Two geology professors have discovered tiny bits of shrapnel and other microscopic remnants of the D-Day invasion in samples of sand collected on Omaha Beach in Normandy, France. The scientists were surprised that these tiny traces survived for decades despite the scouring action of sand and waves, and the rusting action of seawater.
Now, 68 years after the last gunshots and bomb blasts, with few living witnesses remaining and the beaches long ago picked clean of visible human-made remnants, the sand itself bears witness to that epic battle. Their results were published last September in the journal The Sedimentary Record.
Earle McBride, emeritus professor at The University of Texas at Austin's Jackson School of Geosciences and co-author of the paper, is available for interviews about this chance discovery.
In the early hours of June 6, 1944, more than 160,000 Allied troops poured from planes and ships onto the heavily fortified shores of Normandy, France. Omaha Beach was one of five Allied landing points along a 50-mile (80-kilometer) stretch of coastline. The battles were bloody and brutal, but by day's end, the Allies had established a beachhead. It proved to be the turning point of the World War II.
The researchers reported that 4 percent of the sand they collected is made up of bits of shrapnel ranging in size from very fine to course (0.06 to 1 millimeter). They also found trace amounts of spherical iron beads and glass beads. Using a scanning electron microscope, they were able to study the shape, texture, and size of all three explosively-produced structure types in greater detail.
McBride's co-author is Dane Picard, emeritus professor at the University of Utah.
- Earle F. Mc Bride, M. Dane Picard. Shrapnel in Omaha Beach Sand. The Sedimentary Record, September 2011 DOI: 10.2110/sedred.2011.3.4
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