5. Jun, 2022


SUNDAY 5-06-22

Despite my on-call readiness as Roof Vent Monitor, not one drop of rain fell during the rest of the evening or overnight. That's weather forecasts for you.

After I flicked the boiler on I slipped some clothes on and went up to the car park entrance to check what facilities the dump station offered. Unfortunately it didn't offer fresh water, and so this morning we had to settle for a wash, because I wanted to conserve our water. I knew that as we ran along the Normandy beaches and visited Bayeux we would be using Camperstops quite a lot and it was possible they would offer little or no facilities. That is why today I was keen for us to spend two nights at a campsite so that we can have the luxury of a mains electrical hook-up and hopefully a decent shower block.

Our journey to 'Utah Beach' was quite straightforward, well, until the last few miles that is. We came across a diversion outside a small village near the coast. The local police had got a local farmer to park his JCB across one half of the road, whilst they ushered all traffic to make a right turn only. Naturally enough 'IT's started ping, ping, pinging, threatening us with a detention if we didn't soon get back on course. The route suggested by 'IT' corresponded with the diversion signs, until one point where I had to chose between 'IT's suggested route or follow the diversion signs, which went the opposite way. I decided to obey 'IT' as it seemed to be the direction we wanted to go. Oh dear. The road narrowed to single track with barely any room to pass oncoming traffic even having pulled off the road as much as possible. The Chef sat with her arms by her side clutching her seat. That's a sure sign she's out of her comfort zone. It was hairy I have to say, especially when encountering a vehicle coming the other way on a blind bend. In fact at one point we nearly bagged ourselves a Jeep with four weekend soldiers in it, and three motorbikes with sidecars who came round the corner too fast in the middle of the road.

But we weren't done yet. When we arrived at Camping Flowers Utah Beach (N49.419579° W1.181527°) they were full, but could offer us a pitch tomorrow, with booking-in time set at 15:00hrs which is nearly halfway through the day. So out we went, back to the large public car parking space we had seen coming in. It was very busy, but there seemed to be an area which was occupied by a number of motorhomes and so we made for that. I bagged a space in a busy part of the car park because if we did get heavy rain we were better off being on tarmac than grass.

So now that we have managed to get here in one piece, a bit about 'Utah Beach' one of the two landing beaches for the American assault on D-Day 6th June 1944, the other beach being 'Omaha' further east.

Amphibious landings at Utah were to be preceded by airborne landings further inland on the Cotentin Peninsula commencing shortly after midnight. Forty minutes of naval bombardment was to begin at 05:50, followed by air bombardment, scheduled for 06:09 to 06:27.

The amphibious landing was planned in four waves, beginning at 06:30. The first consisted of 20 Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel (LCVPs) carrying four companies from the 8th Infantry Regiment. The ten craft on the right were to land on Tare Green beach, opposite the strongpoint at Les Dunes de Varreville. The ten craft on the left were intended for Uncle Red beach, 1,000 yards (910 m) south. Eight Landing Craft Tanks (LCTs), each carrying four amphibious DD tanks of 70th Tank Battalion, were scheduled to land a few minutes before the infantry.

The second wave, scheduled for 06:35, consisted of 32 LCVPs carrying four more companies of 8th Infantry, as well as combat engineers and naval demolition teams that were to clear the beach of obstacles. The third wave, scheduled for 06:45, consisted of eight LCTs bringing more DD tanks plus armoured bulldozers to assist in clearing paths off the beach. It was to be followed at 06:37 by the fourth wave, which had eight Landing Craft Mechanised (LCM) and three LCVPs with detachments of the 237th and 299th Combat Engineer Battalions, assigned to clear the beach between the high and low water marks.

Troops involved in Operation Overlord, including members of the 4th Division scheduled to land at Utah, left their barracks in the second half of May and proceeded to their coastal marshalling points. To preserve secrecy, the invasion troops were as much as possible kept out of contact with the outside world. The men began to embark onto their transports on June 1, and the 865 ships of Force U (the naval group assigned to Utah) left from Plymouth on June 3 and 4.

A 24-hour postponement of the invasion necessitated by bad weather meant that one convoy had to be recalled and then hastily refuelled at Portland. Convoy U2A from Salcome and Dartmouth left on 4 June but did not receive the broadcast recall notices, and was headed for France alone. A search by two destroyers was unsuccessful, then after an all-day search a Walrus reconnaissance biplane located the convoy and dropped two coded messages in canisters; the second one was acknowledged when the convoy was 30 miles south of the Isle of Wight and 36 miles from Normandy, after sailing 150 miles at 6 knots. The convoy of about 150 vessels was carrying the 4th Infantry Division of Major-General Raymond O. Barton.

