Week 31: D-Day Normandy Landings

Wednesday 3rd August

On 6th June 1944 the allied forces launched 156,000 men onto the beaches of Nazi occupied Northern France. Operation Overlord remains the largest seaborne invasion in history. Allied casualties were estimated at 10,000 with 4,414 confirmed dead and
1,000 German casualties. Following naval bombardment the British forces began their assault on Gold Beach at 7.25am. Michael Brennan was part of the 1st Battalion of the Dorset regiment and was 18 years old when he arrived on Gold Beach. Michael, who retired from his job as a newsagent in Stokes Bishop, Bristol recalled his experience to the Bristol Post in 2009 as part of the 65th Anniversary of D-Day.

“We were about to be decimated but thankfully we didn’t realise it.”Screen Shot 2016-08-04 at 08.10.10

As the door dropped on his landing craft he lost, on average, 2 men per minute from his regiment as the unit came under fire from a 75mm machine gun on Gold Beach.

“It was a dreadful scene, death and body parts everywhere”.

“As soon as the doors open the machine gun fire is trained upon you so you lose people straight away. We should have landed in line with the one of the gun emplacements but that fact that we landed offline is why I’m still here today”

Within a few weeks, Michael Brennan would become the last man fighting of the 500 men who originally made up the Dorset Unit. The rest either wounded or dead. It’s impossible to imagine the horrors that these men experienced.

IMG_4750The goal today was to cover as much of the D-Day coastline in a half marathon. I was joined today by my brother in law, Tom Nugent. A father of 2 and a keen outdoorsman. We began our run today at Gold Beach, the scene of 1,100 British, Dutch and Polish deaths on D-Day. We headed immediately up the beach head above Arromanche where a statue of the Virgin Mary quietly prays over the English Channel. Following the assault on Gold Beach the allied objective was to move West along the coastline to link the Gold and Omaha Beaches, sweeping outIMG_0293 the Nazi’s along the way. Tom and I followed that route. Climbing the road out of Arromanche we tracked the coastline path for 5km until we reached the Batterie des Longue Ser-Mer. Standing in a field, some 200 yards back from the cliff edge are four 152mm Navy guns built in 1944 by the German Forces. Three of the four guns were destroyed either by air of from sea in preparation for the D-Day landings. They still remain, more or less intact as a memorial to the huge destructive capabilities of both sides.

We continued along a fantastic coastline path to the harbour town of Port en Bessein which was captured by the Royal Marines as the allied forces spread West. Out of the town the road rose sharply up from the town and at this point the heavens opened. Tom had suggested we run from West to East to avoid the strong winds coming from the Atlantic and now I could see why. The beaten tracked coughed us out onto the IMG_0301main road and we battled on against the wind, rain and traffic. Knowing the water was on our right we headed back off-road searching for a route down to Omaha Beach. We found a cycle track twisted our way down towards sea-level. By 12 miles we were running out of steam and begging to see Omaha Beach. At 12.9 miles, we saw the sea and paths with dry grasses and fencing that characterises the beach.IMG_0307 In celebration we burst onto the beach and searched around for the Omaha Beach monument- our destination. But it was nowhere to be seen, just a tiny yacht club! Looking  up onto the hillside I could see the American Memorial ground and from studying the area I knew we’d hit the far East point of Omaha Beach. We crawled on beyond 13.1 miles.

Not willing to quit and ready to meet with all of Katie’s family waiting at the end we kept moving. 2hrs30mins and 15 miles after leaving Gold Beach, we made our destination. The D-Day memorial at Omaha Beach. Omaha IMG_0055 (1)was the target for American troops on D-Day and famed for the opening scenes in Saving Private Ryan. Later that day we made a visit back up the coast to the American War Memorial Cemetery where 9,387 U.S troops are buried. 43,250 men landed at Omaha Beach and faced some of the most intense resistance of anyone on D-Day. 2,000 were killed and another 1,000 wounded. This will be one of the most memorable runs of the year. Just running amongst so
much history, sadness and admiration for what people like Michael Brennan experienced on D-Day and continue to experience in combat is completely humbling. Yet another reminder that just 2hrs or so of physical discomfort pales in comparison to the sacrifices and hardships that people face every day. Thanks Tom for accompanying me, the last 6 miles were emotional!

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