Chapter Eight

In the Cockpit of the Arado: Flying over the Invasion Beaches at 800km/h

In order to appreciate these rare photos, of which only around twenty of the 380 taken on 2 August 1944 remain, there is no better way than to put yourself in Erich Sommer’s situation in the cockpit of his Arado.

From Juvincourt, the jet aeroplane arrived in the east at close to 800km/h. The weather was perfect and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. At the mouth of the river Orne, the camera was engaged and on this first pass, the coast unfolded before his eyes and he saw beneath him thousands of ships, as well as around fifty aerodromes, Arromanches and the Pointe du Hoc. After flying for less than ten minutes, he could see the Cotentin peninsula.

Map of Europe showing the location of Juvincourt in northern France, where the Arado was based, and the German base of Pennemünde on the Baltic, where the V1 and V2 rockets were produced.

On his return, it was the countryside that unravelled at what was a breakneck speed for it’s time. Flying over the marshes of Carentan he very soon arrived at Carpiquet and disengaged the camera. He did not need to take any photographs of Caen; almost completely destroyed, the town was not an objective.

Erich Sommer had to continue his mission and save his film. He turned inland where he still had other targets to photograph. Once the work was finished, he returned to Juvincourt.

In thirty minutes, this fabulous flight would reveal the entirety of the Allied plans. The photographs were not all taken by Erich Sommer, but also by Horst Götz in his own machine and by other pilots of whom we have lost all trace. Since June 1944, these other airmen had carried out various incursions in the Normandy skies, just as fast and perilous and in just as extreme and uncomfortable conditions.

Included on the majority of photographs are the film identification and the height and time they were taken.

List detailing the aerial photographs taken by the Arado between 2 and 12 August 1944 over Normandy. Marked on the map are the areas where photographs were taken, as well as those on the outskirts.

Arromanches: Asnelles-sur-Mer, Saint-Côme-de-Fresné, Tracy-sur-Mer (p. 112-113)

Bény-sur-Mer: Bernières-sur-Mer, Douvres-la-Délivrande, Langrune-sur-Mer, Saint-Aubin-sur-Mer, Tailleville (p. 96)

Brouay: La Batisse, Sainte-Croix-Grand-Tonne (p. 120-121)

Carpiquet: Fontaine-Etoupefour, Mouen, Rocreuil, Rotz, Saint-Manvieu-Norrey, Verson (p. 118-119)

Coulombs: Brouay, Guerville, Loucelles, Martragny, Putot-en-Bessin, Rucqueville, Sainte-Croix-Grand-Tonne, Saint-Léger, Secqueville- en-Bessin (p. 100-101)

Cristot: Audrieu, Boislonde, Brouay, Ducy-Sainte-Marguerite, Loucelles (p. 103)

Grandcamp-Maisy: Cardonville (p. 98-99)

Longues-sur-Mer: Cap Manvieux, Fontenailles, Manvieux, Tracy-sur-Mer (p. 110-111)

Martragny: Bernières-Bocage, Buceels, Carcagny, Chouain, Condé-sur-Seulles, Damigny, Ducy-Sainte-Marguerite, Ellon, Le Pont-Roc, Mondaye, Nonant, Vaux-sur-Seulles (p. 104-105)

Ouistreham: Colleville-Montgomery, Riva-Bella, Saint-Aubin-d’Arquenay, Sallenelles (p. 92-93 & 106-107)

Plumetot: Anguerny, Anisy, Basly, Cambes-en-Plaine, Colomby-sur-Thaon, Douvres-la-Délivrande, Mathieu, Tailleville (p. 108-109)

Raids: Sainteny (p. 97)

Saint-Pellerin: Brévands, Carentan, Catz, Saint-Hilaire-Petitville (p. 116-117)

Saint-Pierre-du-Mont: Cricqueville-en-Bessin, Englesqueville (p. 114-115)

Ver-sur-Mer: (Courseulles, Graye-sur-Mer, Sainte-Croix-sur-Mer (p. 94-95)

Villons-les-Buissons: Barbières, Buron, Cairon, Colomby-sur-Thaon, Mâlon, Rosel (p. 102)

Ouistreham: You can see the Saint-Aubin-d’Arquenay aerodrome on the left bank of the canal (1), which was not assigned to a combat unit of the RAF, but was used to ship the gliders that had been lost to the right of the Orne canal back to England.

These gliders were removed either via Pegasus Bridge or by the bridge of boats that can be seen south of the lock. (2) Reassembled at Saint-Aubin-d’Arquenay , they were towed to the other side of the channel by C-47s. This technique would be used again during Operation Market Garden, in Holland, in mid-September.

Gliders used to put British parachutists on the bridge at Ranville which would be dismantled then reassembled at Saint-Aubin- d’Arquenay before being sent back to England.

Ver-sur-Mer: After Asnelles, which was only an emergency aerodrome, Sainte-Croix-sur-Mer was the main base constructed near the coast. Begun on 8 June, the first aircraft, a Typhoon, would arrive on 10 June. It would be partially finished on 12 June, the next day two squadrons of French pilots, detached from the RAF, ‘Alsace’ and ‘Ile-de-France’, landed at Sainte-Croix-sur-Mer in order to carry out their missions over Normandy before returning to England. Only the Spitfire of Denys Boudard, which experienced mechanical problems due to the dust, spent the night in France, where its pilot spent the night at the school. On the morning of 15 June, Eisenhower’s B-17 Flying Fortress landed on this 1,200m runway.

