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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

West Wall Museum at Pirmasens

A couple of years ago I went to visit the West Wall Museum at Pirmasens thinking that I was going to be at the front line of the Sigfried line, where the fighting bunkers and the dragon teeth are. In that respect I was a bit disappointed. The Museum is actually hosted inside a tunnel network that was meant to supply the bunkers on the actual front line, but the entrance to the tunnel system sits about 5km back from the actual bunkers. The tunnels were never finished. I suppose that the war against France was over so quickly that it was deemed no longer necessary, and when the tide of the war changed, it was probably too late to make that kind of investment in a static defense line. Anyhow, what I did find in this museum was a wealth of materiel and equipment that I was definitely not expecting. All sorts of vehicles, weapons, uniforms, German and American (the US occupied this part of Germany) are on display which makes the visit quite worthwhile and interesting. Let's take a look at what's inside.

The entrance to the tunnel system. Defended by what appears to be the dug in turret of a Panther Tank. The entrance is to the right, behind the trees.

Covering the entrance inside the bunker is a MG inside a small booth.

The are a couple of these compartments in which you can also appreciate the details of everyday life for the men living there.

The radio set inside another such watch post.

Once you are inside the tunnels, one side is lined up with all sorts of vehicles. As you can appreciate, the tunnels are quite wide and long.

A US 2 1/2 Ton Cargo truck, also known as Deuce and a Half or Jimmy.

A German Sd Kfz 251. Hard for me to tell which if the Halftrack variations it is.

An Opel German car. From its color it seems like it might have been used as a staff car.

US M3 Halftrack

German 88mm Anti-Aircraft gun mounted on its carriage.

German Kettenkrad.
Remember Saving Private Ryan?

Looks like a German Zündapp KS 750 with sidecar.
From the license plate, it looks like this one belonged to the SS.

German Kubelwagen.

US M3 Scout car.
This vehicle was the basis for the M3 Halftrack. 

US Willys Jeep

German PAK 40

Interesting mount for what appears to be a 75mm Tank Gun.
I suspect it's setup this way just for display. I don't see how such a mount could handle the recoil.

German Opel Blitz (Sd Kfz 305) Cargo Truck

Some exploded and unexploded bombs.

At some point you reach the end of the tunnels that are 'finished' and a fence prevents you from continuing on to the 'unfinished' section.

In a special room dug into the side of the tunnel you run into this quadruple 20mm Anti-Aircraft gun. A sheet of thick plexiglass made it hard to get a sharp picture... 

German SS mountain trooper.

All sorts of small arms are on display. 
Note the padding on the MG tripod to make it easier to carry over the shoulder.

Most interesting here is the rangefinder to the left of the SS trooper.

A German MG setup on a tripod could be used in an Anti-Aircraft role.

US trooper and motorbike.

Nice opportunity to see the German infantryman's uniform in detail.

German longcoat.

US 50 cal machine gun.

US Tommy gun, US flamethrower and mortar.

Multiple gas mask models. I guess WWI left them quite concerned (justifiably so!) about chemical weapons. 

Another set of German weaponry. Notice the Sturmgewehr (Stg44) on the left and the MP40 (Maschinenpistole) on the right.

A good variety of German helmets.

And some more...

Some medals and military insignia

A 'cave' full of unexploded ordnance

These are items that were found on an excavation next to a road. A German column had been bombed by an American dive bomber and all the debree had been pushed aside and hastily buried only to be discovered recently.

A couple of US tanks stand guard at the Museum's entrance/exit. The one in the back seems like a M41 Walker Bulldog light tank. That was a post WWII design, so it's not clear to me what it's doing in this Museum. I guess it was left over from the occupation and somebody thought this was a good place to park it :-) Anyhow, this is the parting view as you leave the museum. Hope you found it as interesting as I did.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Unknown GIs

I recently found these GIs on eBay. They did not indicate the manufacturer, but I could tell that they were vintage so I got them (not to mention that the guy throwing the rock is a very unique pose!), assuming that I would be able to track down the manufacturer later. Well, I spent almost a whole afternoon trying to identify them and could not figure it out. It was thanks to a reader who left a comment that we now know that they are early Lido GIs. I'll add them to the corresponding post.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Normandy Landing Beaches

In the summer of '98 I had the opportunity to tour the Normandy landing beaches for two days. These are some of the pictures I took. Unfortunately this was before the day of digital photography, so some of the shots are not as sharp as I would have liked. On the positive side, having to shoot with film probably kept me from taking several hundred pictures which is what I am sure would have happened had I had a digital camera with me at the time! Anyhow, this is a report on what I did manage to document. If you are reading this blog, you are very likely to be quite familiar with the role that the Normandy beaches and D-Day played in WWII, so I won't dwell on introducing them here. Instead, I'll focus on some of the ground-level details that I encountered during my trip. 

