Calais to Pointe du Hoc, North West France


Posted: , Last update: May 23 2017, in D-Day Normandy, LandmarkScout Travels. 2 comments

Vimoutiers – Tiger 1 E

The PzKpfw VI Ausf. E (Sd. Kfz. 181) in Vimoutiers

Our first stop after leaving home really early in the morning. We stretched our legs walking around this impressive Tiger 1. The tank stands here pointing towards the valley like it’s going to make another attack. It is displayed on a rest area beside the road where you can take your time to study or walk around it and take nice pictures.

Falaise Musée Août 1944

Warning: It seems that this museum is permanently closed now (since 2011), and it’s collection placed elsewhere.
This wasn’t the case when we were there to visit in 2010, but we did show up one day too early for the start of that years season.. It seems that our little mistake turned out to be a little more definite than we thought and we’ll probably wont see this collection anymore, or at least as one. Rumour has it that the collection is being sold off one by one to other collectors and museums in the world. A real shame, because the outside looks promising.
There is a fully restored M4A1 Sherman tank in the garden at the entrance, together with a until recently still used Bailey bridge and some artillery pieces. If you walk around the builing to the left you can see lots of tank and other vehicle parts on the museum grounds (inaccessible). Many of the parts can be identified as Sherman hulls and turrets and we also recognized a M32 Recovery Tank! Through the window at the entrance of the museum we could see a V1 hanging from the ceiling. Inside there is also a Panzer IV on display.If you have any more information regarding this museum, please keep us posted!
The Sherman M4A1 and the Bailey Bridge in front of the entrance
Waiting to be restored or to return to dust?
Another Sherman tank in pretty good shape with a halftrack chassis in front
A Bedford truck with the M32 behind it
Yes, the tracks are nice.. but look inside the building.. a Panther!
The M32 from the back

German war cemetery in La Cambe

Very impressive military cemetery. 20.000 German fallen of whom very young soldiers are buried here. These soldiers came from the later drafts of the SS. Tank commander Michael Wittmann lies buried here amongst them. Recently found remains of German soldiers throughout Normandy are buried in the center of this cemetery where a large hill gives them their last resting place.

At the entrance of La Cambe there is a map with the lay-out of the graves
A long walk to the hill in the centre of the cemetery
The grave stone of Michael Wittmann (*22-4-1914 +8-8-1944)

Pointe du Hoc – Ranger Memorial

Here it becomes very clear what hardships the US 2nd Rangers had to endure to get a foothold on this part of the Atlantic Wall. Once you have seen the height and the steipness of the cliff walls (20 metres) and the German ingenuity of this defenceline, it seems like an undoable task. The traces of the bombardment haven’t faded a bit and it’s very impressive to see the enormous craters marking this part of the countryside. Notice the size of the people in the following picture.
A large impact crater
Construction work was done to stabilize the cliffs and the German observation bunker
Finding a way around the fenced contruction road to see these bunkers
The coastline of Pointe du Hoc

Omaha Beach Landing

This is a beach like any other. It faintly comes up from the sea and it’s like one of those beaches where you have to walk through the water for a long time before it’s finally deep enough to swim. The first soldiers had to wade through this water for many yards under fire, before finally reaching the wide beach without any cover, they had to run for their lives to make it across.
It’s just a beach, but it tells us everything about the hardships at “Bloody Omaha” during Operation Overlord on June 6th 1944.On the sands of Saint-Laurent is the monument “Les Braves” (The Brave Ones) commemorating and honoring the soldiers that fought here.
Omaha Beach
Les Braves

Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial – Colleville-sur-Mer

With a view on the same beach, 9.387 white crosses and stars look out over the sea from this impressive American war cemetery.  Everything is well cared for and white, green and light. A big contrast with the small black stones marking the graves of La Cambe. You can walk down to the beach or like us be in time to see the ceremony to raise or lower the flag.
The Stars and Stripes
View on the memorial
The American War Cemetery of Colleville-sur-Mer

 

Audinghen – Musee Batterie Todt

Musee Batterie Todt is privatly owned (like most WWII museums) and as lucky as we are we once again found a closed door (it’s a curse I tell you!!). Luckily this time it was only for lunch so we just had to be patient (TIP:Next to the museum is a campsite with a nice wooden bistro where you can eat something). Beside that there is enough stuff to look at on the museum grounds, so don’t worry getting bored.
Outside, the main attraction is without a doubt the Krupp K5 280mm railwaygun. Although not originally stationed at Batterie Todt, there were a few of these guns present around Calais, Normandy in 1944. There are also still a few of the so called “Dom bunkers” in that area in which guns like these, including their locomotive, were hidden.
In the museum itself you can learn a lot about life in this battery. There are also lots of photo’s from that time, including pictures of the construction by Organisation Todt. Furthermore there is lots of stuff like uniforms, amunition, firearms and vehicles on display. Don’t flash while taking a picture, because an alarm will go off.
Inside the 380mm Siegfried gun emplacement. This used to be one open space.
The Krupp K5 280mm railway gun (Notice the stack of stones to keep the barrel up)

Turm I

Batterie Todt (Stp.186 Saitenspeil) exsists out of a total of four very large bunkers (Turms I t/m IV). The museum is only settled in Turm I. All of these bunkers housed a 380mm Siegfried gun to fire across the Channel to England. Due to the enormous size of these guns de structures are of a massive scale, although the museum itself is the least of all to leave this impression.

