The Blockhouse of the former command and control post renovated on 5 levels and transformed into a museum, to offer everyone a living Memory Visit!
The Grand Bunker of the former Shooting Command and Management Station has been completely renovated to house a museum devoted entirely to the Atlantic Wall in Normandy. After having belonged to the Navy, the founders wanted this unique blockhouse to recover its original appearance.
A remarkable construction, since it is a Sonderkonstruktion (to which we will devote a paragraph below), all rooms were remodeled in a remarkable way, with a very abundant and authentic material. The founders took full advantage of this 17-meter high construction to re-situate and present the essential functions that characterized the life of the defensive positions of the Atlantic Wall in the D-Day Landing.
The founders of the Museum wished to offer to visit the 5 levels of this blockhouse in which was installed the nerve center of the command of the defenses of the estuary of the Orne, in order to reconstitute and restore the atmosphere which could reign in this one. on the eve of the D-Day!
It should be noted that the Museum of the Atlantic Wall, the Grand Bunker, is the last visible vestige of what was the most powerful coastal battery in the area, the latter having been defined as a defense zone to be fortified primarily by the German high command.
The Grand Bunker Museum therefore allows us by its high presence not to forget that a powerful device of coastal defenses was deployed to Riva-Bella. In addition it invites us to discover this last vestige of the interior by restoring it in its first destination. The Grand Bunker Museum becomes a real memory journey …
All the Atlantic Wall in an authentic SonderKonstruktion
A Sonderkonstruktion … What can he hide under this strange denomination? Simply a construction program. Pursuing. The Todt Organization, in response to Hitler’s desire to build a permanent defense in the West, endeavored to pre-define the constituent elements of this military architecture in order to have elementary blocks of standard types. A precise nomenclature was established to describe the various elements and was recorded in catalogs. Thus each type of construction has a precise codification. The models of Fortress Europe are building programs.
A Sonserkonstruktion is coded SK. What does this abbreviation conceal? Without going into the details of the abbreviations assigned to the different types of work, the mention SK is precisely a construction that does not meet any pre-defined model. It is therefore a Sonder construction, that is to say special.
And this is what illuminates the originality of the architecture of the Grand Bunker and gives it its signature. As you can imagine, the Sonderkonstruktion was not legion. This indicates how the Grand Bunker represents a vestige of exceptional interest in every respect. And it is this special status that the founders of the Museum were able to highlight. They knew that this almost unique construction on the Atlantikwall (there are only two similar ones) would make it possible to work particularly effectively to present this colossal site that was the Atlantic Wall. Indeed, it is a unique place to penetrate the Atlantic Wall from the inside.
5 fully equipped levels for rooms restored in their period functions
Each room of the Grand Bunker seems in full activity as on the eve of the D-Day. Each level will show you how daily life was organized in the Big Bunker. And although it is a Sonderkonstruktion, standard elements also characterize this unique architecture. One example among others: look carefully at the washbasin facing the entrance to the blockhouse. It is part of a standardized space that can be found in many other bunkers.
Once inside, you will breathe the air so particular of a blockhouse. You will be able to feel the life behind the concrete, its gas-tight armored doors and confined spaces. From room to room, from floor to floor, the multiple rooms of the Grand Bunker will make you browse and enter all the organs of the Shooting and Command Direction Post. You will experience many powerful sensations unique to this historic site that has been revived by the curator of the Atlantic Wall Museum.
Successively you will explore every vital center of this highly strategic place:
The technical level with generator and ventilation room fully restored.
There will be two levels of rooms that seem to be still inhabited, as well as an armory and a first aid post.
Then will open the room of transmissions and the room of cards.
Just above, will offer you the breathtaking 180 ° degree panorama available to the Germans to monitor all the maritime movements in the Bay of Seine. The rangefinder for measuring distances to targets is always present. And from this high position you will be able to see Le Havre in Quineville on a clear day, that is, to sweep the entire area of Operation Overlord.
But it is not finished. The last level is also accessible and fully equipped with barriers that allow you to enjoy this unique point of view without any danger. You will be able to access the position of German Flak, that is to say the tank for anti-aircraft gun 20 mm.
And in this place, I leave you to the pleasure that will be yours when you contemplate the grandiose panorama which will be offered to you. And you will not fail, I’m sure, to imagine what the Germans were doing at the dawn of the longest day, June 6, 1944 …
Many reconstructed scenes of everyday life in the blockhouses of the Atlantic Wall in Normandy
Machine Room, Maschinenraum, Fan Room, Lüfterraum, Close Combat Station, Nachkampfraum, Anti-Gas Room, Gasschleuse, Ammunition Bunker, Munitionsraum, Standby Room, Bereitschaftsraum, Officers Square, Führerraum Offizier, the squad of the NCOs, Unteroffiziersraum, the equipment room, Vorrate, another hall, Bereitschaftsraum, the plan room, Planraum, the signal room, Nachrichtenraum, the local radio, Funkraum, another Ammunition, Munitionsraum, Observation Officer’s Room, Wachoffizierraum and Telemetry Room, Messtand, DCA Tank, Flakabwehrkanone, show how the variety of functions combined in one remarkable work of the Atlantic Wall is of exceptional interest. The Big Bunker becomes a true Treaty of the Atlantic Wall, its Abrégé or its authentic condensed.
The great care given to the Museography has always sought not to restore pieces with scenes with a cold appearance; the treaty could have been coldly technical. This is not so because the daily life of the soldiers of the Grand Bunker was cleverly introduced into each scene with the help of a multitude of objects that were part of the experience of these soldiers who obeyed, day after day, their different assignments, in this huge concrete shelter. The result is a clean atmosphere, a unique atmosphere at the Grand Bunker. It is transformed into an enormous ship that makes us travel back in time to plunge us back into a position of Command and Direction of Shooting in full effervescence.
Omnipresent characters and all put in situation
The Grand Bunker through its maze of pieces still seems, as we said above, in full activity. Each piece presents the characters who were busy at the time with their tasks. The numerous pieces of the Grand Bunker, on the eve of the D-Day, swarmed, as they do now, with soldiers of all ranks, all occupied with their roles.
Museography has worked to place us in the role of observer capable of surprising a life normally kept secret from the very thick concrete walls. The impenetrable becomes accessible and the visitor will revel in the wealth of characters that animate the Grand Bunker because no space is unoccupied. Better, it shows how much the promiscuity in the works of the Atlantic Wall was oppressive. No place seems superfluous and each character occupies space with astonishing veracity. All inside an authentic historic space concreted by the Organization Todt and moreover SK. This is what gives the Grand Bunker its unique cachet in the Space of the Battle of Normandy. The staging in its massive walls is total and the immersion is by the same also total.
Hundreds of documents, plans and photos to accompany the life of the scenes of the Grand Bunker
The Big Bunker not only gives to the eyes but also to the mind. He makes the most of his very special nature. In fact, it includes within its architecture functions that are generally dispersed in multiple works. It becomes easy to discover the multiple aspects of the Atlantic Wall in a unique place that stands as a true witness of the Atlantikwall and sentinel against oblivion.
All major aspects of the Atlantic Wall are approached in such a way that with the help of objects, plans, photos, documents a complete panorama is offered for the visit and the understanding. Dioramas facilitate the apprehension of various subjects. For example, a magnificent and imposing diorama presents the theoretical defense system of the D-Day beaches.
Operation Neptune, the codename given to the D-Day amphibious operation, itself coded Overlord, was not forgotten more than the assault on Sword Beach. The role of No. 4 Commando is also discussed in the explanation of the fighting for the Liberation of Riva-Bella and Ouistreham …
Distilled over reconstituted scenes, subjects treated with didactic elements are more easily retained. During his visit, each visitor will sample elements as he pleases to leave with selected pieces of this gigantic enterprise that was the Atlantic Wall which, to defend the Western Front, stretched from Norway to the Pyrenees.
The roof of the Grand Bunker, which overhangs the whole city, was arranged to offer an exceptional panorama on the estuary of the Orne and the beaches of the D-Day (reopening of the roof in April 2019, the visitors are under their own responsibility on the roof of Bunker)
No other museum offers visitors a panorama of the D-Day beaches at 17 meters high. It is easy to imagine from this high place where the German soldiers entrenched in the Grand Bunker lost nothing of the most gigantic landing operation of all time.
