Nova (1974–…): Season 41, Episode 13 - D-Day's Sunken Secrets - full transcript

From PBS - On June 6, 1944, the Allies launched the biggest armada in history to invade the Normandy beaches and liberate Europe from the Nazis. In less than 24 hours, more than 5,000 ships crossed the English Channel, along with thousands of tanks and landing craft and nearly 200,000 men. Hundreds of ships sank while running the gauntlet of mines and bunkers, creating one of the world's largest underwater archeological sites. Now, NOVA has exclusive access to a unique collaboration between military historians, archeologists, and specialist divers to carry out the first complete survey of the seabed bordering the legendary beachheads. Dive teams, submersibles, and underwater robots will discover and identify key examples of the Allied craft that fell victim to German shellfire, mines, and torpedoes. D-Day's Sunken Secrets unfolds a vivid blow-by-blow account of the tumultuous events of D-Day and reveals how the Allies' intricate planning and advanced technology was vital to assure the success of the most ambitious and risky military operation ever launched.

Are you wondering how healthy the food you are eating is? Check it -
Off the coast of France,

an international team is

a hidden battlefield

looking for the secrets

of how the greatest naval
invasion in history unfolded

Buried here is a treasure trove
of ships, tanks,

and potentially unexploded mines

These are the wrecks of D-Day...
June 6, 1944

For years, Hitler had devastated
Europe, killing millions

Now was the time for the Allies
to make their move

It was an all-out gamble

It was nothing less than the
history of Western civilization

But the odds were against them

It's hell

It's about as bad
as combat can get

Three years in the making,

this was the most epic struggle
of the 20th century

These are the men
who made the difference

You should understand that

D-Day required the best minds
in the military,

working with scientists
and engineers

D-Day is a triumph

of technology and engineering

The guys that planned
the logistics for this

were unbelievable

new machines

to break through Hitler's
vicious defenses,

ingenious and untested ways
to deliver an invading army

I always knew it was big,

but I think this makes you feel
how big it is

Today's expedition investigates

how the Allies tipped the odds
in their favor

Whoa, look at that

And brings veterans back

to the place where they nearly
lost their lives

Bet you never thought
you'd see that again


New technologies and veterans'
memories come together

to reveal this hallowed ground

The hidden battlefield is one
of our most sacred charges

- Right now on NOVA,
- "D-Day's Sunken Secrets"

Along the north coast of France

is the picturesque region
of Normandy

Charming villages,

farms with their patchwork
of small fields,

and beautiful beaches where
Parisians come for a holiday

But few realize that just beyond
these tranquil beaches

is evidence of the biggest

and the most dangerous
naval invasion of all time

The violence of that battle
still lives

in the World War II wrecks
that lie just off the coast

These wrecks tell the story
of D-Day

June 6, 1944

7,000 warships

11,000 airplanes

and 200,000 men

Crossing at dawn from England
to these beaches at Normandy

to liberate Europe
from the Nazis

Four years earlier, Hitler
had conquered most of Europe,

killing millions

and setting up the most epic
struggle of the 20th century

All along the north coast
of Europe, the Nazis had built

a vicious wall of defenses
to stop just such an invasion

D-Day took three years
to organize

and was the Allied Forces'
best chance to retake Europe

But the odds were against them,

and the future of the free world
hung in the balance

It has now been 70 years

since this battle
that changed history,

but the magnitude of that
invasion still inspires awe

How did the Allied Forces
of Great Britain,

the United States and Canada,
depleted by years of war,

manage to pull it off?

One of the things
we are learning

is to treat the evidence
of 20th century battlefields

as proper archaeology

Nick Hewitt,

an historian at the National
Museum of the Royal Navy,

says that these D-Day wrecks
can tell us things

no official document can

The beauty of the D-Day
underwater battlefield

is the evidence is still there

It's all laid out for us

All we have to do is interpret
the evidence to tell the story

What is the true story
of this invasion?

It's referred to as D-Day,

but what do these wrecks reveal
about the invasion

and how long it took
to secure a foothold in Europe?

And what tales do they tell us
about the necessary engineering

that made this all possible?

D-Day is a triumph
of technology and engineering

And what you see is specifically
engineered solutions

to specific problems

Buried here are inventions

of scientists, engineers,
and even maverick businessmen,

some of the unsung heroes

drafted into this immense
war effort

These wrecks comprise
one of the largest

underwater archeological sites
in the world,

and it is beginning to get the
closer examination it deserves

To understand
this hidden battlefield

and these inventions,
an international team

of oceanographers,
historians and archeologists

has set out to examine
the evidence buried here

This is a new one, yeah

It's right off of Utah beach

There are hundreds of ships,

as well as tanks, guns, and
potentially unexploded mines

The expedition team uses
the latest in sonar technology

and even deep-water submarines

to investigate the remains
of this epic naval battle

Undiscovered evidence
is being charted and explored,

like this American Sherman tank,

one of the iconic weapons
of World War II

How did this weapon,
intended for a land battle,

end up here,
intact and underwater?

It's mysteries like this that
the expedition will investigate

over the next six weeks

There are few areas in the world

where you have so many wrecks
concentrated in one area

Sylvain Pascaud,
the director of the expedition,

believes a systematic

of this "lost fleet"
is necessary

to give a true picture
of what this battle really was

Oh, look at that

When we think
of the D-Day landings,

we think of a land battle

We think of great movies,
we think of boots on the beach

But actually, 6th of June 1944

was the biggest, most complex
amphibious landing in history

The expedition starts off
with a sonar-equipped catamaran

named the Magic Star.

Onboard is the latest
generation sonar,

submerged underwater
in the middle of the boat

Sonar uses sound waves
transmitted through the water

to image what is below
on the ocean floor,

like this British ship

For a solid month,

the Magic Star
will sail back and forth

in up to 40 miles stretches

each pass revealing long strips

of this hidden battlefield

It's like mowing a lawn...

A 200-square-mile lawn,
that is...

With each pass
overlapping the last

to make sure
they don't miss a spot


Très bien

or a ship
on the ocean floor below

This survey phase
will reveal potential targets

for further investigation,
like the mysterious sunken tank

We're right at the edge
of the caisson

Onboard is Andy Sherrell, who
leads the team of sonar experts

Ralph will run you through
our target

We collect one line
of data at a time,

but as you can see here, we're
combing line by line by line

We're trying to build
a very large

underwater archeological map
of the whole area

This area covers the site
of the D-Day naval battle

where the Allied Forces,

led by Britain,
the United States, and Canada,

sought to regain a foothold
in Europe

Four years earlier,

the Nazis had conquered France
along with much of Europe

Ever since, the Allied Forces
had planned in secret

how to fight back

They needed to win a toehold
in France,

and then could drive up
to Berlin from the west

The Soviet Union would push in
from the east,

choking Hitler in the middle

The stakes
could not have been higher

What is at stake

was nothing less than the
history of Western civilization

It was an all-out gamble

It was pushing
all your poker chips

onto the center of the table

Captain Henry J Hendrix,

the chief historian
for the U S Navy,

says what was involved
in pulling off D-Day

is hard to even imagine today

The Germans had literally years

to prepare the defense
of the beaches

So they are ready

They know if Germany
is to be defeated,

the Allies have to reenter
the continent somewhere

So the question is really where?

The options for the invasion
were limited,

and they had already tried

in other locations

Two years earlier in France,

the Allies tried to capture
a port in a town named Dieppe

That battle against the
fortified German positions there

was a disaster

More than 60% of Allied soldiers
were killed or captured

This failure haunted British
Prime Minister Winston Churchill

and changed the course
of the war

In response to previous

President Roosevelt
and Churchill

met several times in secret
to create a new strategy

The plan they devised

was to overtake the region
of Normandy from the Nazis

And the naval invasion
was just the beginning

The entire plan was codenamed
Operation Overlord

It would be a surprise

The Nazis had expected
an invasion at Calais

because it was so close
to England and had a port

Instead, the decision was to go
further down the French coast

where there were no large ports

and target the beaches
of Normandy

with a massive
amphibious landing...

