June 6, 2019, Carentan, Normandy, France – The construction of a new 200-room, four-star hotel in central Carentan was announced by Carentan mayor Jean-Pierre Lhonneur and Beyond of Band of Brothers (BBoB) Tours CEO Peter Gaal. Designed by noted architect Nicolas Kelemen, the hotel will incorporate a public memorial park dedicated to the Battle of Bloody Gulch, fought on the spot on June 13, 1944. The announcement was made on the 75th anniversary of D-Day, the beginning of the liberation of Normandy in 1944, at the Utah Beach Museum in Sainte-Marie-du-Mont. The 40 million dollar project will be built on a 55,000 sq m (592,000 sq ft) plot near the historical center of Carentan, at the site of the Battle of Bloody Gulch. The hotel will open its doors to the public on March 1, 2023.
BBoB is the American market leader in World War II-themed history tours. With thousands of passengers attending the company's tours every year, BBoB's dynamic growth is starting to outpace available hotel capacity in Normandy, necessitating the construction of their own hotel. Though the hotel's primary purpose is to provide high-quality lodging for American visitors to Normandy's World War II sites, it will also serve the general public.
Beyond Band of Brothers Tours
BBoB, founded by CEO Peter Gaal, has been organizing and running World War II-themed history tours since 2008. Over the past decade, they have grown to be America's leading WWII tour operator, running approximately 100 tours with several thousand passengers in 2019 alone. Today, the company offers a variety of World War II tours in Normandy, the UK, Western, Central and Eastern Europe, Hawaii and the Pacific region. The portfolio also includes Civil War and Revolutionary War tours in the U.S., World War One tours in Europe and Vietnam tours in Asia.
The importance of D-Day in American historical consciousness ensures that Normandy remains the most popular destination for BBoB's passengers, with a strong majority participating in a tour that spends 4-5 days in the Normandy region.
Besides offices in Lexington, Kentucky and Tampa Bay, Florida, BBoB also maintains a European logistics and delivery office in Budapest, Hungary. The company's European tours are led by European tour managers working together with local historians and experts to provide a detailed and authentic explanation of events, bringing sites into an accurate historical and cultural context.
BBoB owes its existence to a family story that unfolded in 1944. With Soviet forces approaching from the east, Hungarian cavalry officer Major Béla Újházy defied German orders and decided to save the steeds of a local military stud farm from being butchered for food. He took the men and horses under his charge on a westward odyssey which came to an end near the German-Austrian border, where the group was found by General George S. Patton's Third U.S. Army.
In a little-known episode of history, Patton, an avid rider himself, made the soldiers an offer they couldn't refuse: they were allowed to live and care for the horses at a nearby farm, where American officers would use the studs for recreational riding. Újházy's son Dezső was 10 years old at the time and accompanied his father on the journey. His childhood diary about the post-war years eventually ended up in the hands of his own son, Peter Gaal.
Mr. Gaal, who previously worked in management positions at corporations such as IBM and Microsoft, was inspired by the diary to reach back to his family's European heritage and start up BBoB, launching the company's first World War II history tour in 2008.
Jean-Pierre Lhonneur has been the mayor of Carentan for over 20 years, and head of the Community of Communes of the Cotentin Bay (formerly the Community of Communes of Carentan-en-Cotentin), an administrative district of over 23,000 inhabitants, for a similarly long time.
Formerly running for the Union for a Popular Movement, today M. Lhonneur is an independent politician with no active affiliation to parties. His district saw major expansion during his tenureship, and he is a stalwart supporter of preserving the area's historical heritage and improving the place's allure as a tourist destination.
Nicolas Kelemen, a graduate of Columbia University and the Harvard Graduate School of Design, has established his own architectural practice in France in 2006. Since then, he has designed several public buildings, many of them with institutional and thematic links to World War II and Normandy. His designs include the Merville Battery Museum, the World War II exhibit hall of the Paris Air and Space Museum, the Interpretive Center at Omaha Beach, the Visitor Center at Pointe du Hoc and the D-Day Museum at Utah Beach.
His extensive experience with war-related modern architecture made Mr. Kelemen the obvious choice for designing the new hotel, which will pay homage to the Battle of Normandy not only with the public-access Bloody Gulch memorial but also its general decor.
