The Airborne Museum – Sainte-Mère-Église, Normandy, France

steele_and_team-1

Private John Marvin Steele, second from right, who along with John Ray, Philip Lynch and Vernon Francisco comprised F Company, 505 PIR’s 60mm mortar squad, just before D-Day at camp Quorn, Leicestershire, England. John was the only one of the four to survive the war.

In the early hours of 6 June 1944, Private John Marvin Steele, an American paratrooper from F Company, 2nd Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division jumps over Sainte-Mère-Église village on the Cotentin Peninsula, Normandy as part of Mission BOSTON. His unit’s objective is to capture the village, a crucial communications crossroad behind UTAH Beach and block German approaches from the west and southwest.

Unfortunately for Steele, a house in the village is on fire after being hit by a stray bomb and the usually quiet town square is filled with German troops who are trying to extinguish the blaze. The flames illuminate the square and many of the paratroopers are killed as they descend. John Steele is hit in the foot and his canopy catches on the village church’s bell tower. He tries to free himself but drops his knife and is left dangling helplessly for a couple of hours. Eventually, two German soldiers climb up to cut him down and take him to an aid station. Three days later Steele escapes and crosses back into Allied lines. He goes on to jump in Holland, participating in the liberation of Nijmegen and later the Battle of the Bulge. John Steele survived the war and returned to Sainte-Mère-Église several times to commemorate the landings before finally succumbing to throat cancer in 1969. His D-Day experience, hanging from the chapel bell tower has been immortalised in the movie “The Longest Day”.

Sainte-Mère-Église

Sainte-Mère-Église church continues to feature a dangling US para in remembrance of the events of the early morning of 6 June 1944. Photos: Julian Tennant

Sainte-Mère-Église was captured by the 3rd Battalion of the 505th at 04:30, not too long after Steele was taken to the aid station and the village became the first town in France to be liberated by the Allies on D-Day. The German counter-attacks involving infantry and armour began at 09:30 and after eight hours of fighting only sixteen of the forty-two paratroopers holding village were still alive. But the American paras held their ground and on 7 June tanks from UTAH Beach finally arrived. The beachhead was secure and the link-up between air and ground forces had been achieved.

There are several points of interest commemorating the battle in the town along with a few militaria dealers. Many of the local shopkeepers also recognise the historical importance of the event and some include small displays of their own, so it is worth setting some time aside just to relax and explore. I would recommend buying a copy of Major & Mrs Holt’s D-Day Normandy Landing Beaches battlefield guide and using their walking tour as a way of exploring the area.

Sainte-Mère-Église

Waiting for a haircut in Sainte-Mère-Église. Photo: Julian Tennant

However, the start point of any visit to Sainte-Mère-Église should be the Airborne Museum, which is located metres away from the church and is actually on the site of the house fire of that fateful night of 5-6 June 1944.

Opened in 1964, the original museum building was designed by architect François Carpentier to reflect the shape of an open parachute canopy. Since its inauguration the museum has had several additions and currently consists of three exhibition buildings. The original museum building is referred to as the WACO building. Its centerpiece is an original Waco CG-4A glider surrounded by various uniform, weapons and equipment displays.

st mere eglise airborne museum-5

Patches of the American units involved in the D-Day Landings on the 6th of June 1944. Photo: Julian Tennant

st mere eglise airborne museum-8

Photo of Jack Schlegel from the 508th PIR. Note the British parachutist qualification on his right forearm sleeve. Photo: Julian Tennant

The second gallery is referred to as the C-47 building and features the Douglas C-47 Skytrain ‘Argonia, which was flown by Lt. Col. Charles H. Young, CO, of the 439th Troop Carrier Group during Operation NEPTUNE. The aircraft was also used for the drop during Operation MARKET GARDEN, but in this display, it is used as the focal point for a scene that is loosely based on General Eisenhower’s visit to the paratroopers of the 101st Airborne Division just before they departed for the Normandy.

st mere eglise airborne museum-30

Centerpiece of the C-47 Building is a reconstruction of a scene showeing General Dwight D. Eisenhower visiting paratroopers of the 502nd PIR, 101st Abn Div at Greenham Common airfield on 5 June 1944. Photo: Julian Tennant

The newest exhibition building, named Operation NEPTUNE was opened to the public for the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings and uses several life-sized diorama displays combined with sound and lighting effects to give the visitor an impression of the paratrooper’s D-Day experience.

st mere eglise airborne museum neptune building pano-1

Panorama view of the displays in the “Operation NEPTUNE” building

In May 2018 the museum introduced the HistoPad, an augmented reality tablet device that allows visitors to manipulate a series of 3D virtual relics and artifacts, see inside of aircraft, virtually operate and manipulate full 360-degree views of equipment, compare scenes today to how they appeared in 1944, view unpublished photographs and extracts of archival films. It is provided free to all visitors over six years old who are not part of a group tour. You can view one of the museum’s HistoPad promotional videos below or visit the creator’s website to see more pictures and details of the Airborne Museum’s HistoPad experience.

