Usually our online photo galleries feature a bunch of people on a Chain Gang holiday eating, drinking, and having fun. This set of photos is rather different.
On our Normandy tour we spend the last 3 days exploring the beaches from Operation Overlord, the Normandy Landings. It was the most extraordinary operation, the numbers are staggering. The temporary harbour constructed off the coast at Arromanches became the busiest port in the world.
More than 5,000 ships and boats were involved, and by the end of August more than 3,000,000 troops had been landed. The allies sent in tank transporters, troop ships, gliders, paratroopers, bikes, special airborne scooters(!).
Today Normandy is littered with museums, memorials and cemeteries. It’s both moving and fascinating. After one of our Normandy tours a few years ago, Chain Ganger Aiden Challen forwarded a set of photos that his brother had found. It’s the most amazing collection of photos about the Normandy invasion that I’ve ever seen.
There are other galleries, the Daily Telegraph has a great set of photos. But this is the best collection I’ve seen.
I’ve put the whole collection on the Chain Gang Flickr photostream, but I’ve also chosen 4 photos that, to me, represent special aspects of Operation Overlord (You can click on them to see a larger image).
Here they are, and here’s why I chose them:
1. Paratroopers Waiting To Jump.
I chose this photo because it’s a clear reminder that real people did this. A bunch of guys sat in two rows in an airplane, maybe a glider, ready to parachute into Normandy as part of Operation Overlord.
Not actors, but the people that actually did this thing.
2. What ‘Total War’ looks like.
Very occasionally in the UK, especially if you live near Salisbury Plain, you might see a convoy of giant trucks carrying tanks. Even more occasionally you’ll see the tanks themselves, either rolling along the road or on exercise.
Imagine waiting for the tram to work in the morning, and a huge convoy of war planes trundle past the end of the road. And probably not very occasionally, very regularly. This must have become an everyday sight, and now it’s virtually a never sight.
3. A Mulberry Harbour
It’s all very well to say the Mulberry Harbours were portable harbours, but that sounds too simple. In reality they were an almost unblievable undertaking. You can’t land millions tons of equipment and people on a beach. You need a quay for the ships to moor alongside, and cranes to land the stores, etc. And all the ports were German!The starting point is a breakwater, made up of sunken ships and concrete caissons, that was almost 10 Km long. It was intended to last for up to 6 months, but you can still see its remains very clearly today. This photo shows the remarkable impact of the breakwater, creating a calm lagoon which contained the harbour itself.
The ‘port’ was working by D-Day + 8. The smaller port of Dover had taken 7 years to build! This photo shows how amazingly well the idea worked. The Mulberry harbours were an astonishing undertaking. Lots of separate projects had to come together, and it didn’t all work. The water was too deep; within 10 days the harbour was almost destroyed by storms; the American tanks were too heavy for the roads. And yet for 4 months this was the world’s busiest port. Click this image, it’s amazing.
It is a fascinating story, and if you want to read more, here’s a great account of the project.
4. Pointe du HocBetween Utah Beach and Omaha Beach is a line of cliffs with a clear view along the coastline. Here, the Germans had a battery of 155mm guns that could threaten the whole invasion force.
The US Rangers were tasked with the dangerous task of scaling the cliffs and taking the battery. The installation was heavily bombed in April 1944, forcing the Germans to move the guns.
As with the previous photos, that’s a simple sentence to write. When you visit Pointe du Hoc there are huge craters – I mean huge craters – between the ruins of the gun emplacements. All the result of the ferocious Allied bombardment. It’s difficult to make the link between today’s moonscape and the bombing of 1944, And this photo gives a very clear illustration of why Pointe du Hoc looks the way it does, 70 years later.
It’s an amazing collection, you can see it here.. It will make a lot more sense if you’ve been lucky enough to visit Normandy, and if you want to put that right you can join us on a bike tour of Normandy in July.