Normandy Review. Days 1&2 Visiting the Invasion Beaches

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    Day One: No panniers, French pot noodles and fast ferries

    On the 6th June 1944 one of the biggest events in modern history took place, the seaborne invasion of Europe by the forces of the Allies…D-Day. This marked the start of the rout of the evil Nazi regime that was proclaimed by Hitler in 1933 to last a thousand years, but was thankfully lying in ruins after barely a dozen. The events, people and machinery of World War 2 is pretty much my biggest interest in life, even above motorbikes! So it was with great excitement that I set out on a chilly Friday morning riding my FZ1S in company with Ses310 who using his recently repaired Fire Blade to meet up with Thumper and then head over to France to check the Normandy area and in particular the invasion beaches, museums and memorials.
    We had both packed our kit into tank backs and/or small panniers confident in the knowledge once we met up with Thumper, who was coming on his newly acquired BMW GS1200 that boasted more storage capacity than an empty warehouse, we could spread our gear out…
    We parked at Warwick services and waited for Thumper to roll in astride his Bavarian pack horse. When he arrived the BMW was sporting only one box, selfishly packed with his own gear! Who buys a bike with panniers and then leaves them at home the first time he goes touring???

    Meeting up at Warwick Services, note the complete lack of panniers on the BMW!!

    Anyway as we formed up and trundled on to the M40 for the run down to Portsmouth it struck me that we heading off to see the greatest Allied victory, we were not riding British Triumphs or American Harley Davidson’s, but products of Japan and Germany. Mixing it with numerous Audis, Mercs, BMWs, Nissan and Toyotas on the motorway it really makes you ponder over who actually came out on top after the war. The phrase ‘we won the war, but lost the peace’ rarely seemed more apt.
    The run down to Portsmouth passed without incident and better still the sun was out and weather seemed to be set fair. Before we caught our Ferry we had time to check out the interesting Submarine museum in Gosport. Here one of the last subs built during World War 2, HMS Alliance, is preserved. The old girl is in need of a major tidy up externally, but is pristine inside. We joined the guided tour given by a veteran of service on one of these subs. Inside the conditions were incredibly cramped and one can only respect the lads who served in these confines, often under attack or remaining submerged for days or even weeks at a stretch. Crew members did not even get their own bunk, having to share, ‘hot-bunk’ style, one on shift, one off. The veteran, a delightful chap called Terry who still got about on a Honda 250 he told us, imparted the life of a submariner articulately and I came away from the tour with my respect for the crews of these vessels heightened. Forum member and regular contributor Pete 247 is a submariner by trade…you have my up most respect for being able to stick been on patrol in one of these things, even if they are somewhat larger these days!
    The museum is very interesting and we even got to survey Portsmouth harbour through the preserved periscope of HMS Conqueror…the sub that took out the Argentine Navy Cruiser Belgrano so controversially in the 1982 Falklands War.

    HMS Alliance, the exterior is soon to receive a lottery funded £3,000,000 revamp

    Inside she is immaculate as witnessed by the control room set up

    It is pretty cramped in their as Terry gives a guided tour

    Ses looking very much at home in the sub control room

    The periscope from HMS Conqueror

    From there we fought our way through dense traffic from Gosport to Portsmouth keen not to miss our ferry only to discover once we got there it had delayed by an hour. So we chilled on the dockside and enjoyed an impromptu classic car show as a stream of beautiful 1950’s XK Jaguars and Alfa Romeos boarded the ferry bound for Bilbao.

    The standard 'waiting for the ferry' shot
    Finally aboard and having watched nervously as the bikes were ratchet strapped down to the vehicle deck, we made our way up to the louge and relaxed with beer, watching a spectacular sunset as our ferry the high speed 'Normandee' headed across the channel at up to 40 knots. Today the weather was perfect and the sea not far off a flat calm, but your mind could help wander back towards that fateful evening in 1944 as thousands of young men were crammed into Landing Craft on much rougher seas, ready for their date with destiny…

    Making up to 40knots the wake was impressive

    Stuuning sunset

    The French are internationally renowned for their fine cuisine and so we were looking forward to having something to eat on the boat, before the ride in the darkness to our guest house. We were to be in for a bit of a disappointment, the best thing on offer was the French version of a pot noodle…with two notable differences…it tasted even worse and cost a cool £5!! Thank God I had asked the guest house to lay on buffet for us as a backup.