Normandy in World War II
By 1944, Nazi Germany was already on the back foot but still putting up a fight. The Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union was stopped and the Red Army was inexorably pushing westward, but the Allied advance in Italy got bogged down in the heavily defended mountains in the north of the country. A new front had to be opened in Europe to further divide Axis forces and relieve pressure on the Soviets and Allied forces in the Mediterranean. An invasion of German-held Northern France, using Britain as a jump-off point, had been in planning since 1942, and by early 1944 the time was deemed right.
Any invasion had to break through the Atlantic Wall, the continent-spanning system of German coastal defenses. The invasion was preceded by a series of deception operations to lead German High Command to false conclusions regarding the invasion's location. Great care went into selecting the true sites. Beaches had to be steep enough to allow landing craft to approach without running aground, but shallow enough so disembarking soldiers wouldn't drown. The sand had to support heavy vehicles. Landing sites had to be located away from heavily-defended port cities, but close enough to transport hubs, deep sea ports and airfields to allow their quick capture.
Of the five landing beaches, Utah and Omaha were to be captured by the U.S., Gold and Sword by the United Kingdom, and Juno by Canada. Around 156,000 troops landed at these locations on D-Day, the first day of the invasion, clashing with roughly 50,000 German defenders. The landing attempt was assisted by American and British airborne (paratrooper and glider) troops who were inserted behind enemy lines the previous night and charged with capturing and holding key locations. The American 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions were dropped on the Cotentin Peninsula to the west of the landing sectors. Despite numerous misjumps, these forces achieved many of their objectives, and resulted in the 101st being near Carentan, in prime position to secure it.
Carentan and the Battle of Bloody Gulch
Located less than 10 miles from Utah Beach and 20 miles from Omaha, the town of Carentan was a location of strategic importance during the Normandy invasion. It was key to linking up the two beaches and to preventing a possible German counterattack against the vulnerable beachheads. Carentan was liberated by the paratroopers and glidermen of the famous Screaming Eagles, the 101st Airborne Division of the U.S. Army. The 101st were dropped behind German lines on the night before D-Day and were charged with securing vital locations in the early hours of the invasion. The battle for Carentan was fought between the 10th and 14th of June, 1944.
The Battle of Bloody Gulch, occuring on the 13th of June, was the last major action of the battle. Though Carentan itself was already in American hands by that time, a significant German mechanized infantry force threatened to recapture it. The Screaming Eagles met the enemy to the southwest of Carentan proper, at the so-called Bloody Gulch, a spot named after a place in the then-popular 1939 Western film Destry Rides Again. Despite several units breaking and falling back, the American defenders held the line until tank reinforcements arrived from the 2nd Armored Division, blunting the German attack and securing Carentan for good.
The 101st Airborne Division is one of the most highly acclaimed American units of World War II, thanks in no small part to the popular 2001 mini-series Band of Brothers, which dedicated an entire episode to the battles of Carentan and Bloody Gulch. Their nickname, the Screaming Eagles, is a reference to Old Abe, a bald eagle that served as a mascot to the 8th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment in the Civil War. The division's paratroopers, along with soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division, were dropped into hostile territory the night before D-Day and were instrumental to the early success of the Normandy invasion. The division later fought in the Netherlands during Operation Market Garden. The finest moment of their World War service was the defense of the Belgian city of Bastogne against encircling German forces during the Ardennes Offensive (also known as the Battle of the Bulge) in the winter of 1944-45. Numerous memorials attest the courage of the 101st in Normandy and Belgium, but the Battle of Bloody Gulch was lacking a fitting commemoration until now.
The company's mission is to preserve the memory of the men who fought and died in World War II, and to ensure that future generations will have a chance to honor and be educated about the exploits of those American patriots who fought in this history-defining conflict. BBoB believes that visiting these battlefields is the best way to keep alive the memory of their sacrifice. D-Day took place 75 years ago, but the war's memory is still alive and relevant to those whose parents' and grandparents' lives were affected by it; BBoB intends to ensure that this memory will be just as relevant 75 years from now.
Over its decade of operation, the company realized that the tourism infrastructure near the American landing sectors is in need of improvement. While the British and Canadian sectors of Gold, Juno and Sword are well-served by hotels and memorials thanks the proximity of the UK and a high level of British historical interest, the regions of Omaha and Utah have been comparatively neglected due their remoteness from the United States. BBoB hopes that local infrastructural developments such as the construction of the new hotel and the battlefield memorial will encourage more Americans to visit Normandy and experience the places where U.S. military contributed to the downfall of the Nazi regime in Europe. The local government of the Community of Communes of the Cotentin Bay shares the company's vision of tourism development and has lent significant support to the hotel construction project.