The D-Day Battlefields
OMAHA Beach - Overlord Museum
Even if this museum is closed, several immaculate armoured vehicles are on display outside and warrant a photo stop. The scale and variety of the exhibits within, and the manner in which they are presented, is nothing short of remarkable and I’d rate this one as a must-see if you’re doing a tour of the D-Day sites.
Although no longer with us, the founder of the collection is Michel Leloup (1929 - 2011) who was 15 years old during the Battle of Normandy. His parents were farmers and, as well as watching aerial duels overhead, Michel would explore the numerous tanks and vehicles that were left wrecked and abandoned in the fields and ditches around his home as the front moved further inland.
At the end of the war opportunities and the need for reconstruction were enormous and Michel started his own commercial logging and timber business. He began by building a timber storage yard at the family farm, leading to the construction of a small saw-mill. The generator that powered the saw was salvaged from a German Panzer Mark IV. Then, a Canadian Chevrolet F60 lorry was purchased locally and modified to transport the timber.
A German half-track SdKfz 251 was subsequently acquired to haul heavier logs and was used to good effect until eventually scrapped. In the early 1970’s, Michel Leloup was visiting another sawmill in Normandy when he spotted another wrecked half-track in the undergrowth covered in brambles - it was a SdKfz 251, the same type as the one he had owned previously, and an ideal restoration project. It was the start of a lifelong passion that consumed him for the next 40 years.
In 1987 Michel displayed part of his by then considerable collection in a museum in Falaise which covered the Battle of the Falaise Pocket when the German 7th Army was encircled and almost annihilated at the end of the Battle of Normandy. Despite his desire to build a new large-scale facility to show off his collection to a wider audience, Michel passed away in 2011, sadly unaware of the superb museum which was created just a few years later by others inspired by his enthusiasm and vision. Click here for the official website: www.overlordmuseum.com.
This is an M32B1 Sherman TRV (Tank Recovery Vehicle). This version of the M4A1 Sherman tank was introduced in 1944 as a replacement for the Lee Grant Recovery Tank. Rather than a revolving turret and main gun, the M32B1 was equipped with an 81mm mortar, allowing the crew to fire smoke rounds to mask recovery operations on the battlefield. A Gar Wood winch with a 61-metre wire provided a towing capacity of 27 tons and a 5.5 metre triangular rotary crane was also fitted. The vehicle also carried an extensive tool set and numerous spares including wheels, rollers and track links for speedy repairs. As well as equipping the US Army, this tank saw service with the British Army, particularly in the 11th Armoured Division. This example is displayed on a section of Bailey Bridge.
In the background below left, and face-on in the other shot is the American produced GMC M10 Tank Destroyer. Based on a Sherman chassis, its open-topped manually traversed turret mounted the fairly potent 3" M3 gun which enabled it to compete with all but the heaviest German tanks under favourable circumstances.
The M10 is commonly referred to as the `Wolverine` but this appears to be an unofficial designation as neither the British nor the US armies listed this type on their inventories. It is possible that this name was used by the Canadians at some point and became widely adopted post war. In early 1944 the British Army began to arm their M10s with the superior 17-pounder anti-tank gun to create the SP Achillies in time for the Normandy Invasion. Dozens of M10s were also operated by the 1st Free French Army until France was liberated and during the onward push into Germany.
The Sexton 25pdr Self-propelled Gun was previously on external display at the Musee Aout 1944 in Falaise but suffered badly from prolonged exposure to the elements. Since moving to the Overlord Museum it has been extensively renovated and is once again in superb condition. This machine was originally based on Canadian-built derivatives of the American M3 Lee and M4 Sherman tank chassis, which entered production in Canada as the Ram and Grizzly, but the M3 Lee version was dropped when sufficient Shermans became available. During the D-day landings, a number of Sextons engaged coastal strongpoints from their landing craft as they approached the beaches although most rounds fell wide of the mark. From then on, the British and Canadian artillery units used the Sexton for indirect long-range supporting fire, after forward observers provided target data.
Unlike some of the D-Day museums in Normandy, the figures here are very realistic and the dioramas exceptional with the stand-out for many visitors being German engineers carrying out major repairs on a damaged Panther tank, assisted by an overhead gantry. Even using a wide-angle lens this scene was too large to fit in the frame properly.
Other armoured vehicles include a Panzer MK.IV and a couple of Shermans, plus 30 soft-skin vehicles, artillery pieces - even a spotter plane and replica V-1 Flying Bomb suspended from the ceiling. Many of the vehicles have been restored to full running order, accurately equipped and painted, the result of many thousands of hours work by a dedicated team of skilled specialists.
The Museum is located just inland from OMAHA Beach at Colleville-sur-Mer, on the D514 coastal road, beside the turn-off for the American Military Cemetery.
From a photographic point-of-view, the lighting is subdued which adds to the atmosphere but a very high ISO number will be needed for best results. The use of flash is allowed but, as I discovered, it makes the dioramas look less convincing. Many items, including some vehicles are behind glass and even with a polariser filter attached to the camera lens reflections can often prove problematical.
Please bear in mind that all images on this website are Copyright. They are not free to use and have been embedded with a digital watermark. Any historic photographs from the Imperial War Museum and other organisations` collections have been used courtesy of a `Share & Reuse` policy and are also subject to copyright restrictions. The Overlord Museum`s Panzer MK.IV is pictured below.
Below: Suspended from the ceiling is Taylorcraft Auster V, an original machine, bearing the RAF serial number NJ169. The Taylorcraft Aviation Company had been established in the USA in 1936, to produce light aircraft. In November 1938, British Taylorcraft was founded in Leicestershire, to build the company`s aircraft under license in the UK.
The type proved invaluable for artillery spotting and communications duties with around 1,800 were turned-out during the Second World War, 800 of which were the Mark V version. The main difference from its predecessors was that the Mk,V had advanced instrumentation to enable it to fly in poor visibility.
The Auster I entered service in August 1942 initially serving in northern Europe and with the Desert Air Force, in North Africa and later Italy.
The plane could operate from fields and roads, enabling it to keep up with a rapidly moving advance and its slow loiter speed allowed it`s pilot to report on the accuracy of the artillery strike real-time and radio in any necessary adjustments. The main threat to these observation aircraft was from ground troops as the spotters`standard operating height was fairly low, a requirement to make them less visible to enemy fighters. Taylorcraft developed a very similar, but slightly lighter aircraft for the USAAF, which was designated the O-57 (later L-2) Grasshopper.
This image from the US National Archives, clearly shows the portability of these small but valuable aircraft. It features a Grasshopper stowed on the back of a 2.5 ton CCKW truck in preparation for the D-Day landings and was taken at a depot in Devon, England, in early 1944.
And finally, some scenes given the black & white treatment...