To celebrate the release of The Sea Before Us, I’m conducting a photo tour of locations from the novel that I saw on my research trip to England and Normandy in September.
Today—D-day at Sea
In The Sea Before Us, American naval officer Lt. Wyatt Paxton serves first in London with the naval planning for D-day and later on a destroyer bombarding Omaha Beach. Today I’m featuring a hodgepodge of photos that relate to the naval aspect of D-day, from Portsmouth Harbor, to crossing the Channel, to the German gun batteries targeted by naval bombardment, to monuments and artifacts.
D-Day at Sea
First, here is a copy of the orders for Operation Neptune, the naval component of D-day, at the National Museum of the Royal Navy in Portsmouth. The thick book of orders put out by Adm. Sir Bertram Ramsay’s Allied Naval Expeditionary Force Headquarters covered every possible aspect in minute detail that baffled and frustrated the men of the US Navy, who were used to more general orders and more control by individual commanders at sea—but they did lay a solid foundation for this joint effort. Here is also a copy of Ramsay’s Order of the Day, issued to all naval personnel on D-day. Also, a map showing naval action on D-day, on the memorial at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial at Omaha Beach.
Now that we know the plan, let’s sail! Wyatt sailed from Weymouth with the ships of US Destroyer Squadron 18, but many ships sailed from Portsmouth. I was privileged to take a harbor cruise at the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.
Let’s cross the Channel! My husband I took the ferry from Portsmouth across the English Channel to Ouistreham, which was near Sword Beach, where British troops landed on D-day. The weather was cool, cloudy, and blustery, not unlike the troops faced on D-day, and seeing the shores of Normandy take shape on the horizon was an incredibly moving experience.
On D-day, the Allied warships did battle with German shore batteries, which were targeting Allied troops on the landing beaches. These huge guns were often set in thick reinforced concrete casements that were virtually indestructible. To destroy one meant lobbing a shell into the narrow openings. However, hitting the batteries often damaged the guns and drove the gun crews to seek shelter, which bought critical time for the soldiers on the beaches. These photos are from the batteries at Longues-sur-Mer, in the British sector between Gold Beach and Omaha Beach.
The Maisy battery is off the beaten track but well worth a visit for more adventurous tourists. These guns were trained on Utah Beach. A little farther inland, the guns and bunkers were well camouflaged, either underground or by the use of camouflage nets, making them difficult to spot by sea or air.
Utah Beach contains the only memorial in Normandy to the sailors and naval officers who helped make D-day possible. Over five thousand ships and almost two hundred thousand naval personnel participated on that momentous day, and their actions deserve to be commemorated. The statue depicts a sailor loading a gun for shore bombardment, a naval officer calling out orders, and a member of a naval combat demolition unit (these men served on the landing beaches and took heavy casualties). Surrounding the statue are plaques with arrows pointing to the ships’ locations.