When the 4Aviation newsletter announced a 5 day trip to Normandy to witness some of the activities around the 75th anniversary of D-day I did not hesitate and booked a seat! The program 4Aviation had planned was awesome: not only would we witness the massive para droppings, we would also be present at the Daks over Normandy and the L-Birds to Normandy events.
So when the alarm clock rang at 3am on June 5th I was excited to go (and a bit sleepy). And after a long bus trip we stopped at Sannerville, the location of the massive para droppings. The weather decided to act as re-enactor and all around us threatening clouds were visible. But we stayed dry all day, although the overcast made it difficult to shoot decent photos. But when after some delay the first Dakotas came overhead and the already darkening sky filled up with parachutes I got overwhelmed with humbling emotions. Suddenly I realised the tension these 20-something year old heroes must have gone through when they arrived here in 1944. Jumping in the pitch black, with all those guns firing.... When the last Dakota came overhead I was no longer photographing, I was emotionally witnessing this historic event. Just as we walked to the bus the heavens opened and I was happy to get into bed that evening.
The next day we went to three different locations. We started at the Normandy Airfield Camp at the Lessay airfield. It was a nice camp with some great re-enactors, but the lack of airplanes made our tour guide decide we best head for Cherbourg to check out the various C-130s that were stationed there.
We witnessed four C-130s land in the distance while driving and when we arrived a local spotter told us there would be no more activity. A bit disappointing, but we decided to move over to the terminal to see if there would be some activity anyhow. This presented our bus driver with a small problem. The road we were on didn't allow the bus to turn round, backing up was no alternative either and in front of us was the gate to the airbase. But thanks to a friendly gate guard we were allowed to use the roundabout on the airbase and we thus had an improvised base visit. That lasted a full 45 seconds!
Upon arrival at the terminal there was plenty of activity and the C-130s even went airborne again so we had a great afternoon.
We finished the day in Sainte-Mère-Église and it was crowded! The fair that was set-up in the middle of the town as well as the people drinking and partying made it a bit surrealistic, since there was also an official ceremony at the same time. We visited the museum and the reconstruction of the inside of a Dakota, including all the noise really is impressive!
A photo of paratroopers in the Rue Génèral Koenig caught my eye. I made a quick snapshot of that photo and walked out to find the exact same spot. Remarkable to see how little it has changed in those 75 years of freedom.
June 7th should have been the second highlight of the trip. We planned to visit the Daks over Normandy event at Caen Carpiquet airport. The weather prediction was not good, but upon arrival it appeared that the organization was even worse! Of course when the weather is that bad the planned flying displays need to be adapted or cancelled, but apart from that nothing from this "event" turned out as advertised.
Luckily there was some flying activity and I managed to shoot some nice Dakota photos, but it was a huge disappointment in the end.
The storm that went over Caen and surroundings during the evening and night forced the various plane owners that were participating in the L-birds to Normandy event to fly their planes to safety. So we were afraid Saturday would be a waste as well. But this time the organization was so much better. This event turned out to be a relaxed, spotter friendly event. Despite the heavy wind we saw many L-Birds taxiing to their parking spot, right in front of us. And in the afternoon when the weather calmed down a few of them even went flying. And as a bonus we were timely informed that the Patrouille de France would do a fly-by. Hats off to the organization of this wonderful event!