Taking over from Gayle today to report on my day trip to Saumur. As many of you already know I am a history buff, especially WW2 armored warfare. Why? Long story but it suffices to say I am a child of that war. My father served in the 8th infantry division in WW2 and he met my mother after the war in Germany through a series of circumstances directly related to it. Saumur is located in the Loire River Valley, and in, fact the river bisects it. My trip started at our apartment at roughly 0615. I took the Paris Metro from the stop (Madeleine) at the end of the street to Gare Montparnasse. From there I boarded a TGV hi-speed train (200 mph!) to St. Pierre des Corps where I switched to a SNCF regional train (slower, older) after a short wait. I arrived at Saumur around 0845. Headed out of the train station and began the roughly 2 mile trip by walking across the bridge over the Loire, got about halfway across, and some old man coming from the opposite bank griped at me in French when we met at the sidewalk and passed each other. Not sure what his gripe was but I just said “bonjour” and kept walking. Saw carp swimming in the river below which did not look to be more than 1 or 2 feet deep. Above the town is its famous chateau. It is in a word, beautiful. Unfortunately I only had one day so I did not enter it, however, it was on my way to the ultimate destination: the Musee de Blindes so I skirted its perimeter and promptly got slightly lost using my iPhone map function. As I came around the Chateau’s back side I came upon a crosswalk and a man on a bicycle with saddlebags. I asked him if knew the way to the museum and he replied in a heavy German accent, “No, I am lost too”. We both belly-laughed out loud. Turns out he was from the Berlin area and was cycling the Loire Valley. He got mixed up and lost trying to find a dedicated bike path through Saumur. We talked of Germany, Texas, and Saumur for a few moments, exchanged handshakes, and went our separate ways. It’s these small moments, these tiny cultural exchanges, that bring me the most satisfaction when traveling. Anyhow, I came to a fork, guessed somewhat correctly but after 20 minutes or so realized I was passing the museum by from the map function on my phone. I took another fork to the right, went down a hill 250 yards or so and came across another cyclist, this one from Saumur. I said “Bonjour, do you speak English? Him: “Yes, a lee-till”. Me: Can you tell me how to get to the musee de blindes?”. Him: “Musee de Blindes….?…Oh! The armored car museum!”. Me: “Yes!”. Him: “Down the hill, 2nd left, to the traffic circle, another left, you will run right into it”. “Merci, merci”, I exclaimed and shook his hand profusely. Off I went arriving about 45 minutes later (he made it sound a lot closer than it was but that’s just fine by me). That guy salvaged my day. Another one of those brief exchanges that enrich such a trip. I walked up to the entrance minutes after the museums 1000 opening time. The Musee de Blindes, for someone of my ilk, is the Holy Grail. I’ve been to at least a dozen military history museums, but this one, at least as far as armored vehicles are concerned, is the best I have ever seen. The collection is centered on French vehicles, but they have included vehicles from every Allied nation France ever fought with and its enemies as well. There is a whole wing dedicated to oddities, prototypes, and tanks modified for movie production. I can’t describe them all here but I’ll hit some of them. Many of the machines are in running condition and once year the museum brings them outside and puts them through their paces for public viewing. That would be the Holy Grail of the Holy Grail for me, but this beggar isn’t going to choose. The collection is laid out in chronological order beginning with WW1 and ending up at the modern day. A few pics. A French Schneider tank from 1917:
This is a German Jgadpanzer IV/70 tank destroyer knocked out in Normandy by the US Army. Extensive fracturing of the vehicle’s casemate can be seen. By this point in the war Germany was running out of tungsten which was essential in hardening armor and making it less brittle. On the front glacis plate can be seen an embedded dud round. I’m not convinced that it is real. The round is of course, but I question whether it really happened. I inspected it closely and did not see the peel back and scoring of the round consistent with the impact of an armor-piercing (AP) round. The side impact is real and it points to something dark: men died in that vehicle when that round hit it. They were our enemy no doubt, but they were flesh and blood men with wives, children, dreams, memories…ended in the flash impact of a US 76mm AP round.
Displayed next to it was another German vehicle hit by US troops. This display of a Hummel 150mm self-propelled artillery gun indicated it had been engaged by the US 5th Armored division.
A note on the German language. It’s very complex often employing compound words three or four times longer then English ones. Some military examples: German: fallschirmjaeger literally translates as hunter-from-the-sky. The English version: paratrooper. Panzerkampfwagen=armored fighting vehicle; English=tank. Jgad means stalker or hunter, so Jgadpanzer= tank hunter. In English, tank destroyer. I digress. Moving from WW2 through the modern day and then to the oddities room I came across this piece. A 60’s era Vespa scooter prototype with a 75mm recoilless rifle attached. The idea was that Western Europe is a dense urban combat environment making the maneuvering of main battle tanks difficult in city streets. European streets are often connected by alley ways too narrow for heavy vehicles. The Vespa death scooter would lie in wait in an alley, let a tank partially pass, and then shoot it in the weaker side armor. The two-man Vespa crew would then race off down the alley before the tank could get its turret around for a shot. Two problems with that proposition, however: 1) The only way to aim the recoilless rifle was to turn the entire Vespa making accuracy problematical. 2) Tanks don’t drive down streets alone. They have infantry deployed on their flanks. As soon as the enemy soldiers stopped laughing enough to fire their rifles they would shred the Vespa.
Also came across this contraption. Looks like a bomb but is actually a German armored observation post. Early in the war the Germans were concerned with commando attacks on factories, dams, and other pieces of critical infrastructure. In order to counter that possibility they deployed these things near those important sites. Told my brother they would make a great deer stand via Facebook.
I took a ton of pictures with my real camera and that took most of the day; multiple angles, waiting for visitors to pass to get good shots, and general gawking on my part. I left at roughly 1500 starving, thirsty, and with my balky knees screaming. Decided to try a different route heading back to the train station and you guessed it…took a wrong turn. I came across a group of teenage boys playing basketball and asked the one closest to me how to get back to “Le gare Saumur”. He could not speak English but indicated someone in his group did. He went tearing across to the other end of the court to grab a friend that did yelling, waving and otherwise making a big deal out of it. His friend rushed over, along with several others and gave me directions. I thanked them all profusely. Another one of those chance meetings that I so dearly love. Made it back to “Le Gare Saumur (train station) and returned by the way which I came. My thanks to my beautiful wife Gayle for allowing me to indulge one of my passions on what is a birthday trip I gave to her. I’m a lucky man folks.