Utah Beach was the first of the D-day landing beaches that I visited on my trip to Normandy. It was windy and cold, and the ferry crossing the night before was so rough I barely slept at all. Walking from the car towards the sea, the biggest wake up call wasn't the bracing wind, but the thought of the 23,000 brave young men that emerged from the sea to take the beach by force - and the absolute lack of cover that was available to them. Immediately off the beach there's the anti-tank wall, concrete reinforced gun batteries, a few dunes and about a million places to hide. On the beach, there was nothing - I can't imaging what it might have been like early on that June morning, having spent hours on a landing craft in choppy waters, soaking wet, now having to go up against a dug-in enemy who are firing machine guns at you.
Utah being flat and an almost unending expanse of nothingness was presenting some problems for me too (not that a mistake would lead to my instant death or the death of my friends) but there was a distant lack of things to photograph. There was a moody sky; the remnants of the storm that had made for a rough crossing 12 hours before, but that was about it. After an hour of walking up and down, looking for inspiration and finding a new found appreciation for how impossible the odds of surviving D-Day must have been, I was ready to give up. As I turned to walk back to the car, my friend called my name. As I looked up at him, he was pointing down the beach - having noticed the two people racing these horse draw chariots down the beach. I turned and framed up the shot I was hoping for, with that awesome sky at the top of the frame, and waited for the horses and their drivers to come into shot. Their sheer speed took me by surprise, and they were through my frame so quickly I was only able to take two photos, this actually being the first of those images. I'd have really struggled otherwise for a decent image from Utah, and as I mentioned in the into to this collection, I wanted to show the beaches being enjoyed by people today - otherwise, what would it all have been for?
The image above could have easily made it into the main series of images, but I just love the shot with the horses. This photo is special for me for a different reason - it shows what Utah Beach looks like, but from a German perspective; this was taken from inside a concrete bunker. 75 years being on the coast had taken a bit of a toll on the structure - it's three foot thick steel-reinforced-concrete walls were in good shape apart from the hits from naval guns, but the sand inside was almost to the roof and it had partially sunk into a dune. I had to crawl on my belly though a window in order to get this image, looking out over the coast through a small machine-gun port.
Location: Utah Beach, Normandy, France.