Normandy 2

When I awoke this morning I realized
that it would be wise to get an idea of the scale of the D-Day landings. Maps
are so very misleading – the landing beaches are laid out in a line with each
clearly demarcated, all the forces arraigned precisely. And even though one is
given the scale it does not sink in properly because the coastline of Normandy
can appear deceptively small. It has been reported by many that Hitler was
enchanted by maps and the disposition of armies on them, but that he had (fortunately
for the Allies) no idea of scale. He was clever at making little architectural
drawings to perfect scale and Speers’ delight, but when it came to geography he
was a provincial ignoramus. Thereby the invasion of Russia and his nemesis. He
had hardly travelled in his life and had no idea about the scale of his
undertakings.

So I mounted my vehicle and drove,
and drove west, to Point du Hoc and Utah, a much-neglected landing zone because
of the sheer drama that unfolded at Omaha. Gazing east over Omaha and beyond to
Gold where one could barely make out the mulberry semi-circle that yesterday
appeared so large and impressive, many of the superlatives concerning the
landings became clear. “The Largest Seaborne Landing in the History of the
World”, “The entire horizon at sea, as far as the eye could see, covered by the
mighty armada that had gathered.” From Point du Hoc, it started to sink in just
how vast the undertaking was and also what an enormous risk it was.

I could not resist exploring Point
Du Hoc in detail, the most amazing feature being the sheer size of the craters
left by the bombardment, and the virtually untouched look-out point. I was
unable to get down to the beach (not permitted) from which the Rangers had
scaled the cliffs but will explore other ways of getting that done in the days
to come. The height of the cliff face was far less than I had imagined it,
strangely enough making the feat of the Rangers who scaled it even more
impressive.

And on the way back I could not
resist a quick visit to the American War Cemetery and Omaha beach proper,
seeing it at high tide. I shall have to return at low tide as when the landings
started. All comments on that thus put on hold, besides two. What with the
signs and car parks and landscaped areas as well as the number of tourists,
many leave with the impression that Omaha was the only beach of any importance.
The other is that on studying the terrain from the beach to the heights above
it, with the minimal amount of cover,  I
could understand the carnage that took place there. The cemetery with its acres
of crosses and the occasional Star of David bore testimony to that.

Another summer day, cloudless, with
a cool wind blowing in from the sea.

Impressions sufficient unto the day.

 

Howard Gamble

Arromanches, 1st July
2011.

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