1.-Waco-VA

Using the HistoPad in the Waco Building. Photo courtesy the Airborne Museum.

In addition to the exhibition spaces, the Airborne Museum also has conference rooms for hire and gift shop. The shop, is definitely no match for Paratrooper shop at the D-Day Experience and Dead Man’s Corner Museum in Saint-Côme-du-Mont, but it does offer some interesting books and DVD’s along with the usual reproduction souvenirs aimed at the (non-collector) tourist.

At the time of writing (June 2020) the Airborne Museum has just reopened to the public, so visiting is possible, however there are new visitor requirements to take into account the COVID-19 pandemic. The current restrictions are outlined here.

The Airborne Museum
14 rue Eisenhower
50480 Sainte-Mère-Eglise
France

Website: www.airborne-museum.org/en/
Email: infos@airborne-museum.org
Phone: +33 (0)2 3341 4135

Open: Every day. From May to August, the museum is open from 10:00 until 19:00. October thru March the museum is open from 10:00 until 18:00. April to September, the museum is open from 09:30 until 19:00.  Note. Last ticket sales are one hour before closing and check their website for updated COVID-19 visiting restrictions

_____________________________________________________

If you like what you see here, please FOLLOW this page via email or by using either the buttons below or in the column on the right.  I try to post NEW content every Sunday and knowing that somebody is looking at this gives me the encouragement I need to set aside time to go through my archives and collection in order to develop the content for the page. And of course, feel free to contact me here, via email or by visiting my Facebook or Instagram pages

Dead Man’s Corner Museum – Saint-Côme-du-Mont, Normandy, France

As the anniversary of the D-Day landings nears and with COVID-19 travel restrictions still in place here in Australia, I decided to dive into my archive of pictures from a trip that I made to the battlefields around Normandy back in 2015. So, this week I’m sharing some photos from the Dead Man’s Corner Museum at Saint-Côme-du-Mont.

dead mans corner museum-10

Dead Man’s Corner Museum. The two B&W photographs show the knocked out M5 Stuart tank commanded by Lt. Walter T. Anderson whose body was slumped over the turret for several days during the fighting.

 

Situated at a strategic intersection on the route to Carentan, Dead Man’s Corner Museum takes its name from the name given to the crossroads after the first US tank to reach this point was knocked out by a Panzerfaust fired by 19 year-old German paratrooper, Bruno Hinz in the early morning of  7 June 1944. Hinz’s Panzerfaust hit the rear side of the turret killing all four crew members immediately. The crew commander, Lt. Walter T. Anderson, who was standing upright in the hatch fell forward and was left slumped over the turret where he remained for several days until his body could be recovered. The Germans had previously removed all the road signs to confuse any advancing troops and so the intersection was referred to as “the corner with the dead man on the tank” but was soon shortened to “dead man’s corner”. Lt Anderson who served with the 80th Tank Battalion, is buried in the St Laurent cemetery.

Overlooking the intersection is the building which has remained little changed since 1944 and is now the home to the  Dead Man’s Corner Museum. At the time of the invasion it was used as the Regimental Command Post and first aid station for the paras of the German Fallschirmjäger Regiment 6 commanded by Major Friederich-August von der Heydte.

major von der heydte

Major Friederich-August “The Baron” von der Heydte, commanding officer of the 6th  Fallschirmjäger Regiment during the battle for Normandy. Von der Heydte initially joined the army but after being promoted to Hauptmann, in May 1940, he transferred to the Luftwaffe, joining the 3rd Fallschirmjäger Regiment  as one of its company commanders. He commanded the 1st battalion of the 3rd Fallschirmjäger Regiment during the Battle of Crete in May 1941 and his battalion was the first to enter Canea, for which he was awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross. He went on to serve in Russia, North Africa and Italy before being given command of the newly formed 6th Fallschirmjäger Regiment of the 2nd Fallschirmjäger Division in January 1944. Interestingly, he is not wearing his Luftwaffe parachutist badge in this picture.

