Review: Maisy Battery, Normandy

West of Pointe du Hoc on the Calvados coast, Maisy Battery is a WW2 German coastal defence gun battery which housed 350 men in the run up to D-Day and had howitzers trained on both Omaha Beach to the east and Utah to the west. Begun in 1940, it is set back a mile from the coast behind a small promontory, invisible from both the beach and the coast road. But for 60 years, the site lay hidden beneath thick soil and vegetation.

Aerial photo of bunkers and trenches
Maisy coastal artillery battery site. Part of the ‘ Atlantic Wall’ in 1944. (Photo: Maisy Battery)

So why is Maisy so important?

In 2004, British military historian Gary Sterne acquired a map showing an ‘Area of High Resistance’ to the west of Grandcamp-Maisy. As a dealer in World War II memorabilia, he already owned a holiday property in the area, so Gary began to look more closely and discovered what appeared to be the tops of submerged concrete buildings. Buying a small rough field from a local farmer, he began digging and found the first trench in a maze which he now knows to cover some 144 acres.

And as trenches and buildings slowly saw the light of day, so too did the extraordinary story of Maisy Battery and its role in the American assault on Omaha Beach. On June 6th 1944, the US 2nd Rangers scaled the cliffs at nearby Pointe du Hoc, only to find no guns. But Gary now has evidence that the target was always Maisy, eventually taken three days later by the 5th Rangers.

So why was Maisy covered over after Operation Overlord and barely mentioned in the history books or public records? The full story – with evidence from the US Army archives – is the subject of his new book Cover-up at Pointe du Hoc, which will be available in two volumes this autumn via the Maisy Battery website, prior to being launched worldwide in book shops in 2019.

What’s there to see now?

Today visitors can follow 2.5 km of deep trenches and step inside buildings as varied as ammunition stores and personnel accommodation, a commandant’s office and radio room. No guns were found at Maisy but Gary has sourced genuine German howitzers elsewhere and installed them to show how things were as the soldiers stationed here awaited attack.

Visitors can follow numbered panels with explanations in English and French, but for the full story, I’d recommend booking a tour with Gary or his son Daniel who jointly man Maisy. The trench network has been widened slightly and made safe, but in no way ‘Disneyfied’ like some other D-Day sites. It is suitably surfaced for buggies and wheelchairs and only a few of the German buildings with step access are not suitable for wheeled transport.

How is Maisy presented?

Maisy Battery is all very low tech. No tablets, audio guides or interactive displays. No fancy signage. Just basic information about what you are looking at. But this is what makes it unique. Walk through the network of trenches and step down into a personnel bunker or ammo store, and you don’t need much imagination to hear the sound of guns pounding and men shouting orders. And of course you can take as many photos as you like.

The site is accessed down a country lane and there’s a large car park with ticket office and shop housed in a portable building, beside an eco-friendly toilet. Enthusiasts can buy a wealth of genuine World War II memorabilia, all sourced in Normandy, but none of it was found at Maisy – artefacts found on site or acquired locally that relate to the battery will eventually form part of a Maisy Battery museum.

Many school parties visit Maisy from Britain, organised through a specialist educational travel company, but this isn’t a site that pulls in the casual passer-by. The combination of being privately financed, set back from the road, and hidden underground mean that Maisy Battery is a low profile remembrance attraction. But whether you are a military history buff or simply appreciate a ‘real’ historical site, plus a good detective story, you’ll find something here to grip your imagination.

 

Declaration: Gillian was on a visit to the D-Day landing beaches on a trip hosted by Calvados Tourism. Her visit to Maisy Battery was free.

Images: Gillian Thornton

 

Factbox

Website:
www.maisybattery.com

Getting there:
Maisy Battery is located at 7 Route de Perruques, Grandcamp-Maisy, 14550, Calvados, France. The site can be difficult to spot so see the detailed access details on the website.

Entry Price:

Individuals
Adult €7,20
Child (6-18) €4,80
Concessions €6,00

Dogs welcome.

 

Opening Hours:

Maisy Battery is open from 1st April 1st to 1st October.

Visits may be possible at other times of year – email info@maisybattery.com or phone 00 44 7411 932 197. For guided visits, email Dan@maisybattery.com or phone the number above.

April, May, September 10am to 4pm
June, July, August 10am to 6pm

 

A piece of WW2 history unearthed
You won't find a more atmospheric or authentic D-Day site than Maisy Battery, which to me outweigh the lack of smart visitor centre and technology.
EXHIBITS 90
DISPLAY 85
TECH 60
VALUE 90

Gillian Thornton

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A member of the British Guild of Travel Writers, Gillian is a specialist on French destinations, writing for Francophile magazines and women's titles. She won Best Cultural Article 2018 in the France Travel Media Awards. Gillian has travelled extensively to the French and Belgian battlefields of WWI and WWII, where every museum, memorial and cemetery has its own story to tell. She also travels to other parts of Europe and beyond, researching features for a wide range of magazines and for the over-50s travel review site www.silvertraveladvisor.com

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