Geology of the D-Day landings


Sandy shorelines formed by the confluence of larger rivers with the English Channel between the harbours of Le Havre and Cherbourg  made the landing of amphibious vehicles possible. In January 1944, British divers collected samples from selected sites along the Normandy coastline to allow geologists to determine if these shores could support the heavy equipment needed to overrun the local German fortifications.

In 1988, sand was collected from ‘Omaha Beach’. As well as reflecting the geology of the local catchment area of the rivers and marine environment (quartz, feldspar, limestone and fragmented shells), the sand also contained small magnetic grains and spheres of iron and glass. These spheres are the remains of metallic shell casings and quartz sand fused together by the heat of the exploding munitions.

The D-Day infantry landings were accompanied by bombardment of the beach by heavy artillery. Scars left there by bombs and grenades are still visible today and have been described as a modern day trace fossil by geographers Joseph Hupy and Randy Schaetzel.

Tiny metallic and glass particles in the sand and the bomb craters in the ground will survive some centuries or millennia before disappearing, the fragments worn away by the incessant motions of the waves and tides, the craters filled with new sediments, maybe some even becoming part of the geological record, and the rocks as silent testimonies of human warfare.

The full article from Scientific American may be found here.

A pdf copy of specialist maps prepared by British Military Geologists in 1944 may be downloaded here.