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Guns & Gunsmiths World Tour 10/30/12

During our Guns and Gunsmiths World Tour, we visited quite a few museums as we made our way through Italy, Greece, Czech Republic, Germany, Switzerland and now France. Each one was some sort of national or regional arms museum, and you can bet that I am all over that like a bird dog on point!

In due time I will report on a variety of them, each has items of extreme interest, but today I am going to cover just two.

First, the National WWI & WWII museum in Paris, France, located next to the Tomb of Napoleon Bonaparte I. The tomb is very impressive in and of its self and I will have Jacob post pictures on the Facebook page. At the national war museum we toured the WWI & WWII sections as that is all we had time for, and only a couple of hours at that!

What an interesting display from the French point of view. One thing I will give them credit for is the value that put on the Allied effort to free them. As I said, I will post some pictures, but it is difficult to express what a nice museum this really is. It had a few things in it that I have never seen before. I really could have happily spent the bulk of an entire day in just that part of the museum. I never even got to the section on early warfare and armor.

The museum also had the most extensive display of cannons I have ever seen. Not one, not two, but hundreds overall. I did chuckle when I saw one display of Allied weapons, noting that I had one of each of them in my collection except two. The display included the BAR, the M1 Garand (of course!), M-3 grease gun, 1928 A1 Thompson, M1 Carbine, Browning 1919 A-4 belt fed machinegun, STEN MII, Enfield No.1 MKIII, a Vickers belt-fed Machinegun, a 1911 pistol, 1903-A3 Springfield and a 1917 “Eddystone” Springfield. I don’t have the last two which are bolt action rifles, I guess I better add them to the collection!

There were many other weapons, uniforms, gear, videos of combat, and much more. That museum is definitely worth another visit!

But, today easily topped that! Today we went to the D-day Beaches. First we went to “Utah Beach”. This was where a very brave group of U.S. Army Rangers ascended vertical cliffs, climbing from a narrow beach after struggling through a rough sea,  to knock out the pill boxes and shore batteries of the Nazis. They succeeded, and even pushed inland to take out some additional artillery that was pounding the beaches.

Unfortunately after their initial success they were pushed back by a Nazi counter attack. They held on for two days before they were relieved. Meanwhile they were running out of supplies and had resorted to using a significant number of captured weapons such as the German MG-42 belt fed machinegun. It was an amazing and tough battle that cost many of our Rangers their lives, but it was definitely critical for securing the beach head and helping to make the invasion a success.

Next we visited the cemetery where over 9,000 of our G.I.’s are buried on the bluffs above Omaha Beach, all casualties of World War II.  It’s located on land that has been given to the USA by the French government and people and is considered sovereign American soil.

It is very sobering to visit. In respect, we took off our hats as walked around reading the crosses and the stars of David, which are the grave stones of the young American men who died in this region during WWII.  One cross that we saw frequently in the graveyard and that touched my heart, were the crosses that said quite simply “Here Rests in Honored Glory, a Comrade in Arms, Known But to God.”  There were many “unknown soldiers” lost on all sides in this war.

Then Jacob and I walked down to the Ocean at Omaha Beach and touched the sand and the waters, then hiked back up to the bluffs above. It is hard to understand how such a beautiful place was the site of such a difficult, tragic battle, where over three thousand U.S. G.I.s died on a single beach, in a single day, June 6, 1944.

There is a wonderful memorial museum at the same site, completed just a few years ago. One of the last things that you hear as you exit the museum is the “roll call” of the names of the men who died on D-day. Chiseled into the wall are these words “If ever proof was needed that we fight for a cause and not for conquest, it would be found in these cemeteries. Here was our only conquest: All we asked was enough soil in which to bury our gallant dead.”

That kind of says it all, doesn’t it? America has always given.

We also visited Juno and Gold beaches. We did not make it to Sword. Every beach was hugely important and each was paid for in blood.  American, British, Canadian and the other Allies’ blood. Lest we forget.

After today’s visit, Jacob and I have agreed, we want to re-watch the Band of Brothers (we have already watched the entire series at least 3 times already), and Saving Private Ryan. At the Museum they had a picture of the four Niland Brothers, of whom three were reported dead in combat. Thankfully it turned out that one was actually a POW and eventually returned home. The fourth brother was pulled from combat and sent home so that his widowed mother would not be without a child. This was the basis for the movie “Saving Private Ryan.” What a sacrifice for a mother and a family!

At Gold Beach we saw the remnants of the man-made harbor that the Allied built in just 3 weeks. Building it allowed immediate and safe access to the continent for over 2 million soldiers that directly entered through the port along with millions of tons of supplies that were critical for the war effort.

This is an amazing bit of technology. Winston Churchill said that that they would need a port once they had captured the beaches and told his people that “Now that I have envisioned it, you figure it out.” And they did! They created huge floating pieces of a breakwater that were built in the U.K., Ireland and Scotland and towed across the ocean. Once they were in place and semi submerged, they connected them together into a line that was 10 miles long to make the harbor!

It was really an amazing feat of engineering. Intended to last only a few weeks, it was used for many months until other commercial ports could be captured and cleared. Brilliant!

I have a lot more to share with you in future posts. Meanwhile, if you want to see a lot of pictures from our trip, look us up on Facebook, either Gun Club or America or AGI.

Best regards from Europe,

Gene Kelly,

President, The American Gunsmithing Institute and the Gun Club of America