Trip Start May 03, 2008
4Trip End May 11, 2008
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Carentan was of strategic importance to the allies
The first stop is the Dead Man's Corner Museum.
Find it: West on the N13, exit "Carentan Coutances" to get on the D971 going west towards the town, then go right (North) on Purple Heart Lane (D913) towards Saint-Come-du-Mont. You'll go over the Four Bridges and it'll be right ahead at the Y-intersection. The museum's web site is here - http://www.paratrooper-museum.org.
The museum houses some great displays and a lot of historical information about the local battle. The house served as von der Heydte's HQ and as an aid station before being captured by American paratroopers. It's interesting to note that von der Heydte had a degree in Economics from Innsbruck University, a law degree from Graz University and taught law briefly at Columbia University before the war. The museum also has a fine collection of authentic WWII souvenirs for sale, although I found everything to be really expensive. For you Band of Brothers fans, you can also see donated items such as Forrest Guth's uniform and Dick Winter's uniform, trunk, and musette bag1948 aerial of the area.
My next stop was locating the 101st Airborne's Drop Zone D, near Angoville au Plain.
Find it: Just North of St-Come-du-Mont on the D913, right across the street from the church.
It was here that Col. Howard "Jumpy" Johnson, Regimental commander of the 501PIR and his men would fight unabated for 48 hours. You can see the memorial in the picture, but unfortunately I was a little too far away and you can't really read it.
On to Utah Beach!
Find it: Continue on the D913 towards the coast from the N13, go through St-Marie-du-Mont. Stay on the the D913 (Rue du General Eisenhower) going towards Le Madeleine. You should run right into it. Just look for the "Overlord Normandy" signs to guide you.
I won't go into huge detail about everything that happened here. But you can visit the museum's web site here, http://www.utah-beach.com. The museum actually sits right on the beach. In fact, it was built on top of wiederstandnest 5, which housed the original museum before this modern one was built
In front of the museum, you'll find a Sherman heavy tank, a 155mm "Long Tom", and an LCVP Higgins Boat. There are at least two tobruks behind the parking lot in the field. Behind the museum, you can walk out through some old beach obstacles to the water. If your hungry, you can eat at the Roosevelt cafe next to the parking lot.
On June 6, at 0640, twenty LCVPs brought in the first wave of the U.S. 4th Infantry Division. They were set to land about 1.5m North of this location. But due to unusually strong and unexpected currents, the boats drifted South to the present location. U.S. 4th Infantry assistant division commander Brigadier-General Theodore Roosevelt came ashore with the first wave at Uncle Red sector and quickly realized they were in the wrong spot. But with the landings already in motion, he ordered subsequent waves to follow him in. Roosevelt died of a heart attack a month later, on July 12. He's buried next to his brother Quientin at the American Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer
The Crisbecq/St Marcouf Battery:
Find it: From Utah Beach, go out the D913 and turn right onto the D14 (North) then turn right on the D69 and you should see it straddling both sides of the road. Their website is www.batterie-marcouf.com.
Crisbecq is the only heavy battery on the eastern side of the Cotentin peninsula. It sits on the crest of a hill about 2.5km from the shore and has a commanding view of Utah Beach. Although the battery was never finished, it did house three, long-range 210mm SKODA cannons and had a garrison of over 400 men. The battery was lost to time for over 60 years and had become virtually impenetrable. The bunkers had filled with water and silt up to the ceilings and the trenches had been filled with dirt. Two history buffs re-discovered and purchased the site and then began the many years of restoring the battery. It is still a work in progress, but there are 21 buildings, trenches, and gun placements to see. The museum provides a mapped, self guided tour. Well worth the visit.
Find it: Go back out the D69 towards the D14, but go across it
On to Ste-Mere-Eglise.
Find it: Go back out to the D14 and go right on the D15, which will take you right into Ste-Mere-Eglise. The church is at the center of town and the museum is right across the street.
Okay, so Ste-Mere-Eglise might have been forgotten to history had it not been for one event. The planned drop zone for the 2/505PIR, 82nd AB was north west of Ste-Mere-Eglise. But as in many cases, they over shot the DZ. Pvt. John Steele was one of many men who came down in and around the church square. His parachute actually got hung up on the steeple and he was stranded there for nearly two hours before being cut down by the Germans (he later escaped.) He's been immortalized both in the book and movie, The Longest Day, as well as many other accounts of D-Dayhttp://airborne-museum.org.
I think this is by far the best museum in Normandy. There are two huge buildings on the grounds. One houses a genuine Waco glider that you can walk through, along with many displays, photographs, and documents. The other building has a C-47 Dakota that actually dropped paratroopers in the area and towed gliders on June 6. There are many mannequin displays showing the specialized paratrooper uniforms and equipment. You can also view up to three hours of audio/visual presentations as you wander through the museum. Also, the church appears to be open daily and they welcome the many visitors to the grounds. In fact, you can still see many of the battle scars on the outside of the building. Scenes from The Longest Day were also filmed here.
My final stop for the day was to visit the memorial to plane #66, a C-47 of the 439th T.C.G., carrying Lt Thomas Meehan's HQ company of E/506, 101st Airborne (Band of Brothers.) Their plane was hit by an exploding shell in the early hours of June 6. All 17 parachutist and 5 crew members were killed in the crash. The memorial is at the crash site, across the street from the church at Beuzeville-au-Plain.