A much more difficult operation

In an amphibious operation,

there's no middle ground

You either succeed or you don't

You get ashore
and you move inland

or you get thrown back
into the sea,

unlike most battles
where you can retreat

and fight again the next day

You can't retreat
in an amphibious operation

Overlord in Normandy
is really the big gamble

about whether democracy
as we know it

was going to continue and
survive and grow and flourish

and that people would be free

as we thought that
they should be free,

or whether Nazism

and the atrocities
that Hitler was committing,

genocide, was going to succeed

In the end, five
landing beaches were chosen:

two American, one Canadian,
and two British

They were given code names

of Utah, Omaha, Gold,
Juno and Sword

But even its chief architect

wasn't sure this plan would work

The night before the invasion,

General Eisenhower
wrote a letter

taking the blame if it failed

My decision to attack
at this time and place

was based upon the best
information available

The troops, the air,
and the navy

did all that bravery
and devotion to duty could do

If any blame or fault
is attached to the attempt,

it is mine alone

Perhaps the best way
to understand

why Eisenhower was so worried
is to stand on Omaha Beach

and see what the Allies
were up against

Omaha Beach is an excellent
defensive location

If you're the Germans,
what you want to be able to do

is kill anything on the beach

Adrian Lewis,
a former Army Ranger,

is a history professor
at the University of Kansas

And he has taught military
strategy to West Point cadets

The geographic formations here,

the terrain, makes it excellent

From one end
where the landing takes place

to the other end here
is about four miles long

Lewis says any fighting strategy

must begin with understanding
the geography

of the battlefield

Omaha Beach is banana shaped

That banana shape is important

So instead of having your weapon
systems pointing out to sea,

what you would do

is actually have them pointing
into the beach

So if I put machine gun

artillery positions
on this flank,

and then I put more
on this flank,

instead of having them
point out to sea,

I'm actually having them
pointing in,

and that's what the Germans did

This inward pointing fire,
or interlocking fields of fire,

created a deadly kill zone
on the beaches

This was a huge advantage
for the Germans

Excellent terrain
for putting in a defense

As a matter of fact,
if I were doing this thing,

I'd rather be on the German side

In addition, the cliffs
that surround the beach

gave the Nazis the high ground

It seemed that nature
gave them every advantage

in this crucial battle

You're up against the weather

You're up against the tide

You're up against the beach

And when you are dealing
with forces of that size,

it's hard to get it done
in the right way

This area off the coast
is known for unreliable weather

and some of the strongest ocean
tides in the world

Those conditions
are even difficult

for today's expedition

We've got three challenges:

the weather, the tides,
and the current

I just cannot imagine
5,000 vessels with 200,000 men

in conditions like that

If you disregard the weather,
the current and the tide,

you will be going
absolutely nowhere

Ocean levels here

can rise and fall
up to 25 feet a day

The effects can easily be seen

over the course of a few hours
on the beaches

Here when the tide is out,
the width of the beach increases

a full 300 yards wider
at low tide

The significance of that is
it meant the soldiers on D-Day

would be exposed for much longer
to the deadly Germany crossfire

D-Day planners needed
to understand every detail

about the geography
of this battlefield

to plan for the assault

But how do you get
that information

when the entire country
is under enemy control?

Evidence of the incredible
effort to figure this out

still exists at the United
Kingdom Hydrographic Office,

one of the world's
leading producers

of navigational charts

This building was
an important intelligence site,

its location a state secret

In fact, the building
was camouflaged

to hide it from Nazi bombers

Inside, top-secret documents
still exist

"Neptune" was the code name
for the naval operation

These artifacts aren't
quite like the sunken wrecks

off the coast of Normandy,
but they are important evidence

of ways the D-Day planners found
around the obstacles:

an effort that began
long before the invasion

You have mines here

Barbed wire entanglement here

Cartographer Chris Howlett

explains that mapping
the Normandy region

was an extraordinary
top-secret operation

that required math, science
and daring spy missions

Low-flying aircraft were
dispatched over the beaches

And surveillance photographs

were taken at intervals
throughout the day,

documenting the changing tides

These black lines
are where the water line was

on different tides

Why was this useful?

Using those different
tide levels,

mathematicians could calculate

the exact slope
of the different beaches,

necessary to figure out
what vehicles could be used

Knowing every detail
of the beach was crucial

At Dieppe, the Allies discovered
only after landing

that their tanks could not get
traction on the beaches there

Every way of getting information
was used

Even past vacation postcards
were requested

They put out a public request
for the people of Britain

"Any postcards you collected

"in your holidays to France
before the war,

send them in to us
and they may be of use"

And millions of postcards
were sent in

These postcards
gave essential information

about what the coast of France,

by now in enemy hands
for four years, looked like

But not all the necessary

could be gleaned
from a safe distance

Just off the Nazi-controlled
beaches lurks an X-Craft

Inside this mini-submarine
are five underwater spies

Perhaps one of the earliest
phases of the battle

was the survey
and preparatory work

carried out by men serving
aboard miniature submarines...

The X-Craft... who were
effectively secret agents

The X-Craft were 50 feet long
and barely five feet high

Some missions lasted two weeks
in these cramped quarters

The surveillance gathered
was used in making these maps,

including some
from the perspective of the sea,

showing visible landmarks
on the beach

like church steeple or houses

These were crucial
for navigating the landings

They came up with a novel idea

The view at the bottom here

is the view that you
would expect to see

if you were coming in
from a landing craft

at any given point
along this map

Jim Booth was a member
of this elite submarine force,

venturing into mine-filled,
Nazi-controlled waters

with barely any
navigational guides

Navigation of course
was difficult

because then,
there were no SAT and air

A classic old-fashioned
navigational trip:

pencil and ruler and gyrocompass

Booth's mission was to go ahead
of the invasion force

and set up light beacons

so the huge armada of Allied
ships would know where to go

His submarine was assigned
to the British landing beach

codenamed Sword, the furthest
east of the five beaches

He would be one of the first
soldiers in action on D-Day

He was in position at 0100...

Military terminology
for 1:00 a m

Today, Jim Booth
has come back to Normandy

to take part
in the investigation

This is no leisurely
retirement cruise...

The D-Day expedition has
brought in a team from Canada

with two deep-water submarines

The veterans who stormed

the beaches of Normandy,

they're the most
incredible people

No one can bear witness with the
same kind of emotional intensity

that someone who was there can

We're losing about 600 veterans
every day

When they slip away,
they are in the shadows forever

For the first time in 70 years,
Jim Booth will go underwater

off the coast of Normandy,
just like he did for D-Day

There is a very small
amount of worries

because he's 92

I haven't been in a submarine
at all since then, no

I think you will find
you can see a lot better

from that one
than you could in yours

Well, we had no windows
of course at all

Ironically, this time

the submarine is even smaller
than the X-Craft

But Jim Booth will only have
to stay in the submarine

for an hour

instead of the four days he did
before D-Day

Today's dive is
in the exact same location

off of Sword beach

His shipmate is military
historian Nick Hewitt

Any second now,

you're going to be underwater
for the first time in 70 years

Here we go

Look at that!

Isn't it amazing?

It's reasonably clear
today too, isn't it?

Pickup target straight ahead

The wreck's about
15 meters below

There's a shadow

There is something here

Roger, I've got visual

Jim's role on the 6th of June

is to mark the safe channel
through the enemy minefields

So Jim has to go out
with a small group of men

in advance of the landings,

navigate themselves
to exactly the right spot,

surface alongside,
we must remember, a minefield,

and light a beacon

so that the incoming ships
can pass safely through

So we need to keep
our eyes peeled

It was in this spot
off of Sword beach

that Jim Booth placed
the beacons on D-Day

Did you have an understanding

of how enormous
the scale of it all was?

Almost everybody was just
a tiny cog in this vast wheel

His sub surrounded by mines,
Booth and the X-Craft crew

had to find the exact location
to set up the beacons

But with no lights on shore
or radar, how did they do it?