The interpreter’s report.


On the coast: Bernières-sur-Mer, Saint-Aubin-sur-Mer and Langrune-sur-Mer.

In the centre: Chateau de Tailleville (1) which was home to a very important German telecommunications centre. The Allies established an enormous depot between the north end of the runway and Bernières-sur-Mer.

The ruins of the Douvres-la-Délivrande radar (2).

Raids: The Raids aerodrome under construction, shown south of the Carentan-Périers road, in the centre of the photograph (1). To the north, can be seen the flooded Gorges marshes.


This USAAF base was home to P-47s. To the east of the Bay of Veys, can be seen the Grandcamp-Maisy rocks and the various bomb craters between the port itself and Cardonville.

The interpreter’s report.


The largest of the 200 aerodromes built during the summer of 1944, this aerodrome had two 1,700m runways and taxiways spanning more than 100 hectares. Its main occupant was the Typhoon.You can see how the Bayeux-Caen road has been ‘doubled’, as it was originally too narrow for Allied traffic to use.

The interpreter’s report.


South of the runway and near the centre is the famous ‘Hell’s Corner’ (1) conquered after a month of fierce fighting from 7 June to 7 July by the Canadian 9th Brigade. At the far south-east of the runway, you can see tank tracks. A testimony to the harshness of the battle. To the west, from Barbieres to Rots, via Cairon and Rosel, is the Mue valley. It was cleared out by the Canadians and 46th Commando Royal Marines on 10 and 11 June.


Amongst the many chateaux visible on this photograph, the Chateau d’Audrieu merits particular attention (1). Indeed, it’s then owner, Philippe Livry-Level had joined the RAF, where he served as a Squadron Leader flying Mosquitoes. It was also in the grounds of Audrieu where Canadian prisoners were assassinated, a few days after the invasion.


It is conceivable that this mosaic was put together by the German High Command with the intention of showing that the proximity of the targets (three aerodromes a few kilometres apart, twenty kilometres west of Caen) could allow for the eventual failure in the accuracy of the V2 rockets. 
Martragny (1), Ellon (2) and Buceels (3).

The interpreter’s report.


General view of the mouth of the Orne, Ouistreham Port, Saint-Aubin-d’Arquenay and the floating bridge.

The locks, marina and ferry terminal at Ouistreham. (Stéphane Dévé-Normandia)


On the coast you can see Lion-sur-Mer, the so-called Confessional Cliffs and Luc-sur-Mer. In the centre, the diversions south of Douvres-la-Delivrande (1) and Cresserons (2). On the bottom left, the radar at Douvres-le-Delivrande (3). This aerodrome was the object of numerous German reconnaissance missions. They were intrigued by the absence of dust on this single runway in the British sector, the reason being it was covered with tarmac.

The interpreter’s report.

The restored radar at Douvres-le-Délivrande. (Stéphane Dévé-Normandia)


To the top left of the runway, the numerous bomb craters and shell holes frame the batteries. (1) On the right, are Cape Manvieu and the port at Arromanches. 

Cape Manvieu. (Stéphane Dévé-Normandia)

The command post at Longues-sur-Mer. (Stéphane Dévé-Normandia)

The battery at Longues-sur-Mer. (Stéphane Dévé-Normandia)

Asnelles - Arromanches Port:

This magnificent view of the artificial port shows more than 300 ships. Towards the west, Cape Manvieu (1). To the east, you can see the lawn at Chateau de Saint-Côme-de-Fresné (2), which was home to German military staff. Further along is the anti-tank ditch that protected Asnelles (3). 
You can also see the fleet (Kfz).

What remains of the floating caissons which made up the artificial port at Arromanches. (Stéphane Dévé-Normandia)

Asnelles - Arromanches Port:

Arromanches with Cape Manvieu in the background. 
(Stéphane Dévé-Normandia)


To the west of this large USAAF base, there is a breathtaking view of the pointe du Hoc, the highest point of the invasion, completely destroyed by the bombing and shelling. The V that you can see to the south-east of the Pointe du Hoc (1) represents the impacts caused by the artillery fire from two naval warships.

Saint-Pellerin :

The runway at the Saint-Pellerin aerodrome, in a place called ‘La Fourchette’ (the fork), runs parallel to the NI3 main road and bounded on the west by the NI74. At the top is the port of Carentan, where the current canal bridge would be built (I).

The canal bridge at Carentan. (Stéphane Dévé-Normandia)

The canal bridge at Carentan. (Stéphane Dévé-Normandia)


The only permanent aerodrome in the British sector, keeping Carpiquet working was a priority. You can see the bomb and shell craters on the runway, as well as the surrounding towns, reflecting the fire that rained down here on the Canadian regiments. South of the Brittany road (2), the Odon valley and Rocreuil Wood carry the scars of the British offensive (4). 
Site of the current terminal (1). Military base (3).

The estuary motorway. (Stéphane Dévé-Normandia)

Carpiquet terminal. (Stéphane Dévé-Normandia)

Damigny: British depot that would become the Damigny industrial park (1). The aerodrome at Martragny-Vaux-sur-Seulles (2).

The industrial park at Damigny. (Stéphane Dévé-Normandia)

Heinrich LÜBBE,“aviator”, later ARADO Flugzeugwerke’s manager . (photo Armin Kranzhoff)

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