D-Day 80th - A row of Sherman Tanks (and a single M7 Priest) at Camp Geronimo at Sainte-Mère-EgliseD-DAY 80th | NORMANDY 2024 – Part 2

Overlord Museum, Sainte-Mère-Eglise, & Camp Geronimo
The next part of my 80th Anniversary of D-Day adventures in Normandy! Picking up where the last update left off, we jump back into the Overlord Museum. 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.

Part 2 – Picking up where we left off on the outside camp area of the Overlord Museum (‘Overlord Historical Days’), we’re going to travel inside the museum now and check it out. The outside was impressive enough with all the heavy armor and an insane number of vehicles coming and going!

So let’s go take a peak inside the museum. This was one of the few museums I missed five years ago when I was in Normandy for the 75th anniversary of D-Day. It was one of the highest things on my list for 2024’s visit! The museum is in Colleville-sur-Mer near the American Cemetery and Omaha Beach.

Stepping inside to the packed gift shop and entrance, the museum was just as crowded as the outside festivals were. Right away we’re greeted with what looks like a V-1 Flying Bomb rocket, but it’s actually a French copy… the ARSAERO CT 10 target drone. Still an imposing sight as you walk into the museum. Remember, it’s not the sound of the V-1 you needed to be afraid of in London, it was when the sound stopped as that’s when the rocket was falling to earth.

Right away we’re thrown into the D-Day landings as 1st Infantry Division soldiers take a German Panzerabwehrkanone 40 (aka Pak 40). A Sherman tank sits behind them on beach sand.

The dioramas are really amazing. A US soldier relaxes in the back while the one in front tried to figure out this awesome captured German Sd.Kfz 2 Kettenkrad.

M4A1 Sherman Tank sitting on beach sand in this huge D-Day beach landing diorama with a landing craft and other vehicles.

I really admire the French World War 2 museums, they really go all out with their immersive displays. Like this French town with a German Sd.Kfz. 250 half track, complete with walking infantry and a commanding officer up on top.

High above, a Royal Air Force Taylorcraft Auster Mk.5 (Reconnaissance plane) flies over a Flugzeugabwehrkanone 36 (Flak 36) ‘Acht-Acht’ anti-aircraft flak gun. This room was huge.

A US Army M3 Half Track comes ashore with 1st Infantry Division soldiers. A lot of the uniforms, set pieces, and artifacts are actually from D-Day.

One of the big highlights inside (and one of several amazing German tanks they own), is this damaged Panther Ausf tank. This Panther actually took part in the Battle of Normandy! It was captured in a small town called Rânes (about 55 miles inland from Omaha Beach) where it was repaired and used by the French Resistance against the Germans! Set up in a diorama of a tank repair depot, one of the rarest items here, aside from the tanks is the actual German Strabokran Gantry crane over the tank. It is one of the only complete examples in existence!

Another really rare German tank is this really nicely restored Panzer IV Ausf. H. They had a neat French building diorama behind the tank with stained glass windows (a digital display) that would ‘blow out’ randomly from tank fire (see the top image after they were ‘blown out’). A lot of things were behind glass and in hard-to-photograph lighting, but much of this was due to people possibly climbing on these displays.

This large diorama (this is only a quarter of it) showcases German soldiers taking a breather in front of a French Shell station. Love all the original artifacts in here. So detailed!

Another immersive diorama display you can walk through (with a great touch of the spiked fence to keep people out) is this French town. On the left is a Kfz.15 Horch 901 Staff Car and on the right is a Gleisketten-Lastkraftwagen 2-ton ‘Maultier’ (Sd. Kfz. 3b) in ‘found condition’. So much detail! I wish more museums when to this level of immersion.

And it wasn’t only American beach landings and German items, they had a nice section on the US Army Air Force with several mannequins with authentic uniforms and items. Note all the ‘gibson girl’ emergency survival signal equipment on the right.

They had this huge Federal tractor FMTC 94×43 had a flatbed loaded with stacks of jerry cans! So many!

