Tuesday, March 11, 2014

German Soldiers Relaxed at the French Beach

There are no sunbeds in sight, but this picture is clear evidence, as if any were needed, that the German aptitude for bagging the best sunbathing spots goes back a long way. There’s barely room to move on this beach near Boulogne, and any Britons trying to find a spot wouldn’t have been terribly welcome. The year was 1940 and this rare colour photo shows a unit of Hitler’s army relaxing as they waited to see if they would be called on to cross the Channel and attack. It was taken on June 6, two days after Churchill told Great Britain – standing alone after the collapse of France – ‘We shall fight them on the beaches…’ As it turned out, the invasion was called off after the Luftwaffe’s failure to defeat the RAF in the Battle of Britain during the exceptionally hot summer of that year. But the picture offers a glimpse of how relaxed and confident these crack troops were after their unstoppable Blitzkrieg through the Low Countries and France. One or two even seem to have packed Das Speedos in their kit bags in preparation for the excursion to the seaside. (Though look closely and it appears that some clearly didn’t.) And is the figure in bright red trunks a shapely collaborator in bikini bottoms? Some are drying out after a swim. Combat gear is scattered across the beach and their rifles are stacked in neat pyramids. They are infantrymen from the 1st Gebirgsjäger (Mountain Huntsmen) Division and were preparing to take part in Operation Sea Lion, which would have seen them streaming across the Channel in landing craft. Further up the coast, British and French troops were fighting for their lives at Dunkirk. The extraordinary snapshot is one of a series taken by an unnamed officer. Others show the same men marching along country lanes and through rubble-strewn towns. The officer seems to have dumped his box of negatives four years later as he fled Paris. They were discovered by photographer Marcel Gesgon but he simply filed them away. Now his son Alain, a Paris-based historian, has had them printed to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the planned invasion. He said: ‘These young men were simply enjoying the sun in a newly-created outpost of the Third Reich. Many of were in their teens or early 20s but they had swept all before them so far, and seemingly had nothing to fear.’ Might some still be alive today? Unlikely, Mr Gesgon said. Some time after this sun-kissed day, the 1st Gebirgsjäger was posted to the freezing, blood-soaked Russian front. 


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