Ouistreham was the key to the attack at Sword, as it was the gateway into the Orne, the Caen canal, and Caen. Seizing control of the town would give the Allies a small port (nowhere near the size needed for sustainment, but useful none-the-less), and control of the river and canal bridges so as to prevent German armor from hitting the left flank.
The German's, needless to say, knew how important the town could be and made preparations. The casino was retrofitted with a bunker in the basement and gun that could hit ships at sea as well as things closer in. Other fortifications went in as well, and in a very flat area, something special went up as well.
A towering bunker designed to withstand bombs, artillery fire, and even gas/chemical attacks was built behind an existing house to help disguise it a bit. This was not a gun bunker -- it was far more dangerous than that. This was an observation bunker with a very precise rangefinder.
Not only did the bunker survive the day, the story of how it fell will bring a grin to your face. On D-Day, the bunker was bypassed after troops came under machine gun fire and grenade attack when they approached. On 9 June, Lt. Bob Orrell of the Royal Engineers had been tasked with assessing and cataloging construction materials left behind by the Germans, and noted that the bunker was closed and locked from the inside. He was ordered to go investigate further, so he went back with a mobile crane and three assistants.
The door being still locked, explosives were tried to no effect. They then tied other means, and finally went back to (more) explosives and succeeded in forcing the door. It was then that a voice called down in perfect English that it was okay, come on up. To which the good Lt. responded that such would not fly, and whoever was up there should come on down. And, that's how 53 Germans surrendered to a force of one LT and three assistants.
There will be more on the bunker later, either here or my site, for those interested in military construction and architecture. I will note that while the bunker is fascinating, the two young ladies working that day clearly wanted to be anywhere but there, and made that quite clear to all of us buying tickets to get in. So, if typical, bone up ahead of time and make use of the extensive signage. The website in English is here.
If you are looking for the town you saw in the movie "The Longest Day" you are in for a surprise. The Ouistreham scenes were shot elsewhere (more on that to come) and the casino was not back from the water on a hill. It was set effectively on the beach with a ditch/canal in front. The Keiffer Commando did indeed take it/destroy it, and today a new casino sits on the site.
One thing to think about as you look at this: imagine having to cover up to 300 meters of wet sand with absolutely no cover of any kind. Because the invasion was scheduled for a period of extremely low tides, many troops coming in had to charge across up to 300 meters before hitting the edge of the beach and finding any potential cover.
More to come, stand by!