They had the crashed engine section of a Messerschmitt Bf-109G, and next to it a crashed engine of a P-47 Thunderbolt complete with pilot mannequin.

As a US Army Air Force collector, I really appreciated the items they had, including this original bomber-mounted ANM2 .50 Cal Machine gun complete with flexible ammunition chute. That had several aircraft panels as well, including (as I recall) this partial B-24 star to the right.

And of course, you might be asking… you haven’t shown a single Jeep this update and the last update was full of them! Don’t worry, there’s quite a few in this update! For starters, here’s the really interesting Willys MB Jeep they had on display in ‘as found’ unrestored condition. I’ve never seen a Jeep mounted this way. Unfortunately, it was only illuminated on the one side. In fact, the info panel was so dark, that you needed to use your phone’s light to read it (as shown here). This Jeep had a lot of patina and looked to retain much of its wartime paint and parts.

It had what even looked like remnants of original canvas!

Looking at the underside, while there were some non-wartime changes to the Jeep I could see (like the passenger side tires, some screws/bolts, etc… it was a pretty cool time capsule. The Jeep is dated May of 1944, just one month earlier than my Jeep (although mine is a Ford GPW). It was discovered in September 2009 on a farm in Normandy about 115 miles away from Omaha Beach, pretty much as it was during the war. One can only wonder what happened to it after the war.

One interesting post-war addition was this auto tag from where it probably had service done sometime in its life. The address for this shop, located in Paris, still exists but is modernized and currently abandoned.

Another really cool Jeep artifact in the museum is this original canvas top. I love that you can just barely still see the painted ‘CAUTION LEFT HAND DRIVE ONLY’ warning on the right side.

And on the way out above the gift shop I spotted these original hoods including this Jeep one that has what appears to be original markings of a broken invasion star and medical cross!

And that concludes the tour of the Overlord Museum, but this update isn’t over yet! We still have lots to see. Before we leave the Overlord Museum, I wanted to point out that I saw several vendors selling reproduction wood cases for all sorts of things… including Coca-Cola cases! These were pretty impressive, and very close to the original. If you’ve followed my updates for a long time, you know I made my own one of these wartime Coca-Cola crates from scratch replicating the stenciling and structure of the crates down to the smallest detail and exact font replications. Kudos to the person making them!

It would be really easy to spend the entire day at the Overlord Museum and the outside camp/festival/market area, but we needed to move on as there was more to see this first full day in Normandy! And of course, as we traveled to the next destination, we found Jeeps on every corner, road shoulder, highway, street, and more. I had to laugh at the two markings on this Jeep with ‘Grease Monkey’ and ‘Bored’.

Did I mention there were Jeeps everywhere and in every little town? Like here where we drove through a random small town on the way to the next place, and there were three Jeeps just parked there. As I mentioned in the last update, it’s hard to convey just how immersive this all felt when, no matter where you went, you would see droves of military vehicles, mainly Jeeps! In fact, as we were driving along, I just happened to spot a little sign that had a Jeep picture and an arrow on it, I looked over and saw something that made us stop and turn around, and go back…

In the parking lot of an old church and mostly obscured from the road by large hedgerows, we stumbled across a Jeep parts pop-up store! Yes, these are almost all Jeep parts for sale, mostly reproduction, but some NOS and original. I couldn’t believe it. They were literally there for people with Jeeps (and also Dodge vehicles) who had issues and needed parts, or wanted to pick up some things for their vehicles. They had pretty much everything and anything you could need from gas tanks to fire extinguishers, fan belts to blackout lights. I couldn’t believe how much they had. And I would have totally missed them had I not seen that little sign with an arrow. I ended up buying a new (NOS) hood latch to eventually replace the one on my Jeep that’s failing, and two Ford F-marked cable clips for the engine bay to replace my non-F-marked ones. What you can’t see is the really amazing large church behind this semi-truck and equally old cemetery. It was one of the weirdest most surprising things we stumbled across the entire trip, but really neat!