Complete 360 degree panorama which, if you have powerful binoculars and on a clear day, will allow you to see from Le Havre to Cotentin, from Pegasus Bridge to Sainte-Mère-Eglise. You will be able to measure the full extent of the assault that was launched at the dawn of June 6. You will not lose anything of the topography of the German defenses of the estuary of the Orne: you will see very well the water tower of Merville-Franceville which indicates the Battery participating there and the locks of the port of Ouistreham, the castle of water of Ouistreham, Saint-Aubin d’Arquenay, mount “Hillman” ….
But you will also have the power to distinguish the two extreme sectors of airborne operations for D-Day, namely the area of Sainte-Mère-Eglise paratroopers 101th and 82th Airborne and the area of Merville-Franceville, Amfreville, Ranville for the British Airborne troops of the 6th Airborne of Major General Richard Gale.
And then more simply, you will have all the leisure to let you go to some meditations raised by this place so much charged with History … A point of view impregnable on History!
The Atlantic Wall staged in great detail at the Grand Bunker Museum in Ouistreham
The founders of the Atlantic Wall Museum led the reconstruction of the Grand Bunker’s pieces with attention to detail that goes a long way. Each piece thus restores an aspect of rare authenticity and contributes to the feeling of discovery of a place with perpetual activity.
And again history is not harmed, because the Museum of the Atlantic Wall clearly demonstrates by the crowd of details that repopulate the Big Bunker, how much the Second World War was a war where Technology and the Iindustrie had a major place …
And what a pleasure it is to be able to let his sense of observation wander to capture information of surprisingly varied natures that perfectly illustrates the functional organization of his works that were to form an impassable Wall to protect the mythical Fortress Europe.
For the founders of the Museum, restoring is not an empty word …
Tom Hanks Landing Craft enters the Museum
SAVING PRIVATE RYAN
The Landing Craft that was used to shoot the film “Save Private Ryan” lands at the Atlantic Wall Museum. It is indeed the barge PA 30-31, one of the two that Steven Spielberg equipped to stage this Landind Craft M in his famous film to the 5 Oscars. This barge of assault, before being entirely restored for the needs of the film (by restoration hear redone as if it left the factory), participated really in the D-Day of June 6, 1944. It received modifications required by the Film production and has all, really all its equipment … A rare piece that starts a new career!
Fortress Europe: Directive No. 40 of March 23, 1942
As early as 1941, the Todt Organization fortified the major ports to transform them into a fortress and protect them against any attempt at offensive. The Todt Organization also had to ensure that they shelter, for the Atlantic facade, 5 underwater bases under ultra-reinforced shelters. The remaining ports were to house other ships of the Kriegsmarine.
March 23, 1942 marked a decisive moment in the genesis of the future Atlantic Wall. Indeed, Hitler then outlines what would become the Atlantikwall.
Here are some points that show that:
European coasts are now exposed in the future, to a hostile threat of landing ultra sensitive.
Coastal defense requires particularly close and comprehensive cooperation among the various armed forces.
The disembarked enemy must be destroyed by an immediate counterattack and thrown back into the sea.
The fortified areas and points of support will be able by their armed organization, their defenses as well as their food and ammunition reserves to hold long even in the face of an enemy greatly superior in number.
Fortified areas and points of support should be defended to the extreme. It is excluded that the defensive sectors must go for lack of ammunition, food or water.
The development and supply of defensive facilities (weapons, mines, grenades, machine guns, flamethrowers, obstacle materials, etc.) must build a real wall of fire.
The various armed forces are held in the face of any attack on the coast to comply with the requirements of their commanding commander as part of their tactical capabilities …
Adolf Hitler’s guidelines for the Atlantic Wall
Adolf Hitler defines the areas to be fortified in the following order of priority:
Bases-underwaters; large ports (essential for any landing logistics); areas particularly suitable for any landing operation (estuary, harbor, etc.); the islands ; the sandy beaches.
His directives can be summarized as follows:
- Make a continuous line of fire and located on the same coast.
- Protect equipment and men as much as possible from shelling by concrete shelters.
- Deployment of the maximum of artillery pieces, of all calibres and of all countries which will have to be protected by concrete casemates.
- Arrange the batteries so that they can support a 60-day seat.
- Multiply coastal obstructions using natural elements.
- Install means of detection and observation (radar, etc.).
- Give ample space to anti-aircraft defenses to protect the sites.
- Install a defensive system at depth, that is to say, inland.
- Imagine camouflage to complicate the identification of the works by enemy intelligence.
The engineer Fritz Todt
Fritz Todt, a German engineer, was a major figure in Nazism.
Born in Pforzheim, Germany on September 4, 1891, he is the son of a factory owner. He studied Technology in Karlsruhe and did his technical graduate studies in Munich. He participated in World War I in the Infantry and later in the Air Force. At the head of a fighter squadron, he will be wounded in battle and will be decorated with the Iron Cross. After 1918, he completed his studies and soon entered a Civil Engineering Company named Sager and Woerner, a company specializing in roads and tunnels.
He joined the NSDAP (Die NationalSozialistische Deutsche ArbeiterPartei) in 1922 and quickly gained the trust of Hitler. He was made Oberführer in the SA (Sturmabteilung) in 1931 and completed at the same time his PhD on the theme “Disadvantages of use of tar and asphalt for the construction of roads”.
1933, Adolf Hitler gains power as Chancellor. On June 30, 1933, he entrusted Dr. Todt with a mission of utmost importance in his eyes: to create the Reich Motorway Network (Reichsautobahnen). Hitler will quickly say that he found in Dr. Todt a man capable of turning a theoretical intention into a practical reality. It is to say in what esteem he held it. In the same year, Fritz Todt was appointed Inspector General of the German Road Network (Generalinspektor für das deutsche Straßenwesen).
He later became Director of the Central Office for Technology in the NSDAP Directorate for the Reich (Leiter des Hauptamts für Technik der Reichsleitung der NSDAP). He also becomes plenipotentiary of the Regulation for the Building Industry (Generalbevollmächtigter für die Regelung der Bauwirtschaft). Fritz Todt now controls a highly strategic branch of industry for Chancellor Hitler’s Reich.
In 1938, Hitler asked Fritz Todt to finish the Westwall, that is to say the Siegfried Line, at the earliest, given his ambitions in the Sudetenland. In the same year, Fritz Todt founded the organization which bore his name, which was designated by the current abbreviation “La Todt”. The Organization collaborates with state and private enterprises as well as the Ministry of Labor. At the controls of his Organization, the Westwall yard will allow engineer Todt to develop his rules or plans of military constructions in order to standardize the defenses, to allow the pre-manufacturing and to rationalize the system of defense. production.
In 1940, victory in Norway and the West imposed new tasks. Fritz Todt is then appointed Reich Minister for Armaments and Munitions (Reichsminister für Bewaffnung und Munition). Hitler made this decision because he saw in Dr. Todt not only the most famous organizer that Germany, that the German people has ever produced, but also the best engineer of all time.
In fact, Dr. Todt controls the operations of the Organization throughout the occupied West.
After the invasion of the Soviet Union, Hitler also commissioned the restoration of infrastructure in the East.
In 1941, he will also be Inspector-General of Water and Energy (Generalinspektor für Wasser und Energie). The Eastern Front and the entry into the war of the United States will push Hitler to accelerate the construction over 4 000 km of the famous Atlantic Wall. Thus, after intervening to transform, on the one hand, the major ports into Fortress with on the Atlantic safe bases for its U-boat fleets, and on the other hand, having built in the Pas-de Calais heavy batteries originally planned to support the invasion of England during Operation Seelöwe, the engineer Todt to implement all the workings of his Organization to meet the challenge the most colossal that was ever posed.
Returning from an inspection on the Eastern Front, he will demand more resources from Hitler. He will clearly show his differences of opinion with him as to the continuation of the war on this Front if the present conditions were to continue.
He died in 1942, returning from a meeting with Hitler, in a plane crash.
After the death of Dr. Todt, the Organization came under the control of Albert Speer.
