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A STROLL THROUGH HISTORY: D-DAY CONNEAUT.

If you happen to be walking the streets of Conneaut, Ohio, in mid-August, you might expect to be asked for "your papers" by a WWII-era German soldier. And if you make it to Conneaut Township Park, you'll feel like you've stepped out of a time machine that landed in 1944 Europe. In fact, you've just walked into D-Day Conneaut, the largest WWII reenactment in the United States, and the largest D-Day reenactment in the world. This is Conneaut's annual celebration of all things World War II, especially the beach invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944. If you enjoy history, militaria, weapons, or any combination of the above, you're in the right place!

D-Day Conneaut is a three-day living history event that exists to honor the service of those who participated in World War II, and to educate the later generations about the war and the D-Day landing specifically. The event has evolved from when it began in 1999, as a small, private group of reenactors "recreating" June 6, 1944, to the large public spectacle it is today. Conneaut, Ohio, on the shore of the great Lake Erie, was chosen for the location based on its resemblance to the beaches invaded on the Normandy coast.

The mission of D-Day Conneaut, a non-profit organization, is to commemorate the Allies' invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944. It does this through a series of highly immersive and educational experiences, including exhibits, seminars, demonstrations and reenactments. The organization's goal is to "honor the sacrifices made by all those involved in this campaign and World War II."

What is extraordinary is that this event is all volunteer run, from the 12-member board of directors and the 20 -some coordinators who work on the event throughout the year, to the more than 300 local volunteers who make the magic happen during the event.

At D-Day Conneaut, you'll see an extravagant and authentic reenactment event to rival any you've seen.

If you don't look outside the park, you'll feel like you're actually back in 1944, witnessing what it was like to be a soldier in WWII England, prepping for battle. Hear 1940s music over the camps' loudspeakers throughout the park. Walk through real working soldier camps of both Ally and Axis factions. Cross paths with military and civilians dressed in period attire. Talk to the reenactors and ask them about their roles and participation in the conflict. Buy a treat from a 1940s ice-cream vendor pushing his wheeled cart. Watch demonstrations of all types of military equipment, from medical and dental tools of the time to mortars, artillery and tanks.

Want to see what WWII Germans were shooting? Watch a demonstration of the K-98 Mauser, P-38, MG-42 and MP-40. Wonder what happened when soldiers' ammo ran out? There are bayonet demonstrations of hand-to-hand combat. Visitors get to see platoons marching through the park, reenactments of battles with blanks firing, mortars and more. During the beach invasion on Friday and Saturday, landing craft roll up to the shore of Lake Erie. (Higgins boat rides are available earlier in the day for attendees.) Bombers buzz the beach area, causing spectators to flinch and almost duck for cover. When the Allies land and attack the beach, the German machine-gun nests roar into action fighting them off. Oh, and best of all, it's free!

Strolling through the encampments of D-Day Conneaut 2018 (held August 17 and 18), there were many firearms and artillery pieces to see. In the U.S. camp, Ml Garands and Ml Carbines abounded. Down in "France," the French resistance had Sten guns on display. The British garrisons were outfitted with Ml Thompsons and Lee Enfields. Polish forces suited up with Ml Thompsons too, as well as a few Bren guns. Variety was key among the German "soldiers." Their camp included MP40s, Mauser 98 rifles, Beretta Model 38s and MG34s.

When it was time for the battle re-enactments, things got loud--and busy! Just like in the war, albeit on a smaller scale, the action moved from Germans quietly manning their posts, to a sudden flurry of activity as bombers--including a restored B-25 - started flying overhead and dropping their payloads. Soon, the boats arrived and troops began disembarking, starting the fire fight. While the rifles and machine guns were blasting in both directions, the tanks and trucks rolled in, firing on the Germans. With soldiers down on both sides, the battle blazed for a solid 45 minutes. Boats and planes continued their duties throughout the battle, bringing more soldiers and more bombs to the fight. Many German soldiers surrendered after they were overrun, earning cheers from the crowd.