The ships met at a rendezvous point (nicknamed "Piccadilly Circus") southeast of the Isle of Wight to assemble into convoys to cross the Channel. Minesweepers began clearing lanes on the evening of June 5.

The coastline of Normandy was divided into seventeen sectors, with codenames using a spelling alphabet—from Able, west of Omaha, to Roger on the east flank of Sword. Utah was originally designated "Yoke" and Omaha was "X-ray", from the phonetic alphabet. The two names were changed on 3 March 1944. "Omaha" and "Utah" were probably suggested by Bradley. Eight further sectors were added when the invasion was extended to include Utah. Sectors were further subdivided into beaches identified by the colours Green, Red, and White.

Utah, the westernmost of the five landing beaches, is on the Cotentin Peninsula, west of the mouths of the Douve and Vire rivers. The terrain between Utah and the neighbouring Omaha was swampy and difficult to cross, which meant that the troops landing at Utah would be isolated. The Germans had flooded the farmland behind Utah, restricting travel off the beach to a few narrow causeways. To help secure the terrain inland of the landing zone, rapidly seal off the Cotentin Peninsula, and prevent the Germans from reinforcing the port at Cherbourg, two airborne divisions were assigned to airdrop into German territory in the early hours of the invasion.

The need to acquire or produce extra landing craft and troop carrier aircraft for the expanded operation meant that the invasion had to be delayed to June.Production of landing craft was ramped up in late 1943 and continued into early 1944, and existing craft were relocated from other theatres. More than 600 Douglas C-47 Skytrain transport aircraft and their crews took a circuitous route to England in early 1944 from Baer Field, Indiana, bringing the number of available troop carrier planes to over a thousand.

The DUKW amphibious vehicle was designed by Rod Stephens Jr. of Sparkman & Stephens, Inc. yacht designers, Dennis Puleston, a British deep-water sailor resident in the U.S., and Frank W. Speir from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was developed to solve the problem of resupply to units which had just performed an amphibious landing, it was initially rejected by the armed services.

When a United States Coast Guard patrol craft ran aground on a sand bar near Provincetown, Massachusetts, an experimental DUKW happened to be in the area for a demonstration. Winds up to 60 knots (110 km/h; 69 mph), rain, and heavy surf prevented conventional craft from rescuing the seven stranded Coast Guardsmen, but the DUKW had no trouble, and military opposition to the DUKW melted. The DUKW later proved its seaworthiness by crossing the English Channel.

The skies looked quite threatening but we needed to get out and stretch our legs. We settled for a lunch of frozen baguette, defrosted of course, which The Chef had stashed away in the freezer and a tin of tomato soup.

We've been here before as part of the first holiday we had away in the motorhome, when we did Ypres, Flanders, a couple of French WW1 battlefield and the Normandy beaches. We're really only back again because it ties up with our run for home heading towards Calais.

When we went for our wander there were a lot of 'Re-enactors' as I suppose they'd like to be called, supported by some sad individuals walking around with all the kit on. Still everybody needs a hobby.

There were only two stalls at the beach area and they were both doing brisk business. One was selling hot food as an annex to the restaurant and the other was selling ex French military surplus white flags. After 'The Little man of Europe', Emmanuel Macron, told the Ukrainian government days ago not to antagonise Vladimir Putin if they wanted a peace deal, I think the French public are getting themselves ready for another war.

One thing of interest that was going down on the  beach was a DUKW amphibious vehicle which were used in the D-Day landings. They were offering members of the public rides out into the sea a little way and back again, which unsurprisingly was proving very popular.

The last time we were here the sun was shining and the pictures came out better, but I mustn't cheat. I'll share those I took today. What I will do though, is cheat and include the photographs I took inside the museum here back in 2014, as I had no desire to pay to go in again as it was too busy, and besides, The Chef can only endure so much.

We're hoping nobody will bother us about parking here for the night, especially as the campsite is full. Tomorrow I think we may well go down the road late afternoon for one night on a campsite before we run along the coast towards Calais.

I am aware that there will be a number of photographs attached to this 'chapter' and so will entitle it 'To Utah Beach' and create a new one on Tuesday when we move on.