Structure of the Todt Organization
Dr. Fritz Todt, when he created the organization bearing his name, organized himself into a state in the state. Not a full-fledged Ministry, the Todt Organization nevertheless has almost supreme authority. Dr. Fritz Todt reports only to Hitler directly. Charged by the Chancellor of the Reich to perform different tasks over the years but all of strategic importance and vital, he has a power of requisition in the field of public works. In other words, he totally controls the branch of building professionals. This is an Organization with a special status, like the SS, for example.
The Todt Organization, although attached to the Ministry for Armaments and Ammunition, remains a special entity endowed with real and great autonomy. This Organization cultivates the paradox. Civil company, it is nonetheless a paramilitary organization with ranks, uniforms and training. Serving the Wehrmacht in the French Campaign, she will never be subordinated to her High Command. Integrated into a Ministry, it will retain all its specificity since it will serve as an intermediary with private public works companies …
At the top of the TO, Dr. Fritz Todt (and later Albert Speer) with a central management based in Berlin is the OT-Zentrale with Xavier Dorsh (another close to Hitler) at the controls. Then comes, for the Western Front, the general command installed in Paris. This staff is led by Weis directly subordinated to Dorsh. This is EG West (Western Response Group).
To build the Atlantic Wall, the West EG of the OT subdivided the coastline into higher building management ie OBL for Oberbauleitungen. The OBLs themselves were formed by Bauleitungen or Construction Departments, which themselves consisted of Chantiers (Bauleitungen).
The men of the Organization take an oath directly to Hitler in the same manner as the Wehrmacht soldiers. As early as 1940, they wore the brown-colored uniform, and on the left arm of the sweatshirt the Nazi party’s swastika armband with another armband above the inscription “Org Todt”. The insignia proper to the Todt are made up. Its cadre of soldier-builders is armed and has a booklet quite similar to that of the Wehrmacht soldiers.
The OT has at its head large directorates: technical direction, administrative direction, direction for raw materials and transport direction.
There are several hierarchical levels, each with several ranks: worker, deputy chief, junior leader, chief superior, head of unit, group leader of units.
The Todt Organization has different bodies: Direction; Administration; Construction ; Health Transmission; Transport; Propaganda; Information; Liaison Office with the SS … The OT also has its own protection units: the Schutzkommandos, protection commandos.
The working methods of the Todt Organization
The role of the Todt Organization, defined as a civil entity, is to play for the Reich the role of Project Manager by organizing, planning and controlling its major works. The mission of the TO was to contract with the relevant building companies, supply them with materials, supply them with the labor and ensure that the specifications were kept to a good standard. All the logistics were the responsibility of the TO, from the transport to the refueling through the personnel management.
As early as the French Campaign, the Todt Organization was put at the disposal of the Wehrmacht to take part in the priority works for the rehabilitation of the occupied territories. Then come the major works devoted to the construction of heavy coastal batteries in the Pas de Calais; those related to the transformation of major ports into Fortresses and the construction of Atlantic bases for submarine flotillas. At the beginning of 1942, the colossal task of defending the Front Ouset naturally returned to the OT, which had to make a continuous line of defense over 4,000 km, the now famous Atlantic Wall. But the Organization will also be engaged on the Eastern Front and then on the Ruhr and Germany to try to counter the intensification of Allied bombing. The organization of Dr. Todt will again be found for the work of the concentration camps, and will still be required for the big projects under the secret arms of the Reich. We will meet her again in the Mediterranean for the Southwall in particular and also in Italy to Norway … The Organisatioon was present on absolutely all fronts.
That’s to say if his need for labor was devouring!
How did she deal with such manpower needs? To summarize, the more time passed and the more it called for forced labor because it is obvious that the volunteers were very quickly insufficient. The TO even had the prerogative power to requisition private companies to meet its needs.
The France of the Government of Petain will respond diligently to the Organization Todt by delivering first Spanish Republicans refugees in France. Then follow strangers, Jews and common rights … Mail we must not forget the Relève and later the Compulsory Labor Office who will try to satisfy their quotas by the growing bulimia Organization Todt. Moreover, even if initially the attractive campaigns of recruitment of the OT were successful in particular to escape the departure and the forced labor in Germany, the desertions will become more and more numerous the time will pass. So much so that it will soon be appealed to foreign workers forced to try to meet the need for unprecedented manpower of the OT which in 1944, remember, used about 1,500,000 men all categories combined.
The living conditions of the workers of the Todt Organization were all the more ruthless as their “status” equated them with forced laborers.
The reality of the Atlantic Wall beyond Propaganda
Hitler wanted to make the Atlantic Wall a continuous line of fire impassable to any attack of the adversary. the Propaganda did not fail to use the heavy and long-range coastal batteries of the Kriegsmarine Pas de Calais and in particular the Todt battery … While the Channel Islands as well as the major ports are transformed into as many fortresses sheltering , for the Atlantic coast, gigantic concrete structures for each flotilla of U-Boot. Alongside the heavy batteries of the North of France, air infrastructures have also been developed in this region. Radar stations and radio-guidance are operational … All these defenses do exist, but the space between all these fortified positions is far from constituting a real line of fire. They are far from the Wall glorified by Propaganda.
It looks more like a vast succession of points of support or nests of resistance.
The spaces not occupied by the Kriegsmarine were left to the Heer, the Army, which was entrusted with the gigantic task of transforming the coast into a fortress. Also the German Propaganda will not cease to use the heavy batteries of the Pas de Calais extensively to seek to make believe a skilfully deformed reality. The German Propaganda was mainly trying to save time. You had to save time at all costs!
Rommel, when appointed by Hitler as Inspector-General of West Front Defenses, would not deny this objective because he was familiar with the weaknesses of the Western Wall and was also trying to save time. His arrival at the beginning of 1944, on the Western Front had the effect of accelerating in a very significant way the great works of defense on the coast. During the few months when he drastically ordered all means to transform Atlantikwall into a real continuous line of fire, he managed to metamorphose it, day by day, in a disturbing way. He knew perfectly well that he needed more time because the Atlantikwall, which had to decide the fate of the outcome of the war for Germany, still showed many weaknesses …
Be that as it may, the Atlantic Wall, even though it had to suffer tensions between the Kriegsmarine and the Heer, dissensions between Von Rundstedt and Rommel, an arsenal of artillery too heterogeneous and old, of large punctures in men for the Eastern front, reinforcements in troops of foreign volunteers and a morale of the soldiers sheltering there who was not mainly of the most fighting, even if he had to suffer of all this, it was none the less, D-Day, a priority objective to be silenced and the Atlantic Wall was never, by the SHAEF (Supreme Allied Command), minimized in its defensive capabilities.
Ringstand, Support point
, Panzerwerk, Battery and Festung
The Ringstand or circular position represents the most basic concrete defensive work of the Atlantic Wall. It has an entrance that gives access to a pit in which are installed different types of weapons: it can be a machine gun, a turret tank, a mortar or an anti-tank. We meet them alone or in addition to casemates or shelters. Depending on their size, they can protect from one to several soldiers. Also called Tobruk, since the battle of the same name, by similarity with the German tanks that had buried themselves to let only their turrets pass. Each book bears a construction identifier related to its type of armament and is part of the Regelbauten or Construction Plans of the Atlantic Wall.
The support points must defend a given sector and guarantee a line of fire on the coastal portion allocated to them. It is composed of Ringstands, flanking casemates, shelters and anti-tank structures. We distinguish the light support points, the Wiederstandsnest, heavy support points called Stützpunkt.
Batteries are articulated around guns placed in casemates concrete or not (horse-drawn batteries). The batteries often still have the initial tanks in which the artillery pieces were put in position. The artillery batteries also possessed a position of shooting direction and of course ammunition bunkers, shelters, flanking, anti-tank devices, anti-aircraft defense …
The Panzerwerk aligns all types of anti-tank defenses grouped in a well-defined sector. It will contain casemates with antitank guns, observation posts, armored bells, shelters and Ringstands.
Finally, the Festung or Fortress specifically designates the most important and the most elaborate device of defensive works concentrated in one place. The Fortress first protected an area of very high strategic importance. Thus, the large ports were quickly defined as zones to fortify primarily by the German high command. They had all available means of defense and detection.
The defenses set up on the beaches of Normandy
Rommel particularly insisted that innumerable obstacles and traps be installed on the beaches.
