Thursday, June 5, 2014

German Battery at Longues-sur-Mer, France

Just outside Bayeux, on the English Channel coast, is one of the best preserved World War II-era German gun emplacements. Hitler wanted to build an impregnable wall of defenses along the western coastline of Europe, the Atlantic Wall. Nazi propaganda claimed there were 22,000 concrete bunkers in the Netherlands, Belgium, and France. In reality, the guns larger than 7.5 cm caliber (just under 3 inches) only numbered 2,692. They were enough to make the D-Day landings (whose 70th anniversary is the day after this post is published) a bloody and difficult invasion.

Most of the guns of the Atlantic Wall were used for scrap metal after the war, but the artillery battery at Longues-sur-Mer still stands 70 years later. They have a nice visitor center with plenty of good information about the guns and support buildings, including a map (which is more helpful if you know French).

A French preview of the rest of this post!

We walked from the visitor parking to the guns, a fairly short walk. The first gun is a bit of a disappointment.

Guns in the distance

The first bunker was a bust

Remains of the gun

The other bunkers, or casements as they are often called, are much more satisfying and surprisingly similar. Mass production of the defenses required the same designs be used again and again. These particular guns are 15 cm (6 inch) caliber guns with a range of 20 km (about 12 miles). L and J loved exploring inside the heavily fortified gun placement. They were buried in concrete to protect them from aerial bombing.

L by the gun

The gun's rear end in the firing chamber

View from next to the gun

The back entrance

Ammunition and other supplies were held inside the casements. Additional ammo was stored in the fields near the gun. Again, they were placed underground for safety. We explored one such storage area. Similar shelters were quarters for the artillerymen. Now the floors were full of water, so we didn't go inside.

Ammunition bunker

We also discovered bases where other, smaller guns were placed.

Gun emplacement, probably for machine guns

Outside we heard some buzzing sounds and were surprised to see para-gliders flying through the sky. One swooped low enough for us to wave back and forth.

Someone's coming!

Enjoying the good weather in style

On the cliff-edge is the firing command post, a two-story bunker used to direct the guns. Information was passed back by telephone.

Front of the firing command post

View of the sea from outside the bunker

More of the view

The upper floor of the bunker is the telemetry post, where they observed targets with special optical devices. They had views of the approaches to Omaha and Gold beaches where Allied forces landed on June 6, 1944 (i.e. D-Day).

L and J in the telemetry post

Downstairs is calculation and transmission room, where the data from upstairs was analyzed and provided to the guns.

Down the dark stairs

The room is not very interesting without equipment in it

The front room downstairs has a 180 degree view through a small slit called the crenel.

The crenel with the sun shining through

View through the slit

Naturally, the exit for the command post is at the back. We made our way back to the car with one last view of the gun casements.

Back of the firing command post

Concrete casements just visible behind the command post

These guns were bombed heavily in the lead up to D-Day. The massive bombing only succeeded in destroying the telephone lines buried between the casements and the firing command. As ships approached land, various destroyers fired on the guns as the guns fired back. After three hours the battery ceased firing at 0845. On June 7, the Second Battalion Devonshire Regiment (which had landed on Gold Beach) approached the battery. The 200 German gunners (mostly in their 40s) surrendered without a fight.

The next post will also be in honor of D-Day--our visit to Pegasus Bridge!

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