Most People seem to agree that we cannot and do not want to go back to the past, but the reason given is often wrong; that time has moved on and what was can never be again. The truth is that we cannot go back to what we never left. Our home is the earth, our time the Pleistocene Ice Ages. The past is the formula for our being.
(Paul Shepard)

Sunday, 31 July 2016

Hill 112, Carpiquet, Bayeux

Hill 112, Carpiquet, Museum of the battle of Normandy.

 I leave Normandy in a week's time, and for my last ww2 trip The Boy and I decided to go to the big museum of the battle of Normandy in Bayeux. On the way up I decided to see if there was anything interesting at the site of the Battle of Hill 112, and the airfield at Carpiquet.
 The area around Caen, is flat and open unlike the tighter bocage country further inland. It is not especially pretty countryside and has been much more highly developed since the battles of 1944. Anyway I got a bit lost so had a good drive around the battlefield, I found the memorial at the village of Maltot, where the Germans stopped the British advance. The church and first world war memorial bear testimony to the fighting that raged there during the July of 1944.
 I annoyingly missed the Churchill tank at the site, as the site is not especially well signed, in fact this is generally true for WW2 sites in Normandy, especially outside the main tourist areas of the D-day objectives. This site has hill112.com and the chapter on Operation Espom in Maj Gen. Reynolds book on the 1st SS panzer Corps, "Steel inferno",  is very evocative and full of fantastic detail.
 The airfield at Carpiquet is close by though, takes some fun driving through the often busy roads around Caen. The town has two memorials to the Canadians who fought there. The airfield today is a small airport which is surprisingly busy. Unless I missed it there is nothing but a small memorial stone there. If I did miss it, the site needs better signing.
If I didn't much more needs to be done to commemorate this ferocious battle.  The Canadians were still struggling with some pretty poor leadership at this stage and it took several attempts to achieve all their objectives and several days to take the airfield. It was also  in these battles that the SS began to re-think their tactic of immediate counter attacks, as allied troops did not re-act in the same disordered fashion as the Soviets.
There are numerous WW2 sites nearby, though all are small. It is a short drive from Bayeux, Juno and other more major sites. Again there is plenty of detail in Steel Inferno.
 A short trip to Bayeux took me through the open, undulating ground the Canadians had fought through. Bayeux is something of a tourist hot-spot, it has the famous tapestry which is well worth a visit, cathedral and medieval town. It also boasts a large museum, of the battle of Normandy and a British graveyard. It is one of the few places in Normandy where it might be hard to park, The museum very informative, mostly text based and gives a chronological account of the battle from D-day to Falaise. Though it is not especially interactive, and a bit old-fashioned the information is good and the maps are very useful. The images are also very high quality and included many I had not seen before. There is an interesting
reconstruction of the Falaise pocket and a good selection of images of destroyed Norman towns.
There are the usual kit and uniform displays, Brit/Canadian American and German with a good collection of weapons etc. It's comprehensive but not as detailed as some of the more specific museums.
There is a good collection of vehicles, including a "Sexton" SPG, M10, Churchill "crocodile", Sherman and a rare German hetzer Panzerjager. The museum gives a fantastic overview of the events of the battle but could possibly stand a bit of an overhaul as it feels a little bit dated, especially compared to the rather flash Airborne museums around Carentan.
 The cemetery is as one might expect, sobering.

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