In the extensive arsenal of coastal defenses, of course, are the imposing stakes, trapped diversely, and intended to stop the amphibious assault barges, either by exploding, capsizing or disemboweling. Mines or shells placed at their summit were dangerous traps for both men and equipment.
Cointet anti-tank elements used previously on the Maginot Line or on the Belgian fortified positions are then found. Hence its other name: the Belgian door. This anti-tank obstacle will be reused on the beaches as well as to close accesses.
Then come rails arranged in concrete blocks that act as a press to explode the mine disposed at their bottom.
In the category of anti-tank defenses existed the tetrahedra, works composed of six jambs. They will be arranged in large numbers on the beaches. Another anti-tank obstacle called Czech Hedgehog will also be widely used. It is formed of three metal legs riveted between them in their middle. Concrete blocks will sometimes be poured at their base to reinforce their base.
Against armored vehicles, one will also find the very large concrete wall obstructing on a height of up to several meters, points of access deemed important. It will sometimes be camouflaged with trompe l’oeil equally impressive …
In the register of metallic elements, there is still the rail curtain intended to neutralize either landing barges or armored vehicles.
To block the progression of vehicles, concrete pyramids will also be deployed. They are called more prosaically Dragon’s teeth …
Tetrapods or elements with three feet as their name suggests will also be used variously to form dam.
And we must not forget the many types of mines that were arranged copiously in large fields. Rommel particularly appreciated these defensive instruments and ordered their use without counting.
Tellerminen, mines “plates” anti-tank; Topfmine, glass or concrete, undetectable; anti-tank and anti-personnel magnetic mines; Sinking mines … The piles trapped at their summit by a mine and connected by a network of barbed wire that were staggered in fields likely to receive gliders, will bear his name: it is obviously Asparagus from Rommel.
Finally, we will talk about the Flamethrower whose activation was done remotely by electric control. In a fixed position, he could only cover, with his jet of flames, a definite zone.
Principles of a Support Point or a Battery
According to his directive No. 40, Hitler ordered that the assailant be dismissed immediately at sea, bumping against the wall with a flawless defense. He wanted every area of the Atlantic Wall to be able to hold for a long time, even against a massively larger enemy. For this, food and ammunition should not be missed. No surrender! The wall had to hold to the last end.
The points of support, the batteries will be built and structured accordingly.
They must be able to defend themselves and be able to face infantry forces, armored forces and air assets indistinctly. Defensive elements specific to a fortified sector must thus defend each other and respond together to any offensive situation of any kind.
We thus find all the types of defensive works, the typical structures or Regelbauten, put to contribution to guarantee the autonomy and the firepower of the various fortified sectors of the littoral. All the works of a point of support, from the smallest to the largest, are obviously all interconnected by different means of transmission.
The defense against the armored is consolidated by anti-tank artillery pieces under casemates or in tanks. It is completed by walls, ditches, minefields, Belgian gates and other concrete works created for this purpose.
Air Defense aligns Flaks of different calibres. It is protected by minefields, Ringstands barbed wire arrays equipped with machine guns, mortars, tank turrets …
Personnel shelters, ammunition bunkers, an infirmary, a command bunker, a transmission bunker, a water supply, stewardship shelters, a firing direction post, if necessary, and ammunition bunkers complete the defensive system.
Naval targets are capped by the different types of guns most often in 1944 housed in concrete casemates. These batteries are responsible for touching the ships and their marks of fire show that they can also sometimes shoot directly on the beaches. Batteries may depend on either Kriegsmarine or Heer. Nevertheless, beyond the theoretical model, very many variations of installations or arrangements can be observed. However the Regelbauten used by the Organization Todt, make that the points of support of the Wall of the Atlantic present a dominant homogeneity and a solid coherence.
A Flak, anti-aircraft gun, in combat position.
Cointet elements or Belgian gates meticulously aligned on the seafront.
Czech hedgehog set in position.
Curtain rails to prohibit access to the interior of the territory.
Example of Tobruk or Ringstand used to house a machine gun.
The defenses of the Atlantic Wall are built according to standard rules (Regelbauten). They are classified according to their destination, their size, their resistance, the types of armaments provided, etc. The variety of standard structures will allow the Todt Organization to prefabricate and assemble them freely in as many combinations as desired, element by element.
Then come the adaptations of the plans related to the different topographical locations and the origins of the weapons installed. The facilities will vary depending on whether blockhouses built for the Heer, Luftwaffe or Kriegsmarine. Moreover, a letter precedes the reference number of the book and distinguishes the different German armed forces. H for the Heer, L for the Luftwaffe and M for the Kriegsmarine. This gives codifications written as shown by the following few examples: H 611 (casemate for field gun), L 425 (shelter with heavy anti-aircraft tank defense) or M 182 (Coast Projector) …
There is still the code “VF” for semi-permanent works of campaign, the code “FL” for the Flak of the Kriegsmarine, the code “S” for the heavy units and the letter “V” for the works of a technical nature .
It should be noted that the casemates intended to constitute particularly resistant and gas-tight shelters had concrete walls of 2 meters thick. We leave aside, the underwater bases and the launch site for secret weapons that consumed infinitely more concrete …
In 1944, the Organization Todt employed for France not far from 300 000 workers, all nationalities combined. And before the Landing, 600,000 tons of concrete will still be poured by the OT.
But let’s come to the constituent elements of a blockhouse. Here are a few that are discussed below.
The concrete shelters housed many soldiers in a small space. In addition, some stove models could consume ambient oxygen. Finally, because of their tightness to gases, the shelters had to have a perfectly effective ventilation system with the possibility of decontaminating the incoming air.
You will be able inside the Grand Bunker, discover a complete ventilation room and of course adapted to the size of this Sonderkonstruktion. The panel that you can see on the picture above in its lower right corner, reminded the instructions to follow in case of attack by gas. Many other indications written on the concrete recalled in different places the instructions to be followed in each situation.
The type of fan most commonly installed in concrete shelters had a flow rate of 1.2 m³ per minute. This is the HES 1.2 fan (Heeres-Einheits-Schutzlüfter).
Incoming air first passed through a dust collector. The air thus filtered arrived at the fan, actuated by a set of maneuvers or electrically. In case of gas attack, an intermediate cartridge was installed between the fan and the air inlet. We can also see the reserve cartridges arranged on the ground in the photo above.
The air thus cleaned returned to the ventilation ducts to be returned inside the shelter. The polluted and overpressurized indoor air was evacuated to the outside by counterbalanced pressure vents.
Outside of combat, the shelter was naturally ventilated by the doors left open.
Three stoves were used as heating inside the shelters. WT 80 without cooktop (ohne Kochplan); the WT 80K, with hob (mit Kochplan) and WT 120 which also had a hob. The latter allowed the soldiers to heat their bowl or coffee on their return from guard …
The big difference between these models of stove is that for the WT 120 model an outside air intake prevented the stove from consuming oxygen in the room where the soldiers were.
The men had to scrupulously follow the instructions to avoid asphyxiation with carbon monoxide and reminders meant in different forms did not fail to remind them. The problem was taken seriously enough because the shelters had special equipment to deal with a possible dispersion of the very toxic carbon monoxide, which gas, remember, is completely odorless.
The stove presented at the Grand Bunker is a stove type WT 80K.
The beds are retractable, as needed, as in the Kriegsmarine to free up space. These are tubular and bunk beds. They are usually installed by three. Sometimes bedding structures can be made of wood.
The Grand Bunker housed a major communications center. You will be able to see to what extent the German transmissions were varied and sophisticated. The Atlantic Wall to play its full defensive role had to be able to communicate in a particularly effective way all its constituent elements. Each fortified position had multiple means of communication. They ranged from simple acoustic tubes to multiple radio transmitting stations, through optical signaling instruments and various telephones. In the category of telephones, the simple campaign phone and the wall phone are very used. The cables connecting the different wired devices were shielded and buried. For devices using transmit-receive frequency bands, special wells allowed the deployment of an antenna outside the roof.
The Grand Bunker’s signal room is well stocked. It will allow you to sweep a vast and rich sampling of materials essential to the vocation of the Atlantic Wall and in particular an imposing central office specific to the Posts of Command.