Moving on to the next destination: Sainte-Mère-Eglise! We knew it would be insane busy there since it was the day before the actual 80th anniversary, but we weren’t prepared for just how busy. I remembered that back five years ago during the 75th anniversary, the town center had turned into a big party zone with live music, food vendors, vehicles, and more. Arriving at the main exit for Sainte-Mère-Eglise, the backup of cars was huge! So we opted to go past the town and try to come back to it. That worked well, but we still had to park nearly a mile away and walk. Upon arriving at the town center, we saw a massive crowd of people lining the streets. It looked like some sort of parade…

Turns out, it was! A Parade of the most VIP people of the entire 80th Anniversary of D-Day. Forget Presidents and dignitaries… these guys are the true honored guests. That’s right, it was a parade of World War 2 veterans! And there were a surprising amount of them! They were being pushed down the parade around by US active service members. American Airlines had flown them, and many of their families, in for the D-Day celebrations. It was a wonderful parade to watch! Sadly, it was shorter than it should have been, with so many World War 2 vets gone now.

Some of the vets were in incredible shape, like this one named Dave (I didn’t catch his last name) standing and waving to the crowd while riding in this Dodge weapons carrier!

Once the parade was finished, we then headed towards the main square. I think it’s time for another Jeep sighting photo! Here’s one hiding behind a stone wall as we walked our way in! No one paid it any mind, walking past it, as Jeeps were as common as a Starbucks is here! If I park my Jeep in a parking lot, I’ll get all sorts of people taking a look at it and snapping photos here in Southern California… but that just goes to show you how many military vehicles were there!

Did I mention that Sainte-Mère-Eglise was packed? I did? Well, here’s another photo to show just that as we headed into the main square. If you don’t know your D-Day history or have never been to France, you might not know why Sainte-Mère-Eglise is so popular. Take note at the flags strung up top… 101st Airborne and 82nd Airborne flags with American flags…

And that’s because, on the night before the D-Day landings, US Airborne troops were dropped from C-47 Skytrains into Normandy, with members of the 101st and 82nd Airborne Divisions famously landing inside this square in Sainte-Mère-Eglise next to the iconic church.

This iconic stone marker (which are all over Normandy officially marking major locations) tells the story in French and English of the Airborne drops. During the night of June 5th into the morning of June 6th, paratroopers were dropped behind the German lines in France in preparation for D-Day. Due to the chaotic nature of the invasion from the air, the paratroopers were dropped all over Normandy, sometimes miles from where they were supposed to be dropped. On the early morning of June 6th at 1:40am paratroopers were dropped over the town. A fire was raging on one of the buildings after a stray bomb had his during an aerial attack, illuminating the paratroopers coming down resulting in heavy casualties from the Germans in the town. It wasn’t until 5am that the town would be captured once the 3rd Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment attacked.

The town was important as it was part of the main artery the Germans would need to take to reinforce the beaches in a counterattack once the D-Day landings happened. By taking the town, they could block any counterattack. The church, built in the 11th Century (1080-1082 possibly), survived the battle of the town and continues to hold services to this day. It is also the icon of the town. There are still many bullet hits visible on the church to this day. To the far left, you can just see some of the white tents from the large food festival they were having with all sorts of different food vendors.

The church itself pays homage to the D-Day landings with a rather unique tribute. Caught on one of the spires, a fully replicated 101st Airborne mannequin hangs 365 days a year. Why, you say? On the morning of June 6th, 101st 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment paratrooper John Steele famously landed on the tower roof, sliding down and getting caught on the spire. He hung there from his parachute for two hours pretending to be dead so the Germans would not shoot him. Wounded from flak while parachuting down, the Germans finally noticed him and took him prisoner. Four hours later he escaped and managed to link up with the rest of his division as they retook the town. After the war, he came back many times to Sainte-Mère-Eglise and became an honorary citizen of the town until he died in 1969.

Inside the church is this amazing stained glass commemorating the liberation via paratroopers on June 6th with the Virgin Mary.

