Friday, June 6, 2014

D-Day 70th Anniversary Post #1: My Own Now-And-Then Photo Comparison

Today marks the 70th anniversary for for Allied D-Day landings in Normandy, France. Below I've marked the occasion by posting a "then and now" series of photographs. The "then" shots are historic photos taken by war correspondents. The "now" pictures were taken by me in the fall of 1994 when I visited a number of sites where the landings took place, along with other locations around France.

You can see a bigger set of pictures of my visit to D-Day locations from that trip by clicking HERE.

This was one of two beaches where American forces landed. It's also the place where the fiercest resistance came from the Germans that day, making the beach's unfortunate nickname "bloody Omaha."

First below is a historic shot taken on the day of the invasion by a photographer at the back of one of the landing craft. You can see the soldiers wading ashore into the carnage.

Below that is a picture I took standing at the water's edge on Omaha beach in 1994.

Omaha Beach (C) Marc Osborn

Between the two pictures, you can see how far it was through the water and across the beach to some relative safety of a sea wall and vegetation. You can also see how looming and dangerous the ridge overlooking the beach is. From there, the Germans had a perfect position to shoot down on the Americans. Through their determination, creativity and sheer guts...the U.S. soldiers worked their way up and around the emplacements and slowly, painfully knocked them out over the course of the day. Having paid a high price in lives, however, the US Army took Omaha Beach in one of the most epic days of battle ever.

This was the other major beach where Americans landed. Resistance here was lighter, but by no means non-existent. Ultimately, the Americans took Utah and moved inland earlier than their comrades over at Omaha.

First below is a historic picture showing some U.S. soldiers on Utah Beach as something blows up down by the water's edge at what appears to be a low tide.

The next picture is a shot I took while standing on Utah Beach in 1994 from a similar perspective. The tide is a bit farther in on this one, but you can see the beach looks very similar.

Utah Beach (C) Marc Osborn

Point Du Hoc was where American Rangers landed on a rocky beach, scaled a sheer cliff face and defeated the Germans defending that position. The Rangers' mission was to knock out large guns that resided there and could easily fire down onto Omaha Beach. A monumental task to be sure...and they did it.

The first picture below is a historic picture of Point Du Hoc. You can see the point where the Rangers landed and at the far right of this picture...just where the one rocky point meets up with the rest of the coastline.

The second picture is one I took at Point Du Hoc in 1994. The monument you see towards the right of the picture is where the Rangers crested the bluff as they climbed and fought their way to victory.

Point Du Hoc (C) Marc Osborn

Before the Americans, British and Canadians landed at their respective beaches, airborne troops from the UK landed in the middle of the night right next to this bridge and took it - securing a passage across a major canal for advancing Allied troops. It is now called "Pegasus Bridge" in honor of the 6th Division of the British Airborne who assaulted the span. Their insignia is of a flying horse or Pegasus.

The first two pictures - a historic one taken after the battle and my picture taken in 1994 - show the bridge from the side of the canal where the British troops landed in their gliders and began the fight to take the bridge.

The following two pictures show where the gliders landed. The historic shot looks from the location of the bridge back at the gliders. My picture from 1994 looks toward the bridge with the landing spots of the gliders off to the right signified with small markers.

Pegasus Bridge (C) Marc Osborn

Pegasus Bridge and Glider Landing Spots (C) Marc Osborn

This is a town behind the American beaches that U.S. paratroopers took as part of the invasion. The idea was to drop troops behind the beaches to take and secure towns, bridges, causeways and other vital territory so that the invading soldiers from the beach could quickly advance inland. While this is what happened, the paratroops did not all land where they were supposed to. Rather, they were scattered all over the place. However, as a testament to their bravery, training and toughness, groups of them came together here and there to take objectives in the wee hours of the morning and into the day.

Famously, in the confusion a contingent of U.S. paratroops were dropped directly onto the town of Sainte Mer Eglise. Now, the town WAS an objective, but dropping them directly into the town square was not the plan. The result was a lot of fighting immediately in the town, and unfortunately, a number of paratroopers killed before they even hit the ground. If you've ever seen the movie The Longest Day, you know the scene. That actually happened.

One incident in that action was one paratrooper landing on the church steeple and becoming stuck there during the fight below. This is also depicted in the movie. Anyway, because of that, the church in the town is what most people associate with D-Day.

Below is a historic picture of the town church. If you look closely you can see American soldiers creeping up along the low wall in the middle of the picture.

The next picture is one I took of the church when I visited the town in 1994. Because that year was the 50th anniversary of the D-Day landings, there was a full sized dummy dressed as a U.S. paratrooper up on the top of the church, held there by his parachute as it hung on the roof line of the building.

Church in Sainte Mer Eglise (C) Marc Osborn

So there you have it. Some comparison pictures from "then" and, well, kinda "now"...or at least the modern era.

I was profoundly impressed with what I saw on my visit and in awe and thanks to each person who participated in that great invasion that day 70 years ago. Thank you for what you did.

NOTE: All color photos in this post were taken by Marc Osborn. Copyright for this pictures is owned by Marc Osborn and no use of any kind of these images is permitted without the prior written permission of Marc Osborn.

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