of these campaigns was along a major rail line and on each of them Corps of Engineers service regiments were frantically trying to restore the lines to service. In addition to this damage, equipment and troop shortages in both the engineering and the railway battalions also hampered efforts to restore service.

        By July 31, the 2nd MRS still had only one grand division between Cherbourg and Avranches. Only 40 diesel and steam locomotives and 184 freight cars had been shipped from England. The Allies had only captured and repaired 100 locomotives, 1,641 freight cars, and 76 coaches. As the railways were increasingly unable to provide direct support to the advancing armies, trucks and even airlifts became the principal means of getting supplies to the tanks This situation hampered American operations until the end of the war.

        “Will Finish at 2000”

        The Third Army’s path invested the main railway line from the Brittany ports to Paris. This double-tracked railway ran through Avranches, Rennes, Laval, La Chappelle, and Le Mans. The German presence in the area consisted of rearguard units trying to hold open the escape routes for forces withdrawing east of the Seine River. These units only slowed the Third Army by further wrecking the roads and railways as they pulled back.

        By August 12, the repairs of the Cherbourg to Pontaubault railway were still far from complete. On just the one section near Folligny, 2,000 Corps of Engineers and ROB troops were working nonstop on the repairs. At sunset on the 12th, Colonel Emerson C. Itschner, commanding the Corps of Engineers regiments in northern France, received a remarkably prescient instruction from Third Army:

        “General Patton has broken through and is striking rapidly for Paris. He says his men can get along without food, but his tanks and trucks won’t run without gas. Therefore the railroad must be constructed to Le Mans by Tuesday midnight. Today is Saturday. Use one man per foot to make repairs if necessary.”

        Itschner had just 75 hours to open a 135-mile-long rail line. For this task he had the 347th and 322nd Engineer General Service Units (the 2,000 men near Folligny). Another 8,500 troops were scattered all over the Allied lodgment. These units, and all the equipment that could be rounded up, were ordered to rush south.

        Combat engineers work to erect a Bailey bridge across a stream in France.

        At daylight on the 13th, Itschner flew over the area searching for the route that could be repaired by the deadline. The damage to the high viaduct at Laval immediately eliminated the main line. Itschner was forced to select an alternate route over secondary single track lines from Pontanaubault to St. Hilaire-du-Harcouet, south to Fougeres, east to Mayenne, and south to rejoin the main line east of Laval and on into Le Mans.

        This route was in little better condition. Five bridges were down. The most serious was an 80-foot span at St. Hillarie-du-Harcourt, but Itschner believed all could be repaired in time. All day on Sunday and Monday elements of the 392nd, 390th, and 95th Engineer Regiments— now some 9,000 men—began arriving piecemeal and were soon working on all the trouble spots simultaneously.

        With six hours remaining before the deadline, Itschner flew over the line. Below him the engineers had spelled out “will finish at 2000” in white concrete. Thirty-one gasoline-loaded trains left Folligny at 1900 hours on the 14th and began crossing the St. Hilaire-du-Harcouet Bridge at midnight. Despite nine delays, the quarter-mile-long trains arrived at 30-minute intervals in Le Mans beginning at midnight on the 15th.

        “Toot Sweet Express”

        The Corps of Engineers had completed a dramatic achievement in military railway construction. On their rails the ROBs, the last leg anchored by the 740th Railway Operating Battalion, had transited the 135 miles using improvised rail lines to deliver the important fuel on time. For its effort, the 740th was to bring the first train into Paris on August 30. A remarkable opportunity, in a remarkable month, resulted in a total effort and assured that Patton would continue to pursue and destroy the Germans.

        The U.S. XII Corps, commanded by General Manton Eddy, took Orleans on the 16th, and XX Corps, under General Walton Walker, occupied Chartres on the 18th. By August 24, the Third Army had four bridgeheads across the Seine, 30 miles south of Paris.

        On August 25, the Third Army resumed its drive eastward toward Metz as far as logistics permitted. This drive created something of a reversal of roles for the logistical support chain. The railways east of the Seine were in excellent condition, while their western counterparts remained primitive, still relying on single-track lines and hand signaling and lacking rolling stock.

        In response, Red Ball Express truck transport was initiated to move supplies to Paris where they were loaded onto trains and moved eastward. Unfortunately, even this distance was too great for the trucks to support the Third Army indefinitely. By the end of August, 90 to 95 percent of all supplies were still on the beaches or at Cherbourg, 300 miles from the Third Army spearheads. The crisis reached a climax at the end of August nothing was moved eastward from August 27 until September 2. Third Army, at the German frontier, was out of fuel.

