Wednesday, 2 June 2010

I have been to ... Belgium and France

To be precise, my wife and I went to Zeebrugge and Le Havre courtesy of P&O Cruise's MV Arcadia, and from those ports we travelled various other places in Belgium and France.

Day 1: Zeebrugge

We arrived in Zeebrugge on Monday morning, and awoke to find that the sun was obscured by rainclouds. As usual our ship had moored alongside the main Belgian Navy base, and I was please to see that one of the two Belgian frigates – the Louise-Marie (F931) – was in port. She was originally the Dutch Karel Doorman Class HNLMS Willem van der Zaan, but was rechristened on 8th April 2008 when she was commissioned into the Belgian Navy.

What was a surprise was the presence of a Russian Federation Navy Ropucha Class landing ship. I was unable to identify which of the four ships of this class that are currently in service with the Baltic Fleet this was, but I was struck by the smart turn-out of her crew.

This class carries an interesting armament that includes the 76 mm AK-176 DP Gun, seen below.

Also moored alongside was the Godetia (A960), an lightly armed auxiliary vessel that has three main tasks:
  • Fishery protection
  • Acting as a support and supply ship for minesweepers
  • Acting as a command ship for mine countermeasure operations
During the afternoon the Godetia was joined by two other auxiliary vessels, Stern (A693) – an ex-Swedish Coast Guard vessel (Karlskrona KBV-171) – and ...

... the A955.

What is interesting is that I cannot find any ship numbered A955 listed as being part of the Belgian Navy ... except for a ship – the Eupen – that was decommissioned in 1966.

Whilst in Zeebrugge my wife and I used the opportunity to travel to Bruges (Brugge) by train. Despite the rain we had a pleasant few hours there, and I managed to buy several small model buildings that I will be able to use for wargaming.

We also saw the following statue of King Albert, who led the Belgians during the First World War.

Day 2: Le Havre

Our day in Le Havre was taken up with an organised trip to see the British D-Day landing beaches. We began with a trip to the British Cemetery at Ranville.

Like all British Commonwealth War Grave Commission cemeteries, this was immaculately maintained. Every one of the cemeteries they maintain is dominated by a standard cross that bears a sword as part of its design.

One grave in particular caught my eye; it was that of Lance Corporal H Andrews.

The fact that he was Jewish was what first drew my attention to his grave, but when I read the inscription at the bottom I began to realise how unique his grave was.

The inscription reads as follows:
6436352 L.CPL
11TH AUGUST 1944 AGE 22

This young man had obviously fled Germany during his youth, and then joined the British Army so that he could fight against Nazism. He paid the ultimate price for taking this course of action, and in remembrance I placed a stone on the gravestone as a small token of my gratitude to him and all the others who were buried with him.

I also spent some time by the memorial to the fallen of the 6th Airborne Division, the division with which my own father served as a member of 53rd (Worcestershire Yeomanry) Airlanding Light Regiment, RA).

From there we travelled on to the famous Pegasus Bridge over the Caen Canal.

We were dropped of on the side of the canal where Major John Howard and his men – most of whom were members of D Company, 2nd Battalion, The Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry – landed by glider early in the morning of 6th June 1944. The spot is marked by a bust of Major Howard.

We then walked over the bridge (which is still 'guarded' by a rusting German antitank gun!) ...

... to the Café Gondrée, the first building to be liberated on D-Day.

This end of the bridge is also 'guarded', this time by a Close Support version of a Centaur tank. This is armed with a 95mm howitzer, and served as part of the Royal Marine Armoured Support Group on D-Day and until the unit was disbanded fourteen days after the landings took place.

After a trip to Arromanche for lunch and a visit to the Musée de Débarquement, we then travelled on to the German coastal defence battery at Longues-sur-Mer.

This battery was built and crewed by the German Navy until just before the D-Day landings took place. As a result the guns used were standard 150mm naval guns (as used a secondary armament on the German battleships and battle-cruisers) mounted in individual concrete casemates.

Each casemate had its own ammunition supply system that operated in a similar way to that used aboard ship.

Three of the casemates remain in reasonable condition, as does the central command center which is on the cliffs overlooking the sea.

In the run-up to the D-Day landings this battery was repeatedly bombed, but it remained largely undamaged. On D-Day it engaged the Allied Fleet, and was in turn fired at by HMS Ajax, USS Arkansas, and the French cruiser Georges Leygues. Eventually four of the three guns were silenced, and the battery was finally captured on D-Day+1 by the 231st Infantry Brigade.

Displayed alongside the newly-built visitors' centre is a Russian 76.2mm M1902/30 Divisional Gun. This had been captured by the Germans at some time after July 1941, and was deployed to defend the battery from landward attacks.

This marked the end of our tour, and we returned tired and somewhat damp to our ship, just in time to sail for Southampton.


  1. A955 seems to be the Belgian Auxiliary Navy tug BNS Mier - see


  2. Alex,

    That's her!

    Many thanks for identifying this vessel for me. I had looked in several of my reference books, but had so far failed to find a name for her.

    All the best,


  3. The 'original' Pegasus Bridge is in the nearby museum together with a stunning Mecanno model. The (much wider) current bridge is a postwar replacement. Interestingly (and predictably) I took some virtually identical photos of that part of Normandy during my visit in 2005!


  4. Tim,

    I visited the museum at Pegasus Bridge in April last year (see Seen on my travels ... the Pegasus Bridge Museum) and also walked over the original Pegasus Bridge.

    All the best,


  5. Great photos! My wife and I visited the American beaches a few years ago, as well as the Musée de Débarquement in Arromanches and the battery at Longues-sur-Mer. Never been to the British or Canadian sectors -- we'll have to do that next time. I'd love to see the bridge over the Caen canal. Thanks for posting your pictures!

  6. Chris,

    I am glad that you enjoyed seeing them!

    A trip to the Pegasus Bridge is a must, as is a visit to the nearby museum that Tim Gow refers to.

    All the best,