Les Longues Battery
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- Last updated: 16/06/2023
Today, the D514 coastal road running along the length of the Normandy coast in France allows tourists to easily drive the route connecting all the D-Day landing beaches. It does not matter if the tour begins at the western or eastern end, because the route allows stops to be made at all the salient points, such as Courseulles, Bernieres and Lion-sur-Mer. Certainly one point to be visited along the route is that of Longue-sur-Mer, lying north, just off the D514, between Port-en-Bessin-Huppain and Arromanches.
The village is very quiet, but at a junction, with traffic lights, there is a tourism sign directing visitors to the ‘Site de la batterie de Longues-sur-Mer’. It is an intriguing invitation to make a detour from the main road, but it is well worth the effort. For the curious, they have a huge surprise ahead, while for those who know about the site, they are rewarded with seeing an area which is still giving up its history.
It is well known how the Allied planners identified targets which had to be captured or destroyed in support of the landings. These were mainly batteries of coastal artillery, such as Merville and Point du Hoc, which were attacked by airborne and amphibious assaults, respectively. The site at Longues-sur-Mer, like other artillery sites, was engaged by naval gunfire. However, unlike others, it refused to give in and fought back against its opponent. Reading about the events which took place here on the 6th of June 1944 is fascinating, but standing on the ground where it happened makes it an incredible experience.
The site was unique along this stretch of the Atlantic Wall, being the only battery served by around 184 Kriegsmarine (navy) personnel. However, they were under the direction of the Army Coastal Artillery Battalion 1260. It covered an area of 500m2 with four casemates, each of which contained a 150mm TK C/36 naval gun, which had a range of up to 12 miles. Surrounded by minefields and barbed wire, along with a 20mm AA gun and 14 local defensive positions, it was a self-contained site like that at Merville.
Aerial reconnaissance kept it under surveillance to monitor building developments, which included locating the forward observation control bunker right by the edge of the cliff. It was decided to give the task of neutralising this site to HMS Ajax of the Royal Navy.
In the days leading up to the landings, this formidable target had been pounded by 1,500 tons of bombs. Unfortunately, the only real damage done was inconveniently cutting the telephone cables from the command bunker to the gun positions.
The calibre of the guns made it possible for them to fire on both Omaha beach to the west and Gold beach to the east. Indeed, they did just that by straddling USS Arkansas, before switching to fire on HMS Bulolo. From a distance of six miles, HMS Ajax opened fire on the site with her 6” guns and in the space of 15 minutes fired some 114 rounds, scoring a direct hit on one of the casemates, destroying it in an instant. The other guns continued to fire and kept up intermittent fire throughout the day, before falling silent at around 6pm. At around midday on the 7th of June, men of C Company the Devonshire Regiment arrived to secure the site and took 120 prisoners.
Today, the craters from the bombing and shelling have been filled and returned to farmland. However, the casemates still remain, three of which still have the original guns left in place. The fourth, which was destroyed, stands as a tragic reminder of what happened that fateful day. The roof of the position has collapsed inwards and sections of the barrel lie scattered across the field, visible in the grass, where they were flung by the blast. The site, otherwise, remains very much as it must have looked when the men of the Devonshire approached the location. A series of information boards have recently been erected across the site to inform visitors of the part played by the battery on D-Day.
The site is open and free to enter throughout the year, but the on-site facilities are closed in the winter. It is best to begin a visit by the car park and follow the circuitous pathway that leads past the four casemates. These still stand impressively with the guns pointing out to sea, as if they are still ready to engage the Allies. The concrete walls and roofs are 2m thick and the small ‘pock marks’ are not impact sites from Ajax’s guns, but deliberate features. These indentations were to allow vegetation and grass to grow naturally as camouflage.
This is a site which is still revealing surprises, such as the Russian-made field gun discovered a couple of years ago during ground clearance work. It now stands on display by the car park. Battlefield archaeological digs have revealed more of the concrete emplacements, showing more of what the site originally looked like.
Following the path towards the sea, visitors pass ammunition storage facilities, a mortar pit and other features. All these are open to enter and examine. Continuing along, the forward observation bunker comes into view, perched above the rock face with its 200ft drop to the sea. It has two levels, both of which can be accessed to give a defender’s eye view of the panoramic scene. Had the guns not been silenced, the chaos they could have inflicted would have been devastating.
The site has a good car park, toilet facilities, small shop and the pathway around the site is fairly level, making it accessible to wheelchair users. Unfortunately, the site does not have a dedicated website, but a search on the internet using the location name as keywords will turn up a selection of results, including positive reviews on Trip Adviser. Close by there is the seaside town of Arromanches, with cafes and bars along with a unique 360º cinema telling the story of the campaign. Plus, there is a museum dedicated to the story of the Mulberry Harbours.