        Special cargos were loaded onto expedited trains, affectionately named the “Toot Sweet Express.”

        Eisenhower’s Decision: Montgomery over Patton

        Supreme Allied Commander General Dwight D. Eisenhower had to make a choice give the available fuel to Patton or the British 21st Army Group under General Bernard L. Montgomery in the north. For reasons more political than strategic, Eisenhower gave his erstwhile subordinate Montgomery all the available fuel to conduct his ill-conceived Operation Market-Garden, the ground and airborne invasion of Holland to seize vital bridges for a strike at the Ruhr, the industrial heart of Germany.

        Third Army, which many historians believe could have continued to advance, would not receive fuel again until the port of Antwerp, Belgium, became fully operational later in the year. Thus, despite the somewhat anticlimactic end, the combat engineers and railway workers recorded a monumental achievement in the summer of 1944.

        Remembering the Paratroopers of D-Day

        As the doors opened, the paratroopers held their breaths and trusted in their training and blind faith. I&rsquove never been a fan of heights, and the thought of stepping out of a plane, weighted down with equipment and violently deploying parachutes, and no idea where I&rsquom going to land absolutely terrifies me. Throw in the very real threat of enemy forces waiting on the ground to kill me, and I am definitely thankful for the brave souls who fought for our country on D-Day.

        Paratroopers boarding their aircraft.

        It&rsquos been 75 years since the monumental battles of D-Day, and the world is looking back to commemorate this historic event. Some have found unique ways to remember those who fought. One such individual, Warren Johnson of St. Louis, is honoring his grandfather&rsquos brother by traveling to Normandy to reenact the D-Day jump &ndash parachuting from the same C-47 that carried his granduncle 75 years ago.

        I cannot imagine what these men went through that historic day, and throughout the war, nor can I fathom what they must have felt as they performed their duty on that fateful morning. What we can do, however, is remember and pay tribute to those who fought hard for us &hellip not just on the 75th anniversary, but through all our history.


        Omaha was the most heavily defended of all the D-Day beaches its bunkers, fighting positions, and obstacles were intended to repel any Allied landing. Though they exacted by far the heaviest toll of the attackers, its defenses delayed movement inland by only several hours.

        Omaha spanned ten statute miles in seven sectors (A, B, C, D, E, F, and G), bounded by the Douve Estuary separating Utah Beach on the west and by Gold on the east. However, the first three sectors were not used. Before the landing craft touched shore, the area was attacked by hundreds of bombers, mostly B-24 Liberators, but their bombs fell too far inland. Forced to drop through an undercast, the bombers were concerned about ‘‘overs’’ that might endanger the naval force offshore. Consequently, no German defenses were damaged, and no bomb craters were available to provide cover for the GIs on the beach.

        Omaha was by far the toughest assignment in Overlord. Inland from the tidal flats, with their mines and booby-trapped obstacles, was a line of barbed wire and an artificial seawall. Next came a level, grassy plain between 150 and three hundred yards wide, also strewn with mines and providing almost no cover. Dominating the entire scene was a line of bluffs about 150 feet high, defended by a dozen primary concrete bunkers, including concrete casemates for 50, 75, and 88 mm artillery. There were also innumerable fighting holes for riflemen and machine gunners, with carefully designed interlocking fields of fire. Additionally, mortars and artillery behind the bluffs, largely invulnerable to naval gunfire, could cover almost any part of Omaha Beach.

        American soldiers wading toward Omaha Beach: U.S. Army via Martin K.A. Morgan. Omaha came under the Western Naval Task Force led by Rear Adm. Alan G. Kirk. In direct supervision of the Omaha landings was Rear Adm. J. L. Hall.

        The first wave of the First and Twenty-ninth Infantry Divisions scheduled to hit the beach at 0630 in sectors designated (west to east) Dog Green, Dog White, Dog Red, Easy Green, Easy Red, and Fox Green. Apart from ferocious German opposition, winds and tidal currents forced most landing craft off course, and only the 116th Infantry of the Twenty-ninth Infantry Division landed where expected.

        The landing sectors mostly lay within the operating area of the German 352d Infantry Division, with most of the landing sectors defended by the 916th Regiment plus the 726th Regiment of the 716th Division.