The defensive positions of the Atlantic Wall had different medical facilities. The facilities covered a spectrum that ranged from the concrete block of first aid to the hospital under shelter. On the coast there were frequently reinforced shelters of different sizes which served as Infirmary.
Heavy infirmaries can, according to their construction plan, count a basement intended for the different machineries. In general, they have several treatment rooms, rooms for the wounded …
Like the other shelters, Ringstands were often seen integrated into the main blockhouse.
For the seriously wounded, the latter were most of the time routed to appropriate hospitals.
The armory of the Big Bunker is an arsenal of weapons of all kinds and perfectly illustrates the diversity of ammunition that a support had to have to keep entrenched behind the Atlantic Wall … The soldiers, theoretically , had to be able to support a 60-day seat!
Each point of support had to store food in anticipation of a confrontation with the assailant who would cut him from his back. This still met Hitler’s Directive No. 40, ruling out the possibility of surrender for lack of food or ammunition. He had to resist to the extreme limit!
Most of the Atlantic Wall constructions had inner shooting slots that took the space leading to the entrance. The device included an embrasure with a sliding armor plate, through which it was possible to fire with a machine gun.
An outer defense niche could be added to the inner cover. It consisted of an embrasure to cover the entrance perpendicularly. Like the inner niche, this slot had a sliding armor plate.
Then came the different plans of Ringstands with machine guns, armored bells or tank turrets.
Flak’s guns could sometimes be put to use and following the logic of mutual coverage of the various defensive elements, could fire on land targets.
Observation and Shooting Direction
Hitler ordered as early as 1942 (still in the famous directive N ° 40) the deployment of several defensive lines in depth on the coastline of the Western Front.
Coastal batteries often formed the second and last line of defense.
It was therefore necessary for these so-called blind batteries to have a Observation and Shooting Direction Post. But this also holds true for coastal batteries that could directly monitor the maritime horizon that was available to them. Why ?
Simply because the Shooting Observation and Direction Station, to fill his office is equipped in the first place with a rangefinder, a powerful optical device. This calculates the distance to the target. This data then allows the Shooting Direction Post to calculate the trajectory angle to be given to the guns so that they can achieve a shot on target on their marine target. Finally, the Command Post summarizes the data of the Shooting Direction Station and transmits the practical fire orders.
The two levels of the Grand Bunker make it easy to grasp the connection between the Observation, the Shooting Direction Post and the Command Post.
The life of German soldiers in the blockhouses of the Atlantic Wall
The daily life of the soldiers on the Atlantic Wall was made of expectation of Invasion, oppressive neighborhood, weariness far away from the country, chores, exercises, training, guard tours, but also permissions and moments of relaxation and camaraderie.
Space reduced, the rooms offered only little privacy. A small bookshelf made it possible to house a few personal belongings and the hung images tried to break the promiscuity and the monotony of the concrete. One or more wardrobes, depending on the space provided some extra storage space.
Bunk beds on three levels, some chairs, a table, a stove, the smell of hot coffee and the lack of space. Spartan comfort, stripped. No toilets or running water. Laconic inscriptions in the form of orders and sometimes painted frescoes to try to bring openness and colors to the greyness.
Under a blandard light not exceeding 60 watts, the soldiers, apart from their constraints, in this closed space, read, wrote to their relatives, listened to the radio, exchanged some good jokes … But the time was long, of lead and it was necessary to deceive those long moments of deep boredom arising …
Enclosed space designed to protect soldiers in battle, the concrete blockhouse and its rarefied air as in the U-Boot, housed a repetitive daily life that, from the bugle to bedtime, was entirely dedicated to making the Atlantic Wall a wall impassable defense.
In recent times, the Wehrmacht soldiers were particularly busy strengthening the defenses on the beaches. Reinforcement ordered by FeldMarschall Erwin Rommel.
Rumors circulated, permissions opened parentheses. The soldiers were facing the sea, watching him … And everyone, scrutinizing him, wondered if one day the immense wave of assault would rise from this immobile horizon?
The command of the 716. ID
The 716. Infantry Division
The area of the mouth of the Orne is under the command of Generalleutnant Wilhelm Richter, his PC is located in Caen.
The defense of the estuary (Colleville, Ouistreham, Franceville, Merville) is entrusted to the Infanterie-Regiment 736., a battalion of Ostruppen (Ost.648), the 119 battalion of fortress pioneers and the 859 battalion of motorized pioneers. Their area is south of the locality.
On the beach, there is a coastal artillery group of the Army (1. / 1260 Heeres-Küsten-ArtillerieAbteilung). We can also count in the land force 200 members of the Todt organization, composed of many Austrians of a certain age.
As for the port, it is the anchorage center of the 10. Raumboots-Floffille commanded by the Kapitänleutnant Herbert Nau. At his disposal are 15 minesweepers, 1 rapid escort, requisitioned and armed.
By the dawn of June 6, all weapons combined, the German strength at Ouistreham can be estimated at about 2,000 soldiers.
“Ouistreham at War – Sword Beach – June 1944” at Editions Heimdal, by Fabrice Corbin, Curator of the “Grand Bunker”, the Atlantic Wall Museum.
The Heer and the Kriegsmarine
The Kriegsmarine shows little presence in the sector that goes from the Orne, in the East, Cape Frehel, to the West. The Sea Command for Normandy is located in Cherbourg. He supervises commanderies, captainesses as well as the various under his authority.
The Port Surveillance Flotilla installed in Cherbourg, has several groups including one, based in Ouistreham.
In the port of Ouistreham is therefore based a flotilla of speedboats, the 10./Raümboots Flotille.
Above, pose for the photograph of the sailors of this flotilla in front of a Villa of Riva-Belle.
The 10./Raümboots Flotille joined his base at Ouistreham in April 1942.
Its main mission is to dredge the mines in the estuary of the Seine.
It is in May 1944 placed under the orders of Kapitänleutnant Herbert Nau who has a flotilla of about twenty ships.
This flotilla will not engage the gigantic armada facing Sword on the morning of June 6th.
“Ouistreham at War – Sword Beach – June 1944” at Editions Heimdal, by Fabrice Corbin, Curator of the “Grand Bunker”, the Atlantic Wall Museum.
The Orne Estuary, a strategically historic place
The German choice to locate on both sides of the Orne estuary an important military defense structure is not due to the conjuncture of the conflict of the time. At all times, the Ouistreham site has had an undeniable strategic interest, being a mandatory passage to the maritime access of the city of Caen.
While moving on the road Caen-Ouistreham, we can easily guess, arriving at Ouistreham on the right, at the height of the oil tanks, a protuberance of ground, of rectangular form, placed between the road and the current channel (former bed of the Orne).
It is in fact, vestiges of a Gallic camp, overlooking the river at the time of about fifteen meters, thus governing the port traffic, and preventing invasions.
After the Romans who do not neglect the place, they settle there for a few centuries. Then come the Saxons who attack the small entrenched camp and hunt the Roman occupation, at the price of 315 warriors during the assault; they are still in use today. As for the bodies of the vanquished Romans, no trace remains of them.
In the 11th century, the shipyards of Ouistreham were chosen by William the Conqueror to build some boats for the upcoming invasion of England. Note that the Germans do the same and plant on the edges of the canal a site where are manufactured speedboats. (Schnellboote).
Nowadays, a large concrete surface is called the German Slip.
In 1757, France and England entered the war for a period of 7 years. On the night of July 12, 1762, having had information on the chartering of fifteen ships of King Louis XV loaded with timber for the shipbuilding of Brest and wet in the estuary of the Orne, the English send a squadron so to destroy those ships. Armored boats are then assigned to the neutralization of the Ouistreham Redoubt. After a short battle, the English kill seven cannoniers and make sixteen prisoners. As soon as the English ships opened fire on the Sallenelles redoubt, all the inhabitants of Ouistreham, put on alert, fled into the countryside, except Sergeant Michel Cabieu, coastguard of the company of Ouistreham, one of the few surviving men of the locality, most of the male population having been decimated by five years of war. Listening only to his courage, he goes alone to the enemy, armed with a simple drum and some muskets. Taking advantage of the darkness, he pretends to be a company pulling on both sides, sounding the charge with his drum and giving orders to an imaginary army. The English, stupefied, believing to be besieged by an enemy superior in number, beat a retreat, forgetting at the same time the officer who commanded them, he having been seriously wounded in the thigh by the brave sergeant. This feat of arms makes it a national hero. Today, a street bears his name and recalls these events.
