A British M4A4 Firefly at the Overlord MuseumD-DAY 80th | NORMANDY 2024 – Part 1

Disneyland Paris, Normandy Arrival, & Overlord Museum
I’m kicking off my multi-part series of blog updates about my adventures in Normandy, France, two weeks ago during the 80th Anniversary of D-Day! These posts are going to be filled with lots of images and captions, so click through the photos to read the story! I plan for several weeks of these updates, so keep checking back for more.

It began in 2019… after visiting Normandy for the 75th anniversary (which you can go back and see the cover on blog https://1944gpw.warbirdphotos.us/blog/75th-anniversary-of-dday-recap/ ) I had it in mind that I wanted to go back again, especially to see all the things I missed the first time. So, I made plans to go back five years later for the 80th. While it feels like those five years came and went fast, we had a global pandemic, inflations, conflicts, and all manner of things. Going back to France would be very welcome after everything! Originally, I was thinking I might be able to take my Jeep with me, which wouldn’t be that difficult to do. But this trip would also include some time spent in Paris and London, and having a Jeep would be tricky as I’d have to store it somewhere safe during the time we weren’t in Normandy. So, sadly, I decided against it. I soon found myself on a flight to Paris, and soon I was in Bayeux where I’d be staying and welcomed with sights like this.

So this journey you’re about to go on over the next few weeks through these updates are going to cover a lot of different places around Normandy during the 80th anniversary. There were many hurdles and frustrations with road closures, but some fun surprises and amazing sights to see. But before I begin this multi-post story about my time in Normandy for the 80th (like the big Jeep meet which will be covered in a later post), my first ‘Jeep sighting’ didn’t occur in Normandy when I got to France, but somewhere else… somewhere with a talking mouse.

One thing we (my girlfriend and I) missed out on in 2019 was visiting Disneyland Paris. We opted to go to Versailles instead of the theme park, which I enjoyed seeing. But since we were coming back to France, we put Disney on our radar. We’re both Disney park fans, and I live in Southern California not far from the original Disneyland. So, what does Disneyland Paris have to do with military Jeeps? Well, it was later in the day during our full day at the main Disneyland Paris park and we were walking over to the Indiana Jones rollercoaster ride…

And that’s when I spotted this gem sitting off in the bushes at the exit to this ride. A rather complete (from what I could tell) Willys MB! I’ve known that the Disney company has used Jeeps before. In fact, in Disneyland here in California there used to be a Jeep that was near the Tiki room that had refreshments sold in the body (I know who now owns that Jeep, it has been restored!). In Walt Disney World, there was a Jeep in their former studio tour with the two full-scale replicas of P-40 Warhawks used in the 2001 Pearl Harbor movie.

This Jeep, while very complete even with top bows and hardware, also have a lot of extras. It appears the body is ‘lifted’ from the frame, which is evident by the radiator sitting lower behind the grille. The shocks are also almost fully extended. There are also hydraulic steering assists added to the front axle. But, it has the correct axles, the correct bumper, marker lights, and even the wheels look mostly correct.

The inner windshield piece has been flipped upside down for some reason, but the windshield Caspian studs are even there. All in all, not a bad Jeep if you were starting a restoration project. I wish I could take a peak inside! It would be neat to see it when it snows at the park in the winter. It does appear to have a thick paint job, which will help from rusting, but I’m sure over time this vehicle will start to have issues.

Turning another corner, I spotted yet another Jeep! This time what appears to be an M-38. This one you could peak inside, with some very interesting chairs. I’m not sure if the dark dirty floors are Disney magic or actually dirty. There’s also a hidden mickey on the dash.

But those two Jeeps weren’t the only ones I saw… in fact when I was on the Disneyland Paris railroad taking the grand circle tour around the park, in what seemed like a brief second, we came across a field that, low and behold, had another World War 2 Jeep! It appears to be another Willys MB Jeep. Again, rather complete with top bow hardware, gauges, and more. Interesting placement of the axe on the passenger side handle. I literally had two seconds, it felt like, to snap these shots before the field was obscured by trees. A lonely retirement for this poor Jeep!