        One American summarized, “Omaha was a killing zone” while another called it “a shooting gallery.” Two 352d Division machine gunners, Corporal Heinrich Severloh and Private Franz Gockel, are thought to have inflicted many of the U.S. casualties from Wiederstandnest 62 overlooking the beach. The defense was so fierce that the 352nd’s commander, Generalleutnant Dietrich Kraiss, accepted reports that the Americans were withdrawing. Consequently, he committed his reserves against Gold Beach to his right, permitting other GIs to get ashore.

        Three towns fronted Omaha Beach, and they became immediate objectives. From west to east they were Vierville-sur-Mer, St. Laurent-sur-Mer, and Colleville-sur-Mer. Each controlled one of the main exits from the beach into the interior—respectively, Dog One, Dog Three, and Easy Three. By day’s end nearly forty thousand men had landed on Omaha Beach, quickly moving inland to exploit the breakout.

        Unloading on the D-Day beaches (main) - History

        This section of the World War II History info guide is devoted to "Operation Overlord," the Allied invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe that began on D-Day -- June 6, 1944 -- on the beaches of Normandy, France.

        D-Day Introduction

        June 1944 was a major turning point of World War II, particularly in Europe. Although the initiative had been seized from the Germans some months before, so far the western Allies had been unable to mass sufficient men and material to risk an attack in northern Europe.

        By mid-1944 early mobilization of manpower and resources in America was beginning to pay off. Millions of American men had been trained, equipped, and welded into fighting and service units. American industrial production had reached its wartime peak late in 1943. While there were still critical shortages -- in landing craft, for instance -- production problems were largely solved, and the Battle of the Atlantic had been won. Ever increasing streams of supplies from the United States were reaching anti-Axis fighting forces throughout the world.

        By the beginning of June 1944, the United States and Great Britain had accumulated in the British Isles the largest number of men and the greatest amount of materiel ever assembled to launch and sustain an amphibious attack. Strategic bombing of Germany was reaching its peak. In May 1943, the Combined Chiefs of Staff had given high priority to a Combined Bomber Offensive to be waged by the Royal Air Force and the U.S. Army Air Forces. By late summer 1943, Allied bombers were conducting round-the-clock bombardment of German industry and communications. In general, British planes bombed by night and American planes bombed by day. Whereas an air raid by 200 planes had been considered large in June 1943, the average strike a year later was undertaken by 1,000 heavy bombers.

        After considerable study strategists determined to make the cross-channel attack on the beaches of Normandy east of the Cherbourg Peninsula. Early objectives of the operation were the deep-water ports at Cherbourg and at Brest in Brittany.

        Three months before D-Day, a strategic air campaign was inaugurated to pave the way for invasion by restricting the enemy's ability to shift reserves. French and Belgian railways were crippled, bridges demolished in northwestern France, and enemy airfields within a 130-mile radius of the landing beaches put under heavy attack. Special attention was given to isolating the part of northwestern France bounded roughly by the Seine and Loire Rivers. The Allies also put into effect a deception plan to lead the Germans to believe that landings would take place farther north along the Pas de Calais.

        Opposed to the Allies was the so-called Army Group B of the German Army, consisting of the Seventh Army in Normandy and Brittany, the Fifteenth Army in the Pas de Calais and Flanders, and the LXXXVIII Corps in Holland -- all under command of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel. Commander of all German forces in western Europe was Field Marshal von Rundstedt who, in addition to Group B, also had at his disposal Group G composed of the First and Nineteenth Armies. In all, Von Rundstedt commanded approximately fifty infantry and ten Panzer divisions in France and the Low Countries.

        1) after the dieppe raid, the allies prepare for d-day

        The Dieppe Raid, bearing the unfortunate code name of Operation Jubilee, was carried out on 19 August 1942 with appalling casualties. It did at least provide valuable information on how not to carry out such amphibious operations, of which this was the first on any scale. Consisting mainly of Canadian troops, it was principally designed to test the German defences. With over 900 deaths among the Canadians alone, it fuelled German propaganda on the invincibility of their so-called ‘Atlantic Wall’.

        Called Seaside To Normandy D Day Beaches

        I find it very strange, yet synchronistic that I ended up here. Was I called? D Day beaches in Normandy are certainly very pretty, but because of all the blood shed there, they frankly were not my first thought for a seaside stay.

        Having to plan a rather last-minute vacation, I considered the entire Atlantic coast down beyond the Spanish border and of course Brittany , before Normandy.

        In the end, I did not want to drive very far, considering the time and all the expensive tolls you pay to travel anywhere here in France.