From the sixteenth century, Ouistreham is provided with a battery, served by a local militia.
This small guardhouse is located at the end of the Headquarters point. Faced with innumerable English incursions, the decision to modernize it is taken in 1779. In fact, it is part of a defensive set formed by the redoubts of Franceville-Ouistreham and Colleville-sur-Orne. Today, there is still a central speaker located rue Boivin-Champeaux.
Under Napoléon III, it is necessary to announce the project of construction of a great port of war, the site having attracted the attention by the presence of a natural marine pit (called Fosse of Colleville) being likely to accomodate battle ships large tonnage. This project was abandoned, Cherbourg having won the favor of military engineers.
“Ouistreham at War – Sword Beach – June 1944” at Editions Heimdal, by Fabrice Corbin, Curator of the “Grand Bunker”, the Atlantic Wall Museum.
Houses razed to turn Ouistreham into a stronghold
On June 19, 1940, the German army invests Ouistreham. Very quickly, the occupant realizes the importance of the place. Pieces of DCA appear on both sides of the city. The field artillery was installed early in 1941 on the height, south of Colleville-sur-Orne. Many shells fired during training hit the city, causing a lot of damage.
During the years 40-41, as long as the German high command thought to land in England, the German military constructions were only summary and provisional.
The city then becomes a garrison town with all the disadvantages: requisition of villas, curfew, prohibitions and controls of all kinds.
In 1942, the Germans adopted a more defensive than conquering attitude. Facing the undefeated English, the entire seaside city becomes a No Man ‘s Land at a depth of 4000 meters where all movements are controlled by the Feldgendarmerie. From then on, the construction of the Atlantic Wall entrusted to the organization Todt begins. German, Belgian, Italian and even French companies and the 11th battalion of fortress pioneers set up shop in Ouistreham for a gigantic construction site. On the waterfront is decided the destruction of 123 villas and homes of all kinds to make way for the implementation of a battery consisting of an extremely refined defensive system. This set consists of about 80 concrete works, 22 pieces of artillery of all kinds. The largest calibres are 155 mm K 420 F with a range of 21.3 km on concrete tank, supplemented by 4 75 mm FK 38 guns in armored casemates of which only one will be completed on June 6, 7 pieces of 50 KWK of which 4 placed under casemates, 4 pieces of Flak 20 mm one of which is placed on a watchtower, another hidden on the roof of a villa, one on the cellars of the casino and one on the roof of the PDT One mortar of 50 mm, another of 81 mm as well as two armored turrets for MG 34 on shelter completed by numerous trenches and tobrouks. Two very important underground run along the beach and serve all this together over a distance of 400 meters.
Shelters for staff, stocks of food, ammunition and a bakery, stable and a workshop for the maintenance of vehicles are built inside the perimeter. A bunker equipped with a generator supplies electricity to all this complex. In the middle of all this device, a shooting direction post is built serving as an observatory, radio station and telephone, all protected on the south side by a large concrete anti-tank ditch. On the beaches, barbed wire networks, Rommel asparagus, mines, concrete tetrahedrons and traps of all kinds. Inside the enclosure a second line of antitank defense formed by alignments of concrete dragon teeth. In 1943, the wineries of the casino having some interest, it is decided the stopping of it. The floor is reinforced by a thick layer of concrete, on top, a tobrouk for MG 42 and a piece of Flak 20 mm on vault that can serve as an anti-tank for close combat. In the basements, MG loopholes are located on both sides of the structure.
A second battery is built near the water tower, on the road to Saint-Aubin d’Arquenay. It has four casemates for 105mm field guns (FH 16 MG with a range of 12 km).
Only three will be completed on June 6, (in fact, on this date there are only four 75 mm K 231 F parts, with a range of 8 km fully horse-drawn). The whole is accompanied by ammunition bunkers and a dozen shelters for artillerymen. The ensemble is surrounded by trenches and tobrouks for MG. A large minefield protects the whole against the infantry. Wood piles interconnected by cables are planted in the plain to prevent glider landings, all in a telephone and radio connection with the P.D.T.
With regard to the port and the locks, the system is composed, at the end of the jetty, of a battleship bell for two MG 34 machine guns. Near the downstream lock, a 20 mm Flak gun on a tank is attached to a shelter for the staff. In the vicinity of the lighthouse, 3 casemates and five tobrouks for MG. At the tip of the seat, 3 flanking casemates are aligned for 50 mm KWK antitank guns. As for the estuary of the Orne, it is obstructed by a bridge that connects the battery of Riva to that of Franceville. It is then consolidated by steel cables to prevent access to the Orne enemy stars who try to infiltrate the land.
The splendid and typical Norman casino also razed and transformed into an anti-aircraft defense point
A construction of 17 meters to see from Pegasus Bridge to Quinéville in the Cotentin
A very rare construction on the Atlantic Wall! She was saved from the demolition and oblivion thanks to the determination and the energy of the owners who undertook to buy it back from the Navy to restore it entirely and transform it into the Atlantic Wall Museum in the service of Memory and future generations.
This Sonderkonstruktion strong of its 17 meters embraced the entirety of the bay of Seine and, made curious, offers the possibility with this height and the apparatus of optics which is necessary to reach Quinéville, western extremity of the D-Day. Quinéville is part of the American sector of Utah Beach in the Cotentin, a town under Montebourg, itself under Cherbourg.
A very exceptional construction that concentrates military functions that make it an equally exceptional place! The Grand Bunker commanded several batteries participating in the defense of the estuary of the Orne and beaches that would become those of D-Day.
5 levels for functions concentrated in a single blockhouse
Observation Post, Shooting Direction Post, Command Post … The Big Bunker is all of this!
The Grand Bunker is a unique place for a unique Museum dedicated to the Atlantic Wall. On its own, it constitutes a true concentrate of the Atlantic Wall. In this exceptional place, by its character of special construction, is offered to the visit a complete abridgement of the Atlantic Wall, this gigantic project of 4000 km, undertaken by the Organization Todt on order of Adolf Hitler.
The Grand Bunker is a storied store that unveils its carefully reconstructed pieces to revive the daily tasks of the soldiers, officers and NCOs who lived there. From level to level, we discover the main aspects of the daily life of men posted on the Atlantic Wall.
In this one place, both Observation Post, Shooting Direction Post, Command Post, you will seem to share a moment of the daily life of soldiers living in this confined space of concrete. You will be able to detail all the equipment involved in a Command Post. You will also capture the intimate interweaving between the Observation Post and the Shooting Direction Post. During the visit, it will be more and more obvious that you are progressing in a real nerve center of multi-function Command housed in this very special Sonderkonstruktion of 17 meters high.
The Grand Bunker renders in a totally incomparable way a moment of Authentic History of the Atlantic Wall, the wall of Fortress Europe!
The D-Day beaches facing the Atlantic Wall
The Atlantic Wall, even though it did not look like a Fortress, was still used by Propaganda in this way. Propaganda will boast, with a plethora of means, the Atlantic Wall to make occupied Europe an impregnable fortress. That said, the Allies in no way downplayed the constantly strengthened defensive capabilities of the Atlantic Wall. Especially since Rommel had become Inspector General of the Western defenses. Air reconnaissance flights were countless over the Atlantic Wall in Normandy in anticipation of D-Day. Daily surveillance was pushed to the limit and the local Resistance played an irreplaceable role in this intelligence work. The Atlantic Wall was not only Propaganda for the Allies and it is not for nothing that the D-Day landings did not take place in the Pas-de-Calais, precisely where the Atlantic Wall was more formidable.
The Allies also took care to develop special armored vehicles to face the defenses of the Atlantic Wall and facilitate the Normandy landings. The 79th Armored Division will be established in April 1943 and commanded by Major-General Sir Percy Hobart. And experience will show that they will not be useless!
On each landing beach, the Allies will face the defenses of the Atlantic Wall. The Atlantic Wall, in some areas, will inflict very heavy losses on the Allies.
