Monday, June 25, 2012

World War I & II Tour

We had a three-day weekend and decided to do a tour of some World War I and II sites that we’d not been to before. Along the way we threw in a couple side stops. The trip took us through France, Belgium and back into Germany.

Friday, Verdun

Our first stop was the World War I battlefields at Verdun, so just a half hour after leaving our house we crossed the border into France.

Verdun was one of the major battles of World War I which took place between February and December 1916. 260,000 deaths and another 440,000 injured or missing occurred between the French and German forces, mostly the result of intense artillery bombardment. By the end of the battle a combined 44 million artillery shells were fired by both armies. This is the Verdun Memorial.

Inside the Verdun Memorial they have a nice display of the many aspects of the battle and items from both armies.

French, European Union and German flags at the Verdun Memorial.

The Douaumont Ossuary where there are 16,142 graves of fallen French soldiers. A rose bush has been planted at each cross/grave. The two wings of the monument hold the skeletal remains of 130,000 unknown combatants.

Graves at the Douaumont Ossuary.

Name plate of a French soldier who died during the Battle of Verdun.

The Trench of Bayonets Memorial where an entire unit of French soldiers were killed and buried in their trench as the result of German artillery bombardment.

The walkway to the Trench of Bayonets Memorial. This area was named such because the only observable remain of these French soldiers were their bayonets sticking up out of the ground.

The Trench of Bayonets now covered by the memorial structure.

Other than the areas around the various memorials, the Verdun battlefield still contains almost no flat ground. Craters and undulations from the intense artillery bombing still cover almost the entire area.

The remnants of an almost 100 year old trench.

The highest point in the Verdun battlefield was Fort Douaumont. It was occupied by German forces just three days into the battle which sent shockwaves across France. The fort would be heavily bombarded by both French and German artillery, depending on who occupied it at the time in this back-and-forth battle.

One Fort Douaumont’s rotating gun turrets. This turret housed a 155 mm gun that would pop up and rotate to shoot at enemy positions.

Smaller gun emplacements on top of Fort Douaumont.

The terrain around Fort Douaumont. Evidence almost 100 years later of the intense artillery bombardment of the area.

A moment to relax at Fort Douaumont.

The village of Douaumont was completely destroyed during the battle. This memorial chapel was built on the site of the village’s church.

This was the main street of the Douamont village. Each post identifies the family and the pathway leads to what once was a village home. Village occupants were not allowed to return after the war because of the large number of expected unexploded ordnance.

About 15 miles north of the Verdun Battlefield is the entrance to the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery. Interestingly, a French secondary highway enters and goes through the cemetery, exiting at the opposite side.

The Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery is the largest American cemetery in Europe and contains the graves of 14,246 World War I American dead.

We’ve been to French military cemeteries and German military cemeteries and although they are also somber and moving experiences, they cannot compare to the majestic care and stirring intensity of an American military cemetery. Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery is a 130 acres of sacred American soil given to the United States by France into perpetuity..

One of the many graves of an unidentified American soldier.  Every cross or Star of David headstone is immaculately cared for.

Video of the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery.


Inside the chapel at Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery.

With our visit finished at the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery our trip was complete in France and so we drove into Belgium.


Bastogne

Our next destination and our stop for the night, Bastogne.

After checking into our hotel in the center of Bastogne we did a bit of walk-about and got the obligatory tourist-with-tank picture in McAuliffe Square.

Lots of strange statues and fountains in Europe and Belgium. Here’s one in Bastogne.

At Le Nuts bar/restaurant for a break from an intense day of sightseeing.

Mmmm, tasty Trappistes Rochefort 8, very fine Belgium beer.


Saturday, Bostogne

Sometimes sightseeing is a timing thing and that was the case at Bastogne. The museum we planned to visit, Bastogne Historical Center, and according to Trip Advisor is the #1 tourist site in the town, was undergoing a major renovation and closed for up to a year. So we took in a relatively new museum, The Bastogne Barracks.

The Bastogne Barracks was the headquarters of the 101st Airborne during the siege of Bastogne. The red brick buildings are original WW II buildings.

A WW II American tank destroyer renovated by Belgium military personnel at the Bastogne Barracks and on display in the courtyard.

The Siege of Bastogne took place 20-27 December 1944. Bastogne was a city at the intersection of seven main roads that the advancing Germans wanted to capture during the Battle of the Bulge. Brigadier General McAuliffe was the acting commander of the 10st Airborne. This is a photo placed at the actual window in the picture where the 101st commander, Major General Taylor met McAuliffe after the siege was broken.

Called McAufliffe Cave, this is the basement room where Gen. McAuliffe set up his headquarters office.

When the Germans demanded the Americans surrender at Bastogne, Gen. McAuliffe’s answer was one word, “Nuts.” With that comment and the successful end to the siege, Gen. McAuliffe became a hero of American and Belgium people alike.