        So here I am at Courseulles Sur Mer, where Juno Beach is located. It is only a 2 and 1/2 hours drive from Paris, and yes the beaches are really lovely despite the horrific history.

        It is just one of the several D-day beaches where allied troops landed to free France from the occupying Nazi regime. Utah, Omaha and Gold are all near by, each one having a specific battle history with different allied troops.

        Was it because I found another apartment with a splendid view that drew me here, or was it something beyond the explainable?

        It’s hard to ignore the history of the place, when military tanks are displayed like shrines in the center of the villages and road signs point to the American and Canadian cemeteries?

        Making it even stranger was the fact that we arrived on the 7th of June, just one day slight of the anniversary on June 6, the day I had originally planned on arriving.

        Of course you would never know from the looks of these beautiful beaches today, pristinely clean and nestled along peaceful green pastures where grazing cows dot the landscape.

        Bombed to smithereens, during World War II, the towns and villages along the coast have all been rebuilt and most look very modern and clean in appearance. They bear little resemblance to the typical quaint rural villages found throughout France.

        There is always an annual ceremony to commemorate the invasion that saved France, along with many activities of several weeks duration, that draw many French and foreign tourists to honor this deliverance from a devastating war.

        The list of elderly soldiers who participated keeps diminishing as I write. They are mostly in their 90’s by now.

        My own father was an air force pilot during this time, who was expecting to fly off to the cause just before he married my Southern belle mother.

        Before I was born, he had made tiny little booties crafted from one of his thick wool insulated black leather bomber jackets, that always intrigued me.

        My son was extremely interested in the military evasion here to the point that I considered it more than a little boy’s war stories phase. He could recount which allied forces landed where and all sorts of other various details that I never knew, nor cared about knowing.

        The light golden brown sand beach against a pale greenish blue sea is why this area is called La Côte de Nacre. The colour of the sea does indeed remind me of the inside of a mother of pearl(nacre) shell.

        Our wonderful huge terrace looked directly over the beach and I loved just sitting out looking at the surf whooshing in rhythmically. Even more so listening to the loud surf falling asleep.

        The tides cause the sea to recede quite a distance from the shore, and like clock

        work every 7 hours, come rushing back in, narrowing the sand beach considerably.

        I imagined that with each white crest wave crashing on the sand and then dissolving into millions of white bubbles releasing tons of healing ions of oxygen to my thirsting grieving neurons.

        With each breath, I visioned breathing in deeply this life infused sea mist elixir like a newborn taking their first breaths.

        This is a do nothing type beach vacation for me. The emphasis is on the sea and nature rather than seeing ancient historical sites or wandering around tiny medieval streets as I did in Sicily recently.

        Courseulles Sur mer still has their “criée” or fisherman’s wharf where the catches of the day are for sale. The women do the selling and males and females take turns with the cleaning and preparation of the fish, hounded by the sea gulls.

        I see fishing boats go out several times during the day and in the evening. Maybe the majority of the evening catch goes to Rungis in Paris, where fishmongers go to get their fish to sale.

        I like walking there in the morning to see the fisherman unloading the vast trays of fish and watching the ever present sea gulls fighting over morsels of remains.

        They make quite a noisy bunch of characters squawking and screeching in very high decibels with such variations of pitch , that it must be a rich vocabulary comprehended by sea gulls only.

        I saw one daring bird steal right out of the tray a whole sole flying off to devour it while defending himself from fellow bird thieves in hopes of catching him off guard.

        I came prepared to cook more than eating out, envisioning being delighted in the right off the boat fish bounty.

        Normandy is likewise very famous for the richest of butters and cream from Isigny, sparkling apple cider, Calvados, buttery white crust cow cheeses, especially Camembert!

        Since I was driving, I could really load up with a few kitchen essentials I would not leave home without.

        I never know how equipped rental kitchens will be, so I try to be prepared. My pepper grinder, sel de Guérande and champagne bottle corker are the first to go in, then olive oil, fresh herbs, garlic and lemon.

        I carried a sharp chopping knife, a serrated one, oyster knife, and a steel whip as I knew that I would be making beurre blanc sauce for fish.

        Filets of Saint Pierre or John Dory was my first choice to serve with my delicious beurre blanc made from beurre d’Isigny.

        I can count on the French to have champagne flutes, but have some in plastic for travel to other countries. This kitchen, though tiny with no real counter space was surprising well equipped with even a food processor and lots of pots and pans.