The Museum of the Atlantic Wall tries to preserve the memory of these defenses which omnipresent on the beaches of Normandy opposed the Allies a resistance which it was necessary that to fight against not, according to the wish of Rommel, to be rejected at the sea.
The D-Day in Ouistreham on the beach coded Sword Beach
7:20 am: The day has come up and the 22nd Dragoons’ “Flail” (Sherman with special equipment to blow up the mines) are the first to reach the beach with sappers. The first tanks AVRE (Armored Vehicle Royal Engineers) arrive at 07:25. These tanks engage the fight with the German defenses. Tanks DD (Duplex Drive) or amphibious, freshly landed join the attack. German artillery pieces will be silenced.
7:30 am: twenty LCA (Landing Craft Assault) bring the companies of assault. In the West, on Queen White, the companies A and C of 1st South Lancashire. In the East, on Queen Red, companies A and C of 2nd East Yorskhire. These companies will be stuck at the top of the beach behind the anti-tank wall. A tank “Flail” then destroys a 75mm which has just caused a lot of losses to the men of East Yorkshire.
The other companies of the two assault battalions and the two LCI (Landing Craft Infantry) carrying the French No. 4 Commandos land in turn at 07:35. The No. 4 commando practices a breach in the barbed wire network after crossing the beach while charging. The French Commando Kieffer around 09:30, take after heavy fighting, the casino Ouistreham, shaved and transformed by the Germans into a bunker with a strong defense.
10:00. The men of No. 4 commandos reach the locks that have not been mined. Most of the 1st Special Service Brigade continues its progression south along the canal that connects Caen to the sea. Around 13 hours, Lord Lovat, his bagpipe player Bill Millin, French Commandos with other commandos of the Brigade, reach the Bénouville bridge and get in touch with Major Howard’s men. The junction programmed with the airborne bridgehead is realized.
The D-Day on Juno Beach
On June 6, 1944, the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division with three Brigades was commanded by Major General Rod Keller. She must land on a large beach area (10 km): Juno Beach. The 7th Brigade must land on “Mike” in the West (Graye and Courseulles) and the 8th Brigade on “Nan” in the East (Bernières and Saint-Aubin-sur-Mer).
The 3rd Canadian Infantry Division then went down the land to reach the plateau of Carpiquet: it must take the aerodrome.
The various Brigades of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division are greeted by a very violent fire of guns, mortars and machine guns. The waves cover thousands of beach obstacles …
Bernières is defended by two anti-tank guns, heavy mortars, machine-gun positions, fortified dwellings … The fighting will be fierce and will result in heavy losses …
Courseulles opposes the Canadian troops many concrete positions that house guns, machine guns, mortars … It will take Canadian soldiers lead two assaults and terrible street fighting to overcome the German resistance …
Saint-Aubin, Langrune and Gray will not be released as of June 6th.
The losses are particularly severe on the evening of June 6:
7th Brigade: 323 casualties including 118 killed.
8th Brigade: 373 casualties including 110 killed.
The D-Day on Gold Beach Beach
The Gold Beach area is dominated by heights at both ends. A bay at Arromanches will be used to build the British artificial harbor, the Mulberry B. The 47 Commando will be tasked to carry his efforts to the West to seize Port-en-Bessin and make the junction with the Americans . Another main objective on the evening of D-Day, the city of Bayeux which is a strategic crossroads. Essential objectives that will have to be reached since the beaches offering to the barges of assault practicable zones. This is the 50th British Infantry Division (Northumbrian) Major General Graham, which will have to land on Gold Beach.
As of 07:30 the Force G of the 50th British Infantry Division faces the 5 km of beach of Gold beach divided into 3 sectors: “King” of the River in Hable de Heurtot, “Jig” of Hable de Heurtot in Hamel and ” Item “from Hamel to Saint-Côme. The 231st Infantry Brigade arrives with two companies in front of the Hamel facing German positions very determined to fight. The dismounted troops did not progress again, after hard and violent fights, only at the end of the day. The 69th Infantry Brigade further east is also facing fierce German resistance. The advance in Ver-sur-Mer will be at the cost of heavy losses. The 47 Commando which must take Port-en-Bessin as soon as possible does not take part in the bitter fighting of Hamel. He goes on Asnelles and arrives on the heights of Port-en-Bessin at the end of the day. The struggle to take Port-en-Bessin will be long, difficult and deadly for many soldiers. It will not fall until June 8th.
Summary of the day: 25,000 men disembarked, 410 men out of fighting on the beaches and 90 barges destroyed.
The D-Day on Omaha Beach
The Omaha Beach area stretches between Arromanches and Grandcamp (including the Hangers Ranger Point). The coast here is high. The beach which extends at the foot of the cliffs about 5 km will still have to be invested not to leave unoccupied the space between the 1st US Army and the 2nd British Army. The subsectors of Omaha will be coded Fox, Easy, Dog and Charlie and extend between Colleville and Vierville-sur-Mer. This particularly dangerous mission will be entrusted to the Ve Corps US. It is composed of the 1st Infantry Division, the famous Big Red One and the 29th Infantry Division, the Blue and Gray Division.
The hell lived by the first wave of assault of the US V Corps will long for the beaches of Omaha their bloody epithet. Bloody Omaha … The bombardments of the Navy and the Air Force were ineffective. They fell too far behind the German defensive lines. The first wave of American assault had to face German positions with all their defensive potential. He had remained intact. In the West, the 29th Infantry Division is in front of Vierville-sur-Mer and Saint-Laurent while the 1st Infantry Division, in the East, is facing Saint-Laurent and Colleville. Hell was indescribable. Chaos, absolute horror, reigned. General Cota will say, “There are two kinds of men here, the dead and those who are going to die, so let’s get away from here!” General Bradley even considered, if the situation did not improve, to re-embark and divert the second wave of assault on Gold and Utah.
The second wave gives the assault. And before the time that General Bradley had set to change his plans, signs of progress reached him, his troops having pierced in several places. After bloody, interminable, unimaginable fights, the multiple breakthroughs helped to consolidate a bridgehead. The exit to The Ruquet coded E (asy) 1, the abominable Wn 62 having fallen, will be released at the beginning of the afternoon. Once the powerful Wn 72 silenced, at the cost of immense sacrifices, the exit D (og) 1, in Vierville-sur-Mer, will be opened by the Genie, exploding the anti-tank wall.
The last pocket of German resistance will be concentrated in Colleville, which will last until evening.
At the end of the day, all landed vehicles will be directed to the only two really usable sorties. There were four of them planned …
The record at Omaha Beach is appalling, tragic. The 29th Infantry Division lost 2,400 men and the 1st Infantry Division 1,750 men.
The D-Day on Utah Beach
The US divisions of the 82nd and 101st Airborne must cover the southern, western and northern flanks of the Utah Beach assault zone, clearing beach exits, taking bridges over the Douve and Merderet, and seizing the strategic crossroads of Sainte-Mère-Eglise. The VII Corps US will have to build a solid bridgehead, cut the Cotentin peninsula from East to West and then go north to Cherbourg. The 4th Infantry Division will land on Utah and will interface with airborne troops. She will be joined by the 90th Infantry Division then by the 9th Infantry Division at D +4 and finally by the 79th Infantry Division at D + 8. The VII Corps will then have all its forces to fulfill its objectives in the Cotentin.
At 0545, the landing fleet approaches the coast. The ships of Task Force 125 open fire to disrupt the German defenses.
A few minutes later, 276 Marauders of the 9th US Air Force drop 4,400 tons of bombs on the points of support from Wn 3 to Wn 10. The effect is devastating. The points of support are very heavily affected and disorganized.
From 6:20 to 6:45, the P 47 attack rocket positions to complete neutralize them.
At 06:40 about twenty LCVP (Landing Craft, Vehicle and Personal) bring the first wave of assault. The landing will not take place at the planned place because of strong currents. The landing forces are further south facing the Wn 5. About 300 meters from the beach, the Company Commanders fire specific smoke projectiles to ask the Navy to lengthen its fire. Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt steps on the beach with this first wave of assault and the Wn 5, very experienced by the two successive bombings, will oppose only a little fierce resistance.
The 237th Engineer Battalion clears the beach and breaches the anti-tank wall. Everything will be almost clear in one hour.