Turm II

Turm II lies more secluded in the foilage of a nearby forest and is in pretty bad shape. There’s a lot of water at the bottom and there are signs of recent decay. Scan this area closely because there are a lot more bunkers hidden in the green nearby, all part of the battery at the time. Some bunkers catch you by suprise, as you become aware of them while they are only a few yards away.

Because it is sealed to house bats, Turm II is not littered with graffiti
The room for the gun turret
Lots of these types of bunkers are hidden in this area
Signs of decay

Turm III

is a ruïne. It seems to have been this way after an explosion, presumably killing three people, but it is unclear if this happened in August 1944 right after it’s capture or at the end of the war in 1945. The explosion must have had a terrible force since the massive thick concrete roof lies shifted on the ruïne walls. The backside of the Turm is gone completely. To us it seemed like there might have been an explosion in the ammunition chamber located at the back of the complex. If you have more information about this, please feel free to share it with us!

Crashed down concrete rubble from the roof
From the back it still kinda looks okay
The turret opening is completely gone
At the back of the Turm
Concrete stairs hanging from steel bars
The force of the explosion must have been enormous

Turm IV

shows a much better example of the enormous scale of the bunker. It is also in a suprisingly good condition, watching over the outstretched coastline towards the sea. On clear days you can see England, whitch guarantees beautifull pictures.

The turret opening facing the Channel
Let’s cheer the place up with some grafitti
Water at the bottom of Turm IV
Notice the rings made to hoist the gun into the building
Like it was built yesterday
At the back of the turm
On top of the lower part of the complex
Turm IV in the green wilderness

Apart from Turm I (Musee Batterie Todt) the other structures are left to their destiny. The monuments are littered with garbage, it’s walls are ideal for graffiti (without compassion for the original German ones put there during the war, shame on you!) and used as public toilet. Our hearts break seeing this. We expect no action will be taken to prevent this until the only option is to take them down. So, if you want to see Batterie Todt on it’s full scale, don’t wait too long.

Wissant beach – Atlantic Wall bunkers

The beach of Wissant is still full of WWII obstacles en bunkers. The sea is slowly pulling them in or digging away the sand from under them so the concrete structures seem to lie scattered all over the beach. Still, you can get a good picture of the thoroughness with which the German defence was prepared. And looking at this coastline, it doesn’t seem strange at all that they expected a landing at Wissant.
A little bit further inland there is a lake which was used as a second defenceline. Here you will find a few other bunkers. Regretfully, even though they are in excellent shape and undamaged, most of them are tilted forward and sinking slowly into the lake. You can make a beautiful walk down a trail around the lake and take a look at them.

This bunker was put out of action
Bunker on the beach with pieces of the anti tankwall next to it
Find other pictures of this bunker on the net (12H59) and watch it sink into the sand

Helfaut – La CoupoleV2 Musee

This is one of the “Sonderbauten” which was planned to be built by organisatie Todt between 1943 and 1944 in France. The underground complex was ment to be used for storing and launching large quantities of V2 (A4) rockets. A 5 metres thick concrete dome with a diameter of 71 metres had to protect the enormous rocket launching station against air attacks.
La Coupole
Building equipment like the laberours can return any minute
One of the tunnels of a system of at least 7 kilometres

The last thing you’d expect to find here in this remote area is this massive structure. It almost feels like driving up to a U.F.O. when you see the big round shape appear and while getting closer to the structure we have difficulty estimating it’s size. The only thing to base a guess on is the small bunker standing next to the dome, but that turns out not to be that small at all.

Starting at the parking lot you walk up to a modern visitor centre where you have to pay admission and get a headphone to guide you in four languages. From the ceiling hangs the manned V1 (the man is a doll) Fiesler Fi 104 Re4. Then you leave the visitor centre and you can walk up to the entrance of La Coupole. At least 7 kilometres of tunnel system was dug here mainly by forced labourers. There is an impressive exhibition about this, illustrated by several multimedia installations. Only part of this large complex of tunnels is open to the public. You can take the elevator to the dome above.

For those who like modern exhibitions with lots of media like video, lights, etc, this part is really nice. But if you expect to find more about the history of this structure you will be pretty disapointed. The exhibit is mainly about the Second World War in France in general and near the end more specific about the development of the rocket and later even the space age. There are some nice scaled models of other Organisation Todt projects (Sonderbauten), but the museum doesn’t seem to have the main focus on this specific subject or the structure itself. We found this somewhat dissapointing, although the big concrete dome hanging visible over our heads and took some of that disapointment away.
It’s probably because the building was never actually used by the Nazis and left abandoned in 1944.

You can make a walk around the dome. It starts from the parking lot near the entrance on the right. The path climbs up the hill towards the dome. Sometimes you get real close to the concrete, but unfortunately because of the thick foilage between the path and the dome, there isn’t a lot to see. Then you reach a side of the bunker where modern gates have been made and looks like a storage area. Again we were disapointed when we got there. Deciding not to leave without at least one decent picture we took matters in our own hand and climbed past the fence through the foilage to the roof. We found the ‘small’ bunker which we could photograph from the back (it’s not that small) and got a view on the top of the dome. We took our last pictures of the trip.

Photo Album

Normandie





2 thoughts on “Calais to Pointe du Hoc, North West France

  1. Pointe du hoc
    I went there by hitch hiking in 1992. This was before they started putting up signs and pathways and cleaning it up for the 50th in 95.. It really did feel like yesterday. Small bits of concrete still everywhere, not much grass in craters.

    Hope you do a post on arromanche, it always impresses me.

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