DAY 7: SATURDAY 11th SEPTEMBER 1999

At Saint-Comme-de-Fresne, on the bluffs to the East of Arromanches, as well as the remains of various German bunkers, there are a number of memorials to Allied units, along with the impressive Arromanches 360 cinema. In the completely circular auditorium, visitors are literally surrounded by images of the Invasion, inter-cut with full 360 deg. modern footage, the special camera-rig being mounted on a number of vehicles, including a working Sherman tank. Coupled with a dynamic soundtrack which alternates between the cacophony of battle and pastoral tranquility, the effect is both brutally stunning and deeply touching, as 1940s footage melts seamlessly to exactly the same locations today, and then back to the War again. Just down the cliff road/path to Arromanches can be found a well-preserved M4A3 Sherman tank used by the Free French 2nd Armoured Division.
Remains of bunkers, Allied D-Day memorials, and observation table at Saint-Come-de-Fresne. French 2nd DB Sherman tank, "Berry-Au-Bac."
Situated next to the beach at Arromanches is the town's Museum, which covers the Invasion in general, and the story of the Mulberry artificial harbours in particular. A wonderful working model demonstrates the working of the harbour, even down to how the various massive concrete and steel elements were designed to rise and fall with the tide on stilt-like steel supports, allowing unloading to be carried out around-the-clock. Some observers are apt to question the worth of the artificial port, since when the partially-completed Mulberry at Omaha was irretrievably damaged in a fierce storm in late-June 1944, operations there resorted to more conventional methods. By unloading directly onto the beach using various landing vehicles, or beaching coasters at low-tide, ultimately more material was brought ashore there than via the working Mulberry at Gold. This, however, completely misses the point that at the time of planning, it was considered that the Invasion forces could not be supplied by the methods eventually employed at Omaha, and that it was thought that it would be impossible to capture a working deep-water port intact. Quite simply, without Mulberry the Invasion would not have gone ahead.
Small pack howitzer outside the Musée Arromanches. 40mm Bofors anti-aircraft cannon.
British field gun. Anti-tank gun.
Weapons and equipment used by the Forces Francais d'Interieur (FFI - "French Forces of the Interior") resistance fighters, including British Mark 2 (Second Pattern) 9mm Sten SMG [top] and .303" Bren LMG [bottom]. Selection of gas masks. The maroon canister is the hose-attached filter of the top-left British mask, an early/pre-war version with khaki fabric covering (later models were plain black rubber).
US rifles: M1 Garand semi-automatic [top rear], Springfield bolt-action [top front], M1 Carbine [bottom rear], and paratrooper version as the same [bottom front]. Note the stock on the latter has been folded, as opposed to the one seen at the US Airborne Museum. All these rifles were .30" calibre, but the carbines took a shorter cartridge than the one used in the Garand and the Springfield, so ammunition was not interchangeable. Heavy machine guns, including British .303" Vickers in the foreground, and what appears to be a similar Browning .30" at the back. Both these guns were of WW1 vintage, but still in use by WW2. In between is the more modern Browning .30" gun, which was used by all the Allies on D-Day.
As the evening drew in, we reached the spot just outside of Graye-sur-Mer where General de Gaulle returned to French soil on 14 June 1944. The site is marked by a large Cross of Lorraine, as well as another more unusual memorial.
In March 1943 Major-General Percy Hobart was brought out of retirement (he was actually serving as a Corporal in his local Home Guard) by Churchill and tasked with forming the irregular 79th Armoured Division to develop special weapons for use in the anticipated Invasion. Based on existing tank chassis, the so-called "Hobart's Funnies" included the "Duplex Drive" amphibious and "Flail" mine-clearance Shermans, while a large number of surplus Churchill Mark IV/IV infantry tanks were adapted as the "Crocodile" flame-thrower and the cryptically-named "Canal Defence Light" (CDL), which used a powerful searchlight to blind and disorientate defending troops during night attacks. Later additions to "Hobart's Zoo" were several early Armoured Personnel Carriers (APCs), such as the Canadian Ram Kangaroo and US-built Buffalo.
Another basic adaptation was the Armoured Vehicle Royal Engineers (AVRE) Churchill tank, which had its usual 6-pounder (57mm) or 75mm turret gun replaced with a 50-pounder Petard Mortar for blasting German gun emplacements and other obstacles at point-blank range (the Centaur tanks like the one seen at Pegasus Bridge fulfilled a similar function, although they were not part of the 79th Division). The AVRE was developed as a direct result of the disaster at Dieppe, when combat engineers on foot were cut down before they could get near their targets. With the AVRE, they could destroy obstacles with the Petard, or else park adjacent to it, allowing a crew-member to exit through the side access hatches with a demolition charge, and then withdraw again before detonating it. The AVREs were also capable of a number of additional tasks, such as bridge-laying or dropping fascines (huge bundles of small tree branches) for filling in bomb craters or anti-tank ditches. Another variant carried a huge bobbin-roll of heavy canvas for laying over soft sand or clay on the assault beaches, so following vehicles would not get bogged down. 
The 79th never fought together as a whole, but rather elements of it were attached to other Allied units as and when needed, but significantly, the Americans used only the DD Shermans, and chose to launch them several miles off-shore, resulting in the vast majority sinking in the rough seas. At Omaha, out of thirty-two tanks, only three made it to the beach, but had the Americans adopted the other "Funnies" - or just used the DD's more thoughtfully - the initial battle on that beach may have gone very differently. At Graye-sur-Mer, one can see an AVRE which landed on Juno Beach on 6 June, and was stopped by enemy action 100 metres inland.
The AVRE 'One-Charlie' at Graye-sur-Mer in the shadow of the Cross of Lorraine. It was recovered in 1976 and put on display in 1984 to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of D-Day. 290mm Petard Mortar Bombard. It only had an effective range of about 100 yards, but the 20kg explosive charge - which the British crews nicknamed it the "Flying Dustbin" - could demolish enemy bunkers and strongpoints, and was even known to disable the fearsome German Tiger tank.
Front view with driver's vision hatch on the left, and 7.92mm Besa machine-gun on the right (the unmodified Churchill IV had another mounted coaxially next to the main turret gun. The large lug above the tracks was used for mounting additional specialist equipment. The square side access hatch (unique to the Churchill, although on models other than the Mark IV/IV they were circular) allowed a crew member to exit close to an obstacle and place a demolition charge, which would then be detonated after the tank had retired to a safe distance. 
Inland from Juno Beach at Reviers is the principal Canadian cemetery of the Invasion. Based on the standard CWGC model, the cemetery holds 1,123 graves, almost all of which bear the Canadian maple leaf emblem, although there are also a number of casualties from the nearby British Sword Beach.

RETURN TO INDEX

RETURN TO DAY 6

CONTINUE TO DAY 8

RETURN TO MAIN PAGE

12/02/00 First upload
07/02/01 Index added