I wanted to visit the nearby Airborne Museum (just to the right of this photo and a 2-minute walk), but they closed an hour earlier than their posted hours. Another amazing immersive museum, I’d heard they made some big changes to the displays since I was last there for the 75th five years ago so I wanted to check out the updates. So we had to skip it for this trip, but I highly recommend it otherwise! Instead, we hung out in the main square next to the church and checked out the vehicle display they had going on. There were several French and Free French Resistance vehicles on display.

And, of course, there were Jeeps! Just three of them, but all representing the 82nd Airborne, 505th that liberated the town.

A nice BMW R71 motorcycle with sidecar was on display as well.

As the day was getting late, the French vehicles departed the square. The curved white building in the background is the Airborne Museum.

We were about to leave Sainte-Mère-Eglise when I remembered about another huge camp… one we had seen and enjoyed during the 75th anniversary. I had almost forgotten about it this time because we’d come into the town from the backside instead of the front like we did five years ago! We rushed over to what’s known as Camp Geronimo. It was towards the end of the day and they were almost closed, but I was able to get in with about an hour to spare to walk around. This camp is another massive immersive camp comprised of many different reenactor and vehicle groups.

And yes, they had Jeeps. LOTS of Jeeps. And a wide assortment of Jeeps. Since it was later in the day, the camp was not as crowded as it would have been just a few hours earlier, so it was easier to get shots with minimal, or no, people in my shots.

There’s so much to see here that I’m only going to scratch the surface and showcase some of the vehicles and displays I thought were interesting, such as this Jeep with a large Bettie Boop pinup on the side. I’ve often thought about putting a pinup (not Bettie Boop) in that area on my Jeep. And yes, there are some heavy metal toys in the background, we’ll get to those in a few.

This is where I saw my first GMC DUKW amphibious vehicle on the trip. Such a unique design to this vehicle. But, let’s get to the main stars of this camp…

Yup. That’s what I call firepower. An incredible (unbelievable) collection of Sherman Tanks (and a M7 Priest in front) line the entrance to the camp. And they range in all manner of variations from the turrets to hull designs. I had to wait quite a while to get this split-second shot with no one in the frame. You can’t help but be in awe when you see this sight. But that wasn’t all!

Looking to my right from that same spot, two more Sherman Tanks point back at the other ones. I don’t think I’ve ever seen this many Shermans in one spot.

This smaller M5A1 Stuart tank with a fun Daffy Duck hull artwork sat just past all the Sherman tanks.

Looking back at the Shermans and changing the color to black and white on my camera, you get a sense of the mighty firepower that came ashore during the D-Day invasion. Imagine being a German soldier and seeing this burst through a hedgerow!

The camp is really large, and filled with all sorts of vehicles, such as this really nicely decked out M3 Half Track ‘Texas’.

Next to the Half Track are more heavy metal… an M-18 Hellcat, an M4 Sherman Tank ‘Blood and Guts’, and a huge Federal 94×43 tractor with a semi-trailer.

There was also this really wonderful 1939 Chevrolet Master Sedan staff car.

And there were Jeeps. Lots and lots of Jeeps. The forward Ford GPW here has some patina on the front bumper and has gone through the dirt!

One of the largest vehicles here was this Pacific M25 ‘Dragon Wagon’ Tank Transporter (G160). These things weigh over 42 pounds!

Another Jeep! This Willys MB had the canvas windshield cover and a horseshoe mounted to the grille.

Another really wonderful staff car, a 1940 Buick Special Straight Eight! Love how this one looks, wouldn’t be hard to convert it back to a civilian vehicle if you got tired of the wartime version.

I remember seeing and photographing this really awesome Willys MB 92nd Bomb Group, 327th Bombardment Squadron ‘Follow Me’ radio Jeep five years ago during the 75th anniversary! In fact, it was at this same camp I saw it last time. Hard to forget a Jeep like this! I always love the design of the follow me Jeeps. If I had three Jeeps I would have them (in order, starting with what I have now) a US Army Air Force Jeep, a US Navy Jeep, and then a follow me Jeep. If you don’t know what a follow me Jeep is, they were brightly colored like this so aircraft taxiing at airfields could easily see them and follow them to their parking spots.

