During our visit to the World War II sites of Normandy in France with our family this summer, we were staying in the great fishing village of Grandcamp-Maisy.
While we did take in plenty of typical sites and sights while we were there, we also stumbled across something called the Maisy Battery. I’m not an historian, so don’t quote me on most of this.
We really had no idea what the Maisy Battery was. We randomly drove by it, a few minutes from our house in the village, and figured we should stop by. I looked it up on the internet, but I didn’t read much before we went over there.
Arriving at the site, it doesn’t appear all that impressive as there’s a trailer used as an office, information center, and souvenir shop, as well as a few World War II artifacts next to the parking lot.
Beyond that, it was mostly tall grass and a few trees here and there. A meadow, really.
Naturally, we didn’t really know what we were in for.
Heading into the trailer, we got to talking with Dan Sterne, who actually found the site with his father, Gary Sterne, a British military historian and collector.
Believe it or not, this whole place was lost to time until the mid-2000s.
Gary found some old maps and information at a militaria fair, and the rest is history…still being uncovered.
It seems that, while one of the head guys in the U.S. Army Rangers, along with his superiors, knew about this place, no one under his command was told about it.
The idea floated here at Maisy Battery is that this place was supposed to be the Rangers’ real objective on that fateful day, with the famous Pointe du Hoc landing site down the road just being a diversion. Even though the soldiers were told otherwise. I find it all…odd.
Nevertheless, the Rangers ended up raiding Pointe du Hoc on D-Day (read more about that right here), and eventually made their way to this location a few days later.
Unbeknownst to pretty much everyone until recently, this was more or less the German headquarters for the region. The guns here could reach both Omaha and Utah Beach, and the place was stocked with plenty of artillery, a hospital, barracks, and several hundred German soldiers.
After the war, its story was lost to time, and the families in the area kept on using it as farmland.
That is, until Gary and Dan Sterne stumbled across it and began their years-long project of digging out the entire complex and telling their story to the world.
They started buying up property here, and have continued to do so over the years, diligently excavating artifacts and structures that were buried and left to lore.
Because of the long and continuously told story of D-Day here – the one you’ll find on tours, in brochures, and all over the most basic history sites – the Sternes found it quite difficult to get anyone to listen to them.
A previously unknown German base? One that doesn’t fit with the history of what we know today and what we tell the world? What?
Why would history hide an entire German base? Why would the story of Pointe du Hoc and Omaha Beach be told incorrectly? Why do a couple of contemporary Englishmen think they know better than 70 years of history?
Lots of questions, and I don’t have the answers to any of them. I’m not here to argue and I’m not here to tell the side of either story. I’m merely here to tell you what we heard and what we saw.
But, what I do know is that it’s 100% undeniable that this place exists, that it’s huge, and that it was important to the Germans.
Throughout all of our exploring in Normandy, we didn’t come across any former German complexes that could come close to the size and presence of this place.
Since it was found recently, its story and the Sterne’s project is just getting underway. It’s barely in its infancy, and I gather it’ll be years before it works its way into the history books as something vastly important to the history of what happened here.
I don’t know if anyone is entirely correct or incorrect about their side of the story; I’d gather we’re somewhere in the middle of the two sides of it.
The more people study and excavate and talk and listen, the more we’ll learn about the real history and how this place fits in with the rest of D-Day lore.
In the meantime, the Maisy Battery is extra-special to me. It’s special because it’s raw and uncut.
I normally love knowing the detailed history of something. And while Dan had plenty of that info – and proof in spades of documents and maps – to back their side of the story up, there’s still a mystery as to the intricacies of this place.
And not knowing the detailed history of something? That’s pretty cool, too. My imagination going wild and all.
If you’re visiting the D-Day sites here in Normandy, I highly recommend you stop by the Maisy Battery. Dan and his father, Gary, know their stuff, and they can back up their side of the story, to a great point, with loads of evidence they’ve collected over the years.
Gary Sterne also wrote a book about it, titled The Cover-Up at Omaha Beach: D-Day, the U.S. Rangers, and the Untold Story of Maisy Battery.
I’d love to read it, but it appears it’s not available any longer as an e-book. So, I’ll have to wait until that maybe happens again one day.
Thanks very much to Dan Sterne for spending so much time talking to us during our visit. If you want to know more about the Maisy Battery, visit their website. If you want to read more about our travels in Normandy, you can see all of those posts right here.
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Have you ever been to Maisy Battery? If so, what’d you think? If not, what say ye? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!