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Posted on Jun 19, 2004 in History News, Stuff We Like

Eric Weider’s 60th Anniversary of D-DAY Cruise

By Eric Weider

After our visit to Omaha we continued on to see the "Big Guns" at Longues Sur Mer between Omaha and Sword Beaches. At this location the Germans had a battery of four 155mm German Cannons in massive concrete emplacements and a huge forward observation point to control the firing of the guns. During D-Day these guns got in an artillery duel with British warships in the English Channel which were supporting the invasion. One ship, HMS Ajax, scored a direct hit on one of the gun emplacements and set off its ammunition cache. The resulting explosion still looks today like a tactical nuclear bomb went off.

One of the four 155mm German guns at Longues sur Mer. Note that each of the holes in the concrete is the result of a hit from a naval gun. It is evident that unless a direct hit was scored against the gun positions that little damage was done.

The forward observation post for the guns at Longues sur Mer. Again note the minimal damage that hits from large naval guns caused these massive concrete structures.

On June 8th our cruise ship departed Caen and headed for the beautiful French town of Rouen. This is the historic city where Joan of Arc was burned alive. Rather than join the group for a city tour my father and I hired a taxi and we set out for the coastal town of Dieppe. In World War Two my father volunteered for the Canadian Army and trained with the South Saskatchewan Tank Regiment. In 1942 this regiment along with 5,000 Canadian infantry was sent on a raid at the port of Dieppe. This would become the first attempt to invade Hitler’s "Fortress Europe." It was to prove a disaster. While many invaluable lessons were learned that would save countless lives in the invasion of Normandy two years later, during the invasion of Dieppe the Canadians suffered 80% causalities (killed, wounded and captured). Fortunately my father had been transferred to Military Intelligence several months earlier and so he luckily missed being sent to Dieppe. It was a very emotional experience for us to stand on the beach and in the cemetery where the comrades he trained with fought and died.


My father, Ben, and I on the Beach at Dieppe where 62 years earlier several of the men he had trained with in the South Saskatchewan Tank Regiment had landed and many were killed or captured.

Today, like the Normandy beaches, Dieppe seems like a pleasant tourist beach. But 62 years ago it was a killing field. (see photo below) Note the rocky beach which gave the heavy Churchill tanks a terrible time as they tried to move off the beach.

The scene on Dieppe Beach in August 1942. Note that this picture was taken on the same spot where we are standing in the picture above. You can make out the cliffs in the background if you look carefully.

The Canadian Cemetery at Dieppe.

June 9th brought us to the Belgian port city of Oostende which is near the very historic city of Bruges. My father and I elected to take a tour of the World War I battlefield called Ypres. This is a section of the front in World War I that rarely moved more than five miles in either direction and where several hundred thousand poor young men were killed. It is also the area where the Canadian, Major McCrae, operated a field hospital and where he penned the famous poem "In Flanders’ Fields" in 1915.

The final two days of our tour took us to the Dutch city of Amsterdam and we took a tour of the battle sites of "Operation Market Garden" which was so well depicted in the film, A Bridge Too Far . The brainchild of General Montgomery, this daring operation dropped some 30,000 British and American Paratroopers behind German lines. Their objective was to capture a series of bridges which crossed several important rivers including the bridge over the Rhine River at Arnhem. Simultaneously with the Paradrops a massive armored column was to punch through German lines and cross the bridges captured by the paratroopers. If successful the tanks would have a straight shot into Germany and a chance to end the war by Christmas, 1944. Unfortunately General Montgomery ignored intelligence warnings that two SS Panzers divisions were in the Arnhem area resting and refitting after being beat up in the Normandy battles. When the Allied armored columns encountered delays in their efforts to break through to Arnhem the lightly armed British 1st Airborne Division was cut off by the Panzers. While they fought gallantly, after a week of battle they managed to slip out of the Arnhem area with only 2,000 of the 10,000 men that had gone in.

Eric Weider with Sgt Bill Fulton – one of only appx. 600 British paratroopers who actually made it to the bridge in Arnhem under the command of John Frost. After being wounded Bill was taken prisoner by the Germans and remained in a POW camp for nine months.

The "Bridge Too Far" at Arnhem where an entire British Airborne Division was destroyed when they unexpectedly encountered two German Panzer Divisions.

I have made many memorable trips over the years but perhaps none as memorable as this one. It is difficult to find the words to capture the depth of my feelings at visiting these historic places where brave young men gave the ultimate in the protection of our freedoms. It is so important that we never forget them? both to honor their memories and to remember the price of freedom and the cost of war. As I traveled the battlefields and cemeteries the closing lines to Major McCrae’s poem kept going through my mind;

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders’ fields

Eric Weider
Armchair General

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