It was very, very complicated

One has to remember that
all of the navigation aides

had been switched off
because of security

We knew we were in France

It didn't take very long to
recognize it was a church tower

We did recognize that

In the end,

Booth and his X-Craft crew
navigated using the landmarks

that had been mapped
by the Hydrographic Department

Booth says it was the Allies'
attention to detail

in the planning that
made the difference,

and that was a direct result

of the lessons learned
from the disaster at Dieppe

Dieppe was really intended to be
a test run for Normandy

It did all the things wrong

Those lessons were learnt,

and this was put into good force
for Normandy

But the one thing the Allies
couldn't control

was the weather
for the invasion,

and the forecast
did not look good

By May 1944,

two million soldiers
were in southern England,

waiting for the go ahead
from their commanders

And with 11,000 airplanes
and 7,000 ships involved

in this complicated operation,
decent weather was required

But the science
of weather prediction

was not what it is today

General Eisenhower
and his Supreme Allied Command

had only limited information,

since satellites
and weather RADAR

wouldn't be invented
until after the war

Instead, weather data
was collected

at remote weather stations

and sent to the UK
Meteorological Office

in Essex, England

Records like these,
dating back 150 years,

are still archived here,

including those
for the D-Day landings

These maps detailed
weather patterns

and were meticulously drawn
to chart moving storm systems

These were the weather maps
that they used for that process

The maps were produced
every three hours,

whereas nowadays
they would be only done

every six or 12 hours

High and low pressure systems...

The atmospheric conditions
that determine the weather...

Were charted and analyzed
at the headquarters

The low pressures
are basically bad weather:

strong winds, rain,
a lot of clouds

The high pressures
are mainly fine weather:

lack of clouds
and quite warm temperatures,

in June anyway

At the center of the operation

was Group Captain James M Stagg

His responsibility was
to track the weather data

and report it directly
to General Eisenhower

He kept a personal diary

that is still held
at the Meteorological Office

It shows the enormous pressure
he was under

The invasion was originally
planned for June 5

"Saturday June the 3rd

"A day of extreme strain

"The weather situation got worse

"Two depressions below
98 millibars at one in June

Who could have forecast this?"

This map was from June the 3rd,
and this is showing

typical bad early summer weather
in the UK

Before D-Day, there were
several storms lined up

We've got a succession of low
pressures across the charts:

one here, one here,
one to the northwest

These are going to keep the
weather what we call unsettled...

So, clouds, rain,
gale force winds in the Channel

Going to stir up very rough seas

So anybody who is on a boat
crossing the Channel

would be in danger

"June the 4th, 1944

"At 0415 conference
this morning,

assault for tomorrow
definitely cancelled"

The bad weather
would limit air support

and create treacherous

for ships on the Channel

The invasion force
is put on hold,

but time is running out

"Today, it began to appear

"that there might be a temporary
fair interval Monday night

Should we advise
to make use of it?"

The timing of the invasion
had been selected

to correspond with the lowest
tide of the month

This would give the Allies
maximum time

to unload men and equipment

With the tide low and coming in,

ships can unload and be carried
out to sea on the rising tide

If the tide were high
and going out,

boats would get stuck on the
beach as the water receded

If you are on a ship

that makes land or gets close
to land at high tide

and suddenly the tide turns
against you

and the water is running out,
you either need to leave then

or your ship is actually
going to come

and ground in the mud flats

Because of the changing tides,

Eisenhower could only wait
one more day

If the weather didn't clear,

the invasion would have to be
postponed for weeks

"I'm now getting rather stunned

It is all a nightmare"

Every day they waited,
there was an increased chance

that German intelligence
would discover

the huge invasion force
poised at the coastline

and realize that the invasion
was coming

If discovered,

the crucial element of surprise
would be lost

This is the chart for Monday,
June the 5th

This was the original D-Day

There were some
crucial observations

which made some of the
meteorologists start to think

that the 6th could be possible

And these operations
were up here

in the north of the Atlantic

And interestingly,
they marked things on here

which we don't nowadays,
called "col"

Cols are a gap,
or interval of calm,

that can exist
between bad weather systems

Cols exist between areas
of low pressure

And these were quite important
for this situation

because they knew that if they
could get into an area of a col,

the chances for getting the
right weather for the landings

were better

It wasn't a definite,
but it was a possibility

It's Eisenhower's decision

The momentum had already
built up

"I've got everybody
locked and cocked, ready to go"

The fact that the weather
was so bad

actually made it one of his
harder decisions

"Monday June the 5th

"After one hour's rest,
met conference at 0300

"Fair interval confirmed

"and invasion put on final
and irrevocable decision

Whatever the outcome,
the decision is taken"

Following this weather report
from Stagg,

General Eisenhower
ordered the invasion to begin

Later, he broadcast
his blessings to the troops

Soldiers, sailors, and airmen

of the Allied Expeditionary

You are about to embark
upon the Great Crusade

toward which we have striven
these many months

The eyes of the world
are upon you

Good luck,

and let us all beseech
the blessing of Almighty God

upon this great
and noble undertaking

D-Day had begun,
and there was no turning back

The armada of Allied ships
left England

and would sail through the night

to five different
landing beaches

The scale of it
is almost inconceivable

It's 7,000 ships

And they include
not only the ships

that are carrying
the infantrymen

who are going to the beaches,

but they include
bombardment ships

Battleship after battleship

And destroyers

All of those have to be launched
from Britain

There's intense choreography

"You will go here,
you will go there,

you'll do it at this hour,"
and so on

It was the most massive
naval force

that's ever been assembled

D-Day is without doubt

the single biggest, most complex
amphibious landing in history

The naval plan Operation Neptune

50 miles of beachfront,

hundreds of thousands
of soldiers,

thousands of ships
and landing craft

The magnitude of it
is incredible

The landings were set for 0630,
early the following morning

On the shores of Normandy,

the Germans could only see
the bad weather

and thought that it would
prevent any immediate invasion

They also did not see that
just off the coast

were a handful of small
X-Craft submarines

Onboard one was Jim Booth

It was a hell of a time ago

69 years

Obviously, it is emotional,
very, emotional

It is very emotional indeed

It was sort of in the direction
of the yacht,

but where the last ripples are

That sort of distance from here

We saw the soldiers
playing football

Here, you know

That was the day before,

So they didn't know, did they,
what was coming

Off the coast, Jim Booth
and the X-Craft submarines

were not alone

An 18-year-old Robert Haga
from Virginia

was aboard the USS Chickadee,

one of the ships that left
England ahead of the armada

to perform the essential task

of clearing the minefield
that the Nazis had laid

An extremely dangerous operation

"June the 5th, 1944

Underway for France"

Haga kept a personal diary
of these historic days

"The invasion will be early
in the morning

We are to go in first
and sweep a channel clear"

The Germans had heavily mined
the English Channel

as part of their Atlantic Wall

Mines in World War II

are like the IEDs of today's
wars in Iraq or Afghanistan...

Low-cost weapons,
but highly lethal

The Magic Star team

has not found any unexploded
German mines so far,

since they were largely cleared
for safety after the war,

but can the sonar
reveal their effect?

This is pointed up here,
so it looks like a bow

It's broken off

I think it hit a mine

They come across a Canadian ship
called the Fort Norfolk.

Its bow was broken off by a mine

That is unbelievable

That is a gorgeous,
gorgeous wreck

One mine can have a
disproportionately large impact,

sinking a whole ship
full of soldiers and equipment

The important thing
about all naval warfare

is the equipment
or the men contained in a ship

are an awful lot easier
to destroy at sea

than they are
once they've got ashore

A single mine
could drown all those men

and destroy all their equipment

It would take days of fighting
to do the same job on land

One place you can safely see
some of these mines

and other military hardware
is the Museum of Normandy Wrecks

in a little town
called Port en Bessin

It is a private collection
of D-Day military equipment

salvaged off the coast here

Axel Niestle, an expert
on the German military,

says the Nazis used four
different kinds of mines

in the ocean off Normandy

The most common
was a contact mine

The whole body is filled
with explosives

Once it goes up close
to the ship,

it can sink a battleship

These mines were anchored
to the ocean floor

and floated just below
the water's surface

The horns are detonators,

something like a very large
off/on switch

And once the ship hits
one of these detonators here,

a chemical reaction is started

The detonator is ignited,
which is a primer,

and then the full charge
is going off

The Nazis had heavily mined
the bay just off the beaches,

and so the Allies
had to sweep lanes clear

just before the landings

We waited until the last instant

Minesweeping tells you where
the landing is going to occur

If you begin too early,

then you have already
tipped them off

on where the operation will be
focused and concentrated

Haga's boat was third in a line

in the minesweeping operation
off of Omaha beach,

next to the USS Osprey.