At 0800 hours, the 8th Infantry Regiment and the 3rd Battalion of the 22nd Infantry Regiment completed their landing. The rest of this second Regiment will disembark at 10 o’clock.
In this sector, the main objectives of the 7th US Corps have been achieved. The D-Day was a success with moderate losses.
The Liberation of Ouistreham from Sword Beach
At the same time as the effort provided by No. 4 Commando, the English troops, 400 strong, have objectives as important as the French. One of these troops must seize the Redoubt, rue Boivin Champeaux. The case is well conducted.
She continues her progression towards the Battery of the seaside, which is taken together with the surrounding bunkers, after a short but very violent fight.
In the same perimeter is the Shooting Direction Post. Intrigued by this large concrete tower that was not reported by the intelligence services, the commandos attempt an approach to this strange building and are immediately greeted by a shower of hand grenades and automatic weapons fire from the top of the bunker. They repeat the operation a second time, assisted by a section of machine gunners who sprinkle the building with their balls again wiping a failure. They suspend the attack and retreat by taking their wounded, judging this construction wall high and completely smooth almost impregnable. Another mission is to take the port and save the locks. The Germans have had ample time to recover and organize themselves, they have firmly entrenched themselves behind the basin.
It is 10 o’clock when the English reach the port. The shells of 50 Pak explode at the end of the current Avenue General Leclerc. The commandos, surprised by the intensity of the firing, disperse and shelter in the ruins all around the port, responding blow to blow to the enemy fire. The German soldiers withstand 45 minutes of hard commitment are not right of their stubbornness. The crossing of the canal and the capture of the Pointe du Siège are then suspended.
The village of Ouistreham is quickly inspected and cleaned. The last snipers are dislodged.
It is now 11.30 am, time is running out, the mission is not over. The commandos quickly return to their point of landing, taking with them their harvests of prisoners. They refuel the ammunition, and then go inland towards Colleville via Bénouville. New objective: make the junction with the 6th Airborne Division. After Colleville, the green berets cross Saint-Aubin-d’Arquenay completely devastated by the bombings, wiping the precise shots of the German snipers who are quickly spotted and shot. The meeting with the paratroopers is done at 1.30 pm
But back to Ouistreham where; the battery of the water tower is taken back by the tanks of 28 East Yorkshire that have bypassed the city.
The Germans surrendered without much resistance, and the Allies captured at the same time 300 men from an Ost-Battalion fleeing in the plain on all their legs.
It was not until June 7, at the end of the day, that the Germans, entrenched at the port and the Pointe du Siège, capitulated to the tanks of the 38th Infantry Division, quickly realizing their isolation, their possible retirement cut by the men of the 6th Airborne. The stars of the Kriegsmarine will attempt a climb to Caen and will be destroyed in Benouville by the men of General Gale. Ouistreham will be fully liberated on the night of June 9 to 10 with the taking of the big Bunker.
“Ouistreham at War – Sword Beach – June 1944” at Editions Heimdal, by Fabrice Corbin, Curator of the «Grand Bunker», the Museum of the Atlantic Wall.
The neutralization of the Ouistreham Command Post
After the capitulation of the heavy support point of Ouistreham, the site is not invested by English troops: it has no interest in their eyes.
The front being south of the locality, the ground, riddled with mines and having been upset by the violent bombings, it becomes hazardous to establish a cantonment there. However, there is still an impressive stock of building materials that can be used by English engineers. Thus, on June 9, three days after the landing, Lieutenant Bob Orrell, Royal Engineers, 91 Field Company RE, 3rd Beach Group attached to the 3rd Canadian Div., 2nd British Army, received the order of make sure of the contents of the “Big Bunker” in order to exploit it.
Around 10 pm, he arrives with three men in a vehicle near the bunker.
The entrance is obstructed by two large armored doors.
They decide to put three kilos of explosives on the hinges of one of them, but the explosion has no effect. They then try to get the door out of its hinges with help from bar-mine but it is hardly more conclusive. They repeat the operation by increasing the load of five kilos, which has the effect of dislocating the door. However, it will take them four hours to get into the bunker. Entering with their storm lamp, they stumble on two boxes of grenades that were left there, in the entrance. They also come across a stock of equipment stored in the filter room. Suddenly, to their surprise, a voice asks them in perfect English to come up. The lieutenant replies that he prefers to see them go down.
Thus 53 Germans, including two officers, who had been refugees in the bunker since 6 June, surrendered to a British officer accompanied by three of his men. Finally, the city of Ouistreham is totally liberated.
“Ouistreham at War – Sword Beach – June 1944” at Editions Heimdal, by Fabrice Corbin, Curator of the «Grand Bunker», the Museum of the Atlantic Wall.
The fate of No. 4 Commando from the beaches of Sword
5:47 am in the morning. The first shells fall on the city. The population has been terrorized for many hours already. During the night, a multitude of planes crossed the sky and noises of battle were heard in the area of Bénouville.
At this time, it is no longer small arms fire that ignites the sky, but shells of 380 mm … those of the cruiser Frobisher who reach homes. They collapse like castles of cards. For a little over an hour, the two Ouistreham batteries will be taken under fire, more or less precise, the cruiser Frobisher.
“Ouistreham at War – Sword Beach – June 1944” at Editions Heimdal, by Fabrice Corbin, Curator of the «Grand Bunker», the Museum of the Atlantic Wall.
6:45 am A shelling of unprecedented violence waters the shoreline. In about fifteen minutes, thousands of shells and rockets hit the beaches of Sword and its surrounding area.
7:30 am The green berets of the Commando No. 4 take foot on the beach of Colleville-Montgomery. They were preceded by 20 minutes by an East Yorkshire regiment whose mission is to breach barbed wire and minefields. The soldiers of this regiment were cut to pieces by the German defenses: dead, wounded and vehicles in flames strew the beach.
The 600 men of the Franco-British commando throw themselves on the German casemates under the crossfire of German machine guns and mortars. The last bunkers are reduced to grenade and P.I.A.T. The hollow charge rockets have an extremely lethal effect on the servants of the anti-tank pieces. In twenty minutes, all the troops are disembarked and the mythical Atlantic Wall is crossed. Meetings are held in the ruins of summer camps Colleville.
About 40 commandos remained on the beach, dead or wounded. Despite his wounds received during the landing, the commander Philippe Kieffer quickly rakes his men and recovers an English troop who lost his officer. After a brief briefing, the 210 soldiers finally attack the Fortress of Ouistreham.
It is then 8:20 am
Two troops take the road to Lion, another, Boulevard Maréchal-Joffre. These two axes are parallel to the beach edges.
Casemates and machine-gun nests taken from behind are cleaned one by one, some flamethrower, ideal and persuasive weapon for this kind of fight. German defenses were not totally destroyed by bombing. The defenders of the entrenched camp react with all their weapons. Snipers snared in the villas wreak havoc on the ranks of the commandos.
It is about 9 o’clock when the French commandos reach their goal: the fort of the casino. The progress of the troop is stopped at the end of Pasteur Street, by shells of 20 mm fired from the casino. A providential anti-tank wall completely blocks the street and protects the commandos from deadly fire. They try to put in battery the P.I.A.T. and the K. Guns. Their initiative is immediately rewarded by salvos of shells and a hail of MG bullets, drawn from both the casino and the belvedere, the latter located to the left of the green berets.
Commander Kieffer is analyzing the situation very quickly. After a few minutes of engagement, two men have already perished and many wounded lie in the rubble of nearby homes. It would be crazy to attempt a force assault of the casino. The anti-tank ditch and the dense barbed wire networks prohibit any such option.
Troop 8 and sections K. Guns, which have taken the streets parallel to the beach, are also stopped 300 m to the left of the casino and have many victims. At this time, the English troop followed the footsteps of the French and infiltrated throughout the city under the protection of the Royal Drive 13/18 Royal Hussars tanks. The commander routed one of them and moved next to his turret thus directing the shot of the tank: two shots in the barrel of the casino which is silent immediately. New target: the belvedere. Four shells, the coin falls into the void, the servants annihilated. At this moment, the commandos arise from everywhere and give the final assault on the fort. The Germans, feeling the lost part, go out in groups of undergrounds and blockhouses and surrender. The most recalcitrant are quickly persuaded with the help of flamethrowers and offensive grenades.