After a few days of fun at Disneyland Paris, it was time to head off to Normandy! It didn’t take long once we got into the area to spot the very first Jeep driving around. Knowing how many vehicles invaded Normandy during the 75th anniversary five years ago, I knew this wasn’t even the tip of the iceberg when it came to Jeeps and vehicles I’d see this year, but little did I know how much BIGGER the 80th actually was going to be.

One of the things I love about Normandy, especially during the anniversaries, is the celebrations and decorations in just about every city. Especially Bayeux, which greets you with large lit-up tributes such as this with Eisenhower making the famous decision ‘Okay, we’ll go’ green lighting the invasion.

And another one, of many, which showcases the anniversary as a whole… you have the invasion on the beach with soldiers coming ashore from landing craft, crosses representing those who died on that day, and those who come to pay their respects.

And when I saw everyone gets into the commemoration spirit, I mean EVERYONE. Every store seems to have displays like these no matter where you go. Actual World War 2 uniforms and equipment sit in the windows of hundreds of stores all across Normandy. Talented window painting artists adorn the glass with scenes of liberation. It’s hard not to get in the festive mood when you’re surrounded by all this, and it’s one of the things I love about Normandy.

Looking down Bayeux’s main street, you’re greeted with the sight of flags from many of the nations that took part in the liberation of Europe. I feel there were more American flags on display in all the various towns of Normandy than most cities actually in America!

And reenactors are everywhere. I mean everywhere! Decked out in authentic uniforms, original and reproduction, celebrating pretty much every single unit from airborne to armored, Army Air Force to US Navy. And while you’d assume them all to be Americans since they are wearing US uniforms… nope, more often than not they are French residents who put on the US uniforms in dedication!

And just a mere few minutes in the town, I’d already started to see some Jeeps like this one tucked away in a random parking lot (ironically where I first saw a Jeep in Bayeux five years earlier). Quite the security lock on it going from the wheel to the safety strap eye bolt!

And walking to the hotel from where we parked another Jeep! Up to two Jeeps before I’d even checked in for the hotel! Of course, I knew that these were just the tip of a massive-sized iceberg when it came to Jeeps I’d see! At this point, I was still trying to document EVERY Jeep I ran across… much like I did during the 75th. But very soon I’d give up on that for this trip.

After checking into the hotel, I went for a walk down the main street of Bayeux and ran into this heavily loaded-up medical Dodge WC-51 sitting next to a restaurant.

Walking back to the hotel, I stumbled across the first USAAF Jeep on the trip! This Willys MB Jeep (with GPW springs) carries the name ‘Eliza’.

And not only was it USAAF, but it was a 306th Bomb Group Jeep! I’ve found it rare enough to come across USAAF Jeeps, but even more rare to see Bomb Group Jeeps as a lot of people opt for Fighter Groups. It’s a very nice restoration and, as you can probably already see, has some unique USAAF paint markings.

I’ve always toyed with adding extra white splashes to my 95th Bomb Group Jeep, much like you can see on this Jeep’s fenders and rear tub. This was often done to Jeeps in England, especially on airfields, to add extra visibility in typical foggy conditions. I’ve seen photos of wartime USAAF Jeeps with paint on the tires, handles, all the way down the side of the fenders, windshield, etc. for this common problem. I’ve been trying to find photos of Jeeps at RAF Horham, where the 95th was located, to see if any of them carried these unique white streaks, but haven’t come up with anything so far.

Theft is a big problem in Normandy with Jeeps. I’ve read stories of people who’ve had their Jeeps stolen right under their noses, so I completely understand the extra security, like this lock on here. There are many debates on the best way(s) to secure a Jeep from being taken due to this issue.

And a final look at this fantastic Jeep in front of the Bayeux city hall with the 80th light display.

Moving on, I walked just a few steps and found another Jeep barreling down the road. If you haven’t been to Normandy before, especially on a large anniversary like the 80th, you’ve never gotten to experience just how many vehicles descend into Normandy… especially Jeeps. Already you can see I’ve found several vehicles in one area of one town in just a few hours. But that is literally NOTHING compared to what the rest of Normandy, especially near the beaches and major D-Day landmark cities/churches. To try and convey what it’s like, the next few set of photos will cover the vehicle (jeep) experience.