"At 1800, the USS Osprey
was hit by a mine"

I was on the bow of the ship

And when it hit,

the ship just lifted
out of the water and exploded

This mine hit the magazine

that carried all the ammunition
in the ship

Six men on the Osprey were
killed in the initial blast

These were the first casualties
of D-Day

A lot of the crewmen
were blown out into the water

and they were badly burned

We were throwing rope ladders
over as fast as we could,

but they couldn't see

So we were having to sometimes
hook onto each other

to pull them up, and the skin
would come off their arms

I still have bad memories
about that

Haga has returned to Normandy
as part of the expedition

and wanted to see

the newly installed
Navy Memorial at Utah Beach

that honors many of his
fellow minesweepers

The mine sweeping operation
went on

in view of the German-
controlled beaches

in the hours leading up
to the invasion

Everyone was haunted
by the possibility

that the soldiers there
would sound the alarm

But that never happened,

perhaps because as part
of the operation,

the Allies made a massive effort
to mislead Hitler

into thinking that the invasion

would be further north,
along the coast near Calais

Fleets of fake military gear

were positioned in England
across from Calais,

and an extensive
counterintelligence campaign

was organized
to deceive the Nazis

It's one of the most

brilliant deceptions
in the history of warfare

It's right up there
with the Trojan horse

Not the Trojan horse,

but on the night
before the invasion,

another wood vehicle
was slipping behind enemy lines

unnoticed under the cover
of darkness

There are two large rivers
that cross the road

between Normandy and Paris:

the Caen Canal
and the Orne River

The Allies realized they needed
to capture these bridges

and other strategic targets
before the landings

or risk getting trapped
on the beaches

It was urgent to get men
behind enemy lines

and secure these targets

But how do you do that without
modern Apache helicopters?

One possibility
was dropping paratroopers

But loud airplanes
could alert the Germans,

giving them time
to blow up the bridges

So instead, the job fell to men
like Kermit Swanson,

a farm boy from Minnesota

trained to fly
a silent wood glider

behind enemy lines

Our mission was to fly
that glider over there and land

and try to keep
from killing ourselves

If we did, we completed
most of our objective

The objective was made
more dangerous

by the landscape of Normandy

This farming region is known for
its patchwork of small fields,

with fences formed out of a
dense hedge of rocks and trees

The plan was to land
in the cover of darkness,

and those hedges
would not be visible

You couldn't see
because it was dark

The gliders could carry 12 men
or even a jeep,

land, and jump right into action

If they landed safely

These planes were made
of wood and fabric

with a thin metal frame,

and would easily break apart
if they hit an obstacle

It was terribly dangerous
to fly a glider

It was dark, it was overcast,

you were having to land
into the little small fields

I don't think anyone would want
to be going 90 miles an hour

and crash into a tree
with only plywood as a barrier

The commander
for Allied air forces

predicted in a letter
to General Eisenhower

that the gliders
could suffer casualties

of up to 70% on D-Day

The plan was to tow them
across the English Channel

with C-47 planes
just after midnight

When they reached the drop zone,
their tow rope would be cut

Then the pilots had about three
minutes before they had to land,

no matter what obstacles
were in their way

You're now traveling at
about 80 miles an hour

Now you make a turn, downwind

And you've got three minutes

and the wheels are going
to be on the ground

Probably got three minutes
of your life left

Swanson, now 94 years old,

says it was the last 30 feet
of the descent

that was the most dangerous
because you might hit a tree

I must have been 20,
30 feet off the ground

I didn't even see the tree

And I hit the ground like that,
and that took the wheels off

And then you slid
until you stopped

and everything got
perfectly quiet

And perfectly black

And I said, "Anybody hurt?"

The guys behind me said,
"Nobody back here"

And about that time,
a cow bellowed real loud

I said, "Now you know
where you're at"

We were in the pasture

Once on the ground,
these troops moved into position

to take the strategic targets

What you're trying to do
with these troops

is to prevent the Germans from
counterattacking in your flanks

before you've got enough
combat power ashore

to repel these attacks

The glider operation
went better than expected,

with less loss of life
than predicted

The troops took control
of the strategic targets

without alerting
the German command

Along with the gliders,

13,000 paratroopers
were dropped into France

with a mission to disrupt
the German defenses

These men were the very first
Allied soldiers

to touch French soil
on the morning of D-Day

Back at sea, the armada of ships
was approaching the coastline

behind the minesweepers,
with Robert Haga aboard

Jim Booth and X-Craft crews were
at work setting up the beacons

The next obstacle was getting
150,000 troops on shore,

something that the Nazis
had spent years

making sure would not happen

Germans were good engineers

They knew how to build bunkers,
I tell you

The thickness is from there
to about here

Ever since invading Europe,

the Germans worked to build
massive fortification

all along the north coast
of Europe,

including 15,000 bunkers
overlooking the beaches

Just take a look at this

You can see the entire beach,

and if you can see something,
you can destroy it

At this point in the war,

the Germans knew their troops
were stretched thin,

so defending their hold
on the beaches

was essential to their strategy

The defense is the strongest
form of war

If your defense is well done...

If you have enough obstacles,

enough mine fields,
enough firepower

you can reduce
the number of troops you need

Along the coast of France,

these bunkers held powerful guns
that could shoot 20 miles

And the beaches were covered
with a series of mined obstacles

hidden just below high tide

that would destroy any ship
that tried to land,

including the famous hedgehog:
crosses of steel

that could rip open the bottom
of a ship

All of this was part
of one the most fearsome

military fortifications
ever built

It was known as Hitler's
Atlantic Wall

The Atlantic Wall was strong

and it was getting stronger
day by day

In the six months before June 6,

Hitler allowed almost unlimited
resources to be thrown into it

So it's pretty serious

One of Hitler's top generals,
Field Marshall Erwin Rommel,

was sent to the front
by Hitler himself

to fortify this powerful
death trap

The beach obstacles dictated
a terrible choice to the Allies

Do you land at high tide

so your soldiers spend less time
on the beach

exposed to enemy fire,

or do you land at low tide

to protect the ships
from these obstacles?

Operation Overlord runs
on the back of ships

So the men are coming,

the tanks are coming,
the supplies are coming,

and so it's important
that the ships survive

It's all to preserve
the logistic ships,

because those are
the irreplaceable items

of Operation Neptune

Without them, Neptune fails

General Rommel knew
that landing at high tide

would offer the shortest run
to safety for the soldiers

At tide high, these deadly
defenses would be hidden

But the decision had been made
to land at low tide

The ships would be protected
from the deadly hedgehogs,

but how do you protect
the soldiers?

The answer would come
from an unlikely place...

A town better known
for music than the military,

New Orleans

Andrew Jackson Higgins was
a colorful, local boat builder

who believed he had the solution
for the Navy

He already had a boat
called the Eureka

that was built to navigate

the shallow waters
of the Mississippi River...

Not Rommel's deadly mines,
but the logs and sandbars here

So why not use them
for beach landings?

The Navy was skeptical

It seems Higgins didn't always
follow military protocol

As the Depression was going on,
business was bad,

and then he started building
boats for rum runners

Then he went to the Coast Guard
and said,

"I don't know if you noticed it,

but the opposition has a lot
better and quicker boats,"

and then he would build faster
boats for the Coast Guard

Then he would go back
to the rum runner and say,

"The Coast Guard
has newer vessels

We need to build you something
a little faster"

So he did play both sides
of the fence

Today, at the National World
War II Museum in New Orleans,

they're working to rebuild
some of Higgins' famous boats

Tom Czecanski,
the chief curator at the museum,

is an expert
in military hardware

He says to understand what makes
the Higgins boat work,

you have to look under one

to see the unique engineering
of the hull

The important thing here
is that the hull

churns up the water
at the front,

gets lots of air in it

If you got water and air
mixed together,

that's getting the boat up
just that little bit more

that gets you on to the beach

At the back of the boat,

there was a specially designed
metal structure

that ran below the propeller

to protect it when the boat
ran aground

Bring the boats on in,
and damn the obstacles

The Eureka boat was designed

for unloading cargo
over the sides of the boat,

like illegal liquor

But the Navy's cargo of soldiers
would need

to climb over the sides, making
them vulnerable to enemy fire

Was there a way to get the men
out faster?