Fallschirmjäger

“Green Devils” in Normandy, June 1944. The average age of the German paratrooper in Fallschirmjäger Regiment 6 at the time of D-Day was seventeen and a half years old.

The museum, which is co-located with the excellent D-Day Experience (the subject of next week’s post) concentrates on the German paras as seen through the eyes of Major von der Heydte. Upon entering the museum, the visitor is thrown into his chaotic command post exactly as it would have appeared on the morning of the 6th of June 1944. Co-curator, Emmanuel Allain explained that when setting up the museum they spoke to the grandson of the Marie family who owned the house and had lived there in 1944. With his help they recreated the rooms as they were at the time, including details such as the family portraits, damaged painting, grandfather clock and other specific furniture.

dead mans corner museum-01

Dead Man’s Corner Museum exhibit displaying Major von der Heydte, commanding officer of Fallschirmjäger Regiment 6 and members of his command group, in the room that he used as his command post during the fighting around Saint-Côme-du-Mont. Photo: Julian Tennant

The Marie family left the house at noon when the kitchen (the second room display) was commandeered as a first aid post to supplement the main aid station downstairs in the basement and the rooms are a faithful reproduction of what they looked like at that time. The attention to detail is such that many of the faces of the mannequins on display were modeled on participants who were present at the time. To say it is an impressive setup would be an understatement, as an airborne collector who has had a fascination with the German paras since I was a boy, I was overwhelmed by the number of Fallschirmjäger artifacts on display. Upstairs the exhibits include even more German para uniforms, helmets, insignia and equipment but also some of the other German units plus several American objects, many of which have been donated by veterans of the battle.

dead mans corner FJG42-19

Fallschirmjäger weapons including a rare Fallschirmjäger-Gewehr 42 (FG 42) assault rifle and paratrooper issue gravity knives. The Fallschirmjäger-Gewehr 42 was captured by Sgt. Louis A. Frey, a scout for the regimental S-2 section of the 2nd Battalion 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, who jumped on Saint-Côme-du-Mont on the 6th of June 1944. Photo: Julian Tennant

Returning downstairs and adjoining the museum, is Paratrooper, a shop almost as large as the museum itself which sells both authentic and reproduction militaria. The shop is really impressive, although I must admit that I found some of the prices for the original pieces to be more expensive than what collectors would usually expect to pay. Fortunately, I did not find any insignia that I ‘had to have’ for my collection as I had already picked up some quite rare badges in Paris a few days before, but I was tempted.

The shop at the Dead Mans Corner Museum is as large as the museu

The ‘Paratrooper’ shop. Photo: Julian Tennant

The shop at the Dead Mans Corner Museum is as large as the museu

Reproduction German caps for sale in the ‘Paratrooper’ shop at the Dead Man’s Corner Museum. Photo: Julian Tennant

Dead Man’s Corner, was the first of the museums that I visited during my trip to Normandy and already I felt that my expectations had been exceeded… and that was before I had even walked the 50 meters to the next building, the D-Day Experience for the American perspective. But that is the subject of my next post.

Luftwaffe Para Badge CE JUNCKER-7-Edit

Luftwaffe Paratroop badge in my collection. This example was made by the C.E. Juncker company. Instituted on 5 November 1936, the recipient needed to undertake the parachute course, completing the 6 training jumps to qualify for the award. Collection: Julian Tennant

 

Dead Man’s Corner
3 Vierge de l’Amont
50500 Carentan les Marais
France

Website: www.dday-experience.com/en/discover-d-day-experience/dead-mans-corner-museum/
Email: contact@dday-experience.com
Phone: +33 (0)2 3323 6195

Open: Every day. From October to March, the museum is open from 10h00 till 18h00 (the ticket office closes at 17h00). From April to September, the museum is open from 9h30 till 19h00. Note, the museum is temporarily closed due to COVID-19. Please check the website for updates.

_____________________________________________________

If you like what you see here, please FOLLOW this page via email or by using either the buttons below or in the column on the right.  I try to post NEW content every Sunday and knowing that somebody is looking at this gives me the encouragement I need to go through my archives and collection to develop the content for the page. And of course, feel free to contact me here, via email or by visiting my Facebook or Instagram pages