5am. Just landed in Paris the day before. Up, packed, out the door and on the road by 5:30 heading to The Normandy coast.
For the first hour or so, there wasn't another car in sight, it was kind of eerie. It wasn't long until we hit the first "Payage", which is the word for tolls in France. 9$ for the first one, and there's many more to come. Yikes. All in all it was about 70$ in tolls round trip. Yeah, 70$. Why so much you ask? Turns out most of France's highways are actually privately owned, so you're paying to use them. Kind of crazy, huh?
The drive continues. Payage after payage, and after about 3 hours of driving, we get off the autoroad and onto more country roads. It really felt like driving back in time, as we pass these medieval-esque buildings and houses, going down these small, winding roads cutting through countryside. We see the hedgerows that became a huge obstacle that the allies hadn't planned for.
Finally, we reached our first stop, Pointe du Hoc. Arguably the most important target of Operation OVERLORD and D-Day.
I will try to share the picture that I was painted of this battle to the best of my ability, but I'm obviously not a historian, nor do I feel that I fully understand all that happened here on this day. With that said, Pointe du Hoc was the location that housed many of the large guns the Germans had, and they were able to fire far into the sea, and also down the coasts to the invasion beaches.
If these guns were not disabled, the landing forces would have been pummeled by these weapons, as well as any approaching ships or aircraft were also at risk.
That is why 225 Rangers were tasked with scaling 100ft cliffs and capturing the point. A task which I can't even begin to fathom.
I found a great article which offers much more insight than I have into the events that unfolded, so if you wish to read more, rather than copying it here, check out this article: https://armyhistory.org/rudders-rangers-and-the-boys-of-pointe-du-hoc-the-u-s-army-rangers-mission-in-the-early-morning-hours-of-6-june-1944/
When you first arrive at the point, you are greeted with gently rolling hills that lead to the coast, but in actuality, they were anything but gentle. These were the marks of countless bombs and explosives that have scarred this landscape til this day.
The area is littered with craters all the way to the cliffs edge. You can also see the monument that was erected to honor the brave men that sacrificed on this day near the edge, built on top of the Nazi observation bunker.
Speaking of that observation bunker, let's go back to that day, early in the morning on June 6th. The Nazi's knew something was coming. They didn't know exactly where, or how many, but they knew that time was near. And then, as day breaks on that morning, they see something far in the distance, on the horizon but getting closer; and larger. The Allied fleet of 7,000 vessels making their way to the shores of Normandy.
The Nazi's built up heavy fortifications and bunkers all along the coast as part of their "Atlantic Wall".
And here's a look at one room where the Nazis would spend their nights in these bunkers.
And these bunkers were heavily fortified, with 4 inch thick metal doors, gas seals and some with as many as 3 machine gun ports covering the entrances.
With all the preparation they did, they didn't figure the Americans would consider a cliff side amphibious invasion to take the point. The Rangers would fire ropes up the cliff, and begin their accent while under fire. Many were shot down from these ropes, but for every man that fell, another grabbed the rope and took their place. Imagine, having to scale a 100ft cliff in gear, then when you finally reach the top, if you did, you now had to find the strength to fight against soldiers entrenched in bunkers for your life. It was joked that 3 old women with brooms could keep the Rangers from climbing these cliffs and taking this point, but against all odds, they did just that.
Though, it came at great cost. Of the original 225 Rangers that came ashore, only 100 men were still capable of fighting by the next morning, while they endured Nazi counter attacks. And when reinforcements finally reached them, there would be only 75.
These are but a sliver of the acts of heroics, bravery, courage and sacrifice, which against all odds, captured Pointe du Hoc, and made the D-Day invasion more than possible, but inevitable.
Now, briefly over to Omaha Beach.
It's just surreal how a place of such utter beauty, and current tranquility, could have been the site where 2,000 Americans would lose their lives in just one day.
And the last part of this tour was of course The American Cemetery in Normandy. What an incredible monument to incredible people that gave everything to end the spread of the Nazis, and liberate Europe.
And lest we ever forget, that the world we live in, in great part hinged on the outcome of the impossible tasks that were rested on the shoulders of these young men.