TOUR AMERICA 2019: MISSISSIPPI, THE MAGNOLIA STATE

Home is Where We Park It:  Natchez State Park, Mississippi

Date:  June 4, 2019

Temperature:  92 Degrees

Wind:  Calm

National World War II Museum – D Day

Well it looks like our luck with the weather is about to run out.  Beginning tomorrow, Wednesday, and for the next five days we are supposed to have thunder storms and heavy rain off and on.  The question now becomes do we travel the Trace or take a more direct line to our next home?  The Trace is our goal but if we can’t take pictures at the various cut outs it doesn’t seem to make much sense to travel it.  Time will tell.

With the 75th Anniversary of D-Day and the Normandy Invasion just a few days away we’re going to step back a few days, back to New Orleans, back to the World War II Museum.  This is a must visit in my book for anyone coming to New Orleans.  Plan on spending several days here if you want to see it all.

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The purpose of the museum as stated on their web site is:  The National WWII Museum tells the story of the American experience in the war that changed the world—why it was fought, how it was won, and what it means today—so that all generations can understand the price of freedom and be inspired by what they learn. Through exhibits, multimedia experiences, and thousands of personal accounts, the Museum takes visitors on an immersive tour of World War II in every theater of war.

Some may ask Why is the Museum located in New Orleans?  The answer is:

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There are a total of six buildings and in the sky above them under construction is the Bollinger Canopy of Peace.  The soaring Bollinger Canopy of Peace, set to stand 150 feet tall, will unify the Museum’s diverse campus and establish the Museum as a fixture on the New Orleans skyline. The Canopy is made possible through a generous donation from longtime Museum Board of Trustees member Boysie Bollinger.

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There are a total of six buildings on the campus, however, in the five hours that I spent there the only building  that I was able to get through was

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Let’s go inside and start our tour.  In this Pavilion there are two main exhibits.

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In this blog we’re going to go to The D-Day Invasion of Normandy.  

Since 1940 Hitler hoped to make the Northwestern coast of Europe an impossible objective for Allied forces to take.  In 1942 he began to build what came to be known as the Atlantic Wall.  This was the backbone of what he called Fortress Europe.  They included gun batteries, bunkers, observation towers and radar posts.   Some gun batteries were disguised as houses to make them more difficult to detect.

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The fragments of the Atlantic Wall below came from the anti tank defense spanning Utah beach.  The pockmarks are the result of thousands of weapons fired upon the Germans the day of the invasion.

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This is a model of one of the fire control/observation towers along the coast facing out toward the channel.

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This is the typical layout of the inside of the tower.

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The fifth floor was the observation floor and on that floor you would find a ranger finder

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similar to the one below.  It was capable of scanning the horizon to a distance of over fifteen miles.  An observer looking through it would initially see two identical images of one object.  He would twist the dials until they merged into one.  This would give him the distance to the object in question.  This information would be fed to a fire control coordinator who then determined the proper fire coordinates.  This was then relayed by phone to the gun crew.

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As a further deterrent to invasion there were magnetic mines tethered to the bottom and lying just below the surface of the water, mines floating on rafts, mine capped wooden posts meant to tear apart landing craft; and, six foot steel girders welded together and topped with mines.  Yet despite all of this all of the Normand beaches were successfully taken on the first day of the invasion – but some beaches were taken at an enormous cost in Allied lives.

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The Allied forces had the upmost respect for German weapons.  Huge canons positioned along the Atlantic Wall had a range of 25 miles enabling them to fire upon Allied troops before they even reached the beaches.  Some guns were fixed in place while others were on rails enabling them to be moved to were they were needed.

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But the weapon Allied troops feared the most was the 88 mm antiaircraft gun which was also used against troops and tanks.  It’s amazing accuracy made it one of the most effective killing machines of the war.  One solider put it this way More soldiers were converted to Christianity by the 88 than by Peter and Paul.

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In addition to these formidable weapons the Germans could also launch a continuous barrage of fire from entrenched emplacements using machine guns and submachine guns, mortars and other small  arms.

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On the American side, during the first wave of an assault naval firepower would be the primary firepower at their disposal.  This would include guns like the 16 inch guns that were on the Alabama.  Mine sweepers would also proceed an assault in an attempt to clear and create safe lanes for landing craft.

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The American forces were also armed with some of the best weapons produced.  Some of them are still in use today.  Once they were on the beach the troops could begin firing machine guns, submachine guns, and rifles into German positions.  Support weapons like the bazooka and the mortar would provide additional cover for the troops.  We, however, came up short in terms of tanks and antitank weapons.

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The code name for the Normandy Invasion was Operation Over Lord.  Planning for the invasion began in the early part of 1943 and in December of 1943 General Dwight Eisenhower was chosen as the Commander in Charge.

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A total of six men were selected in addition to Eisenhower.  They met together for the first time in January of 1944.  All had at least 30 years of  military experience and were regarded by their peers as exceptional in their fields.

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The plan they came up with entailed landing nine divisions of sea and airborne troops, over 150,000 men along a 50 mile stretch of coast in just 24 hours.   On D-Day other airborne troops and glider troops would be dropped behind enemy lines in order to cut off avenues of German resupply.