    The pot noodles were crap, but the beer was much better…the all important first pint!

    We docked in Cherbourg and as it was dark and we were all tired we headed down the rather ordinary N13 heading for Carentan, itself the scene of a famous battle between the US Airborne and German forces in the immediate aftermath of the invasion. Here we turned on to the arrow straight D971 and made for the tiny village of Raids, our base for the next two days. We rolled onto the gravel drive to be greeted by the spectacular sight of Le Clos Castel; it looked good on the web-site, but in the flesh it was amazing. Hazel, the ex-pat land-lady had laid on a cracking spread of food. After been shown to our rooms, all of which were spacious, mine even boasted two balconies much to the disgust of Thumper and especially Ses who had located the place on the web in the first place!

    Our impressive base for our adventures, Le Clos Castel

    Enjoying my balcony!

    Having dumped off our kit we headed down to the dining room and were soon tucking in to the buffet and having a few cold beers while planning out the riding for tomorrow. So all in all it was a perfect day with 230 trouble free miles covered.

    Day Two: Early starts, gorgeous guides and history at every turn

    Next morning I headed down for breakfast to met by a bleary eyed Ses, turned out he had cocked up re-setting the time on his mobile, and as result got up at 4am, showered, dressed and had a coffee before wondering why it was still dark…doh!
    We headed for the British sector and our first port of call was Ranville near Ouistreham and the scene of the very first assault in the small hours of D-Day on a bridge across the Canal de Caen. Now better known as Pegasus Bridge in honour of the code-name of the assault when three Horsa glider loads of troops made the attack, the closest landing only 50 metres from the bridge in the dead of night! The museum itself is packed with interesting artefacts and we guided through the story and around the museum by a beautiful guide who spoke Knowledgeably and movingly of the assault, how it fitted into the bigger picture of the invasion and how much liberation meant to the locals.
    The pride of place in the museum goes to the actual bridge itself and still bearing some bullet holes from the fighting. It was moved from its'original site to the museum grounds a few years before, when a newer bigger bridge was needed for the town. Close second is an accurate replica of the 'Horsa' assault glider used on the night, a huge wooden aircraft, the originals built by furniture manufacturers! The statistic that impressed me was how little it weighed…only 3 tonnes un-laden, only a little more than a new LR Discovery!

    The bikes outside The Pegasus Memorial museum

    The original Pegasus bridge now preserved in the grounds of the museum

    The battle damage from the fateful night is still clearly in evidence

    Faithful, full size replica of the Airspeed Horsa glider used on the night of the assault

    An American half-track, one of several vehicles and pieces of artillery displayed in the grounds

    We enjoyed lunch at a little cafe next to the new bridge, this was the very first building to be liberated and a little 4 year old girl lived there on that fateful night. Now nearly seventy years on the that same girl still lives there, a little older now but her piercing blue eyes were still bright and you could sense the history they had witnessed. She runs the cafe and she served us our lunch as we sat outside the cafe in brilliant sunshine. Already this trip was exceeding all expectations, two good mates for company, a fast reliable bike under me, the sun on my back and a beautiful area steeped in history to explore. Truly it doesn’t get much better than this.


    Ses and I tucking into some rather better French food at the historic Pegasus Cafe Grondee

    From here Thumper and Ses switched bikes for a few miles as we wend our way down tight country lanes through quiet, typically French villages. Around every turn you half expected to come across a Jeep heading a column of Sherman tanks or a squad of Wehrmacht soldiers desperately trying to push the invaders back into the sea. In contrast to my trips into Europe on bikes in the past, blasting about was not the priority, but just been on a bike puts you in touch with your environment in way a car just does not match.
    We were making our way to Arromanches, where Gold beach is located. Here also can be seen the remains of the incredible ‘Mulberry’ harbour, which was fabricated in Glasgow and towed over to provide the Allies with a port without having to go through the fierce fight necessary to take one by force. This had been tried in 1942 when a Canadian force took a real beating when trying to take the port of Dieppe. There is a museum next to the beach that contains some impressive models of how the harbour looked and operated at the time, but the real reason to come here is to go onto the now peaceful beach and try to picture the events of the big day. Again the warm sunshine gave the whole experience a slightly surreal feel, this only been sharpened as the large concrete remains of the harbour still eeriely litter the beach and the coast line.