Naval engineers had seen
Japanese boats

with front-loading ramps,

but no one knew
how to build them

And so they asked Higgins
to draw up some plans

The Navy had been trying it
for over two decades,

had been unsuccessful

They wanted drawings

Higgins said, "Drawings, hell

You be here in three days
and I'll have one in the water"

Which he did

Without a ramp, it took 57
seconds to unload troops

With a ramp,
it took only 19 seconds

But they could land quicker,

exposed for a shorter time
to enemy fire

And with them, they could land
their vehicles

for a fast mechanized assault

Which saves you 38 seconds from
being shot at on an open beach,

which saved incredible numbers
of lives

Adolph Hitler knew of Higgins'
famous boat

and is said to have called him
"The New American Noah"

Not unexpectedly, the sonar
operators are unable to find

any of these wooden boats

It would have been difficult
for them to survive

the strong currents of the
English Channel for 70 years

But there were many other
landing craft made of metal,

which did survive, and they come
in all shapes and sizes

All of these wrecks,

they're just out here
and you don't know it

If you could drain this,
people would go,

"God, look at all of that,"
you know?

But you can't

In World War II,

there were dozens of different
kinds of landing craft,

all engineered
for specific tasks

The famous Higgins boat carried
soldiers, called personnel,

or possibly a jeep,
so the boat was labeled

"landing craft vehicle,
personnel," or LCVP

There were landing crafts
with powerful guns,

appropriately called
"landing craft gun," or LCG

The list went on:

LCI for infantry, LCM for
mechanized, LCR for rockets

And there was a whole class
of larger ships,

like the LST,
or landing ship, tank

I can't even imagine

You know, we're sitting here
looking at something,

trying to decide whether
it's an LSM or an LST

or an LSVP

I mean, there's massive amounts
of LSs

The guys that planned
the logistics for this

were unbelievable

Today the sonar team sees
the signal of an enormous ship,

longer than a football field

All right

Even though the ship is buried
beneath 100 feet of water,

this new multibeam sonar is
accurate within half an inch

Looks like it's busted up

Millions of sonar points
are detected

and then translated into
a three-dimensional image

that reveals intricate details
of the engineering

We'll go by it again

This level of visualization
allows the team

to make precise measurements
that help identify the ships

They make out what looks
like a bow door

and what the sonar team thinks
is a vehicle

still on the ship's deck

See that?

These features help them
identify the type of ship,

which they can cross-reference
with a military manual

The ship they've discovered
today is an LST...

A landing ship, tank...

The workhorse
of the Allied naval forces

LSTs were some of the largest
landing vessels in the fleet

and played an essential role
in the D-Day invasion

They addressed
one of the biggest problems

created by the new amphibious
landing strategy:

How do you get all the gear
the Army needs onto the land?

One of the ways to look
at an amphibious assault

is that it's a race

The race starts the minute
you hit the beach there,

and it's a race for buildup,

who can build up the most forces
the fastest

World War II,
tank warfare dominates,

and so you are bringing a lot
of tanks across the channel

They're not flown in,
they can't drive there

And so tanks, jeeps,
other vehicles

all had to be brought by ships

You didn't need a port
to use an LST

These are the chess pieces

that get moved around
that global board

And they are probably the single
most important type of ship

used in assault landings

in the Second World War,

massively important piece
of technology

The U S manufactured
so many of these LSTs,

they didn't even bother to give
each ship a name, just a number

These ships were built
in the United States

and then sent to England,
hundreds of them

We had to change virtually
every bridge on the Ohio River

and on the Mississippi to allow
these combatant ships

to make it out to the ocean,

and we did it
and we did it very rapidly

One of the key elements
in our technology

was our ability to build
overwhelming numbers

That production was
an amazing factor

in our victory over Nazi Europe
and Japan

American production, American
capacity to produce volumes

is what made the difference,
you know?

We could produce 50 to their ten

Eh, we win, you know?

On the morning of D-Day,

these LSTs ferried men across
the English Channel

But they were too big to land

before the German defenses
had been cleared

That's where the Higgins boats
came in

In the early assault phases,

you don't want to put all
your eggs in one basket

You don't want to put a big,
vulnerable ship on the beach,

so you have
the famous Higgins boat

and the British equivalents,

which were small craft,
capable of carrying 30 men,

who could get
into action immediately

And to be really crude about it,

if you lose one, it's not
the end of your operation

It's 30 guys, not 800

This landing chart shows

where the large ships
like the LSTs pulled up

on the morning of D-Day,
11 miles off shore

Then there are smaller paths
into the beach

for the landing craft,
like Higgins boats

For Ralph Wilbanks, mapping
these wrecks on the ocean floor

is more than just sonar science

His father fought
in the Pacific,

which makes these
two-dimensional images

really come alive

These boats that are blown up

and pieces missing from them

and, you know, even one
they dived on the other day

had big holes in it

You could see where something
happened violent

that caused that boat to go
to the bottom,

which had to have been
really catastrophic

for the crew that was on
the boat when it happened

That's the reason they were
the greatest generation

It's very present
to you even today?

Yeah, yeah, yeah

Tough place

And as dawn broke on D-Day, it
was about to get a lot tougher

The massive fleet appeared
just off the German beaches,

a scene made famous in the 1962
film The Longest Day.

If you've seen that classic
scene in The Longest Day

when the German is
in the pillbox

And the morning mist
begins to lift

and then stretched out
in front of him

from as far on the, you know,
from the east

to as far on the west
as he can see,

are ships, and they're emerging
out of that fog


It was the most massive
naval force

that's ever been assembled

At 0530, it was
time for the Allies

to bring out their biggest guns

And the naval bombardment began

You have to imagine battleships

standing maybe a mile,
two miles off shore

This is going to happen
right around sunrise,

because you've got to be able
to see what you're shooting at

So you are hurling these large
bunker-penetrating projectiles

about the weight of a Volkswagen

It's tremendously loud

It's loud unlike anything
that you can possibly imagine

The smell

The smell of cordite burning,
of gunpowder burning

is something
that you won't forget

The Air Force bombers
also joined in

The Americans had made
the decision

that they were going to have

a very truncated
preparatory fire

It only lasted 35 minutes

If you were invading an island
in the South Pacific,

sometimes the naval gunfire
would last for days,

but because we were invading
an area

where the enemy can reinforce
quickly, the decision was made,

let's do it quickly, let's try
and get on the beaches quickly

The British preparatory fires
lasted closer to two hours

I think the British were right,
as it turned out

The channel was full of boats

The pillboxes were up
on the cliffs

and they were firing

Bill Allen was on an LST

bringing soldiers
into Omaha Beach

and remembers this brutal start
to the day

I remember all the firing,
the noise

All the disasters, the death

You'd see someone who had been
killed floating on the water

Allen was a medic

with an overwhelmingly difficult

I was on the death detail

Started bringing casualties
out to us,

and we loaded casualties
over the side of the ship

By the time we would get them,
they'd be dead

But, uh, we'd clean them up
the best we could,

identify them, to the fact
put the dog tags

And you tried not to really
dwell on it, I guess

Painful memories like these
prevented Allen

from talking about his D-Day
experiences until recently

But today he has come back
to Normandy

for the first time since 1944

Welcome on board

He is once again on a ship
off the coast of Normandy

This time he isn't tending
to casualties,

but instead he has brought
his wife, Idalee, two daughters

and two of his grandchildren

When I was here before,

everything was so confused
and noisy

Now it's so calm and peaceful,

it's hard to realize
the difference between the two

Allen's LST delivered men
into Omaha Beach

on the morning of D-Day

Then, on their fourth trip
into the beaches,

they hit a mine
and the boat sank

Today the sonar crew can show
Bill just what happened to it

Oh, look, here comes something

There's the stern

Boy, that is something!

I have been doing
multibeam survey work

for over 25 years

And when we had Bill,
the veteran, on,

as soon as he saw that image,

his stories, his memories
came back

It was a way I had never
seen multibeam data before

Look at that big hole there

You think that's
from the mine, here?