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Once the plan was in place the goal now was to keep the time and place a secret and to keep Hitler guessing as to where the Allied Invasion would be.  Just before the Invasion began ships were dispatched toward other beaches as if they moving there for an Invasion.  Planned  false intelligence leaks provided bogus information regarding other invasion sites.

IMG_4712The most obvious site for an invasion Hitler believed was Calais, just twenty miles across the channel from England.  Hitler was almost certain that the Allied forces would attack here.  The Allied forces encouraged Hitler’s belief in various ways.  The Allied forces built phony armies, complete with dummy trucks, tanks, ships, and jeeps.  American motion picture crews also created entire army bases that looked authentic to German reconnaissance .  All of this worked perfectly and resulted in Hitler moving large forces from Normandy to the area around Calais.

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One of the most unusual deceptions that occurred on D-Day involved hundreds of dummy paratroopers known as Rupperts.  They would be dropped behind enemy lines in an attempt to draw attention away from the real paratroopers.  To make the drop appear more real they were properly equipped as paratroopers and as they drooped recordings of gunfire played.

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The Commanders had been chosen.  Operation Over Lord was crafted.  Now the Allied forces began to gather in England in anticipation of the greatest Invasion of all times.

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D-Day was scheduled for June 5th but a fierce storm in the English Channel put it on hold.  All everyone could do now was sit and wait.  The final decision would be up to Eisenhower alone.  He waited twenty four hours, consulted the other commanders who were split as to whether to go or not to on June 6th.  Eisenhower, though, felt the time had come and with a break in the storm foretasted he made the decision to go.

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Specially designed gliders designed to transport troops, jeeps and light artillery were towed across the Channel, released, then descended to fields below.  These gliders were constructed of plywood and canvas and nicknamed flying Coffins because most of them broke up on landing.  Loses among the glidermen was high.

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Paratroopers were dropped behind enemy lines.

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Naval guns began to shell German positions.

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The main invasion force was now headed to the chosen beaches.

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 As dawn broke Allied troops approached the beaches.  The first wave would be demolition experts and engineers.  Their job was to clear obstacles and create safe lanes across the beach.  In the landing craft men were pitched about.  Many were seasick.  Tension, fear, and anticipation were the primary emotions.  As they approached shore some landing craft hit mines ripping them apart and tossing and killing all aboard high in the air.  At 6:30 am the first landing craft hit the beach.  The Invasion was under way.

These are the Beaches of Normandy that had to be taken.  There was Utah.  Here the Germans were confused and shook up by the Naval bombardment so resistance was light.

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There was Bloody Omaha.  If the Germans were going to stop the Invasion they determined to do it here.  Trouble began off shore.  Thirty two of the thirty six amphibious tanks sank before making it to shore.  Strong currents pulled many boats off target.  In addition, the Germans had every inch of the beach pre-sited with cross fire.The first wave was nearly wiped out before it made it across the beach.  Some were killed before even leaving their boats.

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The men who landed on Omaha had to overcome tremendous odds just to survive.  The commander of forces that day stated Every man who set foot on Omaha Beach that day was a hero.  The dazed and wounded men who survived the initial assault were at first, disorganized, and unable to move off the beach.  Shock and fear kept them from moving forward.  Two things happened to turn the tide:  Many Naval vessels moved in closer to land, some touching the sand bottom, in order to deliver point blank fire at German fortified positions.   Secondly, individual officers, even privates,  leading by example reorganized the remaining troops and led them forward off the beach.

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There was Sword Beach which was assigned to British forces.  The landing went smoothly here and most of the tanks and armored vehicles made it safely to shore.  The Invaders quickly broke through German defenses and moved inland.

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There was Juno Beach.  This beach was assigned to Canadian forces.  Nearly one third of their landing craft were damaged by mines or beach obstacles.  The first wave of infantry suffered terrible losses.  Nearly 1,200 died in the initial assault.

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There was Gold Beach.  British forces were assigned to this beach.  They ran into stiff German resistance but by afternoon their entire Division was ashore and moving inland.

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Allied Forces were now ashore, all beaches had been successfully taken.  But there was much more fighting that would take place before the war was finally over.

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In due time it was finally over.  On May 7, 1945 Germany surrendered unconditional.

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The road to victory had been a costly one.  So many died from in the bloodiest war in history.  Their legacy is a safer, more humane world.  And for this, we must be forever grateful.

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As the world prepares to celebrate this very special D-Day, on that day I encourage all everywhere to pause for a moment of silence sometime during the day to give thanks and remember those who on that day who fought to ensure the freedoms we enjoy today.

Our day on The Road of Retirement is now over.  Time to go pack since we are moving out tomorrow.

Thanks again for joining us on our continuing journey.  We’ll catch you again tomorrow.

These are the voyages of  Graybeard and it’s occupants, four paws and two humans.  Our continuing mission: to explore as many new states as possible, to seek out new acquaintances and make new friends, to boldly go where we have not been before

See you on down the road

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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