No matter where you go, there’s a Jeep. Typically friends or family going from one event to another, the majority of them are not in uniform and are just out for a nice drive. You never know when one might pop up. Going down a random road that Google sent you on? JEEP! Going down what appears to be a one-lane road (which is really two-way) and turning on a blind corner due to the large hedgerows and trees? JEEP! Walking down to the beach? JEEP! It’s a Jeepers paradise!

And it’s not just single Jeeps… there are mini-convoys everywhere. Intermixed in with the traffic and other cars, you’ll have something like this with a really neat assortment of different Jeeps.

Turning left or right into traffic? Well, you might even become a part of a convoy as we accidentally did here! Jeeps ahead of us and Jeeps behind us. This happened many times during our time there.

And it’s great to see the comradery between all the different vehicle owners, like this Jeep driver waving at a passing GMC CCKW 352 ‘Jimmy’, one of three in a mini convoy that passed the other direction.

Even on the freeway, you’ll find mini-convoys or individual vehicles pretty much all over. It gets to the point that seeing military vehicles, especially Jeeps, come to be expected just as much as you’d expect to see a normal car on the road.

But it’s not just Jeeps on the roads; literally, there are Jeeps everywhere. Like this one hiding behind this stone wall. With the crowds this year for the 80th, we found ourselves parking somewhat far from where we wanted to go and just walking in order to not deal with the traffic jams and lack of parking. And for me, I could count on spotting a Jeep parked in front of random houses, parked on the side of the roads, tucked into little spots, in random grass fields, etc. The Jeep is the ultimate compact car, and with the celebrations going on, you could pretty much park them ANYWHERE.

It’s honestly really difficult to convey just how many there are. That is why I pretty quickly gave up on trying to document every one I saw. I felt that the 80th anniversary saw 2-3 times as many Jeeps as we saw for the 75th. I mean, there were pop up Jeep shops selling parts because of the sheer number of them in Normandy. Think about that for a second… I’ll come back to that thought a bit later in this update.

So now that you might have a slight idea of what the atmosphere is like in Normandy (but really, it’s way bigger than you think), let’s dive into the very first location we visited. During the 75th, I’d somehow managed to miss one of the larger museums in Normandy: The Overlord Museum. It was one of the ‘must see’ places for the 80th that I had planned to go to, but little did I know just how massive this museum and surrounding fields would be…

Right away I knew it was going to be crazy as parking was nuts. And there were military vehicles coming and going at a pace I’d never seen. After parking and walking to the museum, you’re greeted with this sight (among a lot of other vehicles) as this museum is a MASSIVE vehicle gathering/encampment for the 80th. The massive gatherin is called the ‘Overlord Historical Days’ event. Tanks, wartime civilian vehicles, halftracks, troop carriers, American, German, etc etc. You name it, it’s there. This has to be one of the biggest and busiest vehicle spots in Normandy for the 80th. Let’s dive in!

I was seriously impressed with the amount of German vehicles at this gathering. Just look at all the exotic things in this shot beyond the Kübelwagens!

Most of the vehicles were giving rides as well. This Sd. Kfz. 11/4 Nebelkraftwagen looks like the German equivalent of the American HalfTrack. Behind it is a smaller Sd. Kfz. 10.

Another really impressive heavy metal vehicle was this well-armored Sd. Kfz. 7/1 with a 2cm Flakvierling 38 quadruple anti-aircraft gun system!

A lot of tracked vehicles in this gathering/camp including this Steyr Raupenschlepper Ost (‘Caterpillar tractor east’).

And there were several American heavy tanks including this assortment of a M24 Chaffee, M5A1 Stuart, and M4A3 Sherman ‘Montereau II’ tanks.

Always neat to see different variations, like this M4A2 (top) and the M4A3 (bottom).

Another variation, a really impressive Sherman M4A4 Firefly with awesome camo was moving around tearing up the earth.

Looking like it just came off the beach, a M4A2 was either just arriving or about to go to another location. Vehicles were coming and going the entire time I was there.