Oh, as far as I know,
it would almost have to be

Because he could see fully

the vessel that was blown out
from under him on the sea floor

You had a galley in here,

down below

There's where we ate

It was the first time

I felt that the multibeam
data had a soul

After 70 years of holding back
his World War II memories,

Bill Allen, now at 88, is brave
enough not only to return,

but to go down
in the small submarine

to see the ship he was on
when it sank

Okay, Bill, I'm going to get
in the sub first

I'm going to get myself
into the pilot seat

We've got a ladder that we
are going to drop down in

Not to brag on him,

but I can't think of too many
88-year-old men

who would go down to where
they almost lost their lives

and revisit it and be excited
about it like he is

It's exciting

I'm looking forward to it


One of the most important
aspects of looking at this now

and not waiting any longer

is that we still have
veterans with us

We can still hear the testimony
of those who were there

while we investigate the
battlefield they fought on

If we wait any longer, there
simply won't be anyone left

The details of that horrific day
slowly come back

during his dive
with sonar expert Andy Sherrell

Hard to believe, huh?

Oh, I tell you

Think we should go and try
to find the bow?

Yeah, I'd like to see it

I'd like to see it, too

We made three trips in,

and started on our fourth trip

How old were you?

I was just barely 19

I had finished lunch,
come out on the topside

and it was about 1:00

I don't even know how to
describe the noise that it made

It sort of reminded me of when
you step on a banana peel

and, you know, how you flip-flop

and expect to hit
the ground sooner or later

LST 523 was sailing
in rough waters

when it came down mid-ship
directly on a German mine

Allen was at the bow of the ship

in front of where
the mine exploded

It just blew the ship
completely in half

And it happened so quick?


A real state of panic

Everyone began to jump off

On today's dive, Allen wants
to see where that mine hit

Looks like we're coming up
on some debris here, Bill


And it doesn't take long before
the expedition's submarine

is right on top of it

Topside, we are on the wreck
at this time Over

This is all that remains
of the LST 523,

a rusting hulk of metal

overgrown with barnacles
and algae

There's a tank

Oh, yeah, look at that

Oh, yeah

They can barely make out
a tank on its surface

I bet you never thought
you'd see that again

No, uh-uh

The explosion tore
through the ship,

and the bow that Allen was on
was sinking

Everyone began to jump off

I knew I wasn't
too good of a swimmer,

but I knew that something had
to be done pretty quick

because our bow was going down

What it boiled down to was
which way I wanted to drown

Did I want to go down
with the bow

or did I want to drown swimming?

Just at that moment,

Allen saw a life raft with a
medic he knew from Mississippi

And he hollered at me, he said,
"You can't swim out here

Stay there, I believe I can get
in there to you"

He got within, oh, I guess
12, 15 feet of me,

and I said, "I can jump that far

I know I can"

And I took off and made it

We both just had one arm
hung over the raft

We picked up four more
Army personnel

Allen and the others were saved

when a passing ship spotted
their raft

and pulled them to safety

Every time you close your eyes,

you're just reliving
the same thing, a blast,

and seeing those same sights

Sometime after midnight,
I rolled over and Jack said,

"Bill, have you been
asleep yet?"

I said, "Jack, I don't think
I'll ever go to sleep"

They say farewell to the 523

Ready to say farewell to 523?


On the ship we had
a complement of 145

The final count,
28 of us got off

117 were killed or lost

For Bill Allen,

another powerful way to reflect
on his time during D-Day

was taking his wife and family

to the American cemetery
that overlooks Omaha Beach

Daddy, what's the name
you are looking for?


It's just never-ending

There are more than 9,000
American soldiers buried here

One of them was Allen's
commanding officer,

Vito Stabile

There's Stabile, Bill


That's him

A young doctor
just out of medical school

He was an officer

and the rest of us
were enlisted men

But we were all shipmates

There wasn't that much
distinction between us then

Had a great life ahead
of him, but it got stopped

But I appreciate being able
to come to his grave very much

In World War II, 70 million
people are killed

70 million people

It is the most significant event
in the 20th century bar none

Nothing comes close to it

in terms of shaping the world
that we live in

And so, when you stand
at that cemetery,

these are the men
who made the difference

These are the men who did more
to shape the world

that you live in right now

than anybody else, and you
should understand that

The loss of life weighed heavily
on D-Day planners

Minimizing casualties was
a solemn duty

and strategically essential

One way to reduce casualties on
the beach would be to make sure

the bunkers of the Atlantic Wall
were taken out

before the infantry landed

But doing so would prove to be

one of the biggest challenges
on D-Day

The naval and air force bombing
just before the landings

were the first steps
to dismantle the bunkers,

but then the guys on the beach
also needed

to have the big firepower
of tanks

One of the attributes
of a tank is firepower

Main gun of a tank
can destroy bunkers,

machine gun positions

It could penetrate some
of those concrete positions

Small arms fire, even machine
gun fire from infantry,

will not do that

The Allies had tried to put
tanks in landing craft

at the battle for Dieppe,

but the process of unloading
made them sitting ducks

and contributed to the slaughter

So for D-Day the Allies needed
to figure out

how to get the tanks
to the beach quickly

without putting them in boats

So the engineering question was,
can you turn a tank into a boat?

Nicholas Straussler specialized

in engineering military
equipment in England

He had immigrated from Hungary,
now under Nazi control

Straussler took inspiration
from the ancient Greeks

Archimedes discovered that
any object could float

if it displaced enough water

to offset the volume
that's submerged

Archimedes' principle was

into Straussler's design by
deploying an inflatable skirt

that came up on the sides
of the tank about four feet

It turned the tank into a rather
poorly designed

but adequately floating boat,
at least in calm waters

You can see how Straussler
pulled off his design

on this tank,
retooled by Bob Gundy,

a military vehicle expert

There is a framework made up
of inflatable support tubes

that are then wrapped
by a canvas skirt

They were called duplex
drive tanks, or DD tanks

With the push of a lever,

the support tubes deflate
and the skirt would drop

So the tank was ready
to roll into action

These floating DD tanks were
to hit the beaches

five minutes
before the troops went ashore

But on the morning
of the invasion

the seas were dangerously rough,

with swells recorded
at six feet high

When the tanks off Omaha Beach
were launched,

they immediately started
to sink, wave after wave

Let's say that you're one
of these guys in a DD tank

Put yourself in their place

So four of them in the LCT

First one goes off
into the water

and immediately starts to sink

and the second one rolls off
into the water

and starts to sink

You're the third guy

What are you going to do?

I don't know, I don't know

You ask yourself why

It's pretty hard to understand
70 years later

It was pretty hard
to understand then

These were their orders

It was critical to get
these tanks ashore

Even though you saw that
the guys in front of you

were having trouble,
in some cases had gone under,

they kept pushing

There is a mystery about
how many DD tanks

are still buried underwater

The definitive answer will come

from the expedition's
comprehensive sonar survey

Once we close the hatch, the
submersible is pressure-proof

I am a retired soldier

I spent 20 years in the Army,

but I haven't done much
with the Navy

Going down in the sub was
a unique experience for me

All right, Adrian, time to go

All right, sounds good

Today Adrian Lewis
and Andy Sherrell

are going down in the submarine
off Omaha Beach

to investigate what happened
to the DD tanks

Sherrell has located a group
of tanks not far apart

The bottom in sight

The tank's over there

Two battalions of 32 DD tanks

were supposed to lead the way
onto Omaha Beach

Yeah, most of them are gone now

Without them the infantry
would inevitably suffer

from an unrelenting
German attack

Visibility, it's hard to see

Got something straight ahead

Oh, there we go

You can see the main gun now

Yeah, that's it

That's nice, that's it

The water in the English Channel
is so murky,

it is only with the help
of sonar coordinates

that Sherrell and Lewis finally
locate one of the lost DD tanks

You don't see the skirt
on it anymore, though

No, right around that edge,

Right, so that would have
deteriorated, gone away

When we first saw the DD tank,
I didn't recognize it

That's pretty cool, huh?

These swimming tanks were not

for the six-foot swells
they found on D-Day

In all, 27 tanks sank
off of Omaha Beach

Looks like the hatch is open

Yeah, one of the front hatches
is open

Which would make sense,
so that they could get out

My first thought is,

you know, the men in this tank,
soldiers in this tank

who they were,
and did they get out?

