Those of you who know me will realize that I am a bit of a history buff, so it should come as no surprise that the last night on a recent trip to France found us in Vierville-sur-Mer en route to the Cherbourg ferry. Vierville-sur-Mer is a very small village, but it’s famous (in some places) because of its location on Omaha Beach, possibly the most famous of the five assault D-Day beaches in 1944. Given the recent 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings, it seemed like an appropriate place to stop.
Large parts of Normandy are rural and the area around Omaha Beach is lacking in good hotels. The British beaches (Juno, Sword, and Anvil) are better served because of the larger villages and towns within easy reach, including Bayeux and Caen. By comparison, the U.S. Army landed in the countryside, and so it remains today.
We were happy to end up in the Hotel du Casino, which occupies a spectacular position overlooking the western end of Omaha Beach. Looking to the west, you can see Pointe du Hoc, while the complete beach unfolds itself to the east toward the American cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer.
The U.S. National Guard memorial is just outside the door of the hotel and is built on top of a “Type 677” casemate containing an 88mm cannon that did horrible damage on D-Day. One of the five “draws” (D-1) that led through the cliffs fronting the beach goes by the door of the hotel up to the village proper. Here are many stone houses that were fought over during D-Day and a 12th century Norman stone church whose bell tower was destroyed that afternoon and rebuilt after the war.
Vierville is the location of the “Dog” and “Charlie” landings and was the most heavily defended part of Omaha Beach. The devastation depicted in the opening of the film “Saving Private Ryan” was based on the experience of the 29th Infantry Division and the huge casualties that they incurred in the opening hours of June 6. The film didn’t use Omaha Beach as a location and used Curracloe Beach in County Wexford, Ireland instead. Having walked Curracloe too, I can report that the two beaches are indeed very similar.
The book “Omaha Beach: D-Day, June 6, 1944” by Joseph Balkoski is a great resource for explaining the sequence of events as they happened on D-Day. An equally good companion volume covers the landings at Utah Beach. Looking at the surviving fortifications today, it’s easy to realize how the enfilade fire from machine guns and artillery was able to wreak havoc on the landing troops as they made their way across soft sand to the relative safety of the shale and sea wall at the high tide mark.
Another thing that you soon notice is the speed of the advancing tide. A decision had been taken by the Allies to land at low tide so that the landing craft and other small boats that took troops in would be able to see the mined obstacles set by the Germans. But the tide here rises terrifically quickly and soon advances to the sea wall, meaning that wounded soldiers had to be rescued and moved or left to drown. It’s a sobering thought.
The hotel was fine except that its Wi-Fi system stubbornly refused to work, which meant in turn that I got no work done. What was worse was the authentication system that the hotel used to issue usernames and passcodes to connect to the non-functioning Wi-Fi system. I couldn’t help wondering exactly how many people passing by would attempt to steal their bandwidth and whether it wouldn’t just be easier if an open Wi-Fi system was offered. In any case, it stayed down and I stayed off the air.
We returned to Ireland on the MV Oscar Wilde on the Irish Ferries route between Cherbourg and Rosslare. Weirdly, the Wi-Fi system on the ferry also refused to co-operate and further impacted my ability to work. I ended up trying to help the chief engineer and chief purser to figure out what the problem might be. The system used on the ferry is designed for maritime vessels and controlled via satellite from Norway, so local tweaking of servers and the like was out of the question. The most I could do was identify its total failure to allocate IP addresses or a DNS server to connecting clients. Interestingly, one of the crew was able to connect and I was able to clone their IP settings and connect my PC. The network worked but it just wasn’t servicing clients. Isn’t that always the way?
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