One of the rooms in the Bastogne Barracks has signed photographs of veterans of the Bastogne Siege who have returned to the city for a visit, many of them portrayed in the HBO series, Band of Brothers. Our guide already knew what American veterans were going to be visiting Bastogne in the near future.

Belgium military members who work at the Bastogne Barracks also rebuild WW II vintage vehicles to a working condition. They have them on display in this large warehouse.

Here I am in front of this cute little tank. It’s a Chaffee light tank. I read the plaque.

I love this stuff.

OK we’re done in Bastogne and on our way to Malmedy to the site where American prisoners of war were massacred by Nazi troops during the Battle of the Bulge.  But along the way we stopped at The Biermuseum in the village of Rodt, Belgium, just outside of St. Vith.

Video inside the Biermuseum near St. Vith, Belgium. Jeff incorrectly says that he read there's 39,000 bottles here. Actually, after a little research we learned it's 4000. Still pretty cool.


Inside the Biermuseum. We sat near the front entrance and just about everyone had the same reaction entering the Biermuseum, a big smile and quiet wow! 

The first beer, one of our favorite Belgium beers because it taste good but also the quirky way it's served and, of course, the name; Kwak.


Jeff was happy to demonstrate how to properly hold a Kwak beer.  Interesting, I get my picture taken with tanks and Jeff gets his with beer.

Golden Dragon and a Triple Karmeliet, both wonderful Belgium beers.

A group of Fiat 500 enthusiastics showed up at the Biermuseum.


Malmedy (Baugnez)

Near this memorial, on 17 December 1944, 84 American prisoners of war were massacred by Nazi forces during the Battle of the Bulge. This memorial is in the village of Baugnez, south of Malmedy and these killings became known as the Malmedy Massacre. A Panzer unit of the German Waffen-SS, commanded by Obersturmbannfuhrer Peiper, had been ordered to take no prisoners and show no mercy to Belgium civilians.

A memorial stone at the site of the Malmedy Massacre.

The wall of the Malmedy Massacre Memorial contains the names of the 84 American POWs that were killed nearby. Peiper’s Panzer unit would move forward from here and murder at least 362 POWs and 111 civilians.

Another memorial stone at the Malmedy Massacre Memorial.

Our evening stop was Hallselt, Belgium. This is where we ate that night, the Drugstore. Sort of a cool façade with all those neon signs.  Why are we in Hallselt you might ask?  Tomorrow morning we're going to Tongeren, Belgium for their flea market, one of the largest such events in Europe.



Sunday, Tongeren

Remember I mentioned the strange statues/fountains in Europe. Here’s one in Tongeren. The Tongeren Flea Market is held every Sunday morning, 0700-1200.

Here’s a few pictures of the Tongeren Flea Market. Unlike many flea markets in the US, here it’s not just a bunch of junk. Lots of quality antiques and even new furniture.

If you like clocks, Tongeren is the place to go.

There are so many vendors at Tongeren that they put these in the city parking garage.

Even more in this events hall.

Two hours at the Tongeren flea market and one antique clock and six metal beer signs later and we were on our way to ouf last WW II site. So we’re back in Germany and on our way to Remagen.


Remagen

The town of Remagen played a pivotal role during WW II because, as Allied forces advanced into Germany, it had the only standing bridge remaining that spanned the Rhine River. These are the towers of the bridge on the west side of the Rhine. Another set of identical towers are on the eastern shore. The bridge was built between these towers. Today these towers house a museum.

A plaque on at the base of the towers that commerates the 9th Infantry Divisions efforts to capture the bridge on 7/8 March 1945.

The Remagen bridge was a railway bridge and actually named the Ludendorf Bridge, named after the famous WW I German general. The bridge was built during WW I at the request of the German Army. In this photo you’re looking south along the Rhine. On the east side, to the left, after leaving the bridge the tracks entered a tunnel through the high terrain on that side of the river.

The Germans had tried to destroy the bridge before Allied forces arrived and although explosives were detonated the bridge did not fall. Five German officers were executed for their failure. After the Allies captured the bridge German forces counterattacked to attempt to knock the bridge down. They attacked with new jet bombers and V-2 rockets but had no direct hits.

The east towers of the Ludendorf Bridge. Behind the towers you can see the boarded up tunnel. Ten days after the bridge was captured, as a result of the Germans earlier attempts at its destruction, heavy traffic vibration and possible shockwaves from a nearby V-2 impact, the Remagen bridge collapsed into the Rhine.


Well we filled a lot of squares on this three day weekend and had a great time doing it.

If you made it this far, through all the pictures and comments, thanks for checking out our adventures in Europe. There are lots more to come.

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting and somber blog. You guys really did a lot in that one weekend. I liked seeing all the battlefields and reading all the history. The rose bushes must have taken a long time but are very thoughtful. I was not aware of the Malmedy Massacre, very sad. Europe just has so much history and you both are so lucky to be experiencing so much of it together.

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