With all that to see, you'd think that the battles and the big beach-landing reenactments on Friday and Saturday afternoons would be the most popular part of this event, and for some it is. Certainly, the armor that is brought up from WW2 Armor, a mobile living history museum in Deltona, Florida, is a site to behold. But according to Wayne Heim, the head of marketing and public relations for D-Day Conneaut, for many, the best part of the event is walking through the working camps and talking to the reenactors. Heim says, "That's where the real magic takes place. There is stuff taking place at D-Day you can't see anywhere else." This is real living history that the attendees get to see up close and personal.

What brings in the more than 1,500 reenactors, most of whom are repeat participants, putting in regular appearances at D-Day Conneaut? For most of them, it's their love of history and their desire to share it with new generations. Others do it to honor a family member who served in the military, often in WWII or Korea. It's about more than the battles for these guys (and gals). It's a chance to share their passion and pass on history to the younger generations and the visitors. This event is so popular among reenactors that the registrations are sold out within four days of opening.

The reenactors at D-Day Conneaut need to be registered and have a valid registration card to be able to participate in the mock battles. There are age limits for the reenactors as well: 16 years and older to be on the field and 18 or older to fire a weapon.

Reenactors work with their units at home throughout the year, training, fine-tuning their tactical skills, and developing their "impressions"--the reenactors' term for the representation of the characters they are portraying. When they get to D-Day Conneaut, they do more training with their units on site: loading and unloading boats, marching in formation, and other drills. The command force holds meetings prior to D-Day, drawing up the battle plans and laying out the maps and directives. When the soldier reenactors arrive on site, the units are briefed by the commanders, who coordinate what they need for the mock battles. Since many have done D-Day Conneaut before, the veterans help the newcomers fall into line. The soldiers' unit commanders are there to check the safety and authenticity of the reenactors' equipment.

All this excitement comes at a cost. One reenactor can spend upwards of $2,000 (of their own money) to participate in a reenactment like this. This includes their kit (uniform and equipment), rifle, blanks, gas and expenses. Blanks alone run 30 to 40 cents a piece, and one machine gun can run through 3,000 rounds in one battle! Heim says that although it's impossible to come up with a solid number, hundreds of thousands of rounds are fired in a D-Day Conneaut weekend.

Because Conneaut is a small town with limited hotel space, as well as to be fully immersed in the experience, most - 90% - of the reenactors camp for free on-site in the working camps, and are treated to breakfast and lunch, mess-style.

The impressive event attracts reenactors from all over the United States, and visitors from as far as Europe, and even China. It draws more than 20,000 attendees and roughly 1,500 registered reenactors. Next year's event promises to be even larger, as it will commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-Day.

Here, our military veterans, especially those who served in World War II, the Korean War, or the Vietnam War, get the VIP treatment, as well they should. The organizers roll out the red carpet for veterans with reserved parking, intra-park transportation, a hospitality tent, a special gift, and reserved seating to watch the battles. This year, approximately 150 WWII and Korean veterans attended D-Day Conneaut, making it the largest gathering of WWII vets in the world.

At D-Day Conneaut, there's even a chance to win some goodies for your own arsenal. At this year's event, attendees could buy raffle tickets for a chance to win an M1A1 Paratrooper carbine donated by Inland Manufacturing. Another group, the Amboy Rifle Club (established in Conneaut in the 1940s to promote rifle shooting), raffled off a 1943 Ml rifle. Dozens of vendors were also present, selling everything from WWII surplus and reproduction uniforms and militaria, related souvenirs, WWII model kits and toys, to WWII-themed food like authentic German bratwurst! SARCO was also there with MP-44, Thompson, Enfield rifle, MP-40, and Ml Carbine "dummy guns" for reenactors or the public to buy.