        As it turns out, I was glad I came to cook, as the two times we ate out were disappointing. Once it was not as fresh as it should be, the other time overcooked.

        No excuse for any restaurant serving stale fish,

        I get very fresh fish at the poissonnerie of my neighborhood marché, bought at Rungis in the wee hours of the morning.

        If I overcook my fish, It is certainly my fault. When I am paying restaurant prices at a place specialising in regional seafood, I am not happy.

        I was rather shocked when the very young chef came out to defend his cooking, rather than accommodate my very politely delivered complaint and refused my request to exchange it!

        Maybe he can get away with this in a small seacoast town that swells with tourists during July and August, but in Paris that would be unheard of if he wanted to keep clients.

        Insofar as oysters, and I know that I am generalizing somewhat, because I certainly haven’t tasted all oyster producers n Normandy, but I prefer the oysters from Brittany.

        I find them lacking in brininess that I find more pleasing to my palate, but eating them in front of the ocean made up for any deficits.

        They are more nutty and buttery as an oyster goes, which I think suits them well to being served warmed with sauces seen here, rather than just on the half shell.

        North Atlantic fish such as turbot, saint pierre, cod, carrelet(plie)and of course sole are priced much lower than in Paris, and the same for lobsters, langoustines, tourteau and spider crabs.

        I was tempted by the lobsters, but there weren’t any claw crackers, or a large enough pot at the apartment. Besides, I always have a problem with “dispatching” them to a pot of boiling water.

        I would not be able to briefly ‘anesthetize” them in the tiny freezer compartment either. Forget about cutting them in two, as still feel traumatized by doing that once, written about on January 4, 2016.

        My father, who spent his childhood summers at Cape Cod, Massachusetts was a huge lobster aficionado and would not have had the least bit of problem doing the dirty work.

        Northern Atlantic crabs are much larger than the blue crabs of the Gulf of Mexico that I love, and I do not find them to be as sweet, not as succulent as the Louisiana blue crabs of my past.

        Unfortunately those huge fat prawns that I delighted in Sicily were missing, except those imported at 48 euros a kilo! That’s normal of course as they are warm water creatures from the Mediterranean, not the cold Atlantic!

        We settled on the raie(sting ray) which was absolutely succulent served with a beurre noisette and capers on the terrace.

        So much for the culinary treats I enjoyed, as I had only one other thing that I wanted to do while here, besides walking the beaches.

        I felt called to go to the American cemetery again near Colleville Sur Mer, a mere 10 or so kilometers away.

        I had visited it for the first time with my son André, when he was living in Paris doing his culinary studies at Ferrandi.

        The cemetery is set on a cliff overlooking the vast and sweeping Omaha beach. France gave this immense parcel of land as a perpetually concession , never to have charges, nor being taxed in gratitude for the sacrifice of these brave American soldiers.

        The first time I visited, I remember vividly being overwhelmed with sadness and tears, that I couldn’t hold back. A field of white crosses as far as my eyes could see was something that I never could have imagined before.

        My return visit, I felt more somber, and my tears felt frozen intertwined with my own grief. For every soldier who died and is buried here, there was a grieving mother like myself.

        I was not alone in their pain as I walked meditatively through the countless rows of marble white crosses and a few stars of David. There are 9, 387 courageous young soldiers buried here, certainly a small fraction of lives lost during WWII.

        Stems of fresh roses had been laid at the foot of the crosses, and I was especially touched that each cross of an unknown soldier had a long stem white rose.

        Here rests in honored glory, a comrade in arms, known but to God. I sent silent prayers to each of these men and three women buried here for the supreme sacrifice they made for a very noble cause.

        Their very young lives cut short in fierce combat against a heinous military plague lead by an evil leader. A very stark reminder of the pain and loss of war, that many French people endured having their homes and villages totally destroyed.

        The French people are very grateful to the Allied Forces for giving them back their freedom, easily witnessed by all the American, Canadian, Irish and British flags waving in the wind at each sea coast village here.

        My own son died in a combat against severe Bipolar II and addiction, certainly cruel fierce enemies, but hardly still recognised as such.

        I wonder if it was he who called me here again, despite my reluctance to hang around these beautiful beaches with a very sad and violent past.

        Perhaps yes. At times I felt his presence and even his words would surface spontaneously as if he was just next to me.

        I want with all my heart to believe they were from him, and not a replay in my mind. So thank you son for bringing me back here and being by my side with love.

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