More Heavy metal… 17pdr SP Achilles (British version of the M-10 Tank Destroyer) and a M7B1 Priest.

A popular attraction was this very rare French Renault R35 that was driving around.

This large 8 ton Semi Track Sd. Kfz. 7 was really impressive. It’s the first time I’d seen one. It was giving rides to people.

The reenactors on top of this M24 Chaffee were having a great time.

The M4A2 Sherman Tank went out and did some laps. I tried to shoot a slower shutter speed while panning with the tanks to give them a bit of motion in the photos.

This really impressive US Army M26A1 ‘Dragon Wagon’ tractor made the rounds a few times. Named ‘Miss America’, this was one of the more unique American vehicles there. These were used to recover heavy equipment that might have been knocked out like tanks and other armored vehicles.

Two more large haulers, both are (Corbitt) Kenworth 10-ton 6×6 heavy wrecking trucks with the top being the earlier M1 with closed cab and the bottom an open cab M1A1. The rear boom winch could carry 47,500 pounds (23.75 tons)!

A really rare Horch Kfz. 21 901 Kommandeurscabriolet (Command Car Convertible) was also making the rounds.

So many wreckers/tractors/troop carriers! That’s a lot of American muscle there.

And you might be thinking… what, no Jeeps? Actually, there were SO many Jeeps there, I found it impossible to capture them all. And while I love Jeeps, those heavy vehicles were the stars of this gathering! But still, let’s take a look at the Jeeps that had gathered! In the morning, there was a large line of Jeeps that started to form in a row just out front of the museum.

It’s always neat for me to see the variations between all the Jeeps. This Jeep has some interesting additions including turn signals, an interesting fender blackout light I can’t seem to identify (looks similar to the German one, but it’s not), and a very large mirror. The handcuff-looking security line was interesting!

This Jeep had ‘Photo’ on the windshield. I like the vintage tripod mounted between the shovel and the windshield.

I remember seeing this Jeep from 2019! I loved the photographer aspect of it and the fact it had two B-17 Flying Fortress nose art pinups on it (‘Pink Lady’ and ‘Memphis Belle’).

So many Jeeps, and even ones painted from different countries. Note the different vehicles in the background.

This 1942 Harley Davidson Motorcycle was one of make bikes there. Here it sits in front of a US Navy Jeep.

This very brightly colored US Navy radio Jeep was all decked out with a tow bar, a large antenna, and pulling a trailer. First time I’ve seen a Jeep in a sky-blue/cyan color. I’m pretty sure that’s not spec for Navy, but it is an attention-getter!

Everywhere I turned, I found more Jeeps. Here’s a long Jeep in 2nd Armored markings sitting next to one of the many tent vendors outside selling military surplus items.

This Jeep, named ‘Lizzie’, had quite the collection of German boxes in front, and the back was loaded with German gas cans. Not sure if there were recent purchases from the various vendors here or his actual Jeep display.

Two more Jeeps, both MBs. The right one was all decked out with radios, antenna, siren, and front Capstan winch. Note all the modern French police bikes in the back!

British BSA WD M20 and Matchless WG3L 350 motorcycles. Check out the M8 light armored car built by Ford in the background. This tank actually is still in service today in some countries.

And even more M20 and WG3L bikes (and various variations!).

And more Jeeps kept showing up. So many Jeeps! Unmarked ones, US Army ones, so many variations. The middle photo Jeep looks almost like it was just restored.

And it’s great to see things like the tow bar on this GPW Jeep. This Jeep has also clearly been in the dirt!

And I mean seriously, the Jeeps just kept on arriving. This was only the first full day in Normandy, and about the time I decided I wasn’t going to even try to catch every Jeep. It was impossible. I’m sure just in the hour I was inside the museum another 20/30 Jeeps came and went.

I loved the sign on the front of this Dodge WC-51.

This trio of Fench Citroën Traction vehicles in three variations. Staff car, medical car, and free French resistance were just leaving as I exited the museum.

And everywhere you turned, there were more little groupings of vehicles outside the museum. All sorts of different types and sizes.

