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France - Normandy, D-Day, French Drivers

sunny 18 °C

First thing I want to say about France is that, geez they know how to recoup freeway costs through tolls. There are no e-tag type toll points so you need to pull up and queue if necessary. Some are manned, some are credit card enabled, but they appear as soon as you reach top gear at what seems to be km intervals.

We had to hit the panic button on several occasions as it wouldn't accept our cards and everything is written in beautifully fluent French. We googled the bloody things overnight and it seems that on some tolls you take a ticket and pay nothing, but you present that ticket at the next toll and it will tell you how much you owe. If you don't present the ticket then it assumes full toll. I think we have paid for the whole damn tollway.

The other thing is their driving. Soon after leaving Charles De Gaulle airport we noticed the optional use of indicators but the right foot is used with great effect. Cars loom on your backside from nowhere and fling out to overtake like Sebastian Vettel and fling back in your lane so quickly that the arse of their car wipes the insects off your front bumper.

Similarly, when they are merging from a laneway onto the tollway that you are on, they are gunning it so hard that they almost roll their car, and they aren't stopping so you had better flee into another lane or jam on the brakes! Speed cameras are rare but always occur with warnings and flashing lights, 110kmh limits mean 130kmh, and the 130kmh limits mean flat stick.

Once you have that all understood, you are a fleeting chance of getting your money back on the car rental.

As we only had 4 days in France and all of it in the country, we didn't have to deal too much with traffic. The main difference between driving in Australian country and French country (apart from the side of the road that you drive) is the number of small/tiny towns that you have to go through. Speed limit is 50kmh through the towns, and 90kmh immediately as you leave it. You have got yourself to 90, when you see the next town looming.....drop to 50, then up 90 as you exit the town and then the next town hits you.

The houses in the country are built right on the road. I mean right on the road to the extent that if you don't do the Hecter Road Safety Cat process of looking to your right, look to your left and look to right again when you exit the front door, you'll be a statistic or an emblem on the bonnet of a Peugeot.

On two of our restaurant meals we noticed tables of 12 or more people, and both tables all the guys at one end and all the ladies at the other. Aussie BBQ style. Good to see this on the other side of the planet. The difference though is that nearly everyone smokes. In between courses they'll all get up and go outside for a smoke. In one restaurant even the kids went out with them for a puff.

Geez, everyone here seems to smoke. On a warm night it would have been nice to sit outside and enjoy the night, but someone will light up next to you and totally spoil the experience. In some places it it seems to be tolerated to smoke at the door!

Which brings me to the Ando Burger Index.

Burger hunting in country France reveals that the ABI in France is 181. (Interesting number for the Frenchies). This places it only ahead of Norway....like what country isn't!!!

Australian ABI 424
Iceland ABI 200
France ABI 181
Norway ABI 152

The facts:
Average Australian monthly wage: $3,396 AUD Plain burger is $8 ABI = 424.5
Average Icelandic monthly wage: ISK 292894 ($3,000 AUD) Plain burger is $15 ABI = 200
Average Norwegian monthly wage: NOK 34,604 ($5,792 AUD) Plain burger (Mushrooms, Onion and Bacon) is $38 ABI = 152
Average French monthly wage is $3,350 AUD. plain burger is 12 Euros (18 AUD). ABI = 181

Disappointing result really, as the prices in France for alcohol are sensational. I was like a kid in a lolly shop when I visited the supermarket on our first evening to get necessary items. I went to the grog section and saw an extensive supply of beer and wine for prices that had me doing handstands down the aisle. A Chilean red that we had been drinking in Norway for about $90 AUD as it was the most affordable/drinkable red, had a price tag of 4 EUR....$6 AUD......more handstands and this time I nearly took out a row of croissants on display as I didn't quite get my landing right.

So back to the Chateau which was our accommodation for two nights and wake Louisa up for dinner who was having a nanna nap. When she saw what I brought back she was a little surprised that my notion of necessities may have varied a tad from hers, but before she could get a word out I had cracked a bottle of red open and I was in to my booty. Not hard to crack a bottle open here. They have a bottle opener on our room key ring holder. Love the French already.

