Brits and Americans pronounce the name of this awesome medieval city “brooge” with a soft g, but in West Flanders, it is pronounced “brooga”, with a hard g and short a. We prefer to use local parlance. Also, we rarely use the word awesome, except where it truly applies.
So, Brugge is an awesome medieval city in West Flanders. It was miraculously spared during the war years of the last century. The Germans occupied Brugge twice, and no doubt appreciated it as much as we do today, because they left it untouched for posterity on their way out of town in 1918 and 1944 – no scorched earth here. Of particular interest to beer fans are a bunch of great beer bars, the most notable of which is the t’ Brugs Beertje. If you want to go back in time 500 years plus, roam Brugge late at night when many cars and virtually all pedestrians are absent – it’s amazing to experience these streets as they were centuries ago, except with modern street lights, of course.
Slightly more than one kilometer north of Sainte-Marie-du-Mont is a French farming chateau called Brécourt Manor. Across the curvy road from the stone barn is a pasture and on the southwest side of the hedgerow/tree line (diagonally pointing northwest towards the hamlet of Le Grand Chemin) is the site of a famous and impressive military undertaking. The internet is replete with descriptions of this attack against a German gun battery shelling Utah Beach the early morning of June 6, but the short, short story is this: a near spontaneously planned assault was executed by just 13 soldiers of Easy Company led by Lt. Dick Winters against a platoon of about 50 German troops. They were manning (4) trenched 105 mm Howitzers and guarded by an equal number of MG42 machine gun nests from across the west side of the field as they launched their shellfire onto Utah. Winter’s squad launched their attack and destroyed all of the Howitzers with TNT and German potato mashers, one after another down the trench line towards the Manor and then withdrew with two soldiers killed, having wounded and killed about twenty German soldiers. First stop is Band of Brothers – Episode 2 for an authentic recreation of this operation.
Longues-sur-Mer Battery, a few miles west of Arromanches and on 215′ high coastal ground was ideally positioned for bombardment of invading naval craft: (4) Krupp-manufactured long-range (more than ten miles) 150mm guns. They were bombed before D-Day, but still fired over 100 rounds during the morning and afternoon landings until captured by English and French troops. All but one are visually intact from the front, and one gun took a direct hit on D-Day and completely destroyed.
By December, 1944, the Allies had recaptured much of Belgium from the Germans who had occupied this small country (about one-fifth the size of Wisconsin) since early 1940. Bastogne lies in the heart of the hilly Ardennes Forest, which the Allies assumed would notbe a region in which the Germans would likely launch a counteroffensive. They were wrong. Bastogne possessed a junction of roads that was a key strategic advantage to controlling the whole region and the advancing Germans wanted this intersection badly.
On December 16, more than 250,000 Germans attacked along a 60 mile front into Belgium known as the “Battle of the Bulge”. Unable to recapture Bastogne and its crossroads, the Germans pushed around and past the village – their goals were to divide the Allied forces and capture the city of Antwerp. On December 21, with the German army surrounding the village, they asked that the Americans surrender, which was promptly turned down by the famous reply of “NUTS!”
The 101st Airborne Division which was positioned in and around the Bastogne area held their ground through intense fighting until skies cleared on December 23, allowing airdrops of badly needed food, medical and ammunition supplies. The siege ended by December 26 with the arrival of Patton’s Third Army.
The Battle of the Bulge is forever associated with Bastogne. However, armed conflict encompassed a massive area throughout the Ardennes involving hundreds of towns. Over 75,000 American soldiers were killed, wounded or missing and about the same rough numbers for the Germans.
Arromanches is a seaside village in the center of the Gold Beach invasion area that became an artificial port – called Mulberry Harbor after the inventor of its massive concrete caissons – through which many of the vehicles, supplies and equipment were transported to the newly established invasion front. The Normandy invasion beaches lacked adequate existing port facilities.
Other ports were too heavily defended by German forces.
The British command, including Winston Churchill, set about planning the construction of the components of the harbor which were transported across the English Channel behind the combat invasion forces on D-Day.
The resulting steel and concrete structures are still recognized as one of the most impressive feats of military and civil engineering, the concrete remnants of which can still be seen in the bay at Arromanches.