Those tanks are burial places,

You have to keep that in mind

Despite the loss of tanks,

the Higgins boats full of
soldiers arrived on the beaches

right on time

But the battlefield they faced

was not what they were expecting

If you're an infantryman
on Omaha Beach

at 7:30 in the morning,

you're really sorry you don't
have more armor with you

Because it's hell

It's awful

It's about as bad
as combat can get

And there are men by the dozens,
then by the hundreds,

who are being slaughtered
all around you

And so, the fact that you don't
have the protection

of a 33-ton Sherman tank
next to you,

firing back
at that pillbox over there

or firing at that machine gun
nest over there,

all you've got is your rifle,

means that you've got
a difficult row to hoe

for the next several hours

Combat engineers trained
with explosives

to blow up beach obstacles
like mines and hedgehogs

landed in the first wave

The job of those engineers was
to blow gaps in these defenses

They were to blow 12 gaps
on Omaha Beach

About half of all those combat
engineers were killed,

wounded or missing

Along with the floating tanks,
the plan had counted

on air force and naval bombings
to take out the German bunkers

But it did not work,

and so the men on the beach
faced the Germans alone

I've made the argument

the generals failed

The generals failed

The plan did not work
at Omaha Beach

This is why the cost was so high
in terms of American lives,

in terms of numbers
of soldiers killed,

because they had to generate
the combat power necessary

to get over the bluff
there at Omaha Beach

No, there was no failure

In fact, the failure is entirely
on the side of the Germans

Omaha was a lot harder than they
thought it was going to be,

but look, the Germans
had four years

to build the Atlantic Wall

It took less than four hours
to crack the Atlantic Wall,

including at Omaha Beach

Once those initial soldiers had
scaled the bluffs

at the back of the beach, and
they are up on the escarpment,

even though the war is not over,

the battle of Normandy has
hardly been won,

the Atlantic Wall
has been cracked

Wave after wave of infantry
kept coming

By 12:00 noon, after several
hours of brutal fighting,

the first Americans had fought
their way onto the bluffs

overlooking Omaha Beach

The cost of that victory
was very high

Even today there is confusion
among experts

as to the total casualties, with
estimates ranging from 2,000

to more than 4,000
in the battle for Omaha

The landings at the other
four Allied beaches

went more smoothly
with far fewer deaths,

although they were not
without significant valor

and casualties

It is argued that one reason
things might have gone better

on the British beaches
were a group of inventions

that the American Army decided
not to use

Ian Hammerton, a tank driver
on Sword Beach,

still has the landing map from
the hydrographic department

that he carried
in his pocket on D-Day

It suffered a bit

from seawater,
but that was taken

that's top secret

Hammerton's unit is famous
because of its leader,

Major General Sir Percy Hobart

He was an innovative character

who wouldn't take no
for an answer

Hobart was known as a brilliant
but eccentric character,

who Churchill specifically
called back into service

for the preparation of D-Day

His unit was known
as Hobart's Circus

Hobart's Circus, it was called,

because from time to time

all sorts of ideas were dreamed
up for dealing with situations

and we acquired all sorts
of strange equipment

Hobart's goal was

to engineer a way around
the Nazis' deadly obstacles

One of his most famous
inventions was the flail tank,

used to clear mines

This is a model

of a flail tank made by my son

Ian Hammerton, who piloted one
of the flail tanks on D-Day,

shows how it worked

It's an ordinary Sherman tank,

but it has this apparatus
on the front

The chains on the front would
spin around on this drum

and thwack into the ground

They're like this

That's a part of a chain
that got blown off

The British actually have
a more inventive approach

in some cases

The Americans have the attitude,

"We don't really need those
on our beaches

It complicates our training"

And there's a bit of a "not
invented here" quality to it

Those are British gadgets;
let the British play with them

Hobart's engineers invented
all sorts of clever ways

of overcoming the German

which became known as Hobart's
Funnies, though their purpose

was anything but that

Flame throwers for incinerating

anyone inside
the concrete bunkers;

devices to fill
anti-tank ditches

or create an instant bridge

On June 6,
Ian Hammerton's flail tank

did successfully break through
the defenses at Sword Beach

and helped clear
the terror mines

Bill Allen's LST 523 unloaded
men bound for Omaha Beach

in the morning,

and that afternoon they began
to receive the casualties

And Robert Haga,
the minesweeper, kept working

to clear the lanes through
the German underwater minefield

By nightfall on June 6, 1944,

all five landing beaches
were under Allied control

Determining the exact cost
in lives lost is difficult,

but it is estimated that there
were at least 10,000 casualties,

including 2,500 deaths

But more death and destruction
was yet to come,

as the D-Day Expedition
will reveal

The goal of Operation Overlord,
the D-Day invasion,

was not just to gain
a foothold in Europe,

it was to secure all of Normandy

and ultimately drive
through to Berlin

Carver McGriff, who landed
on the other U S beach, Utah,

says to understand
the difficulty of fighting

in Normandy, you need to walk
around the small farms

that lie just off the coast here

Imagine you're a young
second lieutenant

leading 25 kids like me

and your job is to take
that next hedgerow

What do you do?

Despite all the years of
planning for the invasion,

the Allies were not prepared for
the obstacles they would face

in the battles here

The problem was easy to overlook

It was the ancient fences which
surround farms in Normandy,

called hedgerows

They seemed so unassuming

One aerial photograph
of eight square miles revealed

nearly 4,000 small fields

There's a kind of terrain known
as the hedgerow country

This is fields that
basically have turned

into mini fortresses

The French have been farming
that area for a millennium,

and every farmer has cleared
his land

by pushing the rocks and debris
and trees and whatnot

to the edges of his fields

And consequently walls have been
built around the fields

The hedgerows were a virtually
perfect defensive way

for the Germans
to fight the battle

and we had to find a way
over them or around them

There was so much focus, so much
energy on getting ashore

that the follow-on tasks,
the advance,

were not given the attention
that they deserved

in terms of figuring out

how you need to break
through this stuff

The battle for the hedgerows
consumed the Allies

for much longer than expected

By the time Normandy was
securely under control

six weeks later,

another 200,000 Allied soldiers
had been wounded or killed,

including McGriff's squad leader

He died while lying next to me

In fact, he tried to talk to me

and then was not able

It's a long time ago

The memories don't hurt
like they did for a while

But they're always there

It's important not to think

that once June 6
turns into June 7

that somehow the war becomes
less intense

The fighting in the hedgerows
is as awful, in some cases,

as anything that has occurred
on Omaha Beach

So the intensity that we see on
June 6 is simply a foreshadowing

of what's going to come over the
next three months in Normandy

So what did it take

for the Allies to win control
of Normandy

in terms of men and supplies?

One of the things

that amazed us the most,
I think,

was the amount of wrecks
we found, the targets

And we ended up finding 400
targets during our survey

That's a lot of wrecks

Can you look at the back of it?

The most astounding revelation
by the sonar experts

inside the Magic Star

is that the vast majority
of those 400 wrecks

were sunk after D-Day,

revealing the extent of
the enormous effort required

to reclaim Normandy

The really exciting thing
for me as a historian is

we can peel back the water and
expose the playbook of Normandy,

just like assembling
a huge jigsaw puzzle

And it's just fascinating

So we have evidence of when
the troops went ashore,

and then we have evidence
of the support phase

that took place
for months afterwards

All of that is there

Today, the divers have found

a barge carrying unusual
crossbeam structures:

components used to replace
bombed-out bridges in France

The barge was headed

to one of the most extraordinary
engineering projects

of World War II...

Something designed to make it
possible to unload

all the necessary gear and men

It was, in fact, a pet project

of British prime minister
Winston Churchill

In London, just down the street

from Churchill's wartime

is the Institution
of Civil Engineers,

where evidence still exists
of this ambitious plan

These reams of detailed drawings
all resulted

from a short, angry memo written
by Churchill himself

That memo got passed along
to Tim Beckett's father, Allan,

a young military engineer

My father was working
at the time

in the bridging department
of the War Office

Colonel Everall came to him with
this memo and said to him,

"Beckett, you're a yachtsman

See if you can make something
out of this"

The memo resulted
from a disagreement

between President Roosevelt
and Prime Minister Churchill

about possible locations
for the invasion

Churchill was worried that
there was no port in Normandy,

so these landings could turn
into another Dieppe

His solution was as bold
as it was daring

If the Allies couldn't take
a port by force,

then they would need to build
one and take it with them

It's astonishing,

the scale of it and the new
organization required

Tim Beckett,
a port engineer himself,

says the plan was
astoundingly ambitious

Certainly the engineering
challenges were

No one had ever conceived
of building a portable port

Any port must first provide
shelter for ships

from the fury of the sea,
and it must also have a way

to dock and unload the ships

How could they engineer around
the notoriously rough seas

and changing tides
on the coast of France

and anchor a port
onto the sandy beaches there?