The purpose though for our fleeting visit to France was to focus on the WW1 and WW11 battlefields. What a bloody disgrace to see so many graves, not to mention the walls that contain the names of hundreds of thousands more who's body was never found! The memorials and cemeteries all seem so quiet and are so well looked after. It is chilling and emotional being at these places that were deemed to be so important strategically that the powers were willing to offer so many young lives.

On our first day we focussed on the WW11 sites around Normandy that contain all the landing sites of D Day 6th June 1944. The French houses here have the flags out of the U.S and France in honour of their liberation and you do get the impression that the U.S. were the only people to take on the Germans in Normandy.

Commonwealth personnel, nearly all British and Canadian, outnumbered the Americans on D-day. Of the 156,000 men landed in France on 6 June, 73,000 were American, and 83,000 were British and Canadian, while the Commonwealth naval contingent was twice that of the Americans.

Air-support operations - often overlooked in the success of D-Day - sustained significant losses: Between the 1st of April and the 5th of June, 1944, the Allies flew 14,000 missions losing 12,000 airmen and 2,000 aircraft.. 127 more planes were lost on D-Day.

There were five beaches, codenamed, from east to west, Sword, Juno, Gold, Omaha, Utah. Casualties varied widely. On ‘Bloody Omaha’ where around 4000 men were killed or wounded, one American unit landing in the first wave, lost 90% of its men. On Gold Beach, by contrast, casualty rates were around 80% lower. I was a little surprised at how flat Omaha Beach was. The hills behind the beach were very tame and not the cliffs that I was expecting.

When we were at Omaha Beach (site of Saving Private Ryan) it was low tide....very low. I walked 800 steps from the water to the edge of the beach. Fortunately there was very little machine gun fire....well actually there was no machine gun fire but I was wondering what the tide was on D Day. Sure enough, the planners were particular about the timing of D-day. They wanted a full moon, with a spring tide. They wanted to land at dawn on a flood tide, when it was about half way in. That meant there were only a few days that were appropriate. June 5th was chosen but it had to be delayed 24 hours for bad weather. With 80lbs on your back, you probably wouldn't want to have to swim or run too far!

All the beaches are conquered in the minutes which follow the attack, except on Omaha Beach where the American troops are nailed on the ground by intense fire. It is only at the beginning of the afternoon that this beach is secured. The allied losses reach 3.000 soldiers: killed, missing or captive, 2.500 just on Omaha Beach.

Despite all the intense planning, not everything went according to plan. On the night of the invasion only around 15% of paratroopers landed in the right place. One poor bloke called John Steele ended up tangled in a church spire on a church in Sainte-Mere-Eglise thick with German troops miles away from where he was supposed to be dropped. He had to watch from there while most of his mates were picked off. He was shot in the foot and acted dead for hours but was captured. He has returned to the village many times since and they still have a parachutist hanging from the spire.

At Point-du-Hoc the U.S. Rangers had been assigned the dangerous task of scaling the highest cliffs in the area, about 100ft where major artillery was stationed that could knock out both Utah and Omaha landing parties and ships.

The assault force was carried in ten landing craft with another two carrying supplies and four DUKW amphibious trucks carrying the 100 ft (30 m) ladders - requisitioned from the London Fire Brigade. One landing craft carrying troops sank and all but one of its occupants drowned, another was swamped. One supply craft sank and the other put the stores overboard to stay afloat. German fire sank one of the DUKWs. Once within a mile of the shore, German mortars and machine guns fired on the craft.

These initial setbacks resulted in a 40-minute delay (there goes the element of surprise) in landing at the base of the cliffs, but British landing craft carrying the Rangers finally reached the base of the cliffs at 7:10am with approximately half the force it started out with. The landing craft were fitted with rocket launchers to fire grapnels and ropes up the cliffs. They had trained with this equipment at Isle of Wight but always dry....they were now very wet! Most of the grappling hooks fell short of the distance required to easily scale due to the additional weight of wet rope.

The Rangers scaled the cliffs and the Allied destroyers USS Satterlee and HMS Talybont provided them with fire support and ensured that the German defenders above could not fire down on the assaulting troops. The cliffs proved to be higher than the ladders could reach. There are still massive craters at the top of the cliff where the shells had landed, though now they have lovely grass on them and goats grazing. A tad different from June 1944!

Off to the Somme tomorrow for more madness.

Posted by mljjs 02:59 Archived in France

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