June 25, 2001 Normandy, France -- Fifty-seven years after the Allies landed at Normandy and liberated Europe, a team of nautical archaeologists is surveying wreckage off the Omaha and Utah beaches in hopes of learning more about what happened in the naval operations supporting the Allied invasion beginning on D-Day, June 6, 1944.
Members of Project Neptune 2K, funded in part by Texas Sea Grant, are using a remotely operated vehicle, or ROV, to survey and photograph D-Day wrecks identified last summer with side-scanning sonar and magnetometers, which help locate wrecks by measuring magnetic fields.
Project leader Brett Phaneuf said that while the team has initially faced equipment problems, bad weather and poor underwater visibility because of plankton blooms, situations have improved, and researchers have photographed several D-Day wrecks since resuming work May 21.
"It has gone fantastic," he said. "We've had the typical weather and equipment blues, but now all things have come into alignment. We have increasing visibility and absolutely beautiful seas."
Using the ROV, researchers have photographed a landing craft-tank (LCT), which carried troops and equipment to shore, and two of the amphibious British Double Duty Tanks (DD tanks). They found one tank heavily encrusted, overgrown with marine life and covered with a fishing net. Its guns were still partially elevated and facing forward in the travel position as when it was launched on D-Day.
On the other tank, researchers identified the remnants of the structure that was supposed to enable the tank to float. They also found the machine guns still in place on the front hull of the tank and the tank hatches open.
"It's hard to describe how exciting it was, how thrilling it was - after five years of preparation and fund raising -- to finally get on the bottom and see these tanks," Phaneuf said. "It really takes you back to D-Day," he said. "It brings home the level of sacrifice people made here and the commitment they had to the work they were doing to liberate Europe."
By identifying the wrecks, Phaneuf said he hopes the information he learns will be used by American and French officials to augment ways of policing and protecting these historical sites.
The project will be featured on a D-Day anniversary edition of "Deadline Discovery" airing on the Discovery Channel, 10-11 p.m. (E.D.T.), Wednesday, June 6.
Last summer, Phaneuf and his team identified six to eight Sherman tanks and more than two dozen World War II wrecks lying off the Normandy coast. Some of those wrecks are believed to be those of LCTs and a Higgins Boat, which ferried troops and tanks from larger offshore ships to the beaches.
The team also found several of the DD tanks. Many of these tanks, which were rigged to float, proved failures and sank as soon as they were released from ships, taking their crews down with them, Phaneuf said.
This year's field season runs May through June. The Discovery Channel and the British Broadcasting Corp. are major sponsors of the research. Project Neptune 2K also is supported by the Texas Sea Grant College Program, Kongsberg-Simrad Corp. and Oceaneering International of Morgan City, La. Researchers are working aboard the University of South Hampton's RV Bill Conway.
Project Neptune 2K is a project of the Institute of Nautical Archaeology, which is headquartered at Texas A&M University.
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