There were several reenactor encampments there as well, including this nice American one with… as you guessed, more Jeeps.

Then there was the large marketplace area next to the museum where there were LOTS more Jeeps and a ton of vendors selling military surplus, WW2/D-Day related crafts, WW2 and military artifacts, books, reproduction items, and so much more. It’s like a flea market for military (mainly WW2).

It’s just amazing to me how many vehicles were everywhere. I swear, in the time it took me to go through all the vendors (and purchase several things), this grouping of vehicles changed several times. They just kept coming and going.

Remember how I said that there were SO many Jeeps in Normandy that there were pop-up stores? Here’s one of them, from @[100047377249914:2048:JEEP SUD EST] selling all sorts of parts for Jeeps right there in this marketplace. And people were shopping there. I’m sure they made quite a bit as with that many Jeeps all over, there were bound to be many that break down and need parts. In fact, I saw at least 2 posts on various Jeep groups on Facebook during my time in Normandy saying their Jeep broke down and they needed parts.

This well-used US Navy Jeep looked really great. And another interesting security device! This one is pretty good, it is like a ‘club’ that locks the steering wheel and clutch.

This really nice looking Seabees US Navy Jeep looks to have been just painted recently!

And the Jeeps continued. It got to the point where I started to only document ones I found interesting.

Tucked away in one corner was this neat 7.7 cm Feldkanone 96 neuer Art. From what I can tell, this is a WW1 German artillery gun, but in WW2 German colors perhaps?

One of the other reenactor camps had this really great American Red Cross MB Jeep.

And another USAAF Jeep! This time a really neat checkered MB Jeep marked as 355th Fighter Group, 358th Fighter Squadron. During WW2, the 358th FS flew P-47 Thunderbolts and escorted B-17 bomber groups on missions. They upgraded to P-51D Mustangs in early 1944. The patience and masking it must take to do these checkered Jeeps are very impressive. Also, something different, look at where the filterette normally would be in a Jeep in the bottom photo. It appears to be an ignition switch (or kill switch). Interesting idea! That way you can have the original keyless style ignition on the dash without the Jeep always being ‘hot’.

A nice Dodge WC-54 Ambulance and a M3 Halftrack.

This GPW Jeep had a special message for ‘Adolf’!

I liked these two Jeeps. The top MB Jeep ‘Copenhagen’ is decked out as a 4th Division motion picture Jeep. The bottom photo has ‘Sally’, a MB with a nice Donald Duck windshield art.

One of the more elaborate locking systems I’ve seen for a Jeep. This custom lock is much like an enhanced ‘club’ locking the steering wheel and accelerator. Note the modern device under the dash.

This really odd-looking French Laffly V15T artillery tractor was parked with the tanks as I was leaving along with this small Franco-Italian Simca 5 car. The Simca was actually designed by Fiat in 1936.

Another look at the Sd. Kfz. 11/4 Nebelkraftwagen.This large (Mercedes) Daimler-Benz DB10 (Sd.Kfz. 8 ) also joined the line-up.

This large (Mercedes) Daimler-Benz DB10 (Sd.Kfz. 8 ) also joined the line-up.

And another example of the random military popup vendors, at the other end of the parking lot (I don’t think it was even associated with everything going on at the museum) was someone selling a bunch of World War 2 artifacts including a Jeep trailer (right). If only I could get it home!

Walking back to the car from this event, you find… up, more Jeeps just parked in the lot with all the other cars! Here a wartime Jeep sits with a post-war M38A1.

And even more Jeeps. You have Jeeps going to see other Jeeps! After being in a bulk car, there were several times we wished we had the small size of a Jeep to park!

And to wrap up this part one of my 80th Anniversary of D-Day adventures (This blog only got through this ONE location on the first day!), one final image from the Overlord Museum, and the incredible vehicle/reenactor experience they had. This was one of the largest events/locations we ended up going to during the entire trip, so it needed its own update to kick things off. This last photo, of the parking lot looking into the tank/vehicle area behind them, showcases a neat lineup of wartime Jeeps and a modern Jeep. To get through the entire trip, I might be posting two of these updates a week, so keep checking back!
Till the next update…