    The D-Day museum at Arromanches

    The wonderfully detailed models of the Mulberry harbour, the photo really doesn't do it justice


    Remants of the Mulberry harbour still litter the beach, slowly rotting into the sands

    Even more are still littering the horizon, a lingering reminder


    Gold beach is now slowly returning to the beautiful place it once was again, a place to be enjoyed, not fought over

    Arromanches today is idylic

    But this Sherman tank positioned above the town almost seems to be staying on guard…just in case…

    The town itself is quite charming so we enjoyed a cooling beer at another open air bar before getting back in the bikes to clock up a few more miles.

    We made our way to the coastal battery at Longues-ser Mer, once part of the mighty line of coastal defences constructed by the Germans from 1941 onwards to defend against invasion. On the way we had the only real hitch of the day when both Ses and I rode into a pot-hole so big I was half expecting to find German soilders still in there seeking cover! Remarkably no damage was done to either bike, but it did shake me a bit.

    The battery itself still looks remarkably complete, there are even a couple of guns still in place slowly rusting into oblivion. The early evening light added to the atmosphere, and the place was not just a monument to the Allies victory but also to the forced labour that had been involved in the construction of so many of these sites.

    Amazingly intact gun emplacement

    Thanfully this gun has fired its last shell

    The scars of battle remain to this day

    We rounded off a packed an interesting day back in Carentan in a friendly restaurant Les Pontes D’ouve, enjoying an excellent meal and musing over the sights and sounds of a fantastic day.

    Two days in and I can't wait for the next day when we be checking out the American sector centred around Utah and the infamous Omaha beaches

    Link to B&B


    Excellent write up as usual Radar, it was such an amazing and unforgettable trip. You have captured it perfectly.


    Nicely put Radar. The whole weekend will stay with me always – great sights, great company, thank you both.

    Just a tip for your future foreign travel plans – I know why your fuel economy may have suffered more thsn most…

    Could it be the caravan club ‘GB’ sticker mounted on a plate the size on a parachute that thwarted your frugality?

    Good fun guys… where next?


    Cheers it was an extraordinary trip.

    The GB sticker might of preventing me cracking the magic 150 too!

    How about Holland for a WSB round next year???


    That sounds good to me, would be up for that.
    The GB bumper is ever so slightly visible in the first pic even covered by the large BMW!
    Will have to show people the full extent of your handy work. Will find a pic


    Just re-read this. It really does look like a great trip and something that has to be done at least once in a lifetime, if only to honour the troops who fought and died there. Good stuff guys.


    a good read mate :-) the sub museam is a good dit, been there several times when down at the SETT doing escape training. its mad looking at the beach; would have been terrifying to be assaulting it, so exposed



    Originally posted by Pete247

    a good read mate :-) the sub museam is a good dit, been there several times when down at the SETT doing escape training. its mad looking at the beach; would have been terrifying to be assaulting it, so exposed

    Cheers bud, did you see the review of days 3 and 4. It was a great trip all round really


    I’ll have a catch up on them :-)


    Father-in-law of the chap who sits next to me at work passed away a couple of weeks ago. He was in his early 90’s. Turns out he was a Glider pilot during World War 2 and involved on D-Day.
    His family didn’t know that much about the gliders he flew so I used the picture from this article and penned a few words for his daughter (my colleagues wife) about the Horsa and my respect for his generation.
    Apparently she created a book of memories about him and included these in it. I was a bit choked to be honest.


    Thats a really nice story and nice to know you’ve been able to give some info and comfort to them


    Great read as always Tony.



    Originally posted by Digger

    Great read as always Tony.

    Cheers Digger!


    Pleased to note that HMS Alliance has now been restored:


    Great. Enjoyed reading this again too.

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