Churchill didn't want to hear
about the problems,

so he dashed off
his short angry memo

Churchill's memo is very famous

It says:
"Piers for use on beaches

"They must float up and down
with the tide

"The anchor problem
must be mastered

"Let me have the best solution
worked out

"Don't argue the matter

The difficulties will argue
for themselves"

Well, I think you can read
into that

that Churchill was pretty
frustrated, shall we say,

when he wrote that

It's a bit terse

The challenge of figuring out

how to solve these engineering
problems fell, in part,

to the young Allan Beckett

His initial idea was
to build a road

that would float up and down
with the changing tide

The problem was basic physics

How do you control the movement
of a floating road

on a rough sea?

Most bridges have

typically four bearings,

and they like their bearings
to stay

more or less where they are

When you put
a floating bridge on,

you've got a whole load
of movements

Obviously it's pitching, and
going up and down, and rolling

And then you've got all the load
going on it as well

Now, you either try
and resist that

with a rigid structure, trying
to hold it all together,

or you go with it

Beckett decided to go with it

He designed a floating road

that consisted of pontoons
sitting on the water

with roadways, like a bridge,
spanning between them

Another part of the design
were massive structures

that are still visible today
at low tide

off the coast of Normandy

Like a jetty, these huge
concrete blocks were used

to hold out the rough sea

See the caissons that are
submerged now?

Seen on sonar,
these structures make up

some of the largest wrecks
off the coast here

But to see what his father

Tim Beckett goes just outside
of Paris

into the world
of virtual reality

I think you recognize
this place?

I certainly do

A French engineering company
called Dassault Systems

has recreated one of these
artificial harbors in 3D

We are walking along it,
aren't we?

It's as if we could touch it

The code name of the project
was Mulberry,

and so these were known
as Mulberry harbors

Two harbors were built: one for
the Americans at Omaha Beach

and one British
at the town of Arromanches

This is really very good

Take your 3-D glasses
and we'll jump into the 3-D

The basic design
of the Mulberry harbors

was to create the needed

to block out the rough seas

This was done in two steps

First, old ships were sailed
over from England

and then dynamited and sunk

Next came concrete structures,

each the size
of a five-story building

They were built in England

and pulled across
the English Channel

These massive concrete blocks,
called caissons,

created the jetty
that held out the waves

I think the floating roadways
he was particularly proud of

Then came Alan Beckett's roadway
that stretched from the beach

over floating pontoons to piers
where ships could dock

These roadways needed to be
strong enough to carry

a 33-ton Sherman tank

and yet flexible enough to
accommodate the water's motion

Engineering around this was
the key to Beckett's plan

You can see that the pontoons
are pitching and rolling

And the bridges are following it

The bridge spans are not rigid;
they can go with the motion

They do it
by a rather clever detail

Can we go underneath the bridge?

We've got a rigid connection
on the central member here

And all the other ones
are pinned

and that allows the bridge
to twist tortionally

I always knew it was big,
but I think this makes you feel

how big it is
and how busy it was

It was the busiest port
in the world for a few weeks

There are such things
as war-altering technologies

that once it's revealed that you
have that capability,

it changes the face of battle

To take an LST,
a landing ship, tank,

and land it on the beach
and put the ramp down,

it would take it ten to 12 hours
to offload

That's because huge ships have
to work around the tides,

and all of that takes time

When we established
the Mulberry harbors,

where we put piers out,

we were able to offload a ship
in one hour and 40 minutes

And all of this was anchored
by a clever system

that held the roadways in place,
designed by Alan Beckett

Astonishingly, the first of two
massive harbors were functional

in only three days
after the landings

But then not even two weeks
after the harbors were built,

disaster struck

One of the worst storms
of the century blew down hard

on the coast of Normandy

The American harbor at Omaha
Beach was completely destroyed

But despite being designed
to last only three months,

the British Mulberry was in use
for nearly ten,

during which time it became
known as Port Winston

for the man whose angry memo
got it built

In all,
two-and-a-half million men

and half a million vehicles

passed across
these floating roadways

They are just one of
the many engineering feats

and innovations that helped
the Allies prevail

in this crucial battle
of Normandy

The seas off the coast of France
remained dangerous

for months after the landings

The Germans still had control

of ports to the east and west
of the landing beaches,

and so they could send in

or drop mines from the air

All it takes is one aircraft
to fly through fast at night

and drop half a dozen
pressure mines,

and your nice, safe passage area
is suddenly lethal again

This is quite well preserved

Today the Magic Star crew

has found a German U-boat

that operated in the English
Channel after the landings,

finally being sunk in July

The German navy, of course,

put all its means it had
available into the game

George Bigelow was an Army
private headed to the front

On Christmas Eve,
six months after D-Day,

he boarded the Leopoldville,

a requisitioned cruise ship
bound for France

A German U-boat submarine
lurking off the coast

torpedoed his ship

It sank, killing nearly 800 men

If you can imagine Coney Island
full of people swimming,

that's just what it was like

It was just horrible

Guys were floating by

with their heads down

You could tell they were dead

Other guys were praying
to their mother

I couldn't talk about it
for 20 years

It was that bad

Today, Bigelow has joined
the expedition

with his daughter Robin

My father, George


Welcome on board

Nice to meet you

Instead of going down
in submarines,

they sent a robotic vehicle

And George could watch the dive

on a video feed from the safety
of the ship's cabin

Looks like a porthole
there, huh?


Yes, it's a very, very
humbling experience for me

to be able to see this

The railing is just like
the railing that I had a hold of

when I let go

Right now I feel
just very thankful and humble

When the Leopoldville sank,

Bigelow was thrown into the cold
waters off of Normandy

He was one of the lucky ones

He was rescued and taken
to a French hospital

They put me in bed,

and it's funny the things
you remember,

because this nice-looking
red-headed nurse,

she took her hand and brushed
my hair back, just like that,

like my mother did
when I was real young

It was the most peaceful feeling

and it put me to sleep
just like that

The decades are sliding by,

and we have fewer and fewer

And soon, the only eyewitnesses
we'll have are these wrecks,

and they will still tell us
their stories

The D-Day Expedition is
providing new evidence

of the scale and difficulties
of the Normandy invasion,

as well as helping to clarify
the historical record

By the time the Allies stopped
landing on the beaches

in Normandy, months longer
than ever planned,

millions of men and vital
equipment had crossed here

and joined the battle
to liberate Europe

For the last 70 years, the
cemetery overlooking Omaha Beach

has been the most
powerful memorial

to the incredible battle here
and the high cost of freedom

Today the D-Day expedition
is providing another way

to see and to honor
this sacrifice

I would make the argument
for Americans

there is a cemetery
that's underwater also

Americans should be
knowledgeable of that

The hidden battlefield
of the tanks

and the ships

and the things that are
scattered on the bottom

is a cemetery in and of itself

There are literally hundreds
of sailors and soldiers

that have their final rest in
the waters that lie beneath

And this is one of our most
sacred charges

The sonar data collected on
the expedition can now be used

to reveal this place that is,
for so many, hallowed ground

It's important that we maintain
them, that we respect them,

but that we also have this
opportunity to examine them

for the story that they still
have to tell to us

Perhaps the importance
of the Normandy invasion

is best summed up by a story
about General Eisenhower,

who asked to be reinstated
in the Army

after serving as president
of the United States


Because in Eisenhower's own
words, "500 years from now,

"no one will remember that I was
president of the United States,

"but they will always remember

that I commanded the troops
at Normandy"

And when Eisenhower was carried
to his grave

in Abilene, Kansas, in 1969, he
went in an $80 soldier's coffin,

wearing a military uniform
with only three ribbons...

The ribbons he earned
at Normandy