The follow me Jeep was part of a larger Sainte-Mère-Eglise display with a cafe façade.

Moving more into the camp area, the reenactors had some really great displays including this ordinance disposal scene. So much detail, down to the dirty unexploded 500lbs bomb and the crushed rear fin.

As a photographer myself, I really appreciate the war correspondent displays with all the various 1930s and 1940s cameras.

A lot of attention to detail for these press displays. This one had still and movie cameras.

Another tent had this PX display with all sorts of authentic 1940s items ‘from back home’. Great details!

It was a bit of a surprise to see an aircraft in the camp as well. This US Army Air Force Piper L-4A Grasshopper.

This Willys MB radio Jeep was also fully decked out with great details showing how much of a pack mule the Jeep could be.

And so many great additions to the vehicles, such as this Stars and Stripes newspaper from June 1944 announcing the invasion. I always strive to do these little touches to my Jeep when I put it on display, so I appreciate it when others do this as well.

Camp guests chat with a reenactor next to a Willys MB Jeep in the markings of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF) with the windshield art ‘The Lady of Victory.’

As I was walking around the camp, a formation of slow-moving Piper L-4A Grasshoppers (and one lagging behind Stinson L-5 Sentinel just out of frame) flew over the camp and Sainte-Mère-Eglise, probably out sightseeing during the early sunset. This shot could be something out of a wartime scene as they provide some aerial recon over the Normandy area with a US Army camp in a random field.

Something I’ve not seen on a Jeep yet is this Ford GPW Jeep in camouflage netting.

Another picturesque scene right out of World War 2 with two Jeeps and a Dodge WC 56, and a French house in the distance.

Another look at some of the heavy metal as I started to make my way back to the camp entrance as it was nearly closing time.

I loved this anti-aircraft portable gun emplacement next to this M3 Half Track.

This M3 Half Track, named ‘Chicago’, had quite the firepower on it alone with one .50 cal and two .30 cals.

This M8 Greyhound tank showcased how well the OD Green worked against the trees and hedgerows.

More trucks, this time a GMC CCKW, Dodge WC 52, and a Dodge WC 51. So many vehicles!

And even more with this Willys MB and this GMC CCKW. In the distance is a Dodge WC 51. And reenactors were staying in all these tents!

A closer look at this Willys MB Jeep, named ‘Rose Mary’. And even more Jeeps in the background! This came was, just like the 75th Anniversary, another vehicle overload!

As I was heading out, this M8 Greyhound named ‘Akainawa’ pulled in, having come from some other event.

And the final shot as I left the camp, the ‘rear’ of the heavy metal Sherman tanks (and M7 Priest). Bonus Jeep to the far left!

And as we walked the long trek back to the car, this really awesome early 1939/1940 Dodge VC3 in US Army Air Corps markings drove past. Love the early war look!

Heading back to our hotel at Bayeux as it rolled around to 11pm (it doesn’t get dark till well after 10pm there!), we headed back out to the Bayeux town square which is next to the beautiful Bayeux Cathedral.

In front of the Bayeux City Hall, we stopped to watch a live feed of the BBC D-Day 80th Anniversary commemoration ceremony taking place just a few streets over at the British Cemetery and also over in the UK at Portsmouth where the D-Day invasion force was prepping, 80 years ago, to head over to Normandy. And that finally finished the very long day! Both Part 1 and this Part 2 all took place in ONE day, which was the first full day we were in Normandy on June 5th. I’d seen an incredible number of vehicles in just one day! But the next day was going to be the most chaotic day of them all…

In Part 3 of the Normandy adventures, coming either Friday or next weekend, I’ll begin the next morning with the actual June 6th anniversary in the wee hours of the morning on Utah Beach! Here’s a preview of that morning to hold you over. Keep checking back over the next few weeks as I cover the 80th Anniversary of D-Day adventures from June 5th to June 8th, 2024.
Till the next update!