Arromanches, France. Gold beach. 
View of the left half of what remains of the artificial harbor built by the allies to be able to unload additional men, supplies, and material in the absence of a real harbor. This artificial harbor technology is known as a Mulberry Harbor and it was key to be able to sustain the war effort. A combination of these concrete breakwater blocks and sunken ships were used to afford protection from the rough ocean and allow the unloading to happen. The actual harbor was about twice as big as what can be seen in this composite picture, extending to the right side of where I stood.

Sherman tank located on top of the bluff overlooking the Arromanches (Gold) beach. One of many pieces of ordnance left over from the campaign.

Monument to Kieffer's Commandos in Ouistreham, France. 
Kieffer's commandos were the first French troops to land on Normandy. This one is located above Sword beach, the eastmost of the landing beaches.

One of the many pillboxes and small bunkers along the edge of the villages overlooking the landing beaches. Note how this gun is pointing away from the beach though. Seems to be protecting the rest of the position against a flanking move.

Some of the destroyed war materiel has been transformed into monuments along the sightseeing route.

A Churchill tank at Courseulles-sur-Mer, Juno Beach, Canadian sector. Juno was the second landing beach, from the east, after Sword and before Gold and Omaha and Utah (in that order).

Memorial monument dedicated to the Allied forces who liberated France, located at Saint Laurent-sur-Mer above Omaha beach.

Battery bunkers at Longues-sur-Mer, sitting south of the beaches at the border between Gold and Omaha beaches. This battery hosted four 152mm guns and operated throughout D-Day and was eventually captured on D-Day+1. At that point, only one gun remained operational, with the other three having been knocked out of action by fire from ships off shore.

This one shows more damage. Cracks on the left side and a hole in the back.  

Looks like this is the one that survived the battle. It continues to guard the channel...

This shot puts their size in perspective.

Standing on top of the west-most of the four casemates hosting the guns. You can see the other three bunkers and the ocean in the background.

The bunkers from a distance. I would not have liked to have to approach that over open terrain.

The observation post. Located about 100 yards north of the battery bunkers, at the edge of the bluff overlooking the beach. 

The observation post at sunset. A view that the men guarding the Atlantic wall might have seen many times not knowing what the next day would bring.

The Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial at Colleville-Sur-Mer

The morning mist gave it an even more solemn atmosphere...

When you struggle to see where it ends, that's when the magnitude of the cost of war hits you. And this is just a small fraction.

The cemetery contains the remains of close to 9400 men who fell during the Normandy campaign in the summer of '44.

The view from Omaha beach. As you can see, the challenge was not just crossing the beach but going over or around the elevated terrain overlooking the beach.

The view to the west side of the beach. Gives you a better feeling for what the men landing might have felt having to cross what must have seemed like a huge expanse of beach under fire.

The view to the right, the east side. The pill boxes at the edge of the high ground provided deadly enfilading fire.

One of such pillboxes overlooking the beach from the west. 

Pointe du Hoc, Isigny-sur-Mer. 
This was the site of a daring operation by the US 2nd Ranger Battalion. Three Ranger companies landed and climbed the cliffs under fire to capture and destroy a battery of 6 155mm guns. Ironically the guns had been moved 2 days earlier 1 mile further inland. The rangers nonetheless, located them, destroyed them and went on to fend off German counter attacks until they were releived the next day.

The memorial monument to the 2nd Ranger Battalion, sitting on top of the observation post.

The observation post at the tip of Pointe du Hoc.

The pockmarked terrain reveals how intense the bombardment was in this area. It's all one crater after the next, with bunker ruins in between.

A view from the southwest. In the foreground, there is an open circular gun pit that allowed a gun to rotate and be fired in any direction. In the background you can see some more collapsed bunkers and cratered terrain in the distance. Far towards the left-center of the picture that's where the observation post and the memorial are located.

The entryway leading to the door to one of the bunkers that still stand.

German Military Cemetery, La Cambe, France. 
21,000 German dead are buried there. The hill at the center is actually a mass grave for about 300 men, most of them unknown.

View from the top of the hill, at the center of the cemetery, where the main memorial stands.