D-Day Conneaut has something for everyone -from veterans looking to connect with others who've "been there," to military and history buffs and those just looking to learn a little more about this defining moment in WWII. So the next time you're in the mood to see some good, old-fashioned WWII-era firepower, make plans to attend D-Day Conneaut. For information on this spectacular event, visit DDayOhio.us. If you're interested in becoming a reenactor, the World War II Historical Re-enactment Society has links to dozens of clubs and groups in the USA (under its "Units" page); visit them at worldwartwohrs.org. Firearms News hopes to see you on the battlefield!

Special thanks to David Fortier for helping identify vehicles in photos.

Written and photographed by Lisa A. DeNiro

Caption: An Sd. Kfz. 222 armored car in fantastic condition was a showpiece in the German encampment.

Caption: Editor Vincent DeNiro standing in front of an M18 Hellcat tank destroyer.

Caption: Attendees learned about many weapons, including the G43 and StG 44 (MP 44).

Caption: Most of the firearms were real and adapted for blank firing, like this MG 42 in a weapons demonstration.

Caption: Rare vehicles are also everywhere, like this BMW R75 motorcycle with mounted MG 34 machine gun.

Caption: An American soldier opens up with a full-auto Thompson M1 SMG after taking a trench. Notice the red and green hoses connected to the bottom of the MG 42. Some of the guns used are gas-ignition operated, which simulates full-auto fire, as this is a far less expensive option than buying a transferable one. The last MG 42 sold by Midwest Tactical (ATFMa chinegun.com) went for $45,000.

Caption: 82nd Airborne Headquarters has an M1917 water-cooled Browning Machine Gun on an M3A4 hand cart.

Caption: Wounded soldiers are not uncommon in this realistic depiction of D-Day.

Caption: No WWII reenactment would be complete without at least one M1919 Browning machine gun. D-Day in Conneaut, Ohio, had at least a dozen.

Caption: Where would you see one of these up close in person? An M15 Halftrack armed with a 37-millimeter gun and two .50-caliber Browning M2 machine guns.

Caption: An officer observing beach preparations while standing on his German Panzer I tank.

Caption: D-Day Ohio isn't your typical reenactment event, as there are even P51 Mustang fighter planes in the sky!

Caption: See the Beretta 38/42 SMG on the far right? This one was a non-shooting/"dummy" gun.

Caption: P51 Mustang fighter plane providing close air support with its six .50-caliber machine guns.

Caption: A Landing Vehicle, Tracked, or LVT, amphibious % vehicle lands on the beach with British forces."

Caption: An M20 Armored Scout Car and M3 halftrack begin to attack.

Caption: If you are a military-vehicle enthusiast, there's nothing like seeing the real thing instead of just scaled-down models! Here we see an M3 halftrack, German BMW motorcycle with sidecar, and German Kubelwagen.

Caption: MP-40S were a common sight in the hands of German reenactors, and in many forms: full-auto (see ATFMachinegun.com about getting yours), semi-auto pistols (like the ones available from AmericanTactical.us/5721/detail.html), and "dummy guns" (available from e-Sarcolnc.com).

Caption: The Brits came in charging with Enfield rifles and BREN light machine guns!

Caption: The Beretta model 38 (center) is blazing away at incoming American forces. Beretta SMGs, in limited numbers, were used by German forces.

Caption: The Browning BAR is a favorite at reenactment events.

Caption: SARCO was on hand with a ton of great WWII equipment, including dummy weapons, uniforms, and other related equipment.

Caption: French police, as well as French resistance, were also represented. Notice the Sten SMG leaning against the radio in the tent.

Caption: A Thompson M1 SMG leans against a table of reproduction candy and cigarettes from the 1940s. All items on the table are also for sale to reenactors or spectators. Authenticity and continuity rule here!

Caption: Everything you need for the man cave, WWII collection, or for your next reenactment event was on sale. Even the food had a 1940s European theme!
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Author:DeNiro, Lisa A.
Publication:Firearms News
Geographic Code:1U3OH
Date:Nov 1, 2018
Words:2223
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