Ships, amphibious tanks, fragments of artificial ports… Since 2017, the Department of Underwater Archaeology (DRASSM), has taken an inventory of the D-Day wreckage found off the Normandy coast. In April 2019, the DRASSM teams carried out the 3rd and last campaign aboard the André Malraux archaeological research ship, resulting in 150 identified sites.
An historic underwater heritage
The DRASSM team was contacted by the Normandy Region in 2014, which wanted the D-Day beaches protected and listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with the inclusion of an inventory of the wreckage sites located off the coast. The team first collected, complied, and assessed an amount of already existing data so they could complete an initial inventory of 125 sites by the end of the first campaign. Cécile Sauvage, an archaeologist with DRASSM, explained,
“During our 3 campaigns, we performed two different tasks. First, we performed surveys with multi-beam sonar equipment to have an image of the entire site. This was very important because you can rarely have visibility beyond 5 metres in the Bay of Seine. The divers could not see the site as a whole, but only in sections. (…) Once we could place the site and we had a view of its entirety, we performed more specific survey diving to look for details that helped us identify the wreckage.”
Relics that keep the past alive
Each campaign, lasting two weeks on average, brought the DRASSM scientists together each day aboard the archaeological research ship, the André Malraux, which was anchored in Cherbourg. When we did our report on Wednesday, 17th April, after the usual briefing on the day’s research, their dive focused on one of the most iconic Normandy D-Day wreckage sites: The SS Empire Broadsword, a LSI (Landing Ship Infantry), located off the coast of the Pointe du Hoc promontory.
“It’s a wreck that is still well preserved for the most part. The ship rests on its starboard side and all of the structures on the bridge are still visible. (…) It is already well documented, but as part of the inventory, we want to have a lot of scientific data as well as images so we can present the site to the public, particularly those who do not dive.”
That’s why the scientists have two diving photographers with them, who film and photograph all of the specific details that allow the wrecks to be identified. Within 2 to 3 years the public will be able to access all of the gathered data on a site dedicated to the wreckage. It’s a way to enhance and showcase all the heritage of the “largest maritime operation in the world”.
- Tristan Lohengrin – A Peaceful Sanctuary
- Nicolai Heidlas – Queen of the skies
- Frédéric Osada / DRASSM
- Teddy Seguin / DRASSM